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Young Designer’s Workshop

23 Nov

This is an article in which, through the power of contrast, I discover my strong prejudices, and gain venture into a field in which I had no business dealing with.

I hadn’t really planned to attend a workshop on design, as it hasn’t previously been one of the issues I’ve schooled myself in. Though I do indulge in criticizing designs (particularly of public facilities and policies), the divide between ‘the expert’ and ‘the rest of us’ has been drummed into me enough for me to give pause when considering signing up for an area that I’ve not in any way trained in. On the other hand, nothing is learnt without dipping oneself into unknown waters. So when I discovered that the only way I could attend the conference at a reasonable price was to attend a design workshop a week earlier, I leapt at the opportunity – And convinced my husband to spare my company for a week.  (“Are you really so anxious to avoid my company?” He said as he paid for it.)

IDA congress attendance: 21,700NT
Designer Workshop attendance (including room and board) + entrance to IDA congress: 3,300 NT

Who could possibly resist?

I attended the Implementing International Rescue with Unitized Design segment, which is held at the Tainan University of Technology. It was one of the few workshops that wasn’t already booked full, which I found surprising, as I found the topic far more practical and enticing than the other topics, which seemed more philosophical. The fact that it’s not in Taipei might have been one of the reasons. This is day 2 of the Young Designer’s Workshop, and I believe it’s helped me gain some insight into what matters for some designers, and more insight into a certain group of humans in my society (more about a small group of people from relatively developed asian countries, rather than designers/design students per se).

To illustrate this I must mention that the workshop invited a professor from Japan, Satoshi Nakagawa, who brought along another instructor from Japan, who mainly serves as a translator, and two of his graduate students. His presence here seems to be regarded as a great honor to the school. Having no previous interest in the Hall of Fame in Design, I have no idea whether this is warranted. He seems like a kindly enough person though. One of his recent ventures was to take numerous trips into the affected area of Fukushima, where he observed vast destruction and many uncollected bodies (in vehicles, among the rubble) from the tsunami.

One of the problems with inviting foreign speakers to Taiwan is, the professionals in my country are far too apt to cede to the opinions of their oversea peers, than otherwise.

After introduction of the topic, immediately I lit upon an idea of a means for a small population in crisis situation to become self-efficient prior to the entrance of outside aid (more details later). My inspirations were the typhoon disaster in Myanmar (where outside aid was initially rejected by the junta), and a news piece which accused the UN peace keeping forces of not being aware that a village a few miles from their post was under vicious attack by guerilla groups (this article I was, unfortunately, unable to find again). However, this situation was harder for my teammates to envision. I was thus behooved to explain why such an object could be very useful.

On the other hand, I am entirely leery of expensive designs that attempt to increase the incremental comforts of those who are already quite well off, even in disaster situations. I can see how they may be useful, to certain populations that can afford it. But I’m inclined to like more basic designs to increase accessibility to resources for people who have less. This, I discovered in this environment, was a strong bias.

Day 3

He seems obsessed with the notion of ‘Shelter’, of a psychological comfort, of a passive people.

I guess I just don’t like the idea of having my idea restricted. I have no interest in coddled populations to whom the lost of a home and all the intrinsic accessories can come as a deep psychological jar. It’s a deep psychological jar for anyone to lose their home. What I’m interested in is whether there’s a way for victims to deal with the crisis on more or less their own terms, in the hours before a rescue team can effectively bring resources in. The ideal is to have provisional housing, with all the amenities that could bring semblance to the nicely ordered society/infrastructure that existed before – or be able to relocate refugees to a more civilized environ. However, the earliest such a unit can only be brought in is a week after the disaster, and in most of the cases of natural disasters in the world it would take even longer, if ever. If you think about it, there is a very good amount of documentary, in very good quality film, of the tsunami in Japan, both during and after. There is less footage of the during in Indonesia, and none that we’re aware of during the 2010 flood in Pakistan. Now can we say that Pakistan suffered less than Japan in this situation? What about the Congo? There is absolutely no footage of attacks going on in villages in the Congo, but since 1994, at least 5.4 million people have died. That’s nearly as many civilians killed in WWI.

It’s somewhat like the Holocaust having become the story of the Jews. It’s not to say that the Jews haven’t suffered as much as they say they’ve suffered – they have. Yet their grievance is universal. And it’s about time we choose to prioritize redressing the wrongs against those whose voice has not been heard. And if this means that we create something which those whose voice has been heard could use as well, great! But I would like to first look at the needs of disaster victims whose plight has yet to be seen, for whom help has yet to come, and who is in sure danger of being ignored and dying from the further complications of their isolation.

Thus it was that I came upon the idea of a survival box. It’s a common enough idea – an emergency toolkit that each household might have in a well-to-do society. What I want to do is create a toolkit that the poor can afford, and since the poor tend to not be able to afford individual household toolkits, gear it towards a small community, and design it in a manner that people will remember to, and will be able to, use it in a time of need.

So this is the way it looks: It’s like the little black box that airplanes have – it’s durable, can withstand time and harsh environments, and still come out with all its gear intact. However, instead of recording the voices of the dead, it will assist the continuation of that of the living.

The appearance of the box is in the shape of a life ring, which has become a universal symbol of safety at sea. The material is resistant to most trauma, lightweight, insulated, waterproof and may float. I was thinking steel reinforced plastic, that material that has recently become popular in lightweight, sturdy luggage. The appearance can be modified according to the decor of the surrounds (what color shows up most, or what the users prefer), and also glows-in-the-dark. It can be used as a stool or hung on the wall as decoration.

The contents would consist of a flare gun, a hand-crank communication transmitter, a water filter and mosquito net fit for 20 people. There will be other tools as well, such as a swiss army knife, a rope, a lighter, a mechanical camera and a hand-crank flashlight. A survival manual will be in there that would instruct the users how to assemble or most effectively use the contents of the box to survive, written in graphics: the universal language. Kind of like Ikea’s product self-assembly manuals. Finally, there will be a packet of seeds put in there by the villagers themselves.

There is an idea to also include a small disposable camera, vacuum wrapped for preservation. For these areas, being able to have a documentation of disaster would greatly increase their ability to seek aid in later stages. If technology and costs allow, there should be a small chip in camera that can be inserted into the transmitter. The transmitter would then transmit the images to a designated body that could feasibly bring assistance or draw attention to the situation (such as a media source).

What would be even better is if we can upgrade the general accessibility of these communities – the accessibility to communication and thus resources. Without constant communication, or even with it – a backup form of communication that is easy to carry along should exist.

Day 4

I’m told that my concept can’t be considered ‘design’, which I find frustrating, as I find it eminently useful. The vision at the workshop doesn’t seem to be “If I design this it can potentially be scouted by someone and actually made into reality.” The teachers also said, while trying to be kind about it, that it should be a team effort and team consensus.

I’m reminded of why I didn’t choose to study something artsy: Because it’s so subjective. And subjectivity leaves room for fools to assert themselves.

I believe that a few of teachers, who seemed so inclined to be kindly to me, are realizing that I’m not simply a sweet smiling student who can put their tutorage in a good light by responding well, but that I’m also skeptical of authority, stubborn, and unwilling to follow suggestions that I think are stupid. My mother has once told me that one of my teachers had complained to her that I’m a recalcitrant, unteachable girl, which I felt a blow to the general toeing the line that I’ve so carefully maintained. Upon thought, I understand that it doesn’t reflect so much upon me, but upon the teacher’s perspective that her authority to mold is unequivocal.

I’m a horrible team player, though, when the venture doesn’t go my way. An unambitious signal SOS signal light was proposed, and the team decided to go ahead with this design. I looked up supplementary information about this which would have helped for the feasibility of this – what type of LED lights, SOS signal, electricity input…etc. The team decided in the end to exclude this portion, which the team leader objected to because it was in English and he couldn’t read it. Given our target population, the only way we could potentially find investment for it was if we could communicate to a more international audience. I was disappointed with their lack of ambition and vision. At that point I had made myself a nuisance in arguing for my Life Box that I didn’t feel I had the leverage to ‘lead’ the team. Plus the lack of graphic design skills seriously stumped my effectiveness as a team member.

I still find this experience enlightening – to the extent of giving me some idea of the field of design. On the other hand, in order to create a niche of its own, the field seems incredibly narrow. For example, the household gadgets that come out of Japan are frequently commented upon, being very often considered innovative and thoughtful. On the other hand, the existence of these gadgets are driven by commercialism, and accordingly exist in forms that 1. inspire purchase 2. rather easily expirable and 3. are in actuality periphery to our general comfort and do not inspire continual use. Thus, the existence of these nic-nacs are more likely to become waste in a household rather than a continuously functioning item. Not exactly the direction that we should be making our designs for.

I’m also slightly worried about the education of the design students. I felt that they were very well educated in the theories of design, and definitely were very good graphic artists. However, they seemed to lack an international perspective – a stronger education in the humanities, if you will. Designers need to create things that fulfill human need, and an understanding of our world, a holistic education in various fields, should be at the heart of their capacity.


The delight of being Human: Reading “Xenocide”

25 Feb

Feb 16th, Wed








Cannot believe that it took a sci-fi book for me to recall how much I’ve forgotten from junior high and high school Chinese classes. Aside from elementary school and parts of junior high, when we were made to memorize the definition of terms so we can write them down word for word (tell me, how useful is that???), I rather loved Chinese class. I never got perfect grades, but I always got passable – because as much as I abhorred memorizing, I actually found it quite enjoyable to learn a lot of the cultural nuances that had been developed inside the language. I used to use 成語 all the time when I was a kid because it was so easy to just express something using four words, so quaintly, and behind those four words is an entire story! That is the amazing cultural heritage we were given.


And Orson Scott Card had done it again – amazed me with a sci-fi book that isn’t all about the hype of tech, the grand destiny of the human race in the space world and the weirdness of aliens (which I have found some sci-fi books dwell upon at length, which is just about as exciting and memorable as a typical Romance), but reminds us as well about the enduring qualities of humanity, love and courage, all wrapped up in the enticingly intelligent conversations. It’s kind of the The Swarm, with more liveliness of language (I keep wondering if it’s because it was translated from German that makes it sound so cold?), less fact monologues, and a more satisfying ending.


Btw, notice how sea-disasters most often end in the murky confusions of vast quantities of salty water drowning ships? Yeah, I mean, it was ridiculous luck/convenience that they could have seen what The Swarm did to the bait. Titanic, Moby Dick and Jaws all fit into that frightening cold quagmire of oh-where-did-his-corpse-go-? sensation at the end. The fluorescence definitely told us The Swarm was written for screenplay, whilst no media can ever do Ender’s  series justice.


Scratch that, it’s nothing like The Swarm, except I enjoyed it in the same way – it challenged me to comprehend what was going on, and inspired me to become a better version of myself. Kind of like an ideal mate. With books comme ça and chocolate, who needs men? (No no Eros! I kid! I kid!)


Anyway, I haven’t finished the book yet, so there’ll probably be another update on this note after that.


Interestingly, was watching this short lecture about eating disorders and neurological traits…


!!!!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!


and it mentioned how people with anorexia may display OCD-like symptoms, where they display perseverant, perfectionist behaviors. Neurologically this may be called difficulty in set-shifting, which is thinking flexibly and being able to change your mind. Now excuse me for nitpicking, but I think that having OCD-like symptoms should be an antithesis to being able to effectively solve problems. That is – the idea that a person is very intelligent in the ordinary sense of the word doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re very capable of solving problems in a manner that will make it easy for them. Persistence, however, is very useful for very difficult problems.

To see the lecture, search for “What Neuroscience is teaching us about eating disorders” on iTunes U. Love her speech style btw.


Feb 18th, Thursday

Listen to this:

“So Demosthenes was right. The M.D. Device is with the fleet.”


“But Father – you joined many others in claiming that they were forgeries.”

“Just as the gods speak only to a chosen few, so the secrets of the rulers must be known only to those who will use the knowledge properly. Demosthenes was giving powerful secrets to people who were not fit to use them wisely, and so for the good of the people the secrets had to be withdrawn. The  only way to retrieve a secret, once it is known, is to replace it with a lie. then the knowledge of the truth is once again your secret.”

So according to the book, due to light-speed travel, Andrew Wiggin and his sister have been alive for more than 40 years though the world has gone through 3000 years of history. The interesting about this is that the human societies in the book have not changed much compared to modern society. There’s still the information age, and yes there are a new technologies… but the fundamental way people live has not changed by much. There is hardly any hint medical advances concerning human longevity, systems that would absolutely absolve people from laboring for their livelihoods, and still religion and tradition are very prominent things in human society. I wonder whether it is due to the limitations of Card’s imagination – to make it believable and a function-able plot, human society must not have changed too much from what we are familiar with – or due to the practicality of the issue. That it is in human nature to be so.


Looking at what has happened, within the span of a few months, I would like to say that perhaps a great deal could be different for the future. It is convenient that Card never touches upon such things as the economic system, how wealth will be presented and distributed, and elections – these pertinent details that are very much subject to change. For how long have we had democracy? And for equally long have we known its ills. I have hope for the recent revolutions, in both our private lifestyles and what we expect from those in power. I have hope that it will dramatically change how we function as a society – with more openness, justice, equality and respect.


But there will constantly be the other voice against, which brings us back to the opening quote here:  the justifiable ignorance of the masses.


I really need to talk to someone. Staying at home for an entire week conversing with myself… there are days when this drives me wild with a sense of ennui and suffocation.


Feb 19th and 20th, Weekend

The anger of a crowd is a terrible thing, and it can be used for terrible things.


I’m amazed, actually, that Card’s book should bring me now to exactly that which I have been contemplating over the past few weeks – the movement of crowds. There have been so many times when such confluence of information has come whilst I was looking completely disparate sources of information, that it is easy to concludethat life consists of a net – where every single issue in the universe is connected to each other.

I know that would be too universal a way to look at it. So I cannot conclude in this manner. However, the strange sensation of having many chips fall into place cannot but thrill.


The stirring up of a crowd usually requires a cohesive chanter – someone who can start up a cry, a song, draw a mystical fervor over the crowd… this I have always admired in others, never feeling myself capable of shouting to a crowd with such audacity, with such a assuredness. Restless in the knowledge that whatever I proclaim cannot be the absolute truth, and shameful that I should dare speak so rashly. So people who are capable being the chanter, either by calculation or passion, fascinate me.


It was partially due to coming upon the narrative about the personal history of some of the protestors the author had met whilst flipping randomly through The Art of Moral Protest, that made me wish to borrow the book in the first place. It mentioned how some of the protestors he met are emotionally unstable and prone to being incensed. Emotional instability is not necessarily a mental deficiency. I myself recall a very astute young man, who could speak with every reason, who angered easily at the system as a sort of prevailing passion. I found him very a very whole individual, but perhaps I am biased for I tend too easily to empathize with people I meet – to the extent of losing myself sometimes. But that should be besides the point. I’m not really very good at making a strong argument for delving into the specifics. Ambiguity thrives in the clearest made points.


On the other hand, I have also been very absorbed, sort of as a personal quest, to find that which is enduring, so that I may take them upon myself and be not a transitional creature of life. For me, expressing very strong emotions are not enduring, so that I have banished them from my repertoire. The eternal is to me not only a matter of sense, but of pride (so proud am I that it’s hard to admit this). To be the conversation peace of a jaded cynic… the very idea is a blow to my ego.


On the manufactured OCD: Apparently it is exceedingly useful for controlling the rulers of Path… and the story plot follows that the OCD can apparently be a handicap, especially for minds where the justification of their obedience has been so necessary to themselves, to act not with perfect rationality.


Wang-mu’s fore-sense of her marriage… now that is certainly a bit much.


Feb 21st, Monday

Finally finished the book in the AM. People are very adorable. There was this kid the other day who had asked me out, and immediately stopped saying nice things to me after I told me, as kindly as I knew how, that I couldn’t possibly be his girlfriend. What is there in such an immediate proposition but the idea to own someone? But then, what is there wrong in our instinct to seek something assured, so that we need not worry over it? At least, I applaud his honesty in cutting his losses, as much as I like being given sweet attention to. Though I think he knows very little of women to give up so soon – most women do not know what they want, and an initial rejection can give way under prolonged tender assault.


On a side note, did you know that men look more attractive/macho when they stare off into space for profile pics while women look more attractive when they stare into the camera? For illustration, check out this pic for ethical man


Card’s theory about philotes, as the essence of life coming from nothing in a disparate space, I found as intriguing as Phillip Pullman’s theory of death’s resting form in His Dark Materials (though I found his story horribly depressing). He explains so prettily the idea and how it could give birth to universes. And how it ties in with the philosophy that “wishing makes it so”. It is dazzling.


I’ve never read any serious work on the theory of parallel universes – only two or stories – so that I cannot imagine what is going in physic science concerning this. The idea I have is that there is too little fact to support these theories at present. In Card’s world, it depends on the known existence of philotes – a force that allows for the connections in life and is the substance (if you can call it that) of life itself. Both Card and Pullman put forth the idea of a disparate space as the logical conclusion to the origin of life, though Pullman’s was certainly more religious, whilst Card’s more historical. I wonder if, by reasoning myself, I could have come up with the conclusion of a disparate space as well? Alas, there is no hope of that now.


Also I’d like to mention the unspoken atheism in Card’s books, which gives a nod to religion being a comfort to people’s lives. It seems that the more that we are aware of, the less likely we’ll believe in something so consuming as a religion. It is not nice to say that superstition and religion go hand in hand, but I think it may be true. On the other hand, could this perfusion of knowledge give way to a lessening in such “wasteful” emotions as guilt and shame? To think of them first theoretically and then, only then, perhaps experience them as emotions one “ought” to experience?


All in all, I find Card’s work on Ender as delightfully mindset clearing as the work of Madeleine L’Engle.

It is so interesting being a human.


We cannot wait for heros: on reading The Handmaid’s Tale

6 Nov

I want to be held and told my name, I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable.

This is from A Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, copyright 1985. My immediate attraction to the book was spurred by the previous attraction to the movie. It can be extremely depressing reading an Orwellian tale, especially if the author is prone to un-prose-like detailed description in the beginning and allows only the barest minimum of the protagonist’s cutting wit to adorn the book.

I had discovered the movie among a stash of my mother’s illicit DVDs several years ago. She goes through stages of collecting activities. Once it was embroidery, then cream puffs, then cheesecake, then patchwork, then garish handbags, then ballroom dance. I used to make it habit of raiding her old stores when I was seeking amusement. The handmaid’s tale was an extremely old movie, and the content shocked my tender mind. It speaks of an age where a majority of humanity has become infertile due to pollution, a regime that believes women’s place is in the house has taken over the world, and systems are established to ensure ignorance and compliance.

In one of their more odd systems they use the story in Genesis that speaks of Rachel’s use of her handmaiden as a surrogate for herself. This story, of course, ends badly, but that part is conveniently left out. To deal with low birthrates, the system uses extreme measures to acquire fertile women (if you are a single mother or if this is not your first marriage, they break up your family and take away your child), indoctrinate them, and then put them in privileged families to act as surrogates for the wives.

The handmaid's tale, movie 1990, featuring Natasha Richardson

If anything, the book paints males in a very bad light: as creatures incapable of feeling as deeply as women do, alienated from the sensibilities of the female matrix. It also brings forth some of the rather fascinating and oppressing aspects of a matriarchal society that exists as a sub-current in this system of apparent ‘men-in-charge’. Personally being unwilling to unfavorably categorize and thus dismiss people easily, I am occasionally impressed at the descriptions of characters that are attached with stronger emotional connotation. Hatred. Stupidity. Immaturity. Tackiness. I believe people have multiple possibilities of characters within themselves, and that they are capable of evolving. But sometimes I feel in agreement with the verdicts of others, and it was upsetting to note that I had personally encountered such a character as, what might be termed, the villain in this book. The behavior of this character was pathetic. And it is only through reading the book that has allowed me to see him in such a light. That is sad.

What I find particularly sad is that we may be true to nature. That sometimes the myriad possibilities of our personalities cannot outrun certain categorizations. And also that the system the book describes is not an exaggeration – it is possible, plausible, and in existence right now. The thing that the book is talking about is massive disempowerment – that, even when the majority of a society disagrees with the system, they can still live in a manner that augments and justifies its authority. We submit to an unreasonable power that destroys us. We play it safe, with game-theory passivity. Why throw yourself on the line when you have no assurance that the rest of the malcontents will play honorably?

It is as though we need others to put into words what our distress is about, others to articulate our needs, to suggest a way out, to start constructing a way out. And maybe, if we think it will cause the least risk to us, we will join it. In these scenarios, the least risk usually means that there are a great deal of committed members, and that the group has a sizeable resource.

It exists now, in our society, this mass feeling of disempowerment: When an educational bureau refuses to respond to the requests of proactive parents, or even consider the complaints of students, when scholars are denied grants if they attempt anything close to ‘telling the government how to mind their business’, when, besides a dazzling smile and catchy slogans, we really have no idea what a candidate is about, when the senate blocks a bill to give their own accounting practices accountability, when financially well backed lobbying can drown out the voices of concerned citizens, when a nation of people are not allowed to name themselves as they see fit…

And it is hard to look at yourself, if you’re not prepared to fight. It’s hard to look at yourself when your opinions are so liberal they sometimes have a hard time indicting people. It’s hard to look at yourself when you’re afraid to invest yourself because no one may support you. A lady I met today said, “Well, what can we do? It’s the system. We should just mind our own business.”

But think about this. You are member of society. ‘The system’ is composed of members of society as well. They’re not aberrations of human design, alien from our common sensibilities. Rather, what sets them apart is their task – of public service, for us and for themselves. If we think of ‘the system’ as composed of a similar selection of individuals as what you might get if you wanted to do a random selection from the general civilian population, there should be a similar composition of those who are enthusiastic about their job and those who do the minimum necessary. Granted, the way they get into this system would make this selection not so completely random. But when we’re looking at the level of human motivation for service, over the years, in the same office, I believe the selection process will influence this portion very little. Now, think of these individuals as possible passives, like yourself – people who feel disempowered by the system they work in as well. It takes audacity to lead with authority, and bravery to augment that with accountability. Not many people are willing to take these sorts of risks. They blame it on the system, just like you do.

Now imagine if most people are willing to take that extra step, andassume responsibility.

Imagine that we stop appropriating blame, tracing it 50 years back, as though that could solve our issues today.

Imagine loving our world, believing in justice, and acting on these beliefs.

This concept, I believe, is best illustrated by this passage from Bill McKibben’s 1987 article God Within the Shadows where he talks about Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement:

Since King was killed in the late ’60s, another question arises: how vital was King, as an individual, to the movement? Garrow (…) argues that, in the words of a civil rights colleague, “the movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement.” This is important, another civil rights worker is quoted as saying, because “if people think that it was Martin Luther King’s movement then today they – young people – are more likely to say, ‘Gosh, I wish we had a Martin Luther King here today to lead us.’ If people knew how that movement started, then the question they would ask themselves is, ‘What can I do?’ “

In this day and age, we cannot wait for our heros to be born – for they already are. We are the heros.

Watching Mayerling

28 Jul

It was by pure chance that I came across Mayerling, the piece by Kenneth MacMillan and performed by the Royal Ballet. If I’d known the plot I’d never have bought it, or watched it. But as it is it’s an interesting study in human potential for depravation, and absolutely beautiful choreography with two of the (not main) dancers.

Mayerling is based on the Mayerling incident during which Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary supposedly committed suicide with his mistress the Baroness Mary Vetsera. The incident was hushed up at the time, and Rudolf’s grieved parents (he was their only son) had to request a special dispensation from the pope on the grounds of insanity, so that he could be interred in the Imperial Crypt. There has been speculation on it not being a murder, but a political assassination, due to the fact that the Crown Prince had no sympathies for Germany at a time when it was advisable to do so. The ballet, Mayerling, is very liberal with what little facts we do know, and possibly disrespectful to the dead. Royal families have a lot to endure. The House of Habsburg, however, ended quickly after Rudolf’s death. So perhaps they may glean some small comfort from the fact that the ballet brought some attention back to their story (or not). We certainly none of us believe in everything a play tells us.

In itself the work is intensely emotional, and if you have keener sensibilities, may be somewhat painful to watch. If you have an anarchic bent and find aesthetic enjoyment in the lavishly de-structured, then Mayerling would be a ballet for you!

The scenes I particularly enjoyed were the scenes where Rudolf attempted a flirtation with his sister-in-law, Princess Louise, at his wedding. I had not become acquainted with the story background at this point and simply found Sarah Wildor absolutely captivating. I was disappointed when she was not featured prominently in the other scenes. This was part of the reason she left the Royal Ballet in 2001. If I could find this scene and show it to you you’ll understand how enthralling it is. It was a very short scene, and Wildor looked piquant, curious, reserved and faultless. By contrast, Viviana Durante (playing the Baroness Mary Vetsera) appeared both girlish and reckless. Her fascination with Rudolf’s fascination was well-played, but hardly poignant. It was perhaps very much in character for what was written, for she was only 18 when she died, and he 31. I guess there are no perfect worlds, even in ballet.

The other scene I enjoyed was with Nicola Tranah playing the Empress Elisabeth in her chamber with her son, and later on for the short while she was vexed with her husband’s adultery yet joyous in her own sexual liberation. She doesn’t make complete sense here for I would figure, if she acknowledged her husband’s mistress so publicly, and was happy in the attentions of other men, why she should still appear to be bothered. If the play were reality, Prince Rudolf would have become dysfunctional if only on that cause. I have reason to assume most men unable to escape unscathed from the failed marriage of their parents.

Tranah made a stunning figure reading on the chaise longue. Perfect. Pointed. Toes!

I do not understand why Rudolf’s ex-mistress the Countess Marie Larisch would both introduce Vetsera to him and encourage their relationship. What would have motivated her to do so? The only idea I have is that perhaps Larisch found Vetsera like herself, for when together they danced in the same manner, and she hoped to use Vetsera to satisfy her urge to be close to the prince, who was starting to push her away. Vetsera is an entirely different character from Larisch (in this ballet, of course, we shall not refer to the real historical figures here), however, for her interactions with Rudolf show her to be more than a girl delighted with the prospect of a lover – she can be daringly psychotic. Larisch, however, can only attempt to use all the conventional manners a desperate woman may employ to retrieve her lover’s heart – and fail spectacularly. She does not dance like Vetsera when they are not together, and we might guess that dancing in concord is only the facet of themselves they are triggered to present when interacting. This reminds me, sadly, of the possibility that however in-sync I may find my interaction with another individual, I cannot safely assume that that person is akin to me in most aspects of character, morality…etc.

To me, it still doesn’t make sense why Larisch would encourage their relationship. A visceral sense of power for being the one who ushered in the next mistress? Of what worth is power when your feelings are trampled?

I have not studied dance forms, but I presume to surmise that Mayerling is not entirely a modern ballet. Classical moves are used in rather more unconventional ways. However, I found it a much lovelier piece of work than Angelin Preljocaj’s Blanche Neige, which is modern ballet but which I found a bit too ‘unstylized’ for my tastes. Perhaps there is still part of the fairytale element dwelling in me, for I would rather my ballets suggest the act rather than bring porn to the stage.

A summary of the various acts for Mayerling can be found here:

Besides analyzing the plot I would like to bring some of my personal feelings to bear, if I may.

I felt intensely upset after watching this ballet – and resigned. There was rarely a point of sincere affection within it. Rudolf was designed to chase tails as much as they were available. And his affection for his new mistress could be interpreted as the fascination that two equally sick minds may have for each other.

After all, he did shoot her, or we guess that he did behind the screen. How else? A woman does not kill herself upon finding love. They are two completely different passions. If she were mad I suppose there would be the possibility… but how much can normal passions in people differ, even in the failed logic of the mad?

I am tired of seeing the ugliness that is possible in this world. I wonder how much it could change me, and how much I can realize this before it’s too late. I understand that I must know – but knowing and having respite in other areas, or not having much hope for respite, are two different things. I must rely on myself to strengthen my better feelings.


The late UK labor MP Michael Foot in his speech before the 1983 general election

5 Mar

“We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of their initiative, I would answer, ‘To hell with them’. The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.”

The Joke, by Milan Kundera

12 Jan

Read Milan Kundera’s The Joke, expecting nothing delightful.

I chose it because I knew I had to take it upon myself to peruse something that is called literature after a few months of digesting nothing but novels, news pieces, popular science books and political tracts.

One of the other tasks that I have taken upon myself is to read some Chinese literature, since I have begun to feel the acute frustration of not being able to convey the emotional intensity and inspiration of some of the issues I hold close to my heart when I try to write (or speak of) them in Chinese. Being fluent in a language is so important.

I had, initially, the choice between ‘The English Patient’ and some of Milan Kundera’s works. I loved The English Patient as a movie. I loved the pulleys that Kip made for Hana. I loved the complimentary notebook with the little quotes from the book inside. The words flowed like the imagery of sand over a peaceful, jeweled rattlesnake, or the way wind blows through doorways that are unadorned but for a veil of shimmery gauze. It was my first peek into the exotic beauty that existed alongside the peripheries of WWII in the Middle East. I was in junior high, and the movie, the quotes in the notebook, made me dream in milky, sandy textures. There was, however, certainty of sorrow in the story. And one tends so much more to be touched by a book. I did not want to sink too much into words that I knew would be too beautiful, I did not want to read about sorrow before my Finals.

So I chose Milan Kundera, as he seemed less pleasant. Heavy Czech socialist history with some revelations on the human spirit, loose morals in a modern Europe, and a man who lived without too much reflection or a strong sense of social responsibility; these I expected of him. I did not choose The Unbearable Lightness of Being, as my friend Ivan loved it for reasons I disagreed with. The Joke, I reasoned from the title, may be a bit light hearted and thus amuse me for a bit.

Of course I was mistaken. I had expected to merely skim through the book but was transfixed as one is usually transfixed by seeing something unpleasant. My brother, when I was watching a particularly nasty short film at home and commenting on it, asked me if it is so horrible why are you still sitting there? I believe it is because, always thinking the best of things, one tries to wait it out if something more pleasant would occur by and by. I had deployed this optimism with the book ‘Jude the Obscure’ when I was in junior high. By a third of the book I could not understand how things could continually go downhill in this manner when things already seemed to have hit rock bottom, so I cheated and skimmed the end. No doing. It was one of the most abject books I had ever come upon. And only later did I learn that Thomas Hardy was a pessimistic writer. Drat.

The portrayal Milan Kundera had of the protagonist and his associates gave one a sense of general hopelessness and un-enlightenment over humanity. I could not understand how someone (the protagonist) could be so horribly thick. Perhaps Kundera wished to show us how we each, in our minds, created this image of the world that was certain to jar with that of others. It did not help that the previous owner of the book had taken it upon himself to write bad poetry in the margins. So that one was constantly jolted by irreverent, sappy lovelorn phrases meant to convey an atmosphere of artistic melancholy but instead made one want to find the previous owner and step on him.



Never been seen this book before

I accidently crossed this border today. A

nd she remind me by letting my eyes open.

She said she left me not because I am “me”.

From now on, this border would be on my back forever.

KenTsui on Christmas day 98’ w/ nobody


However, the ending (of the book, not the additional footnotes) was rather more uplifting for being, somewhat, of forgiveness and a bit more clarity of mind. So I retract some of the bad things I’ve said of Kundera. I’d like to end here with the poetry Ludvik read to Lucie when they were still very much in love:

by Frantisek Halas


Your body is a slender ear of corn

From which the grain has dropped and won’t take root

Your body’s like a slender ear of corn


Your body is a skein of silk

With longing written into every fold

Your body’s like a skein of silk


Your body is a burnt-out sky

And death dreams under cover in its weave

Your body’s like a burnt-out sky


Your body is so silent

Its tears quiver benath my lids

Your body is so silent


Fatuous words I don’t trust you

I trust silence

More than beauty more than anything

A festival of understanding

Not only them

13 Nov


Let him wish his life

For the sorrows of a stone

Never knowing the first thread

Of these

Never knowing the pain of ice

As its crystals slowly grow

Needles pressing in on the heart

To live forever

And never feel a thing

To wait a million lifetimes

Only to erode and become sand

Wish not for the stone

But for the fire

Last only moments

But change everything

Oh to be lightning

To exist for less than a moment

Yet in that moment

To expose the world to every open eye

Oh to be thunder

To clap and ring

To rumble into memories

Minds and spines

To chill the soul and shake the very ground

Pounding even the sand

Into smaller pieces

Or the mountain

Brooding, extinct

Yet gathering for one fatal moment

The power to blow the top clean off the world

Oh to last the blink of an eye and leave nothing

But nothing unmoved behind you

Vincent Guilliano

January 9. 1991


Reading The Freedom Writers Diary gives me a greater appreciation for good moral education. In fact, I believe that such education should not only be a stipend for kids at risk, but also for those who are considered the elite of the country. Students who earn good grades, who come from good families, who are ambitious – for these students, moral education cannot be unimportant. Though they may not have so many negative experiences for them to feel the want of peace, tolerance and love, it is an issue that they must deal with in every decision they shall make as an adult.



  Today as my friend and I were talking she mentioned a girl in her high school who wanted fervently to go into med school. This classmate of hers was (academically) at the top of her class. When they did practice interviews, the girl spoke warmly as if she were cared very much for others and frequently helped her classmates. However, my friend was disgusted, since this girl had never shown any interest in the welfare of her fellow students of any sort. The girl later got accepted into Dentistry.



  There are many cases in our society when those with the most advantage and are most expected to lead us in the future lack a moral education. This should be disturbing to everyone. When our schools cram us with information and fill us with notions of glory concerning what our education could do for us, does it not miss the most vital point of education? Education is for the betterment of humanity as a whole, not merely for the profit of individuals. When the government and educators focus educational resources merely on advancing the student as an individual, it is not making a very wise investment for the future of that society.



  As we know, educational institutions all around create skills to fill a current or future need in the job market. Since there is currently no way to assess people’s morality, we can’t expect that there will be a need in the future to induce the educational system to put moral education into the curriculum. This problem may be somewhat alleviated in Chinese society due to the fact that our classical Chinese texts are mostly treatises on morality. However, we in Chinese society are crippled by a lack of encouragement in independent thought, which is a basis for resisting societal pressure or edicts that spread hatred and fear.



  So the way for us to have more concerned citizens is if there is more moral education in mandatory education. Not that we should have one class devoted to this subject, but that such should be instilled into almost every subject. This would help students better utilize fair judgment into every spectrum of decision making and is a crucial step towards the dream of world peace.

World Peace is impossible

17 Aug

I know that most of us would love world peace. It’s an ideal, a great one. Something to look forward to. But the fact is, after an ideal is achieved, what then? The activists would be out of a mission. How many activists out there have a personality that could, like the old Roman General, settle down back in his farm after winning the battle? Most activists revel in the continual struggle against adversity, shining as a beacon of justice in the mire. That makes life worth living. That’s why we all love the terminator series.

I try to create a model of world peace in my mind, and all I see is that once a certain situation may stabilize, there are bound to be dissenting factors that will rebel against all the ‘pseudo-everyone-loves-everyone-niceness’ and there’ll be people to oppose these rebels, thus making peace impossible. How much tolerance can we learn for each other? And if diversity is inevitable, so would disparity in levels of tolerance. We as humans cannot agree to exercise our freedom of will with the responsibility that it requires. Thus our society is in a constant state of flux.

People, by nature, like to be respected, to be better than others. That in some cases creates grounds for inequality. I often wonder, also, that in many people’s secret hearts of hearts, there isn’t actually a desire for some form of wrongness in society. There was a little boy in Anne of Green Gables series who once declared he didn’t want to go to heaven. When asked why, he said that the Sunday school teacher claimed that in heaven, they would all float in the clouds playing musical instruments for eternity. It sounded horribly boring. To be sure, if heaven is really like that, I doubt that people would want to go to heaven at all. And world peace, in a way, would be heaven on earth. It’s unsettling. I’m not saying I don’t desire it, but can we force everyone to agree to this?

In the increasing world trend of activism, we live now in an age of hope. We live with the idea that we really can do something to save the world. We live in constant change and excitement. This is heightening our expectations of what we can do, as individuals, as teams, in solving world problems. Heightening our desire for action. For justice. Heightening our appetite for the doing.

When and if all the problems in the world are solved, what then? Suddenly, people will panic. What? Nothing else to participate in? Must we all go back to a life of living, of enjoying our family and friends? I do not think everyone will agree to this.

Fortunately, World peace will never happen. Thus, if ever we humans solve all main issues concerning inequality, the environmental and energy crisis, intolerance, disease…etc, there will always be minor issues to wrinkle out. The industry of activism will be able to as sustainable as wind power.

And we’ll always have to educate the next generation to heed history. I’m not optimistic about that either. A cartoonist once commented that he found himself drawing the same theme every decade or so, because man does not learn from history. The mistakes are repeated, with the stakes higher. World peace? Not gonna happen.