sweet revenge

kabuki

This weekend I got my first full-length taste of kabuki and, boy, was it delicious.

This form of Japanese theater is fantastic and fascinating to watch — for its dramatic acting, stylized makeup and simple, effectual music — but it’s even better when you have some sense of what people are saying. Lucky for me, the Cathay Cineplex in Singapore was hosting the Cinema-Kabuki Festival. The beauty of theater at the movies is that I could see subtitled, film versions of two plays.

One was the beautiful Kyokanoko Musume Ninin Dodoji. The other was the brilliantly funny Noda Version Togitatsu no Utare.

One of the best ways to learn about a genre is to see a parody of a genre. Togitatsu was so well done that, even through translations of puns, I laughed to the point of tears several times. Like Om Shanti Om is to Bollywood, Togitatsu is a really interesting introduction to kabuki. It’s an ode to an art form that artfully pokes fun at itself. With modern dance moves. Think West Side Story. If you get a chance to see this production, don’t miss it.

the games

I’ve been thinking about the Olympics torch relay. It seems to be rousing deep emotions — perhaps some kind of opportunism, or maybe pent up frustrations. But one thing’s clear: Even before the Olympic Games begin, there are some serious political games going on here. Just look at the torch’s run through India and Pakistan (not to mention the way each country’s national press covered it).

My roommate, who is from Japan, told me a about a Japanese website that chronicles the extreme sport of Olympic torch relay races. (Japan will run the torch in Nagano “inside a security cordon of Japanese riot police.”) Then I found this little wiki. I don’t know who is running the page, but I hope it stays updated and gets more details going.

Update: I am told that the Japanese version of Uncyclopedia is much more comprehensive, and I’m guess by the images, much funnier.

merhaba

It’s been one long month — it’s great traveling and I love to see new things. But it nice to take stock.

I spent an excellent two weeks in Turkey in March. Istanbul is a fantastic city — I particularly like Turkish tea, backgammon and grilled cheese. And fresh tomatoes. It’s a vibrant place with so many surprising paradoxes (see this and this). I also recommend sleeping in caves. There’s something about it — maybe the minerals in the air or the way it gets very dark — that gives you a really deep sleep. Turkey also offers some really amazing, really ancient things.

I got my first taste of Hong Kong, as well, and let me tell you, it was delicious. (Don’t go overboard on the street food, by the way. I learned that the hard way.)

Here’s a new friend I made in Cappadocia.

Cappadocia boy

this is what they think

Traveling around Southeast Asia is a joy. The variety of the people, the familiar things that are somehow different, the mixes of cultures — it really makes every turn a surprise. It’s fun also to tell people that I live in Singapore. I can relate to Singapore this way: it’s kind of the odd little sister with her head in the clouds. Her older siblings kind of laugh at her, but (I’m sure) envy her a bit too.

That said, my friend picked up a magazine in the Philippines and found this little set of advertisements.

absolut-singapore.jpg

food and floods

koch-jakarta.jpgA quick post — the story that came from my December trip to Jakarta with friend/colleague/photojournalist Jacqueline Koch was published a few weeks ago in the Singapore-based magazine Asian Geographic. I was pretty happy to see it actually run because, as a UCLA professor explained to me once, no seems to care much about floods in Asia anymore. The teaser on the magazine’s website is here.

<<UPDATE>> Here’s a link to a PDF of the article:Jakarta.pdf

fruit drinksBack in the U.S., the Princeton in Asia fellowship that got me out here to Southeast Asia in the first place has published an Asian food guide to New York that’s getting some nice reviews. I think they published one of my photos and perhaps a blurb basically drooling over the wonderful food I’ve had in Jakarta. You can buy a copy and tell me about it (I haven’t seen one yet!) from the PiA website.

sad posters in Kuala Lumpur

In yesterday’s general election, the ruling coalition party in Malaysia lost control of Kuala Lumpur. And Penang. And Selangor, Kedah and Perak.

kl-newspapers.jpgAnd I know it’s big news because I couldn’t find an English-language paper anywhere in Chinatown — all of the newstands were sold out. And last night, as election results began coming through at about 1 a.m., opposition and alternative media websites were near impossible to load. The main page of Malaysiakini and Jeff Ooi’s (now MP Jeff OOi of Penang) Screenshots blog were completely stalled, and Raja Petra Kamaruddin’s Malaysia Today was very slow. I found my hotel’s last remaining copies of today’s paper in the business center.

The Barisan Nasional has made its worst showing since Malaysia’s independence in 1957. Including Kelantan, which has been lead by the Islamic Party of Malaysia since the 90s, five states and one capital city are out of ruling coalition hands. This is the first time since 1969 that the coalition has not held a two-thirds majority in parliament. With only a simple majority, the party will no longer have as easy a time changing the constitution.

But why change now? Different media are giving a lot of reasons — the Asia Times ran a good pre-election article summarizing some of the major issues; long-time government leader Dr. Mahathir, according to Malaysiakini, can think of at least one reason for the turnaround.

There’s something thicker in the air though — the Malaysian Indian Congress, which is under the umbrella of Barisan Nasional, lost many seats in Parliament and state assemblies. It’s president, S. Samy Vellu (on his birthday), and major leaders were all dethroned. Meanwhile, a protest leader from the Hindu Rights Action Force who is currently detained under the Internal Security Act won a state assembly seat in Selangor.

Kuala Lumpur is still aflood with Barisan Nasional posters and flags and fliers —  I wonder how the city will (or won’t) change as the fliers come down and new leadership comes to town.

joining The China Beat

I wrote my first post for The China Beat today. It was a Q&A with a political scientist, Benjamin Read, who has been studying homeowners associations in China. He put the recent protest in Shanghai in context:

So I think we should guard against reading too much into this event. Howard W. French, in his New York Times story makes a rather bold claim that the protests are “the strongest sign yet
of rising resentment among China’s fast-growing middle class over a
lack of say in decision making.” Social classes rarely act in unified
ways politically, and it’s questionable at best whether the middle
class in China is generally characterized by resentment.

You can read the full text of the interview here. I’ll be on a bit of a China tour this summer, looking at life on the fringes of big cities with my friend Anka Lee.

not chocolate, but chocolatey

These are the Chocolate Hills of Bohol in the Philippines. I visited the island over Chinese New Year. They are a spectacular sight — if I ever write fiction (doubtful), I’ll hole up in these hills to do it. When we visited, the tip of the hills were just turning a rusty brown color. I was told that once the hills turn entirely brown, they look like miles and miles of chocolate mounds. You can see more photos of my trip here.