Narcissus' Echo

Thoughts, tears, rants, ruminations, hopes, fears, love(s), and prayers of just another being passing through this wracked sphere...

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Self-censorship: abnegation

The translingual writer, Anton Shammas , once opined, "You cannot write about the people whom you love in a language they understand; you can't write freely. In order not to feel my heroes breathing down my neck all the time, I used Hebrew."

This quandary, posed by Shammas, used to be the exclusive domain of writers, poets, film makers, song writers, and other artists, but now we observe it in a larger portion of the generation: bloggers. While Shammas was referring to print and languages in his quote, I propose it can (be manhandled to) apply to the contemporary issues raised by the advent of blogs as well. Where does the "privacy" of those you love (your acquaintances, friends, significant others, life style partners) begin, and where does your freedom of expression and speech end? There is, I believe, a very wide spectrum between pouring your heart out online and being a tell-all exhibitionist. Then again, a blog is an exercise in exhibitionism (and all its readers voyeurs, of one degree or another).

Do we have to hide from those closest to us (so as not to hurt, offend, or disappoint them) in order to truly express ourselves? If this is true, then what does it say about the human condition? Oh, one can mask it by saying that one should always temper one's words about one's loved ones, treat them tenderly in one's expressions, etc., but deep down we know those are just euphemisms. It is OK to bitch to your drinking buddies about your GF's habits or traits, but it is not OK to write about them on your blog (well, you can, but you better pray she never discovers the existence of your blog). Why? What distinguishes your beer buddies from the people reading your blog? What is the difference? Sheer number? After all, not many of us have hundreds of beer buddies. Does it have to do with our subconscious associating certain qualities with print?

Why do we have to self-censor? When can you say what you want? When can you express what is burning in your heart? Or are you just ignoring it, letting day after day, year after year, decade after decade, pass until your dying day? Are you going to keep it all inside in hopes that you can bitch about your lifetime of repression to God? How many people die each day? Do you think God has time to listen to you? Do we consciously weigh our inherent rights to self-expression against the pressures of self-censorship? Pressures that arrive in various forms: from threats of lawsuits from government organizations, commercial companies, individuals with ambulance-chasing attorneys in their pockets, to friends resorting to emotional blackmail, withholding or holding hostage their friendship, to virtual strangers who send you hate mail or threats of physical violence. I am not talking about stepping over clear lines of what constitutes libel, or the digital equivalent of shouting, "Fire!" in a crowded theater here. No, what I am talking about is more mundane. I am talking about, say, I voice my opinion (and fantasy) that smokers who subject non-smokers to their 2nd hand smoke, should be hog-tied with their lips duct taped around the exhaust pipe of a V8 engine at WOT, I shouldn't have to be subjected to threats from, and admonitions of, friends who do smoke. This is not a case of irresponsibility for my expressions. Remember, this is MY BLOG. You are welcome NOT TO READ IT. Your exercise of censorship is but a click away; go to another website, or close the window, or quit your browser. While our opinions may or may not be influenced by those around us, it is a different matter altogether when those around us attempt to dictate or silence our opinions.

In The Writer Written: The Artist and Creation in the New Literatures in English, while examining All Visitors Ashore, by the New Zealander, C. K. Stead, Jean-Pierre Durix points out that,

Writing is an attempt to fill the gap of separation, to reach out over the vastness of silence, to keep in contact with the ideal object of one's desire, even if--and especially as--this object is unattainable. . . . For Curl [a character in Stead's book], writing is a way of avoiding the tremendous anguish of "nothingness and fear" (31) that seizes him together with the idea that he is crumbling to pieces inside himself. . . . Writing is a therapy, even if the aims pursued appear futile. (Jean-Pierre Durix, The Writer Written: The Artist and Creation in New Literatures in English (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), pp. 114-5)

How long shall one deny oneself this release; this therapy; this innate ability to recreate and recoalesce one's world order and world view? Singaporeans get uncomfortable (many of them getting mad. I seem to possess a proclivity for making people mad.) when I point out that, living in Singapore, from cradle to grave, one is told what to think, how to think, what to watch, what to read, how to read, when to marry, when to make babies, when to use contraceptives, etc. And now, they receive a signal that what they write on their blogs is being watched as well. A country that regulates with such stifling and draconian control cannot expect to produce anything other than efficient automatons. You cannot cultivate a culture of creativity and innovation with the presence of such soul-destroying engines running amok. The translingual exiled Chinese-American writer, Ha Jin, pointed out in many of his interviews that the biggest difference he experienced between China and America is that Americans trade security for freedom. This is something that many Singaporeans are not willing to do. You want a safe and regular place in your little well. You do not want to rock the boat. You want a safe and regular relationship with your friends. You do not want to rock the boat. For the majority of humanity, the environment and company kept define them; and, in that sense, perhaps Singaporeans aren't totally to blame: the entrenched culture makes them so; and so, they continue perpetuating the culture, in order to guarantee their place in it.

But what does it mean to silence oneself? For those IRC users out there (a dying breed), it is akin to being "devoiced." As it literally suggests, you have no voice. Whatever you type on your keyboard does not appear in the chat window. No one hears your screams; your words; your protests; your laments. You are present as a name on the list of people on the channel, but you cannot talk. You are a mere statistic. A friend is no friend; a lover, no lover; a benevolent government, no benevolent government, when they demand that you practice self-censorship, self-restraint, in everything that you say and write. What they are asking you to do, in effect, is to turn yourself into a digital equivalent of a subaltern. The subaltern have no voice. It cannot speak. The Dalit (Untouchables) in India are subalterns. No one hears them. They have no say in matters of the nation, or even society. They are, for all purposes, mute; represented only in census surveys. I will not be just another one of your neutered friends with a blog that only publishes material approved by you.

In my world view, I fervently believe that people should be allowed to freely write, print and say what they want. Censorship represents the death of art, and with that, the death of creativity, innovation, vitality, originality--life itself. There will be bad apples (e.g. Mein Kampf, Turner Diaries, etc.), but they are the price that comes with such freedom. Or would you prefer a world filled with nothing but songs and books of propaganda about "Dear Leader(s)"? Singaporeans: you might laugh at China, but dig a little deeper, think a little more, and you will be surprised at just how much your society holds in common with the "socialist republic." E.g. forcing school children to sing nationalistic propaganda songs, taking part in nationalistic marches and events, etc. Amnesty International Report 2005

Will I still my breath for you?
Will I hold my tongue for you?
Will I turn myself into a subaltern for you?

Forget about buying my identity or my freedom (with money, price of friendship, threats, or otherwise). Believe me when I say it's not for sale.

The door is always open; you can always choose not to read this blog; you can always leave. I believe a subscription to Cosmopolitan is still US$1 an issue / a month. Enjoy your unexamined life.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


The sun is out, the grass is warm, a soft breeze wafts through the palm trees - sounds like good reasons to spread out of beach blanket, twirl a hula hoop and/or eat some ice cream!

What: Beach Blanket Day at Orradre
Where: Alameda Mall in front of Orradre
When: Wednesday, May 25, 3pm-5pm (Hula Hoop contest at 4pm!)
Why?: Because we like you. M - O - U - S - E. (Quick, what's that refrain from?)

And if it rains or the weather is otherwise unpleasant? It wouldn't dare!

Today, the library declared it to be Beach Blanket Day: if you are willing to wear a garland of flowers (ladies) or colored transparent plastic ruffles (men), you get to join the line for free ice cream, toppings, chocolate or raspberry syrup, whipped cream and cherries, and a towel to lounge on the grass under the shade of the palm trees while watching volunteers compete in the Hula-hoop competition. The weather was perfect too. It was nice to do my research in an outdoor setting for a change. All those countless hours poring over musty tomes in cloistered corridors really get to you. Some of the more shapely females decided to change into their bikinis to better worship the sun. The braver (or more exhibitionistic) ones tried their luck with the Hula-hoops in their bikinis. It was a terrible distraction: Foucault or sexy young things gyrating their hips (and other parts of their anatomy)? Is that even a valid question? Needless to say, I didn't get much work done until I returned to the musty corridors... where I remained until 11 PM.

If I can sum up the Catholic experience in three words, they are: Temptation and Denial.

Ahem! Now that I have been damned for lust, it's time to move on to gluttony--like they say, in for a penny, in for a pound: here are two recipes (appetizer and entrée) to whip up for an intimate dinner with your special someone, or a few close friends:



Makes about 6 servings
1 log of FRESH Mozzarella (not the "Low Moisture" type) cheese
4 vine-ripened tomatoes. Firm, not too ripe. (Do NOT get the cheaper gas-ripen type)
Colavita Balsamic Vinegar
High quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Colavita if your budget can take it. If not, Star will do)
Fresh Basil (the dried form can be used if you are feeling lazy)
Focaccia Bread (or, failing at which, you may substitute with Santa Cruz MicroBakery Bread)

Dice Fresh Basil and place aside.
Slice Fresh Mozzarella into 1/4" thick slices and set aside.
Slice tomatoes into 1/4" thick slices, discarding the top and bottom pieces.
The number of tomato slices should correspond with the number of Mozzarella slices.
On the presentation dish, arrange tomato slices and then top each tomato slice with a slice of Mozarella.
Top each combination with the diced Fresh Basil.
With a large serving spoon, generously drizzle slices with Balsamic Vinegar.
With another large serving spoon, repeat the same with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Let sit for 10 minutes for the flavor of the Basil to seep into the Mozzarella cheese.
While waiting, lightly toast Focaccia bread (or alternative).



Makes about 6 servings
1 to 2 quarts meat broth
1 cup of dry White Wine
About 5 tablespoons butter or margarine
About 5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion or shallots
4 or 5 cloves garlic
2 cups Italian Arborio rice
1/3 teaspoon powdered saffron (if available), dissolved in 1- 1/2 cups hot broth or water
6 to 8 fresh mushrooms, chopped (more mushrooms may be used)
Salt, if necessary
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated Parmesan for topping.

Bring broth to a slow, steady simmer.
In a separate heavy 3-quart pot, add 3 tablespoons butter and all the oil. Over medium-high heat, sauté onion and garlic until onion becomes translucent. Add rice, and stir until well-coated. Sauté rice, onion, and garlic lightly for a minute or so, then add 1/2 cup simmering broth; cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed. As rice dries out, add another 1/2 cup simmering broth; continue to cook, stirring. Add broth as needed for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly to cook rice evenly and prevent it from hardening and sticking to bottom of pot.
Add half the saffron broth mixture. When rice begins to dry out, add remainder of saffron. (The later the saffron is added, the stronger its taste and aroma.) When saffron broth has been absorbed, continue cooking risotto, adding hot broth as needed. (If you run out of broth, add water.)
Add mushrooms; continue cooking and stirring. Correct heat is very important in making risotto -- a slow simmer is ideal. Risotto is ready when the rice is tender and moist but al dente. Taste to determine if salt is needed -- the beef broth is usually sufficiently salty. Add a few twists of pepper to taste, and turn off heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Mix thoroughly.
Spoon onto a hot platter or into individual bowls; offer more freshly grated Parmesan as topping.

The first recipe is from a small Italian diner in Los Gatos, California. The Pastaria & Market has been voted the best pasta in the South Bay. The second recipe is from Father Locatelli's list of favorite recipes.

A bottle of Chianti, or, if your palate prefers something spicier but thinner, Bolla Valpolicella (slightly chilled), complements the meal perfectly. Tiramisu would make the perfect desert.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Attended an evening garden party commemorating the launch of the Spring/Summer issue of at the university's literary magazine today. The event was held in the historic Mission Gardens.

For a few hours, the area was transformed into a magical literary landscape, completed with poetry readings, fiction readings, live music, barefooted, lithe, nubile nymphs reclining on the fragrant grass, worshipping the tender Spring sun... And, yes! Good food! Someone managed to tweak the budget to make allowance for generous portions of delectable hors d'oeuvres. It was a struggle not to return for seconds. A very big kudos to the editor, who drove 500+ miles the night before (roundtrip), to Bakersfield to pick up 7 boxes of the magazines because the shipper screwed up. That's dedication for you.

There is just something so special to be in the company of literary artists. The ferment of ideas as thoughts flow to and fro is sublime. We talked about the struggles of our craft; the blessing and curse of our gifts; our peccadilloes and writing rituals; and our "cigar moments."

A "cigar moment" is a moment when you craft a line, whether be it prose or poetry, that is done so well, it bears no revision; it is, for all purposes, perfect. That, is a cigar moment. I had one such moment while struggling over a poem this Monday afternoon. I had been struggling--and failing--with this poem, this idea, since 2001, when, on a beach in Santa Cruz, a close friend told me the story of her childhood in Vietnam, of how she would often go down to the beach, alone, and sit there, and focus her eyes real hard, believing that if she looked hard enough, she could see across the ocean, to her mother in San Francisco. The story's poignancy haunted me ever since. If I kept track of the amount of scribbled sheets of paper I have tossed away, and revealed it, the ELF would put a hit on me, and Pentel would star me in their commercials. On Monday 23rd of May 2005, after lunch, and over coffee, I tried my hand at the poem again, and in three drafts, the poem was born.

I am happy. Only a poet would understand me when I say it is like having exorcised an old ghost. The idea, the concept, has been finally transmuted to text on paper. It exists now, apart from me. It will finally leave me alone. It will no longer nag at me at all hours of my waking moments, floating like cobwebs through my mind, "Write me! Write me! Pen me! Pen me! Bring me to life! Create me!"

You have been created!
Now leave me alone!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

When theft is not theft

I spotted him immediately.

He was that obvious: a scruffy, stumpy man somewhat hesitantly approaching the produce/desert section. He waited--fidgeted around--until I picked my choice of desert to accompany my entrée of Florentine Lasagna. His weathered hands, lined with deep, dirt-embedded cracks, hovered over the spread of offerings, indecisive for a moment before he lifts a single banana, and then, quite surreptitiously, strolls out the entrance.

Stunned, I wondered for a moment if I should report him, perhaps even apprehend him myself. Do a good deed for the day. "Stop loss," so that the rest of us honest folk do not have to pay more for our food. How dare he sully the sanctity of our bubble by stealing here?

Then I reflected: is there a worse fate than to be in your fifties, balding, and stealing a banana for dinner (hiding it under that torn and stained, brown bagpack you wear in front to disguise your paunch) from a university cafeteria?

Charges of moral relativism and enabling aside, on a private campus where tuition exceeds the annual take-home wages of a significant proportion of the local population (Undergraduates US$29,000/academic year; Graduates US$32,000/academic year. NB: "academic year" does not include optional summer classes and programs), and the automobiles of choice are BMW M3s, Audi S4s, and Cobras, is it such a tragedy of proportions when a hungry old man takes a banana for dinner on Sunday without paying?

There must be a higher justice than this.

I hope the banana is enough.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Fashion's Price: Fur and Suffering

* Disclaimer: I am neither a PETA supporter nor activist.

This is a very disturbing video exposé of the fur trade in China. It is best viewed if you download the entire video (16 MB) first and then watch it. I think the sound drops out after a while.

I never got to the end.
I started feeling ill 1/3 through.

The animals being flayed alive (yes, alive) resembled dogs too much. It was just too disturbing. That, and the people actually found it a point of amusement that the animals were thrashing & screaming soundlessly from the pain.

I guess Frantz Fanon was right: given enough time, humans can get desensitized to anything.

Reaction from a number of Asians (FOBs and Asian-Americans) over here who viewed this video is curious though: indignance and counter-accusations of racism and cultural-intolerance / cultural persecution; and that the producers of the video are sellouts and traitors to their own race.

Maybe I am too much of an animal lover to see their point; either that or I am too "white-washed" (whatever that means), but I know this much: using the race card to defend atrocities is unconscionable and disgusting.

Undercover investigators from Swiss Animals Protection East/International spent the past year investigating fur farms in China's Hebei Province and found that many animals, including dogs and foxes, are still alive and struggling desperately when workers flip them onto their backs or hang them up by their legs or tails to skin them. When workers on these farms begin to cut the skin and fur from an animal's leg, the free limbs kick and writhe. Workers stomp on the necks and heads of animals who, fighting for their lives, struggle too hard to allow for a clean cut. When the fur is finally peeled off over the animals' heads, their naked, bloody bodies are thrown onto a pile of those who have gone before them. Some are still alive, breathing in ragged gasps and blinking slowly. Some of the animals' hearts are still beating five to 10 minutes after they are skinned. One investigator recorded a skinned raccoon dog on the heap of carcasses who had enough strength to lift his bloodied head and stare into the camera, with only his eyelashes still intact.

Before they are skinned alive, animals are pulled from their cages and slammed against the ground; workers bludgeon them with metal rods, causing broken bones and convulsions but not always immediate death. Animals watch helplessly as workers make their way down the row.

China supplies more than half of the finished fur garments imported for sale in the United States.

Again, if you are easily traumatized, skip the video.

You have been warned.

16 MB Video of the Fur Trade in China (Windows Media Player)
Update: Link broken. Click other link below.

Alternate link with other player preferences

Think about that the next time you are strutting around in your shallow J. Lo signature edition fur-lined outfits , eh? Can you hear the screams of the innocent and helpless animals who died painfully and slowly for your cool "bling bling" outfit? How can you sleep at night?

Through the years, Lopez has worn the skin of just about every animal imaginable, from foxes, who are bludgeoned to death and often skinned alive, to small, gentle chinchillas, who are killed by electrocution or have their delicate necks snapped and 100 of whose skins are required to make just one coat. As if wearing hundreds of dead animals weren't enough, in her first catwalk collection for her clothing line, Sweetface, Lopez proved that she is anything but sweet when she featured grisly garments made of white fox and mink. Lopez may try to market this line as "high end" and all about the "bling," but there is nothing upscale or elegant about how the original owners of these coats met their gruesome deaths.

More on J. Lo and her clothing line

If this blog entry / article / video offends you, then it has served its purpose (didn't I mention in my profile that I am a gadfly?). I bet the animals were "offended" to have their skin ripped off to make that fancy coat / jacket that you are wearing as well. The difference is that no one heard their cries, and no one cared when they died, while you can just close this window, or click on your bookmark for Paris Hilton's latest fashion offerings. Hooray for you.

BTW, in WWII, there were articles (e.g. book, chair, etc.) made of "animal skin" going around in Buchenwald too. I wonder if the SS have a Germanic equivalent of "bling bling."

Never forget that you are an animal too.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Hey, Mr Slappy

For some reason, this picture warms my heart.

the green-eyed monster which doth mock / the meat it feeds on

So she appears at 3:31 AM, "Hey, Ben!"

Me, "Oh, hey! What a pleasant surprise! How's your weekend?"

She, "I just got home. Whacha doin'?"

Me, "Oh, just archiving recipes. Had a fun date?"

Neither a confirmation nor denial.

I have to remind myself: I'm better than this. I am above this kind of petty jealousy. I will not descend into petty possessiveness. Such infantile behavior. She's not even my Significant Other (and so what if she were to be?). Have to learn to be detached. To detach. That, is the only key to true liberty.

There was once this rich man who had everything: a big house, a beautiful wife, bright and healthy children, lots of cattle, vast fields and farms. The rich man said, "I have everything I had ever wanted. I am happy."

Under the tree sits Buddha. "I have nothing. I want nothing. I am happy."

A huge flood came along, destroying the rich man's house, fields and farm, drowning his cattle. Later, famine and disease took his wife and children.

Sitting ruined under a tree, the rich man laments, "I have nothing. I am in despair."

Under the tree sits Buddha, "I have nothing. I am happy."

Not to say that I am going to sell off all my worldly possessions and go live under a tree tomorrow, or set off to the nearest hippie commune, (I am well aware of the irony that I reside in an ivory tower), but what I take away from this experience is the danger of attachment and cathexis. The reason why I even feel anything is because I have become attached to her, and I am not comfortable with this.

Why can't we all just get along?

The picture says it all.
How's that for ecumenicalism?
Time to get over your silly tribalisms, people.
Life's already too short as it is.
My God will beat up your God; my Daddy will beat up your Daddy; anyone see a difference between the two? Apart from one using real bombs and guns, and the other, water balloons and water pistols, that is.

Came across this today on a climbing forum:


".... well, a freak climbing accident out at Bau today. A guy had just finished a short climb of about 20 meters (in the rain), and while moving about on top of the face, slipped and fell. he was still tied into his rope, and had that rope taken the fall, it would have been a serious one (about 2:1), but no...his leg got wrapped up in another climbers rope who had topped out just before, and he fell twice the distance past that guy's last anchor point (about 8 feet down) a fall of 16 feet. Since his leg was wrapped, he caught with his head down and the force of the fall swung him into the face and bashed his brains out against the wall. I wasn't there, but a friend of mine told me that his skull cracked open and his brains ran down the wall. His girlfriend was roped up below waiting for her turn. They ended up having to sedate her and send her off the the local hospital. Just a reminder...short and easy climbs are still dangerous.

This guy was a top-notch local climber...but rain, slippery rock, bad judgement, bad luck and circumstances caused him a grisly end. The human body is too frail to accept the often violent results of circumstances. ----- from Wes "

Of course, as this video of a deadly climbing accident exhibits, helmets may not always save one from every fall.