Reading Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments takes me back to my high school AP Literature days when I first encountered her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale. What was frightening then, a dystopian America where women are stripped of their rights and defined by their fertility (or lack of), continues to frame her 2019 sequel. While this time around Atwood appears to empower her Gileadean women—expanding her protagonists from one to three, giving the new protagonists names (Aunt Lydia, Agnes and Daisy/Nicole), and bestow on them the task of overturning Gilead—the new trio is no better than the Handmaid Offred (“Of [Commander] Fred”). The oft-forgotten male-narrated epilogue delivered by Professor Jame Darcy Pieixoto at the Gileadean Studies Symposium again hits home the fact that despite the effort of these women to break free from Gilead, they ultimately fail to escape the male-imposed narrative.
The lone voice of the piano unveiled Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 2, starting with a series of powerful, brooding chords. With each play, a heightened sense of foreboding, and the tension quickly escalated into a breaking point that erupted into scaled musical statement that reverberated throughout the concerto.
The passion, whether uttered through powerful arpeggios or sweet romantic melodies, came rolling like waves unrelentingly, leaving one breathless with the distilled essence of love—both the pleasure of love anticipated and the pain of love unfulfilled.
The performance, performed by pianist Boris Giltburg, Pacific Symphony and guest conductor Ben Gernon, was a pursuit of the Romantic conception of the sublime. The state of being, a Romantic ideal, believes that the most memorable experience is not made up of pleasure alone, but also suffering.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts May 31—June 2 2018 Sergei Prokofiev Russian Overture Op. 72 Sergei Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 Igor Stravinsky Petrushka (1947 version)
Having read Jack Kerouac’s 1957 classic On the Road, I am fascinated by the idea of the “road trip.” To just go－despite being “so lonely, so sad, so tired, so quivering, so broken, so beat”－represents absolute freedom and complete agency.
The advent of automobiles in the 1950s, combined with highway expansion (the Interstate Highway System was created by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956) and cheap gas prices ($0.60 per gallon), strengthened accessibility and mobility throughout the country. Driving, or road trips, became synonymous with the American identity.
John Steinbeck declares in Travels with Charley: In Search of America that Americans hunger to move: “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation－a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here.”
This past Saturday, at La Jolla Playhouse, a road trip took place. The road-less-travelled kind, that of a Latina mother (Beatriz) and her 16-year-old daughter (Olivia).
There was one dancer onstage, and from this single dancer stemmed the street of Bangladesh.
The voice-over informed you that the young man, although of Bangladeshi descent, identified himself with his birthplace, London. He was a boy when he first visited his father’s homeland. The cacophonous sound of the street traffic enveloped the dancer: cars honking, tires screeching, pedestrians chattering. He reached his arms first to the left then to the right as if pulled by an invisible force, his eyes looked alarmingly in the directions paralleling his limbs; the audience tasted his disorientation.
There was one dancer, but somehow his presence felt larger. Dancer arrived as a boy, then he morphed into a driver. The driver got into a car accident and Dancer turned back into a boy, Then, Dancer transformed into a crippled beggar, then a boy, then a man pulling a rickshaw, then a boy, then a woman carrying a basket on her head, then a boy…
Blending a mix of dance, text, visuals and sound, dancer/choreographer Akram Khan took a breathtakingly beautiful approach to storytelling using modern dance.
Taking elements from his personal life, Khan gave birth to Chotto Desh, meaning “small homeland”; it is a growing-up story of a young man grappling with his cross-cultural background. Profoundly moving, innovative and magnificent, Kahn moved seamlessly among realms of Bangladesh and England, past vs. present, imagination vs. reality, and tangible vs. visceral.
“Up Late,” a two-hour after-dark event from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., brought together music, immersive theater and installation art to the High Line located in Manhattan’s Far West side last Thursday. Arguably one of the most eye-catching exhibition was New York-based artist Jordan Eagles’ High Line projections.
The mechanics behind the display was simple, requiring only overhead projectors and transparencies. Operating on the principle of which a focusing lens projects light from an illuminated side onto the glass top, the rich hues from the transparencies were superimposed unto the High Line.The allure, however, was not in the sheer magnitude of the installation, but its constant fluidity. If someone happened to stand in front of a projector, a shadow was cast; if someone came across the path of a projected image, his or her face instantly changed into something alien, tribal even.
Indeed, High Line projections extended beyond static frameworks of traditional paintings, Instead, the artwork’s preexisting state of being continue to morph and transform in reaction to the passing onlookers. Attendees turned from passive lookers to active participants. Actions, whether standing still or moving, reconstructed the projected millisecond by millisecond.
Eagles’ work was pretty, interactive and selfie-worthy. But what if I were to tell you the transparencies were reprints from blood? Continue reading
To buy a bouquet of flowers, from a return on equity point of view, is bad investment. Flowers start to die the moment they are removed from the stem, and as they loose their freshness, their value depreciate. But we adore flowers nonetheless.
As Michael Pollan pointed out in his book, The Botany of Desire, attractive flowers have a higher chance of being noticed by insects and animals (acting as agents of pollination), and thus bearing fruits first. Humans are also susceptible to this attraction.
Of the humans, Sherry has been most fatally afflicted. In addition to pink calla lilies and yellow daffodils in my office, there are also a variety of blossoms in my apartment, including snapdragon, forget-me-not, pansy, zinnia… You get the picture. And to top off my flower frenzy, a seminar on flower arrangement!
Word of the Day: Flower
The midday sun beats down unforgivingly. It’s noon by the way the shadow eats away at the two horses, swallowing them whole and making them appear gaunt and two-legged. The harsh light bleaches the world into blinding whiteness: only two colors remain, white and black. The starkness mirrors the two women who now appeared onscreen, one is wearing white and the other black. The woman in white hands the woman in black a dagger and instructs her to kill a man.
Cut to a team of riders. The woman in black watches the leader silently through the trees. Then, without warning, she runs out and in one swift motion slits his throat. No blood spills onscreen, but seconds later, the man topples off his horse.
This is “The Assassin” (《刺客聶隱娘》.
“The Assassin,” which won the 2015 Cannes Film Festival “Best Director” Award, is the long-awaited film from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien following Hou’s 2007 collaboration with French actress Juliette Binoche in remaking “Le Voyage Du Ballon Rouge” (“The Flight of the Red Balloon”).
The story takes place in 9th century China of Tang Dynasty and revolves around Nie Yinniang (聶隱娘/played by Taiwanese actress Shu Qi). Yinniang is the daughter of a general. Taken away at a tender age, she was raised as an assassin. Now, having grown and perfected the art of combat, she was returned to her birthplace with the assignment to kill the governor, Tian Ji’an (played by Taiwanese actor Chang Chen) who was once her betrothed.
But in opposition to what is expected with a film where the protagonist is a kick-ass swordswoman — elaborate fight scenes, kick-ass martial art moves, “The Assassin” is predominantly silent and static. The finished product is Hou’s contrarian interpretation of the film genre wuxia (武俠).
When it comes to the best one plus one, Baba Nyona — the mix of Chinese and Malaysian culture, cuisine is a hard one to beat. In addition to an impressive long list of Mee (see previous post), there are also an array of delicate, colorful sweet rice cakes Kuih for dessert.
The word Kuih（粿）came from the Chinese, but the Nyona version incorporates local ingredients such as coconut milk and pandan leaves. Coconut milk adds an exotic sweetness and pandan leaves, a herbaceous tropical plant with long green leaves commonly found throughout Southeast Asia, lend a unique taste and aroma to the foods. And when used in cakes and desserts, padan paste turns the sweets vivid green.
From layered pink-and-white Kuih Lapis to dual-layered Seri Muka (padan custard on top, steamed glutinous rice on the bottom) to tube-shaped Kuih Ketayap (pandan crepe wrapped around dark brown coconut filling), these chewy, bite-sized snacks will make you think twice about dismissing glutinous rice.
Another must-try is Cendol, a drinkable, soup-like dessert that soaks green jelly noodles (the green color comes from pandan paste) in coconut milk and palm sugar.
But all in all, my ultimate favorite dessert is red bean shaved ice. Known as Ice (Ais) Red Bean (Kachang) in Penang, and ABC (Ais Batu Campur or mixed ice) in the remaining Malaysia, the dish comprises of shaved ice topped with brown sugar syrup, red beans, various types of jelly and other dressings like ice cream or corn kernels.
My fondness for the dessert derives not from taste (because frankly, this version pales in comparison to Taiwanese-style shaved ice), but sentimentality for the 2010 romantic comedy “Ice Kachang Puppy Love” (《初戀紅豆冰》）.