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A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Thoughts and reflections on works of fiction and literature. Pondering of life through pictures and words. Babbling about gay rights. Travelogues and anecdotes.

  • [1] Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain
  • [2] Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • [3] Yu Hua: To Live
  • [4] Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty
  • [5] Colm Toibin: The Master
  • [6] Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind
  • [7] William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • [8] Charles Higham: The Civilization of Angkor
  • [9] Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case
  • [10] Dai Sijie: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch
  • [11] Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming-Pool Library
  • [12] Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
  • [13] Colm Toibin: The Blackwater Lightship
  • [14] Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star
  • [15] Ross King: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
  • [16] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  • [17] Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
  • [18] Colm Toibin: The Story of the Night
  • [19] John Banville: Shroud
  • [20] Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection
  • [21] Peter Hessler: River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze
  • [22] Ian McEwan: The Atonement
  • [24] Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • [25] Ignacio Padilla: Shadow without a Name
  • [26] Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
  • [27] Richard Russo: Straight Man
  • [28] Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground
  • [29] Alan Hollinghurst: The Spell
  • [30] Hermann Broch: The Death of Virgil
  • [31] James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
  • [32] Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • [33] Xingjian Gao: One Man's Bible
  • [34] C. Jay Cox: Latter Days
  • [35] Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
  • [36] William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
  • [37] Daniel A. Helminiak: What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
  • [38] James Baldwin: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • [39] Kenji Yoshino: Covering - The Hidden Assault of Civil Rights
  • [40] Italo Calvino: If, On a Winter's Night A Traveler
  • [41] Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
  • [42] George Orwell: 1984
  • [43] Michael Warner: The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life
  • [44] Andrew Sullivan: Virtually Normal
  • [45] Henry James: The Wings of the Dove
  • [46] Jose Saramago: Blindness
  • [47] Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • [48] Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code
  • [49] Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  • [50] Ken Follett: The Pillars of Earth
  • [51] Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • [52] Michael Thomas Ford: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me
  • [53] Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
  • [54] Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude
  • [55] Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
  • [56] Zadie Smith: White Teeth
  • [57] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Double
  • [58] Jose Saramago: The Double
  • [59] Andrew Holleran: Dancer from the Dance
  • [60] Heinrich von Kleist: The Marquise of O & Other Stories
  • [61] Andrew Holleran: In September, the Light Changes
  • [62] Tom Perrotta: Little Children
  • January 31, 2006


    [10] Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch - Dai Sijie

    The novel is a modern fairy tale under the disguise of a political allegory, the elements of which still bears the shadows if the Cultural Revolution. Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch represents a conscience – a poignant pang of conscience for social injustice. After years of studying Freud in Paris, a 40-year-old man returns to China to liberate his college sweetheart, who had taken pictures of people being tortured by police and syndicated them to foreign media, under the pretext of interpreting dreams. A corrupted judge mandated virginity of a girl in exchange for clemency from the Communist on her case. So the obsession of a greedy magistrate ensued the psychoanalyst’s journey to find a virgin. The quest took him to a rural panda habitat, brought him to close encounter with the marauding hill tribe, and costed him his own virginity!

    What strikes me the most about the novel is not Mr. Muo’s unswerving solicitude to rescue his love from the menacing cuffs. Nor are the depiction of life and the injustice to which people are subjected during Cultural Revolution more hairsplitting than what is already known. Almost every piece of late-20th century Chinese fiction lives in the shadow of this dark period that pervades the life of Chinese people. The heart of the novel is a man’s self-transformation without his knowing it. As a sense of futility hovers over every step of Muo’s scheme, his tight grip on his idealism imperceptibly loosened. A reflection on his return to China that has seemed to be rueful at the first thought opened up new perspective to his life. His once unshakable faith in psychoanalytic insight began to crumble as he smugly relished the prospect of a new love. Filled with snatches of somnambulistic musings and exuberant imagination, Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch beholds the power of suggestion that enlarges one’s imagination. The surface of the writing is more than a reflection of the concealed depths.

    January 29, 2006


    Happy New Year - Year of the Dog

    New Year, New Hair!

    January 28, 2006


    [9] A Burnt-Out Case - Graham Greene

    Graham Greene often strikes readers as being a prolific writer of genre novels. In an unreaderly time, it's amazing that his works still arouse responses of curiosity, attention, and debate to an extent that is deeper than what entertainment novels usually ensue. Reflecting the style of many other works, Greene invests in A Burnt-Out Case a moral dilemma that gives it an edge of seriousness and a whiff of suspense. Combining his rich travel experience with a style of the utmost calm, lucidity and simplicity, A BURNT-OUT CASE concerns a man who escapes life and his successful career as an architect and seeks refuge in a Congo leproserie.

    Querry is emotionally marooned - he suffers from nothing and loses touch with love, sentiment, and suffering. Humanity has no grabble on him. He is diagnosed as the mental equivalent of a burnt-out leprosy case, a leper who has undergone mutilation before he can be cured. Querry arrives anonymously and discreetly at the village looking for meaning in life. He might have lost his capacity to love but his scruple retains. The ex-architect has plunged to the bottom of his life (to the point of no return) when he realizes for his entire life he has not loved. The remorse in him motivates to come in terms with suffering, for suffering is the only measure one has to put himself in touch with the whole human condition.

    A Burnt-Out Case strives to make a daring connection between failure to love and religious hypocrisy. Querry realizes his lack of love and he cannot even pretend that what he has been feeling in life is love. The motives for work, life, or anything, fail him and the ultimate crisis settles in: his life has been deprived of meaning. The moment he perceives the emptiness he has been lifted off the pit and is spurred toward love and good deeds. What Greene strives to convey is that one who has found love no longer has to elaborate that love to others. The novel subtly ridicules the absurdity in which Christianity would always presume and appropriate man's love and attribute man's good deeds to Christian love. So Christianity takes credit for all the good fruits and leave behind the evil doings. This blunt denial of any good that exists outside of Christian faith engenders hypocrisy.

    A Burnt-Out Case therefore affords an audacious (but valid) claim that is possible for a man of intelligence, modesty, honesty, and remorse to make his life without a god. The claim adumbrates a borderline existentialist tenet, which believes in an individualism that is free from any social and external influence in order to achieve autonomous decision-making in life and ultimately giving a tight grip on one's fate. The beauty of the novel lies in the fact that it does man's volition justice through Querry's transformation to love labor. The novel neither scorns Christianity nor the deeds impelled by the religious faith, but it expounds love that is purely humane and love that is not institutionalized or labeled.

    The struggle between hypocrisy and pure love becomes very evident as the underlying pride, deceit, and bitterness culminate in a riotous violence that jolts the quiet village. The novel exposes what most religious people do not wish to confront: the re-examination, and possibly the renewal of love at the painfully unbearable realization of the cruel truth that they do not love despite all the scrupulous church-going and the lip worship. For such philosophical terrain the novel seeks to tackle, Graham Greene had accomplished more than an entertainment novel.

    January 27, 2006


    Travel Itinerary

    I have a habit of keeping and updating my itinerary during my trip. The itinerary of my recent trip to Southeast Asia experienced so many last-minute changes to accommodate the lack of time. The day I arrived Bangkok happened to be the Thai King's birthday so I had to defer all the temple visits to the following day. Instead I plunged myself into the claustrophobic alleys of Chinatown where every inch and every niche are used to make a living. Updating the itinerary also helps me organize the pictures and write descriptions for them when I get home. While the wats are manageable to keep track in Thailand, the scattered sites in Cambodia and their long, complicated names become quite a dreadful chore to remember. Daily update of the itinerary helps distinguish different temples and monuments between where I so frantically shuttled. Brochures and pamphlets purchased at each individual sightseeing point also help grapple the history of the sites and contribute a more self-conscious knowledge of what I saw.Other collectibles are stubs from boarding passes, train tickets, hotel writing pads, receipts,...They are little things that will remind me of the specific travel experience. The tickets for the Bangkok klong (canal) taxi are 8 bacht and 10 bacht. Klongs are back water alleys that navigate throughout the capital where docks are arbitrarily built for local commuters. The trick is to find these docks because there are no signages (at least not in English) to them. I collected about three or four of those tickets which remind me of the quick and efficient way to bypass the nightmarish Bangkok traffic during peak hour. The catch is to know where you're to get off - the natural instinct tells me to follow the locals. Now talk about travel smart!

    January 26, 2006


    [8] The Civilization of Angkor - Charles Higham

    The Civilization of Angkor draws on the latest research on prehistoric archaeology, epigraphy, and art history to reconstruct a detailed chronicle of a remarkable civilization. The book serves as a primer, in addition to the tour guide’s word-of-the-mouth information and perfunctory Lonely Planet coverage, to my recent trip to Angkor Wat and the associated monuments. It illuminates the unique architecture and structural motifs that were dictated by religious influence.

    Higham focuses on civilization of Angkor, which was established on the northern shore of the Great Lake (Tonle Sap) in Cambodia, and progressively controlled the Mekong Valley to the delta, the Khorat plateau of northeast Thailand and much of central Thailand. Traces of ruins with Khmer influence are found today in the ancient Siamese capital Ayuthaya, also part of my itinerary.

    The Civilization of Angkor traces the origin and developments through four distinct phases, beginning about 500 BC in the prehistoric Iron Age, which saw the origin of rice cultivation. It was significant because domestication of rice represents one of the most profound changes in the human past of Southeast Asia. The second phase (100-550 AD) witnessed a swift transition to organized states in the Mekong delta that was fuelled by participation in a burgeoning international trade network. The third phase (550-800 AD) afforded formation of series of states in the low-lying interior of Cambodia, an area well suited to an agrarian economy. Flood retreat agriculture replenished with silt could provide the necessary rice surpluses to sustain the social elite. Thus the period saw the creation of wealth and establishment of social hierarchy.

    My trip to Cambodia focuses on the architectural style quintessential of and the temples erected during the fourth phase (800-1400 AD) of Angkor civilization. Establishment of capital at Angkor was followed by major construction of temples that for four centuries have inspired awe among visitors from all over the world. Higham has highlighted the unique architectural motifs and elaborated on the royal and religious influence that have dictated such motifs.

    Temples were usually kings’ enduring mausoleums. Kings who ruled for a significant period of time would have a state temple constructed, initially in the form of a raised pyramid to house a linga (representation of a phallus, usually in stone, that was used as an object of veneration) named after themselves and Shiva (major Hindu god of creation and destruction), which embodied the power of the state. Angkor Wat represented Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu gods, just as the walls and moats symbolized the surrounding mountains and oceans. Kings installed divinized images of their ancestors, whose names were again subtly combined with those of the gods, and worshipped them.

    In order to understand the kings’ keen interest to have communion with gods, one has to have a grapple in the historiography of Angkor state and its debt of debt to Indian religion and political philosophy. Beguiled by the ubiquitous imagery of Shiva and Vishnu (the Hindu god of compassion and preservation) and use of Sanskrit (the priestly language of Hinduism), Indianization is often the explanation to origins of Angkor. Hindu myths and tales explain the presence of motifs like the apsaras (divine nymphs), nagas (mythical snakes that guard earthly wealth), asuras (monsters), and rainbow, the bridge between the human world and the gods’ domain.

    Kings’ remains were placed in the central tower of Angkor to animate their images. Worship of the dead king ensued once his soul entered his stone image, thus permitting contact with the ancestors of the dynasty. Within this mortuary tradition, Angkor Wat is the preserve of the immortal sovereign with Vishnu, the supreme god who descended to the world of mortals in many guises. Vishnu is often seen with Shiva, whose representation is most remarkable at the nearby Preah Khan, where a linga, an erect stone phallus is tugged within a yoni, or vulva.

    Most of the Angkor temples share a common layout that Higham deftly portrays. A gorupa (entrance pavilion or temple gate) pierces the outer walls. Long rows of galleries sometimes divide up a platform from which a flight of steps leads up to a terrace containing brick towers and laterite structures. Further set of steps flanked by stoned animals lead to the uppermost towers. A maze of shrines and passageways often cluster around the central temple.

    A closer look at the central towers at these temples will reveal the difference in architectural style dictated by religious preference: the contention between Hinduism and Buddhism. Cessation of preference for Buddhism led to relentless destruction or modification of every image of the Buddha, including the great statue that once graced the center of Angkor at Bayon Temple. Many smaller shrines at this once-gilded tower were swept away and the site was modified to become a temple to Shiva. Therefore, Bayon contains asymmetric towers: lotus-shaped and linga. The outer closing wall contains eight cruciform entrance towers, and is covered in bas-reliefs that depict battle scenes and the daily activities of ordinary people. The central shrine, unusually, is circular and must originally have been gilded. A deep shaft under this tower contains the broken parts of a large image of the Buddha, a find reflecting the reaction against Buddhism after the king’s death. On the upper level, one is confronted by the multitude of towers and profusion of enormous heads (smiling faces) gazing serenely into the distance. These are the few remaining intact images.

    Drawing from archaeological research, Higham deduces a tower of bronze that used to rise even higher than the gold tower of Bayon Temple. This temple is part of the Baphuon Temple, which is now shrouded in scaffolding. The Royal Palace that lay to the north is now reduced to just two huge barays (reservoirs) and a few slabs of concrete outlining its foundation. To the east, a once golden bridge flanked by gilded lions led to a pavilion supported by stone elephants. The terrace of elephants is a 300-meter long raised platform. Opposite this parade ground are twelve small towers known as the Prasat Suor Prat. The nearby Ta Prohm is laden with rubbles. Trees have taken hold the temple, enveloped the interior and roots split apart the walls.

    The Civilization of Angkor is an academic history of a cluster of cities and their associated monuments that lie between the Great Lake and the Kulen Hills in present Cambodia. Higham traces this unique civilization that began in the prehistoric past and explores Angkor from its earliest foundations. Through the inscriptions and carvings so well preserved that they could have been done yesterday, the book recovers scenes of daily lives and the vicissitudes of the kingdom and deduces causes of its decline and abandonment. The book answers many of the questions pertaining to architectural style and its association to religious preference as I frantically shuttled between temples. Higham’s account allows me to grapple with Angkor’s history, religion, and philosophy in a more strenuous and self-conscious way than the usual come-and-go sightseeing can offer. It gives personal meaning to the whole journey.

    January 25, 2006


    Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok (2)

    Besides the Erawan Shrine in the Chitlom area, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is probably the most photographed place in Bangkok. The Grand Palace is used today by the king for only certain ceremonial occasions such as Coronation Day and is closed to the public. The king's current residence is Chitlada Palace in the northern part of the city near the famous teak house, Viemanmek Mansion. Immediately upon entering Wat Phra Kaew, two gilded stupa as shown in the picture are built next to the Royal Pantheon in commemoration of King Rama I's parents. Directly across from the pantheon are eight prangs, or towers, dedicated respectively from the north to south to the important elements of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dhamma (the law), The Sangha (the Buddhist monks), the Bhikshuni (Buddhist nuns who existed in the old days), Pacchekabodhi Buddhas (Buddhas who attained Enlightenment but never preached), the chakravarti (great emperors), the Bodhisattva (the Buddha in his previous lives) and the Maitreya (the future Buddha).
    At the base of each of the two gilded stupas are demon and monkey caryatides. The king also had monuments erected for his ancestors and himself on the terrace of the Royal Pantheon. One will find emblems such as the upper part of a crown, a garuda holding a naga (snake), a pavilion, and bronze elephants.

    A word of reminder. Bangkok's most heavily touristed areas, especially around Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and the Thas (piers), are favorite hunting grounds for con artists of every ilk. Sightseeing spots always attract flim-flam artists eyeing maptoting tourists. A man approached me and informed me that Wat Phra Kaew was closed for repairs. He then graciously suggested to arrange a tuk-tuk (motorized pedicab) ride to a wat that was Bangkok's best-kept secret. I kindly declined his offer with the confidence that the suggested itinerary was a sly guise for taking me somewhere to rip me off. Don't believe anyone on the street who tells you that a popular attraction is closed for a holiday; check for yourself. Another woman approached me and tried to tout these bags of bread crumbs to feed the pigeons at Sanam Luang (Royal Field). Don't ever accept such offer because you're very likely to end up losing a lot of money, like paying her 500 bacht for the crumbs.

    Support local artist - Kyle Sharp

    Kyle Sharp is a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. Ritual in the city will host his show, Nevada: Life in a Landscape, from Feb 1 to April 1, 2006. Come check out Kyle's photography works and support local artist.

    1026 Valencia Street
    San Francisco, CA

    January 24, 2006


    [7] The Varieties of Religious Experience - William James

    William James's position is simple: he claimed to have no living sense of commerce with a God, deity, and the Divine for his life was limited to impersonal and abstract concepts which, as ideals, interested and determined him. The Varieties of Religious Experience, therefore, in apropos to his living philosophy, is not a pedagogy of religious doctrines, creeds, and channel to salvation. It is rather an objective treatment of the various phenomena encountered in religions at a psychological perspective. James disclaimed to emphasize readers' mind of the enormous diversities which the spiritual lives of different men exhibit. Each of the subtopics (i.e. healthy-mindedness, sick soul, conversion, saintliness, mysticism, and philosophy) contributes an extraction from the privacies of religious experience some general facts which can be defined in formulas upon which everyone may agree.

    James has laid out the ultimate goal of the book in the first chapter: The quest for a mandatory general theory as to what the peculiarities in an entity should be which give it value for purposes of revelation. Such a theory, James throughout the book reminds and contends, should be a spiritual judgment according which an entity lays its foundation of values. Whatever conclusions one might arrive regarding religion, which is, after all, a private collection of a person's thoughts, emotions, and feelings, can be reached only by spiritual judgments which prompts sobriety. James concerns religion only at a personal level for religion is nothing more than the inner dispositions of man himself which form the center of interest, his conscience, his virtues, his vices, his helplessness, and his incompleteness - aspects that are at complete contrariety to the ecclesiastical organization. Religion appeals more like man's conscience or morality.

    James for the purpose of better illustrating his points on many occasions throughout the book uses very extreme examples. For example, ascetism practiced by saints could be self-mortifying and pathological. But James constantly reminds us that only through the most eccentric and extreme case studies are we able to see the more profound and distinguishing information. The plethora of examples also safeguard the book from the common downfall of over-simplification in defining religion, which is the root of all absolution and one-sided dogmatism by which both philosophy and religion have been infested. The examples also demonstrate the reason for a variety of religions and the need of different religions. Lives of all men should not show identical religious elements because it is impossible that human beings in such different positions and with such different powers as human individuals are should have exactly the same functions and the same duties. Each from his peculiar angle of observation should take in a certain sphere of fact and trouble, challenges and goals, which each must deal with in a unique manner at the appropriate time.

    Another battleground is the conflict between science and religion. Knowledge about life (which is usually corroborated by religion) is one thing, effective occupation of a place in life, James contends, with its "dynamic currents passing through" one's being, is another. For this very reason, the science of religion may never be an equivalent of a living religion, which primarily concerns the interest of the individual in his private personal destiny and the thoughts that are carried on in terms of personality; and if one obdurately turns to the inner difficulties of such a science, one sees that a point comes when science must drop the purely theoretic attitude. Metaphysical attributes of God, so much as they are merited by the intellectuals, must go because the meaning of any thought that finds its rest in belief is only determined by the conduct it is fitted to produce. James believes feeling is the deeper source of religion, and philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products. Philosophy therefore can act as a mediator to redeem religion from unwholesome privacy and to give public status and universal right of way to its deliverances. For in theology, verbality has stepped into the place of vision and professionalism into that of life, resulting in a conglomeration of abstract, pedantic terms that have given the gist of one's knowledge of deity. After all, what really sustain religion are the private emotions, feelings, and sentiment.

    James also devotes a great deal of his book on mysticism and sub consciousness. Human beings are alive or dead to the eternal inner message of the arts according as they have kept or lost the mystical susceptibility. Mystical experiences are ineffable, transient and passive. They are like sudden invasions of vaguely reminiscent consciousness. The conviction that "something" is genuinely transacted in this consciousness is the very core of living religion. James explains that this subliminal region is a continuation of the ordinary consciousness and manifests in the shape of a set of thoughts, feelings, and memories which are extra-marginal and outside of the primary consciousness altogether, but yet must be classified as conscious facts of some sort. And this is the central idea with which James pieces everything together: In religion we have a department of human nature with unusually close relations to the transmarginal or subliminal region. This religion, which is obviously the larger, unplumbed part of each of us in regard to among all states of consciousness, is the abode of everything that is latent and the reservoir of everything that passes unrecorded or unobserved. It harbors the spring of all our obscurely motived passions, impulses, likes, dislikes, and prejudices. Our limitations, hypotheses, fancies, superstitions, persuasions, convictions and in general all our non-rational operations come from this region. People, regardless of what religions they belong, share this common trait in the subliminal region. In persons deep in the religious life, the door into this region seems unusually wide open.

    The Varieties of Religious Experience gives a closer look in the behaviors evoked from the various religions. It is not meant to discredit any religions nor promotes specific faiths; it aims to map out how far certain attributes, be they metaphysical or moral, can be considered true.

    January 23, 2006


    Brokeback Mountain vs. 勞斯.萊斯 (Lous and Lois)

    A week after viewing of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, and after 5 readings of the novel on which the screenplay based, I'm still overwhelmed with a deluge of emotion. Brokeback Mountain is the story of two ranch hands who emark on a life-long discreet affair that is never resolved. The film further solidifies its status as the front-runner of this year's Oscar glory as the Producers Guild of America names it best picture of the year. While the box office continues to match its hype, the movie more subtly registers in my mind. This line keeps thumping on my mind:

    "and I'll say it just one time. Tell you what, we could a had a good life together, a fuckin real good life. You wouldn't do it, Ennis, so what we got now is Brokeback Mountain. ... I wish I knew how to quit you."

    I wish I knew how to quit you. What an overwhelming, heartbreaking line. This once-in-a-lifetime relationship has never been resolved. Talk about coincidence, around the same time Brokeback Mountain made its debut, a Cantopop song bearing the same idea popped out and since then it kept playing in my head - 勞斯.萊斯 (Lous and Lois)

    It's about two guys sharing a closeted relationship. The lyrics pierce through my heart:

    勞斯和萊斯 都是花樣男子 Lous and Lois are both men of full bloom
    勞斯 原是個校隊的優秀種子 Lous was once the school team's seed
    萊斯 只喜愛讀書 Lois had his nose buried in the books
    偏偏他倆 早見晚見 Fate afforded their company day and night
    每日著住同樣 純白襯衣 in matching white t-shirts
    羅曼史 開場於 相鄰的桌椅 Romance began at the study table
    不過二人 不敢放肆 but they contrived to keep it at bay

    能成為密友 大概總帶著愛 Love must have cultivated a close friendship
    但做對好兄弟 又如此相愛 旁人會說不該 that was no more tolerable than brotherly love
    忘形時搭膊 自有一面退開 Though the lightest physical touch was met with a wince
    暗裡很享受 卻怕講出來 the pleasure was unspeakably mutual
    兩眼即使 移開轉開 The eyes might have avoided contact
    心裡面也知 這是愛 but deep down inside they both knew it was love

    男子和男子 怎能親密如此 How can a man be so intimate with another man
    勞斯 難面對 卻跟她勾過手指 Lous couldn't help holding hands despite his fear
    萊斯 偏偏那樣痴 and Lois never wished to quit him
    終於一次 她撲過去 Finally he lunged forward to hold him
    四目對望然後 除下襯衣 and after a gaze he took off his shirt
    迷惑中 的勞斯 此時先至知 It finally dawned on the confusing Lous that
    一向沒當這好手足女子 his best friend loves him more than like a brother.

    能成為密友 大概總帶著愛Love must have cultivated a close friendship
    但做對好兄弟 又如此相愛 旁人會說不該that was no more tolerable than brotherly love
    純情何事會 讓這悲劇揭開 How could something innocent lead to such a tragedy
    他真的很意外 想起相識以來 but as he recalled the time they had spent together
    一起溫書逛街聽歌看海 studying, hang out, and looking at the ocean, he finally knew.

    日日也親暱如情侶 底牌終揭開 Truth about their love would finally unravel

    為何還害怕 若覺得這樣愛 But why should they fear if it's true love
    尚在計算他又是誰 可否愛 and does it really matter if the true love is a man?
    旁人哪個 接受這種愛 It does matter if nobody would accept this relationship
    明明絕配 犯眾憎 便放開 A true match that is met with hatred from worldly eyes
    永遠的忍耐 永遠不出來 will always be in the closet, oppressed
    世界將依然 不變改 And as time goes by
    只會讓更多罪名埋沒愛 This forbidden love will only bear the guilt
    可要像梁祝 那樣愛 and be proven real by death.

    It brings tears to my eyes and sends a chill down my spine every time I hear the song, which has duly compensated the story between Ennis del Mar and Oliver Twist in Brokeback Mountain. The song gives new meaning to relationship.

    Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok (1)

    I arrived in Bangkok on the Thai King's birthday, Dec 5 2005. All government agencies and temples closed in observance to this national holiday. I made sure to wake up early and pay visit to the adjoining Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) before a stream of buses dislodged loads after loads of tourists when the temples opened at 8 in the morning.Wat Phra Kaew is both a sacred structure and the repository of the spirit of the entire Thai people. Royal ceremonies perform here nearly the whole year round. The Thais come here to listen to sermons on Buddhist holy days and Sundays. They venerate the Emerald Buddha for auspicious benefits and to engage in meditation in order to develop a peaceful mind. I came here to learn about the history of the temple and to admire the beauty of the architecture.

    Upon entry to the temple my attention was immediately captured by the wonder of gleaming, gilded chedi (stupas) seemingly buoyed above the ground. This stupa was constructed in imitation of the large one at Wat Phra Si Sanpet at Ayuthaya (see previous post). Adorned with a golden mosaic, the Phra Si Ratana Chedi enshrines the relics of the Buddha.

    The highly stylized ornamentation at the ubosoth, an edifice inside a Buddhist monastery within which the ordination of monks and other rituals can be performed, is a shrine to the much revered Emerald Buddha. Picture is not allowed inside the ubosoth and visitors are recommended to purchase a pamphlet on the history of the temple for 20 bacht if they wish to better understand the history of the temple and to have pictures of the shrine. Mural paintings inside the ubosoth depict the scene of the Buddhist cosmology (the Three Worlds of Desire, Form and Non-Form), the Enlightenment of the Buddha, and the Life of the Buddha. Scenes from the jataka, the previous lives of the Buddha can only be found here. The encompassing hallway outside of the ubosoth is flanked by garudas (the king of birds and the mount of Vishnu) holding naga (the king of serpents). The Thais believe that this motif has the power to chase away evil spirits.North of the ubosoth stands the Phra Mondop (Library). The building was built in the late Ayuthaya style in the middle of a pond in order to keep the termites from eating the holy palm-leaf manuscripts. The Library is exquisitely decorated with a bronze snake with human faces, rather than reptilian ones on the railing of each staircase, the demon door-guardians and the mother-of-pearl inlaid door panels.

    January 22, 2006


    [6] Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

    The Shadow of the Wind takes a line of betrayal, lost friendship, hatred, love, and dreams that lived in the shadow of the wind. It is a touching homage to the mystical power of books that serve as mirrors to offer us what already carry inside us. Very few novel like the one in question powerfully illustrates how a book can incite sentiment buried deep inside our heart that only become unleashed at a certain time and at a certain stage of life's walk, upon the stimulation of a message.

    For Daniel, the son of a Barcelona bookseller, Julian Carax's novel seems to be waiting for him even before his birth on the shelf of the clandestine Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a most best-kept secret of the city. It is a library tended by the city's guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone, a dedicated bibliophile, who will care about them and relish them again. Destiny is for sure at work regardless of whether it is Daniel who chooses Julian Carax's book or the book itself does choose him. The mystery Daniel yet to demesmerize, peel by peel, strip by strip, layers by layer, ineluctably binds people from chance encounter in life together through a strange chain of destiny.

    The bookseller, Daniel's father, initiates his son into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to console him of his despondency over the loss of memory of his mother's face. As his father coaxes him to choose a book that will carry ineffable meaning and irresistible appeal for him from the seemingly boundless, spiraling labyrinth of shelves, Daniel picks Julian Carax's The Shadow of the Wind, which intrigues him. The novel, its character, which later on brings out of the pages and chases after him, and its mysterious author, at once fascinates him. He refuses to sell the book at any price, guards it as his most precious possession and adopts it for life.

    To Daniel's shock, a strange person who later reveals to him to be a man deprived of any facial feature, has been systematically and assiduously destroying every single copy of every book Julian Carax had written. Collectors either sell off or surrender altogether their remaining copies to the man for fear of deadly mishap despite the high values of the books. It intrigues Daniel even more as he realizes he may possess the very last copy of Carax's books in existence.

    Daniel, with the complicity of the witty Furmin, an ex-spy, ventures to unravel the mystery of Julian Carax only to realize all his findings, leads, second-hand rumors, third-hand stories, vague memories, and opinions are nothing but scrapes of an iceberg: they only add to Carax's enigma. Barcelona is the city in which Carax was born and from which he disappeared without a trace at the start of the war.

    Further investigation leads Daniel to Penelope Aldaya who sits at the center of the whole mystery, with whom she was enmeshed in a heart-piercing romance relationship. Their love is an act of defiance, arrogance, and subversion: love that is a blind desire to be discovered, a secret that hopes to be laid open, a love that devours them. What he starts off as an innocent quest to rescue Carax from recesses of the past becomes a connecting-the-dot reconstruction of a heart-rending love tragedy with sharp nuances of those who were involved. It also offers a peek of the city's past that was forgotten and ruined after the war.

    Carax's unswerving desire to lead a private life as if he is no longer interested in the world makes the deepest impression on Daniel. His book conveys a unique message to Daniel and impregnates his resolve to discover his life. For every book has a soul: the soul of the person who writes it and that of the one who reads, lives, and dreams with it. Daniel relates to Carax's battered love life as his relationship with Beatriz is under fire. Carax's checkered fate might have awakened a strange but tender sympathy in Daniel, which prompts him to carry on the probe.

    The Shadow of the Wind is an uncannily absorbing mystery, a heart-piercing love story, and a literary historical fiction. It pays homage to the mystical power of a book when it finds the reader to whom it appeals and in whom awakes a tender affection and sense of relatability. The novel spins off to numerous leads from the beginning and, with cunning decoys and twists, throws one to dead ends and false tracks which reader often takes to be the truth. The imminent sense of reaching the bottom of the truth often adds to the enigma. The bright side of this punctilious craft of convolution is a tight-knitted plot, spans over intervals of time and memory, riddled of a haunting suspense. One would find the figure of Julian Carax increasingly intriguing as everything related to him seems to be shrouded in mystery. Each of the people involved in this mystery is poisoned by the troubled memory of what he/she feels has been snatched from him/her. The novel is therefore, in a paradoxical way, a homage to the kind of true love that is capable of wrecking what stupendous a damage that Julian Carax has suffered.

    January 21, 2006


    Passport Books & Cafe in Bangkok

    I stayed in the old city of Bangkok known as the Ko Ratanakosin during my recent trip. This district rests in a bend of the river in the middle of Bangkok and contains some of the city's most historic architecture and prestigious universities. The river bank of this area is stippled with piers and markets, worthwhile attractions in themselves. It is an easy 15-minute walk from my hotel to this area and the nearby Banglamphu area, which contains the Khao San Road, the backpacker haven dotted with internet cafes, souvenir shops and guesthouses. One night I was out and about looking for a noodle shop recommended by Lonely Planet and I discovered Passport Books & Cafe on Th Phra Athit.

    The friendly owner of Passport Books told me that the noodle shop next door had gone out of business for over a year. So I instead ordered some curry rice and roti bread at Roti Mataba two doors down and sat outside on the sidewalk, mingling with some locals and watching the busy traffic and Thais returning to the neighborhood from work. Passport Books and Cafe sells books mostly in Thai language with a few English translated editions. A short climb up the creaky star at the back of the store took me to a serene mezzanine with about 6 tables. I settled down at the back of the loft at a corner table and drank a cup of latte (40B, USD$1). I came to hang out here almost every day and wrote postcards to friends and family back home. It's a great place to take a break from walking through the hustle-and-bustle of Bangkok where every inch of space is used to making a living.

    Passport Bookshop
    142 Phra Arthit Road
    Phranakorn, Bangkok 10200

    [5] The Master - Colm Toibin

    The Master paints a picture of a writer who is private, independent and who leads a quiet writing life that he would not trade for the world. Henry James is an American living under the grandeur of Europe and whose life is entwined with elite people who move like players in a game of seek-and-hide, between knowing and not knowing, with awestruck disguise and pretense. The book captures the writer in his early fifties, 14 years after the critical success with The Portrait of a Lady, to which the current novel repeatedly alludes. The Master begins on the disastrous opening night of his play Guy Domville, when James came onstage only to be hissed and booed by the London audience; whereas the ribald and vulgar plays of his rival achieved unprecedented success.

    The substantial value of the doomed play, which soberly considers the conflict between material life and the life of pure contemplation and the vicissitudes of human love, leaves an indelible impression on the elite. But the clash between the invited audience and the general public is as unbridgeable a gap as the success between Henry James and his rival Oscar Wilde. Guy Domville forever ends his career as a playwright: an idea that he subsequently recalls with despondency and contempt.

    It is under such a decided turning point Colm Toibin concocts the story of James's life, as the novelist rededicates himself to fiction but with the burden of a melancholy fact that nothing he did would ever be popular or generally appreciated. The novel reiterates his refusal to compromise in forfeiting the noble art of writing in order to make his works popular. It matters to him how he is seen as a writer who is utterly nonchalant about popularizing his works. The idea of being seen to devote himself in solitude and selfless appreciation to writing gives him ineffable satisfaction. The brothers have minor fallout when William James cajoles him to write a novel about moral values of America and to abandon the silly fastidiousness of English manners that William believes are conducive to Henry's unclear and over-embellished style.

    The Master is a writer's own sober reflection on life: bittersweet memories of an unprotected childhood, unconsoled grief of unfulfilled love, and unrepressed regret of love not pursued, and an incessant longing. The prose exudes an air of loneliness that attributes to his recoiling from engagements, from deep companionship and from the warmth of love. The writing is redolent of discretion and stoicism. Henry James himself learns never to disclose anything, and even to acknowledge the moment when some new intelligence is imparted. He scrupulously keeps his sentiment, especially for men, in check and assiduously safeguards his passions from being known. He knows everyone carries with him the aura of another life that is half-secret and half-open, to be known about but not mentioned. His longing for the companionship and the touch of a man is stored away in an entirely private world to which it could only return at the sound of a name or at the vision in mind.

    The Master delineates a writer who consistently draws on his domestic life as materials for his novels. The Bostonian and The Ambassador are mindful of his sister and more significantly offer her the experiences she would have wanted and provide drama for a life which had been so cruelly shortened. In a similar manner, The Portrait of a Lady reminisces his cousin who had been more real to him than any of the new people he associated with.

    Colm Toibin, with a quiet and stoic manner, deftly unfolds and retrieves pieces of mind that James so assiduously conceals. The death of his friend Constance Woolson, to whom he had been the closest out of his family, and who contemplates at length all his works, preys his mind. The Master turns out to be a marvelously intelligent and engaging novel mapping the mind behind James's writing. The completion of the novel plies opens a corner of his mind that urges me to read his novels. Entwined in the description of James's perception of his novels is such psychological subtlety that captures the nuances of consciousness of both the writer and society.

    January 20, 2006


    Chedis at Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayuthaya

    On the morning of Dec 7 2005, I boarded the wrong train from Bangkok's Hualumphong main station that wouldn't stop at Ayuthaya, the Siamese royal capital from 1350 to 1767. About an hour after the train pulled out of Bangkok, a conductor informed me the unbearable news that I had to get off the train and followed the track to the closest station. I mistakenly got on a delayed train that was held at the same platform as the one that would take me to Ayuthaya. Thai rail service is not reliable in the regard that change of departure time is often unannounced.

    Arrival in Ayuthaya shortly after 10 am. I walked down the street through the old city flanked by food stalls and shops to the river. I took a short ferry ride for 2B (US$1 = 40B). For touring the ruins under such scorching weather, the most economical option is to rent a bike from one of the nearby guesthouses for 30B a day.

    Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the largest temple in Ayuthaya in its time and it was used as the royal temple and palace for several Ayuthaya kings. It was used for royal ceremonies and rituals including giving alms to the monks from other temples, and performing the Wian Tian ceremony on Buddhist holy days, which entails circumambulating the Viharn three times at night holding an offering of a candle, flowers and incense.

    Built in the 14th century, Wat Phra Si Sanphet once contained a 50 feet-high standing Buddha covered with 500 lbs of gold, which was melted down by the Burmese conquerors when these invaders sacked Ayuthaya in 1767. Wat Phra Si Sanphet is now mainly known for the line of three large chedi (stupas) erected in the quintessential Ayuthaya style. The remains of ceramic water pipes were found in the grounds of this temple, testimony to the architectural and cultural advances in the old days.

    [4] The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst

    Elegantly written with salvage details of sex, The Line of Beauty however, is not a gay fiction, but a literary piece that portrays a political period through the eyes of a gay protagonist. It embodies the grand metaphor of what Thatcher did to Britain in the 80s and also the personal temptation-pulsed journey of Nick Guest. It reminisces the lasting sense of unhappiness and dismay and how awful Maggie's Britain was. In a wider sense, the novel is an oblique look, one that is both imaginative and interesting as it approaches the sense of forlornness through the eyes of someone like Nick who was absorbed by it and thought it was all rather glamorous. The novel slowly unveils through Nick's journey to relationship, with his lovers and that with the MP household. He is rather weak and easily led but morally pliable. He could be wholly corrupted but he knows his limits and is prune to many temptations, which seem to characterize the novel's times. The novel exposes to the full the idea of an absolute instability and frailty when the country seems to lose its common sense.

    The Line of Beauty is a significant novel in its historical and political essence. It is a painstaking, disconcerting, and savage delineation of the Thatcher years as seen through the tale of Nick, who finds himself living in the attic room of the stately mansion of ascendant Tory politician Gerald Fedden and his family. Nick is a just-coming-out Oxford graduate and is secretly in love with Fedden's straight son Toby. An affair with a young black clerk gives Nick his debut romance, but also alerts him with lurking crisis of his gay identity. He feels he might look like a person with no friends. He is extremely sensitive to anything that might be said. He feels he has the wrong kind of irony, the mistaken knowledge, the inappropriate sarcasm for gay life. With a tinge of innocence and careful curiosity that will later whittle away in time, he is faintly shocked, among other emotions and interest and excitement, at the idea of a male couple.

    It is later secret affair with a millionaire, a film-maker, his college friend Wani that changes Nick's life drastically and rids all his boyish innocence and curiosity on aspects of being gay. A handsome Lebanese and the only son to an old-valued man who owns a supermarket chain, Wani, with an indefeasible family instinct, exacts totally secrecy in his affair with Nick. It is not sure whether he pretends to be straight or chooses to keep a low-profile with his affair. To him, for sure, his family is as natural as sex and as irrefutable in its demands. His "fiancée", a female companion whom he pays, is just a front. Everything Wani and Hick do: the surreal montage of sexual conspiracy and the drug escapade is clandestine that Wani has slipped away into a world his father has never imagined.

    Though Nick might have entertained the thrill of wandering away from strict truth, tricking people and longing for scandalous acclaim of the secret affair, he finds himself compelled to tell the truth, and to vocalize all the mischievous beauty. The deep connection between them is so surreptitious that at times it is difficult to believe it exists. The cultivation of their love requires indifference. It is an intuition blinked away by its own absurdity, the very element that charms and hypnotizes them. Wani's strict discretion originates from his father casting high hope on him, the only son, after his brother was killed in a car accident in Beirut. Wani has shouldered that burden of family mourning since childhood and seems more touching, more glamorous and more forgivable at the revelation of the mishap. It therefore aggrandizes the affair, which becomes more convincing not to be mistaken for the squeeze of guilt.

    The novel carefully winds down towards a shocking and forceful denouement in which the entire political decade is expertly drawn as a human sham. Regardless of the lucid elaboration of sex and drugs, which might have raised highbrow of literary elite, the novel has scooped the Booker Prize. The explicit physical content in The Line of Beauty is nothing compared to Hollinghurst's 1988 debut The Swimming Pool Library, which is riddled of even more explicit scenes all the way through it. The gay protagonist in the novel of current interest, however, does not isolate himself in a strange way and whose contact with the world is not entirely sexual. The Line of Beauty is clearly about things other than being gay: a social commentary perhaps and it almost becomes somewhat irritating if it is used to imply that that is all there is to the book. Merely looking at it as gay fiction will not do justice of its fine writing and buried meaning.
  pisses me off

    I've been part of the Ammy review community for more than 5 years. The site is often infested with glitches that keep all the submitted reviews in the dark hole. What really pisses me off now is that Ammy conceitedly claims copyright to my reviews on the site. It's ridiculous that Ammy thinks it can withold my right to publish my reviews elsewhere on the internet and makes claim to my intellectual property. I consider modifying my book reviews and start distributing them here. Censorship is what puts me on my mutter because Ammy won't even tolerate words pertaining to or allusive to homosexuality. My reviews of Alan Hollingurst's novels were subjected to a time-consuming scrutiny before Ammy published them on my reviewer page. But why all the trouble? It's not Ammy's opinion anyway. Many of my friends had been thumping on me to start a blog that does justice of the true opinions of literature works. This blog will now be the primary quarter of reflections and thoughts on literature works.

    January 19, 2006


    [3] To Live - Yu Hua

    To Live(Huozhe) in Chinese means "living continuously" with a connotation of "perseverance." It's a quintessential story of a man's poignant epic transformation that spans over four decades of modern Chinese history. Like Gao Xinjian's One Man Bible, owing to its quasi-subversive and sensitive content that relentlessly exposes the faulty rule of the Communist Party, To Live was originally banned in China at its first publication in 1992. The language of To Live is cunningly simple but not without terrain. The overall backdrop of the novel is highly historical: it covers the Sino-Japanese War, the civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, Liberation, the founding of People's Republic of China (beginning of Mao's reign), the land reform era, the Great Leap Forward (blind smelting of iron that led to famine), the Proletarian Cultural Revolution and modern reform.

    Literature detailing the escape of Chinese dissidents and the turmoil during Proletarian Cultural Revolution flourishes, especially after the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. Stories of individual persecution under the red flag suddenly top most bestseller lists in the Western world. What really distinguishes To Live from this literature and puts it among the pantheon of most influential modern Chinese literature is Yu Hua's sensitivity to the details of daily life and the verisimilitude of his delineation. Yu's writing makes an unerasable impression on Chinese people because the protagonist's experience provokes them to re-live the painful memories.

    Fugui lives a most frivolous and extravagant life. He indulges in gambling, debauchery, and prostitution. His pregnant wife comes to the brothel to beg him go home with her. To Live begins with a totally predictable lead that in less than a third way into the book Fugui would have squandered his family's fortune and settle into the honest work of a farmer. His turmoil as a poor farmer confirms the Chinese saying "calamities never occur singly." The Nationalist Army forces him to leave his family and fight against the Communists. In utter poverty and devastation after the civil war, Fugui family lives an even more austere life under the land reform policy. He is determined to make his son's life complete at the sacrifice of his daughter, a typical feudal practice. The Great Leap Forward, which renounces agricultural practice and mandates surrender of all pots for smelting iron. The result is the worst famine in Chinese history that people would kill for a sweet potato.

    To Live might have focused on Fugui's rebirth at the cost of life-and-death episodes against fate, poverty, and adverse social policies, but the heart of the novel is the undying hope for the better. Against the backdrop of his turmoil is the author's jest on the absurdity of a country that would blindly allow its political turmoil to cost lives of the innocent. The Cultural Revolution, which purged scholardsand banished them to be re-educated in the countryside, is said to have a profound effect on modern China for it pushed the country backward. The purging, the thought policing, the labeling, the parading, the public criticizing session are among the few tactics Yu depicts in To Live.

    To Live is depressing to read. The protagonist's life, which is merely a tiny cross section of his generation during the time of the novel, is infused with hardships one after another, the incessant mourning and funerals, the horrors and ravages of a most ridiculous revolution that wrecked the nation apart.

    Serene smiling faces at Bayon Temple

    This is quite a Kodak moment! A throng of tourists packed the front of these smiling faces carved on stones to strike a pose. Bayon Temple is another highlight of my Cambodia trip besides the Angkor Wat (among the pantheon of world's seven wonders) and Banteay Srei. The bas-reliefs here best illuminate the importance to avoid the pitfall of assuming that the ancient Angkor state was preoccupied only with religious matters, important as they were. These bas-reliefs show the daily lives of the Cambodians: a woman dilivered a baby, a group of friends gathered around to barbeque (yes, BBQ!), etc. The tower of gold at Bayon used to dominate the center of Angkor as a landmark. The serene faces still look into the distance now, although now the color of sandstone rather than gold. A Buddha statue used to grace the temple until a Shivaite came to destroy or modify every image of Buddha he could lay his hands on. Many smaller shrines at Bayon were swept away and the site was modified to become a temple to Shiva. That is why tourists will see both lotus-shaped towers and lingas.

    What my iPod is playing...林憶蓮 - 本色

    I'm huge fans of Sandy Lam, the true diva of Hong Kong Cantopop. I have the entire collection of her CDs since her debut in 1985. Her music reflects the delicacy, the longing, and the elegance of a city woman. I've been playing her latest album 《本色》(True Colors).《為何他會離開你》(Why he would go away) and《再見悲哀》(Goodbye Sadness) really hit home and pull my heartstring. Relationship should be a two-way street - it takes sacrifice from both partners. Relatiionship is about giving and taking, is about respecting personal boundary.

    情人 要被 輕放
    自然相處洽當 為何不聽我講

    為何他會離開你 誰叫你自己不會飛
    常纏在一起 會換來危機
    他找你 不找你 你不智地對他生氣
    問他等於問你 當我問候你

    雙眼像鑿滿傷悲 誰又敢深愛你但未怪你
    若是還有骨氣 拿回纏他的心機
    拿去愛惜你 怎可洩氣

    為何他會離開你 誰叫你沒火花點起
    仍纏在一起 誰亦會怕膩
    他找你 不找你 有他那苦衷兼道理
    原來擁吻 如不放 錯在你

    January 18, 2006


    [2] Memoirs of a Geisha: the Novel - Arthur Golden

    Memoirs of a Geisha is a novel and the character of the geishas is only Arthur Golden’s inventions. But the novel presents a seamless authenticity of a hidden world full of complex rituals, ruts, regulations, and machinations. Interwoven between first- and third person narratives, the novel is a geisha’s reflection of her life that began in early twentieth century, in a remote fishing village Toroido. A little girl was sold to an okiya in Kyoto where she worked as a maid. Upon separation from her older sister and after the death of her parents, she lost all hope and her dream of seeing her family shattered. All that was left in her were confusion and confusion.

    Since the outsiders have limited knowledge of a geisha’s profession, even though the geisha might be in a less favored position to observe incidents around her, Sayuri might have left a record of herself that is far more complete, more accurate, and more compelling than any previous account. Arthur Golden has presented a character, a geisha from the 1920s, to deliver a powerful account that reconstructs nuances of a mysterious profession.

    The incessant chores, the acrimonious okiya mother (headmistress), the constant bullying from the jealous geisha in the house made the little girl’s life more difficult. It strengthened her determination to run away. Her futile attempts to escape enraged the mistress and forfeited her opportunity to get the training to become a geisha. Chiyo (Sayuri was her geisha’s name later) ineluctably faced a bleak prospect as her debts to the okiya stacked high. Since nobody made a decision to become a geisha, her only choice was to at least complete apprenticeshipand hopefully made enough money as a mediocre geisha to pay back for her living expenses and lessons. One can see that being a geisha is no more than a total surrender of self and will.

    Chiyo’s road to become a geisha was thorny. She was constant the target of bullying from a senior geisha who hated anyone more successful than she was and who thrived to rid of all prospective rivals. Even though the senior geisha had falsely accused her, faulted her, and rendered her debut a standstill, her determination to become a geisha did not spring from the inventive to revenge on her enemy. The driving force was to attract a man who was as gentlemanly as the one who gave her a coin when she first arrived in Kyoto. This is the heart of the novel: in the geisha’s world where appearances are paramount and where love is scorned as illusion, our little heroine has steered her whole life toward winning the affection of one man whom she admired.

    The geisha world was about putting on the most impeccable appearance in order to attract a long-term patron (danna) who would sustain a relationship like a business deal. In other word, a true geisha would never risk to blemish her reputation by making herself available to men on a nightly basis. Even though she would not pretend she never gave in to a man she found attractive, she had to be extremely careful and discreet about any serious romantic relationship that would jeopardize her relationship with beneficiaries. A geisha, like our heroine, was advised against any circumstances that would diminish the chance of anchoring to a powerful danna. A geisha was to put on the best show to fish for a sponsor. Therefore, on the account of the exquisite fabrics that draped a geisha and the strict ceremonial measures, the most severe rebuke a young geisha was likely to receive probably wouldn’t be for performing poorly, but rather for having dirty fingernails, tousled hair or having poor manner. Every aspect of a geisha’s life is used to secure an affluent tutelage, is programmed to success, which is gauged by money. Behind the impeccable beauty was painful melancholy.

    In a world where a girl’s virginity was auctioned to the highest bidder, Memoirs of a Geisha illuminates how inexorably a geisha must comply to the complicated ruts in order to sustain popularity. It beguiles the reader as much as the geishas beguiled the most powerful men; and immerses the reader in an exotic territory with its nuanced portraits of lives in the okiya and the gion (geisha district in Kyoto). The novel spans over sixty years encompassing the Great Depression and the Second World War, following which sees the downhill of the geisha industry.

    [1] Brokeback Mountain: the Novel - Annie Proulx

    I have read this novel at least 5 times. Each reading affords different nuances and nudges to a new direction of emtoional terrain.

    Annie Proulx demonstrates her shrewd skills in understanding people – seeing through their minds and their unspeakable struggles. Brokeback Mountain is probably one of her most brow-raising short stories in contemporary literature. The inventiveness of the story, the daring negotiation of a provocative topic that the old West does not readily approve, constitute the emotional weight of Brokeback Mountain. Her prose is biting and invigorating, constantly exuding a robustness that bespeaks a strong feeling for not only the expansive landscape but also the brutality of her characters’ uphill struggles.

    Brokeback Mountainis a short story, with just 55 pages; it is a significant contribution to the rare collection of literature concerning homosexual cowboys. The story begins with two high-school dropouts, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, who work as camp hands one summer and cross their paths when they take the job of a sheep herder and camp tender on a remote range above the tree line. They are typical cowpokes who happen to be stuck in the sole company of one another. They are rough mannered, rough-spoken, and contently inured to the stoic life. Their initial interaction is no more than the usual casual friendship: they respect each other’s opinion, roll a smoke, and hymn a few cowboy tunes and pitch separate tents.

    At first the attraction is casual and hidden, but inevitable. The unbearable weather and the rut duties somehow set their mutual passion afire. Tacitly the two cowboys share a relationship in which the physicality and intimacy have violated the boundary of friendship. While one can see Ennis’s and Jack’s feelings for each other through the sheepherding, the desire has made them become one through physicality. Four long years elapse before their reunion as married men with kids after the sentimental parting at Brokeback Mountain. This bittersweet reunion at the knowledge of each other’s marriage is no more unbearable than the separation solidified in their memory. Reunion proves that over the course of the years this relationship has become the most important and passionate thing in their lives.

    Brokeback Mountain is a stand-out story because after their parting at Brokeback Mountain neither of the men have had sexual relations with another man. They seem to have back away from the physicality and leave the relationship unresolved. But the relationship and intimacy they have shared, the sporadic exploration of carnal desire constitute true love. As a result, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the sad chronology of a love affair between two men who can never afford to call it a love affair. They are both savvy of the world’s violence and its intolerance of the dangerous affair.

    The novel is most remarkable in Proulx’s profound understanding of her characters, with whom she does not immediately associate and relate. In the realm of imagination she has created something very real and original.

    Exquisite carvings at Banteay Srei

    Located 12 miles north of Angkor, Banteay Srei (967 AD), also known as Citedel of Women, houses some the finest carvings so perfectly preserved that they could have been carved yesterday. The ride on the bumpy road leading to this delightful temple of pink sandstone took more than 2 hours. The carvings are cordoned off so I could only look at the carvings from about 10 feet away. I used manual mode on my Canon 4.2 mega pixel DC to take these pictures. Banteay Srei is the place where the wealth of the elite court families is best appreciated. The pristine friezes depict Indra on three-headed elephant, man-lion incarnation of Vishnu, lustration scene, earthquake at the home of Shiva, Indra's rain and the female deity Devata.

    Pilgrimage to Angkor Wat

    On Dec 23 2005, I was standing in awe of this temple and mausoleum that rises to the central lotus tower. This could be the largest and finest religious monument ever completed. It was at first a monument to the king, portrayed as divine, where he had communions with the gods. At death, the king's remains were placed in the central tower of Angkor to animate his image. Worship of the dead king ensued once his soul entered his stone image, thus permitting contact with the ancestors of the dynasty. Angkor Wat therefore should be seen as the preserve of the immortal sovereign merged with Vishnu, the Hindu god of passion and construction.

    Literature or Fiction?

    I always have a gripe about how bookstores usually do not make the distinction between literature and popular fiction. It seems to be such an insult to shelf literary classics and "chic-reads" and the pulp fluffs under the same section vaguely titled "Literature and Fiction." It's unfortunate that we're at an unreaderly time in which all people read are Oprah Book Club picks and these inexperienced readers are deprived of the mentality to discern the meaning laden under the ordinary speech.

    I think literature transforms and intensifies ordinary language to the extent that it deviates systematically from daily speech. One distinguishing factor between literature and popular fiction is the presence of literary devices. The difference between reading Crime and Punishment and The Da Vinci Code is that the literary language in the former achieves an estranging effect that paradoxically brings one to a fuller, more intimate possession of experience.