Sunday, March 29, 2009

All Kinds Of Huge

Some time ago, The D and I were having a conversation about music in general, and how, post bands like U2 and Radiohead, there hadn't really been any bands that came out that had been epic. I mean, over time, there were bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Rush, all the other metal bands, and later, bands like U2, Oasis and so on.

"Except maybe one exception," he'd demurred, "Coldplay."

And I absolutely agreed because in my head, I'd been thinking the same thing.

Well, on Monday, it turned out that we were absolutely right because the Coldplay concert was... well, there's no better word to describe it... epic. I went with Diana and thank god, because there's really no one I would have rather been with that night. We'd had to fight tooth and nail to get the tickets which sold out in one day, and by the time we arrived at the Indoor Stadium, Mercury Rev was already into their opening act which though slightly strange, was compelling and solid.

THE band finally came on at nine fifteen and not a minute too soon, prancing like luminous faeries with sparklers and like faeries they played for nigh two hours after. The fantastic thing about the concert was that Coldplay is already, arguably, the biggest band in the world among the new arrivals. Their music is fantastic, the sound is unique and inspired and the appeal far reaching. They didn't need anything to pad up the concert; they could have just gone on stage and rocked out, and it would still have been awesome.

But it was a wonderful, strangely intimate, no bullshit affair. At the risk of being stoned, while I've always enjoyed Coldplay on my iPod, I thought the music always felt a little... safe. So I was prepared for a slightly staid, even boring, evening. Instead, I was completely blown away. Live and with the beautiful, cold precision of the light show, the songs seem to punch through my chest and fill the world with brightness, magic and unearthly sound. On shimmering, golden tracks like Fix You and Yellow, I felt tears fill my eyes.

Special mention to Chris Martin for having the audience eating out of his hand. He was handsome, funny, charming and a consumate show man. His voice was faultless for near two hours, soaring like a blade and cutting right through the wall of sound the other band members were creating. That unique falsetto-tipped clarity, at times seemed to weep or sigh. And of course, the rest of the band was literally perfect, one of the tightest acts I've ever seen.

On top of that, practically everyone we knew was there, and sending fleeting text messages to people like Sook, Joe and Kim amid the music made it feel like we were among friends.

The show went from must-see to life-changing when the four actually took up on a little platform in the middle of the audience and proceeded with an intimate, acoustic rendition of Speed of Sound and Then I Saw Her Face which seemed to pull the whole room together into a warm, laughing pub-like atmosphere. Diana and I hugged, laughed, sort-of cried and danced throughout... and, look Ma, no tinnitus!

Photo stolen from Sook.

Japan on the other hand, was a whole 'nother kind of epic. I was only there for four days but have seen enough of the place to know that I will probably love going back there forever.
It's a beautiful mix of old and new, manicured and wild, and the people, like I realised on Air Nippon so long ago, have a wonderful sense of decorum, order and grace that is beautiful to behold.

Mainly, I spent lots of time meeting people and sitting in on business lunches and dinners, but in between, we actually got to hang out in the snow-covered mountains and soak in sulphurous hot springs. Up there, in a ski resort above the whole world, the snow piled thick and deep in drifts that hung like whipped cream. Winter-gaunt trees leaned, their branches a Tim Burton fairytale. We floated upwards slowly on a ski resort in thickly falling snowflakes and the silence, and peace were absolute. I'd never seen such a rangy, sweeping snowscape in my whole life. The snowflakes landed on our faces and hair, cold first, then wet, and my heart filled to bursting with joy.

The hot springs were a totally different experience. Traipsing down in patterned robes with two other girls I'd made friends with was made awkward by the fact that we knew we were going to disrobe eventually. When we entered the all girls section of the spring, we were treated to a preview of an old, naked woman towelling herself vigorously. Tittering nervously, we stood in a line, counted to three, and dropped our clothes.

Well. Let's just say I never knew there were so many kinds of breasts in the world. And down in the basement in the springs, it was so crowded that it felt like the whole of Japan was there.

At first, as we showered before going in, I used the tiny square facecloth to cover my bell-end, but when I realised that the Japanese women didn't mind and bore a full um... pelt to boot, I relaxed and really began to enjoy myself. In five minutes, we were floating around in the steaming water, chatting with wrinkled Japanese grannies, admiring nubile young mothers and even scrambling up on the rocks like nymphs to cool off.

We even went out into the cold night air, literally below zero, shivering and chattering on the freezing flagstones only to sigh with hot pleasure went we sank into the rocky pools. There is something wonderful about lying there in hot water with your face and head upturned into the frigid night.

Apart from the strangeness of the hot water creeping up your labia when you first sink in, I quickly grew to enjoy the experience, so much so that we went back the next night. And finally, I confirmed what I'd always believed, I have no problem with public nudity.

Anyroad, photos, though as usual, these crapola ones taken by me barely do the place justice at all.

A scenic but random shopping area - the outlet mall is behind me.

The view of the beautiful ski slopes from my room. We were right up there at the top of those peaks, but no photos from up there because the Japanese people took one look at me, realised I would drop my camera down the mountain and whisked it away to safety.

A hotspring with both in and outdoor facilities.
Something pretty, almost like Memoirs of a Geisha.

The wilderness of the mountains.
And finally, I had the distinct pleasure and priveledge tonight of interviewing the first lady minister to be appointed ever in this country. She will only be a minister next week and consequently, was still able to sit down with us for a full fifteen minutes and chat about anything we had to ask. I found her warm, intelligent, down-to-earth and motherly, though I qualify this by saying that I know next to nothing about her as a person.

As we talked, I felt a strange elation creep over me. Here was a woman with a historic appointment and here the three of us were, alone in a room, listening firsthand to her hopes and plans and thoughts on the situation. It was literally like having a piece of history to myself. And of all the girls in Singapore, JJ and I were the only ones who shared that quiet moment before her life becomes a hectic whirlwind, where she told us about what it meant to her as a woman, and what she hoped it would do for women nationwide.

There are few things in this job that fill me with contentment, but I enjoyed that fifteen minutes and for some reason, more than all the running around in the sun and frantic searching and lengthy, detailed features, it made me feel a sense of peace and usefulness. I couldn't believe that I was witnessing, quietly and without fanfare, a slow sort of transition come over this largely male-dominated nation. Of course, nowhere on the gargantuan scale or significance of a black man being elected to the White House, but still, a small and steady metamorphosis.

Like Darlin' Dylan says, slowly but surely, the times, they are a-changing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Secretly Psychadelic

I have another confession. Apart from liking anime, which prompted the Japanese to call me an otaku (more on amazing Japan later), I have another nerdy hobby. And this one is the most seriously loser-ish I have ever had. Not that this is a big surprise from a girl who was in the piano ensemble and the gardening club (I know you're laughing, but I cannot hear you).

Anyroad. I have fallen in love with colour pencilling - like painting, but not.

Thanks to Jay, who set me off on colouring bible stories for her church kids, I discovered that I actually missed and like using colour pencils and, even more surprising, there's a whole community of people out there who do it too. The most interesting and amazing kind of colour pencilling is the photorealistic school, which literally copies photos which you can't tell apart from drawings, vis:

(Cherry Jar by Johanes Wessmark, poached from Empty Easel)

I kid you not, the whole thing is drawn using humble pencil lead.

Not to make it seem more geeky than I already am, but when I found the community of colour pencil artists, one of them noted that it is a lonely, painstaking art which seems far less cool than painting or dashing off pretty watercolours and I quickly realised he was not kidding.

Unlike painting and watercolouring or even sketching, colour pencils take a LOT of time. Layering and colouring all the little bits and spaces takes forever and it's a very precise art. Because the size of the strokes is dictated by the pencil nib, you can only make tiny drawings at a time and one takes weeks and weeks of just... sitting there alone.

Also, unlike painting in which you can constantly layer colours on top of each other and blend them to satisfaction or create texture with lumps of paint, colour pencilling can only take a limited amount of colour, the reason being that paper has teeth.
Once the teeth have been saturated with layers of shading and cannot grip any more, you can't layer any more over it and the colour just slides right off. So it requires a whole bunch of advance planning and careful judgement which I have screwed up time and time again.

Mostly, it requires a whole lot of patience which I found that I happen to have in spades.
It's a slow, plodding hobby, but it's utterly relaxing and by dint of the fact that I have messed up countless drawings, I feel all the more happy and excited when one is going well. It's also been a study in planning and thinking about what I'm going to do before I do it. While I'm talking about it as if I'm some great expert, I assure you that my drawings are cartoony and will never touch photorealism, but they make me happy! And people have asked for them!

At the risk of seeming like a complete dork, with confidence fuelled by the awesome present of a brand new set of 75-colour Derwents (75, folks!! That's more than enough to make me pee with excitement), I present my fridge-pastable artwork!!
I'm a shy lass, but be free with your criticism please.

(Forgive the trashy photography and dark, washed-out looking colour, I wish you could see them in all their sharpness and vividness but I'm just not that handy with the digital camera and the flash kept startling me at all the wrong times)
The first one I ever did, which is Eve having just eaten the apple in the Garden of Eden. I like the cheeky look on her face, because I was trying to imply that she knew just what she was doing. Again, the colours are much brighter in real life.
A Loch Ness monster of some kind - doing the sea was bloody awful and I'm not happy with it, but live and learn, eh.
And here's the one I'm working on right now, from the new Derwents, which is a postcard-sized Octopus' Garden from the Beatles song. It's going well and again, the colours are much more rich and vivid than the Stabilo farm.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saikang Samurai

So I'm going to Japan next week. I know, right, I'm just as surprised as you are.

I mean, I've been wanting to visit Japan forever, but I hear it's phenomenally expensive. Who knew this would fall right into my lap? There I was, minding my own business, when my boss came smiling sweetly over to my table and asked me if I would like to visit a Japanese Hot Spring.

My first thought was: "With you?" I must have had some semblance of confusion and horror on my face because she quickly handed me an itinerary, told me it would be a junket for me and that I'd be expected to hand in a travel piece.

When it finally sunk in that I was meant to go alone as part of one of these "promote Japan!" initiatives, I couldn't reply in the affirmative fast enough. Admittedly, I would love to go to Tokyo as well, but I'll totally take this. Allllll I can think of is all the over-packaged, cutesy things I'm going to buy that say Engrish things like "happy day is your chocorate icing!".

Also on the itinerary, an event called: "Exchange opinion". Why, don't mind if I do!

The moment I told my colleagues I was headed to the land of the rising sun, Dee couldn't stop regaling me with her fantasies of nudity (mine) in the hot spring with some poor (equally nude) CEO who gingerly talked to me about the prefecture as we tried to hide our (nude!) pasty bodies from each other underneath the water.

And The D gleefully dug up a series of pictures that all looked like this:

Now that I've gotten over the fact that I'm going to be nude in the snow, I've started worrying about things like thermal underwear and boots. Also, the question arises, what happens if one is unluckily afflicted with the crimson tide (nude! nude! nude!) at said spring? And is it socially acceptable for one's mammary papilla to erect themselves in the (nuuuuuuuuude!) run from the snow to the hot tub?

Mainly though, these little reprieves coming in the time of constantly having to chase depression, suicide and murder, remind me that I really am one fucking lucky girl.

Make that one naked, fucking lucky girl.