Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The days are growing unbearable as the suffocating heat of summer descends upon us. Power cuts are now for two hours at a stretch, several times a day - so sometimes I'm only able to go online for an hour or two when I'm back in the house. I'm already pretty lucky that my area doesn't seem to suffer from a shortage of water (yet), unlike many other areas of Dhaka where you see queues of women and children collecting water.

I said to a friend last night, how I don't understand how anyone can be sure about anything anymore. And yet, I find great comfort in constant sensation of 'not knowing'. If anything, this certainty of doubt gives me great consolation. And strangely enough, given all that has happened over the last few months, I was pleasantly surprised to find out - after being forced to dig deep into my head - that I am still unchangeably hopelessly and inexplicably optimistic.

And in my head, I find myself constantly thinking about what Delahaye said:
... he maintains that "photojournalism is neither photography or journalism. It has it's function but it's not where I see myself: the press is for me just a means for photographing, for material, not for telling the truth. In magazines, the images are vulgar, reality is reduced to a symbolic or simplistic function. . . one of the reasons for the photographs' large size is to make them incompatible with the economy of the press." - Link

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In other words, what inspired the picture-takers, the newspapers, the magazines and television the most was not the civil war or the planned massacres of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, but the humanitariam melodrama, ‘the endless lines of refugees, the sacks of rice, the orphans and field hospitals, the images of downtrodden humanity and resolute volunteers, of suffering and salvation’.

- The media and the Rwanda genocide. Allan Thompson. 2007.
The dead bird in an open cage is a visual that I've always had in my head - and I hope to be able to develop this and take it further some day.

- The Dead Bird. Margaret Wise Brown and Remy Charlip. 1958.

These remarks have been forced from us by a keen sense of the wrongs and injuries to which our feathered friends are constantly subjected, arising from an observation of the vast amount of unnecessary suffering entailed upon them by carelessness more than heartlessness. "We are persuaded that many of the tears which have been shed over dead birds, have proceeded as much from contrition for neglect, as from sorrow for the loss sustained; and our fair readers will, we trust, pardon us if we remind them in the words of Thomas Hood, that,

"Evil is wrought by want of thought, As much as by want of heart."

The cage should never, in winter, be left in a room without fire.

- Waking. John Everett Millais. 1865.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Theme of the week.

"ll est beau comme la rétractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces ; ou encore, comme l’incertitude des mouvements musculaires dans les plaies des parties molles de la région cervicale postérieure ; ou plutôt, comme ce piège à rats perpétuel, toujours retendu par l’animal pris, qui peut prendre seul des rongeurs indéfiniment, et fonctionner même caché sous la paille ; et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d’une machine à coudre et d’un parapluie ! "

- Les Chants de Maldoror. Comte de Lautréamont. 1869.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Oh how clever.

A few years ago I had this great fantastic wonderful idea of printing my own t-shirts so that I could wear a new one every day. How else would I be able to share my thoughts and feelings with general society?

Well that is not going to happen, although I still yearn for that purple shirt with these words in shiny gold: "Your Disco Needs You."

Am enjoying the rants of MOG (Miserable Old Git) thanks to a link from Christine. His comments of this year's WPP makes me feel all kinds of good. There had already been discussion here about the strange lack of captions, and the changing visual taste of WPP juries, but I think what we really needed was a good rant like this.

I was rather undecided about the winning picture, but MOG helped me make up my mind:

...isn’t it reasonable to assume that the appropriate place to see the image that goes on to win the world’s most prestigious photojournalism competition is actually on the front pages of the world’s press? The problem is, this perfectly successful picture would just not read on an average newspaper front page; it would need a Guardian-type centre spread or magazine double page display to do it justice. Or is it really meant to be a framed print on a gallery wall? I rather think that those who guide the destiny of WPPh would not be unhappy if this were to happen.

Of course, thousands of people go to see the WPPh exhibitions all over the world but this is not press coverage in any real sense but rather photojournalism extracted from its natural context and put on the wall. There’s a danger that we will end up with a pointless parade of photojournalists as visual peacocks, displaying their beautiful feathers to each other in a secret garden.

I've met a few peacocks here and there. They are the ones who introduce their work by first listing all the awards and accolades it received. The story and the purpose takes second place. This itself is not a problem - it becomes irritating when you claim to have done the story because you want to 'help' or 'raise awareness' or 'make visible the invisible'.

And I couldn't help but laugh when I read about the CREEP:

Exhausted by his internet experience, MOG is now inviting readers of this blog to join him in a campaign for the eradication of repetitive photojournalism (CREEP). The mission statement is to encourage contemporary photojournalists to pledge to avoid predictable visual situations. Among suggested subjects generally embargoed might be:

• Women in black weeping over their dead menfolk.
• Terrified civilians running away from trouble in a crouching position.
• Posed groups of defiant rebels waving Kalashnikovs or rocket launchers, giving the victory sign.
• Soldiers on the frontline, arms at the ready, looking meaningfully at the enemy.
• Soldiers leaping out of helicopters, primed for action.
• Anyone taking, smoking or injecting drugs.
• Hell’s Angels posing with macho motorbikes.
• Frenzied music audiences screaming at rock bands.
• Skate boarders silhouetted against a brooding sky.

* Update: Have now read Matthias Bruggmann's passionate response to the article in the comments section and I'm all confused.

Morning Moments

The Makings of a Good Day

  • A man with carrying a solitary fish in a plastic bag.
  • A public wall painted with the words of Henry Miller: "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." Touché.
  • Silly motorcyclists carrying their helmets instead of putting it on.
  • A man with purple pants and red socks.
  • My CNG driver alerting me to a road accident (look look look!!! tsk tsk tsk) because I was too distracted scribbling down these notes in my notebook.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Its been a month since I started my own Bollywood movie, and I'm still waiting for it to end. I've had two days of peace (hooray!) and lets hope I haven't jinxed it by talking about it.

A very nice couple from Hong Kong stopped by the office - a photographer and his wife does psychology work with NGOs. I thought it was rather nice/strange how they didn't automatically assume I was of the same race until they saw my namecard. Lim? You're Chinese?

Then I started apologising, the way I always do, for my poor Mandarin and non-existent Cantonese - but they assured me that they weren't that fluent in Mandarin either. It was nice, how we instinctively switched to speaking in Mandarin even though we seemed to communicate a lot more fluently in English.

I watched Wolfgang Haffner live in concert (with the Haffner-Trio) a couple of hours ago. I've never seen a drummer smile so much. After the week I've had, I think I really needed this.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Excerpts (Part II)


(*Note for non-Singaporean friends:
JN is a Singaporean film director whose affair with
a young girl was recently splashed all over the papers

Dad: Your mommy so lucky I'm not rich and famous.

Mom: Oh please, only the cats want you.

Dad: But then you, as a man with FOUR kids - your son is already 19 years old!!! - you blardy hell still go and take advantage of young girl! Damn blardy buaya lah.

Dad: (to Mom) Why you never say anything bad about Jack Neo.

Mom: Aiyah I don't pity the girls man. Come on. You know he is married with children - what you expect? In the first place, they are also in the wrong.

Dad: If the girl was smart enough, she should have taken him to the point of fucking blackmail man. "Try anything funny, I will expose you!" Now, expose already, how to get anything out of him. At least get some money out of it lah.

Mom: For heaven's sake, go and blackmail the Dubai king's son lah. Of all people go and blackmail Jack Neo? I don't even think he is that rich. Aiyah stupid lah. Make a fool of themselves.

Me: Why is Pa siding with the girls?

Mom: Aiyah Pa is always like that. But to me, they are stupid. They are not so gullible. Nowadays, 18 or 19-year-old girls... wah you hold my hand and tell me I'll be Fann Wong number two? Who is so stupid to believe that man? You think what? Writing a book ah? Even Ah Lian also not so stupid.

Mom: Ok lah, at least ST reporter got story to write now, otherwise they have no job. (Laughs)

Mom: Ya, America had their Tiger, but Singapore is Lion City, so we got Lion here. Want to see next week how many more girls pop out?

Dad: You know what is his next movie? One Hole No Enough.

I personally don't care about this at all, but I brought up the topic intentionally because I knew the soundbites would be hilarious.

So, ahem, maybe this is what equality means: that my 54-year-old mother thinks the mistress is 'shameless' and 'stupid', and my 56-year-old father thinks the married man is a lying sonabitch.

Apologies for crude and harsh language - runs in the family.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Women's Day

I've been enjoying Dorothy Surrenders for some time now - mainly because I love the writing, because I love fawning over the same women they fawn over, and because reading that blog makes me feel like I'm talking to a friend who gets me. Plus, where else am I going to get my fix of androgyny?

And thus, in tribute to International Women's Day - I decided to read all Buffy-related posts on the blog, and intend to fall asleep to the sounds of Season 7. The logic may seem rather strained, but well, it makes sense to me.

I have two younger women working with me, aged 24 and 22, and I love them to bits. We rarely talk in the office, but a couple of days ago I had some time alone with them and asked them how they handled the "eve-teasing" (I really shouldn't use that word) situation here in Dhaka.

As a bideshi, I have the luxury of fighting back. Either by acknowledging remarks with a glare or a stare-down, or a good old-fashioned slap. As locals, their only option is to ignore the cat calls and lewd comments.

I found out that just days earlier, the younger one had been grabbed by four guys on motorbikes who blocked her as she was walking to work. She said they grabbed at her, and there was no one around. She was so scared, she did not know what to do. The guys left when some other pedestrians came by.

The other told me that the last time she tried to confront a guy who had said something rude to her, a crowd gathered and she ended up feeling embarrassed and ridiculed because the guy simply denied having said anything.

"If we say anything, we get in trouble." The two girls laughed it off and giggled while talking to me. It seemed they are so used to it that they regard it as just another instance of how ridiculous life can be.

And yet, when I told them about how a friend had smashed a phone (guy trying to show us porn videos on the street) and how I slapped someone -- their glee was unmistakable. They were overjoyed that we had done those things, and I wonder if they wished they could do it too.

Yesterday, I hinted/suggested/ordered the men in the department to GET US SOME CAKE - and they did. I wish I had planned something better than this.

I'll admit that I never really thought much of having a special day for women - in the same way I find Valentine's Day, Friendship Day, and all those other Days basically meaningless. But I suppose I only thought like that because I had the luxury of never needing to be reminded that I had rights, to be reminded that equality was still something we had to strive for, to be reminded that things have to change.

Today, as I sat in an office filled with laughter and the sounds of people enjoying free cake, and I listened to this speech by Joss Whedon, I realised its time for me to arrange for a Buffy marathon in my house.

I love his words so much I wanted to write it down. In his speech, Joss reenacts his replies to the question he is always asked during press junkets:

So, why do you write these strong women characters?

Why are you even asking me this? (This is like ) How is it possible that this is even a question? Honestly, seriously. Why did you write that down? Why aren't you asking a hundred other guys why they don't write strong women characters? I believe what I'm doing should not be remarked upon, or even honoured... But seriously, this question is ridiculous, and you've just got to stop.

So, why do you write these strong women characters?

Because. Equality is not a concept, it is not something we should be striving for. It is a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition, it is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.

We need equality. Kinda now.

So, why do you write these strong women characters?

Because you are still asking me that question.


I don't know if this qualifies as a Fail or a Win, but this explains everything.

President, PM's pay near doubled

Dhaka, Mar 8 (bdnews24.com)

The cabinet on Monday approved a huge pay hike for the president, prime minister, ministers, chief justice and Supreme Court judges, of up to 83 percent.

The president's monthly salary will jump from Tk 33,400 to Tk 61,200. The prime minister's will rise from Tk 32,000 to Tk 58,600.

Once you get over the shock of a EIGHT-THREE PERCENT PAY RISE - you realise that a Bangladeshi construction worker in Singapore earns almost the same amount as his Prime Minister.

Of course, the S$640 the Prime Minister of Bangladesh used to earn does not include the other substantial financial perks she receives. I've seen her around - she's not doing too badly for herself.

But still. I can almost hear LKY saying, "See? Told ya."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Daily Untruth Project

I've decided to tell one deliberate lie everyday to make everyone's lives all that more interesting.

There are pink bananas in South America.

After I told the lie, I realised that my friends with dirty-minded friends would have a lot to snigger about, but I work with really sweet folks who didn't take that route. I promise tomorrow's lie will not be fruit-related. Maybe something about unproven scientific theories. For instance, did you know that the whip is the first man made device capable of exceeding the sound barrier? I had no idea.

After I returned, I saw a pigeon in a cage, hanging in the balcony of the house across from the rooftop of my office. Birds in cages are generally depressing, and the size of this cage made this a particularly dismal example. Maybe they saved it from certain death and are nursing it back to health. Sometimes I try to go against my nature and refrain from negative judgement. But after seeing someone stomp on the neck of a German Shepherd last week, and that incident of the overweight monkey (did I ever tell you about the monkey that was so fat it couldn't move?) -- well, let's just say I've been given the impression that the concept of pet ownership is rather different here.

Still! Guess what. I spoke to the nice girl who lives in that house (rooftop conversations across buildings are always fun) and it turns out that I was right. That bird don't fly so good no more. Right on cue, the pigeon clumsily flew out of the living room onto the balcony, perching itself on a box and seeming rather content.

OK Go has a new video and it is pretty. This too shall pass? Sure, if you say so.