30 May 2010

The Devil Wears Prada | Confessions of a Shopaholic

Look closely and you'll start to see a lot of similarities between these two recent films, The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic. Needless to say, both are based on the novels of the same names and both feature a central female character who has problems with her lifestyle. In The Devil Wears Prada, we see Andrea Sachs or Andy having problems with choice, whether to be a successful fashion columnist in a top fashion magazine or to have a lovely relationship with her boyfriend. On the other hand, Rebecca Bloomwood in Confessions of a Shopaholic, also chooses to decline a once-in-a-lifetime offer to work in a fashion magazine in order to stop living a lie.

Both films see the whole fashion industry as an arena full of heartless struggles and competitions, where the winners are left soulless and the losers nothing but ... losers. Here, we can't help but aligning this world with working women, a rather new generation of women who need to prove that they can work as effectively as (or even better than) men, women who have been under enormous pressure to prove themselves that they can survive in this dog-eat-dog world of consumerist capitalism. One can't help but wonder how in this day and age of affirmative right and political correctness can women be stereotyped in such a cruel way, especially when one takes into consideration that these negative images are created by female novelists. Of course, I don't mean that they misrepresent women, but they are rather too heavy-handed in painting this rather cold image of women, whose personal lives suffer at the expense of their career success. A good example would naturally be the character of Miranda Priestley, whose ice-queen looks are just a external layer that conceals her vulnerability.

It comes as no surprise to learn that both Andrea and Rebecca at the end decline these lucrative offers but prefer to take low-profile jobs. But the reason actually varies: while Andrea chooses to quit her job because she doesn't want to be cold-hearted as Miranda, Rebecca just refuses to take the job at Alette because she thinks the job just keeps her in a web of lies in the world where she needs to entice people to spend more money in retail therapy. However, despite this difference, what is similar between the two films is that their decision not to enter the fashion world is related to their discovery of the truth of life -- that the meaning of life lies not in jobs or shopping but in ... men. Now, call me sarcastic if you may, but I do believe that in this day and age of postfeminism, we could have done better, to see that perhaps women don't EVEN need a boyfriend or a relationship, but a belief in their true self, the self that they can rely on and be contented with. What I see in these films, however, is that women choose not to depend on a job or shopping, but to depend on men instead.

13 May 2010

Read Out Loud!

I just stumbled on this language joke whilst arranging my stuff at home. Reading it once again, I just realised how imperial the joke was and it did disguise the unequal power relations between the "native" language user and those who are not "qualified" to use their language.


One day ima gonna Malta to bigga hotel. Ina Morning I go down to eat breakfast. I tella waitress I wanna two pissis toast. She brings me only one piss. I tella her I want two piss. She say go to the toilet. I say you no understand. I wanna to piss onna my plate. She say you better not piss onna plate, you sonna ma bitch. I don't even know the lady and she call me sonna ma bitch. Later I go to eat at the bigga restaurant. The waitress brings me a spoon and knife but no fock. I tella her I wanna fock. She tell me everyone wanna fock. I tell her you no understand. I wanna fock on the table. She say you better not fock on the table, you sonna ma bitch. I don't even know the lady and she call me sonna ma bitch. So I go back to my room inna hotel and there is no shits onna my bed. Call the manager and tella him I wanna shit. He tell me to go to toilet. I say you no understand. I wanna shit on my bed. He say you better not shit onna bed, you sonna ma bitch. I go to the checkout and the man at the desk say: "Peace on you". I say piss on you too, you sonna ma bitch, I gonna back home.

A Lesson for Everyone

Two English-language teachers, an American and an Englishman were sitting in a coffee-shop puzzling over why their Thai students seemed so slow at grasping the fundamentals of the English language. They agreed it was an appalling state of affairs.

Yank: Of course, the worst lot are the sophomores.
Brit: I didn't know we ran a signals class.
Yank: Not semaphores, you idiot. Sophomores, second-year students.
Brit: Why didn't you say so in the first place? Which are the most troublesome?
Yank: The lot on the first floor.
Brit: There aren't any classes on the first floor. There's only the library. The sec... sophomores are on the ground floor.
Yank: That's what I said, first floor. By the way, I don't think much of those drapes in the library.
Brit: Drapes? You mean the backward class?
Yank: The drapes on the windows, I can't stand the pink colour.
Brit: You mean curtains. I've got some like that in my flat.
Yank: You've a flat? There's a gas station nearby. They'll fix it.
Brit: No, my flat. Where I live.
Yank: You mean your apartment. How is it anyway?
Brit: Okay, but the lift's a bit of a pain.
Yank: You hurt your back? Why don't you take the elevator?
Enter an Australian colleague.
Bruce: Good-day! Where did you get those strides? They're beaut.
Brit: I beg your pardon.
Yank: He means your pants.
Brit: Where I buy my underwear is none of your business. If you must know, I got them from a pavement stall.
Yank: Those sidewalk stalls in Bangkok are something else. You can buy anything from sneakers to thumbtacks...
Brit: From plimsolls to drawing pins...
Bruce: By the way, what were you two having such an intense conversation about?
Brit: Our students. They just don't seem to be able to grasp plain English.
Bruce: That's right. I spent an hour last week trying to explain what a freeway was.
Yank: I couldn't make them understand what a throughway was.
Brit: What's a freeway?
Bruce: Don't come the raw prawn with me son.
Brit: Okay waiter. Make that fried prawns instead.

Footnote: The above conversation originally included a Scot, but nobody understood a word he said. However he did refer to Postscript as "just a wheen o'blethers" which is apparently something less than complimentary.

The Letter

Once there was a boy who loved a girl very much. The girl's father, however, did not like the boy and did not want their love to grow. The boy wanted to write a love letter but he was sure that the girl's father would read it first. At last he wrote a letter to the girl.

The great love I said I have for you
is gone, and I find my dislike for you
increases every day. When I see you,
I do not even like the way you look;
the only thing I want to do is to
look the other way; I never wanted to
marry you. Our last conversation
was very dull and in no way has
made me anxious to see you again.
You think only of yourself.
If we were married, I know that I would find
life very difficult, and would have no
pleasure in living with you. I have a heart
to give, but is not a heart
I want to give to you. No one is more
demanding or selfish than you, and less
able to care for me and be of help to me.
I sincerely want you to understand that
every I speak is the truth. You will do me a favour
if you consider this end. Do not try
to answer this. Your letters are full of
things that do not interest me. You have no
true concern for me. Good-bye! Believe me,
I do not care for you. Please do not think
I am still your loving friend.

The girl's father read the letter. He was pleased, and then gave the letter to his daughter. The girl read the letter and was very happy. The boy still loved her.

Abort, Retry, Ignore

Once upon a midnight dreary, fingers cramped and vision bleary,
System manuals piled high and wasted paper on the floor,
Longing for the warmth of bedsheets,
Still I sat there, doing spreadsheets;
Having reached the bottom line
I took a floppy from the drawer.
Typing with a steady hand, I then invoked the SAVE command
But I got a reprimand: it read Abort, Retry, Ignore.

Was this some occult illusion? Some ethereal intrusion?
These were choices Solomon himself had never faced before.
Carefully, I weighed my options,
These three seemed to be the top ones,
Clearly I must now adopt one:
Choose Abort, Retry, Ignore.

With my fingers pale and trembling,
Slowly toward the keyboard bending,
Longing for a happy ending, hoping all would be restored,
Praying for some guarantee
Finally I depressed a key --
But on the screen what did I see?
Again: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

I tried to catch the chips off-guard
I pressed again, but twice as hard.
Luck was just not in the cards.
I saw what I had seen before.
Now I typed in desperation
Trying random combinations
Still there came the incantation:
Choose: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

There I sat, distraught exhausted, by my own machine accosted,
Getting up I turned away and paced across the office floor.
And then I saw an awful sight:
A bold and blinding flash of light --
A lightening bolt had cut the night and shook me to my very core.
I saw the screen collapse and die
"Oh no - my database," I cried.
I thought I heard a voice reply,
"You'll see your data Nevermore!"

To this day I do not know
The place to which lost data goes.
I bet it goes to heaven where the angels have it stored.
But as for productivity, well
I fear that IT goes straight to hell
And that's the tale I have to tell
Your choice: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

-- Author unknown

10 May 2010

Lust Caution

The latest film by Ang Lee, Lust Caution is simply not for faint-hearted viewers. Expect scenes of strong sexual nature and violence as this film involves a secret relationship between an influential politician and a spy who tries to coax out his secrets.

Stylised and dignified, the film does show the complex relationship between them, as the spy turns out to be very good, so good that she just falls in love (or at least sympathises) with the man she is supposed to betray. I believe the director does want to show the viewers the thin line between love and hate, between pure sex and love, and between intimacy and love. Indeed, what we see from the film is also how malleable the human mind is -- how one can force oneself to love or hate someone and also how one can fall victim to this process of self-hypnotism when one actually believes in one's own concoction.

Also, I believe there is this issue of difference between self and nationhood that the film tries to bring up. What should Wong Chia Chi do when she has a conflict of interest, when she plays the role of Mak Tai Tai and falls in love with the enemy of the State? Once the conflict at this level is played out, her choice at the end does portray that she puts herself before her country -- somewhat a romantic ending whereby a woman chooses to trust her enemy, simply because he shows her how much he has trusted her. The ending does beg some questions though. Does she love him simply because he gives her a jewel? Does it mean that she believes that love should be quantified in material terms in the age of wartime when you cannot believe in anything? Perhaps the director wants to say that even a hard-core resistance fighter is still very much human, having her own dreams, aspirations, and especially the need for love. Perhaps underneath the guise of a ruthless, cold fighter, there lies a fragile woman in need of love.