Thursday, September 29, 2011


Early this month, I had three events to go to: a wedding of a friend’s daughter, a colleague’s dad’s funeral and a neighbour’s mother’s birthday celebration. The first week of this month kind of sum up three major events in life : Getting married,  growing old and death. They may invoke different sentiments and emotions,they are all celebrations of different points of life. How we feel about these events is very much dependent on our respective beliefs or  school of thoughts and of course our sentiments and state of mind.

Marina Wharf, Penang
The wedding ceremony was held on the beach. The wedding party was bestowed with sunny weather and clear blue sky so for all who attended the ceremony and the reception should  count themselves lucky to have weather that held since it had been raining cats and dogs for days just before the wedding. In Malaysia, the weather is either hot and humid or rainy or stormy. In the past month smog or haze had been our nemesis in this part of the world. I cannot recall if this is usually so at this time of the year. These days, the weather has become rather unpredictable. In his speech during the reception, the father of the bride apologized for putting the guests through the heat although he had tried to place more fans around the beach hoping to provide some cooling effects. The father of bride was emotional and it reminded me of the movie “ Father of the Bride” where Steve Martin acted in. For some reasons, most fathers are protective dads to their daughters and most girls are always their dads’ little girls. In recent years, getting married at thirty two years old is becoming common but not two decades ago when I got married at thirty-two. So if at all my late dad felt emotional, it must have been the feeling of relief that he could finally give me away. I would think of myself as ahead of my time rather than a late bloomer though I am indeed a late bloomer as in starting to take writing seriously or coming out of cinderella complex etc. At times I might have felt misplaced with people of my generation while I would fit in nicely with people a decade or two younger than me. I reckon when we speak about eras, we think that we are referring to specific age groups or people from certain period of time but some individuals in these age groups may transpose or transcend beyond their eras; so  maybe  there is no time line in reality.

The birthday celebration was a big bash where a neighbour diligently held for his mother who was in her eighties. The age of the woman could be a little confusing as Chinese believe that the digit  nine is a tricky one so when one is nearing the digit nine as in sixty-nine or seventy-nine, one’s age would be stated as seventy or eighty. As a result, the neighbour’s mother would prematurely age one or two years just to get ahead of the record kept by the universe. I think a birthday is always a good enough reason to celebrate regardless of whether one has reached a milestone or attained any achievements. It is a day to mark that one has gained another year of experience in life and it is an anniversary of one’s birth. I view birthdays as an event which is important enough to call for a celebration and I would not let them pass as another day. Whether or not we celebrate our birthdays with friends or alone, we must try to do something memorable or a least give ourselves a little treat.

As a rule, both weddings and birthdays are happy occasions and funerals are not. At a funeral ,the atmosphere is somber and sad as the living mourn for their loss and think about how they will miss the departed and how they will deal with the lacuna left behind by the absence of the departed. A Chinese funeral usually includes a wake, a burial and  church services or Buddhist  or Taoist rites depending on the faiths and religious beliefs of the respective families of the departed. Friends, associates and relatives of the departed  attend and pay respect to the latter and condolences to the family. In the sequel to the Chinese movie “非诚勿扰fei cheng wu rao (Do not disturb if not sincere) a movie directed by Xiao Gang Feng, invites were sent out by  the protagonist for a funeral party which turned out to be a farewell party for his best buddie who was dying from melanoma. One can imagine what a teary affair it is for all those who attend the party.

Ultimately, the family and  loved ones of the departed will have to find the strength within themselves to carry on and only time might heal the pain of losing the departed. Keeping alive memories of the departed may not be the best way but so often we tend to commit to our memory what we remember about all the things we had ever shared with the departed. Human brains have a tendency to distort experiences and events and so often we find ourselves reconstructing events of the past to the extent of romanticizing the departed.

We are fully aware that life is fragile and finite so nothing should matter yet everything matters. We remind ourselves that everything changes and yet nothing ever changes because it is often only a matter of perception and time and place. However transitory our life is , we cannot help thinking, scheming and   going about all our undertakings diligently. While we ponder how transient our existence is , we resolve not to compulsively feel forlorn about our failings nor become too attached to the people and  all things we hold dear to . I shall quote one of Andy Warhol ‘s muses : “ I never think that people die. They just go to department stores.” How wonderful if  it were true.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Regarding Beauty Part II

Identity and Fashion

Identity is fluid so is fashion but identity is considerably less fluid than fashion. Fashion can be a way  to express oneself but fashion is only responsible in expressing part of an identity of a person. However if one belongs to a certain faith or religion or race, one’s fashion is within the parameters of the dress code set for them due to their faith, race and heritage.

It is interesting how fashion constantly re-invents following changes in the global trends and progress of the human race. Often we find ourselves no longer like the same outfit which we used to think we looked good in and there are times I find that I no longer like to dress the way I used to dress. It could be due to the fact that the particular cut or design of the top or pants or skirt had simply outgrown the time or me and a certain style which once suited me somehow make me feel misplaced or that the dressing is not representative of me. 
I tend to believe that the substance of a person determines how one looks to a large extent although one’s dressing plays a small part in the overall appearance of a person. There are people who are very fashionable and there are some who are less fashionable. There are the discerning lot and those who simply do not seem to care much about dressing up. We each have our own palate and preferences so what we consider beautiful may not be acceptable to another. Some people can carry on with certain type of dressing while other kind of dressing go well with certain people. One’s physique may limit one’s preference for certain dressing but some choose to dress as they please. How one dresses may depend on one's jobs and areas of work one is in and for practicality. A particular style of dressing may go well with one at a certain age and may not depict well at another age. Simplicity is probably the best way to dress. Dressing up can be fun and it can be a demonstration of the kind of personality one is and also it is a representation of the state of mind of a person and his or her area of interests.

In order to look good, there is the whole works that go with it. We have to keep ourselves healthy and fit and in order to stay healthy and fit , we have to live well; in order to live well, we must eat sensibly, sleep well and exercise regularly. Most of us know that  living well means living in the present and one must  mind and watch one’s thoughts hence one’s words. We are who we are  not just through  how we dress but what we say and how we think.  Ultimately I feel that however we hide behind our clothings, we are who we are. Perhaps in order to create ourselves we have to find ourselves.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Regarding Beauty Part I



Last night I dreamt that I was amongst one of the many faces in a group photo. I do not know where I was, all I remember was that  everyone lined up for a picture; there were many of us so everyone was trying to get his or her face in the picture. It felt like I was in a tour group but as a rule, I do not like travelling in a group let alone joining a tour. It must be my recent trip to China. In August, my family and I visited some places near Hangzhou and there were seas of people everywhere, the China pavilion at the expo site, the train station and up on Mount Huangshan. I would have liked to see the photograph in my dream but I was already awakened by the house alarm.

Most of us are critical of our physical appearances.  We find ourselves too fat, too thin, too tall or too short. We look at photographs of ourselves and scrutinize and think that we should pose better the next time. Twenty something me used to smile in  a way to suck in the baby fat on the cheeks so that my face would look thin. LOL. Thanks to digital cameras, we can erase pictures which we think are not flattering images of ourselves. Why do we care about looking good and want nice images of ourselves? Is it because everyone is always critical of another person or vanity simply rules? Perhaps we all know how we look but we just want to improve our images and look our very best at least in our own opinion. Personally I am intrigued by faces; one can tell a thing or two about a person from his or her face.

Spring in Brighton
We had my in-laws’ family over and my daughters started showing the photographs we took during our recent visit to Hangzhou and Shanghai. I nearly freaked out when I saw candid shots of me looking tired and haggard and they were enlarged as they were screened on smart television screen. Goodness when were those picture taken? And why did the pictures appear to take longer than usual before they moved on to the next one? I nearly grabbed the remote control to fast forward those shots. While beauty is subjective and personal, I note with fascination that my in-laws seem to have this fixation about double eyelids and single eyelids. They would look at the photographs taken of my daughters and observe how in some of the photographs, my daughter who has my single eyelid eyes appeared to have double eyelids ( I would conclude that  they must  think double eyelids look better). I know of friends who had gone to the surgeon and transform their single eyelids to double eyelids. Since beauty is personal, so do whatever one needs to do to make one feel confident. 

Brighton in April
I have a hair stylist whom  I have grown to be reliant upon and I find him funny and enlightening in terms of his philosophy and outlook about life. I have this fear that one day I ask him to change my hair style and in view of my request for a certain hair style , he may end up asking if I am at the wrong place in the sense that in order to attain the desired makeover, it is my face that needs changing and not the hair . Of course he is not mean like that, he sometimes gets a little frustrated that his clients are often unrealistic and when a client goes up to him and ask him to do a certain hairstyle of a celebrity, it would seem that the client has no inkling if the hairstyle would have suited him or her . Of course texture of the hair is the other deciding factor as to the kind of hair one can wear. By trial and error, we all know that what works for others may not work for us and vice versa.

Even if we like to think that we are not affected by how others might perceive of us, for those of us who care about aesthetics, we tend to care enough about our appearances to the extent of borderline obsession. There are always people who will judge the others, we would rather not attract their attention and if at all we have somehow caught their attention, we would like to be admired and not be criticized upon. Perhaps that is what co-existing in a society or a particular network does to you.

If one feels good about oneself, one usually looks attractive as he or she glows with self-confidence and contentment. So how do we feel good about ourselves? I need to be productive and constructive in order to feel good about myself. While I try not to have unrealistic expectations about my abilities, I feel good when I get to do things I enjoy and do them well. But then most of the time, we cannot control our circumstances and we have difficulties breaking free of another’s expectations and our responsibilities that come with our roles as a husband or a wife , a dad or a mother, a colleague, a friend and whatever positions we are in. As I age, I feel the least we can do is not to feel too bad about our failings, we must refrain from thinking about  “should have” or “should have not” in terms of decisions we had to make along the way. The thing is we should all be kind to ourselves and others .  Often I find that  our emotional state of mind  will somehow reflect on our physical appearances particularly through the faces we wear. Our fears, our worries, our anxieties along with our laughs  and all kinds of facial expressions will ultimately become our facial lines hence some have more laughing lines than others. Our faces not only show the kind of mental or emotional states we are in, they definitely carry our personality traits so if one is generally a worrisome person, he or she may look sad in the long run. If a person is vindictive, frustrated and has anger issues, he or she will grow old looking mean and grumpy.

Some people have the innate ability to hide one’s true feelings and assume different personas in front of   a different set of audience. You may think it is hypocrisy but  quite often it might be a matter of necessity and it can be good for the soul. After all our thoughts and feelings are fleeting. It is an art to be able to empty one’s mind and focus on the task at hand hence as modern living gets tough, meditation and yoga retreats are being popularized. It is always best to wear a happy face even if you have a bad day; if you wear a smile, you may somehow rid of the terrible day you have  had as you just want to shrug it off by thinking all the happy stuff that make you smile. My elder daughter had to take her first ballet examination when she was five years old. I told her that if she ever made a slip  in front of the examiner, she just had to keep smiling. The principal of the ballet school later told me that my daughter did very well despite the fact that she tripped. She flashed her gorgeous smile as told.

There is a famous quote of Oscar Wilde:
A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.

Does it mean that a man clearly shows his true self and that his thoughts and emotions are easily read on his face whereas a woman can hide her true emotions? Perhaps that is  quite true for some but not for the others. I have a little theory of my own. Maybe despite the different waves of feminism and the efforts striving towards gender equality , men are still expected to succeed and  they tend to measure success in terms of money, status and fame. Perhaps  a man  inherently finds that he has not reached his targets and goals in life or that he must constantly scale to greater heights. When a  woman is down, there are ways to cheer her up.  Maybe just  maybe most women know how to cheer themselves up. Accessories and books work for me hence a pretty shawl and a stroll in Borders or Kinokuniya book shops are pleasurable . A coffee with a friend , a walk or some yoga or  a game of tennis are sources of pep boosts. Those of us who enjoy a glass of wine or beer every now and then know that  a little spirit or alcoholic drink may lift one’s spirit momentarily but too much booze will bring adverse effects and makes one feel sick.

In a good sense, women are like chameleons and they tend to re-invent themselves in order to adjust their personas to fit into the different roles they land themselves in or the multi dimensional complex beings they have grown into. By innate design, men appear to be egoistic and at times overly self-confident or at least some men behave that way as  they throw their weight around : they are who they are, more transparent seemingly. Does that mean men are less vain or that they are more secure about their appearances? Hardly.  It is not that these men do not care how they look, they probably are  too macho to show that they care about what others think though in reality we know too well that vanity rules. If only we could convince ourselves that appearances are superficial and we are only mortal beings. Ultimately most of us only want to look as good as we think we can be. Fair dinkum?

Hongchun ancient village outside Huangshan city