Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Well, looks like they didn't burn Madison down...

Listening to: "Something About Airplanes" - Death Cab For Cutie

Prior to starting my job with CongloMo a year back, I graduated from this Midwestern University in Madison, Wisconsin sometime in December '04. This city has an annual ritual held every Halloween weekend where various people would meet up on State Street in ridiculous costumes, and drink untold amounts of alcohol till they passed out in your front yard dressed as Homer Simpson. Most interesting of this revelry (besides the antics of the blottos) were the costumes: they ranged from the mundane (nurse, wench, nun, Jesus, policeman) to the unique such as cardboard robots, a giant Duff-beer can, a traffic-light, or whatever your imagination can bring about. For me, I had two criteria; i) it must be almost one of a kind where few others will have the same, ii) it must be inexpensive. The years between 2001-2004 had me dressed up as:

2001: Neo from The Matrix. I already had a black trenchcoat and a nice pair of RayBans in my wardrobe, and spent the night with my pals offering red or blue pills to various nuts dressed as Spidermen, Freddie Mercury, pirates, witches, etc.

2002: Poor costume choice. Nobody understood my Area Man from The Onion costume. I learned something that night: Not everyone in Madison is apparently a fan of The Onion, America's Best News Source. This led to Criteria iii) People should be able to "get-it"

2003: UPS man. Brown shirt, brown slacks, brown shoes. Several UPS envelopes taken from the nearest postal booth. What can brown do for you?

By the way, it was my first ride in a police car. No charges filed.

2004: Election fever was gripping the States with all those annoying clipboard-carrying campaign workers pestering you to vote for Kerry or reelect the Bush/Dick. I decided to field my own candidate, one that wouldn't sound like Bus
ch-lite or a Dick: Ben Folds.

Complete with my "Ben Folds - President" t-shirt and hat (which I ripped off and edited from the 'John Kerry- President' and 'Bush Cheney 04') I went around State St. canvassing for signatures from the drunked
masses. In one night, I got over 70 drunken signatures for Ben to be President of the United States, which is perhaps more than a single Dem and Repub worker can ever get. Fuck the Two-Party system, yea!

Campaign slogan? "He WILL Give You Your Money Back... (and black tshirt too)".

One sober dude actually thought he was running for election...

Anyway we all know a mass gathering of "idiotic" costumed folks fuelled by alcohol results in disorder, and Halloween in Madison is infamous for riots breaking out especially at the end. 2002, 2003, and 2004 were (in)famous for shop windows being broken, beer cans and garbage bins tossed about, tear gas, and people getting arrested. If you're interested to see Batman being hauled away in the paddywagon, Madison's the place to be. 2004 was my last Madison Halloween, and my pals and I missed the 4AM riot as we were watching 'Dawn Of The Dead' instead in the dormitory on the other side of the hill.

Last week went peacefully, which was a rare event:

Success! Far fewer arrests, no pepper spray give city reason to celebrate

by Lynn Heidmann (Monday, October 30, 2006)

After months of planning, the annual Halloween celebration on State Street ended peacefully for the first time in four years Saturday, finally allowing the city — and University of Wisconsin students — to breathe a sigh of relief.

Though city officials were quick to admit the new plan was not executed flawlessly, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the event met his goals and expectations and added that he is pleased with the outcome of Halloween.

“This year’s event was a big step in the right direction,” Cieslewicz said in a release. “This is the first Halloween in several years at which the deployment of police in hard gear and the use of pepper spray was not required.”

The Madison Police Department reported only 230 total arrests between Friday and Saturday nights, compared to 566 arrests in 2005. And Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said only two of those arrests were felonies — one charge for possession of marijuana and the other for battery of a police officer after a man head-butted a State Trooper, allegedly thinking he was a horse. There were no cases of serious injury or property damage either night, Verveer added.

But despite the relatively low number of arrests, Verveer said the city still made plenty of money to cover part of the costs, and not just from ticket sales — which totaled more than 32,000 tickets — but from fines as well. Officials at the arrest-processing center accepted both cash and credit cards on site from out-of-state residents as bail, Verveer added.

Yet George Twigg, spokesperson for the mayor, said looking past the arrests and the intoxication, the mayor is “very happy.”

“It seemed like it was a very positive and fun atmosphere, and that continued through both nights,” Twigg said Sunday.

The biggest challenges of the evening, according to Twigg, were the long lines of people waiting to get tickets and enter the event near Library Mall, along with small groups of people looking for trouble on the 500 block of State Street near bar time.

Verveer said the biggest complaint from the student body and local business owners was the lack of convenient entrances and exits. Several business owners’ doors happened to fall just outside the State Street area barricades where people were not permitted to walk past, Verveer said, so they reportedly lost business from partygoers who did not want to walk the extra distance to get to the bar.

UW Interim Dean of Students Lori Berquam said she was also happy with the outcome of the event, but noted the biggest problem with over-intoxication still remains. Alternative activities during Halloween were scheduled at Union South, Berquam added, but said the turnout was lower than expected.

Berquam said the university remains hopeful that Halloween will turn into an even safer event in years to come.

The bottom line, Verveer added, is that the event was safe, organized and fun for those who attended.

“Unlike each of the last four years when there were calls from the highest ranks to shut down the party, we’re not hearing any of that,” he said. “I really think … we’ve turned the corner, and there won’t be calls from city officials demanding extraordinary tactics to try to end this event.”

For the first time in several years, Berquam said she is impressed with the way students conducted themselves at the event.

“I’m proud of our students,” she said. “I’m proud of the way they handled themselves, and I’m proud they were able to demonstrate this to the community.”

Looking ahead, Verveer said there is a good chance many aspects of this year’s celebration will be carried on to next year with a few improvements and adjustments. Verveer added his “dream” for next year is to get even more UW students and Madison residents to attend the celebration on State Street and really get them excited and proud of the event.

“I don’t care about all the students from out of state, I care about our own students, and it did sadden me a little that UW students stayed away from State Street for various reasons,” he said. “I would be in denial if I didn’t acknowledge [my constituents] who thought this plan was a load of crap, but I hope we can get them back [to State Street] next year.”

Ah... life in uni.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

So Lets Drive Through The Night: A Trip To The Springs In The Dead Of Night

Listening to: Writer's Block - Peter, Bjorn and John ; (video)

For those of you who haven't heard of Ulu Legong, its a hot springs in Kedah near the Thai border. Thats where my colleague WK and I decided to go this Monday with three of his friends. Ideally, the plan was to set off at 5:30PM, pickup the 3, drive all the way there and return just before midnight. We had work that day; in the form of a training session given by a colleague from the US branch of our company and the plan was to finish at 5PM sharp. As usual, the training went a
little late and it was only 6:30PM when we could scoot.

To pick up WK's pals (Steve, Geraline, and Ann), I had to drive to the USM grounds where they were waiting for us to pick them up. One of them, Geraline had parked her car within the gated compound of the university. Bad move (and you'll see why). After crossing the Bridge to the mainland, we stopped by a gas station to fill up as I did not have the foresight to gas up earlier that day. The last time I crossed the bridge to Prai with my Sentra, I was also low on gas and hunting for a station with an American colleague who was visibly worried about the prospect of being stuck at the side of the road in a foreign country. Luckily, we had a navigator on board in the form of Steve who knew Seberang Prai like his hand. After filling up a thirsty Sentra, it was onward to Sungai Petani to meet up with Geraline, Steve's, and Ann's other pals - all 10 to 14 of them. Then, we continued our journey to the springs in separate vehicles.

A long nighttime drive along a slick and rainy trunk road brought us to Baling and from there, a long and narrow road through several kampungs and a rubber estate. Now, I was given the impression by Steve and WK that it would be just a drive along the interstate highway all the way to Baling. I wasn't expecting roads where... if you turned off your headlamps, everything would be literally pitch-black, save for the light from your onboard CD player and the radium from my wristwatch. Not that I had a problem with it, but I was worried the park would be closing once we arrived (Ulu Legong is now open 24-hrs/day).

According to Steve, the hot springs back then wasn't as "developed" as today... it was flush in a natural jungle setting with the concrete-lined pools being the only sign of human construction around apart from the nearby village, of course. Today, the whole place has been almost paved over with tiles, chalets, a food court, gazebos, and yes, chalets. Now I don't mind some development to the place to make it more convenient for tourists... but I don't think development meant converting it from an ecotourist spot into a frigging tile n' concrete park. The place is open all day and night, so there are visitors all the time. I only had a dip in a hot pool for 20 minutes before getting out and walking to an open foodstall at the nearby kampung to silflay. I hadn't eaten dinner yet (and it was already 12:05AM, Tuesday. Selamat Hari Raya!). Everyone was already packing up to leave once I got back...

The trip home after Baling took us through a much faster route; a two-lane expressway to Lunas that passed through the middle of nowhere. Driving through this deserted stretch at 90, the nighttime scene of Kedah's flatlands somewhat reminded me of the highway scenes in Forgiveness where three characters drive through the desolation of South Africa's plains on their way to the West Cape. At this point, everyone else in the car were already asleep. We only reached this island at around 4AM.

Now, I mentioned earlier that it was a big mistake for Geraline to park her car inside the USM compunds. Selamat Hari Raya! and that meant every single gate to USM had been locked for the festive night with her car inside and no one to unlock it. So that meant a detour all the way to Tanjong Tokong & Ayer Itam to drop off WK and the three at their condo. But before that, we went to silflay at Subaidah's Nasi Kandar where the girls poked fun at some tipsy china-mui's* and their stiletto-boots at a nearby table, freshly out
from a nearby AhBeng-ish nightclub. By the time I arrived home, it was 5:30AM and I passed out in bed without changing out my T-shirt, jeans, and the swimming-shorts beneath that was still slowly drying.

My verdict on Ulu Legong? Unless you are from the area, have a friend/relative there, have some arthritis or don't mind travelling far to soak in an bigass-natural jacuzzi, its perhaps not worth visiting the place more than once or at least a several times. But if you do, plan to make it a whole-day event... rather than a half-assed 1.5 hours like we did.

Photos on Ulu Legong can be found on this guy's photo-site (Is that correct terminology? ). I just stumbled on his site while looking for photos of the place on the Internets.

* Women from China (legally or illegally). Some disappear into the masses to become illegal immigrants and work in nightclubs and bars.

Friday, October 27, 2006

"No worse than us... He’s all action and no theory. We’re all theory and no action"

Earlier I read an entry by a local film director over the flak she's been getting... this time from a technical filmmaking standpoint.

Almost instantly, my mind was brought back to a column I read this afternoon in the Utusan by Mansor Puteh, a famous filmmaker which I have heard of in many instances, and apparently has argued with the above-mentioned director over her style and apparent lack of formal education in the art of filmmaking. This piece had a more moralistic slant to it in addition to criticism of directors not holding a film degree:

Antara patriotisme, liberalisme dalam filem


BIASANYA patriotisme yang dimaksudkan ialah kepekaan; sementara liberalisme pula boleh diertikan keterbukaan dan kebebasan. Ia biasanya mempunyai konotasi yang tidak baik atau negatif.

Untuk saya filem yang dibuat dengan penuh kepekaan bererti sesebuah filem yang mempunyai nilai artistik yang tinggi, yang mulia, murni dan yang boleh menaikkan imej agama, bangsa dan negara; sementara filem yang mempunyai nilai liberal secara tidak baik atau negatif pula adalah jenis yang secara kasar dianggap sebagai lucah dan antisosial dan antiagama, dan yang dibuat oleh mereka yang tidak bermaruah dan berpendidikan tinggi dalam bidang perfileman.

Bagaimanapun, kita masih boleh anggap bahawa liberalisme itu juga mempunyai maksud atau konotasi yang tidak negatif tetapi yang baik, mulia dan murni, iaitu kalau keterbukaan pemikiran yang berlaku itu adalah dari segi pemikiran si pembuat filem yang mahu menerima pengaruh dari filem-filem yang telah diterbit sebelum ini di daerah lain di seluruh dunia, yang tidak mempunyai pengaruh lucah.

Dan mereka yang membuat filem dengan penuh kepekaan adalah mereka yang memandang tinggi bidang seni filem; berbanding dengan mereka yang membuatnya dengan kurang kepekaan atau terlalu liberal dari segi nilai agama, moral dan kemasyarakatan atau sosial mereka.

Sebenarnya tahab keterbukaan atau liberalisme seseorang pengarah itu ada kena-mengena dengan pegangan diri dan nilai moral serta agama dan pendidikan formal mereka dalam bidang perfileman dan bidang-bidang yang berkaitan dengannya seperti sosiologi, psikologi, sejarah dan isiu semasa yang mempengaruh pengkarya menghasilkan karya mereka.

Ini juga memberi erti bahawa orang yang tidak mempunyai pendidikan formal dalam bidang perfileman yang tinggi dan yang tidak faham tentang aspek seperti tadi, masih boleh menghasilkan filem. Tetapi filem mereka biasanya tidak lengkap dan rendah tahab pemikirannya. Dan perbalahan atau kontroversi yang mampu ia timbulkan adalah sekitar seks dan nilai moral dan agama sahaja. Dan mereka sering terbabit dengan perbalahan dan kekecohan dengan masyarakat umum dan Lembaga Penapisan Filem.

Orang yang mempunyai nilai moral yang tinggi sudah pasti tidak mahu membuat filem yang mempunyai elemen lucah di dalamnya, walaupun sedikit – dan walaupun ia kononnya bertujuan untuk mengajar dan memaparkan keadaan yang sebenar atau realiti kehidupan.

Pendek kata, filem yang lucah atau kotor itu hanya boleh dibuat oleh mereka yang mempunyai pemikiran yang kotor dan dipengaruh oleh syaitan dan iblis jahanam. Mungkin ia dibuat oleh pengarah yang mewakili syaitan dan iblis di dunia ini.

Atau secara yang lebih halus, kita boleh kata ia dibuat oleh mereka yang tidak peka dalam bidang pembuatan filem dan yang mempunyai niat yang dajal.

Mereka tidak ada landasan yang kukuh untuk membuat filem. Maksudnya di sini ialah mereka tidak mempunyai landasan yang kukuh dan tahu cara-cara yang ada yang mereka boleh guna untuk menyampaikan sesuatu idea dalam filem. Ini berpunca daripada kurangan pendedahan mereka tentang bidang filem dan latihan mereka dalam bidang sejarah dan tradisi membuat filem amatlah terhad.

Di Malaysia, mereka yang sering membuat filem yang dianggap sebagai kotor adalah mereka yang tidak pernah belajar bidang perfileman di mana-mana universiti. Mereka buatnya ikut sesuka hati dan sering fikir serong terhadap khalayak yang mereka fikir akan tertarik dengan adegan lucah dan kemungkaran yang mereka mahu paparkan dalam filem mereka. Mereka sebenarnya pandang rendah kepada masyarakat sebab mereka fikir penonton sanggup membayar lapan ringgit untuk menonton sesebuah filem dan melihat pelakon membuat kerja tidak senonoh dalam filem.

Alasan mereka tidak lain; apa yang mereka mahu papar itu adalah kebenaran, atau realiti, dan mereka mahu kemukakan kebenaran ini dalam filem mereka sendiri, seperti ia adalah sesuatu yang hebat dan lain dari yang lain. Fahaman liberalisme secara tidak baik atau negatif ini sebenarnya dipelajari mereka daripada menonton filem-filem yang serupa dibuat di Barat di mana mereka mempunyai nilai sosial yang berbeza dengan kita. Dan pegangan agama mereka juga tidak sama. Malah, kebanyakan mereka yang membuat filem seperti ini di Barat tidak percayakan kepada agama, jadi mereka tidak rasa segan-silu atau bersalah kalau mereka sengaja adakan adegan sumbang dan lucah dalam filem mereka.

Inilah masalahnya kalau orang tidak faham dan dapat membezakan apa itu realisme sosial dan realisme seksual dan mahu anggap kedua-duanya sama, dan apa yang bagus di Barat mesti bagus di sini.

Saya tidak peduli sangat tentang filem-filem yang diterbit di luar negeri sebab mereka telah mengguna liberalisme secara luas sehinggakan ia telah menyebabkan kehancuran masyarakat di sana dan filem yang diterbitkan bukan lagi filem sebenarnya tetapi filem yang terletak dalam kategori sendiri, iaitu filem lucah. Tapi, kita masih boleh belajar sedikit-sebanyak daripadanya – iaitu tentang bagaimana kita boleh guna filem dengan betul supaya ia tidak menjadi salah satu punca atau sebab bagaimana sesebuah masyarakat dan tamadun itu boleh runtuh, iaitu bila nilai hidup jatuh seperti yang terdapat dalam kerajaan silam Rom dan di Barat sekarang.

- MANSOR PUTEH ialah aktivis filem.

I've wondered... what's the point of having all this knowledge, BAs, MAs and Doctorates in something when you can't put it into practice and produce something which is revolutionary or at least fresh?

ps: The title is from one of my fave films "Waking Life". The director himself worked on an oil rig before he decided to pickup a camera and do some shooting.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Selamat Hari Raya to y'all

To all you Muslim readers, here's to you having a wonderful Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Raya greetings especially to my Muslim colleagues at my workplace (to which I have sent an email days earlier), friends & ex-classmates, and to bloggers Walski, Yasmin, & Shariman, whom I have been reading occasionally and commenting less occasionally under the moniker BrightEyes.

As for me, I'm a little woozy after getting back from a trip to the Baling Hot Springs in Kedah at 5:30AM. Been driving for over 9 hours and over 350km through rural roads and rubber estates in total. I'll talk about this later but I'll leave you all to your festivities...

Until then...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Happy Deepavali

Or Diwali to all the Hindu friends and folks who may be reading this blog now or in the later future as I add more articles about the "insane" stuff thats been going on with me.

As for me, I will be working... they better approve my holiday overtime.

But you didn't fall down the stairs...

Its almost 1 AM. I'm watching the world being reborn.
Through a 17" monitor.
And like that "Tilly And The Wall" song, eventually the sky did return.
Where the Penang Bridge is now visible from my apartment window.
And the rain, the very heavy rain with thunder and lightning on top... has cleared the smoke from our next-door neighbor's Djarums, for now.
I've started blogging.

And if you've read "Watership Down", you'll get a clue where I got the name.