Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wall-e and some reminiscence

It has been raining these past few days. The cool weather is perfect to just lie and laze in bed, under the covers. Better still if there was someone to cuddle with.

Anyway, just came back from watching Wall-E. Pixar has done it again with its excellent storytelling and plot. Sure, the graphics are great, it is almost a given. The story is more important as without it, no matter how good the graphics is, the latter could never compensate the former. Case in point is a certain story set in a far, far away galaxy.

How Pixar managed to humanise a story about two robots and to slip in a message on preserving the environment is indeed remarkable. Congratulations again to Andrew Stanton, the same guy who gave us Finding Nemo (I still love this the most and because of the movie, the clown fish has become the most recognisable fish) and Toy Story.

At work, things are ok. Though I find it unsettling when I become the center of attention about my love life. A colleague seemed particularly interested in it, asking probing questions. The frequency of the questions seem to have increased.

Oh well.

There is a colleague who is meeting someone from online for the first time tomorrow. From URL to IRL. I still remember what it felt like when I met someone for the first time, back in 2002. The anticipation, expectation, trepidation. Good luck to her!

Think Nyk would have felt the same when he first met me. There was a little shyness initially, but that quickly faded away.

And now, look at where we are now! LOL

Happy 51st National Day, Malaysia! (though I do think that 16 September would be the more accurate one)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

AIDS in Asia

The article below appeared in a Singapore free newspaper about 3 weeks ago.

1 in 5 Asian Homosexuals Has HIV

UNITED NATIONS — HIV infection rates among gay men in many parts of Asia are as severe as those which devastated homosexual communities in the United States in the late ’80s, said top officials of the United Nations Aids agency UNAIDS.

Launching his agency’s 2008 report on the global Aids epidemic, Mr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, urged more action to prevent the spread of the disease among gay men who have unsafe sex. He also stressed the importance of working with affected communities.

Mr Piot said: “All over Asia there are now epidemics of HIV in men who have sex with men, at the same magnitude that we saw in this country 25 years ago. That is something that has been detected fairly recently. There is not enough action yet but we are now starting programs,” he added.

Paul De Lay, director of Evidence, Monitoring and Policy at UNAIDS, said the HIV epidemic among gay communities in Asia was not new, but that it had recently reached the levels seen in cities such as San Francisco at the end of the 1980s when HIV infections reached their peak.

He said it could be due to a number of factors, including less funding for programs that target men who have sex with men and the fact that there were new groups who were less aware of the risks of unprotected sex.

“Asia has recognized populations of men who have sex with men for quite some time,” he told AFP. “The epidemic in these populations started in the mid-1990s. What we see now is a resurgence.”

“There are countries where the percentage of people infected are similar to what we were seeing in San Francisco or in Berlin or in London where up to 15 to 20 percent of men who have sex with men are HIV positive,” he added.

The report meanwhile noted that unprotected sex between men was a “potentially significant but under-researched aspect of the HIV epidemics in Asia,” citing countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

“Recent study data from several major cities in the region, from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, show increasing HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men,” the report said.

In China, unsafe sex between men could account for up to seven per cent of HIV infections, it noted.

De Lay said there were also high infection rates among gay populations in cities such as Chennai and Mumbai in India and in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.

He added that these communities often faced homophobia from the wider population, as well as discrimination from health care providers, which discouraged them from seeking information and getting tested.

“Even without blatant national laws that criminalize homosexual behavior, you can still have a gradation of policies and practices that can be almost as bad,” he said.

De Lay pointed to a similar resurgence of HIV infections among gay populations in the US and western Europe, which he said showed the need for constant vigilance.

The report said higher risk unprotected sex among gay men in several countries in western Europe, such as Germany, appeared to be linked to the increasing numbers of new HIV diagnoses among that group.

“It’s disturbing because it’s this sense that we can never let our guard down as far as prevention, that the epidemic will come creeping back if there isn’t this constant attention being paid to it,” De Lay said. -AFP

I believe the same report appeared in quite a few other news publications as well.

But there was something that didn't seem quite right. Could you guess what it was?

Read the title again.

It wasn't mentioned anywhere in the article that 1 in 5 or 20% of gay Asian men is gay. It only said that up to 15 to 20% of gay men are HIV-positive.

I am not trying to nitpick here, but there is a difference. And a huge difference at that.

It's like a sale which says up to 20% discount, which could be only 5%, 10% or whatever amount below 20%, as compared to a sale of 20% discount, which means ALL items are 20% cheaper.

If someone were to read the title of the report only without reading further, he or she would have the wrong idea that one-fifth of gay men are HIV-positive.

I am not trying to underestimate readers intelligence, but stereotypes and discrimination abound. The human brain is programmed to categorise and pigeon-hole things neatly into little boxes. As such, reading the misleading title would likely lead readers to think that only gay men contract AIDS or that it is a predominantly a gay disease or straight people are less likely to contract the disease.

All of the above are not desirable or positive outcomes. It probably would have done some damage to the hard work and effort of HIV education programs to change public perception about the virus.

In my opinion, there are two concerns regarding such inappropriate headline:
1) it reinforces the misconception that it is a homosexual disease and only homosexuals get it. This would make other segments of society believe they are not at risk and thus may erroneously think that they do not need to take precautions like practicing safer sex

2) it paints a picture of doom and gloom for homosexuals, that one in five gays are likely to become infected. Being gay doesn't doom a person to a life of suffering and HIV. It is about being true to yourself and loving yourself for it. There is hope, optimism and happiness and those are not in the domain of heterosexuals only.

Actually, I had written in an email to the newspaper stating my concerns and the reasons, but it was not published. I have also sent it to Straits Times and it was also declined.

Just for readers information, the original headline reads "AIDS hitting Asian gays at high rates: UN".

So is it a case of deliberate anti-gay propaganda or just plain sensational reporting?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The swordfish, then the Concubine

The OCBC Singapore Theatre is currently on and we watched this play called The Swordfish, then the Concubine. Ignoring the weird title, it was written by Malaysian playwright Kee Thuan Chye and directed by Ivan Heng.

The synopsis for the play:
Swordfish attack Singapura, terrorising its citizens. A boy saves the kingdom by lining the beach with banana stems. But the Sultan, at his ministers’ advice, has the boy executed.

A generation later, the Sultan’s successor, his son, breaks the covenant between subject and ruler when he has his concubine publicly executed on trumped-up charges, bringing untold shame to her family. Sure enough, an armada of ships from the Majapahit empire soon appears on the horizon, and threatens Singapura’s supremacy.

Conspiracy and trump-up charges? As you can see, the play is very apt indeed in the current socio-political climate in Malaysia.

There were a lot of Malay cultural influences in the play, something rarely seen in Singapore theatre. There was dikir barat, gamelan and Malay costumes.

The play started off with the trial of the concubine, Nurhalisa. The judge was obviously not going to be impartial. She was charged with one, to conspire to overthrow the king by associating with a sect deemed "deviant" by the government and two, attempted to murder the consort to the Sultan.

About the deviant sect, Mat Zin, it was portrayed as a sect that teaches its followers to love fellow human beings, that all religions are equal as they are all from the same supreme being, to appreciate diversity, etc. Apparently, there was a giant water container on the compound of this religious commune.

Of course, this reminds me of a certain giant tea pot somewhere, which was smashed by the "righteous" government for being "deviant".

Other things that raised questions, how does one prove that there was a conspiracy against you? If I have no spies and I don't have money to bribe people, how do I fight against those who want to bring me down, especially if they were powerful? Especially if their words hold more weight? It's basically their words against mine.

When the play flashback to when Singapura was attacked by swordfish, there was a scene where the National Service was poked fun off. Just because the soldiers attended NS, doesn't mean they could solve every problem like a sea of psycho swordfish.

And then the boy came to suggest that they should plant banana stems to halt the siege. He was immediately killed the next day, to preserve the peace of the state. How does one boy equal to causing harm to the society? Well, politicians like the Bendahara has a way to justify things like this and it went like this - the boy would one day grow up to be very clever, too clever with his ideas which that influence the people around him and therefore cause riot in the kingdom.

Especially when the media is the controlled by the government, through seen or unseen hands, the people would believe what they read and hear. That is why I don't buy newspapers anymore, at lease not for the news and editorials.

In the second act, the reigning Sultan who was a spoilt brat who always wanted things his way, offended his cousin, the ruler of Majapahit. For that, Singapura was again attacked. The Laksamana helped the invaders and for that, he was turned into stone, what was termed as divine justice.

However, the another boot-licking pembesar who served the Majapahit became a hundreds time richer. And he died peacefully, so where is his divine justice?

The part where the Sultan's niece become his daughter-in-law and the Bendahara's wife's brother become his son-in-law, that was so true. Ths Sultan and the Bendahara were already in-laws became further in-laws. They're related and elated. So incestious.

Acting all around was quite good, though no one particularly stand out. The two commentators cum narrators were funny, playing it to the hilt with their antics.

Overall, I think it was quite funny. There were too much talking in some parts and the pace was a bit inconsistent, but those are minor flaws. Though I did find the section where they searched for the best singer, voted by the people, to sing for the Sultan ala Singapore Idol quite jarring to the whole play.

Highly recommended to go watch, if the play is staged in Kuala Lumpur.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

X-Files: I want to Believe

I went to watch this at 10.45 last Saturday morning. I had no other choice as the movie is close to the end of its run at the cinemas.

First off, most reviews about it was negative. SK said it was bad. A review said that it was offensive to gays, as the villain in the movie was gay.

Thus far I have only seen one positive review in the papers. The other positive review came from Lloyd.

My opinion. It was like a typical episode of X-Files. Which is not to say it wasn't great. It was good and I felt satisfied when I left the cinema.

*spoilers ahead*
It has been five years since they left the FBI. Scully is a doctor at the local hospital and she is personally attached to this boy who has been struck with an incurable disease.

And guess what? Mulder lives together with Scully. They shared two passionate kisses and they sleep on the same bed.

But of course, they are not married. They still call each other by their last names.

The plot was about healthy young women being abducted and killed. Their body parts were found buried everywhere.

The person who led them to the body parts was a convicted paedophile priest called Father Joe. At one point, Scully said, "If God was trying to tell me something, through a paedophile priest no less ..... "

Anyway, no one believes that Father Joe (FJ) was really psychic. But he led them to another body and cried tears of blood, which had Mulder believing in him.

I think what I found interesting about the film was the familiarity of the themes from the TV series. Father Joe could be really psychic, but in the end was proven otherwise. There was a lot of ambiguity there.

To me, it was pretty clear that he was, just not he was not a very good one. He claimed to be given visions by God. This was his way of serving God and entering back into the arms of Jesus after his heinous crimes.

Which is highly possible. Probably he was redeeming himself by helping the FBI with his visions.

The other theme that was recurring was "Don't give up". For no reason, FJ told Scully that and it stuck in her mind. She did not give up and tried a new radical procedure on the dying boy, even though everyone has given up and wanted the boy sent to a hospice.

It was also relevant to Mulder, as he was not giving up on finding the latest missing girl alive. The FBI was pretty closed to solving the case and Scully wanted Mulder to let them finish the job.

But Mulder would have none of it as he believed that the latest missing girl was still alive. And he had to find her fast.

Scully accused him of being stubborn, followed by "that was the reason I fell for you". Mulder then said that was why it is impossible for them to be together. She still thinks that part of it is due to the fact that he can't stop looking, he can't stop believing even though he knows his sister is dead.

So that was why I find it satisfying. I am quite a fan of X-Files and to see all these development between the two characters, how much they have grown since but still very much the same.

Scully wanted a normal life, to come home everyday, to not chase monsters in the dark anymore. Mulder couldn't stop because that is who he is and that is his life.

But still, the darkness finds them.

About the villain. It's actually this organ transplant transportation guy who was killing people to harvest the body. His employer / husband was dying from cancer. He wanted to keep his boyfriend alive by transplanting his head to the victim's body. One body could probably last a few weeks and then a new body would be needed.

And the there was a relationship between the dying guy and Father Joe. Apparently, the employer was one of the alter boys that Father Joe "buggered", to use Scully's choice of words.

*end of spoiler*

Basically, I would think that the movie is good simply because it was good to know what has happened to my favourite FBI agents. The chemistry was still there and all the ingredients that made the series great were there. For me, the plot was secondary to Mulder and Scully's motivation and evolution since the last time we saw them.

Probably it wouldn't be as good to non-fans. Even the guy who sat behind me said "Quite good what. Who was the one who told us it was lousy?"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bad habits

With the exam over, I went to watch this movie called Bad Habits. It was a movie about, well, bad habits.

Warning, spoilers ahead.

There is nun who believe so strongly in Jesus and that faith can overcome everything.

The context. Throughout the movie, it was raining and some parts of Mexico was flooded and many have died. The nun sees herself as the saviour; she even dreamnt of herself walking on water like Jesus did.

Thus, she began to starve herself and pray whole day long asking for the rain to stop. She refused to eat even when other nuns tried to bring her food. Till one day, she collapsed and needed to be hospitalised.

Another intertwined story was about this girl of around 12 years, whom the nun taught in her religious classes. Her name was Linda and she was a little on the chubby side, though according to the doctor, she's in the normal weight range.

Her mother is skinny like hell. There was a scene showing her bag of bones body, standing on the weighting scale at only 40kg. She was obsessed about keeping her body thin; she runs everyday, have only a bite or two a day and smokes a lot.

The sad part was that the mum wanted Linda to be thin like her. She forbade Linda from eating cake at her friend's birthday party and things like that. Linda does love to eat and so she had to resort to hiding cookies in her teddy bear and bring it to the toilet to eat.

Other tortures she endured include being sign up for a health clinic where one could supposed lose weight by eating delicious stuff like blueberry sorbet and chocolate. Linda didn't make any progress and so she was booed on stage.

Linda's mother is so thin that her husband complained that there was bone sticking out when they were having sex. So he had an affair with a Peruvian girl half his age, who is more buxom. Linda's mom was so thin that her breasts were almost flat, like a guy (I wonder whether she is actually like that or did she lose weight just for the film).

After trying all sorts of methods and Linda hasn't lost a single gram, the mother wanted to her stomach stapled. Linda was so terrified and resorted to poisoning her mother.

The mother died, but in fact was due to some disease which she had. What disease it was not made clear in the movie. But I think should be something related to her diet or lack of it.

And poor Linda thought that she actually killed her mother.

Back to the nun. The rain finally stopped and she was discharged from the hospital. Standing at the church rooftop, she was enjoying the clear morning sky. The movie ended with the clouds bursting again and she took off her nun headscarf.

I suppose that means that it finally sunk in that she is not Storm.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Overdue II

I know this blog has been neglected yet again, since I came back from the KL trip. But this time it was due to my exams, which just ended yesterday. Ninety six hours of torment finally over. Woohoo!

Anyway, the first week back was quite uneventful. Though there were some stronger than usual yearning pangs for my dear, to be separated again after a wonderful week together.

But two weeks ago was our 18th month anniversary. It was another milestone for us. This is my longest relationship ever. Even the sum of all my previous relationships is less than this.

Of course, a relationship is not measured by the time that we are attached. It is measured by the quality and time spent together.

As a sidetrack, let me put down what my colleague actually said.
MJ: So how did you celebrate your anniversary? Got fireworks or not?

Me: What fireworks? He's in KL and I am here. I am supposed to deliver it by mail is it?

MJ: No la, I don't mean fireworks physically. It could be figuratively hahaha

Tsk, tsk.

First off, I am extremely glad to have him as my boyfriend. It is true that no one is perfect and a relationship is what you make of it.

We take the effort to listen and understand each other. There are times when I need emotional support, to have someone to care for me and relieve my stress and the is the one I go to.

He has been sending me cards every few weeks and every time I read them, I would go awww, so sweet. He knows he can't be everything to me, but he tries anyway.

For that, I am a lucky guy.

Sometime I don't really want to think too much about the future and just enjoy and cherish what I have with him now.

And yes dear, I did notice that I am no longer genderless on your blog. To finally know that I am guy is a relief.

I am proud and glad that you have taken the bold decision.

I have never really watch you sleep, as it always seems to me that you were already half awake when I opened my eyes.

I just wanna say this. I promise to always be by your side.

I would like to be the one who could douse your anger of fire when it burns, who you could turn to when the chips are down, who would provide you a shoulder to lean on when you need it and to catch you whenever you fall.

A belated happy anniversary, dear.

P/S And for the last time, there is no domineering one in our relationship. I don't see it that way and neither does it work as such.