Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Splendour of Love

Various contemporary writers shared their views about what literature could tell them about love in the article “ A Sentimental Education” published by New York Time recently.* In the French class last Saturday, we had to give our opinions as to whether we agree or disagree with the statement: L’amitie est preferable a l’amour. This is a difficult choice. Both are essentially about loyalty and acceptance. Friends probably can accept you the way you are if they like you enough but the kind of love we expect from a partner or spouse or lover may change in its character over a period of time as passion or love based on sexual attraction can be delusive. We all know about infatuations, puppy love, crushes and sometimes we may even find ourselves in love with the concept of love when we are young.

I sometimes think about my mother whose life seemed sad to my cousins, children of my mother’s sister  who is suffering from dementia and children of my mother’s brothers and also everyone who had known her for her modesty. She was devastated and became depressed when she had to deal with the reality that my dad had been unfaithful and his mistress had borne him two other children, a son and a daughter. What happened to my parents’ marriage had created an impact on my sister and me, in one way or another.

I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is  the question on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged ; and there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of.  - Julian Barnes writes in ‘The Sense of an Ending’.

As children, who are we to judge? I feel sorry for both my parents and  I believe  that both my parents must have suffered greatly for what had happened . Through reading I have become more empathetic about human nature and through reading I understand humanities a little better though I do not need literature to tell me about the impermanence of love. My sister found the journal that belonged to my late dad which is now amongst my possessions. My late dad had written in his journal about how he had been  smitten by my late mother. He kept a journal in the beginning of their courtship and it was incredible that he had kept it for thirty over years . My dad’s journal had somewhat given me a kind of  resolution to my parents’ union.  Even though I had already learnt about how illusive love is since my teenage years and that love can change, I still believe in stories with happy endings. Perhaps I want to believe in whatever that gives mankind inspirations and hope .
I rarely read poetry but I would like to quote a few lines from 'Dover Beach' a poem by Matthew Arnold that was produced at the end of  Saturday’ the novel written by Ian McEwan.

Ah,love , let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,

Saturday is a story about Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon who is a happily married man who wakes up before dawn on February 15 2003 and from his window he witnesses a burning plane as it heads towards Heathrow. That particular Saturday begins with an unease that materialises in the form of events that happen subsequently on that same day. Perowne is a scientific  man and he does not read fictions as he wants the world explained factually and not reinvented as stories. His father in law is a famous poet who has first introduced his daughter into the literary world. For some years  his too literate daughter has been guiding his literary education and he submits to her reading lists  as his means of remaining in touch with her as she grows away from her family even though he thinks he has seen enough death, fear, courage and suffering to supply half a dozen literatures.  A very profound and thought provoking story indeed.

Friday, February 14, 2014

He thinks, she thinks

Tokyo December 2006

The comic strip from Real Life Adventures that appears  in the local 'Sun' newspaper today best describes a typical exchange between a man and a woman.

The bespectacled man is seen as saying, “ I don’t understand what’s wrong.”  The woman who is seated responds, “ You never understand what’s wrong.” The man replies, “ That I understand.” Hilarious.

'Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus'. We have all heard that before. It is the title of a book written by John Gray and published in 1992. How often I hear my women friends lament that their husbands have a totally different mindset. I used to find such characterization objectionable but in recent years, I have come to acknowledge that men and women somehow function quite differently. I am a late bloomer, so I tend to be slow in seeing the obvious.

They are like that so their mothers say.  I should not place the onus on the mothers since I have never raised a son and as a mother of two grown up daughters, I raise them as best as I could but I have absolutely no idea how to bring up a son. A friend feels that it is time for her twenty-one year old son to start dating. In this friend’s opinion, girls are different, they cannot date as much as boys. Is this why the world will never change so long as all these mothers hold the same views as the women in my parents’ generation? As a rule, all mothers cannot help falling in love with their babies but somehow sons and daughters are treated differently as a result, boys grow up expecting their wives to replace their mothers and take care of their ironing, food and children. There are some mothers who would go an extra mile to tell their sons to be nice to the fairer sex. A friend once told me that his mother  used to tell him that he must never make a girl cry. Sweet.

Television series such as  Sex and the City and Mistresses are  entertaining, insightful and clever.  They are  both about  friendship between four women and their lives and essentially it is about what modern women want. Recently I watched Last Vegas, a film about friendship between four men who had known each other for several decades. Last Vegas is  a heart warming movie that has great casts. It tells a story about friendship between four guys in their senior years and these men are sensitive and protective when come to caring for their friends from childhood days. If these shows are any representation about the behaviour of men and women, it illustrates that the tapestry about human relations and emotional needs is the same for both men and women.

Sunrise Huangshan, China August 2011
It is widely believed that women are more intuitive and more capable of empathy; perhaps it has to do with upbringing and the expectations that men must succeed  hence they  are somehow more aggressive, combative, predatory  and task oriented generally. While gender roles in different religions can vary, I believe that gender roles are largely attributed to stereotyping and social conditioning. Thanks to the women’s rights movements around the world, women are now able to negotiate their roles at home and outside home. However, as women are now joining  the workforce whether by choice or out of necessity , the domestic role of some working women has not diminished and thus they have to constantly juggle their time between their work and their household duties . These women may have seemingly earned their financial independence, yet they do not  have the freedom to pursue extra-curricular activities that are not related to their children or their families. It is important that men and women must respect that we all possess different attributes and ultimately there should not be what exactly the male thing is and likewise what the female thing is but what every individual wants to do with his or her life. 

Huangshan 2011
I do not like domestic chores and cannot imagine giving a life to housework, to the daily routines of washing,  polishing, dusting, vacuuming and cooking. However, I do think that it takes a certain temperament and great organizational skills for anyone  to execute these domestic tasks to perfection henceforth the term “ homemaker” is certainly timely to replace “housewife” or “househusband”. It is not euphemism as the new terminology gives weight to  the role and emphasize its importance. If the homemaker can constantly derive satisfaction from the order and cleanliness of a house, it would be a bliss for his or her family to come home to. As there are so many opportunities and experiences awaiting outside home that both men and women constantly want to venture into the outside world. It is apparent that the women have more choices these days but I often wonder  if indeed we are the ones that have made the choices we have made and why we have made them.  I would like to quote what the Oracle in the science fiction film 'Matrix'said to Neo, ‘You have already made the choice. Now you have to understand it.’ and ‘Because you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand “why you made it”……………..’

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Smart People

We are all work in progress and everyone has his or her own demons to go through. One of the popular essay topics at school was: What  do you want to be when you grow up?I could not visualize how my life would turn out to be although I knew that I would like to see the world and be in possession of some knowledge about the world. So I read and try to absorb  as much information as I can. Sometimes there are so much to know that I find myself having information overloads. Very often there were stuff I used to know and since forgotten. It was as if I had to toss them out to make room for new sets of information.

I therefore tell myself that I cannot possibly learn about everything that has happened around the world and it is quite impossible to keep up with all the news around the globe. We were taught the virtues and values about how to be good and honest  people but as we grow older, we have to try to prevent ourselves from becoming cynics and bores. We have to find out for ourselves who we are and who we  shall be .

The world is evolving at such a great speed that it is exciting and yet it can be daunting. I feel that as we become more techno savvy, we become more and more  dependent on our electronic devices. Perhaps competence and efficiency are our priorities so much so that all we care  about  is being functional and in working order. However we must know how frustrating it is to speak to an automated answering machine that makes you work through the menu before you finally get to speak to a real person who may or may not be able to answer your queries. 

When my colleague at work showed me how Siri in iPhone worked, I joked and asked if the name Siri could be changed. My colleague typed, “ Can I change your name Siri?” Siri replied , “ No … I am Siri, Siri I shall remain.” My colleague typed, “ I want to change your name.” Again Siri replied, “ No. But really. I can’t imagine why you’d want to.”  Siri is indeed an intelligent personal assistant.
Tate Modern
When I first read about the new movie “Her”, I thought of Siri and the movie “ Robot and Frank” that I saw several months ago. Both “Her” and “Robot and Frank” are set in the near future. In Robot and Frank, Frank Weld lives alone and his children worry about his failing memory. His son buys him a walking and talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. Frank was  a jewel thief and though he resents the robot initially, he warms up  to it when he can train the robot  to  restart his cat burglary career. It is a heart warming story with strong casts who deliver great performance. Theodore Twombly in “Her” writes beautiful letters for people who have difficulties expressing their feelings. He is going through a divorce and decides to purchase a new operating system that is designed to have the ability to learn and evolve like a human. Theodore soon begins a quirky romantic relationship with the artificial intelligence system that names itself ‘Samantha’.

Have we carried too far the concept of  being autonomous? “Her” has won the Golden Globe award for best screenplay, motion picture. It tells a tale about how  humans could resort to having a robot as a confidante  if the robot could adapt to your needs and available at any hour of the day. Are humans such emotionally challenged people that we prefer to communicate with artificial intelligence that can be switched on and off at our disposal? Perhaps I would welcome a robot that provides cleaning services and even a butler service. However the idea of communicating with a robot seems to suggest that we are only interested in conducting monologues because the robot is only a device where we channel our thoughts when they are said out aloud. As I write, the song ‘Lonely People'  by America comes to mind. 
Covent Garden

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky………” (lyrics from the song' Lonely People')

Interesting enough, I just read in the newspaper about how research has shown that texting could affect your posture and send you off track as you walk. When people are  wrapped up in texting on their mobile devices, their eyes are fixated on the phone and their heads in turn lock in with the rest of the body as it moves, they apparently walk a "robot walk". Perhaps soon humanoids will become more like humans as humans become more and more robotic. That is a scary thought.