Friday, August 26, 2016

Life in Progress

Maybe in another life, I would not be a lawyer. There is a good part of my work that I have enjoyed very much but there is also the dreary and routine part that I have to put up with. So yes if there were a parallel universe, please take me there. I know there is no perfect package for life, I do reckon with the choices I have made and I know that all packages have certain pitfalls . But that does not mean I cannot imagine what if there were another life, what would I like it to be and what kind of choices  could I have made. The truth is I probably would have made the same mistakes and similar irrational decisions even if I had the benefits of the hindsight I now possess. If I had not been impulsive and the kind of person who does not plan and see where life takes her, I might have become cynical and too pragmatic and I would not be the person I am now.

An old school friend is happy to find that I am a free thinker as she is one. Many people she and I know are either Christians or Taoists or embrace some religious faith. But I do believe in rebirths and evolution. I also believe that there are many different life packages as such there could be various permutations of us depending on the circumstances we have landed ourselves in.

Maybe in Another Life written by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a fiction that depicts how different consequences follow when the protagonist makes a different decision at a certain point of her life. At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Marie Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived and held countless jobs in six different cities. She decides to go back to her roots in Los Angeles after having  a disastrous relationship with a  man who is  already married.  To celebrate her first night back, her best friend, Gabby takes her out to a bar where she bumps into her high school boyfriend, Ethan whom she still has feelings for. The story is about what happens if she goes home with Gabby and what happens if she does not go home with Gabby. Maybe in Another Life is about how Hannah’s decision can result in different stories  in two parallel universes. The point is, a different decision brings about a different outcome, it  thus prompts the questions  :  Is much of our life determined by chance ? Is there only one soul-mate?

One of the characters in the novel says,
And I was reading about different theories about the universe. I was really taken with this one theory that states that everything that is possible happens. That means that when you flip a quarter, it doesn’t come down heads or tails. It comes up heads and tails. Every time you flip a coin and it comes up heads , you are merely in the universe where the coin came up heads. There is another version of you out there, created the second the quarter flipped, who saw it come up tails. This is happening every second of every day. The world is splitting further and further into an infinite number of parallel universes where everything that could happen is happening .This is completely plausible, by the way. It is a legitimate interpretation of quantum mechanics. It’s entirely possible that every time we make a decision, there is a version of us out theres omwhere who make a different choice. An infinite number of versions of ourselves are living out the consequences of every single possibility in our lives. What I’m gettingin at here is that I know there may be universes out there where I made different choices that led me shomewhere else, led me to someone else.

Vevey  December 2012 
Maybe in Another Life reminds me of The Versions of Us where its author, Laura Barnett gave three possible outcome to the central  In concurrent storylines, Taylor Jenkins Reid explores the concepts of fate and chance and offers two alternate realities. I have a penchant for books that talk about choices and destiny and I do not think that what is meant to be meant to be. I am naturally drawn to a fiction that is written based on the concept of love, chance and fate and how a single decision can lead to different outcome that not only affects the protagonist but also the characters around her. I have always believed that everything is inter-related as the world is connected somehow.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Age of Innocence

Last month, I met up with my primary schoolmates whom I had not seen since I left primary school. That feels like another lifetime. I am surprised how sentimental some of my friends are and the things they could remember from school. As a rule, everyone remembers things differently but some of these school friends remember  the school activities and the teachers well. I hardly remember any of the things they remember. I feel nostalgic about my university days but never my days in school. To me school was not entirely fun as there were many rules to be followed and plenty of uninteresting homework to be done.

In school, we used to have dictations and spelling tests for English classes and we had 听写 (tingxie)  and  默写 (moxie) for Mandarin classes. Spelling and dictation test in English and Malay were less intimidating. Even though you did not study you could still get through dictations if you have a good ear and if you could spell some of the words but not 默写 (moxie) where one is required to learn the whole text  by heart. If you have not memorized the text simply because you had totally forgotten about the test, you probably wish that you had a fever that would exempt you from going to school. Unless you could feign a stomachache or some sickness, you would be heading for 交白   ( jiao bai juan)  that means passing up blank paper.  I definitely learnt all the tenses after being punished once by the English teacher for not knowing my tenses. I believe that  as a young child I did not cause my mother too much trouble unlike the boy from One Red Egg and A Great Deal of Mischief ,  a children’s story written by  June Chiang.

One Red Egg and A Great Deal of Mischief is a story written in local context for both the story and the illustrations.

One Red Egg  is about nine -year- old Owen who lives in Penang. The narratives are done in Owen’s voice. In Chapter 1, Owen explains how his given name has come about. His mum named him after Owen, the Goldfish as it was her favourite cartoon character when she was little and she wanted her child to have puffy cheeks just like the goldfish.

Pa named me Jo Han, which is my Chinese name. The name came all by accident. Pa was with Mum in the hospital, waiting for me o enter the world. The wait got too long for Pa so he tool out his laptop and watched an exiting squash tournament. The squash Queen was playing in the game. She was running left and right chasing after the ball. When she hit the last ball, Pa threw up his arms and shouted, “ Yay! Nichol David is a johan! A champion! Nicol David the Squash queen has done it again !

That was when I pushed myself out into this wolrd, Mum said, abd Pa had missed the great moment. (Mum is still angry with pa for this,( The doctor and nuses looked at me fluttering out inot this noisy world and said to Pa, “ What a Johan you’ve got here!

Pa said, “Indeed, indeed. He’s a johan, just like Nicol David.”

Owen is extremely energetic and he refuses to do his homework and constantly disobeys instructions given by the teachers even when his teacher punishes him. He is always up to some mischief and he squirms even when he is still. When the school term ends, he brings home his report card that carries zero marks for his  Maths test because he leaves the Maths test paper blank, his mother knows that something is amiss. His mother takes him to see a doctor and inside the doctor’s  room , as his mother tells the doctor about him, he starts peeling off the white paint from the wall. The doctor tells the mother that he will refer Owen to a psychologist to determine if the child has ADHD.

In Chapter 0, a psychologist is defined as ‘someone who knows why you bring home a red egg from school'.  It is sweet when the mother  calls the child ' genius' and  the mother comes across  very kind, patient  and wise indeed. In Chapter 18 , when the dad roared, and the child's observation about his dad was funny.

Throughout the book, the story flows nicely prompting chuckles along the way.The beginning and the end tie in very nicely. I have enjoyed reading it . How June tells the different anecdotes is clever. One Red Egg is a delightful read indeed.

My hearty congratulations to both June Chiang,  the author  and Ammi, the illustrator of the book that has a lot of local flavour from where the characters come from. Bravo !
Hin Company Depot, Penang

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Devolution and Evolution

San Sebastian
My middle school friends are organizing a reunion and they seem to bask in the joy of reconnecting with their younger selves. Although their enthusiasm is commendable, I am so not keen to go to the reunion simply because I do not have to be reminded that I am growing older. Perhaps I am not so willing to participate in the charade that we are renewing our ties when for more than three decades since we left school we had not known what was actually going on in our individual lives. Where have all the years gone? Whenever we say that  age is just a number and that fifty is the new thirty while sixty is the new forty, we are just sugar coating reality. Some of us have had successful lives while others have had not so successful lives, nonetheless, almost all of us left school to live completely normal and ordinary lives.

The Red Book is a fiction written by Deborah Copaken Kogana, a  Harvard graduate, married with three children, a writer and a war photojournalist. The female characters in The Red Book are like that of the characters in Sex and the City.  Mia Mandelbaum Zane, Addison Cornwall Hunt, Jane Nguyen Streeter  and Clover Pace Love were college roommates at Harvard University and they graduated in 1989.  They return  to their campus in Cambridge for their 20th reunion. Every five years, the Harvard Alumni Association puts out class reports of their former students in the anniversary book known as  “The Red Book”.  The  hardbound crimson volumn contains the entries by the Harvard alumni who write a few paragraphs summarizing their lives during the past five years. There is always a story that we tell the world and the real story about dashed dreams, loss  and simply dreams we have to let go. The tradition of submitting class reports dates back to the mid 1800s and they get published and circulated within the Harvard fraternity. In a way, the exercise forces alumni to sit down and take stock of their lives every five years and account for themselves. 

Mia is married to Jonathan who is a film director making romantic comedies with all of those wedding photos under the closing credits. Mia used to be a promising actress. While she declares her supreme satisfaction with motherhood, she becomes angry when she meets a less talented classmate who has become a major celebrity.

Kogana writes,

We are all stars of our own  movies, he tells his children, but we are also its writer, creator, and narrator. ( “ Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Max will interrupt , playfully, “and it’s our God-given duty to make it interesting. Got it, Dad. Check on the life well spent. Now can we clear our plates and have dessert?” ) Jonathan imagines the tracking shot of this scene, the camera on a dolly following him down the road, the human figure kept consistently center frame until the last possible moment, when the rig should fly up on a jib for a more bird’s –eye view as the man slips out of the frame.’

In the story, to the outside world, Jonathan has done extraordinarily well as a film director. At age 61,  he suddenly struggles with meaning and what kind of mark he wants to leave on the world.

Addison is an artist who hasn’t really created any art in years and she spends her years looking after the three children she has with her writer husband who is trying to write his second novel.  Clover  is recently married to a lawyer husband  and she is desperate for a baby but her husband refuses to have a fertility test.  Jane is a journalist living and working in Paris and she is coming to terms with the death of her adoptive mother and her husband. 

Deborah Copaken Kogan clickhere is observant about the realities of life and as the novel spans over the three-day reunion, she is good in connecting the past to the present. The Red Book is about friendship, dreams,  infidelity, motherhood, sexuality  and mortality. There is a lot going on so much so that at some points, there is just too much going on. The novel is an interesting read if you like a good saga.
In life, there are always compromises to be made as we cannot have it all. The reality is even a Harvard education can never prepare one for the real life that is about earning your keep, living well, navigating a marriage, parenting and surviving illnesses and failed ventures.The Red Book shows that very few graduates live up to their potentials even if they go to Harvard. It is also about how we all sacrifice our true selves for the sake of a life that we think we should have in the hope that we can finally find harmony and balance between what we really want to do with our life and who we have become.