Life Is But A Performance

Once in a while, literary societies will organise “open microphone” performances, where people read out or even perform their written works in front of an audience. It’s really a simple concept. If you’ve written a poem or a short story (not really for novels, naturally), you’ll step up on stage to the microphone and read it out. It’s a great way to link a writer with his work. Except I totally abhor literary performances. Why?

Well firstly, authors tend to be pretty imaginative beings, in that what they create can be totally unexpected. Which also means you may be prepared to see a balding old man reading off a short story about a band of heroes with superpowers who rid the world of spirits. If you don’t believe me, by the way, just check out who is the artist of the manga Bleach. And so it may come as a laugh when you hear a deadpan voice reciting a poem on murder, or a well-dressed gentleman spouting off gangster speak. Think theatre, except the actors did not have any professional training. I think this would spoil the atmosphere depicted in the literary piece, if the voice reading it lacked the essence required by it.

Which also brings me to the point that some authors simply may not want to be associated so viscerally with their works. I hate when after my essays in school are read out, people turn to me and ask if I really think like the protagonist in the story. Especially if the protagonist was an angsty immature teenager — which has happened before, and caused some degree of embarrassment when my friends lectured me on growing up. I also tend to be quite ashamed of my works after I write them (sometimes even before) so I would certainly be most reluctant to read it in front of everybody.

Then again, some of you may say I just haven’t seen actual performance poetry in action. Indeed, I haven’t been to a poetry slam, which I hear is a competition where poets read original work and are scored by a panel of judges. This is the most simplified version of performance poetry. Actual performance poetry will often include props and costumes, to ensure the atmosphere is adequately generated. I’m sure I would be most interested to watch, but I’m still not enough of a poetry fan to pick myself up and attend such events unfortunately, unless they take place someplace near, such as in school.

I guess the best literary pieces to be performed are ostensibly plays and the screenplays of films. Then again, I wouldn’t expect playwrights or scriptwriters to be acting out their own pieces, would you? This is why my point still holds, that authors should not have to read out their own works.

But one can’t say it is entirely to the author’s detriment to read out his own works in an open mic. The main incentive for people to do so is to receive immediate feedback. Reading out the work ensures you have an audience who has actually listened to what you wrote, and can immediately tell you how you can improve. Authors are always looking out for peer review and sharing sessions, and open mic is one of the best opportunities.

So if you have written something recently and want to find people in your area (more than just anonymous strangers online whose expertise you don’t even know) to offer comments, find an open mic in your local arts facility! Who knows, this may be the best performance to usher in the New Year.


A Week After

A week after… what? While I like making suspenseful ambiguous titles, I think I should reveal the answer to you before I can continue with my entry. Last week, 2 things happened. Firstly, it was my birthday. Secondly, the world did not end when it was supposed to.

Nope, this is not an entry about my reflections of being 20 years and 1 week old.

If you’re curious, word has spread that there’s now yet another apocalyptic date in 2013. Sometime in November, I think. Just so you know, there was another apocalyptic date in 2011 too, or at least, from what I can see from this article.

Sadly, none of the believers have stepped out to address the problem of why the world didn’t accede to its promise and implode, but this article did bring up the concept of cognitive dissonance, which is what said believers are probably sitting at home and wracked with now. The article explains a little bit of what cognitive dissonance is, which is highly psychological and therefore I’m putting it as a Saturday article. However, I do believe I learned about cognitive dissonance from my Theories of Communications & New Media class. It was a very tiny section which was not even elaborated on in the notes, but basically it says that after we market a new product or innovation, we should continually reinforce customer beliefs that they had made the right choice, in order to avoid dissonance.

So for instance, you successfully get someone to buy your washing powder. Once that person has bought and used it, you ought to continually show them how this washing powder is superior to all other washing powders and that he has made the right decision to listen to you. If you don’t confirm their decision, they may start thinking that perhaps their choice wasn’t the best one after all and get confused with dissonance. This also explains why believers of the apocalypse should get together now to confirm each other’s beliefs. If left alone with hardly a sound, the believers may begin to wonder if their beliefs had been correct after all.

I think that much of my beliefs are strengthened through confirmation with other people. I think most of us are this way. I heard somewhere that our opinions of ourselves are strengthened by the affirmation of others. So if someone around you says you’re hardworking, you’ll start to believe quite firmly that you’re indeed hardworking. Needless to say, this also works the other way around, so you should not hang out with too many people who think negatively of you.

Of course, people tend to admire those who have their own opinions and stand up to them against peer pressure. These people do have doubts as well from time to time and require encouragement and agreement to keep going. I guess I do refer to the opinions of people who know better than me in a certain area, and regard them as more applicable than my own. These people in media terms are known as “opinion leaders”. For example, when it comes to hearing what anime are good, I defer to the judgments of the hardcore otakus in the Comics & Animation Society. We may read blogs and articles (such as the one I linked in this entry) and discover a fresh insight to a topic coming from a person of authority. Some of you, if I may be shamelessly optimistic here, may even learn new perspectives of topics that you have little knowledge in from the Exalted Salvation Show. For instance, for people with no knowledge of psychology, you may read my Saturday entries for information and to find out what the dominant thoughts are out there in this domain.

But goodness, I am digressing. I hope you don’t encounter too much dissonance in your life, but if you do, try to take a step back and examine your own biases. You may find that there was never any evidence that the world was going to end.

Apple Bobbing

You know in Halloween when you play apple bobbing? You dip your head in a barrel of water and try to get as many apples out as you can with your teeth. I know this is Christmas and not Halloween, but you can get your chance at apple bobbing… with Apple company, that is.

iTunes is offering a free app for 12 days of free gifts from 26th December to 6th January (so you’ve missed the first 2 days, aw), where everyday they will give you a song, app, book, movie or whatever. It’s like an advent calendar except only for 12 days. According to the comments, their gifts have not been great so far. There was a Rod Stewart Christmas music video. I’m not sure who Rod Stewart is, but it sounds disappointing from what the commenters say. Nonetheless, just like in all advent calendars, the best gifts come in the last few days, so grab this app before it is too late!

Speaking of advents, Serebii offers an advent calendar every year of Pokemon images, wallpapers and games from 1st to 25th December. You may still be able to access them all if you head over now. Most advent events tend to be online now, because it can get troublesome giving things away everyday for 25 days in reality, especially with all the money you will have to spend. Plus, in reality it is difficult to get a good estimate of numbers, so you may well end up with shortages or surpluses, and excess stocks will have to end up in storage or given away for free next year.

If you could have an advent giveaway, what would you want to give away? I’m sure if you were a gamer, you might want to be like Steam, which has a holiday sale where there are good deals on games everyday till 5th January. Or you might even be generous and give out one free game per day. You might be really broke at the end of the day, but isn’t that the Christmas spirit of sharing and caring?

I think what I’d like is a role-playing game with a good story divided into 25 parts, and everyday unlocks a new part for me to play through. During the hols, I’m always looking out for good games to play, but most games get lacklustre and boring after a while. I would love a great interactive role-playing game that involves nice graphics, maybe some cool magic and oh virtual pets! The holidays is the best time to breed adorable virtual pets. However, I haven’t seen anything good ever since Neopets (which I am sick of) and Digis (which is incredibly hard to earn money in). If anybody knows of a good site for me to play with cuddly cute virtual pets, please tell me!

Ah, and visual novels! Free-of-charge visual novels tend to be not as good as paid ones, yet I don’t know what paid visual novels are good. I would love to play a visual novel that is new and compatible on the 3DS, but I’ve no idea if there are any. I know in the distant past there was a game called 999: 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors, which by the way is fantastic. I haven’t played it, but even reading its TVTropes page sent excitement down my spine. But you can’t get that for me now because I know the storyline, ahaha.

But yeah, something new and as good as 999 would be good to know about. Or even an otome sim dating game. Though I’m bad at that and always end up with the bad “you get no one in the end” endings.

World Religions

So Christmas has just passed us, but some people call it Hanukkah, and then even among the people who celebrate Christmas there are the Christians, Catholics, Mormons and so on, not to mention the many other religions out there who do not celebrate the 25th of December, and then there are the people from China who do not follow a religion save for communism and you wonder, just how many varieties of religions are there? I don’t believe we shall ever know.

Singapore, for all its acceptance of religions, really only recognises a small few. There are the Christians, who are sometimes distinct from Catholics, the Buddhists who are sometimes distinct from Taoists, the Muslims and the Hindus. And the atheists who are sometimes distinct from agnostics. And Judaism, which is mentioned once in a while but nobody we know is ever a Jew. According to Wikipedia, a global 2012 poll has it that 59% of the world’s population is religious, 23% are not religious and 13% are atheists. Thaaaat’s me.

It is funny that atheists are separate from people who are not religious, because Singapore rarely draws such a distinction. Sometimes when people ask me what my religion is and I reply I’m atheist, they get taken aback and say, “why don’t you just say you’re a free thinker?” But I’m not a free thinker. A free thinker is a flexible person who may be an agnostic, but an atheist has pretty deep-set views on the subject. I’m a free thinker when it comes to politics (though I probably will vote for the People’s Action Party when my time comes, because they have been doing a commendable job so far) but I can be just as stubborn as a religious person when it comes to religion. So in a way, my religion is “atheist” rather than “no religion”.

That said, I am completely fine with praying at temples and singing at churches. I simply do not feel obligated to do anything if not out of respect for the people there. I do not shy away from eating pork or beef, and I don’t pray on my own in times of need. I strongly believe that when I die, I will be buried in a coffin and rot away and my life will end then and there. Nope, I don’t really believe in souls. I used to, but I thought about it and looked within me and I realise that without a doubt, I do not possess a soul.

Singapore has 4 out of the 5 major religions in the world. 33% of the world are Christians, followed by 19.6% as Muslims, 13.4% Hindus, 6.4% as Chinese folk religions (mostly clustered around the rural parts of China) and 5.9% Buddhists.

But these are old religions. If you are looking for a new religion to channel your devotion to (and let’s hope you don’t get conned by a cult), here’s a list of some new religious movements around the world sprouting up!

1. Shinshuukyou

This is basically a collection of Japanese religions. They are mainly very small groups such as Soka Gakkai and Tenrikyo, whatever those are.

2. Cao Dai

This is a Vietnamese religion that is syncretistic — which by the way means it is an attempted reconciliation of different or opposing principles or practices — and monotheistic. I would love to see how this is carried out.

3. Raelism

This religion teaches us that humans were created by aliens. Yup, there is an actual UFO religion out there.

4. Hindu reform movements

These are reforms in Hinduism itself. Neo-Hinduism, so to speak.

5. Unitarian Universalism

This religion basically seeks a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. The religion of knowledge and truth, I suppose. I wonder how much progress they have gotten.

6. Noahidism

This is an ideology for non-Jews about the teachings of Noah and Judaism. So it’s like a watered-down version of Judaism that guides non-Jews on how to live.

7. Scientology

This teaches that we are immortals who have forgotten our true natures, kinda like Hercules I think. Practitioners perform something known as auditing, where they try to experience painful or traumatic events in their past to free themselves of their limiting effects.

8. Eckankar

It is a pantheistic religion which makes God an everyday reality in one’s life.

9. Wicca

Some of you may know this. It is neo-pagan and involves worshipping a God and Goddess.

10. Druidry

This may appeal to fantasy fans because it draws on practices of druids and harmony with nature.

11. Satanism

This probably needs no explanation.

Of course, as you can tell, I am highly ignorant of most religions out there, and I hope I haven’t offended anybody. There really is a wide variety of different religions and beliefs out there, but the moral is simple. A religion that teaches you to do good things is a good religion, and a religion that teaches you to do bad things is a cult you should probably avoid. But naturally, religion is something you cannot force. Spiritual experiences or enlightenment is the most common way to cultivate faith, and sometimes it is fate which steers you toward your true spiritual course.

Not that I think much of fate, being the obstinate atheist that I am.

Last-Minute Christmas Gifts For The Musically-Inclined

Today is Boxing Day and most of you will probably have blown all your money off buying and exchanging Christmas gifts yesterday or even on Monday. However, suppose you still have some distant friend whom you are meeting these few days, and you feel uncomfortable not offering something — and yet your wallet is screaming at any expense. Well, if your friend is into music, how about recommending something that is free of charge and will give your friend the time of his life at the same time?

I’m talking of smartphone apps.

To be precise, a few weeks ago I downloaded the Anime Radio app for free in my phone. It has lots of internet radio stations playing anime songs 24/7, and not only that, also has a tab for you to get anime-related news from websites of your choice, such as Anime News Network and Crunchyroll. Everytime the app updates, they add more radio stations, so you have a limitless array of choices when you’re sick of listening to your own songs. You can even record the songs as they play to listen to them in the future, and with every song they play, there is the file name handily written at the bottom so you know at once what you are listening to.

Loads of advantages, but of course it has drawbacks. When I am at home, for some reason, the music plays haltingly, much like what happens when you don’t get reception. Sometimes stations lag when you press them. This app takes up quite a bit of battery power as can be expected. And of course sometimes you just never seem to get any of the good songs.

Most people don’t find free gifts good gifts. They lack sincerity if you don’t even need to shell out anything for it, but I think the gift I appreciate most is what I find enjoyable in the long run, and it doesn’t need a price tag attached. Introducing someone to a hobby, for instance, may change their lives and perspectives forever. Sometimes it gets better if money is a separate issue, because money strains relationships and makes people obliged to like the thing they get. If somebody gives you a branded handbag, you are obliged to love it and use it because they spent so much on it, but if it’s something like an app or a lifestyle, you can appraise it without fear of offence.

Among the radio stations they currently have, I like the Otaku Music Radio best. It has tons of songs that I love, such as things by UVERworld and Flow. I’m quite sure there’s more than one anime radio app out there, so do compare them and see which is best. And if there are anime radio stations, I refuse to believe there aren’t apps for other kinds of music. So if somebody is into music and does not care for the random things offered by FM radio, introduce an app to them. In fact, this does not just apply to music. I’m sure there’s an app for almost any interest (for instance, I am very interested in notes and organiser apps to make my life much neater, which is why I downloaded ColorNote, which is Notes and Calendar both in one). Technology is changing the way people live their lives, and the environment isn’t damaged in the process!

An Anime Pilgrimage

This Christmas break, some of you may wish to go travelling. For anime fans, the natural place to go would be Japan, but it is winter now and Singaporeans like me don’t take too well to the freezing cold. Where would it be warm and yet offer a pleasant foreign anime experience? Why, Malaysia, of course. Well, if you had gone there over the weekend, that is.

On the 22nd and 23rd of December was the Comic Fiesta, an annual anime convention in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur. It is a lot smaller than Anime Fest Asia and doesn’t have much to boast about. Danny Choo was there this year, as was Redjuice, who is part of the creative team for the anime Guilty Crown and is also CD jacket designer for Supercell (in case you haven’t made the connection, Supercell sang tons of songs for Guilty Crown too). Stage events include a cosplay competition as usual and a Bushiroad booth. Bushiroad is the company behind Cardfight!! Vanguard, which is a card game that looks even more amateur than Duel Masters, which has already received complaints for being daft (though I still like it of course). Vanguard looks set to be the anime and card game to take over preteens and adolescents of this generation.

The Comic Fiesta also had a variety of games, be it stage games or computer games. It’s probably the place to spend a few hours or a day in, though not more than that I would think. It is a very small and homely event, with not very much merchandise to look forward to either. However, it might have been a great opportunity to meet anime fans from all around Malaysia, perhaps. That is the charm of such small-scale anime conventions. In the bigger conventions, there are too many people and too many things to do for people to catch up and talk, but in stuff like Comic Fiesta, there is plenty of time to get together with new like-minded friends in a nearby cafe at the Convention Centre. And of course checking out the cosplayers and snapping lots of snapshots is a must.

However, to someone like me who is interested in neither cosplay photography nor new friends, I would much prefer the larger conventions, where there are features of anime I know and love, important people to meet and of course concerts to listen to my favourite anime songs live. That is undeniably the best part of AFA, the Anisong concert. Without the concert, I probably would not have gone to AFA so enthusiastically. Alas, I wonder what the concert line-up will be like next year, and whether I will be able to attend it again. Such a pity they don’t sell concert footage CDs anywhere.

Most people simply look out for exclusive merchandise to buy during conventions. There are swords that cannot be found anywhere else save for that store at the top floor of Plaza Singapura, treasures owned and sold by otakus (who have limited edition cosplay materials and other fan supplies), fan art by top-notch companies. Why, these make for great Christmas gifts too, to the anime-inclined friends and family that we have. I do have all sorts of great gift ideas for Christmas, don’t I?

Merry Christmas!

Literary Christmas Gifts

It’s Christmas Eve, and probably gift exchange will be taking place tonight amidst parties and turkey and pudding. If you are still spoiled for choice over what to give certain relatives or long-ago schoolmates, why don’t you consider a literary gift? Gifts of good books tend to imply that you hold the recipient in high intellectual regard. Only clever, distinguished people curl up by the fireplace at night to read thick difficult novels.

However, while it is always a thing of pride to display classics on one’s bookshelf, getting through these books can really be a mental challenge. Recently, I was reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, and the first part of the book gave me such a moment. The book is long and thick, like any modern classic ought to be, and the first part twists and spirals round and round, leaving readers confused over just what the story was. There were many times when I laid the book down and swore never to open it again, but I am pleased I did in the end. Once you get through a certain number of chapters, you start to get the hang of what the tale is, and then it becomes a gripping hit. Most classics follow that route. I remember reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and only understanding what a good book it was when I was on the last page.

So if people give you one such book for Christmas, do take it as an exercise in perseverance! It’s probably one of those stuff you wrote in your New Year resolution in the beginning of the year anyway.

By the way, I like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I consider it one of the books that are easier to read and understand right from the start. I also like the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. That one made me cry. But the Kite Runner is a lot easier to read because it was recent, unlike things like Pride & Prejudice which was written so very long ago and people probably loved roundabouts then.

But yeah, about Midnight’s Children. Simply put, it is about India in the 1960’s, and a boy who was born at the stroke of midnight at the hour of India’s independence. The boy, like all children who were born in that hour, has a special power — he can see into and communicate with the minds of others. And so this book is about him and how his life was somehow inextricably intertwined with all the major events in India happening at the time. The book started off confusing because he was being irritating in his narration and digressing with himself. But gradually you learn to be fond of the digressions and the very personalised writing style.

But either way, a book is a good gift to give people during Christmas. After all, this is the festive season, which means people tend to be off from work, and once Christmas is over, they will have plenty of time to read and relax before starting work again. To make the buying process easier for everyone, why don’t you make a booklist for yourself? Write down the books that you want to read so your family and friends know what to purchase for you!

I Hate Babies

You would think that on my birthday, I would write about something less hateful. You would think that as a lady, I would like babies. Nobody dislikes babies unless they are recluses like Mr Bean.

Well okay, I do not really hate babies in the sense of wishing to strangle them. And most babies love me. They always stare and smile at me. But I would rather spend my time with anyone than a baby.

But today, as mentioned, is my birthday. As a birthday special, I’m writing about babies, because we were all babies once. I was going to write about the psychology of babies, but really, I don’t care very much about what they think. The only thing interesting to me is that when they are very very young, they grow a membrane over their eyes when underwater, which is like a survival instinct thing. So you cannot really drown babies as easily as you can adults. Or something.

But enough about babies. What fascinates me most are the parents, who determine how babies will turn out when they grow older. Isn’t it wondrous to think that everyone of us is partly a product of our parents’ choices? I suddenly feel that it’ll be a bestseller to make a game where players play the part of parents and determine how their children will grow up. Even choosing which partner to marry makes a difference in the kid’s upbringing.

There are 4 parenting styles, only 1 of which is recommended for a mature and developed child.

The first style is authoritarian, which means the parent has total control over everything the kid does. We all know that it restricts children of freedom to make their own decisions, which is bad. While it is good that parents know what their children are up to, they should learn to give them some autonomy especially as they grow older.

The second style is authoritative, which is the best style. Authoritative parents also know what their children are up to and supervise them closely, but they allow their kids to select and decide for themselves what they want to do.

The third style is permissive, where parents let their children do whatever they want. This is just as bad as being authoritarian, because kids grow up to be unruly — like some brats we all probably have had the misfortune to come to know at one point or another.

The fourth style is neglectful, which means the parents don’t even care about their kids. I hope none of us is like that. Remember, if you don’t want to spend time with your children, don’t have children! That way, you save society from having to put up with those undisciplined juvenile delinquents.

If you looked a bit more into developmental psychology, you will find that throughout our lifespan, we grapple with many psychological issues, from the formation of logical thinking when we are children to the search for identity as we age. There is a wide branch of research in this, which interestingly is one area I have the least interest in, probably because it involves kids. But do look into it if you are like majority of the world’s population and are nuts about those stunted infants.

And here’s wishing me a happy birthday.

The World Is Ending! … On Screen

Today is the 21st of December, the rumoured last day of the Mayan Calendar Long Count of 5 millenia or some such. Today (or tomorrow) some cataclysmic event will occur and the world will be plunged into 3 days of darkness! Though nobody really said what would happen after those 3 days, though Mayan scholars say it will just be the start of a new calendar count and our lives will unfortunately return to usual. Optimists have suggested that maybe today or tomorrow will mark spiritual purification and ascension into a higher order of life.

As for me, I’m probably going to be seeing lots of Game Over phrases on screen, because I will be entering the world of LAN and video games. Speaking of which, what irony it will be if we end up playing a post-apocalyptic game today, envisioning what the world will look like after today.

Looking at the list of post-apocalyptic games available, I can see why people like the idea of an end of the world. They will be the ones to rule over the planet at last, they who are armed with the skills of aiming and firing with guns they pick up on the streets. They who know the best tactics in the case of a zombie invasion or an alien domination. These bespectacled gloomy geeks who are ordinarily the subject of much ridicule will have their proper place in the pecking order at long last!

By the way, Sonic the Hedgehog and Epic Mickey are classified under games in a post-apocalyptic environment too, so I think we have all played such doomsday-foretelling games at some point.

These games have, over the years, together with movies and books, successfully created an entire world of their own. I can imagine lots of grey in the barren landscape, and people wearing dusty army uniforms — or rags — and carrying machetes. Then there will be loads of trash strewn on the streets, leftovers from civilisation. There will be cannibals, robbers, beggars, mothers sobbing for their children, children sobbing for their mothers. And there will be a lingering air of silence and doom. That is how I imagine post-apocalyptic worlds, anyway. Oh and religions and cults will spring with peculiar notions, inviting their believers to practise rituals and criminal actions in order to “purify their souls”.

Is my imagination running away with me?

But really, dystopic post-apocalyptic science fiction is an interesting world to make a game in. You don’t need vivid colours like you would with fantasy or realistic settings, the mood is easily portrayed and survival is a convenient motivation to play through the game. Granted, fantasy games like Skyrim tend to capture attention for a longer time than such science fiction fare, but this sort of game is good for the short run, for one-shot team games for instance. And of course, anything terrible can happen anytime because even the world has given up on you. There are no rules to speak of, nothing governing social order, or even physics.

Being a very bad gamer, I am speaking more from an author’s standpoint than a gamer’s one, but if you are a gamer, what do you think of post-apocalyptic games? Would you create a game like that for the market? Will it comprise supernatural elements?