Aneohaseyo

No, I’m sure my attempt at Korean has failed utterly. Unlike Japanese, Korean is a difficult language to learn. Most people complain of its symbols, which I find merely the tip of the iceberg. I’m okay with circles and lines — things like Arabic are much worse than that. However, Japanese is a language you can speak with confidence even if you know only a teensy-weensy bit of it. Utterances like “ne” are already commonly known to be Japanese, but what can one say that sounds Korean but isn’t a complete word? Korean has vague ties, I believe, with Mongolian, which explains the similarity in spoken language. But I’m not talking about language today.

People who listen to a lot of Korean music and watch enough of its dramas will find the language easy to master. I hear Korean and Japanese share nearly the same grammar, which may also explain why Korean bands are branching into Japanese so frequently. Yes, that’s what’s the main topic for today. Korean music.

Korean music, to people who don’t understand it well (and that includes me) is a whole mass of factory-churned groups comprising up to 10 people (or even more) who all sing in auto-tune. The beats are fast and there’s a lot of computer effects done on the music and the voice. Good for dancing, which the singers do a lot of in their videos. In fact, the videos are always about these 10 or more people dancing elaborately, dressed in fancy expensive clothes, all of them looking alike, the camera flitting from 1 face to another. Fans take a week to tell them apart, and they are proud of their achievement.

Is it possible for everyone to look the same and even sound the same? And is it possible that this “same voice” sounds freakishly computer-generated? And why does every band have such a meaningless name? Things like 2AM, 2PM, B1A4. They can’t possibly all be a coincidence that they have silly numbers in them. It can’t be a coincidence that they are all short, easy-to-remember-and-pronounce names. Okay okay, maybe I’m biased. SNSD is a long Korean name shortened into initials, and it means Girls’ Generation, so you can’t call it entirely meaningless. F T Island sounds like the members might have thought of it on their own. By the way, I only like FT Island because it is a real band with real instruments and its songs do sound pretty rocking at times, in a good way.

Korean voices have a certain style to them (aside from the computer generatedness, but let’s put that aside for a moment). They like to sound remarkably sad, with a slight nasal tone to them. The men, that is, for the women just sound computer-generated (there, a moment’s gone).

Although this entry is really for the music, I must stop to observe the physical aspects of Korean artistes, for that is one aspect they publicise widely. The fashion trends of the singers are indeed flashy, certainly no toning down with them, but I wonder if they are uncomfortable. Do the men really like wearing such tight trousers? I hear they’re bad for the reproductive organs. Then again, I haven’t heard of a Korean star marrying yet.

It does seem, doesn’t it, that I dislike Korean music and its proponents? Well, perhaps this can indeed be inferred from this entry. But hey, even the Japanese like them more than Japanese music itself, so what can I say? I’ll just see how long this Korean fever lasts, and what becomes of these stars when they’re old. I hope they don’t go out of fashion though, for it would be a great sacrifice then for the young Korean stars. Have you heard of the torment they go through during training? They’re made to do excruciating splits, go on extreme diets and pretty much never rest or go home from training. And worse is, some of them never even make it to fame.

Advertisements

A Jolt Back To Reality

Anime is usually a virtual, surrealistic experience. Being cooped up in an imaginary world of colourful hair and Gainax boobs, with superpowers and people from all over the world speaking Japanese. Anime is a dream of beauty come true.

However, otakus have to open their eyes to the world around them once in a while. And when their craving for anime extends into the real world, some of them decide to make their once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Japan, the holy land of anime. For you anime fans who are looking to make such a voyage someday, perhaps I can spend some time talking about stuff about Japan not directly related to anime that you may nonetheless enjoy in your travel.

1. Fashion

Japanese fashion is an easily identifiable one, and I don’t mean cosplay costumes. Most Japanese boutiques have a distinct style sometimes imported by other countries such as Singapore. In Singapore’s Plaza Singapura’s extension wing, we have an enormous Japanese boutique known as JRunway, which gathers fashion apparel from major Japanese designers and even has a little station for us to try on Japanese makeup with the training of professional salespeople.

I’m not a fashionable sort of woman, but I do admire Japanese fashion, especially when worn by the right people. Japanese fashion has a sophisticated eye not commonly seen in the trends of other countries. They have an eye for detail and seem to instinctively know how to put an outfit together. Even if the outfit is strange and out of this world, Japanese designers still can find some way to make the strangeness appealing.

Of course, the most notable fashion styles in Japan for ladies are lolita and gyaru. Although lolita is used to describe the more extreme styles of frilly dresses and high socks, ladies do wear a more toned-down version of it on the streets. It is not unusual to see a woman clad in a dress with high socks and a simple hat on her head, maybe tilted to the side. As for gyaru designs, well, I can only say the world seems to be aspiring towards it. To give you an example of what gyaru is all about, take Milky Bunny for example.

Can’t tell what’s special about gyaru? Well, gyaru is basically the fashion style that exemplifies artificiality. Wigs, fake eyelashes, fake fingernails, lots and lots of makeup is the specialty of gyaru ladies, and Milky Bunny, who is actually known as Masuwaka Tsubasa, is a gyaru model who has designed loads of fake eyelashes for other women. I feel that mascara is an increasingly “in” thing among the ladies, so gyaru seems to be making it in the rest of the world.

Aside from feminine styles, the men also love trends. Men in Japan love jackets, especially unbuttoned ones lazily worn over their shirts. Japanese men are also great with slightly longer hair, maybe because they’re bony and have a pretty good complexion. Nowadays men are starting to wear jewellery too, such as necklaces, earrings and rings.

2. Food

The other “f” word in the equation, Japanese food is quite sought over worldwide. There is a wide variety of popular food in Japan, excluding the common ones like sushi and sashimi, and I don’t know enough of them to do a widespread comprehensive coverage. I recently saw on television about a type of Japanese pancake known as the okonomiyaki which looks something like this:

Okay, maybe not the most glamourous food photograph, but basically these pancakes are cooked over the hot stove and any sort of ingredients can be added into them, such as octopus, kimchi or cheese. It looks like something that can fill even the hungriest person’s stomach, if he cannot be contented after eating the tiny sushi that they offer.

And maybe to round things up for dessert, you may want to try a taiyaki.

This poor little fish is made from pancake or waffle batter, and contains red bean paste, though sometimes it can also hold custard, chocolate or cheese. Singapore has stalls that sell these stuff too, but I’m sure they’re much more authentic in Japan. I’m not such a fan of red bean, so I prefer not to take the risk. I’ll just have my chawanmushi, thanks!

Aside from fashion and food, there’s also fun to be had in Japan, but which anime fan doesn’t know that Tokyo is home to Akihabara, the geekiest street in all of Asia? I shall thus relieve you of reading duty and let you grab that last air ticket to Japan immediately.

Worst Films Ever

Film is probably a topic that interests many people, so I shall continue to talk more about this category. Sometimes I think film is a pretty spurious connection to Monday entries, because the only films that belong to a literary discussion are probably the artsy films. Commercial movies like, say, CZ12, probably have nothing to do with literature and cannot really be analysed for intertextuality or whatever literary people do with films. I shall set aside this idea for now, since I really have not watched that many artsy films and have no knowledge of how to critique them most of the time. Hence, commercial productions.

I would give a list of the films I consider to be best, but I think you would already know that UP would top the list, so maybe I should try a different tack and go with the worst films, my least favourites, instead. Except I haven’t really thought much about this, evidently, so give me a moment to remember all the movies I ever watched.

1. Alligator… and all other monster movies in that vein

Alligator is a 1980 film about a giant alligator (which really looks more like a giant komodo dragon) eating humans in the sewers. It jumps with breakneck speed on any prey it sees, crushing cars and buildings in its wake, never mind that alligators don’t usually hunt like that. A man and a woman (usually the woman is some scientist who has been studying mutated reptiles all her life) decide to catch the alligator, and all sorts of epic tragedies and bloodshed occur, though both of them end up quite alright and even fall in love in the end. And at the end of the show, the sewer spits out a baby alligator, promising that the cycle will be repeated once again. It’s like a rollercoaster ride which returns to the start point at the end of the movie.

But really, why does Hollywood enjoy brainless monster thrillers so much? Things like Snakes On A Plane, Anacondas, Croc (which should not be mistaken for Alligator because as Lead Female Scientist will tell you, they are a different species of monster). Or less animalistic creatures such as Aliens vs Predators, or zombies in I Am Legend. All of them fall into the same formula of hysterical screaming crowds in the background, heroes who are picked off one by one, but the male lead and female lead survive in order to propagate for the sequel. I hate Hollywood horror. I also hate how half-witted most of the monsters look. Drooling, gaping, enormous. I would really appreciate a monster who, for once, mutated into something more intelligent than it used to be. Something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But no, sentient animals have to be on our side, right? Because we are undeniably the good guys, friendly to all beings on Mother Earth.

Or maybe it’s because the movie will cease to be horror and start to be a social or environmental commentary.

2. Red Eye… and other films about kidnap and assassination

I don’t hate all shows relating to kidnap and assassination. For example, I really love Cellular, which is about this woman who is abducted and who manages to get in contact by phone with a stranger, and tries to get him to help her. Cellular was great heart-pumping action the entire time, plus who doesn’t love pretty-boy Chris Evans? But Red Eye? Red Eye is simply terrible to behold, in my opinion. Cillian Murphy’s eyes are so creepily blue I wonder why the movie doesn’t just rename itself to Blue Eyes (of Danger).

But yes, Red Eye is an absurd plot about a woman who is on this flight with this handsome blue-eyed man (dubious value judgment there) but the man turns out to be some kind of terrorist who has sent a hitman to shoot her father if she doesn’t comply with his evil request. If this doesn’t sound unlikely enough, the remainder of the movie has her single-handedly stabbing the guy with a pen (on a red-eye flight no less), stealing an SUV and performing this incredible game of  hide-and-seek with the terrorist that she stabbed (who turns out to be alive and well). And well the whole storyline is just painfully unbelievable.

Speaking of painfully unbelievable storylines, that tends to apply to most movies of this genre. I remember having watched Eagle Eye, which is suspiciously similarly named to Red Eye. Eagle Eye stars Shia LeBeouf, who looks like an Indian even in Transformers, and Michelle Monaghan. This story is somewhat more fun in that it is some kind of futuristic world where a government software gained artificial intelligence and sentience and wants to thwart Parliament from within by killing all the politicians. This software has access to every single electronically-connected thing in the country and can communicate with random people through phone calls, threatening them (and making good its threats) if they refuse. The software takes a female voice, and reminds me a lot of GlaDos, which is the humourous fun part. A pity they didn’t cast the voice actress of GlaDos, because that would have made the film a lot better and more appealing, I think. But yes, most of the time kidnap-related films just make their protagonists — supposedly everyday people like you and I — way overpowered. They can do everything! They’re really in fact scarier than the antagonists themselves.

Well, the human race survives on hope.

3. The Spy Next Door… and other “kids know best” movies

I think this last category can lump all kid-related movies together. I don’t hate the genre on the whole, but I think some of the plots are rather overdone. But well, The Spy Next Door is a Jackie Chan film (I can hear alarm bells ringing already) where Jackie Chan plays a retired spy who must take care of his girlfriend’s children. The kids start off being annoying brutes, but he gradually builds rapport with them, then his previous enemies come back for him. You should know the rest. Should I also mention that by stereotype, the show has 3 children? And these children comprise a teenage/preteen girl who thinks she doesn’t belong in her own family, a boy who loves playing rowdily, and a cute youngest girl who just wants to hug everyone she sees? I can facepalm already.

I think, though, that the worst plot comes in something like The Pacifier, where the male lead somehow inexplicably falls in love with the principal of one of the kids’ schools. It is just so unprofessional of a principal to fall in love with a guardian of one of the students during a formal meeting, and oh gosh there is seriously no romantic atmosphere there.

I don’t really remember any other categories of films that I hate as fervently as the above 3, so I shall stop here. Support good movies and let the bad ones fall prey to piracy (though who would want to download Red Eye I can never guess)!

True Horror Stories, Part 3

I’m starting to think that the horror to my readers comes from the fact that they’ve been exposed to the same topic in 3 consecutive Saturdays! Haha, no worries. I promise that today’s entry will mark the last one in the set, and from next week onwards the topic will be very different.

But the reason why there is a Part 3 to this horror chronicle is that there is this one last story I want to share which I find just as interesting as the rest. Now we all know that Stanford University is a great institution. Everyone in there is a researcher, and it snags all those Nobel Prizes. But did you know that amidst the crowd of intellectuals and civilised benefactors to society lies a deep, dark rotting secret in the school’s history?

Have you heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment?

In 1971, a group of psychology students, led by Professor Philip Zimbardo, did a study on deindividuation. They basically recruited students to a mock prison environment and randomly assigned them to be either prisoners or guards, and they had to remain in the same space for 1 or 2 weeks. But guess what, the experiment was forced to end after 6 days! Just what happened?

It turns out that the people got too much into character. The guards began abusing the prisoners both physically and mentally, and the prisoners somehow got into their role too, thinking of themselves as powerless to resist. They helped the guards bully other prisoners, or became withdrawn and emotionally unstable. 2 of the prisoners pulled out of the study because they were being treated like animals, forced to eat their own dung and other such gory behaviours. And even the experimenters allowed this abuse to continue! It seems to me that mankind has always been degenerate. All the participants in the study had been tested and found to be psychologically stable at the beginning, and yet they became beasts in a mere matter of days. Can we ever trust anybody in power?

One point to note about the study is that all the participants were male. Maybe the result would be different if there were ladies, or maybe not (I don’t want to dwell on the idea of sexual harassment). Ladies have generally been regarded as people who “tend and befriend”, but will they do so at the risk of breaking out of their role?

Some of us may have seen videos of American soldiers mistreating the terrorist prisoners in their custody. Is it always the case that guards will abuse their prisoners? Maybe this is why people are said to become “different” after they have been promoted to become superiors; the power “gets into their heads”. This seems to imply, whether we want to face it or not, that all of us have the potential to become cruel and inhuman. I tend to believe that humans are bad by nature. We have to be taught to do good deeds because most of us will degrade to become jerks otherwise. Self-discipline is not something we’re born with.

And look at all the violent acts reported in the news. Are our Civics classes doing enough? I don’t remember learning much of my values from Civics; I learned them from inspirational videos and tales that I read elsewhere. Maybe teachers lack the conviction needed to sincerely coax pupils towards benevolence. Maybe a classroom setting isn’t the right idea to impart behavioural traits. I’m sure the government will appreciate any ideas or suggestions you have, so write a letter to the nearest news press today.

Cuteness Without A Price Tag!

Take a look at this. Just take a look.

Aren’t these just the most adorable things ever? These are called Nibbles, the basic pets of the site Digis (yaydigis.net). This colouration is the Flavour of the Month, known as Neapolitan Ice-Cream. Doesn’t it remind you of the lip-smacking blend of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice-cream? Look at those swirly creamy designs at their legs! The Nibble on the left is male and the Nibble on the right is female. And guess what, you can own them free of charge! All you have to do is devote hours and days of your time accumulating golden chocolate coins by playing games on the site, in order to earn enough to buy one of these virtually.

Yup, virtual pets are a great market to tap into for the female internet users. Neopets is the most popular virtual pet site by far, and it has survived for years with millions of members. Sure, it has a high turnover rate, but it still retains enough charm to capture new nine-year-olds everytime a mature seventeen-year-old leaves. 8 years of the time of millions of girls around the world sounds like a worthwhile investment.

In a way, virtual pets are to girls what video games are to boys. Boys can spend days addicted to getting experience and level-ups on DotA, or new unlockable items. Girls play simpler, but no doubt equally time-consuming, games on the virtual pet sites in order to feed their pets, make their pets stronger and best of all, buy accessories or new skin designs for their pets. Of course, the key to sustaining attention for both video gaming and virtual pet sites is art, especially when it comes to the visual advancement in digital technology nowadays. Anything with bad art cannot be played for long. I have seen virtual pet sites with really bad art for their pets, and these are never as well-known or well-liked as things like Digis.

So why do I spend so much time playing mindless games on Digis? For this.

Storybook

Winter Butterfly Zafrii

 

Customised and accessorised Snow Monster

In a way, virtual pets are our achievements, much like the levels, items and rare skills gained by guys in MMOs. The more beautiful and admired our pets are, the more time and effort we’ve put into the site to milk such a reward. Only through dedication, skill and sheer artistic sense can your pet ever turn out to be a head-turner. People even pay real money to get Digis artists to make custom Nibbles, so they have a special design all to themselves to show off. Perhaps you can think of it as Pokemon collecting. You like to show off all your legendary Pokemon, don’t you? Well, what if they were really legendary, rather than the typical “guaranteed to get one in the game”? Having a great virtual pet is like having a Shiny legendary Pokemon.

Maybe people will judge if an adult woman is still into virtual pets. But really, there is no crime to wanting beautiful and cute things at any age. Isn’t that why guys get girlfriends to fill such a want?

Theme: Fun, Laughter, Peace and Joy

I think some of the most exciting places to travel to are the ones with theme parks. Sure, there are places with good scenery, or excellent cultural artefacts and architecture, or great food, great hospitable people. Lots of shopping. But no, I think I still really like the ones with amusement parks.

I liked going to the Gold Coast, and I think the only things I remember from there were DreamWorld and MovieWorld, most notably the latter. DreamWorld was a bit too childish and all the rides seemed to involve turning around and around to make people dizzy. But MovieWorld was great. It had the unforgettable Scooby-Doo rollercoaster, which is my favourite by far, and the awe-inspiring Superman one. And I love that some of the most thrilling rides had an age limit of, like, 2 years old or something. Those children sure are sturdy! But yeah, do visit the MovieWorld sometime, in Gold Coast. Oh, and watch out for all the Hey Arnold banners around.

I have also been to Hong Kong Disneyland, which was… alright. Maybe I was getting a bit too old for Disney by that time, but the rides were all mainly family-centred. But I hear Hong Kong Disneyland’s like the worst Disneyland around, right? I couldn’t go to Tokyo Disneyland because it wasn’t part of the package, and that was because it is way costly and also requires a whole day to just queue up at all the rides. Apparently the best time to go to Tokyo Disneyland is when it is raining, because the number of visitors will be reduced by half and you may at least have a chance to ride a few more rides. If only I could reserve an amusement park all to myself for a day.

So I guess it is a good thing, if I were a tourist, that Singapore has Universal Studios Singapore. It had an Escape theme park previously (and probably still does), but that one is more focused towards locals and doesn’t have many rides, or many impressive ones to be precise. However, USS is more international — and also more expensive — and I think it has some good things going. No favourite rides so far, though. But the atmosphere of the place is pretty good, and I think crowd control is alright too.

Malaysia, more specifically Johor Bahru, has recently opened a Legoland amusement park. It is extremely family-oriented, and by that I mean quite kiddie. I haven’t really been there but that was the feedback I heard. I suppose it can be difficult to have a theme park that appeals to children and adolescents at the same time — there can only be these many rides after all. Having no sibling of my own, I’m inclined to seek out amusement parks with more rides that fit my age.

It is funny that when I was younger, I went to Genting Highlands a lot. They had an Outdoor Theme Park which was quite cool for such an old theme park, but I was terrified of the exhilarating rides. I could take simple rollercoasters well, and loved the spinning cups, but when it came to more creative rides like the kind where you shoot up into the sky (they had a kid version which was really short) I was appalled. And up to now I still hate rides involving driving a car. Those bumper cars, for instance, and road rallies, or whatever you call the kind where you sit in a car and drive around a circuit. I hate those, because most times I can never understand the controls.

Maybe this is a reflection of my poor hands-on coordination. I have always been bad at learning how to do stuff by hand.

English Only!

I quite liked that last week, by writing about Chinese music, I managed to steer clear of talking about Japanese music. I shall continue this trend as much as I can, and so this entry shall be English music.

Now I find English music more difficult to write about than Chinese music, because to me it seems like the vastest expanse of music types I have ever heard. On one hand I hear commercial favourites like Owl City and Linkin Park and then there’re the oldies that everyone loves such as the Beatles and ABBA, and then there’re weird indie stuff that involve people dressing up in strange get-ups (much like visual kei) and I don’t know what to describe them. I mean, visual kei is a Japanese term, so what is the English version of it?

Speaking of names for genres, English has the most confusing ones. Up to now I still cannot tell the difference between trance, house, electronica and folk, whatever that is. Being somebody in radio, I should know these different radio formats in order to appeal to the right listeners, but… I’ll just avoid name-dropping and simply select songs I think people listening to my show will like.

There are some English songs that I love, but I can’t quite name a favourite artiste. Down by Jay Sean and Lil’ Wayne is my favourite when it comes to modern stuff, but it doesn’t really inspire me to check out any more of their works. I love the Carpenters, but not in the giddy fan sort of way but in the “yeah they were great in their time” kind. I suppose one reason why my tastes for English music are so disparate is because I’m exposed to so many different experimental sorts. The kinds that don’t seek to be famous or popular, but to provide some sort of meaning to our lives, or make a statement in rebellion to ideas we accept. For example, look at Powerman 5000. They don’t seem to me to be like the kind of people who worry about album sales.

I think I like Green Day, but I only love maybe 1 song by them. Perhaps it is lack of exposure. I don’t have the incentive to check out more offerings by the band because I’m not sure if they’ll be consistently good. Maybe I don’t even know what I like about the songs, and I’m not sure it’s the band that I love. All I know is that they give off a strange vibe when they put on goth or punk make-up. Like, so much more chillingly realistic than the Japanese folk.

But the Japanese rock culture really picked up many elements from the rebels of English music, and at least we don’t have the stubborn pleasantness of the Chinese. The English musicians don’t care about unsettling their audiences, and the truth and sincerity behind their messages is what the audience loves.

Am I confusing you? I think I’m confusing myself too. But that’s what I see from the English music scene, a mish-mash of confusion, with different styles emerging to cater to different tastes and moods. There is no way to love all English music as it is to love all Japanese music, but this diversity is something to celebrate. No single word should be able to describe this international group of music in all its glory.

3-D Evidence of a 2-D Obsession

Which anime fan does not have merchandise of his favourite anime?

Merchandise is an anime fan’s pride and joy. Most anime nowadays thrive on merchandise to earn money too. Look at Bandai, which made Macross Frontier and the Gundam series purely in order to get fans insane over buying their robot figurines. Cardfight!! Vanguard was only popular after the anime, I think, as was Yu-Gi-Oh before it. Anime have also propelled many singers to fame. Not only are people like LiSA and m.o.v.e. catapulted to fame because of their contributions to anime songs, some anime themselves create singers to sing the songs for them. For example, people like Mizuki Nana and Tamura Yukari (the top 2 voice actresses to have become singing sensations) first sang for the anime they were voicing. Kalafina was created for the express purpose of singing for anime that request them.

In short, anime has spawned off a good number of money-making ventures. In fact, it should probably be one of the major lucrative pillars of Japan, being the international face of Japanese culture for decades now. The Japanese government has recently stepped up efforts to promote itself outside the country, facing the tough competition of South Korea now, and is actively publicising its TV programmes and music to other parts of the world. This is a big hurrah to anime fans like us, though admittedly anime is not part of their repertoire. They were thinking more along the lines of Japanese dramas and documentaries to promote tourism. That said, it may be because anime has been promoted adequately all these years and really nothing more can be done that hasn’t already. The start of NicoNico as an English website to stream anime is great (at least for people who are willing to pay to watch stuff) and admittedly it hasn’t stamped down on other video streaming sites as much as it could have (maybe because it doesn’t know enough English?). But in the long run, it probably understands that piracy is generating benefits for them. Look at the amount of money Sword Art Online merchandise are making for them, and other anime geared towards international appeal, such as Fate/Zero (I know it is geared toward an international audience because its logo has an English name in it). More and more English is appearing in their anime episodes, which can only mean it is setting its sights on a wider consumer market than just the locals. Or it could be trying to impress the locals. That might explain it too.

This is just a hypothesis, but I wonder if the English names of Japanese bands and songs are also in order to market themselves to an English international audience (mainly American I suppose, because America always represents the world). I mean, surely words like UVERworld and “Live everyday as if it were the last day” are completely mind-blowing to the Japanese, or they at least require some effort to tease out a meaning.

In any case, I must say I’m one of the anime fans with sparse merchandise on hand, save for a poster, a set of beautiful postcards and a plush toy. What about you?

Hug A Friend Today!

So I heard that today is National Hugging Day. I’m not lying; there’s proof to be found if you search it on Google. In fact, National Hugging Day even has an official website and a Wikipedia page. It can’t be false now then, can it?

But what has hugging to do with books, aside from the literal image of nerds hugging books close to their chests when they scurry from one room to another? Indeed, this was a question I puzzled over for a while. Most books that come close to hugging tend to be about romance, but I’m sure hugging a romantic partner is totally different from hugging a stranger, which is something the National Hugging Day advocates. But stories of hugging strangers are understandably few and far between, and I don’t remember any offhand to talk about, in fact. However, all this thinking has gotten me recalling a book that had a rather touching element of bromance, and that is a book I’ve mentioned before, known as The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

The Shadow of the Wind, originally written in Spanish entitled La Sombra del Viento, is not about bromance. Or at least, friendship is not the main theme, though it forms a very strong sub-theme. The Shadow of the Wind is about a boy in Barcelona who receives a book from a  book cemetery, which is a place to store old books. The book is called The Shadow of the Wind (inorite, a book within a book) and he loves the book and seeks to find its author. He discovers, however, that the book he is holding is the only copy of any of the author’s books remaining. Someone has mysteriously gone around burning every other copy of the author’s books.

The book, I suppose, appeals to lovers of literature, not just because it talks about books, but because it is so poetic and so beautiful. Every character feels lovingly woven into the tale, such that we cannot help but loving all of them and bemoaning their unfortunate fate. The part about friendship touches me especially, because the man in question was so selfless towards his friend we wish more people like him exist in this world.

I think it may be because this book is so foreign that it feels otherworldly, almost fantastical even though it is set in the modern day. The writing style has a distinct European flavour to it, which is retained even in an English translation. After reading it, I really felt that I had read something artistic, and also felt a deep urge to hug someone. By the way, this book was part of the Read! Singapore selections in 2007, the other being The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I must say even though The Alchemist is far more popular, I enjoyed it a lot less. The Alchemist is marketed as being a children’s book, and I can feel the book treating me like a kid. I dislike being underestimated by a book. But I must say The Shadow of the Wind was the best book ever recommended by Read! Singapore. Subsequent choices were… not very great in my opinion.

Anyway, The Shadow of the Wind apparently has a prequel called The Angel’s Game. I have not read that one, and I’m not sure if I intend to since The Shadow of the Wind was complete on its own. But yes, if you want to read about friendship, romance (and there is quite a bit of that in there too) and a coming-of-age kind of story about people who really love literature, take a look at this book today.