Friday, April 08, 2005

Healthy Vices

Healthy Vices

When I was in Jakarta, I used to consume a bottle of wine every week. But I don't consider myself a wine connoisseur--most of the time I drink cheap table wine from the supermarket. In KL, I only drink when I go out with friends and that's usually beer.

Being a seasoned boozer, it's quite difficult for me to get drunk. People usually get drunk because they do not know how to pace themselves. Once upon a time, I was into clubbing a lot and that was during those good old days before the police started doing breathanalyser tests. The greatest challenge for me then was to drive all the way home to Subang Jaya after a wild night of boozing in town. Sometimes I'd just sleep in my car until I was sober enough to drive or I'd take a shorter drive back to the office and slept there instead!

Alcohol intoxicates the mind, which is the main reason why many religions forbid its consumption. It is like taking drugs, one can get addicted to it. People are fond of drinking because it is a form of escapism: it makes them lose their inhibitions and forget about their problems. But escapism doesn't interest me because the real world is more interesting. I enjoy drinking because I like the taste of wine and beer--it's as simple as that. Some people like eating, I just prefer drinking.

Can I live without consuming alcohol? The answer is definitely yes. All it takes is a "simple" effort of the will.

Then why not?

Not yet. Anyhow, I've toned down a lot--I'm a very moderate drinker these days. But the real reason is that I want to consciously maintain some "healthy" vices in my life.

Why? Because I don't want to end up being a monk, which I have a natural talent for! I want to reserve my right to stop drinking--it's a "pleasure" to be kept for the right time and ocassion, in the not too foreseeable future.

If I do stop drinking one day, nothing will prevent me from taking the next logical step of becoming a vegetarian. As a matter of fact, there were short periods in my life when I did dabble with a vegetarian diet. But it's not the right time yet...

Wine drinkers like me derive particular pleasure from reading about the many health benefits of drinking red wine. But I'm not a health freak; if I do stop drinking, it will be because of spiritual reasons.

The other vice--smoking--is not a problem for me. I've never really been a smoker, even though I did indulge in some social smoking once upon my time. But through some deft reverse psychology, I've managed to overcome even the temptation of taking a social puff.

Womanizing is too costly a vice to indulge in, even though most men I know have a weakness for it. If you want to waste your time and energy, there are less costly ways of doing it. Go surf the Net or watch TV.

I think it's good to maintain some "healthy" vices or life would be so terrible dull, don't you think? I've chosen mine, what's yours?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Paralysis of Perfection

The Paralysis of Perfection

I have a great juggling act to accomplish this coming two months with three projects in the pipeline. This will surely tax my multitasking capabilities to the limits. I am sometimes frustrated at my inefficiency--I work too slowly, often fussing over tiny details. I'm certainly not happy with my current utilization of time. Hence I have identified two areas that I need work on:

One: I tend to consume too much time to achieve the level of quality that I desire. People who are perfectionists pay an unnecessarily high price in terms of time and energy because in most cases perfection is neither expected nor required. I wouldn't say I'm exactly a perfectionist, but I think I sometimes suffer from what people call analysis paralysis, which is probably worse!

Two: Internet surfing consumes too much of my time, without me realising it. I surf mostly to check the latest news and to research on certain technical subjects. But as every avid surfer would know, one link would lead to another and suddenly two hours would have slipped by easily.

IT professionals like us also have this false belief that without an Internet connection, we cannot do our work. This is certainly not true. We have a bad habit of wanting to be connected all the time because it gives us the comfort feeling that we are in touch with the world. Most e-mails are not that urgent. If things are really that urgent, people will call you.

Most news are also not that important. How many versions of the same news do we need to read in a day? I know very well it is a complete waste of time for me to check every British news website for the Liverpool-Juventus match report. But I can't help it sometimes, because good news is so addictive.

Getting rid of these two bad habits will hopefully make me more efficient in terms of time utilization. But bad habits die hard. This is precisely the reason why I try not to rant too much in my blog--I don't want to reinforce my bad habits. It is better to use the habit of blogging to reinforce positive behaviour so that they too become an ingrained habit after a while.

But again, that's the perfectionist in me speaking. And I have to stop writing now because I can feel analysis paralysis beginning to set in!

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Zombie March

The Zombie March

It's been a long time since I last joined the rush-hour traffic going towards KL. I had a seminar to attend at nine this morning, so I left home from Subang Jaya at seven plus. It took me more than an hour to reach Jalan Sultan Ismail. I was quite happy to be able to squeeze in some time for a quick breakfast at one of the roadside stalls.

A decade ago, I used to do this everyday, driving down to KL from my home in Subang Jaya to work. During that time, it was worse: there was only one exit from Subang Jaya--the so-called "KFC exit" (after the KFC outlet there, which had since made way for a widened exit), and I remember having to leave home at 6.30am to avoid the massive congestion there.

On the road together with the other cars, all lined up in a bumper-to-bumper crawl towards the city, with every driver looking blank-faced, eyes fixed in a dull distant gaze, one couldn't help but feel as if one is part of a zombie march--the grand march of the Malaysian workforce towards some mindless middleclass utopia.

That's the life many of us still lead everyday. I haven't had the chance to experience that for a long time. Being part of that zombie march again this morning actually made me feel a bit nostalgic for those old days.

Maybe those were better times, I really don't know. Everyday we went to work, and everyday we watched the skeletal frame of the Petronas Twin Towers and Menara KL rising slowly from the rubble of construction. We were reaching for the skies and we were all part of a grand dream.

Where is that dream now? Are we much happier people now? I really don't know.

All I know is that the zombie march goes on...

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Apocalypse Then and Now

Apocalypse Then and Now

"I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends...

You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us."

- Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now, played by Marlon Brandon

Surprisingly, I managed to find time to watch two of my all-time favourite movies again over the weekends: Apocalypse Now (Redux) and Havana. I really should be doing this more often for watching movies is such a wonderful way to relax (not to mention educational too) and one never gets tired of watching some of these classics again and again.

Perhaps among the two, only Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam war epic, Apocalypse Now can be considered a cinematic classic. The other one, Havana--a Casablanca-like romantic love story starring Robert Redford and Lena Olin--was universally panned by critics. But that doesn't deter me from enjoying it. I love the soundtrack and Redford remains on of my favourite actors. But let me blog about Havana next time, because today I'm in the mood for Apocalypse Now.

I first watched Apocalypse Now (released in 1979) as a kid at the old Rex cinema in KL. It was during the school holidays and the only reason why I watched it was because I had expected it to be an action-packed war movie. How wrong was I! I didn't know then it was to be one long, winding riverboat journey into the Heart of Darkness--a three hour surrealistic meditation on the moral ambiguity of the Vietnam war. At that time I didn't know anything about Francis Ford Coppola's reputation as an auteur nor Joseph Conrad's novella from which the movie was based on.

But even then I was impressed by the cinematography, especially the first appearance of Marlon Brandon--playing the renegade Colonel Kurtz--with that awesome bald head of his bobbing in and out from the shadowy darkness and the stunning sequence of a helicopter attack on a Vietcong village, accompanied by the stirring strains of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" (where Robert Duvall uttered the now famous line: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning").

At that time, I only understood the plot very vaguely--Martin Sheen's character, Captain Willard is supposed to terminate Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz "with extreme prejudice" because he is already deemed insane by the US army. The movie was long, dark and meandering--like the river journey undertaken by Captain Willard deep into the the jungles of Cambodia to find Kurtz. I remember many in the audience left before the movie ended--it was definitely not your typical flag-waving WW2 afternoon matinee.

Despite my difficulty then in following the story, I laboured through the three hours, because what I saw was sheer visual poetry--it was a cinematic experience at its most sublime. The "understanding" comes initially at the subconsciously level and only later through reflection, over many years, was I able to slowly comprehend its intricate themes and messages.

During my university days, I spend a lot time in the library reading about the films of Francis Ford Coppola. And I learnt to understand some of the more subtle nuances of the film and gained a healthy respect for the laborious art of film-making. I read how the making of the movie itself on location in the Philippines was one mad massive undertaking, not unlike the Vietnam war itself.

Coppola himself had to self-finance part of the movie because it was way over-budget; he shot almost 200 hours of film footage and the massive project almost drove him to a nervous breakdown. There were other setbacks too: Martin Sheen, the lead actor, suffered a heart attack during shooting and the set built in the Phillipines jungle was at one point, destroyed by a tropical typhoon.

When the movie was released on video-tape, I bought a copy and watched the movie countless times over the years. I still have that moldy tape with me but I've since progressed to DVD--the so-called "Redux" version, which was released in 2001 with an additional 49 minutes of unseen footage. In this version, Coppola has completely reedited and digitally remastered his original masterpiece. I bought the DVD a couple of years back as a collector's item and didn't watch it until yesterday when I dug it out quite by accident from one of my storage boxes.

Viewing Apocalypse Now Redux makes me miss those student days of mine when I was quite fanatical about movies. And even now I continue to discover things from the film that I've never noticed before. The proof of a good film is that it gets better with each viewing.

Apocalypse Now definitely ranks up there among the best films ever made. It sets the benchmark for subsequent movies about the Vietnam war (some of which have become my favourites too like Oliver Stone's Platoon and Kubrick's Steel Metal Jacket). Its powerful images have remained with me all these 25 years, ever since I first watched it as a schoolboy one fine afternoon at the Rex cinema on Jalan Sultan, KL.

"The horror...the horror..."