落入凡間的沙粒

July 29, 2013

一心只想找一個游泳的地方

一心只想找一個可供游泳的地方

79歲的郭九,退休後想找一個地方游泳。十七年前,經過烏溪沙一個石灘,決心要把它變成一個沙灘。日復日,郭伯用一支泥把和一個膠筒,將石灘上一塊一塊的小石岩磯移走。從此,烏溪沙岸邊多了一個沙灘。現在,郭伯仍然要每天移石,以保持沙灘的面貌。

也許你會覺得,郭伯的故事是香港社會上鮮見的「好人好事」。但,當一個人,在社會裡堅持做一些十分簡單、卑微而又利己利人的事,竟然會被視為奢侈、偉大的行為,這是一個什麼的社會?我們把星期日報章副刊的「好人好事」特寫專訪翻閱過後,我們有做過什麼嗎?

影片:
港台節目: 黃金歲月 【落入凡間的沙粒】
http://podcast.rthk.hk/podcast/item_epi.php?pid=436&lang=zh-CN&id=27802

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Rodriguez has no idea his album has been a big hit in South Africa

Rodriguez has no idea his album has been a big hit in South Africa

Once in a while, you see stories about some undiscovered talents on the news. They touch your heart because there is the element of sympathy: you are sympathetic because it seems that the world has missed out on something for a long time, and you try to comprehend the reason of the world’s indifference; and more importantly, you are sympathetic because you realise, in no time, you are standing in the shoes of the subject in the news – you are, coincidentally and obviously, the victim of another brutal talent un-discovery. You find a sense of consolation reading those stories, or, to put it more bluntly, a sense of relief – for knowing that your talent may be discovered someday.

Searching for the Sugar Man is not one of those stories. This story not only touches your heart or exploits your sympathy, but it also inspires.

The story started with the quest of a Rodriguez’s fan to track down his idol’s whereabouts. “Every obstacle during the search has been an inspiration,” he declared. It took him years and, I assume, a dozens of inspiration for him to finally locate the most popular yet mysteriously American singer in South Africa. To his surprise, Rodriguez knew nothing about his popularity nor his obscure role in ending the Apartheid in South Africa.

To say Rodriguez is a man of modest means would be an outrageous understatement to his humility. He did not seem to be excited, or even interested, when he learnt about his bigger-than-elvis identity in South Africa. When asked about whether he regretted not knowing about that identity earlier by the Director, Mr. Rodriguez found no words for the answer. He didn’t seem to have thought about this very idea or the word “regret” at all. His lack of response renders the rationale (“well, you could have been a superstar”) behind the Director’s question out of place, and, almost offensive.

If life is a story, the story always has a narrative demanding us to be talented, ambitious or famous. To Rodriguez, that narrative did not matter. He didn’t seem to have thought about himself being talented when he wrote those songs, nor thought about being ambitious when he did those hard-labour construction jobs, nor thought about being famous when he ran for city council. To Rodriguez, what matters is: he loves what he is doing.

The newspaper declares Rodriguez a hero (and a zero).

The newspaper declares Rodriguez a hero (and a zero).

When we love what we do and we do it only because we love it, we could achieve a state of serenity, very much like the state Rodriguez was in as he took stage for the first time in South Africa, and probably first time ever. When you do something only out of love, these things usually don’t come into your mind: fame , shame, success, failure, glory… well, you get the idea. That’s how you don’t get butterflies in your stomach when you got thousands of fans cheering at your debut concert.

So, can I also escape the usual narrative of life and do the things I love? Maybe. In the world we live in today, it takes courage to take a stance against or ignore (in Rodriguez’s case) and do the things we love. But I guess the takeaway from Rodriguez’s story is that, if we can be authentic and persistent about the things we love, someday, you’ll be home – the place where you feel most comfortable about.

There is a long way to go.

We, human, are driven by a number of innate forces. There are forces that perfect us – the pursuit of truth and freedom; and the ones that could wreck us – the lust for love and power. For most of the time, these forces are within our control (well.. maybe not so much about love). By carefully exerting these forces upon the world we live in, we are one step closer to finding our meaning and feeling alive. In Cloud Atlas, we could see all these forces at work, in those who rebel against oppression: slaves breaking off of their chains, people fighting for the slaves, abandoned old people escaping the elderly home, a police chief liberating the clones; those who seek the singular truth: a reporter uncovering a conspiracy, a curious clone seeking for the truth about her birth, an anxious tribe man investigating the origin of the mountain goddess; those who seek power or money: a doctor poisoning a bounty hunter, a landlord profiting through exploiting slaves, an oil company colluding a nuclear explosion to protect their business, a writer gaining fame from a ruthless murder; and those who love (everyone) and willing to to kill for in the name of love.

No matter if we're born in a tank or a womb, we are all Pureblood.

“No matter if we’re born in a tank or a womb, we are all Pureblood.”

Not only we are born with these forces, we often think that we could control and even outsmart these forces. We even start taking control of something more than ourselves: scientists playing with the law of physics to create nuclear power; ‘archivists’ cloning humans and enforcing cannibalism to sustain them. Our arrogance has blind us from the bigger forces at work, forces that disregard time, race, geography or creed. These forces “begin long before we are born and continue after we perish”. Some call these forces karma, others see them as God-assigned fate. On a less fatalistic note, they are simply forces beyond our control, because the story of our lives are inevitably bound to those that walked the face of the earth long before us, and naturally affects those who come after us.

"But they got somethin' else. A hunger in their hearts, a hunger that's stronger than all their Smart.  A hunger for more."

“But they got somethin’ else. A hunger in their hearts, a hunger that’s stronger than all their Smart. A hunger for more.”

While religion, fate or karma might be there to console us in confronting the forces beyond our control, they are pessimistic and passive. They are not there to transcend us to the next level. Cloud Atlas has offered us another way out: struggle for truth and freedom by Autua, Hae-Joo and Sonmi-451. They showed us that sometimes we need to be at war with fate or karma to realize our innate drives: the pursuit for truth and freedom. Nevertheless, we need the religion or karma to keep us from our destructive arrogant nature, well, maybe with a little flexibility. As Meronym told Zachary: people has been worshipping Sonmi-451 for hundred of years, but in a different way.

What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

“What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?”

There are many voiceovers in Cloud Atlas, they are wonderfully written story punch line selected from the novel. However I missed many of them as I was processing too many storylines and recognizing the faces… But there was this one that struck me most:

“I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.”

We are all just part of an immensely large cast in creating a a timeless, singular human story. Our lives are not our own.

man up

Be a man.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a bold showcase of how a first-time director, actors and actresses can bring something new and authentic to the table, often with sheer shock and awe.

Though set in a contemporary world, Hushpuppy and Wink brought us back to a place untouched by civilisation, where human and nature coexisted. They called the place “Bathtub”, every day’s a holiday there. However, Wink and other parents alike at the Bathtub were anxious to show their children what it takes to “be a man” – knowing how to cook, how to catch a fish with bare hands and how to “beast up” a crab – preparing them for the big storm that could strike and drown the Bathtub.

It might seem odd, or maybe even otherworldly, to watch a masculine mom teaching a bunch of girls how to “man up” themselves in order to survive. But on second thought, the sense of otherworldliness is simply constructed and almost a sexist one. Survival is the most primitive instinct of human, and for that matter, all forms of life. For those of us who are lucky enough to live in the cocoon of civilisation, we are automatically stripped of our basic survival skills: we don’t need to hunt for food, cook or even walk any more  How else are we going to weather any adversity, let alone surviving it, if we are the bunch that would be so vulnerable to even the most irrelevant man-made catastrophe – an internet or facebook breakdown? So what’s wrong with teaching kids some survival skills? Remember what’s Hushpuppy’s mom’s advice to little Hush? “I can’t take care of no body but myself.”

"You're my friend, sort of."

“You’re my friend, sort of.”

Hushpuppy fantasized about the Aurochs – the pre-historic, ruthless and oversized boar. The were the king of the forest in the past. When Hushpuppy, fearless and naive, met the Aurochs, she told them, “you’re my friend, sort of.” The Aurochs then kneeled and sleept besides Hushpuppy. After all, no matter how “manned up” we are, all we look for is just love and connection – even for a ruthless beast.

Even the tiniest piece goes wrong, it all falls apart.

Even the tiniest piece goes wrong, it all falls apart.

Let me leave you with this quote from Hushpuppy and the spirit that led her to her long-lost mother,

“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me, flying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. But when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here, I see that I’m a little piece of a big big universe, and that makes things right.”

Life of Pi

November 26, 2012

Life of Pi

I should have read the book long before.

As soon as Pi boarded the lifeboat, for the first time ever in his life, he had to face everything alone. Some call it the journey to adulthood, others call it growth, but I call it the journey of life. The life of Piscine on the lifeboat is nothing more than plain, good old life: you’re own your own for most of the time; the greatest fear you have to face is the reflection of yourself (Richard Parker); some wonderful things come, and go (the flying fishes, the whale, the jelly fishes and the carnivorous island).

Life just paints one gloomy picture, doesn’t it? Nope, that’s not the way I see it. We need all that – the confines of a lifeboat, the Richard Parkers, the flying fishes – in order to feel alive. If one couldn’t be alone, connection is just going to make you feel lonelier; if one couldn’t confront one’s greatest fear, i.e. self,  living could never be authentic and wholehearted; if one couldn’t enjoy the moment, to feel enough, a constant state of fear and anxiety is guaranteed.

In short, celebrate today but also be reflective about it.

Where is your glowing whale?

The young Pi practised three religions, Hindu, Christianity and  Muslim. The essence of religion, to me, is to be reminded that one shall be reflective about self, and to embrace something bigger than yourself. In other words, to be humble. When Pi’s told the insurance company people about his journey with Richard Parker on the high seas, they were annoyed, “I’m sorry to say it so bluntly, we don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but you don’t really expect us to believe you, do you? Carnivorous trees? A fish-eating algae that produces fresh water? Tree-dwelling aquatic rodents? These things don’t exist.” Pi replied, “Only because you’ve never seen them.” The insurance company people responded, “That’s right. We believe what we see.”

Without an humble mind, we would only believe what we see, the world as it is. We then start internalizing what we see as the truth and create a single-story narrative where we shut down everyone else’s story. It is only with humility that we could paint the world with colours, to believe in fairy tales, and not to see the world as it is, but to imagine and create a better world.

Diwali

I believe that most of us would have chosen the story with carnivorous trees and aquatic rodents, over the “real” one. I did too. But it doesn’t mean that Life of Pi is “a story that made me believed in god”, rather, it makes me feel that religion is a double-edged sword – it cultivates humility, but its single-narrative also pushes us away from humility. To me, believing in religion is just one of the many ways to cultivate humility and spirituality. Arts, philosophy, meditation, or simply watching the blue skies above are also effective ways to enrich my spiritual world.

I wish one day I could tell people that, I too, like Pi, have seen things that others have never seen before.

In A Better World

July 9, 2012

The mad dad confronted Anton

Imagine you’re the father of two children. One day, your young son is being accused of beating another boy at the playground, it was just child’s play and not intentional. You went to make the situation straight by apologizing yet the father of the beaten children slap your face as a revenge. You left the scene. Few days later, your elder son accuse you of being a coward and asked you to beat up the dad of the other children. You did the right thing by bringing your children to the other children’s house, demanding an apology from his dad. Yet again, he slapped you on the face twice this time. You left the scene. Your children asked you if you’re afraid of him.

That’s what happened to the protagonist of the movie, Anton. Anton responded to his children with this, “that’s all he knows how to do. He lost. He’s a moron, and not worth our time. He’s an idiot, if I beat him up, I’ll be just as big an idiot.” This is the scene that struck me most in this movie.

Violence does not solve problems, it makes us an idiot. As a result, using violence in hope to solve violence, just makes us  an even bigger idiot. However, violence does not simply emerge all in a sudden because a bunch of idiots are born. People who engage in violence are not born to be idiotic. To solve violence, we have to look into the reasons that nurtured violence in order to eliminate it altogether.

Our “civilised” minds are trained to respond to violence with an immediate condemnation, calling perpetrators of violence “barbarian”. Condemnation is often followed by punishment of the perpetrators, either with a non-violent (imprisonment) or violent means (execution, war). Very so often, we stop there, as a civilised society, we just stop there, and think that we’ve addressed and solve violence. This sort of “comfort-zone civilisation” really worries me.

In the “better world” that I envisioned, we would stop solving problems with “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and address the problems head-on.

Screw our roots

November 29, 2011

Baya nervously meeting with Arthur's Parents

I always love the comical characters in the french movies. They are like the princes and princesses in Disney fairy tales which shows us how perfect the world could be, yet, with the compelling story telling and acting by French actors, writers and directors, French dramas are able to connect the protagonists with reality and give us a sense of hope in envisioning a better and romantic future, whether it’s for love or politics.

The Names of Loves (Le nom des gens) is a story about roots. Baya, a modern day hippy and Arthur, an articulate liberal professor, constantly question the reason of their being and the history of their family. There are limitless factors to account for how we came into being they way we are right now, for instance where did our grandparents come from? how did our mom and dad meet? what did our teachers teach us? It is impossible to account for each and everyone of them but knowing them comforts us because it reinforce our identity as a member of a family with roots, an organization, a city, a nation. It indoctrinates us with a set of value that are worth protecting and fighting for. As the Chinese proverb says: Never forget the past for it could be a teacher in the future.

Nevertheless, it is dangerous not to question history and take it as it is. Endless atrocities in history have proven us the danger of having a single-story of history: fascism, totalitarian regimes and genocides. Arthur, our protagonist which was born into a very French family with right-winged parents, had a constant struggle between his roots of being a noble French countryman and his left-leaning political philosophies, not to mention his political avant garde girlfriend Baya. That’s why Arthur were always having these imaginary conversations with his young-self and his late parents. It is with these dialogues that he has finally overcome the struggle and saw her mom was in fact just having whipped cream for the first time in the Taxi instead of being molested by German soldiers as he imagined. History shall be understood in tandem with continuous questioning so that we could learn from the past and move forward at the same time. How could this be done? Baya’s answer: I’m an atheist, but Muslim is my culture.

History is important, but screw our roots.