Category Archives: Books

Lin Yutang

“If a man be sensible and one fine morning, while he is lying in bed, counts at the tips of his fingers how many things in life truly will give him enjoyment, invariably he will find food is the first one.” – The Importance of Living

Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976) is one of the very first Chinese writers that I admire through reading his book THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING. The charm of the book is in its simplicity, the enjoyment of the small things in life. I have since bought many copies of the book and have given them all away to my friends.

Very often, we live our busy life, going through the hustles of the day, be it spending it on meeting after meeting or busy creating stuffs, we forget how to live and what are the important things in life. Of course, one needs to work but not at the expense of living. Articles like the enjoyment of lying in bed, on food, on culture and even on how to choose a good son in law are such a good read, it always refreshes the mind.

He has written many books, and translated many as well. For example, here is one very nice paragraph about library from his book WITH LOVE & IRONY:

“Books should never be classified. To classify them is a science, but not to classify them is an art. Your five-foot book shelf should be a little universe in itself. This effect is achieved by letting a book of poems incline on a scientific paper, and allowing a detective story to keep company with a volume of Guyau. So arranged, the five-foot shelf becomes a rich shelf, intriguing your fancy. On the other hand, if the shelf is occupied by a set of Ssema Kuang’s Mirror of History, then in moments when you do not feel inclined to look into the Mirror of History, the shelf can have no meaning for you, and it becomes a poor shelf, bare to the bones. Every one knows that women’s charm lies in their mystery and elusiveness, and old cities like Paris and Vienna are so interesting because after staying there for ten years, you never quite know what may turn up in the narrow alley. That same thing is true of a library. There should be that mystery and elusiveness which comes from the fact that you are never quite sure what you have hidden on that particular shelf some months or years ago.”

Lin Yutang’s many writings exudes this kind of romanticism and nonchalant way to life. Rigidity, bureaucracy is thrown out of the window. This is one person that can write a book and call it THE PLEASURE OF A NON-CONFORMIST. His romantic and sensitive being makes his translation of SIX CHAPTERS OF A FLOATING LIFE such a great pleasure to read.

On the trip to Taiwan, we went to pay respects to him at his old home in Yangmingshan. It is a modest place but overlooking a great scenery. The architectural style is predominantly Chinese but given that Dr. Lin is such a cross cultural person, there are hints of western architecture and design here and there, especially hints of Spanish designs.

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The above is the shot of the house from the gate entrance. Simple house with a nice garden, Dr. Lin is walking his talk.

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This is a shot of one of his bookcases. The books collected is a melting pot of east and west philosophy, literature, travel, all sorts of books. Confucius and Lao Tzu lives there peacefully with Nietzsche and Plato while Shakespeare and Goethe aren’t lonely in the company of their eastern counterparts.

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One of Dr. Lin’s big project in his life, besides writing and translating books and dictionaries, is to build a typewriter that can type Chinese characters. He went into serious financial difficulties trying to do so. This typewriter in his house is on his writing desk overlooking the garden.

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This picture of Dr. Lin and his dear wife decorates one wall of the cafe at the back of the house which serves really good tea. It is very relaxing, just like a chapter from his book The Importance of Living.

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Dr. Lin’s final resting place, overlooking the beautiful scenery below.

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Things come in Circles

It is now almost one year that I have left this blog unattended. Besides spending most of my online social time on Facebook, some of you may also know that I have spent some time to write Go lessons published on a separate blog site. Those lessons do indeed take a lot of time and I am still struggling to find time to write more lessons.

So what happened during the year of absence? I am not sure if many people is interested in that but since this blog also acts like a diary, perhaps it is okay for me to just write.

2011 first and foremost, is the centenary of my favourite composers death anniversary. And of course my favourite composer is Gustav Mahler. To commemorate it, I bought two items. The first is a biography of him by Jens Malte Fisher. It was first published in Germany back in 2003 but took some time to be translated to English, and just in time for me to purchase and read in this meaningful year. The second item I bought is the 16-CD set 150th Anniversary Box set published in 2010 to mark the 150th anniversary of Mahler who was born in 1860. Although I have all the recordings on individual CDs in my collection, I went ahead and purchased the set anyways. Crazy. I hope my wife doesn’t read this blog.

 

Besides Mahler, I have also been very much into the 18xx boardgame series. Not to be confused with anything pornographic, the 18xx series is a game system where players invest in railroad companies. At the end of the game, the player that has the highest net worth in terms of cash and investment is the winner. The 18xx games are quite sophisticated games and involve many strategies. It has a stock market mechanism and also a map where companies can operate. In one of the variant, 1817, there are many financial tools that players can use such as short-selling, leveraging the company with loans, mergers and acquisitions, etc. In others such as 1841, companies can invest in other companies and this bring about very complex chain of command since these companies can merge and do all sorts of creative things.

There are, however, some more stable variants which does not allow outrageous stock manipulations. This is the kind that I prefer to play because you spend many hours on the game and the last thing you want is for someone to be able to trash you out to oblivion. In this variant, my favourite is 1844. 1844 has a solid gameplay where companies can have long term strategies. It has a very interesting map. The stock market aspect of it is slightly tamed down but is still superb because it still punishes badly managed companies.

I have played many games of 18xx series this year. Among the new ones that I have played, 1844, 1817, 1880, 1861, 1860 and 1841 stands out brilliantly.

     

Of course, besides all those, one of the biggest event for me, if not the biggest, is my participation in the 32nd World Amateur Go Championship in Matsue, Japan. It is my dream when I started playing Go to be able to participate in this event. It is like a pilgrimage. I believe it is every Go player’s dream to have a chance to participate in this. I represented Malaysia and have had a great time there, knowing many new friends. The organizers are superb and the locals in Matsue, together with the environment, made me wanting to migrate to this nice place. The weather is mild, the locals are all very nice and orderly, it is a very cultured place, with frequent musical and theatrical performances, not to mention Go related activities. It has a great castle and a very nice and soothing lake. The perfect place to live.

   

Then towards the end of the year, we went on a trip to Yogyakarta to visit the volcano mountain, the temples. It is a legendary place. The food is also very nice. We enjoyed the Nasi Gudeg very much.

The Borobudor is quite an amazing sight. It is huge and has such detailed carvings. It is said that it was the center for Buddhist studies and a site of pilgrimage. The carvings on the walls tells us the stories, of Buddha’s life, of the Buddhist philosophy told through many tales, such as from the Jataka tales.

Compared to Angkor Wat, it is a very different experience. Angkor Wat felt more adventurous but Borobudor is no less grand. Both places are must visits if you are in this part of the world.

   

The book at I am immersing myself in now is Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Murakami is one of my favourite authors as some of you may know and 1Q84 is a monster. I like Murakami for his natural prose style and his vivid imagination. The events and characters in his novels are not only fantastical, it is often also historical. The contents are rich not only in its story and storytelling but also the cross reference to music, travel, books etc. I learn a lot through reading Murakami.

1Q84 is a fantastical novel which has a very simple premise. A boy and a girl held hands when they were 10 years old. And the story took almost 1,000 pages to unfold, to tell us how they meet again. It is amazing.

In terms of movies, the more interesting one I saw this year is A SEPARATION by Asghar Farhadi which won numerous awards including the Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in the upcoming Oscars (the second Iranian film nominated, the first being Majidi’s CHILDREN OF HEAVEN).

The movie is at the same time a domestic drama and also a criticism of modern day Iran. Shot on handheld, it gives an immediate sense  and feeling of the characters and its environment. Brilliantly acted by the whole cast, it gives one a peek into the minds of the rising middle class of Iranian society.

Last but not least, this Japanese Whisky is incredibly delicious!!!!!

Sweet smelling, flowery with a slight hint of smoke. But it tastes really delicious. Fruity, slight honey and peat. It goes down very well and leaves some smoky flavour. It is wonderful.

Also, a new addition to the house. Dolby my Dobermann Pinscher has a new partner. Her name is Coco! Pictured below with my mom. She is now 1 year old while Dolby is now 2 years old. Got her from Dr. Sunny of the Sunny K9 Academy in Ipoh. Shy but very playful. Unbelievably fierce too!

 

Maybe this is good for the first post of 2012. I will perhaps start to write this blog again this year.

I wish you all a happy new year and all the best!

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Filed under Boardgame, Books, Gustav Mahler, Music, Thoughts & Commentaries

Dostoevsky and Tolstoy Club

Every once in a while, I still get a message in my e-mail saying that a member has joined or a member has left, just like I got one this morning. I started the Dostoevsky and Tolstoy Club in the Yahoo! Group many years ago.

I have left the Group as it is for a very long time and has become very inactive in it for many many years and have ignored its messages. However today, out of the blue, or perhaps due to the rain, I decided to go and check the forum out and found that it is full of weed spams, which is very disheartening. It started quite well, with some good discussions, but the spammers! Damn them.

Come to think about it, I still remember how engrossed I was with Dostoevsky when I started reading him many years ago, I think at least about maybe 16 or 18 years ago when I was still in Ipoh. Lacking any formal education in literature and completely oblivious to the riches of the world of literature, save for reading tons of Famous Five and Hardy Boys, I stumbled upon this curious book called CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Wow! What a title and I thought, well it’s like one of the Hardy Boys adventures perhaps.

And I never turned back and kept on reading and one thing led to another (not like in bed you dirty minded fellow), I discovered one great master after another. I still remember reading ANNA KARENINA for the first time and I remember my dear friend Chyn visited me one day and I told him what a brilliant novel that was! But somehow, Dostoevsky is still nearer to my heart than Tolstoy. I think I have read most of Dostoevsky’s published works that are available in English and mass-marketed.

The reason I like Dostoevsky so much, I think, is because of his depiction of the human condition, his insight into the human psyche and digging into them warts and all and often comes out to be able to inspire a tinge of hope in mankind despite all the evil and bad that mankind is capable of.

Looking back, I think I have not read a Dostoevsky for a very long time and of course, I have been reading quite a lot of other authors like Hemingway, Chekhov, Mo Yan, Murakami, Marquez and a bunch of others which I also really enjoy, and recently I have read some Orhan Pamuk and thought that he is one hell of a writer too and look forward to read his new novel, THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE which is now out in the market on paperback.

The best thing of all this reading is that one realizes that there is still a whole lot of good books out there waiting to be read, and that one has the leisure to slowly discover them and enjoy them gives one an enormous feeling of satisfaction, of hope and above all, the realization of the richness and diversity of the world and all the exploration that is possible. Isn’t this such a nice feeling? That something out there is waiting for you to be discovered and savored?

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Chronicle of a Post Foretold

As per my earlier post, I said that I will post about Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU and I will. However, as anyone who has some idea of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s (or better known as Gabo) work, will notice from the title of this post that I am about to write something about his CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD.

It is a short novel about the death of a guy who is foretold, i.e. the whole town knows that he is going to be killed, when and where he is going to be killed and why he is to be killed. However, somehow, no one does anything about it and he indeed was killed in a most gruesome way, without a clue himself why he has to suffer such a fate. In fact, it is almost bewildering why it is that the whole town knows that he is going to die but this news seem to escape him.

The reason for his murder is simple; the twin brother of a girl wants to redeem the family and their sister’s honour because the sister was returned home by her new husband because he found out the night itself that she is not a virgin. The girl was beaten and asked to confess who is the guy who stained her and she named the unfortunate guy. However, no one really believes that he is the guy, which is probably one reason why the guy has a puzzled look when his killers went after him. Who is the real guy who took her virginity? Well, it was left silent in the novel.

In the midst of this storytelling, there are many things that Gabo did that made the story click and enjoyable to read, the details and the occasional mystery and magic that he pumped in. All in all, this is a superb novel and anyone who wishes to have something enjoyable to read over a weekend can pick this book up.

Now about PIERROT LE FOU. Godard. Jean-Luc Godard. What a director he is. This movie was released in 1965, hot in the midst of the French New Wave. This movie reminds me of many movies, although it is of itself very unique. It reminds me, most of all, of BREATHLESS and of BONNIE AND CLYDE. It won’t be a wonder if it actually had some influence on BONNIE AND CLYDE which was released two years after this movie. In those years, movies influence each other as it is apparent that Hollywood movie influenced European movies a whole lot, and in fact inspired the European filmmakers a big deal. It is no surprise to see many Hollywood references in European movies and if one has seen THE DREAMERS, one will also have an appreciation on the fireworks that Hollywood had on European, particularly French cinema.

If anything, PIERROT LE FOU is made such a good movie by its actors, both Jean-Paul Belmondo whose excellent performance we have also seen in BREATHLESS and Anna Karina whom we have seen in many movies, especially BAND OF OUTSIDERS and MY LIFE TO LIVE, one of my favourite Godard movies.

PIERROT LE FOU is about a guy and his so-called girlfriend, who is quite sick of a boring life and seeks adventure. They are free spirits and could not stand Jules Vernes for long and had to go for a gangster movie once in a while. The ending is tragic but is befitting. The film techniques is, ermmm, technical, employing strong primary colours, uses of cuts, repetitive dialogue, looking at the camera and talking to the audience (not as subtle as the final scene in Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS but is also very effective), etc. On the latter, i.e. looking at the audience, it is somehow effective, for example, in a scene, Belmondo is looking at the camera and talking and Karina asked him what he is doing and the effect is that they are conscious of an audience watching them and the audience is made conscious that the actors on the screen knows that someone is watching them and listening to what they are saying. This is especially so when they are on the run from the law.

PIERROT LE FOU is really a celebration of cinema. One feels happy after watching the movie, and as Gabo felt after reading Kafka’s THE METAMORPHOSIS where he suddenly realized that novels can be written in that way, after watching PIERROT LE FOU, one also realizes that “oh, movies can also be made like this”.

A gem and masterpiece indeed.

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Other Going-Ons

Perhaps it is true that I am blogging too much about Go, which of course is not a bad thing, but the fact is that for a Jack of All Trades like myself, there are other things that is happening that I would also like to talk about or update. My geeky friend (as I have called her since the first time I wrote on this blog) who is now in Hong Kong already complained that this blog of mine is becoming a blog exclusively about Go! Where did all the movies go? That is true.

Anyways, for a fact, I have not spent time exclusively on Go, which explains why I am still so bad at that game. Perhaps a short update on recent activities is due?

Non-Go related book that I am currently reading:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life by Gerald Martin.

I have been quite a fan of Gabo (as he is affectionately called) and I wonder who wouldn’t if they have spent some time reading such works as ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA.

On his last visit to Malaysia, my dear friend Dr. Sudah whom I refer to as the Sexy Doctor or the Mahler lookalike (here is his blog:The Physician Anthropologist), was reading the aforesaid book and I was intrigued. Luckily I found the book in MPH which was a surprise after looking high and low in Kinokuniya and Borders to no avail.

Gabo’s story is very inspiring, a rags to riches story and I am currently at almost half of the book and is enjoying it very much. The opening chapter on the family genealogy can be quite confusing but should not be something that anyone who has read ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE cannot handle. After the opening chapter, the rest is a breeze and an enjoyable read. At a certain point, I thought I really wanted to be an author like Gabo too.

Movies Watched:

Hayao Miyazaki’s PONYO ON THE CLIFF. Oh my goodness. I have been wanting to watch this for the longest time but alas! it was not shown in Malaysian cinemas. I managed to get a 2-DVD set while in Korea and have watched it. What an amazing piece of art this is. Ponyo is just so cute and adorable, the soundtrack is superb as usual and it is very uplifting. Both my wife and myself felt so much happier after watching this movie.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. I have also been waiting for this for the longest time and it did not disappoint. Typical Quentin Tarantino extravaganza of unforgettable scenes and dialog. I was quite worried about Brad Pitt before the movie but after watching it, I felt he is perfect for the role.

POKER KING. Despite being a fan of Texas Hold’em, I do not find this movie to be really good and I felt that the twist at the end of the movie rather lame. However, this is an enjoyable movie and quite entertaining. I like Wong You-nam very much in the movie. I cannot but compare it to ROUNDERS and I find ROUNDERS a better movie, although perhaps on the enjoyment level, POKER KING is at least at par. After the movie, I chatted with my geeky friend over the phone and she highlighted to me the subtleties in the movie, on the state of affairs in Macau and how the industry is wrecking havoc on the economy and such. Anyways, lovers of Hong Kong movie should not miss this movie though.

Well, that’s a few things that I am doing or have just recently done this week that is not Go related.

I am planning to start reading a novel but I can’t decide which one to read. Hmmmm……

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Kamakura – The Book

Once in a while, a really good book will appear. In Go, the book that I am talking about now is KAMAKURA by John Fairbairn. The book is about the 10 Game (Jubango) between the two legendary Go players of our time, Kitani Minoru (featured in Kawabata’s novel “The Master of Go”) and Go Seigen (featured in Tian Zhuangzhuang’s film “The Go Master”). This jubango at Kamakura is also a legendary event. Besides the historical and cultural significance that it implies, it is also a contest between two of the top players in the world (at that time) and between two good friends.

The book by John Fairbairn not only gave a superb introduction to each of the players as well as a superb write up to the events and history leading to the Kamakura games (trust me, it is really excellent), what he did in the game commentary is simply amazing. We have all read and seen game commentaries where good moves and alternative moves etc. are discussed, with various diagrams. What John added was not only the surrounding background and sometimes the time the players took to think (so that we know that a move was thought over by a player for 30 minutes, for example), he also recorded the conversation between Go Seigen and Kitani. You you actually know what they are thinking and talking to each other.

This is just like our normal games that we play with friends, i.e. we play a move and then chat about it. Despite the enormous impact of the Kamakura games, the two players still chat like friends, talking about the game openly while the game is in progress, revealing their thoughts and strategy, not after the game ended! This shows how great these two guys really are.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Go Seigen and Kitani, especially so the historical background in the their times leading to and including the Kamakura games. Also of course, you will learn about the games, get an in-depth look at the moves, sometimes blow-by-blow. But above all, it is a story about these two go geniuses.

However, if you are just interested purely in go techniques, new openings, new josekis, etc. the Korean books such as “21st Century New Openings” by Kim Sung-Rae will be very much suitable and good.

For me, I think I can read Kamakura over and over again but I still have trouble getting through the first 20 pages of Kim Sung-Rae’s book. That probably explains why I am still so weak at go ;-)

Please accept my highest recommendation for KAMAKURA by John Fairbairn. It will be a classic in the league of John Power’s INVINCIBLE, the games of Shusaku.

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Short Stories

A post on movies is due and I would like to write about the current movie that is playing in the cinemas right now. The title of the movie is called SELL OUT!. I would also like to write about TALENTIME and other recently released Malaysian (or Malay) movie and write and update on the current state of the film industry, both in Malaysia as well as in the world, just like I used to do last time (check out the “Notes” section at the top of this page).

Anyways, as far as I would like to write about them, I feel inadequately prepared and not knowledgeable enough of the industry that I have left for almost 10 months now, even if I am still very much in love with the industry. Anyways, I will write about SELL OUT! in the next post since it is like a phenomena in the local movie scene.

For this post, just as an apetiser, I would just like to talk about short stories, particularly one that I read recently and if you fancy and if you have not read it or known this writer, you may like to check his books out in the local bookstore.

The guy’s name is Raymond Carver and he is such a good short-story writer. I actually know him through Haruki Murakami who is a huge fan of his and in the beginning, I tried to read some of Carver’s work but it didn’t move me even a little. I felt nothing at that moment.

Anyways, time passed and recently I took the fancy of reading one of his work again but this time it somehow clicked and I begin to read one of his short stories after another. Carver’s world begin to form in my mind and I felt I begin to appreciate him.

For a fact, the story that made it click for me was THE STUDENT’S WIFE. Then came WHY DON’T YOU DANCE? And it went on and on. His stories are very mundane, day-to-day, everyday life stories about common people. About their life, about their feelings, about their fears, about things they love, etc. Real simple stories, no bambastic princes and knights, etc. The way he told it is very subtle, not in your face and his style flows very naturally and is unpretentious.

So, story after story, I really enjoy rading Carver now and am so very afraid that one day, I would have read everything he wrote and then what?

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