Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The idea of enumerating memories, the pockets and satchels of time, seems childish. Yet my 13-year old self would disagree. Don't we already squeeze time into year-long cubicles, tallying up days and minutes - mere numerical units? Years dart past our distracted eyes in cyclic runs of 365 days.

There is much residue left (or maybe 'preserved' is the better word) by each spent year; not at all like the dessert crumbs dismissed by a profligate man but rather like dew on leaves or water soaked in soil after a night's thick rain. Such residue is also man-made - penned, collected and captured in photos. Recorded. 

Indeed this is the finest form of self-preservation. As one watches time sprint past in its running shoes, headed towards the negative axis of time, one jogs on, looking back and trying to memorize its fast-fading back. Not too devotedly as to lose track of one's own path or trip over an obstacle, but there are old threads we keep anyway and knit into our present. There are old violin strings I keep, untangled and coiled, so that they may be restrung again to deliver the concertos I played last year. 

In most of us, there is probably a desire for reuse and recycle - a welcoming of time's relentlessness. Remembering the past is therefore a conscientious form of timekeeping, I like to think. It is the regular recognition of one's past selves and memories that conglomerate to feed the present self, which in turn will carry on to the future self - all of which snuggle within the heart-chambers of one person. 

Thus the advent of each coming year chimes like the tick of a metronome, marking the scheduled notch of measured time; this is where one might slow down to a walk, turn back and marvel (or regret?) at the distance covered before turning around and picking up pace once more, climbing the linear line of life.

All I can do is take comfort in the likelihood that "I have miles to go before I sleep."
"...if this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone? but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering 'It will be happier.'"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson

Only love can thaw a frozen heart

Having churned out mediocre films such as Planes and John Carter in the last two years, Disney finally hit a home run this November with Frozen, a heartwarming (haha) animated musical that sends many harking back to Disney's renaissance era.

Anna (Kristen Bell) and her older sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) are two princesses in the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa was born with the power to produce and control snow, delighting Anna by sending crystals shooting from her fingertips and snowflakes fluttering to the ground in the middle of summer. Yet after one fateful accident, during which Elsa inadvertently shoots an ice spark into Anna's head, their parents, the King and Queen, tell Elsa to "conceal and don't feel" her powers for everyone's safety. Unable to control her powers, however, Elsa must stay locked indoors, shut off from the world - and Anna. Anna's head, having been cured by a family of trolls (only a lock of white hair remains, Rogue-esque), has been wiped clean of any memory of Elsa's power but - as the chief troll puts it - "the fun remains." And thus Anna cannot understand why Elsa no longer wants to "build a snowman" or play with her like they used to.

Then, the plot thickens: 3 years after the sudden death of their parents, Elsa must make a public appearance at her coronation. Anna is thrilled to finally see the outside world "for the first time in forever" and meets the dashing prince Hans. On the other hand, Elsa is terrified of revealing her powers before so many keen onlookers. All is well until Anna and Hans (having known each other for only a matter of hours) express their wish to get married. Elsa objects, Anna is defiant, and Elsa accidentally "Let[s] it go," plunging Arendelle into an eternal winter.

Determined to right all wrongs and 'open the door' that was always closed to her, Anna sets off and - with the aid of the mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and a charming, optimistic and living snowman Olaf (yes, functional) - tries to reconcile with Elsa and bring back summer.

What ensues is good hour and half of laughs (most induced by Olaf), songs and delightful chemistry between Kristoff and Anna. Sven could also probably give Shadowfax a run for his money (just kidding, the latter shows us the true meaning of haste).

Yet what is best about this film is its overarching emphasis on Disney's favourite, but alas neglected in recent films, theme: love! Although inward cringing is understandable when the chief troll majestically proclaims, "only love can thaw a frozen heart," which is a counsel that sends Sven, Kristoff, Olaf and Anna hurling back to the castle so that Anna can receive her 'true love's' kiss, it forms the basis of the whole film. For it is not only a frozen heart that love thaws, but eventually the winter itself. Thus, it it logical why Elsa never knew how to control her powers; after all, her parents - albeit with the best intentions at heart - kept her powers repressed, seeing her skill as a curse and not as what it truly is: a gift.

When Elsa sings 'Let it Go,' therefore, she is not 'letting go' in angst and rebellion, but rather relieving a long-suppressed desire for well-deserved freedom. I'm glad the screenwriters decided to rewrite her role as a protagonist instead of keeping her an antagonist. The sister dynamic is much more significant when only caution and slight resentment - but not downright animosity - exist between the two.

Of course, Frozen is not without loopholes or the specifics that a live-action film could not ignore (e.g. choreography during the musical scenes), but it's a good-natured and well paced film that ultimately satisfies. Although Let it Go is the only number that stands out (except Love is an Open Door is now my guilty pleasure), and the other songs sound rehashed (For the First Time in Forever = I See the Light), they not only showcase Kristen Bell's singing talent (I had no idea!) but also conglomerate to construct an animated film that captures an essence of Disney cinemagoers haven't seen in a long time.

The best books I read in 2013

13138 pages and 44 books in 365 days:

It's been a wonderful year of reading (in 3 languages!) This year's booklist is definitely more variegated than last year's - it features the occasional textbook, several short story anthologies, poetry collections, a play and even two memoirs. Not bad. Here are the 5 that have made the deepest impressions (not counting Morrison's Beloved, which I technically read last year):

1) Outliers

This is the pithy, informative read that changed my mind about non-fics. It's also a noggin-filler of research-backed facts, anecdotes and stats that one can whip out at any apt moment - why are Asians better at math? How do one's deep-rooted cultural values affect one's success? I'm glad to have been introduced to Gladwell's genius this year.
The 10,000 hour rule is a definite key in success.
2) Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems

My (along with many others', I'm sure) favourite poetry collection. Not my first time reading Plath, of course, but this was the year in which I finished reading/annotating-ish the collection. Can one ever 'finish' a poetry collection? Don't think so - but the special lines one culls from compiled poems run and resonate forever.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
3) This Is How You Lose Her

Speaking of forever, Junot Diaz's short story collection was heartbreaking, funny, clever, authentic... it was a refreshing read (esp. with inclusion of swear words, I confess) to tackle after having a hard time with July's People and All the Names. Diaz also responded to my fanmail, which is really the cherry on top.
The half-life of love is forever
4) Wild Swans

I've seen Wild Swans on countless shelves, but never read it until this year. It not only refreshed my memory of a semester spent studying the Cultural Revolution but also helped me overcome my tome-phobia induced by Plath's unabridged (emphasis on unabridged) journals. Meeting Jung Chang was also sublime - she is so regal.
“Father is close, Mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao.”
5) Quiet

Another non-fiction! Quiet is the Introvert's Bible. It sings the anthem of each bookworm, outcast, nerd... (sorry, getting stereotypical and carried away). It's well supported, lucidly written and a definite comfort-read for any loner informative. Even those who are Loud (haha) will appreciate its intelligibility.
Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.

2014 Reading Resolutions

1) Do not neglect the mother tongue - I'll start adding any Chinese books I read to my Goodreads booklist.
2) Be patient with the esoteric - I was a little restless with E.L. Doctorow...
3) More time on the shorts - I'm still reading Alice Munro's short stories and am about to begin Flappers and Philosophers, which I'll spend more time poring over!
4) Continue blogging!