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06/02/2009 at 11:19pm - 「✈」「Day 8」
orchidfire: White flowers with "poesía... eres tú" caption. (Default)
Click me for today's menu of yummy foods! )

Tired, so I'm going to try to keep this short... I didn't have too good a time in class today; I felt as if I wasn't really able to contribute to the discussion, and I wasn't paying full attention to Dr. Quek's class, which I'm normally listening to with rapt attention. I guess I was just a bit tired, physically and mentally. After class, I grabbed lunch with a group of people, and then we headed back to PGP. I finally got around to doing my laundry (well... I still have to fold my clothes); PGP's washing machines are really good—the wash cycle is done in 30 minutes, and the dry cycle in 40. I think the wash cycle finishes quickly because they seem to use less water, which would make sense, as Singapore has a limited supply of water, as far as I know.

Afterwards, I went and had dinner with Elizabeth and Sean, and then we headed off to the bus stop for tonight's scheduled performance: Les sept planches de la ruse, which is 《七巧板》 in Chinese, and roughly translating to The Seven Boards of Tricks in English.

Credit: http://www.legrandt.fr/Les-Sept-Planches-de-la-ruse.html

The performance is a modern dance performance (70 minutes long) that plays off the Chinese game of 七巧板, which is commonly referred to as a tangram in English (composed of a very specific set of shapes: two large triangles, a medium triangle, two small triangles, a square, and a parallelogram). The entire tangram itself used in the performance weighed a total of about a ton; the largest triangles weighed about 300kg, or about 661 pounds; the outsides are made of wood, but the insides are pretty high-tech and made of lightweight and durable material like the kind found in airplane wings. Anyway, the performance itself was very much left open for interpretation by the audience; it was primarily a series of mathematical and geometrical abstractions, plays on space and function, as well as an exploration of concepts of integration, the whole, and the human body in its environment. I also found significant the themes of balance and identity.

More information and another video available here.

Personally, I identified very much with the themes and icons of balance that were very prevalent throughout the performance. Balance was critical throughout the piece—the grace and majesty of the piece was the ease with which both people and pieces balanced upon each other; at any moment, one of the dancers, or one of the pieces, could slip and crash. But everything was artfully controlled with an intensity that left me enthralled and literally left me at the edge of my seat.

And there was more than just the physical balance that existed in the piece. I felt that the physical balance was there to convey a social commentary on the necessity for balance in our lives. To me, the blocks became symbols for the invisible weights and pressures that we as "modern" citizens place upon ourselves; these pressures vary from person to person, and the abstract, empty, featureless character of these blocks allows the audience to imprint their own stresses and anxieties onto the face of these weights. Multiple times throughout the performance, dancers would be in a position where they would appear to be squeezed or crushed by these simple, black shapes. Only the fluidity of their bodies and the grace with which they handled themselves seemed to prevent them from being crushed. And, at times, dancers would disappear behind or beneath these shapes; they would lean against these shapes and rely on them for support; yet, at the same time, they would climb to the top of these shapes, as if to conquer them.

Much like these dancers, the modern citizen, faced with the burdens of simultaneously preserving the self and nurturing the self, as well as forging a path and niche for the self while integrating the self into a community (however broadly or narrowly one defines "community"), is forced to learn to balance and juggle these pressures and anxieties while maintaining a social grace. And we as modern citizens come to rely on these anxieties to fuel us, yet, at the same time, detest these anxieties and seek to conquer and overcome them. And if we are not able to find that balance between motivation and punishment, or to find that necessary grace in dealing with these pressures, we will be crushed and consumed into a vast, black emptiness of space, also represented by the black tangram.

And this space need not be death, or, at least, in the physical sense. As more and more people struggle to balance these enormous weights and find their tipping points, as urbanization and modernization push our lives to faster and faster paces, there is the danger of the inner self being destroyed: having a vast emptiness within the core of one's self. Losing a sense of identity, of permanence, of what truly constitutes the "self", versus external pressures to fit into a certain type or mold that best benefits society. This is an idea that I have struggled with myself: an emptiness within the person; a lack of integration; a lack of a sense of the "whole".

Closely tied to this idea of balance is the idea of integration: the whole, and, when applied to the human experience, the creation of the stable self. Again, the tangram is a wonderful metaphor for ideas of integration and completion of the whole. The function of the tangram is to provide room to experiment and play around with the pieces in order to create a new, stable whole consisting of all the parts. To me, this remarks on the human experience in general: All humans are given a set of pieces with which to form and construct their lives, but the way in which these pieces are rearranged is ultimately what determines the person.

Key to notions of integration, the whole, and the creation of the self are ideas of both identity and permanence. Concepts of identity were primarily conveyed through the juxtaposition of the old and the new, as well as the East and the West. Personally, I felt that this aspect of the play was a bit hastily done. Representing the "traditional" were the more rooted, almost stereotypical markers of Chinese culture: the repeated refrains of erhu (二胡) music, and traditional Chinese, operatic tunes. The contemporary, meanwhile, was represented by the stark, sleek, modernized shape of the tangram, as well as the more contemporary sounds of the avant-garde, neutral noise of the cityscape, or the simplicity and sporadic piano chords that would carefully tug at one's emotional core. The traditional and the modern seemed, at times, to be starkly tossed against one another, as well as representations of the East and the West. But maybe that's a hasty judgement—maybe the purpose is to allow the viewer to struggle to integrate the two parts of the binary and, in doing so, understand the struggle in our own experiences of integrating these two pieces while attempting to preserve both.

As for the theme of permanence, the performance seemed to make it clear that there is no sense of permanence. The very nature of the tangram itself—a large shape made up of smaller shapes—allows for fragmenting, splitting, and rearrangement. The tangram itself lends itself to a transitory nature. It is momentarily stable—but it is not intended to be just one shape in the long run. It is meant to shift, to change, and, mostly, to be changed. Thus, it is an apt metaphor for the shifting and changing nature of the environment in which humans find themselves. At times, the focus of the performance was on the shapes themselves: a mathematical exploration of space and function, exploring and manipulating the space of the stage and how we viewed that space by rearranging the geometric figures. But the more compelling aspects of the performance are when we see a human interacting with the changes in space and function, an exploration of the human ability to adapt to their environments, and to be—literally and metaphorically—flexible.

A lot of people left the performance feeling as if it didn't make any sense, or that they didn't understand what they saw. However, as the Q&A with the director revealed, the intent of the performance was not to convey a specific message. The intent of the performance was to provide abstract, mathematical, stark visual imagery, and to allow the audience to imprint their own meaning onto the performance. Perhaps that was an easy way out of creating a message to convey, or perhaps what the audience imprints is more telling than whatever basic message the director may have wanted to convey. Personally, I find the value of the piece to be found in what it taught me about myself and my interpretation of the world, as well as how I viewed this performance within its context.

And I feel that the fact that I saw this performance in Singapore is critical to my understanding, interpretation, and analysis of the performance. Although this performance was produced by a French director and consists entirely of Chinese performers, I feel as though it, and its themes, are highly representative of Singapore. The amount of pressure and stress that the Singaporean population imposes on itself is, in the views of an American, horrific. And yet they are forced to find the balance in order to survive. And these ideas of integration, of creating an identity, are paramount in the creation of the identity of the Singaporean nation: integration of races, religions, languages, motivations... all with the intent of allowing Singapore to answer the question: What does it mean to be "Singaporean"? Moreover, this sense of permanence, of human flexibility to the environment, of the effects of modernization, all are so present and so visible in Singapore, a nation that struggles with establishing permanence and with taming its environment through modernization.

- - -

Okay, this entry is getting long and incoherent. I apologize if it was really difficult to follow my "analysis"; I was writing it as my eyes were beginning to close... I might go through it within the next couple days or so to refresh it and clean it up a bit. But yes, I did enjoy the performance, even if, on the surface, it was just a bunch of people moving around shapes. :P

Hanna and I had a little bit of a tough time finding our way back, as we were the only ones to stay behind for Q&A, but we made it.

Okay, pictures of Q&A (the black rectangle in the back is the tangram), Victoria Theater, and Raffles Place before I sleep:

Click me! )

Okay, I'm sleepy, and it's late. 'Night! (This entry was WAY longer than I planned! >_______<)
06/01/2009 at 08:48pm - 「✈」「Day 7」
orchidfire: White flowers with &quot;poesía... eres tú&quot; caption. (Default)
Click me for today's menu of yummy foods! )

Slow day today. I ended up getting very little sleep last night because I was bogged down by readings and other things that I had to deal with (I was a bit of an emotional wreck, for reasons I won't disclose here), so I was pretty dead tired. I felt a bit bad in class because I felt as though I was unable to contribute—I didn't totally understand the readings, and I don't really have enough of a background in any kind of politics to really have intelligent discussion about politics. Maybe that was the sleep deprivation, but I'm not sure.

I felt a bit more engaged in the Singapore class, though; today, we talked about urban planning and public housing. Singapore is one of the most well-housed countries in the nation, if not the most well-housed. I believe it's about 85% of Singaporeans who live in public housing, and public housing is carefully controlled to be racially mixed and with different income levels, so that no part of Singapore becomes a racial enclave (with the exception of Little India) or a slum.

Although this gives a positive appearance—most newlyweds expect to own their first home, instead of rent—it has a lot of negative social repercussions. For one, mixed housing pretty much destroys any sense of community that you might have. Additionally, housing requirements are very strict—singles under the age of 35 are unable to purchase a home, and divorcees are forced to move out, as housing is only for married couples. This also has the consequence that people get married younger and when they're not really ready, simply because they want to move away from their parents. So it's questionable regarding whether these policies are actually good policies. Moreover, just because you're mixed up racially doesn't mean that you automatically get along.

After class and lunch, I went back to PGP and just fell asleep until about 6, which was a sorely needed nap. I then had dinner with Elizabeth, Kelsey, Mary, Peter, Don, and Steven; I had a number of really good conversations with them about things like how much Walmart sucks, how nice public transportation is in Singapore and how the US might be able to learn from it, how segregation of residential and commercial sectors in the US contributes to a lack of a sense of character or community in the US, and lots of things. I learned about UNC's Zipcar service, which lets you borrow a car for occasional use, which will prove to be really helpful for me next year. I also talked a lot with Kelsey about our work with refugees back in North Carolina and about how I would like to do field work with them.

So yes, now I'm back in PGP, and I've got to do my readings and redraft that e-mail to the Mahidol professor who does S'gaw Karen research. :X So intimidating! I'm planning on doing more tomorrow (not sure what, though); we have a group outing to see a play in the evening. (Maybe I'll get reading and laundry done in the afternoon, then? Hmm.) I feel obligated to go out and explore since I'm in Singapore, but, idk! Slow days like this are really nice. I really need them.
05/31/2009 at 09:58pm - 「✈」「Day 6」
orchidfire: White flowers with &quot;poesía... eres tú&quot; caption. (Default)
Click me for today's menu of yummy foods! )

I spent most of the morning today just catching up on my blog post backlog; it takes me a good amount of time to format my pictures and my entries, so I didn't end up actually leaving PGP until about 4 or so (I had brunch in the food court downstairs). I had intended on going to the library to print out the articles that we had to read for class; while I was waiting at the bus stop, I was listening to these two people having a conversation, and I could not, as hard as I tried, figure out what language they were speaking. I thought it was a dialect of Chinese because it was extremely tonal (or maybe the girl just had a very wide pitch range).

After I was on the bus by them for a couple stops, I ended up leaning over and asking the guy what language they were speaking, and it turns out that it was actually Vietnamese. I had no idea that Vietnamese sounded like that. We had a short conversation after that (in English), and he remarked that it was pretty funny that I came to Singapore to study migration. :P When I got to the library, it ended up being closed, so I just went back to the bus stop and took the 95 to the MRT station to go to Clarke Quay; I still had another reading to do for my Singapore class to keep me occupied.

Clarke Quay (that's pronounced /ki/ in IPA; "key" in English homophones) is really nice. It's very upbeat and modern; most of the establishments on Clarke Quay are higher-end restaurants. I did also manage to stumble across Zirca, which Yong will probably be taking us to sometime next week, and I stumbled across Liang Court or whatever it's called, a mall by Clarke Quay. I went in and browsed around Kinokuniya for a little bit; it's more like a Borders or Barnes and Noble than what I've heard my friends describe Kinokuniya as (specialty Japanese bookstore). I picked up Speak Malay in 3 Weeks! (which isn't too great, but it was S$8) and The Coxford Dictionary of Singlish, which is definitely amusing.

After Kinokuniya, I just walked along Clarke Quay for a little while longer as the sun set; I then ducked into the basement of Central to pick up something to eat. I just got a little sushi because I wasn't too hungry. I brought the food back upstairs and sat along the edge of the pavement by the Singapore River; it was nice to eat at Clarke Quay while the sun set and just look around. I also managed to catch the X-treme Swing omg!1!1!!! being launched on video (I also got more of the view of Clarke Quay after the swing):

Sorry that the video is jerky; I don't have very steady hands (hence why I'm not a surgeon). And I know, I should've turned the camera back at myself and waved at the end or something; I thought of that after I stopped recording. Anyway, I'm hoping to coerce two other people to go on either the bungee or the swing with me sometime. :P

Pictures of Clarke Quay )

The article that was assigned for the Singapore class was really interesting—it was about how Singapore's national identity is entirely socially constructed, and how various aspects of religion and race are kept carefully under wraps for the sake of maintaining internal cohesion. And the article was quite revealing in helping me understand how Singapore was transformed in a matter of a few decades from an island of nothing into one of the most efficient countries on the planet—partly due to its small population and its need for a national identity. It's things like these that interest me—how different environments and different settings produce different results. You'd never get the efficiency of Singapore in the United States, but these specific elements combined produced this nation. Really prods the plot bunnies and gets those creative juices flowing when you think about how to build an imaginary nation and create a history for it.

More importantly than just the information about Singapore, the article was just really eye-opening in understanding the institutionalization of certain values and morals. It's really alarming and interesting to see how government agendas and specific ends are effected by instilling certain ideas and morals into groups of people, and the place where that happens most effectively is in schools.

It really makes you question the values that you were taught in school, and makes you wonder how much of what you learned is really just preparation for you to be an effective contributor to the workforce. The "unbiased" nature of schooling, the apparent neutral stance of these institutions, is actually not "unbiased" or "neutral" at all. Rituals like reciting the national anthem were just that in elementary and middle school—rituals. They didn't have meaning at all for me, but, once I read this article, I realized that these kinds of details are meant to foster a sense of national pride (which failed, by the way).

Moreover, reading about these government policies makes you realize how absolutely human the government is. Reading about these policies and attempts to tame a population make you realize that the government is, essentially, an entity that tries to decide what's good for the nation and attempts to implement it, but, more often than not, it's human and makes mistakes.

Anyway, after I finished reading the article, I went back to Central to go to the MRT station downstairs. I stopped by Sticky, a handmade candy store, and tried a couple samples and picked up a small present for Abraham.

Funky chairs/benches inside Central

Making candy and a couple shots of the candy itself (there was a lot more)

And then I went back to PGP (met up with a few SEAS people along the way) and finished up my readings and this entry, which took like an hour to write (augh!). So now I'm going to go to sleep; I have to get up to get ready for class soon! >_______<! See you soon!
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