Author Archives: phantomcyros

Firstborn

There she laid asleep with a smile full of joy unknowing of her future. Born to a father who was raised on a boat anchored to the edge of the village, and a mother from an unloving family.

He was 26. She was 16. Her parents and seven brothers objected the reunion. Not because she was too young, but because he was poor. But they got married anyway. For it was what people do.

Her mother was the seventh child of an opium addicted father and an abusive mother. Since the age of five, her day to day ranged from waking up before sunrise to work in the fisheries, her mother beatings, and walking for miles to fetch her father’s opium in the middle of the night. All she was wishing for was to get away from them.

Her father lost his mother when he was 3 years old. They were on a refugee boat to Malaysia, running away from the Japanese. She got sick half way through the journey and they had to dump her body. He wouldn’t have understood it. After the war, all is left to his father was a boat and each other. Without any education, he scrapped knowledge from anywhere he could find and learned to read and write in Chinese. And thanks to his dedication and a kind friend, he gathered enough knowledge to start his practice in Chinese Traditional Medicine.

However, that was never enough. The village was full of sick people who couldn’t pay. His skill and knowledge were effective and the villagers loved him for that. But it was never enough to feed the family. It was all for his wife’s hard work that lead them to this point of life. Without any education and being a women, it would have been impossible for her to earn much money. But with their firstborn in her arm, they saw hope. She understood the sacrifice she would have to make. All the hard life ahead of her. For her firstborn.

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Bollievaoe


Black Mirror: Bandersnatch & Detroit: Become Human – Why interactive story telling sucks

I can’t help it but to compare the new episode/Christmas edition special/movie of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch to Detroit: Become Human. They are of different platform but very similar. Both are based on making decision and different path of the story will play out.

There are a bunch of good things about both of them. I enjoyed both of them very much. Detroit was great for going back and fort trying to get all the different outcome. While Black Mirror *spoiler alert* surprised me with the interactivity with the character, it was a surreal experience.

But, both titles left me confused at the end. To simply put it in words, not all of the alternative endings make sense and some even contradictory to what the characters are there for.

I think there’ll be lot’s of spoilers going forwards, so this is going to be the big warning.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Let’s start with Conor, the character in Become Human. He’s a detective android and although his “destiny” (air quoted because it’s super limited, I’ll explain later) options are simple, to be or not to be a deviant, he didn’t have much choice but to follow order and hunt all the deviants down. He had choices for moral decisions, like if he would kill the androids or let them go etc. But those doesn’t decide what he is, but merely a game mechanic, not a story telling one. Because in the end, you can choose to let every deviants go and still turn into a psycho android killer in the end.

One of the Conor’s ending is that CyberLife planned this whole chaos, making them the ultimate evil. It sounds like a great arch, but none of the other endings or story progression actually support this. It’s a totally unrelated destiny. Even when Conor succeeded in eliminating the deviants, CyberLife simply thanks him and didn’t mention anything about their other bloody plan to push him into leading the deviants. Because I’d love to see an option to be a pretend deviant from the beginning, but there’s no such option.

And that leads me to Bandersnatch. One of the ending is that Stefan was in a studio but he didn’t know it, but everyone knows about it except him. The other kinda a branch from that is that he is a subject of an experiment. The movie make it very vague that it might all be just a dream. But it was also an ending nevertheless. And the same problem with Detroit that the lack of singular truth makes the story telling inconsistent and dodgy.

Arguably, the creators meant to have a “canon” out of all those story branches. The “real” ending if you may. And that strikes me as lazy? I think. It can not be an interactive story telling, or players decide the actions if the destiny is so fixed and limited. In all of the characters in both titles, everyone have a set limit of endings. The decision you make throughout the story/game will lead you to one of these said endings. Now the limitation is that you could arguably do everything in random and you end up in one of the ending and it won’t make any sense.

The idea of a 100% accurate prediction came out again last night while I was debating nihilism with some friends. “Well, it’s not a prediction if it’s going to be 100% accurate” said one of them, which was funny. Anyway, I argued that if we have all the variables of the universe, we can “predict” everything in the future. “prophesy” maybe?. So, the idea of a making decisions in games like Detroit or Bandersnatch is that it’s not a decision making at all. It’s a set of predestinated choices. In real life, we have a much wider freedom of decision. We can walk off a cliff, or say some million different other things and see what the universe respond. And this makes me think of The Sims. It’s more interactive than Detroit or Bandersnatch. There’s no set “endings” per se, there’s no ending at all other than death. But what you do will influence the variables in the world. Although limited, it’s a world of freedom. I guess most sandbox games like Minecraft or Kerbal Space Program would fall into this category.

Ultimately if it’s about telling a story, there has to be a story, the truth. The aesthetic of how the story is delivered would be of much more importance than having the audience choosing their own ending. After all, I walk into a cinema to listen to a story not making one, else I’ll just walk into a bar.


First sight

It was pass midnight, we sat around a small BBQ/campfire on the rooftop of my house, a ruko as we would call it, or “rumah toko”, a shophouse. We were doing what we called “begadang”. It was one of those things that we did as a teenager to prove that we were adults, 15 years old, on a holiday eve, the classmates would gather in one’s house, usually the one with the good rooftop like mine and a good living room to sleep in. We would BBQ slowly through the night, sing songs, chat, play games.

It was just the boys that night, as it often was with our group, a bunch of nerds. A science nerd who was always number one at Math, Chemistry and Physic. A teacher’s son. A bullied soul who happen to have a dad with a funny name. A rich kid with a PS nerd. And a couple other random unpopular kids. There were also me, a computer nerd who played way too much computer games. Maybe it was like that with other groups too. It was harder for girls to get permission from their parents to spend the night in a boy’s house. But sometimes we get invited to a bigger event like this where there would be girls. But not this night.

R, the rich kid,  would always struggle to get permission from his parents for such events. Just the week before, I was at his place to play his Playstation. It was a struggle to get pass his parents and I got stuck trying to leave. It started with a phone call from me, asking if R was home. He lived in a three stories ruko. The first floor was their furniture store, the second was the store room, and the third would be their “house”, kitchen, living area and bedrooms. His father picked up the phone from the first floor. I muttered the same sentence I’ve practiced a thousand time before I dial his phone number. His father would scream his name out loud and someone on the third floor would pick up. Sometimes it was his mother, sometimes it would be him. I rode my bike to his place, said “hi” to his father and walked through the narrow corridor filled with beds, cupboards and tables on both side. Passing through their second floor was grim. Their staircases was narrower and taller than most staircases among my friends’ houses. After the first staircase was a big dark room, smell of fresh woods, and fully packed with furnitures. I dashed through to the second staircase quickly.

Emerged from the second floor, I was welcomed by their kitchen. They were rich, but their house was simple. A kitchen countertop on this end, a medium sized wooden dinner table, a simple couch on one side of the living room, a decent sized tv, and a smaller sized tv with his Playstation on the side. We played Monster Rancher 2 for an hour or so and we would left for our afternoon tuition. It was at that time that he would bring up the topic about the begadang to his parents. His dad was downstairs at the shop so it was just to his mom first. His mom was pretty supportive of the idea. Being a man and all, she thought that he should be allowed to go out more, adventure and sort. So that was half the battle done.

Walking out the store, we pass through his dad’s desk. We stopped and R asked for some pocket money. He then asked his father if he’d be allowed go to my place for bergadang that weekend. There was nagging from R and there was stories and rejections from his dad. His father thought that bergadang was a criminal activity where boys would walk around the town under the full moon and I don’t know, curse at people all night.

The Chinese term for bergadang is “shan yue”, roughly translated to “watching the moon”. And in this Chinese community of my hometown, we observe many of the Chinese holidays. Many of them happen on the 15th day of the lunar month, a full moon. And during his father’s youth, “shan yue” meant something else. It took a bit more of R’s nagging and my reputation of “the boy next door”, a church goer, good family background, smart, never swear, and most of all, not a troublemaker, to finally get his father’s approval. Until this day, when I dream of R, I would be standing in front of his taller than usual house, like a tower, screaming his name, and asking his father’s approval to let him out of the house.

Back on that BBQ pit, the mini campfire we surrounded, we have done many of things we’ve planned to do and it was only 2 A.M. As we got bored of playing cards and started to get hungry again, we cooked more of the food. We were in the mood for stories, so C, the teacher’s son, started a game of “truth”. I was like “truth or dare” without the dare, and without the bottle spinning, and everyone have to answer the question.

It was then the question was asked, the infamous “first love” question. I’ve yet to meet her or have seen her before. Nor was she my first love. So I told them the story of that one girl I met when I was visiting my cousin in the city. I was 13 years old and I was staying at my aunt’s for the school break. My cousin brought me to his neighbour’s house to play. We were greeted by a girl who looked slightly older than me. Maybe it was that first sight. That long black hair, a pair of rabbit teeth, the big round eyes, and a thin smile. But it was perhaps the way she talked to me. It was the first time in my life that a girl I’ve just met would talk to me in such a free and kind manner. Being the unpopular kid at school, girls don’t usually talk to us that way. It was that friendly chat, the lack of disgust, the utter curiosity, and a beautiful face. Later that night, I found out that she was younger than me, that was when I decided that I was in love.

I had to leave the next day and I’ve not heard from her since.

A couple of years later, that memory resurfaced. That feeling of wanting someone just from the first sight, that first interaction. And this was her, standing in front of the church door greeting everyone who entered. She was in her brown dress, and was wearing a cold expression on her face, wasn’t smiling very much as she was. Her slightly curled hair lay lazily over her left shoulder. Her teeth, like of the rabbits, but perfectly sized to fit her beautiful thin lips, was the other thing that I would remember every time I think of her.

She greeted me with “Shalom” as I entered the church and with that, she handed me a booklet filled with agenda of the day, song lyrics, bible quotes and community announcements. I gave her a subtle smile and muttered back “Shalom”. I walked into the church and she moved on to greet the next person.

 


Call me by your name – exploring myself

Hmmm… Hmm.. Peaches..

I chuckled as I thought of the word, the fruit that I’ve never tasted, the experience that I’ll never have. Yet, I chuckled, not of the absurdity, but of envy.

I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain.

Has it started out of the curiosity? started with the movie, the intentions were so subtle, especially of Oliver’s. The famous, everyone loved, Oliver. What did he want. Why did he want it when he could have everything. But not the love of another man?

Anger was what I felt after the movie. More than curiosity. I was angry with Elio. Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Would Elio’s pain worse by not knowing that Oliver would love him back? Would hating Oliver been better than to have lost him after the intense love affair?

Is it better to speak or to die?

I hated Oliver for being such a cold hearted bastard. What do you want? What do you want from Elio? Does Oliver really love him that much? Can’t you leave everything behind and be with Elio? Why would you lift him so high only to crush him to the ground? Maybe he chose slower death, for speaking would also mean death.

I moved to the book as soon as I finished the movie. I wanted answer to Oliver’s coldness. There has to be more than fear of people finding out. For love should be stronger than fear.

On my bed in the mid South Australian winter, it was ten degrees Celsius out but it was cold enough to be snugged up under my warm blanket in the middle of the day. Page by page I got hooked into Elio’s simple, plain, honest narrative. As he ushered me to his version of curiosity, I forgot about Oliver for a while and wonder around my own teenage memories or anytime I’ve felt attraction to someone. Where did it start, why did I like them.

It was late afternoon when I took a break. Oliver was still a stranger, Elio had grown into hate loving him. He hated his coldness, his “later!s”. He hated that he desired him while unsure why.

The next few days for me was hell. I was drowning in this melancholic, saudade. I searched myself for answers. Why did I feel this way? Why do I feel this way? What am I feeling? The longing for someone I desire who desires me back? I thought of people around me, the beautiful people I desire. Is any of them my Oliver?

As I lived through my days hiding this piece of emotion I was carrying, Sufjan Stevens songs fed my sorrow. His simple voice, so simple and beautiful. His was the music that I would play in the background when I read the book. His was what I listened when I write this piece of me down.

I yearned for free time to continue Elio’s story, which I don’t usually do with books. I read when I have absolutely nothing else to do. But I was willing to give up my dancing time and tv time to read this piece of work.

Continued on Elio’s struggle in acting on his desire, the movie was really close with the book, to the exact conversations they had. The one when Elio vaguely confessed his desire and Oliver weirdly understood. The one when Oliver touched Elio’s lips and kissed him. The exchange of notes and the midnight meeting.

What Oliver said after the first time they kissed was the only obvious clue for me on the struggle that Oliver was having. That brought me back to being curious about Oliver. Was he afraid of people finding out. Was he ashamed of what he desired. But he had kissed him. That was something to be ashamed of.

So far we’ve behaved. We’ve been good. Neither of us has done anything to feel ashamed of.

On the note, what does that even mean, grow up? Grow up and understand the world that they were in? Grow up because love between two men is wrong? Grow up and do what you wish. Talk to me if you want it. Touch me when you desire it.

Grow up, meet me at midnight

I loved that one detail in the book after they had made love for the first time. Elio was physically uncomfortable and emotionally disgusted by what they had done. Oliver was showering Elio with great love and caring while Elio was unsure if he would still desire him. Oliver was scared. Maybe scared of both being found having sex with another man and scared that Elio didn’t love him as much as he did. He went to the town later after breakfast and was so happy that Elio came to see him and shown that he didn’t hate him. And that was when I fell in love with Oliver.

From that moment on, I longed to read more about Oliver. Say something, Oliver. I wanted to know him more. I loved that scene when Elio found Oliver on the rock next to the sea. I loved Oliver’s relationship with Vimini. I loved it when Vimini was around talking about Oliver. I loved it when Oliver ate the peach.

It struck me that all I wanted was for someone to love me back.

One thing I didn’t like about this book or movie was that there was no much detail around the friendship between the two. There were summaries. Oliver loved Elio for his abundant knowledge of music and literature. While Elio seemed to have attracted to his coldness, fame and physique. There were many unwritten conversations between them on their routine next to the pool, swimming or jogging. Oliver was also a very intelligent man. But the lack of details made the story less plausible. Do they really love each other that much?

Even when they were in Rome, their relationship was not more than physical. However, I loved Elio’s interaction with other people in Rome. There were moments where Oliver was not in his mind. And just like that Elio was alone in a train station.

And that brings me to Elio’s conversation with his father. That was when I weeped on a Thursday night cozy in my couch. Out of the whole book, this was what touched me the most. I understood why I was weeping. I wasn’t sad because Elio lost the love of his live. It wasn’t because I felt lonely either. I weeped for I wished I’ve had someone like Elio’s father who would say those words to me. Words full of understanding, compassion and love. For he was not there to judge Elio, but to be there when he needs him. I was longing for someone to know my struggle in its purest honest form, without saying a single word.

Just remember: I am here. Right now you may not want to feel anything. Perhaps you never wished to feel anything. And perhaps it’s not with me that you’ll want to speak about these things. But feel something you did.

Feeling something, emotion, even the terrible ones, is what make life feels alive. For feeling pain is better than feeling nothing at all. I enjoyed this week as I was filled with this unusual emotion. I am looking forward to finding more books like this. Something that make me wanna throw everything else away and be with the it. Or maybe someone.


Math is not useless

Being a tall person, mundane things can be challenging sometimes.

I woke up last night and moved around trying to optimize my blanket coverage. When I’m sleeping straight on my back, it can cover my whole feet up just enough to cover my collarbone. It’s fine that I can’t cover my face, but I’d love it to cover my neck.

Knowing that the length of the diagonal is bigger than any of its side, I quickly rotated it 45 degrees and get a much better coverage.

I lied that for awhile realizing what I’ve just did. And I asked myself, would I have known how to do that if I haven’t learned geometry or trigonometry?


Do we have reason?

Stoics have said that our ability to “reason” is important for us as human being,  that it’s what separate us from beasts. Stoic thinkers were also based their writing on the existence of gods, like Lady Fortune in Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. There is a higher power in play that we can’t know and we can’t control. But it leaves us with our ability to reason, to make best of our situation, and to do good rather than whine or do evil.

Modern stoicism is stripping off the need of higher power while still pushing for the benefit of looking at the bright side, make do of what we have and don’t lose your sanity over things you can’t control.

Without higher power, the need to do good will need reinvention. The very basis that we need to do good because we are creatures of higher moral has became blurry. And therefore the questions over perseverance of moral and the definition of control will change too.

Forget about modern Stoicism, let’s get back to the “reason”. That’s said to be the only thing that we have full control of. Our ability to think and to perceive things. To be an optimist and to stop ourself from self harming thoughts. That if we can dig back into our inner desire to do good, we can overcome suffering.

But, here is the big question, do we really have control over our mind. Neuroscience has shown that our brain is a bowl of chemical mess. It reacts to the outside world and create an illusion of reality. And with example of genetic differences and mental illness, can one really master our mind? Can a person with mental illness achieve enlightenment if they can’t even choose to be sane? or everything is pretty much set to stone?

That also say that the great minds like Boethius and Epictetus could be a stoic because they had a brain that’s stoicable, that they were able to reason themselves to accept the world as it is and to make use the best of it.

I say that everything is predestinated, not of a higher power like a God, but of a chain reaction of events. That given that we’ve known all the variables, with a predictive model we could predict the future up to the individuals. And that by knowing the future will change the future in a constant reactive way. That the decision to see and change ones future is based on those predestinated chain itself and a million other variables that we’ve yet to discover.

So I guess for now we can call that magic.