Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm Selfish And I Know It

"If it wasn't for Facebook, none of you guys would've wished me on my birthday. Thanks anyway, guys." - A status on Facebook.

So now it's a bad thing that Facebook reminds people of your birthday? Of course, some (or most) of those wishes might not be sincere, but those people did still devote five seconds of their precious time typing out those words. Five seconds might not sound much, but considering that being born is not actually an accomplishment whatsoever, an insincere birthday wish from anyone is actually more than generous. Seriously, how did you contribute to your birth? Did you burst the amniotic sac yourself, pat your mom's belly from the inside and said,"Relax, I got this", before climbing out of the vagina without assistance? Yeah, didn't think so. If anything, our birthdays should actually be the days we celebrate our mothers. They literally risked their lives just to put us out to the world.

It shouldn't matter how people remember your birthday. It's their action that counts.

It's like those who criticize people doing charity for Africa saying, "Charity is actually selfish. A lot of people do charity to feel better about themselves, to portray a better image of themselves, to show off."

Maybe there's some truth in that. Maybe some people do good because they know that they'll feel good about themselves in return. Some people do it just so it can go on their resume.

But I seriously don't see any problem with that.

As long as you're doing something to make the world a better place, your intentions should not matter. Even if it's an obviously staged photo-op of Kim Kardashian helping a blind person cross the street for publicity, she has still helped that person cross the street. Good has been done.

Sometimes I pity rich people. They get booed for not giving back, and when they do, they get booed for not giving enough. And when they do, people say, "Why did he do that? So his publicists can add a 'Philanthropy' section on his Wiki page, that's why."

The world needs charity. No matter how much we give, we can never give enough. So there'll always be those condescending voices doubting our intentions. Sincerity is nice, but action speaks louder than words. If my selfishness makes one less African kid go to sleep hungry tonight, then my selfishness has contributed to a better world.

What has your selfishness done?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

About Jalan Pintas, Hassan Mutalib and existentialism

So a couple of weeks ago I went to The Actors Studio at Lot 10 to see Jalan Pintas, a film by Nam Ron. It was the opening night so we had the chance to have Hassan Mutalib, a renowned Malaysian film critic, in the audience.

The film was... okay. It's a very Aronofsky-esque film with some Memento feeling to it, and visibly low budgeted. The leitmotiv of the film is choice and the ever-popular quandary of "what if?", only with a slight twist: sometimes no matter which path you choose to take, life decides to be funny and fucks you up anyway.

Like every indie Malay film these days, it's ridden with other subplots such as the unemployment of fresh graduates in Malaysia, nepotism, xenophobia and of course, gangsterism. And since it's an indie movie without a FINAS license, expletives are in order, so much so that sometimes the actors just yell out a big fat 'babi!' for absolutely nothing which makes it seem forced and out of place. I know that Scarface is a thousand times more ribald, but Al Pacino expresses vulgarity in a way that is believable and even necessary while in Jalan Pintas, sometimes it just seems like the raison d'ĂȘtre of some of the swear words is merely to give a big 'fuck you' to the Malaysian censorship board.

Seriously, whatever happened to simplicity? I found that so-called 'smart' Malay directors today try too hard to educate, and forget all about entertaining. I'm all for ingraining smart subtexts in movies but please, not at the expense of the storyline and entertainment. Jalan Pintas seems to have one subplot too many, so sometimes it seems out of focus. I however applaud its efficient use of nonlinear narrative because very few Malay films have succeeded in doing this and most of the time it's just a big incoherent mess (Hati Malaya by Shuhaimi Baba, anyone?). I'd also like to praise the use of Snorricam, the kind of camera you mount on an actor's body during physical scenes (usually when the actor is running from/after something) which makes the actor look stationary while the world around him tumbles around. For some reason this technique gives more intensity to the scene.

After the movie, Hassan Mutalib gave a piece of his mind about the independent film industry in Malaysia, how it is changing the game, and how mainstream film directors could learn a thing or two from young filmmakers. One of the things he said bothered me deeply though. A student filmmaker (or was it a journalist) told Nam Ron that he could have replaced those swear words with something else because it was too much, prompting Hassan Mutalib to add: "Yes, when you make a film, you also have to think about the religious consequences. Remember, you have to explain yourself to God one day. How would you explain the use of these swear words in your film? A lot of people don't think about God when they do something, and these people are called existentialists. Freethinkers. They just don't believe in God."

Well excuse me, Mr. I-Failed-7-Papers-in-my-SPM, but the earliest existentialists were mainly Christian. Just because Sartre and Nietzsche are atheists doesn't make existentialism anti-God. That would be too simplistic a logic.

Existentialism and religion are not incompatible, in fact, they just don't have anything to do with one another. For me, being an existentialist means doing things for yourself and not letting other people tell you what you should do and who you should be, all the while being responsible towards your surroundings. It's about creating your own path in life and not being condemned to what you're born into. In fact, the Quran said, "Surely Allah changes not the condition of a people until they change themselves", and that's exactly what existentialism is all about: you, and no one else, are responsible of your own destiny. If an Indian untouchable wants to have a better life, he'll have to work hard and be the nicest person so he'll be reborn as a Brahmin in the next life. If a Indonesian trishaw peddler thinks he'll be better off working without a legal permit in Malaysia, he must have the courage to take one of those dodgy boats in the middle of the night and battle mother nature just to arrive safely at the Malaysian shore. If someone is born into a family of drug lords and prostitutes, that doesn't mean he cannot crawl his way out of it. If he wants it bad enough, he will succeed. Your existence should not be defined by the world you're born into.

And that has nothing to do with renouncing God. You can be a pious Muslim and an existentialist at the same time. As long as you don't succumb to the hedonist idea of philosophy, then you and your faith should be just fine.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

I Am A Member of the Food Court Gym

One sign that your country is going towards becoming a high income nation is the increase in gym memberships. Gym memberships here, gym memberships there, gym memberships everywhere.

When I was still in high school I saw this Fitness First towel at home and I found it weird, because the body weight per capita in my household didn't suggest that any of us ever worked out, let alone had a gym membership. Then I found out my dad was actually a member of Fitness First, and that he was paying a ridiculous annual gym fee. Did it work? Well, let me put it this way: that was a very expensive towel.

So I just came back from Malaysia. It was a great week and a half, and was worth every cent. The moment I landed, I called a friend to pick me up at the airport and he was there almost immediately. I asked him if he was actually going somewhere else, he said, "Yeah, I was actually going to the gym."

And ever since, almost every person I met in KL had a gym membership. Once I was waiting for someone in front of a gym (by the way, what is it with gyms and glass walls? It's like a transparent frontier between the big biceps and the big bellies. And needless to say, I was extremely self-conscious the whole time I was waiting there) and I overheard two guys talking behind me. "Oh, this is my gym by the way," said one. "Oh really? Mine is in (I forgot where it was)," said the other. Both were the office type, with love handles showing above the waist of their perfectly creased pants in the shape of muffin tops. That's when I knew that 'having a gym membership' and 'going to the gym' are two very different things. It's like owning an iPad. A lot of people own an iPad. But only a few actually put it to good use. Others just use the iPad as a show-off piece of technology that they bought just because they could afford it.

And that's exactly what's happening in Malaysia. Gym membership is the new 'sport rim'.

This shows that our economy is improving as people hardly get out of the office, thus they are more and more productive. This in turn makes them burn zero fat as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, thus they have to steal time to go work out. Hence the spike in gym membership number. But the sad thing is, our obesity rate just keeps rising in spite of this, meaning that most people don't actually go to the gym.

Exhibit A: Me. I have a gym membership, but ever since my skiing accident 3 months ago, I was "forced" to stop any physical activities for a while and I stopped going to the gym.

And I never returned.