Friday, April 24, 2015

You're so vain you probably think this post is about you

Do attractive people have it easier? I would believe so. But I've never been ugly so what do I know. Ha. No, really. I can't help but smirk every time a beautiful person complains about anything because more often than not, their issues are relatively inane. Beautiful people don't have real problems. They just need to wake up and the world is handed to them.

Case in point: a friend of mine who.. umm.. okay it just occurred to me that this story would be awfully specific and my friend would be easily identifiable. I will hence tweak this story to get the point across, while staying vague enough to protect my friend's identity (and myself from a probable lawsuit for defamation/libel/slander or whatever Najib is accusing Rafizi of).

So a friend of mine is beautiful. Yes yes beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some even claim it's subjective but that's what you'd say when you're average looking or downright ugly. Real beauty is very objective, like it or not. So my friend is a person who would register as beautiful in most people's books. Judging from the tone of his posts on Facebook, he's been through hard times.. I suppose. Well, again, his hard times are starkly different from ours. His hard times consist of having to live in a picturesque, quaint European town by the lake earning an average European salary. Yes, hard times.

Anyway, after years of being relatively quiet, suddenly in the past year he's been reviving his contact list, hollering old friends and chatting people up. He's a pleasant person and we always had good discussions about stuff, so it was good hearing from him again. Apparently he was on a job hunt. The European economy being in a slump and him having only a basic degree, the axe was coming down fast. He needed an exit plan. Like any good friend who isn't in a position of power to hire people, I could only give him generic motivational advice that may or may not have been stolen from cheap posters hanging on the walls of my high school student counsellor's office. "Just send out as many CVs as possible. Be brave. Step out of your comfort zone. It's going to be okay. We've all been there. I remember when I (insert a totally petty and unrelated experience about spilling coffee and try to work it into an inspiring story about courage and patience) and that made me look at life differently, and a better person. You'll get through this. Hang in there."

I don't know what happened to him for a couple of months after that because aside from the sporadical "hey sup? good, you? k dude tc", we didn't talk much.

Fast forward to early this month. He came back to Malaysia. I whatsapped him "Welcome back". Maybe the 'hard times' had caught up to him, and he had no other options but to come back and only return when the European economy picks up. Whenever that is. In the meantime, I had no idea what he was up to in Malaysia and I didn't want to ask. It's something I've learned over the years. When you know a person has been actively jobseeking, you don't keep asking questions about their hunting process unless you have a job offer or you know how to help. Otherwise they might see it as prying or worse, rejoicing in their misery. And I don't do that.... anymore.

A couple of days after he landed, I saw pictures of him leisuring at the beach, on an island, with celebrities. I didn't know they were friends. I took a closer look. Oh. Based on the hashtags, it was for a local movie. He was one of the male eye candies/love interests of the main female character. I know he used to model before, so it didn't surprise me seeing him fall back to his post-SPM career as a model.

It got me thinking: most people, in the face of hardship, would scrape the bottom of the barrel to make ends meet. But most people are not beautiful. This dude, on the other hand, has always known that if all else fails, he'd always have that face to sell. I bet that face has saved him many a sleepless night. If a burn victim's face is saved by his ass, my friend's ass is saved by his face.

Is that unfair? I wondered. It shouldn't be, because everybody is blessed with something and you work with what you have. I have other God-given talents that I was born with, and no one is calling it unfair. Somehow when it comes to good looks, people are quick to ask you to look past it as if it shouldn't count. A lot of attractive people are successful, as reflected by the fact that I very rarely see an attractive hobo. It is no coincidence that the most 'talented' Hollywood actors are also the most attractive. I could get a thousand other women to play Satine in Moulin Rouge, but let's not kid ourselves, Nicole Kidman's face is what won her the Oscar. Is that a problem, though? The face is part of the talent. She worked hard for that body, and her plastic surgeon worked hard on that expressionless face of hers. Her acting chops are an added bonus. She has the whole package. She deserves everything she has.

Okay where was I going with this. I guess I was just trying to dig deeper into our collective disillusion that looks don't and shouldn't count, when they completeley do and should. I've always said Lisa Surihani relies solely on her looks because her acting skills are non existant. But maybe that face is actually skills enough to be an actress, and instead of giving her shit about it, I should realize that skills can be nurtured and polished, so it's accessible to anyone who's willing to work on it. Looks, on the other hand, are completely bestowed upon you. There can only be one beauty like Nicole, or like Lisa. True unadulterated beauty is rare and should be a cause for celebration.

It still irks me though that a dude with barely a degree is having fun with beautiful people on an island, probably earning 3 times what I'm earning, just because he's pretty. Oh well.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Leger malentendu

Aside from my dayjob as some sort of engineer, I also take up freelance interpreting jobs mainly for French to English and vice versa. Apparently the demand for French interpreters in Malaysia used to be quite high back in the 90's, but now it is somewhat dwindling due to the fact that most French expats who come to Malaysia today usually have a decent grasp of the English language.

When interpreting, translating is only one half of the job; the other half consists of conveying the correct emotion and state of mind of the speaker to the listener so both the message and the correct tone get properly delivered. The real challenge is that you don't have the luxury of time; messages  need to be churned out and shot back and forth in real time, leaving no room for double checking. A good interpreter is one who trains his language reflexes rigorously.

What kind of reflexes? Well, grammar is a given. Maintaining proper grammar and syntax is somewhat tricky when translating from English to French because of the differences in word arrangement. French adjectives are generally placed after nouns and, like most Romance languages, French has a particular subject-object-verb word order which in English would mean producing a sentence such as "I it him give", instead of "I give it to him". With due diligence, one should master the grammar rules relatively quickly as the French grammar is very consistently structured.

Now the hardest reflex to train is the false friend avoidance. English has had a long history of borrowing from French since the Norman conquest, meaning that while English is still a mainly Germanic language in structure and grammar, a great many French words have been abosrbed into its vocabulary. However, both languages having continued to evolve separately, most of the borrowed French words have taken completely new meanings in English due to changing cultural contexts. A lazy or inexperienced interpreter, upon hearing the English word engagement (in the context of getting married), would hastily use the same word in French because after all, engagement is also a French word. A good interpreter would translate it as fiançailles instead (and it's always plural in French!). The French word engagement has always retained its original meaning of "commitment", but never in the context of impending nuptials.

The French nevertheless have also borrowed many English words and taken the liberty to completely redefine them. The word footing, by the looks of it, supposedly comes from English and somehow means jogging in French. They also have le smoking which means the tuxedo. The word stop in the French phrase faire du stop means hitchhiking. And my personal favourite false friend is préservatif, which is French for condom. I still vividly remember the shock on my friends' faces when I told them the cake from our uni's vending machine was full of préservatifs. It's the kind of seemingly small mistake that takes you forever to live down.

And these are only some of the many, many examples of false cognates between English and French. Mastering them is an absolute art and I thoroughly enjoy it. If you think math is a great mental exercise, try language. Math has not radically progressed  in the past decade because we've pretty much solved or have postulates for most math problems. Pure math has minimal real world applications anyway.

Language on the other hand evolves crazy quickly. Today's noun can be tomorrow's verb. Catchphrases are invented every day. Grammar rules can suddenly be bent to oblivion and new norms are invented overnight. Through the Internet and social media, cross-pollination between languages are getting more common so interpreters need to keep up with all the new terms and the cultural baggage attached to them.

It's a demanding job, but oddly satisfying. And pays damn well too.

Friday, April 03, 2015

All The King's Horses

As you get older and wiser you start giving less shit about stuff. I found myself singing along to One Direction's Night Changes last week during my morning drive and it made me smirk. Five-years-ago me would have sniggered at how readily I embrace mainstream pop songs these days. What happened to that dude who only listened to British-invasion songs of the 60s and obscure 80s electropop?

From my observation, age doesn't necessarily change what you like. It just reduces the number of peers you have, and less peer pressure means less shit-giving. It's just like how everyone liked Britney Spears' Toxic when it came out, but no guy in my class would openly admit it so they pretended that the half-nude Britney in the music video was the only reason why they were watching it. Yeah okay.

The same thing is happening in my film choices. I used to have several terabytes worth of movies ranging from silent films of the 20s all the way to post-millenial new wave Iranian cinema. I had friends with whom I would passionately discuss Kubrick and Kurosawa, I could quote De Sica's Bicycle Thief from memory, and whenever people asked me about my favourite movie the answer would be a short sigh, followed by "Well there are just so many it's hard to just pick one. Are we talking ficion? Biography? Adapted screenplay? Which era? Which country?" Of course it was not just an act because I was really that into it, and I had new favourite movies every week. Every second of my waking hours outside of class would be spent watching movies, it's ridiculous. Who needs friends when you can have Audrey Hepburn serenade Moon River to you by the window sill?

Somehow life got in the way. I graduated, I started having commitments and real responsibilities, and my free time started depleting. These days I go to the movies purely for the momentary escapism it provides. I expect to get entertained or at least to feel detached from reality even for a little while. It got me thinking, have I changed that much?

The answer is no. I haven't changed. Of course I've seen all the films that "mattered", but only once. I mean Citizen Kane is great and all but I wouldn't watch it again if you paid me. My real favourite movies have always been the same ones: Demolition Man, The Terminator series, Almost Famous, Jaws 4: The Deep Blue Sea, any P. Ramlee movies, and Shaun of The Dead. Simple and straightforward  movies that I really enjoy. Gone are the days where I would pretend to like Run Lola Run. These days I just stick to movies I could just enjoy with my brain checked at the door.

Which is why I loved Kingsman. I actually found it even more entertaining than all the Oscar movies of the past 5 years, combined. No, really. It's outlandish to the point where it almost becomes a parody of itself but not quite, the premise is simple and the execution is efficient and really satisfying. You want a spy movie without the overly complicated plot and several layers of villains from ten different intelligence agencies? Kingsman's conflict is all about Samuel L. Jackson wanting to wipe out most of humanity using satellite signals, that's it. And his side kick has blades for feet, so you know it's going to be good. You want to see an underprivileged kid succeed in life? Kingsman's got it. You want to see spoiled brats fall flat on their faces? Checked. You want to see religious extremists kill each other in a safe, confined environment without bothering the rest of the world? Oh it's got it, and it's glorious. In fact, the church scene alone is worth watching it for. I'd never have thought Colin Firth would be good in fighting scenes but Kingsman proved otherwise. It was uncannily similar to the bar fight scene that I'm very fond of in Shaun of The Dead.

And the most satisfying part of Kingsman is when all the who's who of the world have their heads burst into colourful flames and drop dead. Wouldn't it be nice to see all of the world's cunning politicians just explode and die like that?

I'm becoming a simple man. And I like it.

I'm planning to go watch Kingsman again next week.