Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Poem I Wrote About Email Encryption

by Lydia Chai

Our maths teacher corrects us
Sifar bukan kosong
It's zero like an unfilled hand
Not empty like a loud tin can

Years later, I learn that
Sifar is Arabic for cipher
And naught became a number
Wearing an invisible cloak
Choosing to be unseen.

My hands on the keyboard
Send you knotted messages
A mess of ones and zeroes
Tamed into a single thought
Which itself is neither
flesh nor nothing.

Only you, a world away,
Unsheath the words.
They begin, "Comrade..."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Haze Song

"The Current Haze Over Southeast Asia Could Be Among the Worst Ever" - TIME Magazine

I think of you
in a city of silhouettes
ash and smoke
working into your pores,
the oppressive outdoors
with a grip on your throat.
I think of you
a wilful animal
brilliant and burned
under a fiery lantern
formerly known as the sun.

Lydia Chai

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Malaysia's Sedition Act and the art of kung fu

This week Malaysia further descended into the dark ages when Parliament passed new laws, namely the Prevention of Terrorism Act and an amended Sedition Act, that would make aspiring dictators green with envy.

It basically means that even this innocent and rationally written blog post could land me in jail. Other horrific implications may be read at the cilisos website.

For non-Malaysian readers who don't know what 'sedition' means because they don't get this concept slammed in their faces every day by the media: sedition is when you say/do/tweet something that incites discontent towards the government.

It appears that the above bills were tabled in Parliament without enough time for the MPs to fully consider all their implications. What ended up happening was that MPs stayed up debating the draconian laws until past midnight for three out of four consecutive nights. Tired and outnumbered, those who opposed the new laws lost the fight.

It's obvious that the ruling party BN was fighting wing chun style. Shock the opponent and strike consecutively til they're down. I have to say, it's quite impressive.

Already, I am witnessing friends who are usually vocal activists getting nervous about invoking not just the wrath but the mere irritation of the regime.

But bullies are usually thin-skinned. In the end, it's no use treading on eggshells with such people because you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

So watudu?

I don't have answers. All I know is that I want to talk about things openly and not in a foaming-at-the-mouth manner. Be grown-up about it. That's what democracy is.

But back to the wing chun analogy. BN is the fighter who punches hard, fast and relentlessly. If you've chi sau'd before, you know the overwhelming shame of being at the receiving end of those punches. Likewise, Malaysians have been cowed big time.

I asked myself, what would my Sifu advise if such a thing happened to me in combat?

Usually in such a scenario, the thing to do in defense is any of the following:

Keep calm. You cannot let your shame get you down. Don't take it personally; detach yourself and react accordingly.

Control the blind side. In other words, hit your opponent's weak spot. Better still if it's a weak spot he's not aware of.

Use your opponent's force against him. This principle is also from aikido, not just wing chun. Turn the tables.

Finally -

'There is no retreating step in wing chun.' I interpret this saying to mean that one must always exert forward pressure and must have the confidence to step into an opponent's attack (wing chun is close quarter fighting, after all). Even if you have to step sideways or backwards to avoid a hit, it should be done in a way that diffuses your opponent's oncoming force.

Interpret the above strategies however you wish. I'm not an expert in wing chun or politics. I don't have the answers.

All I know is, I will not retreat.

End of blog post.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Old writing

She said, “The middle-aged man inside me, who wants to exchange his habits for new ones, who wants to jump the rails and zigzag like a knight on a chessboard, loves you.”

He said, “The fiery critic inside me, who sneers at the crows in the morning, who hates her mother’s cooking, who giggles when puppies lick her hand, loves you.”
She said, “The boy inside me, who collects leaves to make a deck of cards, who is daily fed the love of his quiet mother, who chased the class bully round the block and got detention for it, whose face glows like a happy moon, who fiddles with the lint in his right pocket, loves you.”

He said, “The lonely giraffe inside me, who forages the treetops with a song in his head, loves you.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Buy an artwork, help a kid sleep easy

I am raising money to buy some essentials for my family (like a bed for my adorable kid) and am selling my paintings at mate's rates, so get in while you can!

These are high quality watercolours on Hannemuhle paper without frames, with a wide range of sizes from dinner table size (which is unusual for a watercolour, hence impressive) to a more compact A4 size.

Whether it's my paintings, performances or projects with Parlour, art is a way for me to communicate generosity and élan vital to others.

When I make a watercolour painting, I want the joy of the medium to be on display. For me, it's important that the electricity of the brushstroke/line gets transferred onto the viewer, you know? Zap!

Cascade 52.7 x 34.5cm (c) Lydia Chai

These paintings grew out of my fascination with aerial roots, the kind you see on orchids or mangroves. It's awesome how aerial roots can subsist off the ground, garnering nutrients from the air around them.

In these paintings, I use the roots as a metaphor for being without a homeland, at the same time being able to flourish on one's own.

It's like we artists are aerial roots ourselves, able to traverse cultures and discourses, while making art that is informed by different environments and ideas.

Plethora 115 x 69cm (c) Lydia Chai

I sometimes paint in a very large format which is unusual for watercolour works. If you've ever stretched watercolour paper, you know how difficult this makes the whole process!

Plethora (above), for eg, is the largest watercolour that I've done using the largest brushes that I own. This is to create a more effective or immediate transfer of energy from the work to the viewer. The large scale of the work also references my bodily size.

Moby Dick Part II 42.5 x 32.5cm (c) Lydia Chai

I've always thought of these paintings as visual puzzles that I set up for myself to solve, like how to balance energy and movement within a composition. 

For eg, you can see broad brushstrokes akin to calligraphy butted up against more rigid and clearly delineated forms, creating tension between the loose and rigid.  

It's a lot like music, really...
Treble 32 x 25cm (c) Lydia Chai

...balancing colours, tonality, ‘weight’ and humour within a painting is an exercise in rhythm!

After Angkor Wat 30 x 21cm (c) Lydia Chai
So buy yourself a friendly work of art! You'll be making one gorgeous baby a happy (sleepy) camper while you're at it. 

Email me - cloudsofcoffee  at  yahoo  dot  com - for the price list and more information. Prices start at NZD50.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Werckmeister Harmonies

Man, I love long takes. Here is the ten-minute masterpiece of a take that opens Béla Tarr's Werckmeister Harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies) (2000):

I love everything about this scene. I love how it plays out like a theatre performance captured on film, without compromising its film format. I love how the shuffling of feet roots the viewer in the scruffy bar setting while the character Valuska waxes on about heavenly bodies. Even in this single scene there is a crescendo when the camera rises above the lamp and rests on the tableau of drunkards enacting a solar eclipse. I love how deftly the camera moves around the merry-go-round of staggering dancers. And how many times, you wonder, did the film crew have to rebuild that fire after it had been extinguished?

Werckmeister Harmóniák is shot in 39 long, languid and elegant takes. Its narrative is so subtle that I'd describe the movie as a collection of abstract and beautifully shot scenes. 

Let's manage a synopsis anyway: The film is about a grim and dreary town that is on the brink of having a violent revolution. A circus show arrives in the town, its only attractions being the preserved carcass of a mammoth whale and a sinister dwarf-like figure called 'the Prince' - the arrival of both somehow triggers violent behaviour in people. The Prince is a mysterious figure who is only seen in shadow and whose voice sounds rather like a radio. 

Just as the opening scene illustrates the movements of our solar system, so do all the characters revolve around the central figure of Valuska. Valuska is a simple, gentle and dreamy young man who does the paper round, takes care of his uncle(?) György Eszter who has retreated from society to flesh out his theories on music, and seems to do the bidding of most people around him (though he isn't bullied into errands; he is well loved among the townfolk).

[I'm gonna pause here briefly to say that it's impossible to have 'spoilers' when discussing this film. It would be like having a spoiler alert for a poem; I could tell you what happens in the poem but it wouldn't diminish your experience of it.]

Valuska acts as a messenger between uncle György and his estranged wife Tünde. György is called upon by Tünde to take on a leadership role and calm the anxiety-ridden town, but Tünde is only persuading him to do this so that she may become a prominent member of society again. In the end, György is impotent to stop the violent momentum of the thuggish townfolk (and the thugs who arrive from other towns to see the whale).

The film culminates in another well-choreographed scene (above) in which the mob charges into a hospital and pulverizes its feeble inhabitants. This scene is bloodless, yet portrays the viciousness of man in all its mindless glory. The mob's momentum screeches to a halt, however, at the sight of an old, emaciated man naked in a bathtub - a reminder of humanity amidst brutishness. How quickly the emotion transforms from aggression into shame here.

Who knows what the whale symbolizes? The dignity of the ancients? The sublime? Somehow I feel like it doesn't matter. Maybe the whale simply acts as a witness to the doings of mankind. Its glassy inert eye is impervious to human suffering. Perhaps this is how Valuska and the whale are similar; they are both innocent witnesses who get damaged along the way, but Valuska carries the heart and hope of the film. Valuska is captivated by the whale and possesses an astute understanding of what is happening to his town on a psychic level.

The images in Werckmeister Harmóniák are indeed memorable. I think Béla Tarr manages this not only by composing his shots well, but by lingering on them so that they burn into one's memory. I've heard this type of filmmaking described as a 'cinema of patience'. But you don't read a poem for a punchline, do you?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Note to self

The whale is my strength.
The river is my resourcefulness.
The desert is my drive.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Living things

Vegetables from my garden to be juiced into an energy drink!

Kale + spinach + lettuce + yarrow + parsley + carrot + ginger + lemon + aloe vera

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Phoenix Foundation, the Sundae Sessions

Here's a great New Zealand band, back in the saddle. Their new drummer lives up to expectations, too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Move by Lydia Chai

Here's what you can achieve with a zero budget, a talented crew & patient friends. Hope you enjoy my first music video :)

Lydia Chai - Move (super 16mm music video) from Unko Films on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mokau horizon

This is the view from Mokau looking west towards the Tasman Sea. On this day, the ocean was as still as glass - like you could walk on it and keep walking until your feet found another land. 

You can see here the gentle curve of the planet. The same curve that determines the shape of a crescent moon. 

That horizon looks like many things: a tightrope, a silver wall, a fallen sword.