Singapore

Brief observations…

The first thing we discovered was a siesta in the middle of the day is practically necessary to survive the heat. I am so thankful for the aircon in our hotel – it actually kept our room cooler at nights than at home!

One of my delights has been trying as many drinks as possible – I could blame it on the need to remain hydrated but really it’s just so fun! The various juices and ice-teas are cheap and there’s so much variety. From wintermelon tea to soursop juice and a milky-jelly one which to this day I have no idea what it was, each one is an experience.

Coffee is also an experience. Would you like it with sugar, condensed milk or evaporated milk plus sugar? What, you drink it unsweetened? Good luck trying to explain that… You want normal milk? Too bad. When in Rome…

Kopi and kaya toast. Very traditional

The regulated integration of cultures in Sing is also so fascinating… There are 10 official religions and each housing block by law has to contain a certain percentage of each of the main ethnicities. It means that even though “China town,” “Arab street” and “Little India” exist, community life is far more integrated than you’d expect.

Sing. really is “Asia lite” and it’s been quite nice. You don’t have to worry about water, food poisoning, language, or even transport. Very relaxing!

Meeting many solo female travellers on various walking tours has also been cool. Hearing where they’re from, which countries they’ve travelled thru, how long they’re traveling for, and why they left home has been interesting. It’s like a window into a whole new subculture – one I guess I will be part of very shortly!

Due to the corona virus, we’ve had our temperatures checked multiple times a day, on each entry to a public space and 2x daily at our hotel. It also means that several places we would have visited are closed – such as all the mosques and temples. So too are the catholic churches, altho the protestant churches seem to be open. We visited an international church on Sunday and it was lovely!

R&R for A and I has included watching the Netflix series Dracula (by the creators of Sherlock). While not particularly relaxing and with some shocking scenes, I’ve found it a fascinating attempt to update the 19th century novel by Bram Stoker and make it both relatable and applicable. Interestingly, episode 3/3 which is almost entirely not based on the novel, being set in 2020, is easily the best.

I’ve also read Good Omens (1990), after watching the tv series (2019), and spent some time pondering the differences between the two media. The modern adaptation is definitely angsty-er but also more heavy on The Power of Friendship (TM). It seems cultural expectations can shift wildly over 30 years.

A beginning…

I don’t find minimalism particularly hard, but there’s always a trade off.

Today’s one was my Bible and journal in lieu of a third pair of shoes. Ah well, I can’t wear three pairs at once anyway!

A prayer point would be that Singapore doesn’t get any more corona virus cases. I don’t want to be denied entry to Europe bc I’ve been there!

Review: Good Omens (2019)

[PS: This is obviously not travel-related. Just something I thought I should post as I tie up loose ends. Incidentally (or not) I will be reading Good Omens (book) on the plane.] 

TV series |6 episodes | Amazon Prime

Based on the eponymous novel by Neil Gaimen and (the late) Sir Terry Pratchett

Good Omens

What would happen if the angel guarding the gate of Eden, and the serpent who tempted Eve were flung down to earth and spent six thousand years together?

What would happen if they both discovered they rather liked humanity and the world in general?

What would happen if they became friends?

Good Omens, that’s what. Good Omens (starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant) follows an angel (Aziraphale) and demon (Crowley) pair as they attempt to avert the impending apocalypse and save the world, all while keeping their actions hidden from their respective bosses.

Joining them is an eleven year old Antichrist and his gang of precocious friends; a witch tasked with bearing a book of (true) prophecies; the klutzy descendant of a witch killer; a still-in-active-service witch-hunter; a middle-aged lady of questionable morals; the four horsemen of the apocalypse; a hell-hound named Dog; some vengeful demons; some up-tight arch-angels; and a black Bentley.

What could possibly go wrong?

VERDICT: A fun look at the end of the world through the eyes of a demon and angel pair who are intent on saving humanity. A cluttered cast, but enough chemistry and twists to make it worth watching.

 

What I liked

Enemies to Friends

I love the ‘enemies to friends’ trope. I love seeing unlikely duos overcoming their differences to fight on the same side, and even respect and like each other. It makes for good characterization and interesting plot developments, and was done really well here. David Tennant and Michael Sheen have great chemistry. 

Perhaps more importantly, the angel and demon retain enough of their respective ancestry to keep the viewer unsure. The demon really is selfish and at times awful, the angel really is trying to help people and be kind – and this leads to inevitable clashes. Yet at the same time, they have each rubbed off onto each other over the millennia which adds another unexpected element to the mix. It’s hard to preempt their actions which keeps things interesting. 

Let’s alter the source material

I really enjoy adaptations. I find conspiracy theories fascinating. I love the extra challenge of discerning what is true and what is false; what has changed and what remains the same. In this case the ‘source material’ is as old as time: the biblical story itself.

Is it an accurate retelling? Of course not! The facts of the biblical account are shamelessly altered to fit the story. I think this can enable those who know the original account to look at it through new lenses, which is always helpful. I also think it can be very harmful when people take Good Omens at face value, assuming it to be a correct representation. But then again, that sort of un-discerning consumption is always unhelpful. 

Of the top of my head, alterations (from evangelical canon) include:

  • The serpent is a demon named Crawly (later Crowley) who didn’t really know what he was doing
  • The angel at the east gate (Aziraphale) gives away his flaming sword to Adam and Eve to protect them
  • Holy Water is a Thing, capable of destroying demons
  • Angels and demons alike are fallible. They can both be violent, petty and out-of-touch with humanity
  • God is a female and appropriately (for plot purposes) removed and distant
  • The Antichrist is Satan’s actual son

good-omens-episode-3-crucifixion-1

[Aziraphale and Crowley watching the crucifixion]

What I didn’t like

It didn’t go far enough

I think Good Omens played it a bit safe. I understand why – political correctness; not wanting to alienate a section of the audience; plot purposes. But it could have been so much more!

We see this in a fascinating conversation about whether “The Great Plan” (which all the heavenly and hellish principalities know) and the “Ineffable Plan” (which only God knows) are actually the same, and whether all these beings are actually working for God or just themselves.

Unfortunately this helpful critique is smashed to the ground by the heavy-handed exchange that follows:

Gabriel: God does not play games with the universe.

Crowley: Where have you been?

Ultimately Good Omens uses some biblical motifs but that’s it. It’s not a sustained critique, or even a satire or parody. Which is fine… but it lingers on the border between the two camps long enough that this feels disappointing.

Still, one point I find particularly interesting is that Tracey has to “give up” being a “fallen woman” in order to get her redemption. Which seems a bit more aligned with orthodoxy than the series’ affirmation that “being human” is better than being good or evil. 

Plot over characters

The relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley lies at the heart of Good Omens, to the extent that when they are not on screen, the plot drags. There are too many characters, they often come across as a bit caricatured, and everyone knows the world isn’t really going to end.

The final episode taps into this when it resolves the “end of the world” plot halfway through, and then spends thirty minutes tidying up Aziraphale and Crowley’s future and relationship.

Unfortunately, there were some times when the plot got directly in the way of characterization.

For instance when Aziraphale calls Crowley “nice” and Crowley slams him up against a wall and begins to say “don’t call me that -” and then someone interrupts with news of the Antichrist and we move on. I think this was an opportunity to really delve into the characters, to make them defend their beliefs, to force them to confront their inner natures, and it was missed. 

Ultimately, the ‘character premise’ in Good Omens is far more interesting than the ‘plot premise.’ 

The ending was rather cliche

The race to save the world ends with the usual affirmation about humanity. Everything human and natural is good. Higher Powers and Destiny are not. The angel and demon are at their best when they are most like the humans around them. It’s all very comforting, and it is truly is touching – but I can’t help but wonder (again) couldn’t we have done more?

Sure, my heart swells to the backdrop of “A nightingale sings in Berkeley Square” and Crowley and Aziraphale toasting each other “to the world,” but it still seems like an incredibly safe ending for a premise that appeared so high stakes. 

We’ve just learned that there’s another dimension underpinning all of life, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? Pity, I could have been fooled into thinking it might.

Notable mentions

  • The twist at the end was really well done, and showcased the actors’ extraordinary ability.
  • God as narrator worked for the first episode, and worked well – but after that I felt it got a bit laboured.
  • The scene where Crowley gets drunk: “I just lost my best friend” and then Aziraphale appears: “Awfully sorry to hear that old chap.”
  • The scene where Aziraphale gives Crowley Holy Water, evidently thinking it will be used as a ‘suicide pill’ when Crowley’s superiors come to Damn him for being too nice of a demon. Crowley’s gratitude and Aziraphale’s “you go to fast for me” was one of the most moving parts of the series.
  • “Queen” playing in Crowley’s Bentley
  • Crowley having a throne in his flat and threatening his plants into good health
  • The Montage™ of them meeting through the ages
  • Adam Young’s earthly dad. I don’t know, he cracks me up.
  • Crowley as a Nanny and Aziraphale’s “party tricks”
image courtesy of: https://www.filmsjackets.com/good-omens-david-tennant-blazer; https://tvline.com/2019/06/01/good-omens-episode-3-crowley-aziraphale-friendship-cold-open-photos/

The “Carton Effect” (or, self-sacrifice in literature)

We all know the fictional ‘trope’ of “self-sacrifice.” It’s what Aslan, Harry Potter, Timothy and Jesus have in common.

I’ve recently been musing on a specific type of sacrifice ‘trope’ (for want of a better word) which seems to crop up again and again in literature. I’m calling it….

“The Carton Effect”

Sydney Carton, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, is often expounded as a heroic example of self-sacrifice. Let’s analyse his actions.

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A biblical interpretation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I wrote a review of sorts for the BBC series Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but it occurs to me that I have neglected to write about book by Susanna Clarke of the same name.

There are multiple book reviews for this 800 page novel on the web. Some brilliant, some dry, some which encapsulate what I believe to be the heart of the book and others which appear to miss it altogether.

There are also many critical interpretations: I’ve read essays which address social class, feminism, LGBT representation, historicism, religion, textual structure, folklore and nationalism.

I haven’t seen a Biblical interpretation (although I saw an interesting gnosticism one) and so I’d like to attempt that here. I feel, however, that I ought to state some disclaimers:

  1. By analyzing JSMN from a biblical perspective, I’m not claiming that this is how Clarke constructed the text. I am simply doing what literary critics do and reading it with a specific framework in mind.
  2. I’m also not claiming that ‘the Author is dead,’ and Clarke’s intentions don’t matter. I think that such a reading devalues the text. Nevertheless, the reader has a right to interpret to the extent that they can back their arguments with textual examples.
  3. By reading JSMN through a biblical framework, I’m not claiming it’s an allegory. There seems to be the mistaken idea that reading something “with a Christian perspective” simply involves finding a Christ-like figure and pinpointing a resurrection – as if textual interpretation is some sort of bizarre Where’s Wally? Game. It’s so much more than that.

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In defence of Fiction

This post was written in response to someone who dared to suggest in my hearing that non-fiction trumps fiction. (Don’t worry, we’re still on speaking terms!)

My defence of fiction (firstly, let’s make sure we’re on the same page)

Firstly, we cannot include the Bible in this debate. I believe that the Bible stands alone as the Word of God, a sacred text, written by the Divine. It is Truth embodied.

Secondly, we can’t say one is better than the other. To do so is to misunderstand the debate. They are both literary genres. Neither is the exclusive bulwark of Truth, although both embrace it. Non-fiction does not have the exclusive rights to ‘objectivity,’ to ‘practicality,’ or to ‘clarity’. Neither does fiction alone protect the last vestiges of ‘creativity,’ of ‘beauty,’ or of ‘refreshment’.

Fiction fulfils a different purpose to Non-fiction, but it is of equal importance, and thus deserves equal attention. This is my proposition. These, then, are my arguments:

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Allegories, themes and “emotive directions”

I am rather dismissive of allegories. As a child I found them profoundly disappointing. I’d begin reading what I thought was a “new” story.. Only to discover a quarter of a way through that I’d been “tricked” and it was actually an “old” story in disguise.

Allegories have their place… But generally not on my bookshelf. (Disclaimer: I say this having written allegories myself. Also, the Narnia series are not allegorical!)

While I dislike allegories, however, I really like “emotive directions”.

If you’ve never heard of such a term, relax. I made it up.

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Thinking Fiction: Why we like characters who work undercover for the ‘good’ side

I’m forever on a quest to discover why I like what I like. This is part of my foray into ‘types’ of fictional characters and why we as readers like them.

Who or what are ‘characters who work undercover for the ‘good’ side’?

I’m not sure if this is a universal ‘like’, but it’s certainly one of mine. I really enjoy reading a book or watching a TV series in which a character has to hide their true allegiances from others.

These characters appear ‘less than’ noble, ‘less than’ dependable, and at times downright villainous to most of the other characters, yet are actually working for the side of ‘good’. If they are the protagonist they are likely striving to ‘help’ society or a faction thereof, if they are not the protagonist, they are often an undercover champion for the protagonist’s cause.

An extreme example of this is when an individual the protagonist believes is ‘evil’ is revealed at the end of a series or novel to have been working for ‘good’ the entire time.

This is an extreme and difficult example to plot for three reasons:

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a year in reading 2018

A year in reading 2018

Happy New Year everyone! Following the tradition, here we go!

Books read 2018: 70

Trends:

  • Number of books is increasing (67 in 2017, 56 in 2016, 55 in 2015)
  • I am ‘reading’ more audio books
  • I am also reading far more e-books than paper
  • This year I included (for the first time) in my list novel-length works of fan fiction (but not in my summary here).

Ratio:

49 fiction/21 non-fiction

37 e-kindle/11 audio/22 paper print

Longest paper book:

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Shortest paper book:

The Importance of being Ernest – Oscar Wilde

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Thinking fiction Why we like socially disadvantaged characters

Thinking fiction: Why we like socially disadvantaged characters…

I’m forever on a quest to discover why I like what I like. Join me on a foray into ‘types’ of fictional characters and why we as readers like them.

Who or what are socially disadvantaged characters?

Socially disadvantaged characters are those who are oppressed by their society. They have little power to change the (sometimes horrific) world they live in. They are often children, poor, slaves or people of a marginalised race.

For all this, these socially disadvantaged are often the heroes of their tales. In ‘rags-to-riches’ narratives the reason for this is obvious, but there are many other stories where they play central parts – so why are they so popular?

Examples of socially disadvantaged characters

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