Archive for the ‘romance’ Category
Canto: Okay, so we’ve been so busy pretending to be sciency savants that we’ve forgotten about the romantic side of this blog…
Jacinta: You’re right, the Urbane Society for Skeptical Romantics must be a confusing name for some, unless they can find some romance in our scientific interests, which would be nice…
Canto: So we’re changing all that by doing occasional pieces on heroines around the world, since we’re both into female supremacy, right?
Jacinta: Okay and you’ve chosen a very romantic heroine first up, and I must say I approve of her wholeheartedly, though I may play devil’s advocate during this dialogue.
Canto: Fine, well I’ve chosen a real people’s heroine, the dazzling Ha Ji-won, from Korea. She’s a hugely successful star of film and television drama, a household name over there, but I’ve picked her for, inter alia, her many portrayals of strong women – from teenage misfits to action heroes to royalty to suburban divorcées, she’s one of those actors who dominate the screen and inspire women everywhere – at least everywhere in Korea – to be feisty and independent, and that’s a fine thing.
Jacinta: Actually I like her because she comes across mostly as a warm and sensitive person, a sort of ‘what the world needs now’ sort of person, but admit it, what’s the real reason you’ve chosen her?
Canto: Ah well, of course it’s purely a romantic one, I’m totally besotted with her and I’m sure my usual razor-sharp judgment has been blunted by my adoration, so you’ll have to provide the skepticism I’m afraid.
Jacinta: Well I’m quite attracted myself I have to say, though I definitely get the impression that girl-girl love, or lust, is much more frowned upon in South Korea than it is here.
Canto: Yes it does strike me as a rather buttoned-up, conservative, class-oriented and overly materialistic society by Australian standards, judging by their movies and dramas, but it’s a dynamic society, and a little more open, I think, than, say, Japanese society, so hopefully this obsession with the ‘right’ education and ‘pedigree’ instead of evident talent will be blown away by outside influences. Actually I think women like Ha Ji-won are contributors to this sort of levelling process. From her various bios I’ve not discovered whether she comes from a privileged background or not – she seems to have made it on ability, hard work and, okay, extreme good looks.
Jacinta: To those in the west who might not be familiar with her, I’d describe her as a sort of blend of Angelina Jolie action figure and a slightly more boyish version of Emma Watson. What do you think?
Canto: Mmmm no, neither of those women come to mind. For a start she’s no statuesque figure, she’s quite slim and slightly built. I don’t really compare her to any western actors – she’s incomparable. She’s definitely a sporty type with energy to burn, and with an independent nature…. It’s fascinating to me that she’s never married, though she’s approaching forty, and still absolutely stunning.
Jacinta: Well, we’ve been doing some background checks, via Google haha, and her private life, at least regarding relationships, is a completely closed book. I get the impression she’s something of a workaholic, with an extraordinary list of performances over twenty years, and a very healthy bank balance with her star having risen so much over the last decade. So what’s she doing with all that loot?
Canto: Are you being skeptical of her outwardly sweet character or just genuinely questioning? Let me first describe her in the most positive light. I doubt that she’s a fitness fanatic or anything, but I think that especially in her earlier roles, once she got established enough to pick and choose, she relished roles that were physically active and often beautiful, I mean physically, in terms of movement and grace. For example in Sex is Zero (2002) she played an aspiring national aerobics champion and went into full training for the role. For the drama Damo (2003) and the film Duellist (2005) she learned how to wield a sword, and for the ultra-energetic sci-fi action flick Sector 7 (2011) she learned scuba diving and other fancy stuff. But perhaps the most impressive thing I’ve read about her dedication to her craft was her months of boxing training for Miracle on First Street (2007), during which she actually got knocked out. There’s a description here of the filming by the director Yoon JeGyoon, which is essentially a heart-felt tribute to Ji-won. It brought tears to my eyes. And so it goes…
Jacinta: I can see you’re getting emotional again, mate. I agree with you she’s amazing in that way. And it wasn’t just in her early roles that she was doing all that physical stuff. In Sector 7 and and in the hugely successful Secret Garden (2010), in which she played a stunt-woman, she challenged herself to the utmost. And don’t forget the film As One (2012), in which Ji-won played South Korean table tennis champ Hyun Jung-hwa. We haven’t seen that one but it recreates a very touching event in recent Korean history, when the two Koreas united to form a single table tennis team in 1991, an act of reconciliation after the downing of a passenger plane by North Korea in 1987. It’s a movie all about women and friendship and I’m really really keen to see it. Ji-won had never played table tennis before and trained intensively for four months, though she was recovering from an ankle injury sustained while shooting Sector 7. She was under the tutorship of Hyun Jung-hwa herself, and was determined to imitate the details of her playing style.
Canto: Yes, that’s a must-see movie. Now, I’m sure that all good actors throw themselves whole-heartedly into their roles, but I’ve never encountered anyone so determined about it as Ha Ji-won. And what I get from all the sources I’ve read is that she virtually never complains and is always smiling and happy on set, always lifting the spirits of those around her. Everyone seems to love working with her, it’s almost sickening.
Jacinta: She’s very demanding of herself, though. She actually tried to drop out of As One because she felt her table tennis ability wasn’t up to scratch and she’d let the whole film down.
Canto: I could talk about her forever, it’s such sheer pleasure. Also I think it’s because contemplating her keeps me young and frisky….
Jacinta: You’re only as young as the one you love. Shame she doesn’t speak your language. Do you think she’d be into science?
Canto: Mmmm. An important question. I note from her bios that she’s not religious, that’s a good start. I’m sure she’d be open to it. It’s not just wishful thinking to believe she’s a very smart cookie…
Jacinta: I agree with you there – she’s been very smart about her career, having the foresight to see, once established, the kind of roles that would challenge her and excite an audience. Even though that foresight may well be largely unconscious…
Canto: I think she scores very high on EQ, emotional quotient, if that’s a thing. That’s what gives her the rapport she has with the team around her, and with her fans. She knows how to deal with people without even knowing how she knows how. She’s just a natural. Here’s an example. In this café interview (I can’t find it now – she’s done so many!), she’s asked by a young paparazzi type ‘There’s one question I need to ask you: when did you start to be so pretty?’. So Ha Ji-won’s face turns serious as this question begins to unfold: she’s expecting something heavy, then when it turns out to be frivolous, you can see her serious face registering it, after which she falls forward with a laugh, putting her hand over her face. Totally spontaneous and endearing, and much better than how I might’ve been tempted to react, i.e. with scorn. Then, quickly recovering, she answers with disarming truthfulness, ‘when I was born’, after which she breaks into embarrassed laughter again, as if she’d been immodest. But of course she was correct, she was born pretty, that’s to say very lucky, and she knows it. And she managed to convey that, and yet to keep everything good-humoured and light. Maybe it’s nothing, but I think it’s a kind of genius she has.
Jacinta: You’re in a bad way, mate. Tell me when they ask her some more interesting questions. So do you recommend any of her work?
Canto: Well I’m just exploring what’s available on YouTube, some of which is of poor film quality, and some of which is either poorly translated or not translated at all, especially her earliest stuff – and I want to trace her career from the beginning. So, yes, I’ve become addicted to Ha Ji-won, I’ve chosen her as my guardian angel and guiding spirit – I’ve even thought of dedicating a new blog just to her – but that might be a bit excessive….
Jacinta: Maybe a bit, but whatever floats your boat. Back to my question – any work you would recommend?
Canto: I’m not sure I’ve seen her best work yet, but the film ‘Miracle of a giving fool’ (2008), also known as ‘BA:BO’, has a lovely understated performance from her. A nice intro, though maybe not, as it doesn’t give much indication of her capabilities. The TV series ‘Damo’ (2003) might be better, but I’m having trouble finding a fully translated version. Horse-riding and swordplay aplenty. Anyway, she’s a wonderful woman, an inspiration, and I think you need to see a lot of her work – depth in diversity is her greatest achievement.
If you’ve come here looking for Bondesque hijinks click off now. The plane was a Boeing 777, with I think 10 passengers abreast, 3x4x3 with 2 aisles. I take this from Dr Google as much as from unreliable memory, there are apparently many ways of fitting out a 777. Our seating was on the left side facing forward, my TC had the aisle seat, I took the centre, and the window seat was taken up by a late-comer, who thus dashed our hopes of moving up one and gazing into the outer dark. This gangly young Englishman’s trials in clambering over and around us to get to his seat were a promise of discomfort to come.
It was a 14-hour flight to Dubai, starting at around 2200 but due to time zones and date-lines etc we’d be arriving at 0530 the next morning. As mentioned, I’ve had plenty of advice about pills or treatments for whatever might ail me on the flight but in truth I prefer remaining unmedicated as far as possible, and in my sixtieth year I’m pretty well drug-free, if you except life’s absolutely necessary pleasures, caffeine and alcohol, and I’m ever alarmed by and resistant to the collections of meds many of my peers feel forced to take against Alzheimer’s, anaemia, angina, anxiety, apnoeia, arthritis and let’s not get started on the rest of the alphabet. So all I took was some nasal spray and chewing gum as a defence against ‘plane brain’, aka aerosinusitis, and this worked a treat.
I didn’t sleep a wink in those 14 hours, though my reliable but argumentative TC insisted I had some winks, possibly as many as 40. Of course I was wide awake as I could possibly be for the take-off, but I mustn’t exaggerate my terror, it was nothing compared to the Mad Mouse. What made sleep impossible was the discomfort, the novelty and the anticipation, a mèlange of unbeatable distractions. My window-side neighbour was asleep within minutes of take-off, which didn’t stop him jabbing and kicking me when he shifted positions. There was a dearth of space between me and the seats in front and I felt timid about leaning my seat back too far. As time went by I became obsessed with my legs, which didn’t have room to straighten. I tried pushing my arse right back in the seat, I raised it up awkwardly, but just couldn’t get my angles right. My TC on seeing me squirm suggested I take some exercise in the aisle, as per the advice of all experts, but I perversely refused such an easy solution, and didn’t leave my seat until just before touch-down. Which turned out to be one of the highlights of the flight – possibly the longest pee in my peeing career.
Of course it’s hard to look back over so many years of peeing and pick out some, or any, of the great ones, and in any case peeing is such a subjective thing. For example, we’ve all experienced the agony of desperately needing a pee but being nowhere near a publicly sanctioned pee-place. In such circs your distressed state will disable you from conducting pee-stream studies of any kind; the last thing on your mind will be your PB in this activity. I’d go so far as to say that the physical release, the sense of near-weightless joy caused by these outpourings has been probably my most spiritual/religious experience. A true feeling of Salvation, as far from mere bean- or pee-counting as can be had.
Anyway what was intriguing about this mighty slash after 13 hours or so of being plied – necessarily, given the arid aircraft atmosphere – with coffee, fruit juice, and more pure unadulterated water (my least fave drink) than I usually consume in a month, was that, until my legs finally communicated to me that they really had to be stretched, I felt no great urge to relieve myself. Even after several minutes of quite exhilarating straightening and muscle-rubbing in the aisle, my loo visit seemed more after-thoughtful than necessary, so I was in a kind of neutral, clear-headed state when I observed my pee go on and on, leading me to thoughts of PBs and such. If it wasn’t my longest ever, was it in my top 10 (or top 5 if it was in the top half of the 10)? How could I tell? Clearly there is one pee I’ve had in my life that is my longest. Is this in any sense important? Well, maybe. Interesting, certainly. Though on reflection it isn’t so much the longest but the largest by volume that’s important* (or merely interesting) for presumably sometimes the pee runs more feebly than at others; the valve, so to speak, being plus ou moins open – constricted or dilated due to the vagaries of the weather, state of health, age perhaps or even just state of mind. Maybe one day scientists will hatch a device to be implanted in the midriff to measure the highs and lows of pee-flow. Maybe they already have, it wouldn’t suprise me, the utility of such is clear. But it would also allow some champion to claim the Biggest Pee, another entry to add to the Guiness Book of Perhaps Not so Pointless Records. And as I sat back in my now more comfy seat readying myself for Dubai, I thought of another perhaps not so pointless PB that I might just have broken, in that at some point during this flight I may have reached a higher distance above sea-level than ever before. Now how could that be monitored in our monitor-loving age? But then again, sea levels rise and fall, so….
Dubai lights. We watched the perfect landing on the screen before us. The airport was pale in the breaking dawn and glittering with artificial light. There were planes everywhere. Already it was 28 degrees outside.
*Just as the Nile is the longest river but the Amazon is by far the largest by volume. The Amazon wins.
– The food was plentiful, varied and delicious IMHO, and the service was excellent, under sometimes difficult conditions.
– You need to see things from a baby’s perspective. As they’ve not yet developed sophisticated means of either conveying or receiving info, their instinct is to make as much noise as possible to make absolutely sure that others know they’re suffering horrendous agonies or experiencing the most frabjous joy. So nature has furnished them with the most impressive noise-making equipment for this purpose. It’s highly adaptive, another fine example of evolution at work. Ear plugs next time, though simple perspective taking can be sufficient.
– Not having a tech-savvy 13-y-o as my TC it took most of the flight to work out the functioning of the on-board entertainment (the first 2 hours just to get the headphones plugged in and operational). The movies were mostly boorish but I found one, Carol, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel I actually read some 20 years ago, a book/film about longing, desire and hope, regardless of sexual preference really, very much the sort of thing I’m drawn to. Reminds me of my fave Jane Austen novel, Persuasion. Highly recommended – I got teary. Fine performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Also recalls to my mind my fave line from the KJ Bible, perhaps my fave line in all litt: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’.
Couldn’t settle to anything else much, though I did find a silly thriller very much starring Olga Kurylenko, the Most Beautiful Woman Who Has Ever Lived according to my ever-changing judgment (OK is always more than OK, I like to say), but not even her loveliness and her formidable ball-breaking superhero role could force me to see the shamefully silly shenanigans to the end. Better to watch L’Annulaire again, and again.
– Aerosinusitis. I did feel a painful buid-up after take-off but then came a sudden but sort of slow uncorking and brightening of sound, rather pleasurable, and I had no further problems on the outbound flights.
This morning I did something I’ve never done in my entire adult life, and I’m nearly 58. I got into an aeroplane which went into the sky. It took me to Melbourne from Adelaide. From there I caught another plane to Canberra, where I’m writing this in the city’s YHA.
I was anxious about this flight. I have a guilty secret, I’m an addict of Air Crash Investigations, so I’m semi-expert on the many things that can go wrong on an aircraft and I’ve had very little experience of a plane arriving safely at its destination.
I did travel on a plane at 14, from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island and back again – about an hour’s travel all up. Today’s journeys weren’t much longer, but of course it’s the take offs and landings that are the major killers.
I do realise that air travel is the safest mode available. I’m about the only person I know who hasn’t travelled by plane dozens of times without being the worse for it, but that’s not much consolation when you strap yourself into your tight little economy seat and note how flimsy everything looks, how thin the barrier between yourself and the outside air – air which, I soon learn, is 37000 metres above solid ground.
While we were walking through one of those moveable corridors that led directly to the aircraft’s front door I could see the pilot and his apprentice (had he earned his Ps?) chatting in the cockpit (strange word for a space designed to bring thousands of travellers though thousands of kilometres of high sky). I was shocked at how vulnerable they looked sitting there so prominently forward in what I think is called the nose-cone, which looked horribly fragile, like a glass egg that could be cracked by any passing bird. I’d expected something more like the bridge of the starship Enterprise, or that mysterious intergalactic vessel that Carl Sagan peered out of in Cosmos.
I was also a bit shocked at how bus-like the interior was, with its densely packed seating and narrow central aisle. Of course this was no jumbo jet – do they use that term nowadays? – but even so… and then I was shocked again, as we taxied to the runway, that I could feel the bumps on the road, as if we really were in a taxi, with suspension issues. through the window I could see the plane’s right wing bouncing and shuddering. It wasn’t screwed on properly! I was having a little joke with myself, but I wasn’t amused. I glanced around at the other passengers. One was reading a magazine, another was yawning ostentatiously. I had a book in my lap – Will Storr’s The heretics: adventures with the enemies of science – but this time it was just for show. It just wouldn’t do to behave like a gawping schoolboy, though that was exactly what I was doing. And to be fair to my benumbed self, even the sad circumstances of schizophrenics and Morgellons sufferers seemed to pale in comparison to my life and death situation.
We moved off from the airport lights into the pre-dawn dimness. I wasn’t going to see much of this takeoff, I’d have to rely on feeling. Someone over the intercom was saying, in his most reassuring voice, that the weather in Melbourne was pretty dismal, suggesting problems with the landing. Oh my. On the runway, everything suddenly got loud. The rockets had launched, or something, and then we were off the ground, I could tell by the lights falling away beneath me.
Dawn was breaking. Soon I could see clearly the mass of Lake Alexandrina, with Lake Albert attached like a suckling pup. I knew it well from so many maps, and I thought of those great mapmakers Jim Cook and Matt Flinders, how amazed they would’ve been at seeing such grand features, that would’ve taken them weeks to survey, set before them in an instant. But then the plane veered off, tilting at an angle that no bus would ever survive, and again I glanced around at my fellow passengers to check if it was okay to panic. all was blandness, and when the plane finally righted itself I gazed down – and due to the cloud cover I had to look down as near as perpendicular as possible to see much land at all – at a whole array of fascinating but unrecognisable features. I tried to fix them in my memory so I could check them on a map later – I love maps. But would they appear on a map? Were we still flying over South Australia or had we crossed the border? Was I being too obsessional? Of what use would be such knowledge? Well, bearing in mind Bertrand Russell’s nice essay on useless knowledge, I had some thoughts on airlines doing a running commentary on the sights and scenes on the ground, synced to flight-paths, one for each side of the street, so to speak, and played through headphones, which you could take or leave; but the logistics of it, considering variations of flight-path and speed of flight, and the probable lack of interest, considering the bored or otherwise absorbed expressions of my fellow passengers, would be too much for cost-conscious airliners.
Within a few minutes I was shocked – yet again – to hear that we’d soon be arriving in Melbourne. Someone said over the intercom that conditions remained miserable and that, hopefully, everything would be okay. There was more tilting and veering, and I tried to make out the familiar shape of Port Phillip Bay but we were too close to the ground. In any case I soon became concerned with something altogether different, something which was much more of a problem on my return flight to Adelaide (I’m writing the rest of this up at home, three more flights later). My ears began to ache, building up to some intensity until suddenly there was an unblocking, like the burst of a bubble, and only then did I realise that the pain was localised to one ear. After that, all was fine, but on the return trip there was no bubble-burst, and the pain reached an excruciating level, leaving me moaning and whimpering and desperate for relief. The problem was, of course, aerosinusitis, which I’ll deal with in my next post.
The lego blocks of the CBD came and went on the window screen and I could soon see the airstrips of Tullamarine. The landing was slightly bumpy but nothing untoward, and I was looking forward to a pleasant coffee break and possibly breakfast in ‘Melbourne’, before the connecting flight to Canberra.
No way José. A quick check of our tickets (yes we really didn’t check them before this) told us that the other flight was leaving just as we were arriving. How could they do this to us? But if we ran or – don’t panic – walked very fast, we just might… then we noticed it wasn’t a departure but a check-in time, yet even so… And in fact, after some long striding through long stretches of airport we got there just in time for boarding. Thank god I didn’t need a toilet break, and it was just as well we didn’t have an hour to spare considering airport prices – the medium latte I bought at Adelaide airport, which I had to gulp down just before boarding, cost me $5.30, an all-time record.
The Canberra trip was anti-climactic, in spite of the bogey word ‘turbulence’, so much featured on Air Crash Investigations. Not only was I a vastly more experienced traveller, but this time there was nothing to see landwise, nothing but whiter-than-white clouds from horizon to horizon, like a fluffy Antarctica. Only as we descended below the cloud line near Canberra – and this flight was even shorter than the first one – did I get to see something familiar, the forested slopes of the Snowies, where once I did some memorable bush-walking, attacked by march flies and leeches and coming face-to-face, for a fleeting instant, with a black snake.
After a near-perfect landing, nothing more to report, my innocence of flying had slipped away forever. How ironic that Virgin airlines should deprive me of my virginity in this area. From now on I can blend in with all the rest, almost without pretending. There’s something almost sad about it, a tiny loss of identity, or a replacement for some part of me that I’m not quite sure about. But hey, we all know the self is an illusion.
To me – and I’ve written about this before – the invocation of the supernatural, the ‘call’ of the supernatural, if you will, is something deeply psychological, and so not to be sniffed at, though sniff at it I often do.
I’m prompted to write about this because of a program I saw recently on Heath Ledger (Australia’s own), an understandably romantic, mildly hagiographic presentation, in which a few film directors and friends fondly remembered him as wise beyond his years, with hidden depths, a kind of inner force, a certain je ne sais quoi, that sort of thing. As both a romantic and a skeptic, I was torn as usual. The word ‘spiritual’ was given an airing, unsurprisingly, though mercifully it wasn’t dwelt on. I once came up with my own definition of spirituality: ‘To be spiritual is to believe there’s more to this world than this world, and to know that by believing this you’re a better person than those who don’t believe it’. This might sound a mite cynical but I didn’t mean it to be, or maybe I did.
Anyway one of Ledger’s associates, a film director I think, told this story of the young Heath. A number of friends were partying in his apartment when he, the director, picked up a didgeridoo, which obviously Ledger had brought with him from Australia, and attempted to play it, but not knowing much about the instrument, held it upside-down. Heath gently took it from him and corrected him, saying ‘no, no, if you hold it that way it will lose its power, the power of the instrument and its maker,’ or some such thing. And the seriousness and respectfulness with which this young actor spoke of his didge impressed the director, who considered this a favourite memory, something which caught an ‘essence’ of Ledger that he wanted to preserve.
I’ve been bothered by this tale, and by my ambivalent response to it, ever since. It would be superfluous, I suppose, to say that I don’t believe that briefly holding a didge upside-down has any permanent effect on its musical power.
It’s quite likely that Ledger didn’t believe this either, though you never know. What I’m fairly sure of, though, was that his respectfulness was genuine, and that there was something very likeable, to me at least, in this.
All of this takes me back to a piece I wrote some years ago, since lost, about big and small religions. I was contrasting the ‘big’ religions, like Catholicism and the two main strands of Islam, with their political power in the big world, often horrific in its impact, with the ‘small’ religions or spiritual belief systems, such as those found among Australian Aboriginal or some African societies, who have no political power in the big world but provide their adherents with identity and a kind of social energy that’s marvelous to contemplate. My piece focused on the art work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, whose prolific and astonishing oeuvre, with its characteristic energy and vitality, clearly owed so much to the beliefs and practices of her ‘mob’, the so-called Utopian Community in Central Australia, between Alice Springs and Tenant Creek to the north.
Those beliefs and practices include dreaming stories and totemic identifications that many western skeptics, such as myself, might find difficult to swallow, in spite of a certain romantic appeal. The fact is, though, that the Utopian Community has been remarkably successful, in terms of the usual measures of well-being, and particularly in the area of health and mortality, compared to other Aboriginal groups, and its success has been put down to tighter community living, an outdoor outstation life, the use of traditional foods and medicines, and a greater resistance to the more destructive western products, such as alcohol.
This might put a red-blooded but reflective skeptic in something of a quandary, and the response might be something like – ‘well, the downside of their vitality and health, derived from spiritual beliefs which have served them well for thousands of years, is that, in order to preserve it, they must live in this bubble of tribal thinking, unpierced by modern evolutionary or cosmological knowledge, and this bubble must inevitably burst.’ Must it? Is there a pathway from tribalism to modern globalism that isn’t entirely destructive? Is the preservation of tribal spiritual beliefs a good thing in itself? Can we take the statement, that holding a didgery-doo upside-down affects its spirit, as a truth over and above, or alongside, the contrasting truths of physical laws?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, of course. Groping my way through these issues, I would say that we should respect and acknowledge those beliefs that give a people their dignity, and which have served them for so long, but perhaps that’s because we’re feeling the generosity of someone outside that system who’s unlikely to be affected or to feel diminished by it. These are, after all, small religions, from our perspective, not the big, profoundly ambitious religions intent on global domination, with their missionaries and their jihadists and their historical trampling of other belief systems, as in Mexico and South America and Africa and here in Australia.
Of course there’s the question – what if those small religions grew bigger and more ambitious? Highly unlikely – but what if?