Guinness

Yesterday started like any other day.

Except, it wasn’t like any other day. It was May 1st, 2012. In American date format, it was 5.01.12. Grinnell’s zip code is 50112.

Yesterday, was Grinnell Day! (Whatever that is.)

For most people in Grinnell (townspeople, professors, students, staff), yesterday started off normally; by 5:45pm, however, about 1200 people made Grinnell College history — by breaking a Guinness World Record!

We broke the record for the most number of frisbees thrown simultaneously!

(Clickable, click it!)

I had just gotten out of dance rehearsal before that, and because I’d been tired all day, I screwed up an unusual amount of moves, which put me in a bad sort of mood. But then went to this, there was music, there was sun, there were friends, and there were frisbees. The ingredients you need to put you in a laughy, skippy, sing-song kind of mood.

And if that’s not enough, being able to say you were part of an effort that successfully broke a world record counts for something, right?

Got a free red Grinnell Day frisbee, too, and nothing beats getting free stuff.

 

If you see me (Clap once)

Oooooooo, okay. I re-read what I wrote in the last post, and even I thought I sounded —what is that word— self-admiring? Self-approving? Perasan? 

“Sometimes I make up my own recipe”? Hello, any person who randomly throws handfuls of ingredients into a pot is making her own recipe! I want to make it clear that I am, in no way, a very good cook. Just some person who dares throws stuff together then surrenders all to good ol’ Luck.

Anyway. Today was our last performance. Needless to say, I feel melancholic, quite empty. This thing that has taken so much of our time this semester is suddenly over. Done with. (Did I mention, by the way, that we did four shows, and all four of them sold out? We performed to sold-out audiences oh yes!)

After our show today, we stayed back for two hours to detach prop things and unscrew stage things and carry things back into the design shop. Basically, make the theater look like a theater again. Return it to its proper theater condition.

I say “make it look like a theater again” because for our show, the theater was not a theater. It wasn’t a conventional venue where the audience comes in, sits in rows of chairs, watches the show, then leaves.

Let me first say, I am extremely glad to have been a part of this production. I am so glad that, at the beginning of the semester when I was debating on whether or not I can make the time commitment for the Dance Ensemble, I ended up deciding that yes, this would be worth the time.

I’m talking about major time commitment here. Dance sessions three days a week for the most part of the semester, then rehearsals almost everyday in the final weeks.

This was how my schedule looked like during tech week:

—-

8:00am-10:00am : (Economics class) Environmental Economics

10:00am-12:00pm : (Sociology class) Contemporary Asian American Issues

12:00pm-1:00pm : Group meeting for presentation on human rights in Asia

1:00pm-1:30pm : Meeting with professor

1:30pm-2:00pm : Lunch

2:00pm-4:00pm : (Political Science class) Human Rights

4:15pm-5:15pm : Javanese dance rehearsal

5:20pm-6:00pm : Dinner

6:00pm-11:00pm : Dance Ensemble rehearsal

11:00pm-3:00am : Homework!

Repeat for every day of the week.

(You see that I get 30 minutes for lunch, 40 minutes for dinner, and every other hour is busy, busy, busy? By the time I hit the pillow I’m already half-dead.)

—-

Not that I am complaining, of course. It was a pleasure being a part of this.

I am most proud of this production out of any performance I’ve ever done because this show was one-of-a-kind. You had to be there to truly understand it, but I’m going to indulge myself and describe it to you, just because so much time and effort was put in it and I thought it went so excellently well. Most importantly though, I feel like I’ve taken so much from the theme of the show.

So the production is called Now You See Me, and it explores theater, dance and spoken word as platforms for political and social activism. The entire production is made up of 3 different pieces, the first two choreographed by senior-year students, and the final one by the theater and dance lecturer.

Let me first start by describing the prologue, which really sets the context and theme of the show. As the audience comes in, Celeste, the dance lecturer, does her solo on a platform in the middle of the theater. When the audience settles, the lights go out completely. Moments later, in the dark, someone yells, “ACTION!” A spotlight comes on, and we see a girl sitting in a chair high above the audience. The chair slowly lowers to the ground, the spotlight focused on her the entire time as the rest of the theater remains dark. Once the chair reaches the ground, the girl jumps off, and starts her speech. I can’t remember the words, which is embarrassing, considering I’ve seen it a million times during the endless rehearsals we’ve had.

It is basically about us (the “spectator”) watching the social and political goings-on in the world (the “spectacle”). It’s about what drives our decision to take action, to do something (to “act” or to not-“act”). My favorite line:

What is it that keeps us from being a part of it?
Stage fright. The fear that keeps us off the stage, and the terror that freezes us once we’re upon it.

This idea of “acting” was a major theme of the production. I love the message it conveys. It reminds me very much of one of my favorite songs, Bob Dylan’s Blowing In the Wind, which pretty much asks, how much of the world’s injustices have to happen before we decide to stand up against it? How much wrongs do we have to be a spectator of being we decide to “act” against it?

It also reminds me of the video I talked about in this previous post (“First Follower”). Here’s a link to a TED Talk by the dude who made the video talking about the same video (because TED Talks are legitimate). Point: It takes courage to stand up to be the first follower of a social movement and really give it momentum.

Message: Don’t let stage fright stop you from taking social action!

Anyway, back to our production.

This production is unique because of 2 things:

First, with the Occupy Movement in mind, the choreographers played with the idea of “occupying” the theater. This translates to having dancers performing in many different, unconventional, traditionally unused parts of the theater all at the same time (you get the feeling that the dancers are taking over the theater), and having audiences moving around the theater after each piece and watching the show from different vantage points.

This means at one point, I was performing in the “catwalk” above the stage (where the stage lights are installed), so audiences have to look up to see me dance. This also means that audience groups watch from different areas of the theater: from the stairs leading up to the stage, or from the back of the theater, or from above the stage where old stage props are stored.

Some of the audience are onstage, where there are chairs lined against the backdrop, as they watch the show. After the show, one audience member said, “As I was sitting on stage, and the dancers are three feet in front of me, I realize that audience watching from other areas of the theater are probably watching me as I watch the performance.” Ta-da! The spectator hence becomes the spectacle.

The seats in the house, the ones where audience usually sit, are completely empty, and that space is transformed into a performance area. Camping tents were also set up around the theater to evoke a sense of “occupying” the theater.

Second unique thing, the production tries to interrupt the conventional relationship between performer and audience by challenging the very-rehearsed roles of the audience and the performers. There are moments in the show where a dancer goes,

If you can hear me, clap once…
If you can hear me, clap twice…
If you can hear me, clap three times.

The rest of the cast all clap, the audience, however, are free to clap along or not. During the talkback after the show, some people have asked, “Were we supposed to have clapped?” And the answer is, there is no answer to that. It depends on how much you feel a part of the action. It depends on whether you want to take the role of the “spectator”, or the “actor”. (Again, this blurring of the line between performer and audience relates back to whether we are satisfied with watching world events unfold, or whether we decide to be part of it.)

Actually, this is a good place to take a break. This is long enough and I have a short paper due tomorrow that I have yet to write. Let’s do Part 2 another day. Stay tuned!

Dancing and Cooking

Tonight, I feel really good.

After many days of 6-hour long rehearsals, and many more months of hard work prior to that, tonight, we finally opened.

It was a really good show. I felt so much energy in all of our performances. I’m extremely excited to see how this can be intensified over the next three days. (Our shows on all four days sold out!)

The theme of our production is about bring together dance/theater and activism, both political and social. I find the body to be a very powerful tool for conveying messages about issues like political disappearance and other human rights abuses in a way that words cannot achieve.

I came back to the apartment after the show, and because we’ve already opened and so no longer have tech rehearsals that end at 11pm, and because I am, for once, actually on top of my work, I decided that I didn’t have to sleep early, so I went ahead and… cooked.

I feel really, really good tonight, and it makes me realize two things —

One, that I actually like performing. Theater, dance, singing, I’ve done them all, several times over, and even though I loved the process of choreographing, rehearsing, and finally, performing, I thought of them as nothing more than fun experiences. Now I’m thinking I like performing a lot more than just because it is “fun”. Once you start “owning” your performance, you really start seeing it as a way of self-expression.

Second thing I realized– I love to cook. I actually do! Today, upon realizing that I finally have some free time on my hands, I was actually excited to cook something. I’ve been so busy over the past 3 weeks that the only “cooking” I did was spread cream cheese over bagels. Eating out or going to the dining hall was just much faster.

When we first moved into this apartment last year, whenever I cooked, I was apprehensive about sharing my food with my friends because I would be too worried that I made something that tasted bad. Now, when I cook, I sometimes hope that someone would come home by the time I’m done, because I’m actually excited to share my food.

I look at recipes online a lot and get ideas from them, but I’ve never cooked with a recipe in front of me. I think what I love most about cooking is being able to improvise — searching through the spice cabinet, picking up a shaker and going, “oh hey, let’s try putting this in!” — and hoping that the end result is good. Sometimes I fail, but it’s totally okay because I’m very forgiving of myself.

No one from Malaysia knows I cook though, because I don’t talk about it, and I don’t take pictures and post them online. But I’ve been getting more and more unafraid, sometimes coming up with a recipe that’s completely my own. Sometimes it works very well, sometimes I fail, but I eat it and stick the leftovers in the fridge for lunch the next day anyway.

(One of the most consistent failures — fried rice. It’s the thing I always make when I want to use up leftovers, and most importantly, when I’m feeling lazy, which means I’ve made it a hundred times; sometimes they turn out looking really delicious, but good looks aside, they never taste as good as I want them to be, without cheating and using stock cubes.)

Anyway. Today, at 10pm, I made baked potato fries. They turned out extremely well, and were so simple that they took less than 10 minutes to prepare! (My recipe: Wash potatoes well, cut into long, thin strips — the thinner they are, the crispier they’ll turn out, put into bowl and toss with olive oil, finely chopped garlic, dried basil/Italian seasoning, and a bit of lemon juice. Spread potatoes on baking tray, and bake at 410 degrees for 20-30 minutes.) So crispy, so flavorful, so delicious.

I’m also making chicken, vegetable and tomato stew, which is now simmering over the stove as I write. It’s too late for dinner, so I’m saving it for lunch for tomorrow and the day after that.

It’s looking good though.

 

2011, marshmallows and barbs

Huuummmm. I wrote this after ushering in 2012, but left it filed under ‘drafts’ and never bothered to edit it for coherence. Might as well do it now that I’m on spring break.

* * * * *

So we’ve moved on to a new year (we’ve moved on about 15 days ago, actually), and I’ve not had any desire to write one of those silly new year posts urging everyone to make the new year an amazing one, live life to the full, love yourself, etc. etc.

I see the date every day, I know it’s 2012, but…. really? How did we get to 2012 so soon?

I started off 2012 with a very dramatic, very eventful night. One that involved getting lost in the city all alone, chasing a barefooted friend down a busy street, being threatened by an angry cab driver, sitting down in the dead of winter in nothing but a cocktail dress, and having the police come over to tell us that we’d better **** or else they’d ****. Those darn po-po, going around bothering people on new year’s eve.

I thought there was no way, absolutely NO WAY that any year could top 2011 in terms of drama, craziness, eventfulness. Judging by the way 2012 started, and the things that have happened since, maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

2011 had been ridiculously dramatic. I had the best of times, and the absolute worst of times.

2011 was chockablock with contradictions.

On the one side, I travelled a lot, I explored places whose names I can’t even pronounce (Djurgården, Stokholm), and it was the longest I’d ever been away from home; but on the other hand, I’d never been more aware of and more fired up about Malaysian news in my entire life as I’d been in the past year. For the sociology major and political studies student in me, reading about the rallies and demonstrations signifying an awakening taking place in my home country but being 13 time zones too far to participate is like being 10 years old and having a rainbow-colored lollipop dangled in front of you, close enough to think you can touch it, but just a little beyond reach. So excited to be far away from home, but so wanting to be home at the same time.

I spent 5 months of 2011 in one of the most developed countries in Western Europe. My room decor consisted of wood and white — anything that was not Ikea wooden furniture, was Ikea white-washed furniture. Everything looked so sterile! I had my personal bathroom, and my room had automatic shades. Automatic shades!

So white, so sterile

But so comfortable!

Less than a month later, I found myself in one of the most under-developed regions in a Western African country. Dust colors everything in my room a shade of brown. The floors were peeling, the walls were stained. I shared two toilets with about 10 other people. Oh did I say toilets? I mean buckets.


My room is to the left, where the brown door is. The door to the toilet is straight ahead, next to the woman in sarong who’s fetching water.


Dirt-stained room

For the first 5 months of 2011, I had food that required a delicate, discerning palate to appreciate — wine was abundant, French cheeses were enjoyed daily, and I had foie gras more times than I really care for.

Traditional French savory crêpes (galettes)

Traditional Norwegian reindeer stew 

Traditional Italian gelato

Then for 2 months after that, carbohydrates and starches reigned supreme. Rice, noodles, root crops. Rice, noodles, root crops. And then more rice, noodles, root crops. Sometimes, they were pounded and molded into balls. Pounded cassava balls, ground maize balls, pounded rice balls, all served with stew. If I was lucky, I’d have some meat. If I were really lucky, I’d have some vegetables. Meals were often a large plateful of one general taste. No sophisticated taste buds needed. And yet, they taste SO GOOD, so good! Within a month, one of the women groups that I visit each week told me I put on weight.

Kenkey — fermented pounded maize (corn) balls, with bean stew and fried fish

Waakye — rice & beans, with noodles, pounded cassava and a spicy stew. Super delicious, wonderfully filling, and for only 5 cedis (RM8)!

TZ — pounded rice balls, with groundnut soup

Europe versus Africa comparisons aside, 2011 was rich with contrasts of the more personal kind.

In 2011, I experienced emotions at the two extreme ends of the spectrum. I have been so joyful that I danced and leaped to a song in my head, so happy that tears fill the rims of my eyes, so ecstatic that I could feel my rapid pulse at the back of my throat, could hear it thundering in my ears. I have also been so sad that I bawled my eyes out with my friends in the next room completely at a lost as to what to do; I cried hard and loud, I couldn’t talk, could hardly breathe, my sobs echoing around the apartment like a bell chime resounding through town.

I’ve experienced both love and hate. I felt the bliss of being loved, both tenderly and intensely. But I’ve also had my first ever real fight with a friend. It was a fight involving loud voices and finger pointing, and a lot of baseless accusations that stemmed from irrational, uncontrollable anger, a fight that ended in weeks of tension and silent treatment. (This anger and the above-mentioned sadness were from separate events though.)

In the past year, I’ve had moments of intense aliveness. When I was up in the mountains in Norway, with one of the world’s greatest fjords spread before me, an intense feeling of utter bliss washed over me. It was from an acute awareness of not merely existing, but being alive and living; an electrifying realization that this world is fucking beautiful, and I’m actually alive to experience it; I’m actually ALIVE in this world (Descartes philosophy on existence, anyone?).

Intensely happy. Swinging in the mountains. 

Buying a postcard, taking a walk, and realizing, holy shit, that scenery is right in front of us!

5a.m. sunrise in the fjords — wonderfully tranquil moment

Lunching on a cliff overlooking the islands of the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden

But in that same year, I have also tangoed with death’s cousin. I’d been sent to the ICU, had a head CT scan done, and been told I almost went into a coma.

Like I said, it was some of the best times, and some of the worst.

The old cliché that life is full of ups and downs and twists and turns have never been more true for me. But hey, I’m still alive and well, and I’ve earned a pretty crazy story to tell.

 

… But I think I’ve had enough drama in 2011 to last me the next 5 years.

 

Traditions

I’m gunna create traditions, as many as reasonably possible. For my family, for my future family, for my friends, for wherever I will call Home.

Traditions, I realize, are the center in your life, that thing that, in times of turmoil and confusion, makes you feel like the world makes sense once more. And at a time when everything around you suddenly feels so overwhelmingly foreign and strange, traditions make it feel like home again, even if just for a fleeting, precious moment.

I’m gunna create traditions, for all the Homes I’m gonna make.