Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Series of Haikus

Dear readers, my due apologies for the long absence and inactivity of this blog as David and I have gone to college and are bogged down with school work while Edward has work commitments.

However, I have recently found a new love of Haikus. I was so exhilarated by the fact that I could indeed compose some of them that I was kept awake at night writing my feelings down in a series of Haikus.

A Series of Haikus 

I
Unable to sleep: 
exhilarated by the 
birth of first poem.

II
Some worrying: three
damn projects to  finish in
the remaining weeks!

III
Life's experiences
can be encapsulated
in a short Haiku.

IV
My nervousness was
unfounded, when I saw I 
still had it in me. 

V
I should stop now as 
it is late and people are
fed up with my lines! 

VI
I bid you good night
my dear friends, and thank you for 
indulging in me!

VII
For those who haven't, 
give it a try! Start to write
your life in Haikus. 

~ Isaac

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Weight of Silk on Skin


They say that you can never forget your one true love and no matter what you have achieved, nothing matters if she is not here. Sulaiman's latest offering of "The Weight of Silk on Skin" for this year's Man Singapore Theatre Festival certainly provides an intimate insight into the male psyche with regards to love, sex, career and the arduous journey called life.

John Au Yong is the envy of every man. Rich, stylish, educated and rakish. Having achieved everything that one could wish for, he revisits his life of blossoming romance, lost love, empty affairs and sexual intrigue. And through it all, he still can't forget Anna, a girl whom he met in college and could never forget. After 25 years, both of them are single again. Will John be able to reclaim this lost love of his or will Anna be a fond but painful memory?

By all accounts, The Weight of Silk on Skin is a raw beauty. The relationship between playwright, actor, director and audience has never been so palpable in this one man show. Sulaiman's witty and thought provoking script is like a prism. While the input may be the storyline of meditation and reclaiming lost love, it sheds light on so many aspects of not only a man's life but even life as a Singaporean.

It is amazing how the script is able to capture snatches of life and even become a chronological indicator as there are references to the music of the time periods and the advent of technology when John mentions merely being friends on Facebook with his ex wife. The recurrent metaphor of clothes not only provided a sartorial education but it brings across the idea of the pretense we put on and strip away in different stages of our life.

Ivan Heng certainly did justice to the exciting script with his impeccable portrayal. His acting is nuanced and thoughtful. His account of his life transists from moment to moment with great ease while bringing about a different and renewed energy to each scene. Additionally, he was able to switch his vernacular and accent with ease when the lines shift from standard English to local expressions. His control over his voice, movement and stance is commendable as even when there was a major disturbance from the audience as the latecomers were entering the theatre, he never faltered and carried on with the show. This is certainly admirable as the chances of being thrown off is greatly multiplied when it is a one man show. Heng's involvement in this production is a masterclass for all aspiring actors.

As the play closes and Heng cuts a Bond-esque look with him in a tuxedo, his final imploration of forgiveness is without a doubt, the most poignant moment of the show. The two words, "forgive me" set within a bare stage and raw lighting certainly emphasised of how John, while dressed to the nines, is stripped bare of all pretense and the only desire now is to atone for his mistakes and reclaim his one true love.

This show undoubtedly entertains but more importantly, it provokes some soul searching and perhaps a hard look at the lives of men; their impulses and desires. A great exposition of how men work.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Gentleman Never Arrives Empty-handed

The lovely folks at The Art of Manliness have a great article today on what to bring when you go to someone's place for dinner.

It’s a sultry summer night, and you’re on your way to an elegant dinner party given by your boss and his charming wife. You arrive at the appropriate time, impeccably dressed in casual evening wear and greet your hostess with a smile—and nothing more.

Imagine your mortification and horror when you pass a table in the hall loaded with bottles of wine, flower arrangements, gourmet coffee, and other small gifts. You search your brain…is it the host’s anniversary? A birthday? Did someone retire?

Although the party might be a celebration of one of those occasions, it’s far more likely that guests with better manners than you brought thoughtful tokens of appreciation for their hosts.

Like thank you notes, the giving of gifts to your hosts is becoming a lost art. When we do remember to bring a nice little something, it’s invariably a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine from the corner liquor store. Really, can’t we do better than that?

Gone may be the days of bringing your hostess lavish crystal or a pair of mourning doves when you arrive at the manor for a weekend stay, but we haven’t become complete savages. Your hosts have expended a great deal of time, effort, and expense to provide you with an evening (or weekend) of food, drink, and entertainment. The least you can do is thank them with an appropriate gift.

Go read the rest here

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Relativism and Culture

The Times of Higher Education have a very nice article about combating relativism through the study of Classics.

Speaking at the Institute of Ideas Education Forum this week, Dennis Hayes, professor of education at the University of Derby, argued that we are not "on the verge of a second Renaissance".

The enthusiasm for Classics among politicians such as Boris Johnson or Michael Gove was largely a result of misty-eyed nostalgia for their own "public or grammar school education", he said.

What this tended to miss out were the things that made the classical tradition genuinely important. Prominent among these was ancient philosophers' commitment to "objectivism" - "seeing things as they really are" - and an attendant "recognition of the need for a constant struggle against subjectivism, superstition and backwardness".

The core values of today's universities, continued Professor Hayes, are "counter to the classical spirit".

We find "a woolly-minded relativism that allows management to have their values, marketing (to have) another (set of values), teacher training departments another, academic faculties another", with "lecturers left to try to ignore or subvert these while pursuing their own values. This subjective muddle keeps going because there is no challenge to it."

It is here that some of the great classical authors can play a vital role, Professor Hayes said, arguing that students should be "trained in the tradition of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

"Plato destroys relativism in two pages," he continued. "Classics teaching often focuses on accuracy of translation, which means that even those who know Greek can miss the point.
You can read the rest here.

Now, many of you, my dear readers, may be wondering first what the philosophy of relativism has to do with culture and what the brontosaurus is Classics.

The latter, having a far shorter explanation, shall be expounded on first. The study of Classics is essentially the study of literature, politics, philosophy and culture of the ancient world, that is anything from the time of Zeus and the beginnings of civilization until just before the Dark Ages. And no, the Dark Ages were not a time where everyone was stupid and in the dark about everything, and went around in tin cans killing everything with their huge swords. In fact, we are probably living through the actual dark ages right now.

The study of Classics, while seemingly useless in our sadly utilitarian age, does require a rather substantial amount of working grey matter when it is studied at its highest level. It requires working knowledge of ancient languages, and that already is difficult in itself to pick up (believe me, I’m learning Latin and Ancient Greek now). Following sufficient mastery of these classical languages, you’ll need to translate the various texts in other to understand and provide analysis on them.

At a lower level, that could certainly be taken up by schools is to teach classical literature and philosophy in vernacular, rather than in the original language or have it compulsory to learn at least one classical language. Learning a classical language has great benefits to one’s mother tongue. Even if Classics was study in vernacular, it would put up quite a challenge for the students, since philosophy is always challenging and the literature will be a refreshing change from reading about the lives of modernist feminist ninnies and their problems with men in society. Just think about it! How much cooler is it to study about the trials, tribulations and adventures of Heracles (Hercules in latin) as he battles the hydra and heroic completes his twelve tasks in atonement for accidently killing his family despite Hera making him do it. It is not just ‘way cool’ and ‘awesome’ for the lads, it is instills a sense of virtue, courage and integrity in these young boys in lieu of today’s culture of trying to escape any sense of morality and justice, which is perpetuated by relativism. Of course, the girls aren’t left out either! Greek mythos are full of stories of heroic women to provide them with heroines to look up to and feminine virtues to follow.

That said, Classics go beyond Greek civilization and there are many other avenues of things that could be taught. More importantly, as the article mentions, the study of classics drives home the good habit of objective thinking. It also imbues an appreciation for culture, both present and past, by showing how culture has developed over time. Plus, come on, who doesn’t feel cool to throwing in a latin quote every now and then? Quare? Quia Ego sic dico. Quad erat demonstratum.

That brings us to our second point, on why relativism is bad for culture. Relativism is the epitome of a world where subjectivity reigns supreme. It runs on the idea that everything is valid as long someone can justify it or rather appear to justify it. It also brings with it the political correct idea that we should respect and accept another person’s beliefs even if we feel they are wrong, because….well….other people believe it they’re right.

Relativism is a result of the decline of Romanticism and is the bastard child of Modernity. When matched with Postmodernity, it has become a startling and furious force. It promotes apathy and emotionally charged opinion. Anything goes after and all and all is subjective. Group think has never become so dangerous, ‘if, so many people are doing it has to be okay.’

Culture and art have never been in greater danger. In this new relative world, anything can be art as a long as someone likes and appreciates it. It doesn’t matter if that poor sod has the taste of a four tongued teenage centipede on crack, it looks good to him, so it must be art. If you don’t believe me, famous postmodern art pieces include an installation made of toilet bowls, a shed that was turned into a boat and then back into a shed and pictures of Crucifixes in urine. Standards have long since departed, and because now culture is as anyone deems it to be, all sorts of banal music are promoted by the majority of society and this has since become a thriving market. The media has glamourized such music and most people think classical music is boring. That said, the reason why the enjoyment of classical music is taken as a sign of culture is because it is a very refined art and requires some form of education to appreciate it’s more subtle tones, themes and motifs it expresses and conveys. It’s like literature, everyone is able to read it, but to appreciate it on a deeper level, one must first learn and understand the basic literary devices.

We know that for something to be considered culture, it has to be refined and beautiful. We also know that there is a great distinction, a huge chasm between beauty and banality, let alone ugliness. It is something that we know innately to be true. Beauty inspires and not all art can beautiful and inspiring. It also has to be realised that to interpret art requires some training. They offer degrees in that sort of thing! Thus, just cause teenage centipede decides that his ‘art’ looks good doesn’t actually make it objectively good.

I hope all that makes sense! Go and save some culture today, listen to so Bach, read some nice poetry, or post all your facebook status updates in Latin. You know you want to.

H/T to the great Father Z for the article

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Update

Dear Readers,

My apologies for the slow update of this blog. However, I do assure you there are more features coming your way! For those who can't wait, you can head over to my personal blog, Prelude, to read about customising your own stationery. For those who can, I will be heading over to the theatres on the first week of August and will be writing my reviews here! Also, there will be a feature of Verdi's Requiem. So watch this space!

In the meantime, do share this blog with your friends and like our facebook page! We thank you for your continuous support and do contribute ideas and articles! You can reach us via. our tag board or just leave a comment with your details!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor & His Legacy


Death as the great equaliser is indeed a potent notion that is embraced by some and resisted by others. One of the strongest rebels against the inevitable is none other than the first Emperor of China, 秦始皇 (Qin Shi Huang) who lived between 259 BC - 210 BC.

The great Emperor, whose personal name was 嬴政 (Ying Zheng), was obsessed with immortality. He was known to have gone enormous lengths to acquire the mythical elixir of life. Even after being defeated by Death, he continued to wage war by sending thousands of labourers to work on building a kingdom that he can rule in his afterlife - a jaw-dropping collection of terracota warriors, entertainers and animals were unearthed over 2000 years later in 1970.

To find out more about Qin Shi Huang's kingdom in the afterlife, I went down to the exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and got more than I expected! The exhibition was not only limited to one gallery but ACM had a whole package for the visitors. Even before I entered the exhibition proper, I was greeted by these interesting characters...



After raising an eyebrow or two, I realised that ACM cleverly prefaced the exhibition with a modern and light-hearted take on the afterlife. These sculptures, which were done by Justin Lee, certainly brought a smile to everyone and I personally felt that it was a great counterpoint to the seriousness of Qin Shi Huang's ambitions in creating a kingdom after death.

Aside from that cheeky teaser, I do applaud ACM's efforts to not only keep up with the times but to ensure that all visitors do get a hands-on experience of the exhibition. This is done by creating a wonderful iPhone/ iPad app (do download this app before going to the exhibition!) to complement the exhibition as well as placing replicas of the warriors just outside the gallery for visitors to piece together the armour together.

Interactive Replica
 On to the exhibition proper, I felt that the artefacts on display did cover quite a lot of ground as it tries to give us some insights into what Qin Shi Huang wanted as well as the life and times of that era.


Depiction of the process of creating an afterlife kingdom


Decorative dagger believed to be comissioned by Lu Buwei

Mirror

Replica of the chariot that was found in one of the pits


Intricately carved incense burner
Crane as part of the garden created for the Emperor's relaxation
Armour of the soldiers during the Qin dynasty





Various soldiers of different ranks and position
 The exhibition certainly sheds light on the struggle of Qin Shi Huang to continually establish his power and to leave a legacy. Additionally it showcased the grandeur of the time as there are several exhibits of burial items that are incredibly valuable which were buried with the aristocrats of the time. It also showed the influence of this practice on the Han dynasty as burial items were common as well albeit much simpler and smaller in scale.

Yet, all his struggles for immortality were certainly in vain but he did leave us an awesome spectacle to behold in so doing.

For more information about this exhibition, please click here. If you would like to see more photos of the exhibition, check out and 'like' our facebook page . To read more from Isaac, visit his personal blog, Prelude.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stay Tune For New Features!

Dear Readers,

We are pleased to inform you that we will have a new post very soon. One of the contributors will be going on a Museum trail and will be doing a write-up shortly!

If you ever wanted to learn more about the Terracotta Warriors and the significance of it, watch this space! Also, there will be a post about a particular opera and how it had a profound impact that changed the world.

Aside from that, kindly tell your friends about this blog and contribute to it by suggesting topics to be featured here!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

我的父親母親, The Road Home

 
我的父親母親 is a heartwarming film that illuminates the pursuit of love and how it still resounds in one's heart after so many years. The audience are brought on this beautiful journey through the eyes of a son who returns home after the demise of his father, a respected village teacher, to handle the funeral arrangements.

As he tries to balance between his mother's seemingly stubborn request of a traditional procession to the limitations of reality, he relates the love story of his parents as we (the son and the audience) collectively discover the reason behind his mother's insistence that is borne out of an unwavering devotion for her husband. This motivated the son to fulfill his mother's wishes to conduct a tradition funeral against the odds.

The courtship all those years ago started when Luo Changyu comes from the city to teach the students in the village. On seeing him, Zhao Di, the belle of the village, becomes infatuated with him as he is taken aback by her beauty and kindness. This sparked off a blossoming romance that consists of exchanged glances and the silly things one would in the midst of being intoxicated by love.

Yet, the course of true love never did run smooth as they are separated due to the ambiguous political trouble that Luo has gotten into. But Zhao's devotion never wavered as she awaits his return at the expense of her health. Fortunately, true love did triumph in the end as they were reunited and never to be separated for forty years.

This film, anchored by the brilliant performances from Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Yulian (young and the elderly Zhao Di respectively) and Zheng Hao (Luo Changyu) as well as furnished  by Zhang Yimou's directorial vision, is certainly a masterpiece.

The innocence and chemistry between Zhang Ziyi and Zheng Hao certainly moved me as the flush of first love between their characters unfolded. The subtleties between the actors through each sideward glance and emerging smile communicated so much more than the usual melodramatic fare. Despite having little screen time,  the quiet strength exuded by Zhao Yulian in her devotion to provide a proper funeral for her husband and fulfill his last wish of rebuilding the school is a beautiful contrast to that of Zhang Ziyi's portrayal of innocent anticipation. The evolution of Zhao Di's devotion provided by the contrast in the portryal of the two actresses gives us a more realistic sense of the strength of her devotion in different times of her life.

Having said that, the direction of the film provided by Zhang Yimou is simply outstanding. His interesting choice of presenting the present day in monochromatic colours to enhance the bleak physical and internal landscape of winter and Zhao Di's mind respectively as opposed to the lush and vivid colours to paint the flush of love in Zhao's youth enhances the brilliance of the love story. The same could be said of the pace of the plot as there are extended scenes of nothingness in the present day as compared to the quick unfolding of the love story. While the scenes in which the young Zhao is waiting for Luo to return may be long, the emotional beats of anticipation, longing and hope somehow increases the pace of the scene emotionally in the midst of the stillness.

Another aspect of the film which must be credited to Zhang Yimou and Bao Shi (screenwriter of the film which is based on his novel, Remembrance) would be the use of silence in the film. The economical use of dialogue is meant to explain and accelerate the plot and nothing else but images of Zhao running clumsily in a state of pure happiness or close up shots of a bowl being mended act as symbols of love and understanding. This truly appeals to the raw emotions of the audience. While it is unknown to us if Zhang Yimou ever intended his film to reach beyond his Chinese audience, he has certainly woven a beautiful story poised for the international screens.
 
This cinematic work of poetry transcends all boundaries and I challenge anyone not to be touched by it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What Do Different Colours of Roses Mean?

A rose by any colour,  would mean different things
 In our maiden feature of this blog, we will start off with a lighter topic to allow the readers to get acquainted with Essential Culture. Hence, what better issue to talk about than the meanings of the different colours of roses.

While roses are not the only kind of flowers that are bought today, it is without a doubt the most popular of all when it comes to expressing one's feelings. But as all feelings have different shades and intensities, so do the message that the colour of the rose. So here is a brief introduction of the different colours and its meanings:

Red
No prizes for guessing the meaning of the red rose as it has become the universal symbol of romantic love; something that says, 'I Love You'.

Lilac
Certainly useful in the occurrence of an unbelievable romance in which one has fallen in love at first sight.

Yellow
This inviting colour of brightness aptly contains a message of friendship.  Therefore, a yellow rose is a great choice to offer congratulations to a friend or perhaps reaffirm one's friendship with another. Under no circumstances, should a gentleman buy one for a lady he intends to woo.

White
Purity and innocence comes to mind when on receives a white rose. As such, a lovely way to express how one misses the recipient of the rose.

Pink
A favourite colour with most ladies. And certainly a great way to compliment them on their gentleness, gracefulness and the joy that they bring into your life. It also sends a message of gratitude to the receiver.

Peach
The act of giving flowers is not limited to the intention of courtship. Peach roses bear the connotation of appreciation and gratitude. A simple and the most effective gift for Mother's Day.

Coral
Three words besides I love you: 'I want you.' Indeed, coral roses express a sense of desire for the person.

Orange
As its cheerful hue suggests, orange roses relay a sense of enthusiasm and desire of the sender. But certainly not in the strong sense of desire as its coral cousin suggests.

~ ~ ~

So there you have it, something to aid the gentlemen in choosing the right colour and for the ladies to decipher the intention of the gentleman bearing roses.

While I firmly believe in the need to abide by proper etiquette which has its traditions steeped in history, I am never opposed to the modern sensibility of ladies buying gents roses. If your man has any inclination towards nature and flowers in particular, I am sure he will certainly appreciate the refreshing change when he receives a bouquet.

Has this been helpful? What other topics would you like to know or share? Start a conversation by leaving a comment!

Welcome!

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Essential Culture! This is where you will learn the basics of all things culture. From etiquette, dressing, music, theatre and art. In short, Essential Culture is Culture 101.

To some, this may appear as elitist as it may come across that those who read this blog are uncultured. On the contrary, this is not a top-down approach of instructing people about culture and reading this blog means you see the importance of culture in a transient society. Instead, this blog exists because all three of us wanted to kick-start a lively discussion and to document for everyone to learn from each other.

With that, thank you for visiting, tell your friends and do contribute ideas to what you would like to see by dropping a line in the comments below!