212. Day 3

Short post today as everyone around is busy washing up, getting dressed, and packing to go home. Not me, though. I’m staying for another solid 36 hours or so.

In other news: managed to get Char Kuey Teow yesterday evening.

I’m happy.

211. Filmmaking and Me

After waking up at a record early time of 4.25am yesterday morning, this morning I perpetuated the early-waking spell by climbing out of bed at 6.55am. Mostly because Elliot made me.

Also, update at 10.27P.M.: Day 2 and still no Char Kuey Teow. I’m still holding onto hope.

On the subject of the conference: today marked day 1 done. In descending order of importance, I will discuss matters pertaining to the conference of interest. Let’s begin with breakfast.

It was mediocre. Next.

I kid. It was a good day of learning and relearning: many of the concepts, rules, and tips about the craft I have already learned over the past 2 years or so. But there’s always something about hearing it from the mouth of someone who knows what he’s talking about. Also, after many years of searching, I have finally been enlightened on the mystical thing called 3-point lighting.

(I do not kid, however, about the mediocre breakfast)

What intrigues me is how the course managed to keep my attention throughout the afternoon, despite the workshops stretching on for 5 straight hours between 1.30P.M. and 6.30P.M. I didn’t pay as much attention to my psychology lecturer – not even when I had a double dose of caffeine before that. Yet I sat there, stomach filled with lunch, paying attention to what was being said and taught.

I guess that’s how we define passion these days: the class that you stay awake in without the help of caffeine.

When the workshop was over, we were invited to share within our own group about the things we’ve learned. After some rumination, I decided on a politically correct answer: that filmmaking isn’t about a single genius auteur making the project work. It’s about a group of highly skilled, highly passionate, and highly dedicated people coming together to make movie magic happen.

For most of the last few years of me trying to break into the world of film and television, I have been the only one among my friends with enough free time and measure of insanity to make videos. It’s tedious work: planning, shooting, editing… Work that people should get paid for. Unfortunately, it’s also a hell lot of fun, so by rule of fun, people get paid less than they should to do it. I’ve been the only one among my non-working friends to obsessively pursue after knowledge of the craft.

(well. Except for the parts that involve money. In other words, the important parts)

But it’s about time that I realize to realize that to make a film happen, I have to let go of the notion that only I want to see the film get done well. Frustrating, heart-wrenching, nerve-wrecking, but it has to be done. Trust must be forged.

I look forward to another day of learning tomorrow. This time, about the most overlooked major aspect of filmmaking: perfecting the sound. I think tomorrow will be a good day.

Now if only I can find myself that elusive Char Kuey Teow.

210. Pearl of the Orient

My alarm rang at 4.15am. Being me, it took another 10 minutes before I actually crawled out of bed. A car ride and an hour’s flight later, I found myself planted in a little island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, wondering where can I get me a plate of the fabled Char Kuey Teow.

Behind that thought was a little annoying, excited voice going on about how I was in Penang again for the first time in 8 years.

It was in the first week of work, I think, when my ex-boss called me up as I was driving home. She told me about a digital filmmaking conference in Penang at the end of February, and asked if I’d like to join the team. It wasn’t that I was moved that she asked me, or that I was terrible passionate about digital filmmaking, or even the thought of going to Penang. At that time, if you remember, I was so bored and jaded with work that I’d do anything to get out of it.

So I said yes.

Yesterday, after yet another full day of doing absolutely no work, I left the office happy knowing I won’t have to step in until the beginning of next week.

So here I am today. A friend picked us up, and we put our bags in his place (where we will be staying over the next few days) before heading out to get some good old Penang food. I was thinking Char Kuey Teow, but no, the native Penangite among us insisted that we went to Bali Hai for dim sum.

So we did.

Bali Hai happened to be firmly planted on the other side of the island, so as a bonus, I was treated to the sights around: the new developments, the old buildings, and those stuck in between like souls in purgatory. Our friend the native Penangite rattled off stories associated with the various places that we passed by: a school that has been around for almost 200 years; a street that has a sign that literally says “Beware of Bouncing Balls”; old buildings that are not there anymore; and of course, where to find the best food in town.

Never let it be said that Malaysians are difficult to please.

It’s always an interesting experience to see the new merging with the old. Some might imagine that new things emerges out of old things, like a sprout from a seed. But I think it’s really more like adding new layers on top of existing things. Like soil upon soil. If you dig deep enough, you’ll see how the past really holds up the present, and the present gives support to the future.

And just like soil, it’s always interesting to dig through the surface and see what lays underneath. Most of it would be nostalgic. Some of the things might inspire a sense of bittersweet. Occasionally, horrors of the past might pop out. You’ll never know until you try, so there’s always that exhilarating air of mystery to the whole thing.

It’s only been 4 hours into my time here at Penang, and I cannot wait to see the rest of it over the next 4 days or so that I’ll be here.

And I’m still waiting for my Char Kuey Teow.

209. That Awkward Moment

Remember when I said that I pretty much have my bachelor’s degree already, except that I owe my university a subject, which is Moral Studies?

Well. It wasn’t what I thought it was.

I apparently owe them a subject called Advanced Accounting.

(stabs self)

I somehow manage to land myself in awkward situations without even trying. Or even by trying not to end up in one. I’m not talking about that moment when you sit together at a dinner table, and realize that you’re all out of topics to talk about – that’s poor social skills. Nothing to be awkward about.

I’m talking about the situations that, when you find yourself in them, you roll your eyes and wonder why didn’t you try harder to avert it. It was perfectly within your power to escape the awkwardness, but you didn’t, and there you are.

Late last year, in the days preceding the new year, my father told me to get my CV together. Being the arrogant bastard that I was, I wrote in there that I had graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management and finance even though I didn’t actually have the degree with me. I reasoned that they’ll have to give it to me sooner or later.

So when I turned up for the job interview, I insisted again that I do have a degree – the university just hasn’t gotten around to giving it to me yet.

And now I realize that I have to go back to school to complete that one subject that I haven’t done. I think about the number of times I was given a chance to avoid this awkward situation, and I facepalm.

I think we’re just fundamentally stupid that way as human beings. Some time last year (or maybe it was 2 years past. One’s memory gets hazy once events pass a certain threshold), I wondered out loud how some people go on and make stupid decisions despite how glaringly stupid those decisions are.

Well now I know.

It’s not like we don’t know that the petrol is running out. Yet against all rationality, we drive past like 3 petrol stations. It’s not like we don’t know that we risk running late if we underestimate traffic conditions, yet we only leave the house as though God Himself promised us that traffic will be absolutely perfect for us to reach our destinations right on time.

It’s not as though we don’t know that things can, and most likely will, spiral into a horrifically awkward situation, but we allow it to happen anyway. I cannot think of any reason to this except that we’re just plain stupid.

But that’s okay. Embrace your stupidity. Then when it’s all snuggled up in your arms, pull out our dagger and stab it in the back.

I think a fundamental part of avoiding making stupid decisions is in accepting that we do make stupid decisions. And if the past few months, if not years, have taught me anything, it’s that I’m capable of making extremely stupid decisions.

(I say “extreme”; but beyond that, there’s a “jackass” level of stupid)

So now, as I wonder how will I explain this awkward situation to my boss, I am beginning to accept my stupidity and capacity of making the worst out of things.

And I hope that things can only get better from here on.

208. Making Money

Making money: it’s a difficult easy thing to do.

It’s an easy thing to do. There are plenty of things to do that people would pay money for: serving coffee. Late night shifts. Flipping burgers. Data entry. Phone calls to make sales. Failing all of the above, there’s always a position waiting in a government office somewhere for you to fill.

It’s also a difficult thing to do. Because we want to do what we want to do, dammit. We don’t want to be bored. We don’t want to be underpaid. We don’t want to travel too far. We don’t want to work with people we don’t get along with. We don’t want to go to work when it’s dark and return home when the sun rises.

It’s an easy difficult thing to do, making money.

In the months before I graduated, I thought I had my future more or less figured out. Well, as figured out as I could at 22 years old. If I couldn’t find a decent writing job, I thought I’d take up a job as a barista in a nearby cafe. Meeting people from all around should make for pretty good writing material, I thought. I also toyed with the idea of doing coolie work with any one of the production companies scattered all around Kuala Lumpur. At least if I’m not selling scripts, I can still learn the tools of the trade.

(that second one actually still sounds pretty good)

The moment I hit 2014, however, my dad dropped the load he’s been carrying for me right over my head. I was driving a friend to a birthday party when my car began to jerk, and there was a burning smell from somewhere. It smelled like an electrical fire. I stopped the car by the side of the road, and deduced that there was something wrong with the engine.

(actual line from a story I wrote: “It wasn’t like he was an expert when it came to cars, but as long as nothing was on fire, he figured that it should be safe enough…”. I subscribe to this way of thought)

The car was left there overnight, and the next day I took it to a nearby workshop, where they told me that it’ll cost close to RM500 to fix the thing. My dad looked at me, and in not too many words, told me that I’ll have to pay for it myself.

The idea of selling enough coffees to make RM500 crossed my mind. I suddenly found it to be a very bad idea.

Which was how I ended up with my present job. I needed to do the difficult easy thing that is making money. Since no one was fighting to buy my stories, it was what I had to work with.

But things are beginning to change, it seems. I just sold my first short story to a magazine at a rate of 22 cents per word. A bunch of fellows I’ve worked with in the past are getting projects that they’d like me to be involved in. I completed the writing of Noir Blues and got the contact of a script reader.

(I calculated: at 22 cents per word, a writer will have to write about 5 marketable words to make a ringgit. Let’s say comfortable living is making RM10,000 a month. That’s 50,000 marketable words, or 1,778 marketable words per day in a 30-day month. It’s no wonder the writers who actually manage to turn their craft into a comfortable living write at least 2,000 words every day)

Fingers crossed for the future. May my writing bring me good money.

I think I’ve learned a little bit in the past 2 months of working. Not from the workplace, but from reflection. If I can sum up my life’s goal in a sentence, it’d be this: write stories for a living. Presently, I do those two – just separately. I write stories, and I make a living. It’s only a matter of time, I hope, until the 2 realize that they belong together.

Like a romantic drama. Except without the kisses. Definitely without the copulation.

I realize that I’ve been behaving like a spoiled brat in the first month of the year, kicking up one hell of a tantrum when life didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, when I wanted it to. I think the lesson there was patience. And trust. And a bunch of other hippie stuff that sounds really corny even right now, but corny doesn’t make it any less true.

So again. Fingers crossed. If I make good money with my writing, I shall throw a big party. If none of these things manage to get through, I’ll keep away the party sets, and keep my job.

And of course, I’ll keep writing.

207. Wonderment

(yes, “wonderment” is actually a word. I checked)

It’s no news that I’m a sucker for pretty sights. Pretty girls, pretty landscapes, pretty things – I love them all. It’s what makes me a terrible person to watch a movie or go on vacation with. I’ll be so busy taking in the sights, I would be completely disengaged from conversation, and I would have to be dragged to the next point of interest.

(before anyone asks, no, I do not have a thing for pretty boys. That’s the only exception)

The last 3 holidays I went were, in reverse chronological order: Malacca, Bekok, and Cameron Highlands. Two of those I went with friends, and the trip to Bekok was with family as a mandatory part of the Chinese New Year celebrations. During the Bekok visitation, it was far too hot to go anywhere. So I spent the bulk of my time there catching up on reading The Dark Tower. The ones I went with friends, on the other hand, went pretty much how every holiday with friends would go: hopping from one place/event to another so quickly there’s hardly any time to spend in one moment.

It troubles me. I’d like to spend an extended time in one place to take in the environments, but most would like to hurry on to the next exciting thing. I’d like to take some time to bask in wonderment of the beauty all around, but most don’t have the patience to put up with that.

(just like how I don’t have patience for people who can’t say what they need to quickly and clearly. All’s fair, I guess)

So yup, I’m a terrible person to go on vacation with. Most times, I just resign myself to going along with the itinerary. On one occasion, I was asked what would I like to do. I said I’d like to be left alone to go walk around.

I think they spent the rest of the trip wondering in what way had they pissed me off.

But I subscribe to the thought that one should take time to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. It makes the world a much more magical place to live in. There are those who complain that development has robbed the world of its natural beauty – but if you just stop and look at the highways and skyscrapers that we’ve built: at their shape and design; at their colossal size… I’m willing to bet you’ll be at least a little bit amazed at what we’ve achieved.

When you’re walking to your car after an event at night, look up and see the stars. Their light has traveled for millions of years to reach your eyes – it’d be a real pity if you just passed them by. Look at the moon, pale and yellow in the sky, and know that you’re looking at a giant piece of rock floating in space millions of kilometers away. Look up into darkness and, for a moment, realize how incredibly deep and vast that darkness is, and how incredibly small earth is.

When you’re going to work, look at the tiles beneath your feet. People designed these things. Look upon the architecture of the building at which you work, and know that it is somebody’s dream come true. When you’re stuck in a traffic jam, realize that you’re in an automated machine that can potentially run 10 times faster than the fastest human being, a metal beast that runs on liquid exploding dinosaurs.

Think about these things. Be left in wonderment. And know that the world, despite its shortcomings, is beautiful.

206. Roulette Rogue

The Rogue knew her face. He had seen her riding with Nasty Dan in the days following the stickup at the bank. Twenty-five hundred dollars and sixty pounds of gold were taken. Only sixty dollars and three 10-pound bars were recovered. The man with the acne scars swore that there were only three of them involved, and when they were camping off the trail, bandits came upon them and took everything away before running off into the west. The other two said the same thing. They were all lying.

She slipped her jacket off, and then undid the top two buttons on her blouse, revealing a pale neck damp with sweat and red with a heat rash. The constant dry weather took its toll on the just and unjust like, it seemed.

She hung up her jacket. He wondered how she breathed at all through a corset that tight. She held her chin high as she sat before his desk. She didn’t say a word. She wanted The Rogue to initiate conversation.

“What do I call you?” he began. She said he could call her Kitty.

“That’s a stupid-ass name if I’ve ever heard one,” he said. The corner of her mouth twitched, like she was trying to suppress a smile. She lowered her chin and stared at him through emerald eyes. Said it’s the only name she has.

SPIN

The girl named Kitty didn’t seem perturbed in the least bit by the cigarette smoke. The Rogue was almost impressed. Most of the ladies, at this point, would already have a handkerchief over their nose. Then again, most ladies didn’t run around with Old Danny.

“What did you do this time?” he went straight to business.

Dimples formed on her left cheek. “Whatever it was, detective,” she purred, “Be glad it wasn’t to you. But that’s not what I’m here for.”

He caught his gaze falling down her neck and into her exposed cleavage. The Rogue averted his gaze by picking up his glass of bourbon. He swirled the amber-colored liquid inside it for a bit. He could feel Kitty smiling at him. He took a sip of the burning liquid. It stung his throat on the way down.

Outside, the rain was getting heavier.

SPIN

“I don’t run with the force anymore,” The Rogue told her. “Turned in my badge and gun three weeks ago. You’d best know that before you go on.”

Kitty smacked her lips at him. She leaned forward, and he saw the material of her black cocktail dress stretch. “It’s not the force that I need, sweetheart,” she said. “Too much paperwork. Bureaucracy’s a bitch. Consider this an anonymous tip.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance. It seems like there would be rain tonight.

“You know Danny, don’t you? Or do you call him Lancaster?” she asked. It was a genuine question. He told her that the name written on the files was Daniel H. Lancaster. “Well then,” she continued, “Rumor has it that he can be found hanging around a bank. Three o’clock. Rumor also has it that there will be guns.”

SPIN

“What, twenty five thousand minus sixty dollars wasn’t enough?” The Rogue growled. “And all that gold? What is he trying to do, start up his own bank?”

Kitty fanned herself with a Chinese fan. “You didn’t hear it from me, deputy,” she said. “But I think there’s something for you if you come around to Old Man Ham’s saloon a week from now at noon.”

“For the second time, I’m no longer a deputy,” he said.

“But you are. You always will be,” Kitty smirked.