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Death of a Salesman

There are definitely some widely-held myths in Hong Kong society nowadays, perhaps not as serious as the “American Dream” was, but still important enough to affect many of us.

I am most interested in the “myth” of how education should be run in Hong Kong and the belief that it is the be all and end all to society’s problems.

For whatever reason, like most if not all East Asian countries, our culture values education to a great extent. While there is no problem with that in itself, it is the way we put it into practice that is the issue.

The exam-oriented system has gotten so out of hand that students are even under more pressure nowadays despite the HKCEE and HKALE being scrapped for the HKDSE. The introduction of the TSA now introduces high-pressure examinations even for primary school students. Primary Six students not only have to worry about getting into good, “band 1” secondary schools, they have to do extra homework and be “drilled” for these territory-wide assessments.

There are so many resulting problems I don’t even know which is the most worth mentioning. As a rough summary, the excessively competitive nature of HK schools and students alike mean the former burden pupils with intense workloads, supplemented by extra classes. Regular schooling is still not enough if you want that 5**, students are almost “forced” to join cram schools just to keep up with the rest of the pack. The result is students who are jaded, some even suicidal, and have little time to enjoy life or exercise.

Education may be important, but it is not everything, nor is it for everyone.

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The Importance of Being Earnest (continued)

If I were directing a new production of The Importance of Being Earnest, I would set the play in the 21st century. The location would be USA, perhaps an uptown area such as New York, which many people may be more familiar with thanks to Hollywood.

There are so many stories about lying and deception on the internet these days, I feel this setting is a pretty good fit. The disearnesty of modern society is so severe that the term “catfishing” was coined in 2010, meaning to “lure someone into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona” (“Catfish – Definition Of Catfish In English | Oxford Dictionaries”).

“Earnest” and “Bunbury” could perhaps be fake Facebook profiles created by Jack and Algernon. This might add another dimension to the movie as the audience gets to see how the two characters are imagined by the two protagonists. It could be very funny if done right.

The satire of Victorian times would translate very well to modern society. We have advanced in so many ways, but class distinction remains a big problem everywhere, even if it has become more subtle. The modern Lady Bracknell equivalent would perhaps ask about Jack’s cars, yachts and how many shopping malls he owns.

References 

“Catfish – Definition Of Catfish In English | Oxford Dictionaries”. Oxford Dictionaries | English. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

The Importance of Being Earnest

The costumes, setting and overall production and changes in the 2002 film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest did change my understanding of the play script that Oscar Wilde wrote.

The costumes and setting in the movie were very typical of the 1800s Victorian Era. There was nothing surprising in this aspect, although I doubt there is much room for alteration here without completely reshaping the design of the play. It did remind me however of how extravagant life could be in the upper echelons of English society in those days.

I thought the acting and choice of actors was impressive. Judi Dench brought out the arrogance and haughtiness that I pictured of Lady Bracknell very well. Colin Firth also showed his worth, his expressions and overall demeanor were perfect. I particularly liked the scene where Gwendolen is explaining to Jack how much she loves the name “Earnest”, Firth’s expression was spot on! The pan to Jack/Firth’s face at this point was also something we wouldn’t be able to see well on a stage.

The structure of the movie was modified slightly from that in the original play. Not long after Act I starts, we have a glimpse of Act II (Cecily and Miss Prism at Manor House). This helped character development, as the mention of Cecily in the club might have been slightly confusing given the constant change of scenes and the fast paced nature of movies. Much of Act I is also set in the club, which differed from the play again. The scene where Lady Bracknell interrogates Jack is then picked out and set in one of Bracknell’s grand rooms, which gives more weight to the scene. Furthermore, having a movie set in only two or three main places would be much harder to pull off than in a stage play.

Not much of the dialogue was changed, apart from its order, most notably the scene with the cucumbers.

Sonnets

My sonnet with 14 lines of iambic pentameter:

This Football Team is Getting On My Nerves!

The ball just won’t go in the goal, it won’t!

I peer from here behind the screen, can’t look!

A pass, a cross, a chance, a shot… a save!

No matter what, we can’t get past that line!

All that work and in the end, a loss!

I guess there is a lesson to be learnt!

We go again next week, do not lose hope!

Next week has come, and here we go again!

I jump, I shout, I cheer, I scream… I cry!

Another shot has flown into the sky!

Remote control goes flying through the air!

Emotion rollercoaster, had enough!

I take it back, the actual lesson here:

Try twice and don’t succeed then give it up!

Digging

I found Seamus Heaney’s poem very interesting to analyse.

The poem starts off with assonance in the first two lines, perhaps to catch our attention. It is interesting to note, however, that he does not use much rhyme nor assonance throughout the rest of it, instead giving the story a good rhythm. This, at least in my opinion, frees it from the limitations that rhyme imposes. Nevertheless,  I have come to appreciate poets who are able to tell a story with rhyme, after learning that English is a very rhyme-poor language compared to say, French!

There is some repetition, notably of the theme “digging”. Perhaps Heeney doesn’t want us, or himself, to forget his roots, the farms he grew up in. Perhaps he wants to tell us a story of what motivated him, and continued to motivate him, to break free from those circumstances he described. Perhaps it was a bit of self deprecation, as despite the image of writers being cultured and educated, he appreciates that farmers like his father have and had their own hardships to face. Perhaps he was thanking his father for giving him the opportunity to have a better life. His squat pen was the tool that represented all of this.

He concludes the poem with symmetry, repeating the line “between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests”. After reading the poem, maybe our perception of his squat pen has changed.

Interpreter of Maladies

In Jumpa Lahiri’s short story, the monkeys most likely represent Hanuman, the Hindu “monkey” God. “We call them hanuman” as Mr. Kapasi explained to the Das family earlier on in the story, which was a clever bit of foreshadowing.

“‘Who wishes to despoil my vow of one-man-one-wife…” said Hanuman’s very own mother, Anjana, according to an English translation of the sacred Hindu text Valmiki Ramayana (Kishkindha Kanda, 2009). This was what she exclaimed in the version of the story where she is about to be raped by the “Air-God” or “Wind-God”. There is an obvious contrast to how Bobby was conceived. Hanuman was in fact eventually born through a virgin birth.

In the same story, the brave, mischievous Hanuman (just as Bobby could be described) attempts to catch the sun, which he saw as a fruit. He ignores the “King of the Gods” Indra’s warnings to stay away from it, similar to how Bobby ignores Mr. Kapasi’s words of caution to leave the monkeys alone. For their childish behaviour they both receive punishment, Hanuman with a thunderbolt sent by Indra (Kanda).

“God, let’s get out of here… this place gives me the creeps.” Mrs. Das seems to be back to her flippant self, perhaps Hanuman had granted her the strength to go on with her life.

References

Kanda, K. (2009). “Legend of Hanuma’s Birth”. Valmiki Ramayana. Retrieved 12 April 2017, from https://www.valmikiramayan.net/utf8/kish/sarga66/kishkindha_66_frame.htm

Brokeback Mountain

“In December Ennis married Alma Beers and had her pregnant by mid-January… Alma Jr., as he called his daughter, was born and their bedroom was full of the smell of old blood and milk and baby shit”.

This quote sums up, for me, the hypocrisy of the story “Brokeback Mountain”. While Annie Proulx seems to want to tell us about how hard life was for gays during that period, she trivialises the suffering that their spouses (in this case Alma) went through.

The dismissive tone that Annie writes about how Ennis got Alma pregnant “by mid-January” made it seem as if this was some obstacle to get over with as soon as possible.

The way Ennis’ daughter’s bedroom is described, “old blood and milk and baby shit” and the words following that, shows the disdain Ennis had for the whole process of procreation, as if to say this was something he “had” to do despite hating everything about it.

Apart from the psychological effects that finding out your spouse is in fact gay, and no, they did not really love you, neither did they want to have a baby with you (which Proulx then brushes off by having Alma marry someone else and maintain her happy-go-lucky attitude), it shows how these women were viewed as “collateral damage”.

If Proulx wanted me to sympathise with these two characters, she should have had them run off together to Mexico, preferably without the involvement of any poor wives or girlfriends. But perhaps that would make for a very boring story.