Monday, November 23, 2009

Books worth re-reading

1. Halldór LAXNESS: World Light / Heimsljós
2. Halldór LAXNESS: Under the Glacier / Kristnihald undir jökli
3. Halldór LAXNESS: The Fish Can Sing / Brekkukotsannal
4. Paolo COELHO: Manual of the Warrior of Light
5. Salman RUSHDIE: Fury
6. 当年明月: 明朝那些事儿
7. Denis DUTTON: The Art Instinct
8. James Gordon FARRELL: The Siege of Krishnapur
9. Milan KUNDERA: Life is Elsewhere

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Portions for Sixteen

Out of the thirty-six pilots who left the airbase at Dandong the day before, only twenty returned. As was planned before, they went to the cookhouse, dragged themselves in, and sat themselves down. The chef at duty there could not help notice the expressions that the faces wore: Impassioned, listless faces that stared straight ahead. He called out to them but they distressingly did not bother to respond.

He had expected the mood to be more festive, for goodness sakes. He had slaughtered three full-grown boars to celebrate the victory (and rightfully so, as victory was the outcome), together with a couple of goats and half the garden's worth of greens with it. The portions were hefty and some to spare. Three woks of dishes have just been made ready, seasoned generously with every kind of spice.

Not that these pilots were to blame, if they could not rise up to the occasion: The squadron had met with heavy losses- the sudden appearance of American fighters, for instance, was simply not prepared for. Nor was the fact that the target was found to have unaccountably shifted thirty kilometers west. The squadron CO had confidently promised that all would come back, to reap the rewards for a successful skirmish. But the tired but glorious foodsacks that the feast was designed to fill were far from all available; doubtlessly some of the sixteen, CO included, were strewn over the landscape, crumpled up over the side of Kumgangsan or some other hill like that.

The chef and his assistants made to give the ones present their due portions. Whether they gratefully received it was hard to tell. Given what just happened not long before, the chef surmised, it was probably more than some could summon to even lift up a spoon and start chewing blandly into the chow. When that happened presently he felt a weak ripple of gratitude. As for the others, well, never mind.

Eventually, every pilot were finally coaxed to start eating, since hunger cannot be ignored for long. The chef returned to the portions reserved for the sixteen. He could not help noticing, in the pork, how the bones jutted out at odd angles; or that presently, as he thought, the three boar-heads at the other end of the pantry smiled their accusing smiles at him; or that in the mounds of rice so resembling mountains, the greens made the slopes seem especially verdant (were they undercooked? He thought). The more he pored over the leftovers, the stronger the aura of Death shone from its contents. Soon he was unwilling to look at the food anymore, let alone lift a ladle at it.

And so it happened, at the ceremony commemorating the fatal battle, that the remaining portions were laid out at a makeshift altar. Complaints about such wastage of good food was out of the question, and so the sixteen bowls were left there, virtually ignored, as one by one the ravens descended upon them and fought over them.

Friday, November 06, 2009

ORD Commemorative Post III: Cultural Input

c.f. an inquiry made by Bao Zhong concerning the number of books I have read in my lifetime, the provisional answer to which I settled at ~100. Now I know that the figure is at exactly 78 books, from 1 Jan 2008 till present.

This is the list. I'm not sure if it's less frightening to say that I recounted it from memory than that I kept a record all through 2 years, but I kept a record through the 2 years.


I did the same thing for movies:


-Click to enlarge if needed-

Thursday, November 05, 2009

ORD Commemorative Post II: On Leadership

A personal reflection

I. Drawing on experience:
Of being a half-cooked club president circa 2006-2007, and
Of being a follower of orders, joining ranks with those of like caste to sneer at whoever's up above-

Maybe leadership comes naturally to some of us, those who would be called born leaders. Whether or not such an attribute God actually gives to people in the crib, I belong to the other group, who lands into leadership like a soldier in Brunei lands face-first into swamp mud.

Suffice to say that what I said did not automatically get done, and that people tend to fall sick more often than is plausible. It gave me migraine and smashed my handphones.

In the two years that followed I found myself in a better position to see where I had failed before.

1. As my naïveté flaked off I observed that absenteeism is in fact a diverse and complex phenomena; As much as there are genuine cases of sickness, there are people sick from the reversed placebo effect (i.e. their minds are sick), people who lie outright, and people who would gnaw their own leg off in order to skip training.

2. People require a cause to work towards. In other words, doing work requires knowing what one is doing, no matter how painstaking or trivial. People will not do work if you insult their mothers.

3. Leaders do not do work by themselves as part of their job; they delegate jobs for other people and make sure that they do it. Unfair as it may sound to the corporal, it is important that leaders keep themselves composed and refrain from insulting people's mothers.

Drawing from anecdotes:
From Lieutenant General H.B. Kala of the Indian Army, in the book Demystifying Military Leadership (2003)
From historical commentator Yi Zhongtian concerning Liu Bang (256-195 BC) and leaders of the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280)

1. Kala's take at military leadership (my summary): acts effectively through means of persuasion and motivation. Knows the rules but is not limited by rules. Has moral courage to hard-press subordinates or contradict superiors when need be. As is described in the stories of Ming dynasty emperors (明朝那些事儿), the good ones who take care of their people tend to be bastards to all those around them.

2. Bastardry is not a necessary prerequisite to being a good Emperor! (e.g. Emperor Hongxi of Ming)

3. The basis of good leadership is, simply put, putting the right people in the right places, and trustng them completely. (In Yi Zhongtian's account concerning Liu Bang, his success in building the Han Dynasty lay largely on his subjects Xiao He, Zhang Liang and Han Xing and not on himself i.e. he never commanded any decisive victory, instated any policies, etc.)

Ok that's all. Alas, I didn't make anything less messy.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hibi no Neiro

I cannot resist posting this MV on the blog as well as on Facebook--

日々の音色 / Water Flavour by SOUR
Directors: Masashi Kawamura / Hal Kirkland / Magico Nakamura / Masayoshi Nakamura
2009 Zealot Co.,ltd / Neutral Nine Records