Finding home with The Hobbit

Finding home with The Hobbit

“I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. You don’t have one. It was taken from you but I will help you take it back if I can.”

2h45 minutes flew past very quickly while watching The Hobbit, directed by Peter Jackson, the new trilogy based on the book by JRR Tolkein. I think towards the end, I finally understood and appreciated the grandeur of the scenery.

The Hobbit is about the adventures of Bibo Baggins who was recruited by Gandolf to help the dwarfs reclaim their land. Their task is to find the secret door that can lead them into the mountain where home is.

As with any Tolkein story, the goblins, orcs and ugly ugly creatures came to thwart their path. But in between, we visited a few homes.

The home of Bilbo the hobbit is where the movie begins. A place that is clean, proper and comfortable that was disrupted one night by 13 dwarfs. They came to eat his food and drink his wine and beer. They also came with songs of cheer and good spirit and their song of a nation who had lost their home.

While Gandolf explained his league of 5 magicians, we visited the forest of the east, home of the wizard who guards the woods. In this home, the animals are well beloved and even the birds have a home in the nest of his hair.

While getting to the mountain, they came upon the home of the elves to decipher the ancient language on the map. The home of the elves is a welcome refuge after a long hard fight. There was music and fresh food, a place of serenity by the waters. It is a place of grandeur and beauty.

From heaven, we descended to hell, the underground home of the goblins. Where it is dark and deep filled with make shift bridges that connects the walls of the cave.

And finally, we arrive on the mountaintop with the view of the lonely mountain, the home of the dwarfs. The destination and the vision of what were past and what is to come.

With the words of Bilbo, my eyes welled up and the meaning of home in my mind. So where is home really? In chinese, we say, 家在我心房 . Literally, home is in the room of my heart. And during Christmas, this question is on the top of my mind.

For someone like me who has a family that is non-present, where is home? Maybe this is why the film has touched me deeper than I was prepared for. For a vagrant traveller who has a make shift room over my head, who has refused to buy even a good knife and chopping board because this is a rented apartment (which is absolutely ridiculous by the way since I love cooking and has numerous dinners at home), who has refused to stick something on the wall to hang a photo or a painting, or anything that makes it more homelike. Where is home?

What about those who had lost their home in war like Syria, disasters like NYC and Haiti or poverty like the homeless people on the streets? Where is home? And what is the meaning of home?

I think it grand that the dwarfs have a place to reclaim. It is an atrocity when one has spent so much time and effort to build a place called home only to be taken away unjustly. My heart goes out to those who had lost it.

But is home a place, an apartment, a building? I think the dwarfs can look upon the company they are in and take courage. They are at home already, in the company of comrades, people who can be counted on.

I think love is home, companionship is home, acceptance is home. This Christmas, I think my little mezzanine is home. There is no one but I have a tree. This year, I’ve decided that my tree and I will decorate Christmas and be the makeshift home. Maybe next year, I’ll find the lonely mountain so it will be filled with anything but loneliness.

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To let go or not

I miss my friend, my ex-friend. Seldom have I taken a stern attitude in a relationship to cut off someone but I did. It was inevitable and propelled by my personal crisis. Yann Matel said it best in “Life of Pi”;

“… when you’ve suffered a great deal in life, every additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”

And so it was, one evening when small little hurts accumulate to that great big stone in the throat that strains the muscle to the point of exhaustion, tugging all the little strings that connect every muscle in my being to the heart, until my body shook from the last shred of mental exertion to hold it all in, I broke out into tears, speechless. That was when I decided, I had to cut it off, break off contact with a friend, a dear dear friend.

She may never know nor understand what went through my mind when I made that decision. It was years of knowing each other, weekends, birthdays, Christmas etc. Breaking up with a friend shouldn’t be harder than breaking up with a loved one, a boyfriend, but it was.

So now, I miss my friend. There was a new Mexican stand that sells burritos. I wanted to tell her, her favourite food is in town. But I can’t. It’s freaking hot in Paris, I wanted to ask her to go out for a movie like we have done so many times. But I can’t. I wanted to tell her I took singing lessons, something she loved. But I can’t.

Maybe there was never such a depth of relationship anyway. But there were things we did, places we hung out. And I haven’t seen her in months. There’s so much to tell. So instead of the stone of hurt in my throat, it is now the stone of anger. How did we come to this? I know. Of course I knew, I could trace it perfectly.

Nothing I can do. It’s not something that can have a second lease of life. The truth is, there was a choice. And the choice was made a long time ago. But I had invested no matter what. And I have only myself to blame for this investment and this loss.

Maybe we were just friends because we were bored.

All I can say is, I miss my movie going friend in this hot summer day. When the living is easy but the memories are thick and letting go isn’t easy at all.

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Believing in the Life of Pi

So incredible is the story of Pi that also rightly puts in question the subject of “believe”. Life of Pi written by Yann Martel is the story of a boy named Pi (actually Piscine Molitor Patel) who found himself stranded in the ocean 1 day with a tiger on board. And that is up to you to believe.

What do you believe in? That is the same kind of question as “how are you?” – the kind where people ask and don’t wait to hear the answer or expect to hear the usual answer. Early part in the book, Pi explored religion and took in all beliefs. He is a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim and he believes what Ghandi said, “All religions are true” and he “just wants to love God”. Despite the efforts of the different religious leaders, Pi practiced all 3 religious practices. And that was unbelievable for some people, including his parents.

So what does it matter what a person believes in? I don’t know if it matter anymore than what a person chooses to wear or eat. But there’s a lot of hoo-ha today about what we believe in. If I believe in capitalism, I’m a republican and am damned for not believing in social rights. If I believe in Jesus, I’m a Christian and damned for not believing in same sex marriage. Who says a republican can’t believe in social protection and a Christian can’t believe in the rights for the union of people of the same sex. And why can’t Pi be a Christian, a Muslim and a Hindu? And by the way, what does it matter if he’s not going to bother anyone with his beliefs? People are sentimental to titles.

I can’t believe. That is same response as I don’t care – the kind that people say because it hasn’t happened to them or haven’t thought through what another person has said. It has the same spirit of dismissal. Later in the book, Pi was described as travelling for 227 days in the sea in a lifeboat with a tiger. When he was questioned on the plausibility of the story, he told another story without the animals and asked what people would prefer.

So what does it matter if you believe or not. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Things happen, war happens, famine happens, slavery happens, life happens, death happens. So many times, I’ve also heard from people who asked, “I can’t believe you: can’t find a job, can’t find a person to be with, etc…”. So what if Pi did travel for 227 days with a tiger or a man? That’s his story to tell if he’s not harming someone or profiting from lies. I can believe that if I were to be travelling in a lifeboat with no hope of being found for nearly a year, a tiger is no longer a tiger, a fish is no longer a fish and the usual sense of things would be very different.

Thank goodness “Life of Pi” is released as a work of fiction. I can choose to believe in the plausibility of the story or not. No one is harm or taken advantage of because of their beliefs and we can all relax and just focus on the story of survival. That almost seemed like a paradox in itself.

I don’t know how other people live. Maybe we all have a Richard Parker in our lives. Something, someone we have to tame and conquer. Maybe believing is its existence is the first step in finding the courage to face it. For 3 days, Pi stayed on top of the tarpaulin and thought the tiger wasn’t on the boat with him. If we close our eyes, we can’t see suffering and life is beautiful. Maybe that’s a good way of survival too for some people. I don’t know.

But then I don’t believe in believing any more. There’s no point in whether I believe in something or not. It doesn’t make it go away if it’s there and it doesn’t stay if it’s not there. But I accept that other people believe in what they believe. If they believe in ghosts, I ask why and hold their hand in the dark. If they believe in animal suffering, I’ll make them a good vegetarian meal. If Pi said he travelled with a tiger in a lifeboat for 227 days, I’ll give him a pat in the back for surviving.

I guess what I’m saying is that if everyone has a Richard Parker in their lives, it really doesn’t matter if we believe it or not. What matters is what we do about it, for ourselves and for others. Suffering is such a relative word, a mouse is a tiger to some and a tiger is a mouse to others. What does it matter if it is really a mouse or a tiger if we can try to walk in their shoes and try to understand? And if we can help, why don’t we? Because, who knows, one day, we are Pi with a Richard Parker on a lifeboat with miles of ocean before us. And it would really help if we don’t meet someone lost in the sea trying to pick out bones.

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The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim – our modern day Candide

It is a terrible thing when one’s privacy is open to ridicule. Indeed a terrible thing when your deepest fears and insecurities are the basis of someone’s chitchat and discussion. So here we go, with Mr. Maxwell Sim, who in all honesty, had been dealt a pretty bad hand here.

The terrible privacy of Maxwell Sim” was written by Jonathon Coe and released in 2010. Other than learning the terrible secrets of Maxwell Sim as he himself discovered it in the book, it also contained a rag tag of themes from modernization of communication through phone and internet, parent child relationships in the new age, missed chances due to lack of technology and a hint to the eventual financial crisis due to hedge funds on hedge funds. Nothing escaped this book, GPS, facebook, satellite communications, mobile phones, emails, pseudo names, internet chat rooms, the financial crisis, road trip, homosexuality, parent child relationship, loneliness, abandonment, divorce, adultery, love lost, friendships. I think the only things missing are murder and extra torrential activity.

How can one contend with a book pack with so much? We don’t. The most logical answer to the author’s choice of extra-large bag of themes is that the book is written in first person. And as a person, our thought process and synapses can be that active to swing from one topic to another. Putting aside all these distractions and possibly the ending of the book, I can honestly say, it is touching and insightful.

I thought the opening chapter was the book at its best. If it kept at the same tangent, we would have a thoroughly perceptive book on the struggles on Maxwell Sim. But let’s not get distracted.

At 48 years old, Maxwell is now facing a change in his life. His wife has left him and brought his daughter with her to live in another city. It was during his time off from work due to depression that he was given the opportunity of a road trip as part of a company’s marketing campaign. Thus, the beginning of uncovering the truth of his past. I’m not sure if there was self-discovery in the process but there are lots of discoveries. And he seemed to have found the reason for his troubles and why he is who he is.

While the insights of Maxwell is deeply moving and often comical, I can’t help but feel that it is too easy. If only life can be explained in such linear line of action and outcome. There is a feeling of a catch all reason for his troubles. Especially towards the end, when the author attempts to give a reason for the failure of his marriage, it just felt too easy.

Right from the beginning, I can’t help but empathize with Maxwell’s desire for intimacy as he watches a chinese woman play card game with her daughter. Me too, I dream of a day when my mum and I can have a proper conversation that consist of a complete sentence instead of radio silence. And I can’t help but wonder if one day, I can find that one reason why my mum acts the way she does. But I wonder if life is really that simple. Maybe it is. Maybe, it is simply because she hadn’t wanted me and couldn’t accept my presence. Like Maxwell’s father.

It is a troubling book.

None of the issues are discussed other than a chapter dedicated to it. As many as there are chapters, as many are the subjects held together as thinly as the plot is. Yet, there is a simpleton courage like that of Maxwell’s, almost as comical as Voltaire’s Candide, in accepting the reason given is the cause of each issue.

Perhaps, we can only relish at this courage of taking life as it is, with a zest of lemon.

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We Bought A Zoo – Why Not?

“Their happiness is too loud.” 7 years old Rosie, played by the incredibly lovely Maggie Elizabeth Jones, said to her father in “We Bought A Zoo”. Incredibly as it may be, these 5 words drum out what has been my existence for a while. And “We Bought A Zoo”, directed by Cameron Crowe was the exact dose of feel-goodness to keep out the happiness that is too loud to our years.

Based on a real story that is as spectacular as the animals in the zoo, the movie is delivered with sensitivity and softness, nothing loud or dramatic; just quiet sympathy to grief and a silent determination to build hope. Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon) is a man with 2 kids who had recently lost his wife. And this is their story of a new beginning, working through their grief. There is cliché humour for sure. And there is cliché tragedy. And who says clichés are not worthy of respect for the simple human tragedy that happens every day in our lives. The movie has delivered genuinely and sincerely with a simple story of extraordinary circumstances.

Getting over someone is difficult. For Benjamin, it meant avoiding the condiments aisle in the supermarket, staying away from his favourite café and moving to buy a zoo. For his elder son, it’s about expressing darkness in his drawings. For his younger daughter, it’s about holding on to an old sweater. You wonder sometimes if the past was real, did it matter, what was the point? I’ve spent time with people but when the friendship ends, what is left? Was that even real? Maybe death is a better way of letting go? I don’t know.

So he says, “sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” I wished someone had told that when I was young and believing, then maybe it will be true when I grew up. This is why, it’s a feel good movie isn’t it: 20 seconds of courage can change things. I’ve had so many 20 seconds of courage to train wreck outcome. Life needs so many more hours of courage and that, never changes.

At some point, a girl asks the zookeeper, “If you have a choice between humans and animals, what would you choose?” It’s not such an easy choice. People hurt people and even when they love, their departure is hurtful in spite of circumstances. Then there are people who care and these out of the ordinary care makes the burden of life so much lighter.

So this is a celebration of the courage. Because, it takes courage to love and know that it will hurt when it is gone. It takes courage to live and know that your happiness may never be loud like for others. It takes courage to continue even though you are bankrupt and may never see returns. I guess, perhaps, it is the hope for a miracle that keeps the living going. How would I know, I just hope that if one day I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not the light of a coming train.

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To greet or not to greet

Sitting in an empty chinese take-out restaurant near my apartment was an old lady on her own. She looked up at me when I walked in and smiled. For a moment, I had a flash thought that I had known her from somewhere and had not recognized her. She started signaling for me to sit down and started talking to me. I had only half ordered my take out but I went anyway. And that was the beginning of a surreal conversation.

She was in her late 60s, simply dressed with no make up. And I was sure she is drunk or tipsy since she repeated to me over and over again about how handsome his son is with his green eyes. But I listened, I think she needed an audience and frankly at 8pm in the evening, I had nothing except my take out planned. She had signs of a beauty in her youth and I can believe that his son must be pretty cute. She told me about how she was an orphaned and arrived in Paris in her 20s and had met her husband. She told me about her miscarriage and why she only has 1 child. She was so proud of her son, an air steward who travels often and brought her to places and even to my hometown. She told me about her love for seafood and how her son will send her money so she can go out to restaurants. She told me her life with such openness and simplicity with that tiny hint of regret and a large dose of gratefulness for an audience. A total stranger, yet, I thought I was looking into the eyes of my long gone grandma. Because, beneath all that loneliness is a spirited person, a strength of steel and a lifetime of experience.

Sure, it was pretty weird that I had greeted someone on the street whom I had never met in my life.

And I regretted our ending.

The inevitable. She was tipsy but earnest in asking for my number. I struggled and finally wrote it down on a tiny piece of paper and had to say good-bye. I had no good reason to go but I did. She said I wouldn’t call and she was probably right. She didn’t give me her number and I didn’t insist. Even though, I long to take her in my arms and give her a big hug and let her cry as I saw the twinkle in her eyes. I didn’t want to promise to take her out to dinner on sunday. And she didn’t want to impose.

If I had provided a short time of reprieve in her loneliness, I was glad.

Who knows, that could be me in 30 years without the beauty she once possessed and without a son she is proud of.

Who knows, I could be sitting someone by myself old, poor, ugly and without a number on my phone.

Then, I will be glad, that someone younger was willing to sit down and chat, for awhile, even a very short while.

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To choose or not to choose

Sometimes I am convinced that life chooses you. I flirted with the idea that we choose life but never quite lived this idea. In French, I’d say, j’ai jamais assumé.

Look around, life has chosen those who were born in war or in peril, those who were born to irresponsible parents, those who were given life because choice was not given. Life has chosen those who had an ease in life as if they were born to do what they do, to be loved and given it without questions.

We choose life, how we take the chances we were given and made them into ours. We choose to love and it’s consequences, to hate and its pain, to give and leave ourselves bare and to receive and live in its promises.

And sometimes, we pretend we can choose life. We play the role as a great actor can and move things around as if it makes a difference when it changes nothing in its eventuality. A time and a place, even if time changes, the place is the same.

So do we choose or be chosen? We are already chosen and an end written. What is left is the description. Will it be beautiful or plain, war and peace or sense and sensibility? Can we really choose when life throws all kinds of curve balls? I don’t know. Maybe we can in our mind. Because there, is the house of all possibilities where good trumps evil, kindness begat kindness, love is reality and acceptance need not be asked.

In my secret garden, all lives have a purpose, all beautiful abound, all shapes and sizes and colours, all in their place, a billion pieces of puzzle a beautiful ensemble. If I can choose. So why has the one who can hasn’t?

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