#2098 | a petty complaint about nothing

So this week my trusty MacBook died.

I was sitting in Bali after a full day of shoot getting some work done when I got a call, a call I had been waiting for for a long time. Elation, celebrations, etcetera. And then within the hour, my MacBook, which had been running perfectly for years, spontaneously swelled and burst from the spillover joy (or so I choose to believe). The screen turned black, the machine started heavy breathing, and the keyboard decided it was no longer part of the entire equation and committed harakiri. There I was, with a computer that was ready to be succeeded, and that had not the courtesy of waiting till I’d selected its replacement to see itself out. And my word, how annoying.

I’m annoyed because of how expensive MacBooks are, and how Apple seems to be increasingly unbothered with hiding the fact that they’re taking the mickey out of us. From the decision to change all ports and get rid of half of them, to the new keyboards no one asked for, to removing the SD card slot which has been absolutely essential to anyone who even vaguely deals with photography… it has been a series of why after why’s. And I am more annoyed with myself than anything, for locking myself into the MacOS and being unable to turn to cheaper, more value-for-money alternatives. I do a lot of writing, and I’ve fallen in love with (and therefore become totally dependent on) Mac’s Pages, especially for my more formal work. And while I can technically go back and change everything to Word, it’s hundreds and hundreds of documents I’m talking about..

So yes, I can do it, sure, but as trite as it sounds, there is so much going on right now, and I just don’t have the time or energy to re-learn navigating operating systems or doing compatibility checks for months / years of precious work. In other words, I am paying a premium to stay in my comfort zone, and that knowledge irritates me, the awareness that there is an alternative within reach, and that for a variety of reasons, that I am not reaching out for it.

Part of me knew to just suck it up and get a new one as soon as possible – it’s that time of the year where work is nonstop, and I cant afford to be paralysed by a petty anger at the capitalist machinations of mega brands. And I was relatively lucky – the computer died right before a trip, so I essentially had a day to quickly research the computer I wanted before getting it at the airport (where you can get electronics tax free, working out to an approximate hundred dollar discount off the MacBook). But the more I googled the more annoyed I got: at the convoluted lineup of computers, the fluff and hot air of branding, the clear neglecting of the cheaper, more accessible models. I ended up getting the MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar, which is the cheapest MBP available (the basic MacBooks have abominable specs for their price tag) and essentially the iPhone X of MacBooks (newish, but already obsolete), and on top of that I had to get a silver dongle-like thingum from a third party reseller just to allow myself to attach USB cords to my computer. Trust me, I would have done without it if I could, but thanks to the new removal of the SD card slot, I need to get an external SD card reader, which then has to be plugged into a USB port, which the MacBook doesn’t have. Condemnations, seriously.

The real kicker came when I unwrapped my new MBP and tried to pack it into my hand carry. The new MBPs are admittedly very sleek and much lighter than the older macbooks, and I suppose I will get used to the butterfly keyboard eventually, as with all things. But the new MacBook charger, for some damned reason, had elected to get rid of the previously very handy notches around which one could wind the charging wires into a neat little bundle. No, no, organisation be damned. The new chargers now are smooth like a dolphin’s underbelly, with no grip nor notch in sight, leaving the long charging cable to flop around uselessly in one’s bag, inevitably tangling with other cords and wires, such as the stupid additional dongle wire one has to purchase along with the new macbooks. For two thousand dollars you would think Apple would throw us at least a bone. But no. Instead we have: the touch bar.

I know, I know. I’m being petty. The fact stands that I was able to get a new computer more or less immediately after my old one died (major throwback to six years ago, when I was literally bawling in an apple authorised service center because my computer died suddenly and I simply couldn’t afford to get a new one.. I certainly terrified all the sales staff that day, let me tell you, there is nothing quite as desperate as a broke student just trying to pass), and at a discount at that. There are blessings to be counted and I have done the math. But does that reality contradict the one where Apple is being, as they say, a lil bitch? No it does not. And that intersection of irritation is where I currently reside, arms akimbo, waiting for my petty anger to slowly dissipate and melt into resignation, which I can already see creeping towards me from the horizon.

x
Jem

#2097| seismic

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cheapo Harley Quinn
shot on the nikon z6

So much stuff has been going on and life has shifted under my feet; life is, for now, seismic. I am nervous and excited and happy about this. You can probably tell by the totally lost look on my face above. You know how it goes. I relate to Chidi on a soul-deep level. I want to be Janet. I function the most like Eleanor. I need to stop charting my life against television characters, who by now I should know are not units of realistic measure, but points of relativity which morph and phase by the seasons. Even when disavowing the currency of fictional characters I feel some part of me get annoyed at Jason’s existence, and then at myself for being unable to appreciate goofiness as a sort of sincerity. Being serious myself I like serious people. All this was a big distraction. I’ll see you guys in the fall.

x
Jem

#2095 | It’s 2019, and stupidity is somehow still romantic.

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Hey guys,

So tonight I caught what is possibly the stupidest show I’ve watched since Dylan Dog Dead Of the Night in 2010, and I was so mad I came straight home to write a post about it. The show in question is the 2019 remake of the very popular manga turned drama, It Started with a Kiss, starring Darren Wang and Jelly Lin, and till tonight I have never felt such a strong compulsion to fling a shoe at the movie screen before. Instead, bound by social conventions and niceties, I settled for sighing very loudly and rolling my eyes at every turn till my boyfriend told me to stop being a hater, which is why I’m here instead where no one can interrupt my tirade. Here we go.

The movie’s plot doesnt digress too much from the original drama, which admittedly, is very problematic in hindsight. I actually watched the original taiwanese drama back in the day, ten years ago now, and I remember being very addicted to it, which just goes to show that I had kind of mortifying taste. The story follows a girl who’s kind of stupid (her challenged intellect is actually a real and emphasized plot point in the show) and who is in love with the school genius who has an IQ of 200. Seriously, only in asia will you be a total king in school because you’re smart. But ok, we like our As and what not, so I can buy it. Anyway, said genius rejects her confession of love, but her house collapses in an earthquake and she somehow moves in to his (no surprises there!) very huge mansion because their parents were friends back in school. And although he is totally disgusted by her stalkerish behavior (at some point she actually sleeps with a pillow that has his face printed on the side), he eventually falls in love with her and asks her to marry him because – and I kid you not – “no one will ever love me more than you have”.

Lets put aside the total ludicrousness of the plot. If Koreans can have their alien boyfriends and the Japanese can have their custom made robotic boyfriends, then fine, we can have an earthquake that forces the female protagonist to move in with her school crush. Whatever. And I can even close an eye to the bad acting and the incredibly irritating romanticizing of this puppy dog behavior where a girl stalking a guy around the school is seen as cute and somehow persistently romantic instead of actually creepy and kind of maniac. But I nearly lost it when the female protagonist, who’s one defining characteristic the whole movie was that she’s really stupid, was described as being a carefree romantic. She rocks up to the new house, meets her new foster family, and is mocked by a kid for being stupid. In that moment, the mother of her crush takes her hands, sighs, and says: “Actually, I always wanted a romantic character like yours. It’s better to live a simple, carefree life, you’ll be happier as a person.”

At this point in the movie I turned to my boyfriend and said loudly: “When are they going to stop equating total stupidity to an actual romantic quality? It’s kind of totally insulting for everyone involved.”

And he was like: “Jem this is a movie theater, keep it down.”

But the more the show went on the more upset I got. The show’s writing never gave the actress a chance to introduce any sort of complexity into the character – she continues to faithfully be the wide-eyed, melodramatic girl who laughs cutely when she gets 9/100 for math because she’s so cute that it hurts her brain to study. She devotes her entire existence to the material comforts of her crush, running out into the rain to give him a blanket (even though he had an umbrella and a jacket), stalking him when he moves out of the house to make sure her romantic rival isn’t spending the night at his new place, and even staying up late to sew him some kind of voodoo exam charm before his SATS in a show of support. Of course none of this is done quietly: she appears at his exam venue looking all wraith-like, her dark eye circles a physical stamp of her devotion to him, and promptly faints from exhaustion, getting knocked over by a car and causing him to miss the exam so he can get her to the hospital. She only deviates from being this nonentity of a person once, which is to stand up for another friend of hers (who’s obviously also secretly in love with her) when her crush is characteristically cruel to him. She says: I regret liking you, I’ll go to university and move on from you.

And he corners her, forces a kiss onto her, and says: oh yeah? You think you can move on from liking me? Right. And walks away.

How, in 2019, is this still a thing? How is this still being greenlighted, still being made?

The worst, totally offensive thing about that whole farce is that it quite clearly wasnt set up as satire, and nothing about the scene possessed any kind of timely self-awareness. Everything about the lingering camera pull, the background music swell – hell, even the totally cinematic golden hour lighting for what is supposedly a midday occurrence, suggested that we find this moment to be a romantic one, a show of hidden affection for her, a win in the larger scheme of girl-likes-boy.

No. Take your win, and stuff it.

The problem with framing stupidity as a cute, romantic quality is that everybody loses. Girls lose, because in performing this utterly brainless behavior that orients itself around the movements of a man, they have no chance to cultivate any sort of self-respect. Boys lose, because instead of being allowed to develop thoughtful relationships with women, they’re socialised to mentor and encourage this flouncy behavior in their potential partners. Society loses, because millions of dollars invested into a first world education system is wasted on kids who’d rather prance around and make origami structures out of their exam scripts. Worse, when you frame stupidity as a primitive, instinctive quality that is seductive in its naivete, it validates a matching primitive response from the other party, which of course has been socially nurtured over the years to refer to a traditionally alpha show of force. In the absence of level intellectual engagement, girls swoon, boys take charge, consent flies out of the window, and we all have to clap and call it romantic.

At the end of the movie, when the boy realises that no one will ever love him as much as she does, and proposes to her, I felt this incredible melancholy settle into me. I felt sad because these are the romantic narratives that we have grown up with, that are not unfamiliar to us even as we revisit them a decade later. I felt sad because when there was an opportunity for a remake to improve upon the original material, even keeping in mind all that has happened in the world, the writers made a choice to present the same, dated narrative that has no doubt fed into international stereotypes of Asian girls being moony, giggly, and all about the man. I felt sad because these narratives are cute, they’re (unintentionally) insiduous in their cuteness, and so young girls will watch these growing up, and think that self-respect, intellectual independence, and love are mutually exclusive, and given the emphasis on romance the world over, many of these girls will choose the only version of love they are conditioned to know and accept. I felt sad because there are ways to preserve the innocent and all-consuming excitement of a schoolgirl crush without rendering it toxic, and the showrunners did not take that choice to deepen the development of the show.

Because let’s be clear: it’s toxic behavior. This show was a classic portrayal of toxic girlfriend behavior, except with a cutesy filter slapped on. When a man she likes rejects her, she can’t take no for an answer. When he tells her he wants to be left alone, she blackmails him with an embarassing clip of him dancing which she got from his mum. When his family’s business goes into crisis, she makes it all about her, and takes it upon herself to make decisions about how long he should work, sleep, and eat. When he stays late at work, trying to save his company from going bankrupt, we see her near tears, sitting by a cup of coffee she made for him, which he didn’t drink (or want). This inability to take no for an answer, and insistence on making everything about oneself is problematic behavior whether it’s performed by a man or a woman. Angling it as romantic, and writing this as a lead up to a happy ending, is an insult to all parties involved.

It’s 2019 people. Resorting to literal, low IQ that correlates to an all consuming devotion to a man is lazy and annoying character development. Maybe it’s time we demand more from our romcoms. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for us to be totally radical, and stop framing an inability to pass algebra as cute.

x
Jem

#2085 | Things I was impressed by in 2018

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Hey guys:

Not exactly a gift guide (though feel free to lift liberally from it for gifting ideas) but a random assortment of things that made me go oh wow in 2018.

1. Wireless Chargers

I am in love with wireless charging. I have a standing wireless charger in my office which is made by Samsung, and I bought a Belkin one off Amazon as well. The Samsung one is significantly easier to use, and I feel like it charges phones faster too, but the Belkin is cheaper and still functional. Wires? Pft. Wireless charging is the very chi chi future.

2. Suubalm Moisturiser

So simple but so effective. If you’ve ever known the pain of a mosquito bite itch, which is part of the guarantee living in a tropical country like Singapore, then this is pretty much a godsend. The Suubalm moisturiser is a menthol product which makes the spot where it’s applied to feel minty, which works to distract you from the itch till it goes away. It’s formulated at the National Skin Center Singapore, which gives me faith that it’s all of the good things. Obviously I drank the gov’s kool aid.

3. Scented Candles

See this blog post for backstory, but yes, belated to the party as I am, I am now extremely into scented candles and I think they make excellent gifts.

4. Short hair

I went to the salon to try and get my hair dyed pink and they cut it all off instead, which proves that my stylist really knows best because I LOVE IT. In fact I am now particularly excited whenever I see another girl with short hair, it’s like being in a secret club. My boyfriend is not amused by this (like all boys, he likes the hair long), and he was like please dont when I said I wanted to go even shorter. I was all like, who cares what you think?!?!?! I dont live for some mans approval!!! and he was all like, … we’ve been dating five years..

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I cut my hair with Calvin at Hairloom Singapore

5. The High Low Podcast
I’m new to podcasting(ish), I’d dabbled in it before, earlier in the year, but they were all very specific podcasts that had to do with one topic or were basically musicals, so they weren’t habit forming per se. I got into podcasts again during my time in the UK because everyone there listens to podcasts, and on the recommendation of a colleague I started listening to pop culture podcast The High Low by journalists Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. I listen to it when I’m doing housework or driving, so basically whenever I cant be using my hands or eyes (ruling out reading or watching TV), and I am really loving it! I now feel like Dolly and Pandora are my friends, which of course they arent, so I kind of hope I never run into them IRL because I will probably definitely be extremely uncool about it.

6. F45 Training
I started working out at f45 this Feb and something about it just makes you want to commit. Alright, it’s probably the money. It’s pricey but essentially boutique gym price (meaning you pay the same as say if you’re into spin or boxing), and it’s the kind of workout that triggers momentum, so you feel compelled to keep going back. Reader, I kid you not: I feel guilty when I miss a day. Anyway, having a workout routine feeds very well into the whole becoming more of an adult business, so I’m very pleased about this.

7. Multiple books, all of them.

I read a lot in the second half of 2018 by virtue of the editorial traineeships I did in London. First half of the year was insane, and I am ashamed to say I barely got any reading done. But I more than made up for it in the second half because not only did I read a lot, I read a lot of good books. Will post a list soon, but the books are usually more or less all on my IG story highlights. Yay! #bookstagram

8. Elizabeth Arden’s Skincare & etc

I know it’s odd to be impressed by like, a whole brand, but I only got on Elizabeth Arden this year and my word I love it. I’m obsessed. I haven’t tried a single thing from them that I dont like yet. My favorites are the Superstart Probiotic range (the 1 min clay mask and skin booster) and the Retinol ceramide capsules which I am basically addicted to. I let my sisters try them and they are very annoyed at how much they like the capsules because EA is totally not student-budget range. Haha. But yes I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve tried from them so far, skincare wise.

Since we’re on the topic of skincare, I was also very taken by the local products I tried in Okinawa whilst on shoot there earlier this year. The Suisavon clay mask and the Nuchima-su sea salt in particular I am loving. The sea salt works as a scrub, which you can use maybe 2x a week for exfoliation, with immediate and visible brightening results. The Suisavon clay mask spreads like a dream and leaves your skin really fresh and soft.


The travel show I did with Okinawa Tourism Board and Jetstar, here

9. The Google Home Mini

Also a longer backstory at this blog post, but I love my google home mini so much I actually bring it with me when I travel. Hot tip: I’ve customised my google home to trigger a series of routines when I get home by saying ‘google I’m home’, and it immediately a. welcomes me home b. sets an alarm for 11pm (which is my bedtime) c. reads out my next day’s events pulled from google cal and d. plays this ultra chill home playlist which I curated myself on spotify thank you very much! Unimaginatively, it’s called Google I’m Home and you can listen to it here.

10. Wakesurfing!!!

My friends and I are always looking for new things to do together and this year we alighted on wakeboarding/ wakesurfing. One of the benefits of living in a tropical country is the easy access to water sports, either locally or in the region, and I’m a total waterbaby. I used to wakeboard in school as an elective but I was all kinds of horrible, so it’s a relief that adults have better balance (it seems). Still, in addition to regular wakeboarding, I tried wakesurfing for the first time and I freakin love it! I texted my boyfriend and I was like, youre so lucky cos youre obviously dating the next wakesurfing olympic champion. He’s obviously used to my nonsense because he wasn’t even fazed, he was like, aight.

Anyway, I love it.

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I’m sure there’s more stuff I was impressed by but here are the top ten off the top of my head. In retrospect there arent that many there that can be repurposed as gifts, but, yknw, whatever, this aint a gift guide.

Till next time x

x
Jem

#2084 | To all the girls I’ve loved before

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This essay was written and published in Her World’s 2018 December issue. Many thanks to David and team for housing it – you can get the issue in stores now. x

Three years ago on Christmas Eve, I got down on one knee in a tiny Italian bistro, the name of which I no longer remember, only that it was dark, candle lit, and had tables squeezed too close to each other. I pulled out a long speech typed on my phone’s Notes app, started and stopped a few times, then abandoned the doomed speech entirely, and asked: “G, it’s been seven wonderful years, the next seven I believe will be equally wonderful, or more, anyway, what I am trying to say is – will you be my friend forever?”

There were tears, gasps, complimentary wine, and way too amused servers. One of them said: “Now I’ve seen everything.” I remember the music in the background: French. I remember thinking it was a strange choice for an Italian establishment. There was a ring, an eternity band in rose gold and silver. We were extravagant in our celebration of friendship that night, and lived like church mice for the subsequent few months. Our friends rolled their eyes at our melodramatic tendencies. And we leaned into each other and giggled right back.

The proposal was based off the popular but questionable myth that any friendship that makes it seven years will last a lifetime. Still, accurate or not, it was about that time that the truth of the underlying principle began to make itself apparent to me: good friendships are rare, they take work, and when done right, are a joy to behold. It is a principle that I live by now, a guiding principle that informs my interactions with people around me, that rules my time with intentionality. Friendship, when enacted meaningfully, can be the stuff of epic romances. Toss out what you know from garden-variety Hollywood infatuations; this is the real deal.

In an essay published earlier this year, Elena Ferrante, best known for her novels on female friendship, breaks down the etymology of the term. “The Italian word for “friendship”, amicizia,” she writes, “has the same root as the verb “to love”, amare, and a relationship between friends has the richness, the complexity, the contradictions, the inconsistencies of love.” Let us note specifically the equivalency she draws between the value of friendship and romances, and the power she attributes to both in a world that focuses frequently on only one. This ability to induce joy and confidence should not be taken lightly – in today’s climate, we need it desperately. The truth is, we all know that very good female friendships are rare and powerful, and it is in our best interests to constantly seek them out, for they will then govern our values, our behavior, our ethics. Our individual bodies and communities become the bearers of these friendships, and we grow and become stronger by them. It makes for not just a better world, but better lives.

This is especially important today in an era of girl squads and cliques that flip to feuds in a matter of seconds. These glamorized friendships do little justice to kinships forged over deep conversations, practiced empathy, and shared experiences: bonds that see you through a life of good times and bad. Clearly we can do much better – especially now when female solidarity is having a moment. In pop culture, literature, and film, there has been increasing demand for more stories of complex, nuanced friendships. I don’t doubt the correlation between this and the happenings in the world – art has always responded to the zeitgeist of the era. 2018 has been internationally recognized as a demanding but defining year for women. It is almost impossible to keep one eye on women in global politics and keep the other eye dry. And in navigating the cesspool of rage the modern world inevitably creates, we have seen women band together the world over, in fury, in tears, and in celebration. It is almost primal, what we are witnessing today, if only we pay attention.

In the light of current happenings, one would think that the value of strong female friendships would be immediately obvious to all. But this is not the case. Too often, significant female experiences are misread as exclusionary or taken as an affront to other forms of relationships. A claim to female solidarity is not a threat to a healthy romantic relationship, for example, though it is frequently read as such. Another thing I have heard said: “Platonic heterosexual friendships are amazing,” as if more than one thing cannot be amazing. Many things are and can be incredible: healthy romantic relationships, solid familial bonds, trusting platonic friendships between men and women, life-long bromances enacted between men and other men. They can be incredible simultaneously; we do ourselves a disservice to assume a limited capacity on this front. It is time for us to also unapologetically include thriving female friendships when taking stock of how far we have come. What female friendships uniquely offer us, individually and together, are a source of strength, derived from shared experience, a way to approach and navigate the world. Something this worthy and powerful has to be earned, and sustaining it takes work. It is not simply an empowering slogan printed on a T-shirt. And there are steps we can take to get there.

Here is how we begin. Recognize the women who have helped you. Help other women. Create communities that encourage and enable mentorship. Consciously, and with intentionality, be a good friend to other women. Articulate this in your language and behavior. Call out toxic behavior constructively. Do not fall into the trap of popularized language and tropes – the generality of the bitch, the slut, the crazy ex girlfriend. Allow other women to be people, and not simply characters. Don’t take your friends for granted. Work at your friendships, and work hard. Celebrate them. (You can even have a few proposals!) I have said this so many times already but I cannot say it enough. Friendship, when done right – it is amazing. Amazing.

x
Jem