February 23, 2014

A Spoonful of Sentiment

It's tough for a non-movie review blog to write a movie review. But I love movies and I'll take any good excuse I can to actually get out of the house and get immersed in a film. And Saving Mr Banks saved me. 

Here's a quick synopsis for those who haven't heard of the film: 
Walt Disney spent years pursuing the rights to create a movie based on the book, Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers. He's persistent in wanting to make the movie not only because he loved the story but because he wanted to fulfill a promise he made to his daughters. Mrs. Travers reluctantly agreed to work with Disney's team on the film but refused to sign away the rights during pre-production. Long story short, she eventually signed away the rights and the film's made. 

But you knew that. Because most of us grew up with Mary Poppins as part of our childhood. We know the film, we know the songs, and we all loved Mary Poppins. Saving Mr. Banks doesn’t just take you behind the scenes as to how Walt Disney and P. L. Travers eventually struck a chord. This movie takes you into the childhood of Mrs. Travers and deep into her head where we really understand why this fictional character, Mary Poppins, is such an important and protected part of her life.

Let me state what I think is obvious. If you haven't ever seen Mary Poppins, you've got some homework to do. You need to watch it and then go see it. If you don't, you'll miss a lot of the subtle humor and inside jokes. And you'll be able to follow the story line but you won't really get it. If you've seen Mary Poppins and didn't love it, this movie might not be for you. And finally, if you've seen Mary Poppins but it's been so many years that you can't really remember if you liked it or not, go see this movie. You've probably forgotten that you loved it as a kid and this film will remind you. (Side note: This is NOT a movie to take your kids to. They'll simply be bored. It's an adult movie. Enjoy a night out.)

Well, I really loved it. It's because it was a movie that stayed with me. When I see a good movie, it usually has to sit with me for a day before I can really coherently come up with what I thought of it. That's a good sign because it means it got the wheels turning in my head. The next day, I was singing the songs from the film and just replaying some of the scenes in my mind and mostly just marveling over the amazing cast. Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, a middle-aged Australian born English writer of children's books. She wasn't pleasant and yet we're sympathetic and amused. And I love love Emma for facing the big screen with that awful 1960s hair. Oh she deserves Oscars. Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, the American icon who has never been portrayed on screen before. So Tom Hanks as Walt Disney? OF COURSE!

The biggest thrill for me in this film was feeling like I got a glimpse into the life of Walt Disney; who he was, what he was like to work with, and how he fought for what he believed in. In a beautiful but entirely fictional scene, Disney tells Travers about his own difficult childhood:

I love my life - it's a miracle.  And I loved my daddy, boy, I loved him. But, there isn't a day goes by where I don't think of that little boy in the snow and old Elias with his fist and strap, and I'm just so tired - I'm tired of remembering it that way. Aren't you tired Mrs. Travers? We all have our tales but don't you want to find a way to finish the story? Let it all go and have a life that isn't dictated by a past?

Although Travers has created a magical world of imagination, it represents gritty reality to her. Mary Poppins shows the children hard truths, and fiction that reveals painful truths is important. But Disney sees another role for fiction, that we can use fiction to write the endings that we wish our stories had, and thus heal our griefs. I like Disney's idea.

There are many reasons why people love romance as a genre, and there are many reasons why I love it. One of my favorite things about romance is the promise that things will be okay. In real life, even though my life's one of great happiness, I worry all the time, about everything from asteroids (collisions!) to turtles (endangered!). Above all I worry about people who are suffering who I can't save, and I grieve for people who I've lost. So you can imagine my tearful response when, at the premiere of Mary Poppins, when Travers weeps because Mr. Banks has been fired, Disney leans over to her and whispers, "It's all right, Mrs. Travers. It's alright. Mr. Banks is going to be all right. I promise."

First of all, in terms of the movie itself, it's a powerful moment, because P.L. Travers' father, the model for Mr. Banks, wasn't alright. Not even her own Mary Poppins, a seemingly invincible aunt, could save him. And although in real life Travers was never happy with the film, this scene in Saving Mr. Banks is cathartic for the character and for the audience. From the standpoint of someone like me who likes romance, this moment was touching and affirming. We all know that things in life can be hard. Even happy endings have tough parts. But when you pick up a romance book, it says, "It's alright, I promise."  And that's not trite or delusional. It's powerful and healing and freeing. It's a way of nurturing hope and it gives us something good to imagine and to aspire to.

We need stories that reveal the hardships we've faced historically and that we continue to face today. We need to be able to clearly see our past and our present. But we also need hope and optimism. If all stories end in doom, then we start to feel doomed. What I hadn't thought of before Saving Mr. Banks is that in writing happy endings we can also rewrite our own stories. What Disney's saying to Travers is that we can use fiction not only to reveal our reality but to shape it. There are a lot of things going on in this movie but for me, that aspect's the most interesting, and that aspect's why I think some of you would enjoy the film so much. That, and the fact that Emma Thompson plays the smartest, and bitchiest, smart bitch of all time! Oh please just give her that Oscars!

For the record, there are some interesting controversies surrounding the film. See, in the movie, Emma Thompson weeps with joy because she loves the film version of Mary Poppins so very much and the magic of Disney has healed her emotional wounds. But actually, in real life, P.L. Travers wept at the premier because she hated it. She liked the money, and she got a heap of it, but she still hated the movie. Lol.

February 19, 2014


For years I believed that strong meant holding on and pushing through. Whether I was at home, in the classroom, or part of a conversation, I did just that. If resistance came, I held on. I pushed through.

In the past few years, though, I've gained a bit of clarity. Circumstances and relationships have taught me that strength doesn't come from sticking it out. Strength comes from the willingness to act or let go, and the wisdom to know which route to choose.

What does strong mean to you?

February 17, 2014

From Aemy's Lab: Salted Fish Sambal

I used to hate cooking. Why? Because it was boring. (This just in: It is not.) Well, the real reason I hated it is because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, no confidence whatsoever that I'd ever be able to navigate my way around the kitchen. 

My mom is an amazing cook. So much of my childhood was spent sitting in the kitchen, watching her whip up elaborate meals for us. She goes through the motions without thinking, adds ingredients without measuring. So I decided to dive in. Well, okay, maybe mom pushed me in a little bit. I can't just sit and watch her cooking forever. I'm not living in a castle waiting for my dinner to be served. So mom taught me to cook and she convinced me that I'd fall in love with cooking if only I learned how. And so I did learn. And so I do love it. Mom's always right. :)

Sambal dish is part of main course in our place, with chili base paste stir-fry to fragrant before adding the other main ingredients. They can be vegetable or seafood. One of my favorites is salted fish. So recently, using mom's recipe, I cooked salted fish with chili or sambal tumis ikan masin. Salted fish slightly stinks, but the taste, holy moly, is yummy! So here it is:

Salted terubok fish (cut into pieces)
3 onions (ground)
4 garlic cloves (ground)
5 small chilies..or more, as you like (chopped)
2 tablespoons of chili paste
1/2 cup of tamarind water
2 tomatoes (diced)
2 big green chilies (chopped)
Pinch of salt and sugar

1. Deep-fry the salted fish until crispy.
2. Evacuate the fish and replace the oil with new one (when you fry salted fish, the oil turns dark and you wouldn't want to reuse it).
3. Heat the oil in the pan, then stir-fry ground garlic and onions.
4. Add chili paste and stir-fry until fragrant.
5. Add small chilies, tamarind water (with the pulps) and tomatoes, stir. Lower heat and let it simmer.
6. Adjust the taste with salt and sugar.
7. Toss in salted fish and stir evenly. Add green chilies for garnishing. And it's ready to serve.

Maybe you can try this for dinner tonight. ;)
Bon app├ętit!

February 16, 2014

Hey Monday

It's gonna be Monday. And it could mean 2 things: a bad ending to a good weekend or a bad start to another week.

If you're like me at all, maybe you'd snooze the alarm 6 times before jumping out of bed in hurry because you're dangerously close to being late to work. Maybe you'd run around the kitchen trying to find an instant breakfast while filling water bottle. Maybe Monday means a heavy sigh for all of the things you didn't get accomplished over the weekend, or a countdown of hours left until Tuesday. Maybe you give up on the day before it even starts. or you wish it were a different day.

And it can be, you know. You'd want your Mondays to be more than a complaint, more than a collection of all the things that can go wrong in 24 hours. Days are all about perspective. This Monday is an opportunity to start being grateful for the days you're given, regardless of how they turn out. 

Tomorrow's a brand new day. A thank you that you woke up. A smile because you slept on a comfortable bed. A grateful heart that you have a job. A deep breath of fresh air.  A celebration of another chance to do it better. An opportunity to try harder in all of your endeavors. A privilege that you have a cell phone, home, food, health, clean clothes, education, etc. 

Start off your week by making a decision to make the most out of what comes your way. Decide to let go of those things that aren't good for your soul. Wake up and put a smile on your face. Stop waiting for the perfect moment and start doing it now. Send someone a thoughtful text to start their day off right. Turn down every opportunity of anger and frustration. Do something now so that you don't have to do it later. Express gratitude and notice the beauty. Be kind to yourself. Embrace the day.

Mondays are beginnings and the best part about beginnings is that you get to write the story. Let's not hate on Monday. Have a great week ahead. :)

February 15, 2014

Light as Air

Recently, life has been a bit of a whirlwind. A good whirlwind, to be sure, but a whirlwind nonetheless. Last weekend left me calm and rejuvenated. Refreshed. Outdoor brunch, an all-day barbecue at the river, hangout at playground, and friends who bring out my truest self. We faced the sun and ate barbecued chickens and ate pickles and welcomed life with open arms. And something within or above or around me lifted, loosened, so that now I'm feeling light as air.
It's the new weekend and life is good, you know? Life is just so damn good.

our picnic spot

Kibambangan River

dipping in cold river

glad to have him 


the chefs

Well, I know it's the month of love. But I'm not a valentine's day person because I'm not celebrating it, but everyone can celebrate love anytime. Let's celebrate all kinds of love everyday, shall we? Romantic love, yes, but also friendship and the love of our families, our acquaintances, our old loves and new loves, puppy loves and forever loves. The love of words, of sunshine, of fresh flowers sitting on the windowsill. And let's not forget to show love, too, to those we care about and also to ourselves. Also, let us not forget self-love.
And thank you so much for all the love you've shown this little blog over the years.

Have a blast weekend. ^^

February 14, 2014

Bits of Wisdom

SPF 4 doesn't count. In fact, it probably contains more oil than sun protection.
It's worth keeping every movie ticket you've ever had, you'll want them someday.
It really, truly is okay to say no. Saying yes isn't always an option.
Parents are right almost all the time, so you may as well listen and learn.
Giving 100% to work or school is great, but you should give the same to friends.
You have to open up and seek out the joy, joy doesn't find you.
If he wants to be with you "in a couple years", move on. Love shouldn't have to be planned.
Friends will move away, you'll move away, and somehow, you'll be closer than ever.
The best kind of love is when you both put the other on a pedestal.

Have a great weekend. :)

February 11, 2014

Letting it All In

Previously a friend asked about love, heartbreak and moving on, about the hows and the whys. I've been thinking a lot about how to respond, remembering that desperate grip of hope that rises in the wake of a loss. Remembering the need for black-and-white clarity. Really, all of us just want someone to name that thing, that one thing we're feeling, because once we've named the unnameable, it somehow feels easier to erase; if only because we finally know what exactly we're trying to move past.

"How do you get over the feelings? How do you move on?" She asked.

There's no one answer, of course, and although she'd been talking about romantic love, I think we can all relate to that need to escape feelings. It's not always easy and I can't always manage, but if I'm angry or upset or lonely or jealous or afraid, I try to step back and say, "so be it." So be it. It's okay to feel sad and it's okay to feel nostalgic and it's okay to sink into those murky, melancholy feelings every once in a while. That's life. That's living. What matters, where your character lies, is in the action. The greatest marker of who you are is what you do with how you feel, what happens in those moments between sense and do.

When it comes to the most powerful, deep-rooted sorts of hurt, loss and heartbreak, I suppose I've never really set those feelings aside. They still scratch at my insides some days, when a moment or some strange emotion catches me by surprise. I've always felt like all those slivers of heartbreak still live somewhere inside me and on any given day, it's just a matter of where they lie. Most days I don't notice them. But some days, they sit in my stomach, making me nauseous. Other days, it's a quick poke that swiftly passes. And on the worst days, I feel those thick, heavy feelings of heartbreak filling up my throat until they make a lump so big I can hardly breathe. Sorry if that's exaggerated. 

"I can't even sleep, I'm drowning," she said.

I understood. Whenever I've experience pain, I wallow. I dive headfirst into mourning, basking in the most surreal kind of sadness. Long, dramatic crying spells, hours spent feeling everything at once, hours feeling nothing. The point is, I let all those feelings wash over me, drowning for just a little while until I'm literally exhausted by them, until I can't stand to sit still for another moment and all I wanna do is do something about it.

Eventually, that human impulse to fix will kick in. Eventually, you'll hit the surface. In the meantime, feel. Whatever it is, just let it in. Feel, and then do. And do something that makes you feel proud. Let your actions reflect your best self, and don't worry about the rest.

February 9, 2014

The Look of Love

I have a thing about those obvious in-love photos. The ones where you can tell that the person in the picture is in love with the person behind the lens. They always make for the most natural, in-the-moment photos, and over the years, a handful of times, I've been able to catch Ifo off-guard so that an easy smile or a special little glint in his eyes gives it away: he loves me.

This time, though, it's his turn. He got me. He got us both. With self-portrait camera, he captured our in-love faces. :)

at the beach park, after having an awesome picnic with our friends

February 6, 2014

Time and Priorities

I've started a job as a substitute teacher since 2 weeks ago at the same school that I worked for last year. It's February now and the school's getting busier with lots of activities, plus there's diagnostic test for Year 6 that made me take extra hours at school to do statistics, which, holy moly, was such a tedious work. You know a teacher's job is more than teaching. At night, I study. Yep, you read that correctly. I need to re-study mathematics because I ain't really good at it even the Year 6's maths and you wouldn't wanna be a loser in front of the kids. :p

I've been thinking a lot about the value of time lately. I chatted with a friend who regularly writes out "priority lists." Every so often, she'll make a list of her top priorities, in order, and see if she's allowing enough time for what's most important. Interesting, huh? I try not to overthink anything, to just write things as they came to me:

1. Health, both physical and emotional.
2. Strong relationships with family and friends.
3. Personal and professional growth.
4. The just-for-fun stuff.

Truth is, the lines can blur among the 4, but I try to identify specifics within each group. What do I do that makes me feel like my truest, healthiest self? There's the physical stuff, like gardening and cooking and running. But on the emotional side, there's also reading, writing..which also, of course, lead to personal growth. For strong relationships, I thought of dates and outings and phone calls and chats, and for the just-for-fun stuff, it's all about the internet, tv and movies.

A lot of it feels obvious, I know, but there's certainly something to be said for sitting back, evaluating what's important, and deciding whether your actions are in line with your priorities.
What do you think? Are you able to spend time on what's most meaningful to you?
Have a great week. :)


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