Sunday, March 29, 2009

More Thoughts On The Winter's Tale

With the disclaimer that I'm no expert on Shakespeare, of course. :)

Feedback from a few sources regarding Sunday night's performance seems much better than the Thursday show I attended, at least in terms of audience response. While I'm a little peeved that my own experience was less than ideal, I am now hopeful that The Bridge Project will make Singapore a regular stop during future tours.

The following is a continuation of my previous entry. Forgive the random skips, as I'm writing this at 4am in the morning, after finally clearing a constant stream of patients who decided to swarm the ER at the exact same time.

1) Interesting interpretation

While my library book, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, states the play was written around 1600-1611, the costumes and sets depict a very different era.

For the 1st half, the wardrobe looks like something circa the 1800s, while the 2nd half is maybe early 1900s.

I'd seen press review pics when the show opened in New York, but since I hadn't read the play at the time, I didn't pay much attention to the discrepancy until a few nights ago.

Far be it from me to make any criticisms. Let's just say it's very different from the Royal Shakespeare Company's King Lear production, which featured the expected corsets, billowy gowns and other medieval wear.

The Winter's Tale definitely trumps King Lear in terms of costume design. The outfits are sleek and flattering to both male and female forms, while I recall those from King Lear as looking rather worn out and ill-fitting.

As was mentioned in the Life! review, the 2nd half which is set in Bohemia is portrayed as an "American idyll", with characters dressed as if they're going for a hay ride ( except for Perdita, who's inexplicably clad in a flowy Greek-style gown ). I couldn't help noticing the clear reference to American patriotism, in the form of red, white and blue balloons. Ahem! :)

One scene I particularly liked is the one where Cleomenes and Dion present the oracle to King Leontes to await its divine verdict. I didn't expect to see a quill - and one that's able to scribble independent of any guiding hand. How on earth did they pull that off? I distinctly saw the actor emerge from backstage and take the quill out of a closed box before placing it on the table to let it do its thing. That little special effect was quite impressive, not to mention a tad creepy as well, haha.

2) The accents

Most of my past experiences with Shakespearean productions ( stage and film ) involve crisp British intonations. Except maybe Romeo + Juliet ( the Leonardo DiCaprio / Claire Danes movie ).

This version proved even more interesting because it mixed English and American twangs. But I also note that the characters who do the most hair-pulling / chest-beating monologues tend to be Brits. Coincidence? Maybe not. :)

Tobias Segal's hillbilly pronunciation proved perfect for his comic role. Whoever came up with that idea deserves a pat on the back!

3) Chemistry between cast members

May have been isolated to Thursday night, but I didn't feel it, other than with Rebecca Hall and Josh Hamilton in the opening scene.

I might be the only person who feels this way. Let me know what you think.

On to the next subject...

Expanded Edition of Jason Mraz's We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.

Finally got my hands on this last Thursday, and I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it is. :)

Am currently blasting Disc 2 - The EPs - in my car ( and driving my mom crazy heh ). It is so bloody terrific!

As always, Jason sounds phenomenal in an "unplugged" setting, stripped of the usual band accompaniment as he plucks at the guitar and lets his extraordinary voice take centrestage.

Comparing this recent recording to earlier ones, there's a discernible difference in his voice - still boyish and crystal clear, but with a huskier tone and a very relaxed delivery, which comes with maturity and confidence gained from numerous tours these past 5 years.

Every track's a gem, but Live High, If It Kills Me, A Beautiful Mess, Make It Mine and Butterfly are huge favourites.

His cover of Bob Dylan's Man Gave Names To All The Animals is a heady combination of bluesy pop / rock arrangement and cheeky lyrics. I haven't heard the original, but don't really want to since JM's version is excellent.

My absolute fave, however, is Mudhouse / Gypsy MC, a number recorded 'live' in Amsterdam that is best appreciated with the volume dial turned WAAAY UP. Almost shattered my car windows on the way to work tonight. :)

Featuring Mr. Mraz solo on his guitar, it's got an infectious rhythm set to a witty rap, topped with an immensely catchy chorus.

Catchphrase of the week ( or month ): 40 ounces... of AWESOMENESS. Listen to the song if you want to know what I mean. :)

There's a Disc 3 - a concert DVD that includes even more bonus songs. Will review that once I find the time to watch it.

April Highlights

On cable!

1) The HBO series True Blood, essentially Twilight with brains.

2) True Colors - a movie from the '80s, starring John Cusack and James Spader at the height of their poster-boy glory. But it's actually a really good film, so make sure you catch it.

3) Damages Season 2 - severely delayed arrival on local TV, but better late than never.

Morning rounds beckon, adios.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quick Review of The Bridge Project's The Winter's Tale
- 26th March 2009, Esplanade Theatre

My schedule these next couple of days won't allow for a detailed entry till at least Sunday / Monday, so here's a short summary.

I attended the opening night performance yesterday. Great seats - 5th row dead centre. Expectations were high.

Sadly, I didn't really enjoy myself. And I don't think the fault lies with the cast or crew.

1) The audience kinda sucked.

Very sedate. I'm certain quite a few people didn't know the plot beforehand, because in the scene where King Leontes commands Antigonus to incinerate his baby daughter, there were audible gasps throughout the auditorium. ( There was also a little girl somewhere in the back row. Can a 9-year-old understand Shakespeare? )

On the whole, everyone was just extremely...quiet. Not much reaction to anything going on on-stage, and I was terribly distracted by those sitting in my vicinity - a couple in their 20s who kept smooching loudly ( please get a room ); another who couldn't stop touching each other ( please get a room too ); a woman to my right who's probably a reporter since she kept scribbling notes on a memo pad, even turning on a small light to see what she was writing during a dramatic scene ( I felt like whacking her ); and a family behind me whose father laughed at inappropriate moments ( the first half is tragic, where's the humour?! ).

Worst of all, there was no extra curtain call at the end. It's okay if there's no standing ovation, but everyone practically ran for the door the minute the cast took their bows and went backstage. ( Yes it was 11:30pm, but surely you could've spared another 5 minutes? )


2) The choice of play doesn't suit local tastes.

The Winter's Tale is an obscure Shakespearean work. Even King Lear is considered obscure, but this one is very much more so.

I think Singaporeans aren't ready for something like this. I wouldn't say it's "heavy" - Hamlet and Julius Caesar probably take the cake in that department - but when I read the play on paper, I noticed that there wasn't anything that really stood out, in terms of characters / plot / dialogue. King Lear had many great moments, but The Winter's Tale - not really.

I was wide awake the whole time ( 2.5 hours, excluding intermission ), but can't name anything particularly memorable. Maybe I'll have something to add this weekend when I write a more detailed review.

3) I hope The Bridge Project won't decide NOT to return to Singapore.

If the entire Esplanade run ends up like last night, I doubt we'll see such star power here ever again.

Of course, I'm trying hard to be optimistic, but it's tough.

Recommendation: choose a famous Shakespearean play next time round ( Hamlet, Romeo And Juliet, The Taming Of The Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, to name a few ). Singaporeans ( and possibly international audiences ) will respond much more favourably to material they know ( I believe such works are still covered in our secondary schools, right? ), and that definitely helps enhance the whole experience.

Alternatively, do a non-Shakespearean play that's light and fun. Personally, I'd love to see a revival of The Iceman Cometh ( which is NOT light or fun ), but I doubt the locals will be able to digest it. :)

The upside:

1) It's a beautiful production.

Everything from the sets to the costumes to the choreography is breath-taking.

2) The acting - superb.

Rebecca Hall is my favourite as the much maligned Queen Hermione. Statuesque and regal, she nails the role effortlessly. ( Unlike most, I haven't seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and am a fan of her work in the much less well-known Starter For 10, in which she costarred with the terrific James McAvoy. )

Simon Russell Beale makes a compelling King Leontes, though his character's madness isn't quite as engaging as Sir Ian McKellan's potent rage in King Lear. Plus, I'm a little bothered by the physical incompatibility between him and Hall - she towers over Beale and is much younger. Somehow, it doesn't work very well.

Josh Hamilton may have been a better choice as Leontes, at least in the aesthetic sense. His King Polixenes exudes an easy charm and grace that complements Hall's wonderfully, which is why it's easy to understand Leontes' suspicion that he's having an affair with Hermione. Hamilton strikes me as an actor who's fully capable of unleashing some serious dramatic power given the chance. It would've been nice to see him in action as Leontes.

A pleasant surprise: Tobias Segal as the "Young Shepherd" ( listed as "Clown" or "Shepherd's Son" in my copy of the play ). His shrill-voiced and hyperactive portrayal had everyone in stitches. I think he received a warmer reception than Ethan Hawke!

Ah yes, Mr. Hawke. Here's a man I've watched since his star turn in Dead Poets Society ( 20 years ago? ). As the singing rogue, Autolycus, he is more than adequate, and his effect on the audience was obvious, as everyone around me suddenly sat up the minute his singing voice heralded his entrance in the second half of the show.
At one point, he sat down at the edge of the centre of the stage, just 5 metres away from me. I got goosebumps, man. :)

Despite the excellent cast, however, I somehow failed to establish a strong emotional connection with any of the characters ( though I did feel something for Hermione ). Again, I don't fault the actors, and suspect it was more a combination of factors, predominantly an unappreciative audience, and a number of major distractions.

Another recommendation: should The Bridge Project return to Singapore, I hope the producers / director will attempt to secure Kevin Spacey, John Cusack or James McAvoy as a cast member. I realize such tours aren't popular because you essentially take a huge pay cut and sacrifice 6 months of your life ( time that could be spent making millions in movies ), but I applaud The Bridge Project's efforts to bring high-calibre 'live' theatre to the world.
Anyway, if I don't get to see their plays in Singapore in the future, I have the option of travelling overseas instead.

Would I recommend that you go see it? Yes, definitely.
But how much you enjoy the show depends entirely on the audience.

More this weekend.

Monday, March 23, 2009


That's how I describe Kumar, whose solo stand-up comedy routine last Thursday had the full-capacity crowd laughing non-stop for 90 minutes.

The newpaper review was brief, and for good reason. The majority of the jokes was politically incorrect, sometimes to the point of obscene, but it was all done in good fun, and even my mom loved every minute of it. :)

What you read in the Life! section is highly sanitized and vague, so "poking fun at sombre politicians" doesn't even come close to what actually happened. I'm not going to reproduce the verbal barbs here -- trust me, they're priceless, and were the biggest hits of the evening! -- lest it results in some form of legal action, but the loud guffaws and appreciative applause certainly says something.

One good joke that's safe to mention: Kumar's observation that the Singapore River remains filthy despite millions of dollars being spent on cleaning it up, such that God himself "couldn't tahan" anymore and decided to strike the poor Merlion with a lightning bolt.
It's difficult to deliver a punchline when I paraphrase. :)

I was post-call that night, so the jokes started to wear a little thin towards the end as my eyelids began to droop. But if I'd been wide awake, it would've been a blast.

All Ready

I finished The Winter's Tale today, and am counting down the days till I watch the play.

It's definitely not as an enjoyable a read as King Lear, but I expect the stars to put on a terrific show, thanks to Sam Mendes' expert direction.

With Shakespeare, execution often matters more than the actual subject matter. I won't be post-call this Thursday, so no drooping eyelids to mar my enjoyment. :)

Just hope my throat doesn't act up. I can't believe I'm still coughing almost 3 weeks after contracting a URTI. The worst part of this is not being able to have my weekly fix of laksa. The next worst thing: not being able to swim - but I'll give it a go later this morning when I finish the shift. I need a dose of endorphins before I go nuts.

Reminder To Jason Mraz Fans

There's a 1-hour special about him today at 5pm on Channel V, titled Videoscope - The Chosen One ( digital cable only ).

Not sure if it's a repeat of a documentary aired last year after SingFest, but since I erased that one, it'll be a good opportunity for me to record it again for safekeeping. :)

I detect the whiff of a collaboration between Jason and John Mayer in the near future. Read his blog on MySpace - the entry titled My Grammy Speech.
My response: WOOHOO! :D

Next entry: a review of The Winter's Tale.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

At Random

Another night shift, pretty quiet, crossing my fingers nothing major happens for the next 2.5 hours.

This week's American Idol performances were surprisingly good. Obviously, the Michael Jackson theme was a bad choice. Country fared much, much better.

Top 3 for this round - Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey and a tie between Alexis Grace and Kris Allen.
I know Adam got mixed reactions from the judges, but the song he did, no matter how "weird" it turned out, was great for me 'cos I've never heard it before, and the Middle Eastern flavour sounded just fine. That vocal range of his continues to boggle the mind! :)

A funny coincidence: seconds after I commented to my mom that Matt Giraud ( the piano-playing soul / jazz singer ) reminds me of Michael Buble, Simon Cowell uttered the exact same words! I poked my mom so hard she wasn't happy. :)

Tropic Thunder: I FINALLY watched it on DVD. Again, high expectations may have ruined it for me, but there were a few laugh-out-loud moments, the most memorable of which involves a conversation about "Viet Congs" and "Chineses". Maybe I wasn't in the right mood, since I can't imagine why I didn't love this as much as I love Zoolander. But then, I watched the latter while on vacation in New Zealand, after an awesome day trekking around the Fox Glacier region, without a care in the world.
Yeah, that's probably an important contributing factor. :)

Something to thank L for: Geekin' Out Across The Galaxy, an MP3 album I didn't even know existed, until now. Thank you for sending the files to me, I can't wait to download them into my iPod!
Reading my 2006 review of his terrific Esplanade acoustic show, I suspect the song Galaxy is the one that caused me to tear up ( opening lyrics include something about travelling to space? ). Anyway, I'll know once I listen to the piece.

Also, another 2 albums I'm eyeing -- if I can't get them in Singapore, I'm going through Amazon for sure: Taylor Hicks' follow-up release, The Distance ( after breaking away from the American Idol leash ), and Chris Botti's Boston concert CD / DVD ( featuring Sting, Josh Groban, John Mayer and Ma Yo-Yo, among others ).

I desperately want to purchase Jason Mraz's expanded edition of We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. which is available locally, but haven't found the time to go shopping just yet, argh!

And the meet-and-greet photos are still in limbo -- they were taken by an official photog, so I have to wait for them to be released to us. Double argh!

A couple of shows to look forward to over the next week: Kumar ( whom I'll be seeing tonight ), and The Winter's Tale, which I'll be watching next Thursday.

I like to prepare before attending Shakespearean plays that I'm unfamiliar with, so I'm currently poring over a copy of The Winter's Tale, the same way I read King Lear when the RSC production came here in 2007.
So far, Winter is proving to be considerably more difficult to digest than Lear. I'm ping-pong-ing between Leontes, Hermione and Polixenes in Act I. Wonder if it'll get easier once Autolycus makes an appearance later on?

Also, I've resumed a previously abandoned search for penpals, after reactivating a dormant account on a certain website. This is where I made an American friend back in 2002, and we're still corresponding to this day. In the past fortnight, I've already met an American physicist, an English medieval historian, and a German kindergarten teacher who lived in Singapore for 12 years as a teenager. It's a great hobby, I tell you. :)

Before I sign off and go do the morning round, I'd like to post lyrics from another favourite Jason Mraz song, titled On Love, In Sadness.

"Sing about that oh love it's a brittle madness
I sing about it in all my sadness
It's not falsified to say that I found God so
Inevitably, well it still exists so pale and fine I can't dismiss
And I won't resist and if I die well at least I tried

And we just lay awake in lust and rust in the rain
And pore over everything we say we trust
Well it happened again, I listened in through hallways and thin doors
Where the rivers unwind and the rust and the rain endure
The rust and the rain endure, I'm sure."

It helps to listen to the melody and hum along. But it ain't easy. :)

Till next time...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Q&A Part 2

It's Saturday night / early Sunday morning, and I don't know where all the drunks are. ( Not in my ER at least. )

Thank you, English Premier League. :)

This is a follow-up to an earlier post, answering questions from S, who's considering ( and from the sound of it, almost made up her mind already ) a career in medicine, after obtaining degrees in other fields, among them biology.

Readers are most welcome to respond to S in the comments section.

1) How do you keep yourself sane, and deal with these pressures (besides blogging I guess)? Are there good mentors who can guide you in the system ? Do you think you would, or could, have done anything differently in your 10-year career?

We all have our own coping mechanisms. For me, having interests outside medicine is life-saving. While I do know of friends / colleagues who spend every waking moment doing something work-related, I'm not built that way, My blog pretty much describes what I'm up to in my free time, and some of these experiences definitely sustain me when I'm near breaking point. ( Jason Mraz, I owe you my sanity. :))

As for mentors, I credit many from various departments for not only helping me decide on emergency medicine, but for inculcating good work habits and sound ethics as well. I firmly believe in the "old school" mode of thinking, where respect for one's seniors still counts for something, and being reprimanded is a valuable learning experience rather than an excuse for bitching and whining.

As for anything I could've done differently, now that's a very interesting question. If you're asking about my choice of specialty, then no. But if it concerns patient interaction, then of course, there were a few occasions where I didn't see a complaint coming, where I misdiagnosed something. But it's all part of the job and the learning curve. I have no regrets so far.

2) How do you think the doctor-patient relationship will evolve in the future (say 5-10 years from now)? Will medicine become more like a service industry (patients fill out satisfaction indicator forms, and yes, docs rated by stars)?

How should doctors handle the increasing complexities and challenges in patient communication (Are they taught this in school? How does one learn this and adapt to changing times?) ?

To address the 2nd part first - medical students are taught communication skills in university, but obviously, this doesn't always guarantee good results in the real world. There're just too many variables and permutations, and adaptation can only come with experience through trial and error.
I will say this though: a big smile always works wonders ( but use your discretion, especially when addressing a pissed-off patient or relative -- the smile may end up offending them ).

And yes, absolutely, medicine is becoming more and more like a service industry. Hospitals and polyclinics already have feedback forms that are taken very seriously, and compliments / complaints from patients / relatives are included in our appraisal forms. How much of an impact this has on one's performance grade depends on your department / division chief. If s/he appreciates your hard work and knows the complaint is baseless, then you're safe.

However, the administration's unhealthy preoccupation with these feedback forms can be paralyzing to a certain degree. I recall an incident a few years ago where I refused to issue an MC to a patient I strongly suspected of malingering. He turned out to be a lawyer and threatened to write to the Forum, etc etc. I stood my ground and he huffed off to some department that's in charge of complaints ( I can't be bothered to remember the exact name of the office ), after which one of the officers came charging down to the ER, practically begging me to write the MC so the patient wouldn't take the complaint further.
I just stared at her, flabbergasted, then firmly said, "No." I swear, she looked like she was going to cry.
In the end, we never heard from the man again, and nothing appeared in the Forum. But this is a good example of what goes on, at least in the government sector.

3) It appears that there are preferred disciplines for dishing out grant money, buying new equipment, etc. Is this more keenly felt by ER departments? Or just in general, but just less so for cardiology/surgery?
In a similar thread, how are turf wars experienced in the hospital (I have heard patients being kicked around)?
You also mentioned there is quite a number of doctors who would quit for more profitable pastures, but has anyone quit just out of mere frustration with the system (is it so bad to survive in public hospitals)?

Yes, in general, the ER is viewed as non-profitable, and although this isn't officially said, we do get the short end of the stick when it comes to funding.
I don't want to point fingers, because I understand the constraints the administrators face, and sometimes it makes sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying some intelligent robotic thingie which will make headlines and draw impressed patients in droves ( especially rich foreigners from around the region ), rather than equip the ER with, say, a new ultrasound machine which will help speed up diagnosis and treatment, but won't have any press coverage.

The silver lining though, is that leadership makes a difference, and that funds can be obtained as long as your CEO and CFO are supportive of your initiatives, because there's ALWAYS some money lying around somewhere.

Turf wars - now there's a touchy subject!
There're too many instances to count ( unfortunately ), but yes, they do exist, and the patients suffer greatly as a result of them. Often, it's the subsidized classes which fall victim to the kicking around. It's a practice that frequently requires an ER physician's intervention, and it gets even uglier up in the wards.

And yes, I know of doctors who've quit out of frustration, though some of this stems from inadequate remuneration. Conflicts with colleagues / the adminstration or a high-profile lawsuit are also reasons, in addition to other "compelling factors" which are too sensitive to describe on a blog.

But it isn't "so bad to survive in public hospitals". There's a significant number of "old timers" who remain in the government sector ( most of them are full professors ), and emergency medicine being what it is, many of our department chiefs stay on as senior consultants after ending their HOD terms. I'll probably still be where I am 10-20 years down the road. The idea of a private hospital is too difficult to contemplate.

4) Regarding your fears about whether you'll be able to sustain yourself through those many years of studying, and whether you'll eventually become a competent doctor, all I can say is: if you work hard and don't lose that passionate streak, you'll be fine.

I know it's a simplistic answer to a complex question, but honestly, if you overthink it, you'll go insane. All of us have had doubts at some point in our lives, and medical school is no walk in the park. My year as a houseman was nightmarish at times -- that's when you'll realize what you learnt in university is practically useless -- but if you're capable of learning fast and weathering the stress and exhaustion without making a fatal mistake, you're home free.

It sounds impossible, but it can be done. :)

Family support is helpful, but not essential. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, and if you feel a strong conviction that this is the path you want / have to take, then by all means take the plunge and don't look back.

Good luck!

Friday, March 13, 2009


I used to read Jason Mraz's blog on a regular basis, but lost momentum at some point, only to back-track in recent weeks, thanks to his Asian stop during the current world tour.

This particular entry hit me hard, and if you've ever had a pet, you should definitely read it. I never wrote much about my own experience, and probably never will. There're certain things I consider much too private to share in the public domain, and losing my beloved 11-year-old ginger tabby is one of them.

On a lighter note, Jason's feline stories are laugh-out-loud hilarious. If only my brain had functioned properly when I met him. It was a lousy time to be tongue-tied. Sigh.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I... Hate... Being... Sick...

Especially since I haven't had a cold this bad in, oh, maybe a year?

Apologies to S, whose follow-up questions about a medical career are being put on hold until another time when I can think more clearly. All these coughing fits are giving me migraine.

So I shall write about more frivolous subjects, if you don't mind. :)

American Idol 8

After a rather dull audition process, things really started to take off with the top 36 performances, as the list got whittled down at super speed, resulting in the current ( lucky? ) 13.

Managed to catch the latest episode before coming to work this evening, and my favourites for this round are: Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey and Alexis Grace.

While this week's theme -- Michael Jackson songs -- is a disastrous choice, it helped separate the stars from the wannabes, and Adam is by far the strongest contender at this stage of the competition. What I like about him is the fact that he doesn't really change his style ( something akin to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler with his high-octave range and pecking-chicken stance ) and remains the most consistent -- yet also manages to infuse originality -- no matter what he sings. He turned an MJ hit into a rock anthem tonight, wow!

As for Danny, I have a soft spot for him because of his sad personal history ( a young widower ), his religious background ( music director for his church ), and his irresistibly upbeat personality. Look past the loud glasses and he's actually a very nice-looking fellow with a million-dollar smile.

Alexis, on the other hand, is the only female contestant who doesn't annoy me at all, and impresses with her powerhouse vocals and sexy stage presence. She's one of the most striking girls I've ever seen on American Idol -- the last being Katharine McPhee, who reminds me of Catherine Zeta-Jones -- and really belted the hell out of Dirty Diana.

A small comment about Scott MacIntyre, the first visually impaired AI finalist -- while I applaud his courage and determination, I can't help feeling his spot could've been given to someone more deserving ( i.e. another terrific singer ). I mean, Scott is a GOOD singer, but he's definitely out of place among the Top 13, with a shaky voice that weakens in the higher registers. Doesn't Simon Cowell always hammer home the point that AI is, first and foremost, "a singing competition"? Good for you, Scott, for inspiring us with your story, but I don't think you're going to last very long on the show.

By the way, Jason Mraz's name came up! Randy Jackson compared Kris Allen to JM, and I couldn't help laughing because my mom and I responded with the same remark: No way!
JM's in a league of his own, and if AI tries having a "Jason Mraz songs" theme one of these days, no-one will survive.
But it was nice to hear him mentioned though. :)


Gone Baby Gone, a drama / thriller based on a Dennis Lehane novel, directed by Ben Affleck.

Had heard good things about the film, but wondered why it was grossly ignored at last year's Oscars.

Finally got to watch it on cable this afternoon, and really really love it. Not as superb as There Will Be Blood ( which I can't stop raving about ), but equally compelling for a completely different set of reasons.

Casey Affleck demonstrates leading man chops as the protagonist -- a baby-faced but tough private investigator searching for a missing 4-year-old girl in a ratty Boston neighbourhood. Brother Ben took a chance casting his younger sibling, and it proved to be an inspired choice. GBG is mostly a quiet little film, where the majority of conversations is conducted in hushed tones in little rooms or around little tables. Such settings can magnify characters ten-fold, and Ben Affleck's penchant for doing close-ups of Casey creates a huge in-your-face effect.

Surprisingly, the latter manages to deliver a restrained yet unforgettable performance as his character, Patrick, grapples with a negligent young mother, drug dealers, paedophiles and cops with questionable ethics.

The most powerful scene takes place in the final 15 minutes of the film, when Patrick makes possibly the most painful decision of his life, one which I'm certain many viewers will agree is also wrong.

It's one of those rare movies that linger in your mind long after the credits have stopped rolling. I honestly think this is one of the best films I've ever seen, and hope the Affleck brothers will collaborate again soon.

Interesting tidbit: Casey is married to Summer Phoenix, aka Joaquin's sister. Cool eh?


Has it already been a week since JM's show? Time really flies.

*cough* Hope I get well quickly -- I've got another 2 shows to attend later this month. Wouldn't want to get kicked out of the concert hall because of my itchy throat.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Photos and Videos from Jason Mraz's Concert

[ click on images to enlarge ]

A video clip of I'm Yours - from the Indoor Stadium gig ( one of many, naturally :)).

Here's one of Mr. Curiosity - the magical moment I was talking about. Get a load of the amazing bridge segment!

And... A Beautiful Mess, which just blew me away. ( Doesn't have the best view, but the sound quality's excellent, and that's what's most important. )

Bonus vids ( not from Singapore, sadly ): 'Live' performances of 2 of my favourite JM songs of all time - Love For A Child and Absolutely Zero. The latter is available on his concert DVD release, Tonight Not Again, which I think is phenomenal ( and one of the rare occasions where he's hat-less, haha. )
Haven't heard him sing these at the shows I've attended so far, but I'm not giving up just yet!

Plus, something REALLY surprising -- Jason singing Build Me Up Buttercup during his 2008 tour. Looks like he's wearing the same t-shirt from his Indoor Stadium show. :D
And... a few great duets: Shy That Way with Tristan Prettyman, Billie Jean with Dutch Idol, Nikki, and Details In The Fabric with James Morrison.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Live High
- A Review of Jason Mraz's Concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, March 5 2009

Warning: This is a lengthy account, so don't proceed if you're not interested.

The title of this entry belongs to a piece from We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, and now holds great significance because of a personal encounter I was fortunate enough to have with the man himself. More on that later. :)

I'm going to talk about the concert first.
Yes, it was completely sold out.
Yes, there were LOTS of women in the audience, but males were also well-represented.
Yes, the fans comprised quite a number of young people, but I did spot a few middle-aged people, one of whom is Caucasian with grey hair.

The show kicked off at 8:25pm with no fanfare, with Jason coming on-stage incognito, walking out with his band sans the usual buildup intro.

They launched into The Dynamo Of Volition, as Jason asked the roaring crowd to "stand up, c'mon!" and clap to the infectious Jamiroquai-esque rhythm.

The estimated 8000-strong audience remained on their feet for the next 90-100 minutes, enjoying a satisfying repertoire drawn from not only his 3 excellent studio albums, but also from a couple of 'live' recordings as well.

I counted at least 16 -17 songs in total:

The Dynamo of Volition
Geek In The Pink
Who Needs Shelter
Live High
Lucky ( a duet nicely done with local singer Joi Chua )
I'm Yours
Only Human
Make It Mine
A Beautiful Mess
You And I Both
No Stopping Us
Sleeping To Dream
I'll Do Anything ( I think it was included, correct me if I'm wrong )


Mr. Curiosity
The Remedy
( there was one more, but I can't remember the title, argh )

I'm probably going to leave out certain details, but the overall impression is that he was on a major high last night, and sang flawlessly.
While such standards have become the norm for him, I never take anything for granted, especially when his manager revealed how Jason had just flown in from Kuala Lumpur that afternoon, and was "tired". Just go to his website and look at his tour schedule -- it's absolutely insane. I don't know how he does it!

So last night's tour de force is again something worth treasuring. Mr. Mraz strutted his stuff from beginning to end, changing guitars so many times I lost count, and breaking a string on the very first song, imagine that!

He got the crowd jumping on the faster numbers, then held us spellbound on the slower pieces, which I felt were the highlights of the show.

I especially loved his renditions of A Beautiful Mess ( from album #3 ) and Mr. Curiosity ( from album #2, Mr. A-Z ). Jason has an incomparably gorgeous voice, and Beautiful Mess gave me goosebumps ( glory notes +++ )!

However, Mr. Curiosity was a lovely surprise, and the defining "magical moment" I always wait for at every concert I attend. This first encore song was stripped down to just vocals and keyboard, and despite listening to it many times before on the stereo, I really heard it last night as everyone huddled in hushed silence and Jason's voice soared to the heavens.
The bridge was spectacular, with him doing a beautiful falsetto, hitting operatic registers and holding notes for what seemed like an eternity. The cheers were deafening!

Other performances worth mentioning are Live High ( very uplifting, similar to what he did at SingFest ), I'm Yours, The Remedy and You And I Both ( karaoke bliss! ), and Butterfly ( the sexiest number on album #3 ).

Jason's got tonnes of rhythm, so watching him sway and bop as he plucked at his guitar was the icing on the cake. He displayed high energy levels and couldn't stop smiling and laughing. The raucous audience certainly helped him sustain that enthusiasm!

He had a blast showing off his scatting and rapping skills, whipping everyone into a frenzy many times when he stopped in the middle of a song to hear us belt the lyrics or engage in mock competitions ( he called the floor seats "the valley", heh! ).

His 7-piece band was outstanding, as always, and kudos to the guys in charge of the sound system, 'cos even though my seats were facing the speakers directly, everything was crystal clear, even on the noisier pieces with full instrumental backup. Jason's voice came through like an unfiltered ray of sunshine.

At the end, he did his usual routine of snapping Polaroids of the band and himself before throwing the photos into the crowd. He also distributed what looked like bunches of orchids, and his band joined in the fun by hurling these to the fans.

Although it was an undoubtedly great show, I still prefer his 1st gig at the Esplanade back in 2006, when he did an intimate acoustic set with sidekick Toca Rivera. The problem with large venues is the inability to really engage the audience, so he didn't make much small talk and the audience didn't get the opportunity to experience his intelligent and kooky sense of humour.
It was still awesome though. Worth every single cent of the ticket price. :)

Meet & Greet

First, a huge thank you to Mr. G, who so kindly arranged for me to go backstage.

This happened before the concert, at around 6:30pm. There were about 12-15 of us in total.

Before we entered the room where Jason was waiting, his tour manager ( a very nice young bespectacled fellow ) issued a few instructions. We were told that we could give Jason a hug, 'cos he "loves human contact" ( haha! ), and that if we had any gifts on hand, we could present them to him but shouldn't be offended if he passes them on to someone else, 'cos that's what he usually does, and he would take them back later. A Chinese lady - whom I assume is from Warner Music - asked us to leave our bags outside, and initially didn't allow anyone to bring their CDs in for autographs. But as luck would have it, when it came to my turn, the rules changed. :D

As the 8 people in front of me went inside two by two, I was slightly alarmed by how quickly they re-emerged. It seemed like each meeting lasted only 2-3 minutes at most, and I really worried that my turn would be over before I even got to do anything.

So in the blink of an eye, I was hurriedly placing my bag on a chair provided, as the Chinese lady took my CD sleeves and said "no autographs please". Suddenly, his manager who was standing next to us said it's okay, as Jason was now agreeable to signing stuff. Yes!
The lady then wanted to take a package I was holding ( with a small gift for Jason ) and hand it to his manager, but instead he asked me to bring it in and give it to Jason myself. No problem! :)

I don't know the exact term for the top he was wearing -- it's white, seems to be made of cotton and looks like a long john. He had his trademark hat on ( dark brown shade ), and sported dark-coloured pants. Very formal considering his usual baggy T-shirt and jeans getup for previous gigs.

My first impression was how much taller he is up close. He stood facing the door as I entered, and stepped forward to shake my hand, smiling and saying a soft "hello". At this point, my memory's a bit fuzzy, which is a sure sign of how flustered I was. :)

I returned with a greeting and, remembering what his manager said, asked, "Can I give you a hug?". Jason didn't say anything, and merely released my hand and opened both arms wide in response to my question. THIS moment is forever etched in my mind in perfect clarity -- the words "oh my gosh!" blared in my head as I felt him enfold me in a tight embrace. I had to stand on tiptoe to put my right arm over his left shoulder, as HIS right arm reached over MY left shoulder. This placed my face right next to his right ear, and I just couldn't help saying, "It's so great to meet you!" as we hugged.

Upon releasing me, he asked for my name and how to spell it. At this moment, he spotted my mom -- yes, she gamely went in with me :) -- and very nicely acknowledged her with a warm smile and a small bow, shaking her hand firmly. She managed to sputter, "I'm a great fan!", to which he laughed and said, "Thank you!"

We posed for a photo next, with my mom and I flanking him, our arms around each other. I had some difficulty finding a spot to put my hand 'cos my mom already had her arm at his lower back, so I placed it on his upper / mid-back first, before finding it a little awkward then moving it to his right waist.
This was completely unintentional, but I have to tell you that Jason's not the scrawny fellow he used to be a few years ago, and has obviously been working out at the gym. That outfit he wore showed off a muscular physique, and running my hand around his back was pure heaven. :)

Autographs came next. I brought 2 for him to sign -- the sleeve for Tonight Not Again, and the cover for We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things. He did a straightforward signature for the first one, then asked me again how to spell my name as his hand hovered above the second. As I recited, he wrote it down meticulously, before saying something cryptic, along the line of "Ah yes, I KNEW it would be that!" ( whatever that means :)). He added an exclamation mark after my name, then scrawled his signature below, even inserting a couple of ??little stars to finish the job.

Before leaving, I wished him a good show, shook his hand again, then proceeded to leave. However, he surprised me by asking whether the package on the floor was for him -- at some point, no thanks to my hazy recollection, the gift had been taken from me and placed on the ground nearby. When I said yes, Jason looked extremely grateful and pleased, and thanked me for the present.

Then I was back outside, my head spinning. I think we were in there for at least 5 minutes, maybe even more. :)

The gift wasn't anything really special -- partly because I just didn't have the time to go looking for something unique -- but I did include a short letter and explained the thought process behind the choice. Jason's known to appreciate everything he receives from fans, so I hope he likes what I gave him.

Watching him perform after this once-in-a-lifetime experience was exhilarating! Thank you again, Mr. G, for giving me the chance to meet my favourite musician of all time. I will treasure this night forever. :)

[ photos to follow soon ]

Monday, March 02, 2009


It's been an exhausting week, but also a most rewarding one.

The conference was a massive success, and feedback is overwhelmingly positive, with many saying it's the best one yet.

My sincere thanks to my committee, who's worked so hard and gone far beyond what is required.

The highlight, however, is spending time with a distinguished emergency medicine professor from New York City, whom I was first introduced to in October 2007 while visiting a blogger friend at his department. He is a huge hit with everyone he's met in Singapore, and I've never seen any foreign speaker bombarded from so many directions before. The poor man hardly had any time to breathe, but remained unfailingly warm and obliging to all.

Little wonder he's charmed the socks off even the most difficult people, receiving numerous invitations for personal tours and visits for future conferences in Singapore and the surrounding region.

I was most fortunate to be able to spend time alone with him, in particular during an hour-long stroll along Orchard Road last Friday evening, prior to a conference dinner.
We spoke of many things, including work of course, but also about life in general. He shared his experience as an attending physician for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra when they went on tour, and also for Cirque du Soleil when they performed in NYC. His interests range far and wide, and I was captivated by everything I heard.
We even bumped into a mob of Edison Chen fans outside the Grand Hyatt hotel on the way back. And guess what, Prof. J knows who he is! It was hilarious. :)

The best part though, was an outing to the Night Safari last Saturday. We were joined by my registrar and another American ER physician, Dr. N, who's Prof. J's colleague and who also lectured at the conference.

I brought them to a mall near my home for dinner at Crystal Jade Kitchen. We got there before my registrar and, to my surprise, they asked me to bring them around the NTUC supermarket! Dr. N was looking for mangosteens, of all things, while Prof. J was fascinated by the huge shelves of chicken eggs in one corner. They also picked up a packet of durians to take a sniff, and didn't seem bothered by the smell.
Following that, they walked around a shop selling Chinese herbs, as the staff happily gave a mini-lecture on the various ingredients' properties to an enthralled American audience. I just stood to one side and enjoyed the scene.

Dinner was thoroughly enjoyable, and I couldn't believe they weren't already sick of local food, having eaten Chinese dishes daily since their arrival. They finished all 4 dishes ordered, including a gigantic portion of Peking duck which came in 2 parts ( skin followed by meat ), and gallantly offered to pay, before I informed them it would be charged to the hospital's account.

As expected, our table received many curious stares from nearby patrons, though service was exceedingly good, since the Americans charmed the waitresses effortlessly. Plus, Dr. N is a very good-looking chap, probably around my age, with a ready smile and beautiful manners. ( He's kind of a cross between Law & Order SVU's Christopher Meloni and E! Entertainment channel's Jason Kennedy. ) Sitting next to him was a pleasure indeed. :)

The Night Safari was an unusual experience for me, being the first time I visited during a thunderstorm. We offered to bring the Americans to another ( sheltered ) attraction, but they wouldn't have any of it. Turns out sloshing through puddles in the dark is pretty fun, if you're with the right company! They had a blast, and I too found myself beaming, especially at the leopard enclosure where they got up close to not one, but TWO, gorgeous cats resting right next to the glass panel, oblivious to the 4 humans standing just behind it.

The bat enclave turned out to be one of Prof. J's favourites, as we came face to face with numerous fruit bats hanging from the branches at eye level. Dr. N was a little unnerved, though, which the professor couldn't comprehend, with hilarious results.

I guess one of the most valuable lessons I garnered from this experience is how important emergency medicine is to me. I burn out at least once a year and handle a lot of crap from other departments ( see my last entry ), not to mention more crap from patients and relatives. But meeting counterparts from across the globe and knowing they get the same crap day in and day out is strangely inspiring. One of the best pieces of advice Dr. N offered is to "just stop fighting it", because if you keep fighting, you'll just end up hating what you do.

So as I finally get a chance to relax after 6 months of being on tenterhooks -- and suffering 4 weeks of insomnia -- I leave with many new friendships and, most importantly, hope for the future.

A note to reader Another One: will I stop pushing when I need to? You bet I won't. Being an ER physician is all about shovelling crap. I'm good at it, I'm proud of it, and I believe in being a patient advocate. So when someone refuses to do what s/he's supposed to, shows no concern for a patient then accuses me of being a bitch for pulling rank or being hostile, then that person has completely lost sight of what it truly means to be a doctor. Shame on you.

Other than that little annoyance, I'm on cloud nine. :)