Cutting Threads

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I cut those threads
And watched them scatter below me.
I cut those threads
And avoided going back
To those buildings
Or keeping in contact.

It was my only way
To deal with these uncertainties.

Am I doing well enough here?
Maybe if I didn’t change that track,
My train could be chugging forward
Quickly, without any previous hassle.
Maybe my social life wouldn’t feel so empty.
I might have been too hasty…
Am I happy?

Stop. Drop. Roll.

I need to shed this skin of worry
Constantly draped over my shoulders.
I need to continue moving forward.
I need to change
From a weak, cowardly worrier
To a courageous warrior.

Koe no Katachi – Redemption and its Complexity

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Rather than romance, the greatest themes of Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) were friendship and redemption. It tackles the complexity of people and the struggle to fix fragile ties in friendship.

Note: This post contains some spoilers. If you haven’t watched the movie, you can find a spoiler-free version at https://otakudaydreams.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/koe-no-katachi/.

Synopsis

Nishimiya Shoko, a deaf girl, transfers into Ishida Shoya’s elementary school class. After getting tired of helping Nishimiya all the time, the class starts to bully her, especially Ishida. However, when the bullying turns extreme, the class begins to bully Ishida instead. Nishimiya tries to help him, but he retaliates and they get into a fight, resulting in Nishimiya transferring schools and Ishida being isolated by his classmates and friends. The two do not meet after that, but in middle school, Ishida decides that he needs to meet Nishimiya again to make up for his past misdeeds and be her friend.

Opening Plot

The beginning of the movie was quite painful to watch. We see Ishida in the present, getting his pay, withdrawing his the money from his bank account, and the crossing out of the calendar. It is a subtle presentation of how he was preparing for his suicide. A flashback to the past explains Ishida’s situation and his complex behaviour in the past. While Ishida helped to stand up for Nishimiya when some of his classmates (Ueno and Kawai) were criticising her, and even suggested that she should try harder to communicate with the class, he turned hostile after Nishimiya indicated that she wanted to be his friend. That was the start of Ishida bullying Nishimiya, and it got more extreme when Ishida started snatching and destroying her expensive hearing aids. Ishida’s complex and extreme behaviour was baffling to me as he switched sides so quickly, and even became the greatest bully.

Theme: Redemption

The movie portrayed Ishida’s growth in maturity as he learns that suicide was not the key to removing the guilt in his heart. He kept Nishimiya’s ‘For Conversation’ notebook in order to return it to her and learns sign language in order to be able to communicate with her. After meeting Nishimiya at a sign language school by chance, Ishida tried to be her friend. However, he faced the opposition of Yuzuru, who sternly told him to stop going over to the sign language class if he just wanted to make himself feel better by doing so. That threw a deeply disconcerting impact. One’s efforts to redeem oneself certainly could be seen as a selfish act – to do something good not for the person on the receiving end, but in order to comfort oneself. Despite that, it was significant that Ishida did become friends with Nishimiya. His growth was evident in how he faces others – no longer did he see ‘crossed out’ faces, but obtained the courage to move on and cross the boundary he draws between himself and others. Ishida’s social circle gradually increased involving his middle school classmates, starting with Nagatsuka.

Side Characters

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From right to left: Sahara, Nishimiya, Yuzuru, Nagatsuka, Ishida, Ueno, Kawai, Mashiba Source: https://cinema.ne.jp/news/koenokatachi2016091016/

Minor signs of redemption could be seen in the side characters as well, though these tended to be quite messy. Perhaps it was because this was a movie adaptation of a manga that some parts felt quite rushed. For example, the ‘strange’ group’s trip to the amusement park was really weird. Sure, Ishida going with Nishimiya, Nagatsuka, Yuzuru and Sahara was understandable because they have started to know one another quite well. Nagatsuka proclaimed Ishida to be his best friend. Ishida became friends with Yuzuru and (perhaps) Sahara because of their connections with Nishimiya. On the other hand, Kawai, Mashiba and Ueno did not really fit. While Ishida did start talking to Kawai, it did not feel like they became close enough to be friends. I felt that Mashiba was a random ‘extra’, being somebody who only knew Ishida in middle school, and not really a friend, but was somehow lumped together because he was Kawai’s boyfriend.

(Spoilers ahead) Ueno was the second most complex character, with the first being Ishida. She wanted to help stand up for Ishida as an apology of her past betrayal but she still hates Nishimiya, to the extent that she even hit Nishimiya and her mother when Ishida was in a coma. As for Kawai, I was somehow I was always critical of her. She seemed really superficial and constantly acted as the victim, despite laughing along when Nishimiya was being bullied. Of course, her role in bullying was minor compared to Ishida and Ueno, but to deny any involvement was unacceptable. I was critical of her all the way until the end, when she gave Ishida the cranes. Personally, I found Sahara’s character very relatable. She wanted to help (volunteered to learn sign language with Nishimiya) but ultimately ran away by transferring schools when she was bullied as well. As Ishida later pointed out, Sahara was still a coward despite acting like she was now brave enough even to enjoy riding a rollercoaster.

Emotional Rollercoaster (Spoilers ahead)

The most emotional scene in the movie for me was Nishimiya’s mother apologising to Ishida’s mother. It was a direct parallel compared to the past when Ishida’s mother had to apologise to Nishimiya’s mother because of the destroyed hearing aids. It was the point of Ishida’s redemption – his past misdeeds cancelled out by stopping Nishimiya from committing suicide, and getting in a coma in place of her.

Nishimiya’s suicide attempt was really shocking. It was so sudden, at a point of time when she was enjoying herself so much. She probably did that because she felt that after experiencing a state of happiness, it was time to leave so that the people around her could stop worrying about her and enjoy the rest of the lives. (This kind of thinking should not to be encouraged of course.) I believe the moral of the story after seeing both protagonists’ failed suicide attempts is that we should not undervalue our lives, and that no matter how cut off we feel in society, there are always people who care about us.

(End of spoilers)

Despite the drama, Koe no Katachi did not forget about humour. The funniest parts were Yuzuru’s identity, Nyan Nyan Cafe and Nishimiya’s failed confession. The first two garnered the most laughter in the cinema theatre I was in.

All in all, Koe no Katachi reminds us to come to terms with our past and continue moving forward. It is certainly very thought-provoking. The complexity of the characters reflect the complexity in ourselves, like how we sometimes struggle between doing what is right and wrong, and suddenly decide to shut everyone out at times. The struggles and fragile ties in friendship are beautifully played out, making the movie very relatable.

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/9aRexOtovXY 

Note: The names I have used are the family names of the characters because they are  more commonly referred to that way in the movie, with the exception of Yuzuru.

Random Observations
– Hey doctors and nurses, how can you let your patient just run off like that?
– School festival with Ishida staring at the floor – wow that’s a very shiny floor for you to see people’s reflections so clearly

Haunting

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They haunt me
Nearly every day.
Even after blocking,
They wouldn’t go away.

Yes they haunt me –
The constant tugging
Of my feelings,
That tinge of doubt.

Still they haunt me –
Reminders of the past
Opportunities for the future
I chose to cast aside.

Even now
They cling on like a shadow,
A moth drawn to a light.

Little did they know
That light has been
Extinguished
A long time ago.

Discover Hong Kong – the Budget Way

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Ditch the tours and the typical tourist attractions like Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park. Here are some ways you can appreciate Hong Kong while making your wallet happy.

1. Try out as many types of public transport as you can
First things first, get an Octopus card. It can be used on all types of public transport, and will save time compared to purchasing single journey tickets or finding coins.

MTR

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Source:  http://www.mtr.com.hk/en/customer/services/system_map.html

Hong Kong’s MTR system is truly commendable. The waiting time for each train is usually 2-3 minutes, though waiting time is 5 minutes for the maroon-purple West Rail Line. Just a warning though, the red and blue lines are usually really crowded. While most of the MTR lines run underground, there are some stations that allow you to appreciate the view outside along the light blue and maroon-purple line. Each station has a sign with a list of tourist attractions for certain stations, and can give you an idea on where to go next. Remember to get a MTR map from the station, and it would be your best friend during your trip.

Public Light Buses (mini buses)
This is perhaps the best mode of transport where you can sit in peace knowing that you don’t have to be on the lookout to give up your seat to others. Public light buses can only carry around 16 passengers, and everyone gets a seat. Passengers pay a flat fare for each trip.

Trams aka ‘Ding Ding’
Only available on Hong Kong Island, trams are the cheapest mode of transport. For each ride, adult passengers pay a flat fare of HK$2.30. Note that you should enter from the back and exit from the front. While perhaps the most authentic Hong Kong style of travelling, it is quite uncomfortable in my opinion. Trams are better avoided during peak hours when it is packed with commuters on the way to work or home.

Light Rail
Only available near the maroon-purple West Rail Line, the Light Rail allows you to explore less crowded areas of Hong Kong. Light Rails are the most interesting to me. What’s surprising is that there aren’t normal gantries at the stations. Instead, passengers are expected to tap on the orange stands during entry, and the green stands during exit.

2. Visit tourist and not-so-tourist areas
Victoria Peak

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Upon alighting at the Peak Tower, head down to take a photo with Bruce Lee’s wax figure outside Madam Tussauds. Enjoy the scenic view of Hong Kong from the footpaths at the peak or on the roof garden of Peak Galleria, rather than paying HK$400+ for the Sky Terrace. While taking the Peak Tram up and down to the peak is a great experience, the waiting time is very long. Instead, you can take the public bus down the peak, as it only costs HK$9.80, which is significantly less expensive. 

Sai Kung – the fish, the boats and the dogs!

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Travel to Hang Hou MTR Station and take public light bus 101M to the Sai Kung terminal. There are fishermen on their boats near the pier selling fresh fish and other seafood. Seafood restaurants line the area. There are also boat rides available to small islands nearby.

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I visited Sai Kung on a Sunday and there were many locals walking their pet dogs. It was absolutely doggie paradise!

Hong Kong Wetland Park

Located in a considerably rural area, here’s a place you can dodge packs of tour groups. It’s a great place to visit if you’re a nature lover and avid photographer. I expected it to be a normal park, but it’s actually pretty well developed with Wetland Interactive World. Entry costs HK$30 for adults. Picnics are not allowed in the park, but the spacious restaurant in the Visitor Centre offers affordable meals with a beautiful view of nature. Set meals are around HK$40+ (main dish + drink). That is a good price for a set meal in a nice environment. I visited the park on a Monday, so it was not crowded. To get to Hong Kong Wetland Park, alight at Tin Shui Wai MTR Station, change to the Light Rail service 705 or 706, then alight at Tin Sau station.

Markets

Overhear people talking about Prada while you can only afford prata? Visit Ladies’ Market (Mong Kok MTR station) and Temple Street Night Market (opens at 6pm, Yau Ma Tei MTR station) for cheap bargains and shopping for souvenirs.

3. Eat at small local eateries

Won Ton noodles (shrimp dumpling noodles) are a must try in Hong Kong. The eatery I visited, 清汤腩王, is located in Temple Street (Yau Ma Tei MTR station). Both soup and dry versions are available, with the soup version priced at HK$32, while the dry one is priced at HK$40. The stall is generous in its serving portions and have low prices compared to other stalls. There is large amount of shrimp in each dumpling, unlike those I have eaten in Singapore. The large serving portions also hold true for other dishes like the Chiu Chow Fish Dumpling Noodle Soup. Part of the reason for the low prices lie in the lack of air conditioners in the eatery. However, as I went there for dinner in December, the weather is cool and the quality of the food made up for the basic environment. I liked the won ton noodles from that stall so much that I ate there for two consecutive dinners.

Hong Kong food is quite expensive and around twice the price of Singapore food (HK$5 is approximately S$1). If you realise at any point of time that you’re running out of lunch money, don’t worry. Buy some local snacks (e.g. curry fishballs ‘yu dan’, egg waffles, dim sum) and find a seat at a nearby park. Another alternative would be to buy instant food from the numerous 7-Eleven stores available in every area. It’s definitely not the most glamorous way of having a meal, but hey, food is ultimately still food.

My parents and I went to Hong Kong and Macau recently with a half day tour in both places. It’s definitely better if you travel to Hong Kong with someone who can understand and speak Cantonese, but there are signs in English and most Hong Kongers can speak English too. Honestly, a tour around Hong Kong isn’t necessary unless you’re travelling with old people or  don’t mind tour groups leeching off your money. Seriously, if you ever think your tour itinerary is the actual one, there will nearly always be some ‘optional’ boat rides or unexpected souvenirs you’re forced to buy. Macau is a nice place to visit too for a day trip. Simply take a 1 hour ferry across from Hong Kong. The ferry I took was under TurboJet, and the whole ride was smooth and comfortable.

To end off, here are some arctic animals wishing you a Merry Christmas from Hong Kong Wetland Park!

Numerical Obsession

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Source: reikology.com

All my life I wanted to be ordinary,
But life doesn’t seem to agree.
Everyone’s obsessed with numbers,
In every mind lies a working counter.

There’s a rank for everything, everyone
And everyone wants to be number 1.
From every creation, every institution
Are we becoming a cold, calculative nation?

There’s no place here
For the average.
If you’re losing,
You’re extra baggage.

What’s your ranking,
Where do you shine?
If you’re not worth it,
You’re wasting our time.

I hate this.

Societal expectations
A disdain for the average
Your whole value based on a

Numerical
Obsession.

Midnight Melancholy

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It’s a state of
Midnight Melancholy
Got tired of saying sorry
Here’s me wrecking my life story.

Everyday I stay up late
Deciphering things
My mind just wasn’t made
To comprehend.

Drowning in despair
Question marks in the air
My mind as blank as paper
I spent hours thinking
But I still don’t have an answer…

I’m not excelling in Excel.
Solver’s not solving my problems.

I’m a living paradox
Dragging myself to school
Like a broken corpse.

My dear, what are you even doing here?
How did I even join the dreaded
Herd of Black and White
What presentations
What calculations
What marketing strategies
Everything’s just
Strangling me.

Class Participation, Class Devastation

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They ask us to speak up
Have our names placed right in front of us
As if we were part of a conference
But it’s just like a performance.

I suppose nobody really
Would have contributed
If it wasn’t compulsory,
I see the stark difference
Between a 0% and a 30% component.

I never wanted to speak up
I would have been a silent sponge
Sitting there absorbing information
But even this sponge isn’t working.
Words flow in then out
I don’t even understand
What they’re talking about.

Put on a mask
Conceal that tremble of anxiety
Put on a mask
Plot that perfect strategy
Put on a mask
Pretend you know everything.

I hear people reciting essays
I hear the professor’s comments
I hear the worried voice in my head
Saying “Gosh my answer is far from perfect.”

Everybody’s in a race
Chasing the most detailed answer
Everybody’s in a race
To see who gets the prof’s approval
Everybody’s in a race
Everybody’s running for their A’s.

I just wish I had a little of
That intelligence from their heads.

Technical Tempest

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​Bought a new laptop
But got a new regret
I had walked into the shop
With my mind all set
But got myself persuaded
And chose something else instead.

Wanted something light,
But this is heavier
Doesn’t help at all
When the one accompanying
Asks irrelevant questions
And let me deal with deciding.

I need to get back
Some of that stubborness
That keeps me from
Blindly agreeing from others.

Now another irritating matter here
Need to install Microsoft Office
But it isn’t working.
Already installed Java but
The website disagrees.

Tried the same thing many times
Waited so long for it to load
Feel like throwing everything
Yet this is too expensive to be thrown.

Downloading Microsoft Office
Was supposed to be free
But I guess that’s the trick:
Free things really don’t come easily.

Mad at this situation,
Mad at stupid systems
Mad at everything,
Mad at mostly me.

Three Weeks of Free Time

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Three weeks of free time
I give myself a rest,
No matter what they say
I know myself best.

Three weeks of free time
I pick up something new,
So far for driving I’ve had
Lessons one and two.

Three weeks of free time
I continue playing my games,
Training my monsters
Over volcanoes and plains.

Three weeks of free time
Before university starts,
And it’s all networking
With work thrown like darts.

Three weeks of free time
But quite there yet.
I still have time to laze around,
Now that I’m an expert.