1. There is something about final songs that often make them more compelling to me than the opening tracks of albums.

    "The full stop on an album can make or break that spell," says NME music reviewer Priya Elan (http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/10-magnificent-album-closing-tracks) and I do agree.

    "Shine", the closing track from Jason Mraz’s latest studio album Yes! is way more engaging than his lead single "Love Someone". I remember listening to “Love Someone” for the first time in quiet anticipation, and then vague disbelief. I immediately messaged my colleague cum music lover and said that the song is essentially aural cotton candy. 

    For someone who has every one of his albums, this seems to mark the complete transition of Jason Mraz. From the early days of youthful optimism tinged with playful defiance and creative (and sometimes, smart-aleck) wordplay, he has become a true-blue adult contemporary artist belting out mushy, easy-listening love songs (Sample lyrics from “Love Someone”: “When you love someone/your feet can’t touch the ground/Shining stars all seem/To congregate around your face.”)

    The good news is, things got better from there.

    I discovered the other single "Long Drive", which I liked immediately. And then, it was "Hello, You Beautiful Thing", which I can’t help singing along to. I went ahead to purchase the album on the first day of its release, 15 July 2014 and was pleasantly surprised. Mraz’s playfulness is intact in "Everywhere", “Best Friend” was catchy and "A World With You" is well, beautiful. Of course, I also noticed “Shine”. 

    It took a few repeats for me to like it. But from the first listen, it was already more interesting than most other tracks: The opening sounded almost eerie, especially because I was listening to it late in the night, while studying statistics. I paused and looked up from the textbook. It got my attention from the start. And I really like it when pop songs incorporate Asian musical instruments. In this case, it’s the sitar and some kind of tribal drum.

    The song is about selfless love as told through a story of the sun and moon, and of how love will reach all of us, like the rays of the sun or the glow of the moon. The album ends with a bang, and I hope that it’s a hint of what’s to come in Mraz’s next album.

    This album is that it’s Mraz’s most mellow and lovey-dovey effort to date. Even the imagery he evokes are of the dreamy, romantic sort: the sun, the moon, the snow, the songbird etc. This is destined to be played at weddings all over the world.

    There will be some early fans who feel disappointed that he has gone the easy-listening way and others, especially female fans, who think it’s really romantic.  As for me, I’m not complaining. Even “Love Someone” has grown on me, although only as a soothing song and nothing more. Like cotton candy, it is delish in snatches but at the back of my mind, I know it is sugar and air and very little else.

    My guess is: Mraz is still sharp; he can still be quirky. But perhaps he has decided to place something else above all this

    And I feel quite foolish
    sometimes when I pray
    But my thoughts are all I’ve got
    so I try to make them brave

    His songs are melodies of acknowledgement, affirmation and encouragement to his listeners who are trying to be brave. Of course, one can say he is simply pandering to mass tastes, and writing what he thinks the mass audience wants. But they did cheer me up when I had to endure 2 weeks of chickenpox and quarantine, which became a literal nightmare (I dreamed that the poxes came back just as the old ones have dried up).

    "Comforting" is the word to describe how I felt as the songs accompany me through this period. It just seems to be me that the artistic creativity and emotional appeal of music are equally important. Rare are those who can achieve both at the same time.

    Song: Shine by Jason Mraz

     
     
  2. Welcome this this week’s edition of Crummy Monday!

    I was reserving this Mraz song for a blue start to the week, where I would find myself trudging, almost against my will, to meet another work week. 

    Alas, that didn’t happen. I’m resting at home. Not that I’m enjoying it though, because I’m down with a rather bad bout of chickenpox. All I can muster now is sleep, eat, bathe and poop. Even reading drains me. Reading the newspapers takes me twice as long as I need a break in between pages. This is most definitely not “what I had been waiting for”

    Anything and everything looks more attractive than chickenpox (and me) now. Yes, even work. Even evening classes on statistics. I can only hope that the poxes (poxies?) will dry up quickly and not leave too much damage, so that I can greet the day and meet the world again. “Hello!

    Song: Hello, You Beautiful Thing by Jason Mraz

     
     
  3. A new favourite from Jason Mraz’s new album, Yes! Listening to this while working late in an empty office makes me feel a little wistful. I wonder whether I’ll ever find someone whom I want to take the long way with.

    Song: Long Drive by Jason Mraz

     
     
  4. Taken at Taiping Mountain (太平山), Yilan, Taiwan, April 2014

     
  5. If you love something, set it free. If it comes back….

    Image taken from The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, as recommended by Brain Pickings: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/05/07/the-lion-and-the-bird-marianne-dubuc/ 

     
  6. Terraces of calla lilies at Yangming Shan in Taipei. This was stitched together from five photos. You might wonder why the photo is so pathetically small. Well, it’s because I accidentally switched the settings of the camera such that it took photos in the smallest possible jpeg format. :|

    Taken in April 2014

     
  7. It isn’t something I admit to often, but I like camp! And there were lots of it on display at Yilan’s National Center for Traditional Arts. I was prepared to be bored stiff by a Chinese opera performance but found myself chuckling at politically incorrect jibes, such as references to unmarried daughters as as a certain farm animal reared to be sold at the market. Or giant traditional deity puppets running through the street, low-fiving and shaking hands during a procession. Or performers making “cold” jokes to entertain the audience (“How much does a star weigh? 8 grams!” [in reference to Starbucks’s Chinese name, 星巴克]).

    All in all, it’s quite a pleasant place to explore, and not your traditional centre for traditional arts. With various streets lined with shops and stalls selling trinkets and food, it feels more like a theme park. 

    Taken in Yilan, Taiwan, April 2014

     
  8. It looks like we’re deep in autumn when it’s actually spring at Taiping Mountain (太平山) in Yilan.

    Taken in April 2014

     

  9. "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."
    — E.F. Schumacher
     
  10. Welcome to Taiwan! Or to be more precise, Yilan. On the right is Guishan Island, or Turtle Island. Doesn’t look like one here because we’re facing its back. 

    Taken in Yilan, Taiwan, April 2014

     
  11. Just because I survived Crummy Monday and a weekend of flu and report writing!

    Song: Happy by Pharrell Williams

     
     
  12. This video of 牧歌 (The Pastoral Song) as played by 呂思清 (Lu Siqing) was what I was learning before I stopped my violin lessons in end January. My teacher had set aside the exam music scores and taught me this because I mentioned to her before that I like this song a lot. I love listening to it while commuting to work—it transports me from the crowded trains and escalators to some faraway pasture. I was so surprised to find this video: The image is almost exactly the same as what my mind had imagined!

    Work and study have left me with little time and inclination for practice. And the fact is, I simply cannot learn music by myself. It feels too lonely. So it’s really funny that just a week after I told my music teacher that I wish to stop my lessons, my former classmates (who had dropped out months ago) suddenly decided to come back to class again.

    I’d be lying if I say that I missed it a lot. But I’d be lying too if I say I didn’t. That I stopped just as I was learning a favourite song makes me hope that this pause is more like a dash than a full stop. I had told my teacher I will come back after a year. I sincerely hope I would. 

     
     
  13. On the first day of spring, they cut down my trees. 3 of them. They were not like the usual roadside trees, being twice as tall and thrice as wide. They were probably here before me, and somehow, looking at their exposed roots in their fallen state, I feel they have a better claim to the land than us too. 

    The trees were part of an old school campus (Hai Sing, I was told), which had been used as a temporary home for a few schools. After that, a couple of private educational institutes took over the place but they never lasted long. The campus was left empty for a while, until the government decided to build HDB flats on the land. The school building was demolished, which made our cleaning lady sad, because that was her primary school. But they left the trees standing, which gave me hope. But now, the trees had to go too. 

    I love trees. But I had never properly photographed them in all of the 23 years they were in plain sight, just outside my window. And it was not for want of thinking. Often, while setting off for work, I would pause and look at them. Look at that. Look at the light of the morning sun filtering through them. One day (probably a weekend morning), I would grab my camera and take a photo of that. 

    But somehow, the angle was never good enough; the sky was never blue enough. Or I never woke up early enough. And why try, when the real thing is so much more beautiful than any image I can make?

    I was able to take a few photos of them while they were being pushed down by a bulldozer only because I happened to be working from home that day. Even then, one had already fallen.  

    I feel sorry for the birds, who hopped around and lingered over the fallen trees. They seemed to feel as bewildered as I am. How can something that stood so firm and tall for decades be fell in a matter of minutes? 

    I now draw the curtains in my room because what’s there to see but dead wood on the ground and concrete blocks? But in my mind, I can still see them swaying, green and alive, in the afternoon breeze. 

     
  14. I was making my way to the train station after interviewing a teacher at the secondary school. This tree, which is just outside the school, stopped me in my tracks and I quickly pulled out the camera I brought along for the interview. It’s one of those rare moments when I encountered something photo-worthy and actually did have a camera with me.

    Taken in Singapore, July 2013

     
  15. Someone recently quoted Robert Capa at me, who said something about how “If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough.” I dare say it applies to plants and flowers. The closer you look, the more fascinating they become. 

    Taken at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, February 2014