June 20, 2014

The Meaning of Life

(A re-post from 2004)

I was walking the downtown streets some days ago, feeling a little bit restless for reasons unknown to me specifically, at least to the one or those that I could not pinpoint to with reasonable certainty. Perhaps this is one sort of a malady that I have read about once before in some old decrepit medical book stacked in my mother-in-laws deteriorating wooden cabinets, those that were partly eaten by termites, looking so fragile that a simple disturbance on it would let spew a handful of mashed-up and grounded wooden particles—which I find to be so repulsive knowing that they were the end results of some crawlers’ eating frenzy.

This malady is sometimes called depression or anxiety problems (they go by many names depending on the author of the medical book I read) and once in a while I retreat into this state and like water, I just have to let  go of it for I could not rein it in my hands—no matter what.

I passed by the new barbershop just in front of the old Ever theater—one that had seen better days—and I thought I might get my hair done. I stared at a glass partition from a nearby store and had an inkling that my hair wasn’t as disheveled as I thought it was. I even saw it to be fitting to me despite the general rugged look and I had thought then that moviestars have lengthy hairs even if they were males, having that blown away look. I was a little worried that if one sports a blown away and rugged crown of hair and at the same time not being a moviestar, one might be easily taken for a madman walking the streets at high noon. But that sidewalk mirror was good to me and I felt that my uncut hair would be fit for a star. Some mirrors are good to me ; mostly they are not—especially those in my bedroom.

So I passed with having a quick haircut that day and hoped that the blown away look would be fitting enough for me for quite a number of days more. I then strolled farther down the city sidewalks and came towards a crevice full of DVD stalls and I felt a little blown away after seeing so many titles available and on a dirt cheap prices at that, considering that for 80 bucks, one can get a DVD disc that contains 8 to 12 movies in it, and most of them were blockbusters and of very recent release. Some of them were not even shown yet here in local theaters. That’s how tempting it was for movie aficionados like me. I could not say now that I haven’t had scored myself some pirated items before (I had been smoking a brand of cigarette smuggled from Hongkong when I was in college) and of course, it would be unthinkable for me to not have seen a pirated movie before. I had of course.

But while I was glancing on stacks and stacks of DVD disks, my mind was swinging between the forthrightness of not buying a pirated item and having a devilish pleasure on filling my hunger for movies at throwaway prices. I could always remember that video clip that goes with every movie I rent from video stores and the loud, thundering reminder that says: “You Don’t Steal A Car! You Don’t Steal A House! You Don’t Steal A Movie!”, and somehow my inner conscience is disturbed by such that whenever that clip goes in every movie I rent, I wanted to shout at whoever that guy behind the thundering voice and belch, “Stop It! I Heard You. You Don’t Have To Remind Me That All The Time. You’re Not My Mother!”

My inner conscience had gotten the better of me that time so I just slowly walk away from stacks and stacks of salacious movies and guilty pleasures. I then remember that a new Video City branch had opened just a block away and I headed immediately towards it. The moment I had gazed through the available movie titles, I felt an immediate surge of gleefulness inside me since I hadn’t expected that the new video store could offer such voluminous number of titles, especially of recent ones. The video store where I usually get my dose of movies is so miserably lacking in inventory that I guess I won’t be visiting it from now on, except perhaps in some momentary lapse of reason in the future.

I felt like a child lost in a sea of movie titles and I almost picked up every disk that had caught my eye, until I reached the “Drama” section and there in front of me was a copy of Wong Kar Wai’s “2046” and I was excited to high heavens. It had been much talked about in the net world about how good it was and for a long time, I was trying to get my hand on a copy of it, and for a while there I thought I wouldn’t be able to see it for it would be unthinkable that it’d be exhibited in local theaters considering that it was released about three years ago. And I haven’t had seen any trace of it in every video rental store I went before.

I had anticipated this movie ever since I have grown a special fondness for oriental art films, especially those of the legendary filmmaker Zhang Zimou, whose film “Farewell To My Concubine” was so wonderfully entertaining and had primarily introduced me to other notable movies from China or Hongkong. Before that, ever since I was in high school, I had been delighted by the magic of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces like “Ran” and “Dreams”.

And so “2046” was about a writer who had become so engrossed about his own written piece that he saw himself being dragged into it, and feeling the pains and longings of the characters he had made himself. “2046” was a work about a train that once in a while travels towards the year “2046” and no one who goes there ever came back, except for one, the male protagonists. It is said that those who journey towards this strange destination are those who are longing for love, perhaps a kind that could not be found here at present, for how come they have to travel towards a point of no return just looking for it? What love is there out there that some have risk even their own mortal existence just to gain it? It was written by the writer that nobody actually knows how long for one to get to “2046”, for some it would be faster, but sometimes, to those unlucky travelers, it might take so long that they would start to lose their senses and sanity while inside the rain, having nothing to do except sit down and wait for the arrival time, one that is not definite and without any sign of coming. The main male protagonist in the novel had such kind of journey, one that was so lenthgy and seemingly unending that he fell in love with an android, an artificial human being stewarding the train.

The writer had his own life in the movie “2046”, a life lived sometime in the 1960’s where according to him “he just found himself to be in”. He earn his meals by writing columns and kung-fu stories for local dailies and billeted himself in a room with a door number that states “2046”. That was where he had sourced the title for his novel, a number which in his own mind had taken his fancy and unusual interest.

Along the way, he met a wife of another man named Bai Ling, who had runned away from her husband for having another woman and had rented a room just across his own. They slowly fell for each other and started a torrid affair filled with nights of passion and unhindered bliss. Until one day the woman asked him if ever he wanted to stick it out with him. But the writer wouldn’t agree to be exclusive to one single woman and stressed that he was seeing other women while he was having an affair with her. Bai Ling was furious and ended their relationship with tears flooding from her eyes and agitation painted all over her face.

They both started seeing other people and whenever they passed each other in public gatherings, they both pretend not to know each other and according to the writer, it was difficult to pretend and not notice her. It was clear that it was more difficult for Bai Ling to pretend and it showed so much in the utter sadness that found harbor in her teary eyes.

Six years later, the writer was in a relationship with a woman that had a similar name to a woman he had an affair so many years ago. It wasn’t Bai Ling, but another one who had resembled Bai Ling’s general appearance, a circumstance that had led me to ponder whether or not Bai Ling and Su Lizhen was one and the same person. The new woman eventually left the writer for some undeclared reason for she said, “she just have to go away”.

And inside a car—drunken and weary—the writer finally realized that he is starting to lose ‘the meaning of life’. He was thinking to himself and thought that six years ago, he had a chance to find the meaning of life when the beautiful Bai Ling offered herself to be his long time partner. But he had other ideas and now regretted it.

He met Bai Ling for one more time but the feeling was never the same again and it had seemed that in the end, he had entirely lose grasp on what in his mind was “the meaning of life”.

The movie “2046” eventually ignited in me the question about life and its meaning. I try to see myself in the writer’s own predicaments and evaluate if I had what he call as “the meaning of life”. Have I lost it? Or I am living it? Or perhaps, the meaning is just not clear at all.

One way or another, we all are trapped within the world we now dwell, sometimes embroiled in raucous routine everyday conducts, sometimes just swaying to where the wind blows, and often forgetting that at the end of the day, we might not be able to entirely grasp the so-called “meaning of life”. What’s in store for me when I grow old? Where am I heading? Am I happy or am I miserable?

Am I that sort of individual who would jump into a train and head to “2046”?

These are just questions and I hope that this momentary bout with depression would vanish like thin air. And then I’ll have in my full grasp the so-called “meaning of life” by then. Whatever that means.