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In The Mood For Love – The Art of Stopping and Smelling the Roses

Posted by inspir3d on January 30, 2007

No one really knows when poems started appearing in the metro, underground and train stations all around the world. Some cognoscenti’s swear the first poems surfaced in Moscow during the mid eighties in the Electrozavodskaya in the Moscow underground. Others credit the British who once ran a crazy project simply called Poems in the London underground.

The idea was simple enough. Over a few experimental months, the London Arts Council and two poetry publishers would support some posters with poems to be read by commuters and exhausted shoppers, alongside adverts for duty free cigarettes, cars or holidays in Spain. The commentators were pretty vitriolic,

“Far-fetched if not preposterous….” said one.

“The exposure of an obscure and esoteric passion” wrote another.

But curiously, the public loved it. Now, the scattering of poetry about in public places has been adopted by mass transport systems in New York, Paris, Dublin, Tokyo, Shanghai, Moscow, and in capital cities in Scandinavia. Poems on the underground are now assumed to be part of the urban landscape, a model for primary school projects and a subject for Ph.Ds in media studies and semiology.

I guess the idea of poetry on public transport remains somewhat far-fetched, if not darn preposterous – even to someone like me, only because like you, I’ve a been conditioned to expect every square millimeter has intrinsic worth: commercial value.

One reason accounting for its allure is the fact there are no hidden agendas in poetry. It’s one of those rare cases where what you see is actually what you get. There are no subliminal messages slipping below the radar of consciousness to sell you or suggest that you should be doing this or that; poetry is even promiscuous having absolutely no allegiance to any particular school of thought or movement. She is terminally eclectic: a free spirit – the stuff of fancies.

This raises a few questions: Why should poetry have resurfaced in such an unexpected setting, when its demise had been predicted for so long? Perhaps it’s because poetry is an antidote to a world where almost all public language is trying to either sell you another bottle of eau de toilette, or convince you that you’re missing out on some great expectation, if you missed that blockbuster. Marketing and spin compromises the vast majority of what we see, hear and read these days.

The news is compromised by a combination of spin-doctors who typically wind up and rehash the staid and mundane. Even soap operas try to leave you with cliff-hangers to entice you to come back for another round of the same trite – there is an unseen nefarious hand to it all, one that simply steals a slice of your soul and leaves you a metallic taste in your mouth.

Against this leached out world – words lose their real meaning, not that it bothers those who live and work in the parallel universe of the marketing manifesto. Take the case of “natural,” that first made its ubiquitous debut after Chernobyl and has since been used by marketers to sell everything from adult diapers to fruit juices. What does natural really mean?

Does “natural” on a carton of orange juice mean Bubba, poor white trailer trash has been busting his lard ass on his John Deere combined harvester in the sweltering heat somewhere in the plains of Nebraska? And he brought you that pulp free carton of orange juice without the aid of pesticides, satellite farming technology and yield optimizing software? Or perhaps all those citrus scents and flavors came out from a test tube in a laboratory developed by men in white coats who first feed them to lizards.

That’s one thing you never ever get from poetry, the sinking feeling where you just know something is amiss, yet for some strange inexplicable reason, you can’t put your finger on it. Though a poem may have layer upon layer of meaning, you know every stanza is there for its own sake – it’s real, it’s pure and supernaturally natural.

If marketing, television and the crazy horses show (btw take two aspirins with a stiff bourbon directly after the show, it helps to numb the migraine that comes from the head numbing light show – till today, I can’t figure whether those so called exotic girls looked more like Julie Andrews wearing curtains or a topless Pamela Anderson – that’s how good the lighting is, its literally blinding!) are closing down our understanding of language and watering down the meaning of experience into sound bites, then poetry is refocusing and rebuilding it.

The essence of poetry with us in this age of stark and unlovely actualities remains its directness, which reaches and grabs us without a shadow of a lie, or a shadow of a deflection. It’s as real an experience as you ever get, like a searching kiss that seeks out the sweetness of the moment – it just hits home.

And where is home? – where is Avalon? You know the place where you just want to be when you realize your plane is delayed for another 10 hours (because the pilot went blind watching crazy horses). Until recently, it was left to men in white coats who experimented with monkeys to dissect the innards of happiness, and to ask the most basic question: what is it? Where is it? And how big is it? And probably how do we bottle and sell it? (That’s the reason why I am going to give the scientific inquiry a miss.)

Looking way back, Aristotle believed it was the feeling that emerges from contemplation and from virtuous behavior. But even he (and his happier successors) found the search for a definition fuzzy, to say the least. Indeed, I am inclined to believe an intellectual quest of happiness seems to push it further and further away. (They are the Greeks who never realized the joys of being served laughing gas by a perky nurse in a short skirt.)

I guess whenever I find myself stopping as I often do, staring at one of those worn and weathered poems in some city somewhere in the world, I realize we have been looking for happiness in all the wrong place. Firms exist to maximize their return on investment (ROI), countries do it on a super duper scale, peaking their gross national product (GNP) and none of us have ever heard of return on or gross national happiness, and we are all quite content to ignorantly absorb this blissfully, however much we imagine we are above it. It just shows in some way, we have all stayed back late at work at one time or another for all the wrong reasons we consider right ones.

Chasing the wheel of fortune means we find ourselves on the thread mill that goes round and round while we move no where. And its contagious, high achievers expect others to buy into their philosophy of what constitutes high performance – they leverage on subtle cues to get the message across, staying back after work, returning to the office during the weekends, taking back their work – all these things they do to the greater detriment of their underlings without really calculating the hidden cost. It’s not until after one sieves through the dismal birth rates, high incidences of stress related illness and the growing number of dysfunctional kids, that we actually begin to realize how corrosive our obsession with wealth and status actually is and how facile being a highest growth country actually means.

I imagine, after reading all that you have so far, it’s ironic isn’t it? The idea of a man standing on an empty train platform as he reads a poem, or secreting to watch a film all by himself, is the epitome of “what a waste of time” or “why don’t you read a self improvement book!” – teasing out the threads in a narrative only to juxtapose them against the sharp reliefs of his existence to find a deeper meaning. It hardly seems even worthy enough to qualify as a self actualizing pursuit that come possibly yield one ounce of dividends – but that’s precisely, what I did one muggy day after another comatose inducing conference in Munich, I bought a horseshoe seat in a film art cinema screening Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love.” You know, that oil painted exquisite lament on inhibited love in sardineland called Hong Kong, that’s so claustrophobic one even loosens the tie subconsciously after the first fifteen minutes, set snuggly in the confines of a rigid convention ridden society where only the streets offer temporary respite (if it doesn’t rain that is, because it rains in every single scene, only for the viewer to wonder no end, did they invent foldable umbrellas in the 60’s?).

Christopher Doyle’s photography in “In the Mood for Love” is peerless, each scene is detailed to perfection to the minutiae fractional, reminded me of netsuke – framed against this velvet rich background neighboring room tenants Chow (Tony Leung) and Su (Maggie Cheung) discover their spouses are having an affair, they embark on a secret role-play to understand how it might have developed. Or at least, that’s how they justify their ambiguous relationship. In fact, they’re falling in love. But the fear of social recrimination forbids them from opening their hearts, and the film’s initial eroticism gives way to sweet melancholy as they surrender to repression.

“In the Mood for Love” pinpoints the complexities of the pair’s emotions sharply. Every scene a metaphor is designed to tell a story within a story. The shimmer of the silk cheong sam as she sashays, a dab of mustard, a trail of cigarette smoke searching upwards like a dragon, embroidered slippers peeking out illicitly under a bed – perforce the great divide, between yearning and suppressing, aching and release, finding and losing, hoping and finally resignation.

Wong’s film is as eloquent as it is beautiful, it’s one that reminds me how sometimes we can stand so near, yet remain so very far away from really appreciating what is directly before us – the present rather than the past or distant future. I imagine whether we are going to live purposeful lives in this age which threatens to skewer our consciousness by barreling us either forwards into the land of false hopes or backwards to sappy nostalgia (where the marketers just knows the past is always sweeter only because humans have a remarkable capacity to remember only the good old days and forget how they had to make do before the invention of superglue.)

As a woman once told me, the furthest place in the world is when I stand before her and I cant even see or hear her – either because I was too busy trying to get that report out or arrange that meeting to move up one rung in the ladder of life (not realizing of course, the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall) – just as accountants don’t examine poetry for regression curves or cost to ratio benefits. Or production specialists never ever measure anything except efficiency and effectiveness – I once belonged to that fraternity that made sense of the nuts and bolts of this world – a world that shuttled forward and backwards no end leaving precious little time to appreciate what life can really offer in the way of fulfillment or dare I say, happiness.

Yet that evening as I sat there all alone in the cinema as the film unfolded like the first stanzas of a poem – I was reminded: how so much of life should from time to time simply resemble primrose and roses, where they have every right to remain gratuitous and though a love of all things beautiful such poetry and films keep no factories busy. It’s moments like this, when we simply stop and smell the roses that the world suddenly becomes one of the last havens of authenticity in our virtual leached out existence.

Sitting there cocooned snuggly in the dark, I eased myself into the minds eyes of the characters and slowly it all came back – a place called home. And though the lights would eventually come on, for the time being as long as the film unraveled, the world remained very far off while my significant half dissolved happily away into the floating world of obscure and esoteric – one rainy evening in a cinema, the world had forgotten somewhere in Munich, I was perhaps the happiest man alive.

(By Harphoon / Sociology/ Arts / The Brotherhood Press/ SA 00329/2007-P)


13 Responses to “In The Mood For Love – The Art of Stopping and Smelling the Roses”

  1. Pirannahpride said

    Hi Harphyboy,

    Nice light and sweet sherbet to cut the heaviness of the week. I just want to say, the last time, I went to see a movie all by myself was some 10 years ago. Since then I have got married and divorced, but something has changed in my life, no longer used to be as impulsive as bfr. I guess when you have kids, everything changes and you become more aware of your responsibilities and the consequences of your actions.

    However, I do agree with what you say, modern life is killing us in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine, soaring GNP may be good for a country, but so what! I am not so sure, it is that healthy for ordinary folk who have to work late, eat lousy food and dont get enough rest or off days to take their kiddies out to the zoo. Besides my pay is still the same as three years ago! So can you pls tell how does a booming economy or X% of growth benefit me? Can someone give me an answer to this simple question? So please stop giving me good news that is as no news. I suspect you a right, there is no truth in modern living, even ST is spinning like a top, but when you square off the weekly bills it just doesnt add up, and thats real!

    So I have to agree completely, from time to time, we just need to just stop and smell the flowers. Today I was supposed to send my daughter to school and attend a meeting, I just said, heck, let me call sick and together we just held hands and walked to the pasar, it was like another Sunday only this was one which I made for her.

    Thanks for the livesaver!

  2. mandy said

    Sweet like honey money want me?

  3. boing2 said

    Hi bros,

    Nice, setting your own pace, I see, as a usual, not a care for the world, setting your own pace, not a care in the world as to what the world talks about. Stopping and smelling the roses are we? setting your own pace, not a care in the world. As if they hardly exist, thats the way of the brotherhood, they do as they like, think as they please with hardly a bother for the world……..

    I think, I might join you all as well in this oasis. make some space, it is only Tuesday, but its a long rumpy week ahead and if I am not going to grow old and die prematurely, we all need to learn how to make a little goes a long way from you bad boys.

    Lots of love boys and do write.

  4. Tata Y said


    Stop and smell the roses??? Are you crazy, we have bills to pay and mortgages to services and what abt the fear of ending up during our golden age in the golden arches!!!!

    So much to do and so little time. However, I do very much concur with your point, we definitely need something like a general national happiness KPI, if we are to remain sane.

    At least it will give us something to really laugh abt even when we are all crying.

  5. BL Tan said

    Happiness vs progress? LOL. I taking half day leave with a few of my galfrens to watch a matinee, bye bye.

  6. BL Tan said

    Nice selection of heavy’s and light’s. I don’t mean to pry for once instance boyz, bc I know that all of you r supposed to be a ultra top secret org, that incidentally journalist in Singapore knows abt, but do you ppl have an editor that decides what you should write?

  7. hotspuerry said

    I’m amazed at how quickly the Brotherhood has turned on the people at Singabloodypore. Whether you agree or not, isnt this so called site all about intelligent discussion for goodness sake?

    Deeply disappointed.

  8. oskar said

    Well, I for one do think that what the Brotherhood writes make a lot of sense.

    But then, as kwokheng is always perceived…

    ‘Oh man, you’re so trippy!’


  9. Mr Bean said

    Happiness, now that is a word that I havent really thought abt for a very long time. Poetry and films, coffee and ciggy’s, fish and chips. I think it worth a try, I and going to give it a blast to see how it goes.

  10. killamaru said

    This was how it was really supposed to end. I am taking my gf out for a candle light dinner, you losers better be right!

    Or I am going to complain to darkness!

    PS: This ending is sad, it is like what harphy said, the tension between longing and missing, I feel it so. I guess thats why, its such a good metaphor for happiness vs our treadmill life….sigh

  11. susan said

    Happiness? Yes, it is definitely worth pursuing. Take care boys.

  12. montburan said


    Don’t botherh abt those idiots. I enjoyed it very much, although during the week, I would prefer to have something more cerebral.

    Could you pls consider writing something abt religion. I believe this is a sensitive matter and because it is so, it rarely gets a spirited mention in the MSM except the perfunctionary treatment that tells us even less abt what is happening. I really believe this is an issue which more people would like to really know about and understand, instead of just sweeping it beneath the carpet in the name of sensitivity.

    Can the brotherhood press consider a series to perhaps share with their readers the various views on this topic of interest. Many thanks and love to darkness bambie always.

  13. Harphoon said


    Thanks for the link, really appreciate that, didnt know there was actually a redux version that went with this.

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