23 March 2010

Law & Disorder

My apartment complex was the site of big news in Singapore. On 3 March, a helper fell to her death from one of the apartment towers at Draycott 8. Here is the story as reported by The Straits Times:

Mar 3, 2010
Maid Attacks Bosses, Jumps
A FILIPINO maid hit the head of her employer's wife with a clothes iron, then grabbed eight knives from the kitchen, cut her employers in a frenzied tussle, before plunging eight floors to her death.

This shocking tragedy happened on Saturday morning at Draycott 8, an upscale condominium on Draycott Park, off Scotts Road.

The 30-year-old maid had been working for a 47-year-old Caucasian and his 45-year-old Japanese wife for just a few months, according to Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao.

Wanbao said on the day of the incident, the maid seemed extremely agitated and suddenly attacked the boss' wife with the iron, causing her to bleed profusely.

Shocked by the maid's sudden display of violence, the couple tried to question her but before they could do it, the maid grabbed eight knives from the kitchen, and waved them by a window at the balcony, weeping and creating a din.

When coaxed by her employers to calm down, the maid turned on them instead, and stabbed them as they tried to bring her to safety. Moments later, she jumped off from the window as the shocked couple watched in horror. She died on the spot.

The couple was admitted to a hospital for treatment for minor injuries, and have since been discharged.

As an American, I am accustomed to reading detailed news stories. Having lived in New York before moving to Singapore, I had the luxury of choosing between three newspapers reporting on the day’s events: The New York Times, the Daily News, and the New York Post. No two articles were ever alike. Plus, I had the added bonus of the Post’s witty headlines, for example "HO NO!" for the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal. No doubt the Post writers would have hit a new low creating a headline for the tragic death, but this is a one-source town so there is no need to be sensational.

The expat community, the blog-o-sphere, and the foreign helpers have all jumped to conclusions about this Filipino woman’s death. Web postings and blogs reported on the death word-for-word as written in the article. (The Chinese newspaper is owned by The Straits Times.) My friends and friends of friends called and texted me to give their helper’s version: a seasoned pro putting her boy through school working for a tyrannical woman would not snap, would not jump. She was provoked, she was pushed. A cafĂ© society blog wrote, “…employer had affair with maid, wife confronts the 2 of them, husband defends maid, wife picks up knife to attack husband, cuts herself in the process. Maid tries to help by throwing iron at wife, husband comes to his senses and throws maid off the building. Couple makes up story. The end.” A forum of Singapore residents wrote that this was a good example of why "it is better to hire Vietnamese helpers than Filipinos."

What really happened? I don’t know. They are my neighbors, yet I don’t know their names. The manager says, “We ask you and your helpers not to talk about it.” The doormen say, “These things happen.” No reporters hanging outside my gate for the inside scoop and no follow-up features. The story is, dare I say, dead.

08 March 2010

A Story of O

Why Oscar? From what I learned, there are several versions of naming the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award statuette Oscar. Officially, it is called the Academy Award of Merit. A bit stuffy for Hollywood, no wonder a nickname was created. One theory gives the Oscar-naming honors to Bette Davis who, in 1935, likened the statuette to her husband. Legend also says that in 1939 an Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick, thought the sketch of the award looked like her Uncle Oscar. A favorite explanation, and the one on most blogs and online sites, is that the name was taken from an old vaudeville joke, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” I do not know what that means, but up in smoke comes to mind (a reference to a joke or an act bombing?). Up in smoke. To come to nothing.

I wonder if Bette’s husband or Margaret’s uncle were rolling in their graves knowing their name is associated with Hollywood’s biggest night, especially this year’s. The Oscar was stretched thin and the program long. The shift to nominate 10 movies rather than the usual 5 smacked of an industry’s desperation for cash. And speaking of “smack”, nice gum chewing Sarah Jessica Parker and Cameron Diaz! A potentialy sticky situation occurred when a woman in blue hijacked the Short Form Documentary winner’s acceptance speech. The craziness ended when the microphone cut off and the orchestra leader played Thanks for the Memories. I’m sure the dead Oscars of legend were miffed to see that Lauren Bacall was not paid tribute to at the Awards, rather she was cast aside with stand-and-applaud honors. While the program paid tribute to those the industry lost, it didn’t seem so heartfelt because they didn't fully honor the lifetime achievement winners. To those of us still alive, Bacall is Hollywood. It would have been something to hear her entire speech.

This year's Academy Awards only had time for the winners and losers. After all, there were nearly a dozen Best Picture nominations to summarize. With the exception of Kate Winslet, all the presenters said, “and the winner is” rather than the standard, “the Oscar goes to.” I don’t think they have announced “winner” since Bette won her Oscar statuette and said it had a flat bottom like her husband's! So now Meryl Streep is not even a winner for being nominated, she’s just a loser. For fuck sake, what does the Academy want Meryl to do? Hang the moon?

On the other hand, the Awards did present a fabulos win, Katherine Bigelow! Midway through the Academy Awards, I half expected Bob Costas to break in with a statuette-count update between The Hurt Locker and Avatar. How many times were the presenters going to mention that James Cameron’s visionary masterpiece took over a decade to make and is the biggest grossing movie of all time? Looks as if with all the money in the world a Best Picture or Best Director Oscar was “unobtanium” to Cameron. Avaterd added up to zilch.

Not for nothing, the annual Academy Awards are a big deal. It brings people together, presents topics of conversation, and rewards Hollywood with a boost in last minute box office tallies from people going to the cinema to see all the nominees and/or nominated movies. More importantly, it is broadcast worldwide. Since the nominations were announced, my sister, Valerie, and I emailed our predictions and talked about the awards being a battle of the sexes, exes and military might. Two days before the Awards, she watched Inglorious Basterds and I went to see Up in the Air (it finally made it to my part of the world). Then, on Sunday night in Ohio and Monday morning in Singapore, while Valerie sipped champagne and I drank coffee, we Skyped and watched the first half of the broadcast together. Isn’t that something?