Wednesday, 31 July 2013

TOS - 2.5 - The Apple

Star Trek TOS Apple
Who wants to go into the Serpent
Tunnel of Terror?
The ticket price is $5 for adult
and $3 for children.
Children shorter than the snake's fang
will not be admitted.
The early episodes in Season 1 were filled with ideas that are inspired by classics. It has been awhile, and in this episode, we have the classics of classics, Crème de la crème of classics.

Only 3 episodes ago in episode 2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?", we have another classics, Greek classics that is. And in this episode, we have the Jewish classic from the Bible, based on the "Garden of Eden" in the Book of Genesis.

It's the Season of ancient religions!

When I saw the title of the episode, my 1st thought that crossed my mind is that this episode is based on the story the Garden of Eden. BUT the term "Apple" is really wrong. The Bible quotes "Forbidden Fruit". Somewhere sometimes something lost in the translation, and the "Forbidden Fruit" had turned into "Apple" (like water being turned into wine by Jesus). Another example is Deng Xiaoping's famous quote, "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white. If it catches mice, it's a good cat". This is a well known Sichuan proverb (Sichuan is his birth place), but it's actually a tabby cat. I think you agree that "white cat" is better, but wrong. There's no white cat native to Sichuan (only tabby cat).

One of the many things about classical story that's stood the test of time is its depth and width of interpretation. It could be viewed in a number of subtly different ways. When I first heard it when I was 17 (by the way, I'm an agnostic), this is the story of the Coming of Age.

Adam and Eve (meaning children) were totally innocent of the ways of the world. God (meaning parents) protecting them in the Garden of Eden (meaning parents' house) from external 'evil' (meaning porn, tattoo, heavy metal, smoking, swearing, etc).

The 'evil' serpent or snake tempts them to eat the "Apple" from the Tree of Knowledge. God warned them against eating it. And knowing kids, what happens when you tell them not to read a certain magazine, or watch a certain TV channel, etc, you pique their curiosity, and lure them to do it. It's God, not Serpent, who makes Adam and Eve wants to do it more because being curious is human nature. God knows that, of course! The Bible writers are another matter entirely.

Some rebellious kids these days probably call these strict parents fascists. Since Adam and Eve disobey God's order, they've got banished from the Garden of Eden. Today's parents do the opposite, they ground the kids in their own house. There's nothing more scary to the kids than staying in their Garden of Eden forever. Kids are quite worldly these days compare to even one generation before, thanks to Information Age.

Of course, the Serpent represents the 'evil', in other words, the real world outside the parents house.

We interpret thing according to our situation. So at 17 year old, I naturally interpreted it that as a story of the Coming of Age. But since Adam and Eve is the First Couple of Humankind, so this is the story of the Coming of Age of Humankind.

The Garden of Eden narrative is scalable, meaning you can apply it to a family unit, a society or humanity. If it applies to the family unit, authoritarianism is a parenting style, if it applies to a country, authoritarianism is a political ideology. Those 2 units/systems tend to go hand in hand. A democratic country tends to favour democratic parenting style.

In the ancient world where autocracy, and obedience were valued highly, Adam and Eve indeed do a bad bad thing for not listening to their strict parents. Today, we don't view the Serpent as such a simple black and white term as the good or the bad guy. Just a guy.

In this episode, Vaal is alluded to as the Biblical God, the primitive villagers collectively as Adam and Eve. These villagers are indeed very innocent. One adult, their leader, cries like a baby when Captain Kirk punches him in the face. Captain Kirk has to sooth him from stop crying. They don't even know how to harm another person. In short, they're more innocent than a 7 year old earthling.

Interestingly, Vaal is represented by the giant Serpent head, which is the entrance to its computer processing centre. This is in keeping with the image that the Serpent is the bad guy.

If you ask me, Star Trek is the Serpent, and the crew is the Apple (a term used by Spock), who opens the eyes of the villagers, and liberate them from a existence that consists of nothing except absolute conformity to the rule of Vaal. This place is a gilded cage as described by Captain Kirk.

We have basic instinctual fear towards the snake. So it's the universal cultural symbol of evil because it's driven by our evolution. In science, snake doesn't have such a stigma. If you watch nature documentary, and listen the loving way some biologists talk about snakes, you thought they worship the Serpent god.

There's nothing to be ashamed for the Trek writer to knock off this classic story from the Bible, the Bible writers themselves regularly pinched stuff from earlier sources from the people of the Fertile Crescent like the Sumerians, Assyrians, etc. The Garden of Eden and The Noah's Flood are just 2 such examples. And some scholars believe that the Ten Commandments may have come from the Egyptian Book of the Dead is an example.

It's not hard to see this is another episode in Season 2 that sent the message: we have outgrown yet another religion, like Adam and Eve have outgrown the Garden of Eden, or the primitive villagers have outgrown Vaal, after tasting the Apple.

We've also outgrown absolute authority. We used to worship military conquerors like Alexander the Great, or Genghis Khan. At least, some of us. Some of us still worship them. The episode also explores authoritarianism vs democracy. Authoritarianism is invariably refers to Communism in the 1960s. Examples of a previous TOS episodes touching on these theme include 1.21 "The Return of the Archons". Since the TOS Trek writers lived in the 1960s, so don't expect their brainwaves is ever strayed too far for too long from the Cold War.

To be fair, in ancient agricultural, pre-industrial societies where living standards were typically low, freedom are valued relatively less than food, shelter and safety. In the relative affluent modern societies where food , shelter and safety are taken for granted, less tangible things like freedom becomes the object to be pursued.

Like I said, the Garden of Eden story can be interpreted in a number of ways. I believe that it's much less interpretative and more literal in the Bible when it was written. The message is simply absolute obedience to God or be banished from the Kingdom of God like Adam and Eve. The "Apple" represents heresy. While it depicts an authoritarianism, it's a benevolent dictatorship. In the episode or in the Bible.

Monday, 22 July 2013

TOS - 2.2 - Who Mourns for Adonais?

Star Trek - Who Mourns for Adonais?
How many times do I have to to tell you people,
the measurements are in Imperial Units, not Metric !

Zeus! I hit my head when I walk into this temple !

I don't bow when I enter my own temple, you
bow to me, Children of Ancient Greeks !
The Enterprise runs into many odd things as they zip around the galaxy in warp speed. After all, the Universe is an insanely weird place. But then all this outlandish (no pun intended) event aren't unprecedented. Many wooden-legged old seamen regale wondrous tales of monster sea creatures, phantom ships, gremlins and whatnot they encounter in their long sea voyages.

And as I mentioned in the review of the 2nd pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before", Captain Kirk is based on Captain Cook, and the Star Trek voyages are the space equivalence of Captain James Cook's terrestrial exploration of new frontiers and civilisations. James Cook had certainly discovered a number of islands, had close encounters with many different races of peoples, witnessed all manners of creatures great and small, and 'found' the continent of Terra Australis, or better known today as Australia.

After some rather un-officer like, yet delightful banter between the Captain and Bones regarding Scotty's pursuit of happiness in the fairer sex, the Enterprise is stopped by a hand. Yep, you heard it right, a hand. No body is attached to it. Just a hand. I told you space is weird. The strangest thing Captain Cook could possibly encounter is that his ship is gripped by a giant octopus (8 tentacles), but never a hand. As it turns out, it's the hand of Apollo. Not the Space Mission, but the handsome (is there other kind?) Greek god Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto. Who would have thought?

I watch and write these TOS reruns in the same chronological sequence that they were made. I have very little recollection of my original (no pun intended) viewing of TOS as it took place nearly 3 decades ago. When I wrote the review of previous episode 2.1 "Amok Time" that there's a new trend emerging in Season 2, this ensuing episode seems to reinforce that.

In several episodes in TOS Season 1, there're no shortage of the alien races that appear like gods, some in fact, resemble Greco-Roman gods (e.g. the Metron in episode 1.18 "Arena"). They're highly evolved, and they look down on human as savages, unruly brats, whom asking for some lecturing or canings on our backsides.

The new trend emerging from Season 2 turns this human bashing upside down. The new message is now we have evolved, the gods are the silly ones. Captain Kirk comes to realise that the Greek gods in Greek mythology are indeed ancient alien.

The first time when I heard of UFO conspiracy theorists talked of ancient alien in the 1980s, it blew my mind. The ancient theorists suggest that many ancient gods were actually aliens, whom were mistaken for gods because of their powers. To the technologically backward society, these powers they possessed could only be perceived as magic of the gods.

In the Cargo Cult theory advanced by archeologists. When a closed primitive society encounters with a highly technological advanced society, they interpret them as gods, and using their artifacts to build a religion around it.

I suspect the ancient alien theorists didn't get this mind-bending idea on their own. As this episode was written in the 1960s, it's very original (no pun intended), and very ahead of its time. I suspect UFO conspiracy theorists get all their ideas from Star Trek.  I'm increasingly convinced that all original ideas in sci-fi movies ever made after 1960s come from TOS (bear in mind though that some ideas in TOS were borrowed or inspired by older ideas). In short, Star Trek TOS is the mother of all sci-fi movies. Big statement to make, but I don't think I'm way off the mark.

Evolution of our religions accompanied or reflected by the evolution of our societies (and vice versa). I like to think of the ancient gods is akin to our childhood imaginary friends. When we're young, we need them. As we get older, we've outgrown the need for such imagination. We live in the real world, and have real friends. In other words, for better or for worse, we believe in ourselves, in Humankind. Good luck! (or God help us!)

The Greek god, and the only remaining one, in question in this episode is Apollo, in the final scene,

APOLLO: I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you as a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?
KIRK: We've out grown you. You asked for something we could no longer give.

This 2 simple dialogues capture the sentiment well. From Season 2 onwards (I speculate), a new trend emerges to show that how far human have come, and the more highly advanced aliens are just as infallible. And if these Greek gods is an advanced alien race, they're more passionate for love - in other word more emotional - than modern human. First it was the Vulcan Spock in last episode who acts like primitive brute, and now the very passionate alien in the shape of one of the Olympian gods.

The pantheon of gods are more than imaginary friends. They're more like parents that provides emotional supports just as the Apollo 's dialogue above.

The gods give us emotional comforts that there're something higher, and when we die, and we're not finished yet. So don't fear death. We're soothed by their existence.

Before science, these gods supply explanation for all kinds of natural phenomena. Their existence explained away natural events that we weren't capable of answering or understanding. This satisfied our curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Why do we have day and night? The ancient Greeks asked. It's because Helios drives the sun across the sky in a chariot. Later, or some other places, it was suggested that Apollo is the one who does the deed. This is far more easier to understand than abstract and complex scientific theories involving the Solar System, planetary movements, gravitation, etc.

This playful mythological answer to our ancient Greeks is like when children ask adults about questions that they aren't ready to comprehend, we give them make-believe answers, not real answers. Yes, babies are delivered by storks. Instead of giving them a messy, complex, R-rated answer.

In the time of great emotional needs, we go and pray to them. They pacify us. They even help us to predict the future, which settle our uncertainty about the future.

The list goes on. Our ancestors relied heavily on these pantheon of gods, each performs a specific function, and fulfilled a specific emotional need. They're very useful indeed. The ancients weren't so much superstitous, but were very practical.

They were like parent's hand-holding. When we grow up, we should no longer rely on them. We walk unaided, blaze our own path. We rely on the answers that we've found ourselves, through scientific enquiry, and rational discourse.

Good night! And keep your eyes peeled for Helios or Apollo in the sky.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Sydney Harbour Whale Watching Cruise

Stop Crying Whale. The Tale of Tail Watching Cruise.

18 °C

We've decided to do a whale watching cruise to celebrate Atta's dad's birthday (85 this year). In 2001, we came back to Australia and celebrated his birthday with the bridge climb.

Julie hit upon the idea when she came across a whale watching Groupon online with 59% discount. So why not? Although this is my 2nd whale watching cruise, this is the 1st time we do it as a group.

We boarded the cruise on King Street Wharf 8. Townhall Station is the closest station to get there in a 6 mins walk

The whales do their annual migration to the warmer north from the South Pole during winter (as far north as the Great Barrier Reef). So in order to see the whales, the cruise took us out of Sydney harbour (or Port Jackson if you're pedantic) and into the rough open sea. But we didn't have to go very far from the mouth of the harbour to see these gentle giants of the sea - the largest animals on earth - as they tend to hug along the shore as they swim north.

Sometimes, the whale got confused because of the modern ship communication, wandered into the Harbour, and made into the 6 o'clock news. These don't happen often, hence it's still news.

Hornby Lighthouse on South Head forms onr of the arms of the Sydney Harbour
Hornby Lighthouse on South Head forms one of the 2 arms of the Sydney Harbour.
These 2 arms or headlands are better known as North and South Heads. Or just the Heads.

It was a calm day for whale watching. Mind you, it still rocked quite a bit, after all the cruise is a small vessel that carried only 75 passengers. As far as open seas goes, it was considered calm. A few kids had threw up as soon as we got out of the calmer harbour. No adults suffered this because adults who get seasick easily would probably avoid this kind of cruise, or take anti-seasickness remedies. As for kids, this might have been the 1st time they discover seasickness, and making it a memorable trip for the wrong reason.

At first, not far from the mouth of the harbour, there were plenty of false alarms. The captain would point and say "Look! It's over there. 10 O'clock". We saw a tiny speck of an object bobbing up and down the ocean in the distant. There was also sea spray accompanied the object to suggest it's the breath from the whale's blowholes. We held our breath, our eyes transfixed on this much anticipated appearance. As it got closer, it looked more and more like a speed boat skipping on the surface of the sea.

Another passenger pointed, we all looked into her direction, it turned out to be nothing but waves. All these flickering, glimmering glares play tricks on our eyes. These happened a few times before the passengers stop crying wolf - I mean whale.

As we got further and further from the harbour, we finally spotted them. It was in the distant, and no doubt about it. Our captain went after the whale like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Of course, not for the purpose of shooting it with harpoons, but shooting it with cameras.

People who have looked at photos of those showy, majestic whales that leap straight up into air in a dramatic poses and expect to see it in a cruise would be disappointed. Those dramatic photos were taken by people who are either extremely lucky, or more likely somebody who been to these whale watching cruises repeatedly. It's also probably that the amazing photos were captured by the cruise staff, who happens to be a shutterbug. Lower your expectation, you will be disappointed less.

Tail of a whale
Tail of a whale

For the average whale watching fan like me, expect to only see the vanishing tails of the whales most of the time. It's more accurately be called tail-watching cruise. Who know? You might get lucky in your next cruise.

Pair of whales migrating north, Sydney
Pair of whales migrating north, Sydney
Quite often, the whale couple swim together. It's always nice to have company while on the road, or sea lane.

The breath left behind is the whale's watery graffiti
that says "I was here a second ago"

But all is not lost. Even if you miss the full body of whales, there're plenty to see while the cruise takes you from the wharf out to the sea, especially if you're a tourist to Sydney. Sydney Harbour is one of the 5 most beautiful city ports in the world (the other 4 being HK Harbour, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, and Cape Town. Haven't been to the last 2 cities).

Despite catching only glimpses of the whale, some people will tell you they have a whale of a time (well, I have to put this in. I've no choice).

Ah yes, to wear scarf and beanie in the city at 18 °C may seem over the top, but a very good idea out in the open sea watching whales from the deck. My hands were so cold, I have difficulty pressing my camera's buttons. This adds another challenge to photographing whales.