Sunday, October 28, 2007

Aaron, The Debt Collector

Yeah, I'm your worst nightmare. Pay up! Settle your debts now or I'll kick your ass. Well, okay. I'm kidding.

I'm not really a debt collector, whether it's the legal kind or the illegal kind. But this is the role I've been handed for the last two weeks. You see, I work at a management corporation for a condominium, in the accounts department, and my job is to collect payments from the owners and tenants. We don't collect rent, we don't own the units, we just collect payments for service charges and water. They all have 30 days to settle the bills or we charge interest. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, no. Most of them do settle on time, but there are still a great many who do not, and they let their debts build up over time, which add up to months, almost a year and some over a year. This of course doesn't sit well with us, because it's their money that keeps our management corporation running.

So what do the peeps in the building's council do? They get me and my colleague to start calling up our unit owners and ask them to pay up. Which is fine with me, actually. Even though I dislike the idea of speaking to people on the phone about money and things like that. I've had my fair share of verbal abuse from people ever since I got this job. But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. In the long run, it will help us too. Might help us get a bonus or something.

So I've been calling the latepayers up, and I get a variation of answers, from "Sure, I'll send you a cheque soon" to "Why don't you fax me an accounts statement and I'll get back to you". Good answers, but only if they actually pay up. Then there was this one guy I called yesterday who had apparently sold his unit 5 months ago and didn't even bother to tell us. Great. So I've been sending the bills to the wrong person. And he even got agitated when I asked him when he would come back from overseas, because that's where he said he was. Don't these people know I need concrete answers? You own a unit and you don't even have the responsibility to look after it.

But it gets better! There was a lady I called up, who only speaks Chinese. My weakness. So I handed the phone to my colleague, and when she hung up after the convo was over, she said that the lady asked us to call the other latepayers first, because she knew she wasn't the worst one. Haha. Ha. Very funny. Oh, did I mention the lady was angry when she said that? Weird.

So why can't these people be nice? Or at least pay up on time? I've met some really nice owners and tenants over the last 5 months working here. People who smile and thank you for giving them useful information about their account, or for helping them warn the tenant in their unit to pay the water bills, stuff like that. There are a few who even pay in advance. They give us a nice fat cheque that will settle their bills for the next few months, then they disappear and come back later when it's time to pay again. That way they never get charged interest. These are the kind of people who don't care about the money, they are not going to complain about the bills being too high. Fitting for a condo owner.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you can't afford to keep the unit, then sell it. No point owing a debt you can't settle. Sell it, and cut your losses. Most of these owners don't live in the unit anyway, they just want to own one, or just want to rent it out. It all comes down to whether they can maintain the idea of keeping one.

Was I complaining too much in this post? I probably shouldn't. I mean, I'm Aaron, The Debt Collector! I shouldn't be whining. Right?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Mind's Eye

Two dreams in two nights. Both very vivid, very real. It was surreal of course, like most dreams should be. But it left me weak, mystified, lost, confused. And craving for more of it.

When I was in it, I could even sense that there's no way it could be real. That's strange. Because usually when I dream, I just take it in, like it's reality, like it's actually happening, and I don't realise that it's all in my mind. This time, it's different. And what happened was so intoxicating, that even I have no idea how it came about.

Well, I'm not going to go into the details. You'd probably not understand it anyway. I couldn't fathom it either. But when it comes to dreams, none of us can really understand them, can we? It happens without warning, without meaning, without reason. I am aware that some people can interpret dreams and think of them as a sign of things to come. But the future is hardly predictable, so nothing is certain.

The second dream was of greater significance though. Someone I once knew, whom I have been thinking of the whole week, was in it. She was probably there in my dream because of that. But I always thought of her in the past, and this is the first time she was present in my sleep. What's even weirder is the fact that I thought I saw her at the mall yesterday. It haunted me so much I tried to get a good look at her to be sure, and turns out it wasn't her. But then again, I hadn't seen her in the flesh for 5 months now, so I wouldn't have known what to do if I was right.

Hmm, I am losing my mind. And yet, most of the time I am fine. I can do everything that is expected of me, all the routines, all the work, all the things I love doing. I am getting better at my job, getting along well with my colleagues, feeling more confident about my time and how it's being spent. But that weakness of thinking too much is still there. Maybe that can explain the dreams.

But it's good for me to dream. Because I rarely dream. And it felt good. I want more.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

What's Showing?

Watching movies is a hobby of mine, and I can say that I'm quite proud of it. This month is the one year anniversary of my movie blog, Familiar Fantasy, and I have written quite a lot of stuff there. Something to behold, although I feel that my writing can still improve. But really, it's the movie watching that I am happy to be a part of, more than writing about it. The experience of sitting through two hours of action, drama and thrills and what have you unfold on screen, be it big or small, is a real treat.

But if you lived in Malaysia, you'd realise how tough it is to be a movie fan. How hard it is to find good stuff to watch. How frustrating it is to see what's showing at the cinemas. How I'd wish some of the films I've heard about would make its way here.

Malaysian cinema suffers from a severe lack of quality movies to turn to. There are two main reasons for this: censorship and lack of commitment from local film distributors.

Let's start with censorship. Here we have a board, called the Censorship Board, that sees fit to decide what we can watch, and what we can't. They'll watch the movie, cut out some stuff they deem inappropriate, then let us see it. Or not. Sometimes too much is taken out, so they have to ban it altogether. What would they deem inappropriate, you ask? Sex. Violence. Religion. Sensitive political issues. The board sees fit to remove any content of such nature from the films they view. It's not a bad idea, though it promotes the notion that we Malaysians can't think for ourselves on what's appropriate or not. But the fact is, the board can be inconsistent at times. Some films are banned for violence, and yet other more violent films pass the test. Movies like 300 and The Hills Have Eyes 2 are screened here, but Kill Bill is banned. And then there are cases like banning Daredevil because of its title. Yeah, real silly, isn't it?

Then there are local film distributors who seem to lack in the ability to decide what's worth importing here and what isn't. That, and the fact that they take too long to bring the film over. I say there's a lack of ability to import the right films because of what we get to see here. If you know what films have been released by the Hollywood movie making machine lately, and also know what we Malaysians get to watch right now, you'd probably laugh. OK. Do you know what we get to watch in the cinemas for the past few months? Black Sheep (black horror comedy about mutant sheep). White Noise: The Light (horror sequel about the supernatural). Skinwalkers (werewolf film that got bad reviews). Whisper (B-grade thriller).

Now, granted that some of these films may actually be watchable. But why are we denied other films that hold so much more potential? Like 1408 (Stephen King horror film)? Or Daywatch (Russian fantasy film)? What about Zodiac, the film by David Fincher about the real serial killer called Zodiac? The Grindhouse films Death Proof and Planet Terror by Tarantino and Rodriguez? (OK, maybe the censors won't allow it anyway) Then there's Shoot 'Em Up, the action flick starring Clive Owen. Death Sentence, a revenge film with Kevin Bacon in the lead role. And the list goes on.

Local film distributors seem to think that these films aren't marketable here, so they don't import them, and hand the rights to the video companies, and the films get released on video later. So yeah, we get to watch some of them, but for a higher price, and on a smaller screen. That takes away so much of the movie watching experience. If you're into films, you'd know that the cinema is the best place to go, despite all the less than stellar experiences you get on occasion, like unruly patrons, screaming kids, technical difficulties and such. But all that has never stopped me from going.

And because of all this, it is the pirates that end up winning. The DVD pirates, who can basically get any film you want, will win at the end of the day. Dissatisfied Malaysians will turn to them to satiate their hunger for good films. I had done so in the past, but to be honest, I don't want to support something illegal, so I have bought legal copies of films as far as possible. But that will burn a hole in my wallet eventually, hence the importance of the improvement of local cinema.

I gotta tell you, I really wish I could go to Singapore. I read a monthly movie magazine published there, and I'm so impressed to discover the variety of films screened on that island. I think most film fans would be spoilt for choice there. Sigh. Malaysia and Singapore are practically neighbours, but we are so different in many ways. This is just one.

To all the people, the powers that be, who have a say in the control of films in this country, if you're reading this, please do something about this. You can beat piracy, you really can. All you have to do is pay attention to what's going on, and be more open minded. That's it.

Scattered around this entry are some of the promising films to arrive next year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though I don't know for how long.