Archive for February, 2004

Things Zen can do

Sunday, February 29th, 2004

Some of you may be curious about what Zen can now do. He can…

- demand stuff (more milk!!! watch TV!!!)
- tell us he wants to watch the Big Lebowski, not some kids video
- can’t say “s” well, so snake is “nake”, and seven is “nafm.”
- read most of the letters and the numbers when he sees them, says “zero” for “o,” but has stopped saying “one” for “I.”
- kisses us constantly
- puts train tracks together on his own
- sometimes looks at books on his own
- seems to be able to recognize his name “ZEN”
- respond to tons of yes-no questions, like “are you hungry,” “do you want to read the Curious George book,” etc.
- he says “don’t want”, but it sounds like “djoo-wan!”
- when prompted, he will very sweetly say “baba, more milk, please.”
- throwing and kicking balls are getting better
- he dances to kickass techno music!
- he kisses on command

Here is a picture:

look at that big smile!


Sunday, February 29th, 2004

Wow, a lot to write about since I haven’t been in touch for a week and this week I went to Beijing! I tried to write from Beijing, but the site was inaccessible for some reasn. Oh well. But first the big news – Zen got a haircut! Here is an action pic of the event as it was taking place!!

nice use of mirrors there, isn't it?

Besides this, I also got a haircut. Here is a pic of us from today when we went to the botanical garden:

happy campers

Now onto recent events… Monday was a crazy day, where I did all the last minute things I needed to do for my trip AND for the new issue of the magazine. Lots of nervous energy. Got home near 9:00, which only gave me a little time with Zen and Naoko. Tuesday morning I took off early in a cab and got the the airport the requisite 2 hour early, I was through everything in 15 minutes and had 1 hour 45 to kill before the flight. Read from Awakenings, which is really a fantastic book. Sat on the flight drinking beer and watching films. Saw School of Rock (good) and Intolerable Cruelty (so-so) and the ending of Matrix Revolutions a few times. Going through Beijing customs was good, and in the arrival hall I had a bit of fun getting a cab. A tout approached me and offered me a cab for nearly ten times the local rate. Right… I got a regular one and got to the hotel OK. A gorgeous sunny day, not to cold. Singapore was 32, Beijing was more like 7 degrees, but my clothing was all warm enough. Driving down the highway to the hotel was bizarre – seeing skinny trees lining the highway, naked with no leaves at all… Lots of industry and big billboards for successful companies and banks. Banks – I saw branches of all the banks I have read/heard/written about as I drove into town. Then coming along, there were all these garish bright plastic flowers arranged in the islands in the middle of the road. Never thought before how out-of-place flowers look in the cold weather… Checked into the Great Wall Sheraton around 4, got ready, hung out, called 2 people I wanted to set up interviews with, and then went for a walk around the block. Big block! Lots of constructon and garbage and small shops and people bustling along. But I found a cool place to eat, so later I went there with my co-worker Caroline and ate fried rice and mini-lobsters, Sichuan style with salty garlic pepper chili sauce, all very good washed down with local beer. Caroline didn’t like sucking lobster brains so much, so I had most to myself, lucky guy. Back to the hotel to do some internet research work for my boss – OK.

Wednesday we breakfasted, boss flew into town, and we were off to the German company that was sponsoring the event we were organizing to give them a presentation. That went well and we had lunch, then back to the hotel. I was supposed to meet a guy for an interview, but then that was delayed so I had to meet him at 5:30. I killed time with some work, some goofing off (saw the second half of “the Color of Money”) and then met him at 6:00, but it was more like 6:30. Took a cab there, even though it was really just down the street. The cabbie waited in a queue there for an hour, he wasn’t very happy with us, but the guy just laughed at him. He took me out to eat… at a really expensive place! We ate abalone and lobster and sharks fin and other gorgeous things. He was quite a character and kept talking for hours and hours, but I learned a lot about banking and China. Wow. Got back to the hotel and worked on setup for a bit, then slept. Thursday was the big day, so ate and got dressed and helped out as much as I could, then listened to presentations. One, by the organizer, was boring and long. My boss’ was interesting and fairly short. Then there was one by a guy from Ireland, a guy from Australia, and a guy from China. The guy from China had interesting things to say, then at the end he showed a picture of his son and said “please come visit me and I will introduce you to my family.” The guy from Ireland was funny too, in his presentation on ATMs he talked about Riverdance, and Irish rock band U2. I wonder how many Chinese bankers like rock, but have never heard of U2… I got a chance to meet a lot of bankers at lunch and at breaks, as well as some of the guys from the ATM manufacturer that sponsored the event. The frustrating thing was that I found it hard to understand the Chinese that the bankers were using, but the ATM guys were easier to understand. What is up with that? Did an interview with the Australian guy, which was quite good. By then everybody had disappeared, too bad. Did some tidying up, then had some free time until dinner. I walked down the street to the Friendship Store. I thought FS was a kind of store for Chinese goods, but it was more like a regular department store, so I walked through that quickly and then headed down the street. Walked way off to the Microsoft building, observing the state of the construction industry in China – lots of guys working half-heartedly tapping away at things, other guys sitting around with nothing to do. Turned around and crossed the big boulevard to walk around the embassy district for a while. Saw the embassies of the Ukraine, Kyrgizstan, Montenegro, Mexico, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Libya, and several others. Got back, bought a cheap Jesus And Mary Chain CD from the shop next to the Hard Rock Cafe (which is next to the Sheraton). Funny thing happened in the elevator – I was going down from the 15th floor, an old Chinese lady dressed in villager-type clothing was already in the elevator, leaning against the wall for support. The button for the 21st floor had been lit up, but the elevator was going down. The elevator went on, stopping on the 7th floor when a Chinese guy stepped in. She said to the guy “comrade, is this elevator going to the 21st floor…?” Struck me as funny that she still addressed the guy as “comrade” in this day and age. She has probably seen some major changes in the country, she must have been 75 or 80. Met the others at 6:30 and we drove out of town for dinner in a converted farmhouse that is on a big old piece of rented land, very nice indeed. Met the boss’ friend, who works for a property development company. She told us stories of launching co-branded credit cards with Chinese banks – oh, the thinks you can think! Noticed that there were quite a few Germans there in the restaurant, I wonder why there are so many in Beijing – amazing. Were supposed to go out for dancing, but it never really happened, so I went back and slept, oh well…

Friday I got packed, then had breakfast alone again downstairs – came to the conclusion that I hate the types of buffet breakfasts that they have at the Sheraton, with all of the greasy rich food and stale, crappy bread. The best thing about it was the amazing coffee that came in cup after cup. The fine weather turned to a hazy gloom, what a pity – now I know what people were saying day after day when they noted that the bright, sunny days of endless blue sky was a rarity in town. Went out at 10 to meet a German banker, Marcus, at his office. Nice guy, and very very tall!!! Luckily it was just around the corner, a five minute walk. What a nice coincedence in a huge town like Beijing. We had a cool talk, drank some coffee, and then I went back to the hotel, checked out, and took a cab to the Hilton where the Swiss Chamber of Commerce was hosting my boss’ speech on banking in China. Lots of high level foreign bankers were there and I chatted with a bunch of them, very cool. Seems like lots of the foreigners working in China can actually speak Chinese, nice, and many of the Chinese bankers can speak English, good too. The guy working there, Fabian, was a pretty cool guy, and he helped me out a lot introducing me to people and such. Then his boss swept in, exuding attitude, compaining and saying “move this, move that. I am not happy with the arrangement, nobody knows how to get to this event, the signs are all wrong…” Then I introduced myself to him, he said “I am the president,” then turned away from me and forgot me completely. Amazing – I never thought that people like him really existed. To be fair, though, he got things done quickly, and the place did look a lot nicer. We sat down for food and chatting. The food was amazing, really wonderful peppered shrimp, salmon steaks, and tons of other great stuff. I had to leave before the end of the speech, which was going well, and I went to the airport and checked in. Changed out of my suit so that I could fly more comfortable (and keep my suit from getting as rumpled). All went well. Watched two movies again in the flight – Tais Toi (good) and Once Upon A Time In Mexico (horrific). The system broke down twice at crucial points in Tais Toi, so I watched on the set next to mine for a while. Changed seats later on, which was better. The food was OK, but the flight attendants were very stingy with the whiskey, offering smaller and smaller servings. What are they afraid of – that I’m going to get wasted? Got home at 10:30 with a liter of duty-free Beefeater and a smile on my face. Zen was sleeping already, but Naoko was awake… and tired. I let her sleep, then stayed up until 2 farting around with emails. They are finally back to normal, it seems, nice.

Film review – the School of Rock. A funny, if totally improbable film, about a rock slacker who becomes a teacher when he gets the opportunity. The movie is full of stupid caricatures, but is generally engaging, and the attitude is right – “Let There Be Rock.” Lots of hard rock and heavy metal, but what stoner would be amazed that a ten-year-old had never heard of Led Zeppelin? Not at all grounded in reality, but at least it is better than Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which the film superficially imitates (but not as good as the Commitments, of course, which it also superficially imitates). Good musical references, and excellent use of Metallica’s cover of “the Wait.” The grand finale song was good too. If kids really could rock like that, crap music wouldn’t stand a chance. As Zen would say – “nice.”

Film Review – Intolerable Cruelty. The Coen brothers film that everybody hated was, I thought, quite good. It is admirable, in a way, to see how George Clooney can let his cool guy mask slip a bit (i.e. Oceans Eleven) and allow himself to be made a fool of, by no less than Catherine Zeta-Jones, who I have never seen look more ravishing, darling (WHEN will I get a chance to tell her that?). Good lines, especially in the courtroom, nice face with the Senior Partner, and of course there has to be an incrediblew hulk (see also Raising Arizona), this time called Wheezy Joe. I wonder if Zen will like this one as much as the Big Lebowski when he finally gets to see it…

Film Review – Tais Toi. Here’s a good little one – Jean Reno plays a brooding criminal, Gerard Depardieu plays a moron, both meet in jail and so the odd couple mismathing made famous in French comedies (le Chevre, among many others) continues with two of the country most watchable stars. Some great lines and clever jokes, OK physical comedy, and trite plot elements, and check out the Armenian squatter who looks like a supermodel.

Film Review – Once Upon A Time In Mexico. Part three in a series of el Mariachi movies by Robert Rodriguez, this one has a plot like watery spaghetti soup and too many characters. Some of them, like Cheech Marin and the creepy-as-hell Danny Truja, who were killed in Desperado, are resurrected as new characters and killed off again. Stunningly idiotic. Johnny Depp is OK as a too-smart-for-his-own-good, just-stepped-out-of-a-James-Elroy-book CIA agent… in fact all of the actors are OK in their caricatured roles… but even Antonio Banderas is nothing more than a supporting character in this messy tale. I bet RR spent more time working on Spy Kids 3 than this one, since both were released the same summer, and it shows. Only one good scene – a motorcycle chase through a cactus forest – ouch!!

busy day

Monday, February 23rd, 2004

Today was a busy day, what can I say? Last night I watched Space: 1999 until 2, luckily it was one of the cool episodes I remember from my youth, the one that starts off with the freaky guitar playing and then goes into a kind of spooky ghost story, so that was worth waiting up until 1 AM for. Today we went downtown to buy a blue suit for me that I can take to Beijing with me as I mingle with bankers. Came home and took care of work odds and ends, personal odds and ends, and now it is already midnight. Got to go to sleep, long day tomorrow. Oddly enough I feel better than I did around 3:30 PM, must be the great tuna udon dinner Naoko made for us – yummy!



Sunday, February 22nd, 2004

Hey ho ho ho, it’s been over 2 weeks since I wrote – first my monitor was busted, then there were problems with this application, but now that things are back on track I have some catching up to do. I could skip the past 2 weeks and just pick up from here, but it has been an eventful time so I am going to try to patch it together. The first thing is that mum and dad left on Wednesday after 2.5 fun-filled months here in Singapore. It was a nice time and we celebrated a wedding anniversary, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, mum’s birthday, and Chinese New Year together, it was nice. They got to see Zen at a nice age, just over 2 years old, and they saw him develop a lot. They also oversaw my settlement into a new job and groovy stuff like that. Farewells on February 18th were tough, but it went well since we had spent a lot of valuable time together. Here is a pic of the evening they took off:

into the bus and off to the airport, but still time for a picture

Where to start – The week of the fourth is a distant memory, but that weekend we had a cool time – we went to the zoo on Saturday – Zen and Mum and Dad and I – while Naoko worked. That was pretty fun, and I seem to remember seeing more things this time than I ever did before. Gibbons, white-gloved white-socked black creatures, swinging from tree to tree like madmen at lightning speeds, just amazing. Got a better look at the Rift Valley exhibit, and through the living forest pavilion. Also went through the farm area, fun. Zen learned a few new animal words, including rhino, wolf, and camel.

Zen and the headless camel

Also got a good picture of this guy. Apparently proboscis monkeys live in harems, with one male and several females. There were several monkeys in the exhibit, but I think that this one is a male:

Another way to scratch your belly

Got home and found out that the monitor had died. It had been okay in the morning for a webcast with Ralph, but no sign of life in the afternoon. Another one bites the dust – it has been strange for a whie. It took me over a week to get a new one, but at least it was given free. I was ready to cry when they told me I had to go into the service shop with my heavy monitor in order to get it looked after, but I had to laugh when I found out that the office is in the same buiding where I work. What are the odds of that happening, considering all of the buildings in Singapore, all of the industrial parks, all of the remote corners with poor access…

Sunday we went to the botanical garden again. No spectacular memories, but we did have a nice time as we always do there. One guy was photographing orchids with tons of great equiptment. We asked him to take a pic, so here is a pic of the five of us by a professional photographer:

looking cool!

Here are the orchids that he was photographing – nice!

water and flowers - this pond always looks great

The following week was super hectic. I went to four or five events – looks like our deadline has gone to hell anyway, so there is less pressure. On Monday I went to an economic outlook thing presented by the Lehman Brothers. They gave us great kits with nice pens and pads and tons of really great first class food as various experts talked about Asian economic outlooks. It was interesting, I wish I understood it better. Afterwards they took press into a room and gave us access to two of the top analysts, cool. Tuesday I went to an opening of the Credit Suisse First Boston data centre in Changi, out by the airport. Lots of people there, nobody really interesting until the end when I got the card of the CEO for Asia, who is based in Hong Kong. He put his cell phone number on his name card!!! The tour of the facilities was interesting – looks like they have brought a good part of Hyderabad over here. Tuesday afternoon I took half a day off and Naoko and I took off and saw a movie – the Last Samurai. After that went to Holland Village to drink beer and eat unhealthy food. It was great!! We had done the same thing in December with the Return of the King, and this was just as good, although the movie wasn’t!! Wednesday morning I went to hear about Microsoft CRM software launch in Asia. So-so interetsing, but I got to meet Susan and Will afterwards, the PR people, and we chatted. Nice folk. Then in the afternoon there was the OCBC results meeting where I met a bunch of top guys again and had yummy food before and after. Nothing proper to drink, but who cares. Was supposed to go to a Bloomberg drinking fest in the bottom of an empty swimming pool, but we had an editorial meeting instead – which stretched on and on until it was 10!!! As usual, I could not get a cab in Tanjog Pagar, so I took the MRT to Clementi and cabbed from there. Groan… No more events that week, but I was furiously writing away filing stories like crazy… except for Thursday when I spent most of the day involved with an intervie – doing it in the first place, then transcribing it… Friday night mum and dad went to the Esplanade for a concert, so we had the evening to ourselves. After Zen got to sleep we watched Lost In Translation on VCD, pretty cool flick, although with some problems of course. Saturday we chilled out and went swimming, Sunday we went back to the botanical garden, our favorite haunt, and this time we went into the orchid garden and the cool house. Naoko had not seen it yet. We had already been there about 3 weeks before, but it was nice to go back. Here is a pic of four of us. I asked everybody to give the thumbs up. Zen and dad were happy to oblige, Naoko did her own variation, but mum refused outright. Thumbs up are against her principles, I guess

fingers up!

Zen and dad had a nice time playing at the fountains:

the primordial sound of water flowing...

In the evening Mitchan and Manae came over. They went out with Naoko for some shopping (Ikea, and Sakuraya) and dinner while Zen and I stayed with mum and dad, went swimming and such. It was fun. Later Mitchan and Manae came back and stayed up chatting past ten. It was a late night, but we had fun.

laughing smiling faces

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday I was getting stories together like mad and doing a few more interviews. Mum and Dad packed up their stuff and mum did play some tennis. Lots of walks, swimming, and papaya eating as they got their last bite of Singapore for a while. Off to Austria and skiing in the colder climes. None of that to be done here in Singapore, a degree above the equator, although if there had been any they would have been prepared since they brought their skis, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!! I drove with them to the airport on Wednesday night and saw them off, it was sad but we knew it was happening and had plenty of time to prepare. At work it was a hellova week – I found out that I should be going to Korea in mid-March to join a conference with the media, but also to slip out and do some interviews. Wednesday I found out that I should also go to Beijing – next week!! – to joing another conference and slip out to do some interviews. Actually, at this one I should do MCing in Chinese too!!! Let’s see how that goes. Then on Thursday I found out I might not go, then on Friday I got my ticket to go. Hmmm… I also got a bunch of articles and interviews together and also a DBS results event where I got to meet a few of the top people there too. Got home and chilled out…

Today was a mellow day, Naoko went off to work, so I took Zen for a walk, then came back home and tidied up a lot. Zen napped from 1 to 4, and I got more tidying done. Went out for dinner with Naoko and Zen, Indian food as always. Still looking for guitar strings, they are proving elusive. Oh well, nice night. Got my email problems sorted out this time too, yay, it works.

Film Review – the Last Samurai: this is the film that would be easy to make fun of, i.e. Tom Cruise grasping for material as he remakes both Shogun and Dances With Wolves, but the film was much better than I thought it would be. Great battle scenes of course, especially the ninja attack, but this “kill em all” stuff is pretty reminiscent of Commando, or any of Schwarzenegger’s other eighties masterpieces. The “mystical Japan” stuff is laid on thick, as is the Tokyo political embroiderments and stuff like that, but it is all wiped clean by the casting of the magnificent Watanabe Ken. What a dude!!! Too bad Tom couldn’t have played second fiddle to him in billing as well, it would have been a better film. Zwick is a capable director, and the film is gorgeous, but thematically and narratively Glory (by the same director) is a much better film. The ending is a farce, and the message sets up a happy ending that historically JUST DIDN’T HAPPEN FOR JAPAN!!! Oh well.

Film Review – Lost In Translation: A great film, if you consider “European-feeling films made by Americans” great, i.e. Jim Jarmusch, John Cassavettes, Vincent Gallo, or even Phillip Kaufman. The best thing about the film is the soundtrack, although I did like the film in general. No hilarious bits, it was just as un-funny as other supposedly-funny films like Shrek and the Royal Tennenbaums (except for that bit in the shabu-shabu restaurant). The portraits of the Japanese were quite cardboard, but I guess that is part of the theme of being a Casablanca (or Casabranca, if you will) for a non-wartorn generation. The story is simple, delightful even, but its best feature is still the soundtrack!

Book Review – the Big Mango, by Jake Needham. A sort of detective story about a guy who is lured to Bangkok to find 400 million dollars from the Bank of Vietnam, looted by rogue Americans GIs on a secret mission just before the fall of Saigon. Would be nice to stumble on that sort of money, of course, and Needham finds a good enough way to set it up, with a burnt out San Francisco lawyer, his native American sidekick, and another burned out white guy, a Bangkok expat in fact. The story is good enough, but not enough of the loose ends are tied up by the end to satisfy, and the brassy persona is a little lame at times – noting that a female secret service agent has huge tits? Why? Not a bad first effort, though, and I’m looking forward to reading his next book, the Laundry Man. Killing Plato, his third, is apparently going to be made into a movie? When?

Crocodile assumes cool pose, freezes for thirty minutes...

over 2 weeks

Saturday, February 21st, 2004

Hey ho ho ho, it’s been over 2 weeks since I last posted on February 4. Well, my monitor busted on February 7, that’s why. The big news is that the new issue of the Asian Banker Journal is almost done, with over 10 articles of mine in it, including a fairly long an involved one on China. Other big news, mum and dad left on Wednesday, they are now in Austria skiing. Later I will put a pic of them as they departed, a sad moment. Other news – I am set to go to Beijing next week for a conference and some interviews, then in 3 weeks off to Seoul for more of the same. Should be an interesting couple of weeks. In April we go to Japan, so it is really the winter of East Asia travel! Wow. I want to write something about the last 2 weeks, but I think I’ll save it for tomorrow – it is after midnight and I’m tired.

world map

Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

Interesting day today, got to work at 9 and finished 2 articles, set up 2 more to do, did a lot of this and that… but no real writing. I have 2 more days to get 6000 words together, basically 5 articles. Only 1000 words need to be written, but 5000 need to be EDITED!!! Had an OK lunch, got home quick but late.

John Shoesmith sent me something cool on the web today, it is a scorecard and map of countries you’ve been to, and I guess I’ve been to 41 countries that represent 18% of the world’s countries? Hope I didn’t forget any…

create your own visited country map
or write about it on the open travel guide


Tuesday, February 3rd, 2004

Haven’t written for a week. BUSY WEEK! What happened. Went back to work after Chinese New Year, don’t remember what happened Monday Tuesday Wednesday except lots of phoning around. Tuesday one of my stories got scrapped for lack of good quotes, so I started another one, got great quotes, and turned in a strong piece. Yay. Thursday we had over 5 hours of meetings, it was a 12 hour day and we went through the production schedule. I was kind of blasted when I left the building. Hoooo boy. Got home after Zen had fallen alseep, so I couldn’t spend time with my darling, boo hoo. Friday was not too bad – phoned around and spun my wheels, but it was a day. Went to a Lo Hay lunch with CitiGroup at 12:30 and sat next to Belgian Joel and chatted about history and literature while he snacked on soy sauce and pickled peppers. Good food – the best – but it didn’t quite fill me up somehow. No bother. Saturday I spaced out somewhat – in the morning we went to the orchid garden, which was nice. I saw the new Cool House for the first time – an it really is very cool, literally and figuratively. A boardwalk takes you along treetops, and in the cool house you see mountain orchids that grow at mountain temperatures (cool, right?), ferns, waterfalls, and carnivorous plants like pitcher plants, sticky pod plants, and others. Saturday night was the office party. Found out that our bus 77 was rerouted around the Chingay parade to pass by where the party was, bonus. Got there right on time, the first ones, wandered around the pool looking at the girl statue/fountain and the spitting frogs, played on the jungle gym with Zen – he loved it! Ate and drank and were merry in the dark of the barbecue pit and went home at 10. At least everybody got to see Zen, which was nice. Sunday was a writing day – I transcribed my interview of the day before and wrote a 500 word piece, then wrote 2000 words on a new article!!! BUSY!!! I think I went swimming too. Today it rained all moring, did some work, went grocery shopping with Zen and Naoko, did lots of work, did some writing, did some preparation… Crazy bread. Got a surprise call from Francoise in Hong Kong, that was really nice. She has been searching the world for us – literally! She might come here in June, and maybe I can go there and hang out with her too. Got to go to work tomorrow, hooo boy. Deadline week.

In the Orchid Garden with dad and Zen

IN the Orchid Garden with mum and Zen