Archive for April, 2005

the hills are alive!!

Sunday, April 24th, 2005

Hey, another weekend is almost gone. No matter, the next one is a long weekend – May day, Ralph’s birthday, lots of time offffff… Thursday and Friday were quite regular days, I think I got away at 7 each night. The magazine is going to production, how exciting. Thursday night I got home and we watched the Miyazaki Hayao film If You Listen Closely, which is Zen’s recent favorite from the Studio Ghibli collection, although it’s quite a subdued film, not child fare at all. I think he likes the few scenes in it that have trains, cats, and where the characters sing John Denver’s “(Take Me Home) Country Roads,” which is probably his new favorite song. Friday night I watched the first part of “The Postman In The Mountains,” a gorgeous, uneventful, sentimental Chinese film. Saturday I looked after Zen, in the morning we rode the bus downtown with Naoko, who was going to work. Zen and I went to the end of the line, walked past the Esplanade to the Merlion, hung around with the tourists, then took the MRT to Orchard so I could go to Ralph Lauren and exchange my new polo shirt, Naoko’s birthday present to me, for one that fit better. Cool. But Zen was acting sucky and sleepy and tired, wanted me to carry him a lot. Humph! Took him to the bus stop, happily bus 77 came almost right away, and we went on and on home. Ate lunch, then Zen napped, we chilled out all afternoon, I burned DVDs and watched the rest of the film, then went cycling, bought guitar strings, went swimming, Naoko came home, ordered pizza, hung out, watched anime, and after Zen went to sleep we watched “Crying Out Love In The Center Of The World,” a Japanese film that was pretty OK, also very sentimental. Got new strings on my guitar now! Sunday, what can I say, we cleaned all morning and I took Zen swimming around noon. Had lunch, Zen slept, I pooted around on the computer and such, and now we’re preparing to see The Sound Of Music downtoan at the Esplanade! Took the bus downtown, got out at Somerset and walked to Cuppage Place to have our ramen and gyoza – yummy! Took the MRT to the Esplanade, Zen was running all over the place and very happy. Got there, found our seats, talked to some colleagues. The show started and Zen seemed to be quite amazed at it all. During the scene when Captain Van Trapp whistles for his kids, Zen laughed loud and said “funny,” others laughed at him. Several times. At the end of musical numbers, Zen enjoyed clapping, but often he clapped before the number was even finished. Our seats were so high up, I was kind of getting vertigo. They had a round “frame” for the show, that the actors all stood behind, as if it were the border of the picture on a TV, it made me a bit dizzy looking at it for a while before I got used to it. Like, it tlooked more like a 3-D TV movie than a real 3-D stage production! At half time, we said goodbye to everybody and made our way out, although we did share a white wine on our way out. Walked to the Merlion so that Zen could have a look at that, all sorts of people still there. Zen fidgetted in my arms the whole way back, just like the whole time during the play, so I am exhausted just doing that. Sheesh! Time to go to sleep. So tired. Work tomorrow…

VCD review – If You Listen Closely…: Ultra sentimental Miyazaki Hayao film about a 12-year-old girl, parents are scholars and librarians, she wants to be a writer, she meets a boy her age, he impresses her that he is going for his dream of building violins and he will go study in Italy, etc. etc. etc. Fantasy sequences with a cat in a suit and tails are interesting. Nearly nothing happens in the film, it could have easily been a regular film with real actors.

DVD review – Crying Out Love In The Center Of The World: Norwegian Wood was the former bestselling novel in Japan, now overtaken by this one. This is the film version of it, although according to Naoko it is quite different from the book. Story of a guy in modern-day Japan thinking back on his first love in high school in 1986, the Sony Walman he had at the time, trading tapes with the girl he likes/loves, scenes of Shikoku. One unintentionally funny scene of a near-car wreck, many parallelisms, and lots of sobbing and crying. A sad tale, to be sure, and fairly well done.

Happy Birthday to me…

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Not so much new these days – I stayed late on Monday night, very very busy day, got back home at 11 with a beer. Watched half of Porco Rosso, the Miyazaki Hayao film, then went to sleep. Tuesday was a bit better, but still a flurry of activity. I was out of there at 8 or so, took a cab home from Clementi because I couldn’t hack all the time away from home. Put Zen to sleep, finished watching Porco Rosso (it was so-so) and went to sleep. Wednesday, well, April 20th, my birthday, I took the day off and just flaked out at home. Of course, for me flaking out means getting lots of stuff done! I started the day off watching 8 Mile, then I was here when the cable repairman came (it was just set to the wrong channel – d’oh, but at least there was no charge) and the lock guy came to help me open the utility room that mysteriously became locked after I put a matress to store in there. Even he had trouble with it, so I finally had a brain wave and realized why the landlord’s extra key wouldn’t work – it was the matress jamming it! I used a ruler through the slats and solved the problem, but still had to pay the guy 40 bucks for coming – d’oh!! Spent the rest of the day drinking beer and editing two DVD projects (live shows) into shape, which was nice. Hooray!! Done!!! Got to play around on the music composition software trying out vocals – they don’t really sound so great, I don’t know if it’s the mic or the connection. Maybe I’ll figure it out some day. Went for a swim. Then figured out tax stuff. Then I went to pick up Zen from school. Oooofff, got so much done. I feel recharged and caught up. Nice. Naoko came home, had a very nice dinner of sushi and Japanese bites for me, nice. Also a yummy cheese cake. Yay! Naoko bought me a nice shirt from Ralph Lauren. Thanks, Naoko! My first polo shirt!

VCD review – Proco Rosso: the tale of air pirates over the Adriatic is not so interesting at all, unfortunately, and a bit silly actually. Perhaps Miyazaki Hayao’s dullest film, although some of the airplane sequences are very beautiful.

DVD review – 8 Mile: Eminem comes off as a sympathetic, if somewhat moody, little creep, instead of the arrogant and selfish little creep he seems to be in his videos and interviews. His raps aren’t really all that great, though, so I don’t see what the fuss is all about. 8 Mile to me is a remake of Purple Rain and a million other films – Footloose, Caddyshack, Meatballs – where the main character builds up confidence so that he can enter a contest at the end and do good. Of course, the climax is really quite stunning, and the poor trailer trash kid really is ultimately still very sympathetic.

20 hour shift

Sunday, April 17th, 2005

Very busy week, busier than any other, even the conference weeks! Nothing much happened most days, except maybe an interview or two, but working very late nights getting our research project together. Ouch. Did a few interviews, not so many. Mostly research. Took cabs home after hours 3 nights. Friday was the busiest, because I had a lot of stuff to do, and then ran into a snag I needed to call help in on. But I got it all done and took a cab home at 5 in the morning ready for some sleep, dreading the fact that Zen would probably wake me up at 7 AM. Sometimes it’s nice to work when nobody else is in the office, though, so it wasn’t too bad. Crazy – in 20 hours in the office, I only had one meal (lunch at 4 PM) and didn’t go out at all otherwise. Mark brought me a beer and a pack of Ritz crackers, bless him, around midnight. Nice guy. Bummer that I missed out on THREE parties – my colleague’s going away party, and two bank events (although it’s a mystery to me how a bank can hold two events on the same nights… but then again, it’s a big bank). Saturday was an OK day. Got home at 5 AM, got woken up at 7, but Naoko took care of Zen and dropped him off at the kindergarten. Usually no kids on Saturdays, but they are open if anyone wants to drop the kids off. This time Zen was on his own, but there was no way around it, and he was happy (although a bit lonely, maybe). I got up at 10:30, talked to Miriam about some translation work, then did some computer, dropped by the estate office, got some lunch at the hawker center, then picked Zen up from school. It was raining lightly, but that was OK. Got back, let Zen watch a bit of Superman, then read him to sleep. I napped just a bit, but oddly I couldn’t sleeep even though I just had 4.5 hours after working a 20 hour day on little food. Did some more computer, hung around, then Mitchan and Manae came at 4:00. Naoko came at 5:00, and then at 6:00 we went off to East Coast Park to Pasta Fresca ll Salvadore. They have a little “village” there, so it’s like beach huts as you’d find in Thailand or on a resort island in Indonesia or something. Very very nice. Gorgeous. I ate my usual gorgonzola pizza. We saw the boats waiting outside the harbour, as it got dark the lights came on. They had a guy playing guitar, Willy, he was a fantastic guitar player and had a good singing voice with serious American intonations (I think he was probably Filipino). His style was really like James Taylor, and he sang Sweet Baby James, Fire and Rain, and You’ve Got A Friend. Sang “Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young, and a Bob Dylan song. I requested Leonard Cohen from him, but he didn’t know. I didn’t dare ask for Nick Cave. But I requested Neil Young and he knew it. Later Salvadore himself came over to say hi and to pat Zen on the head. Got home, ate banana chocolate cake Mitchan brought from Malaysia, and got the kids to sleep. Yummy.

Zen and his “Superman” armless cyclops statue.

The view from our dinner table at Pasta Fresca Il Salvadore at East Coast Park

Yes, Zen has big feet!
Yes, Zen has big feet!

Zen and Manae play play
Zen and Manae play play

Truck drivers!
Truck drivers!!

Monday again

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

Hey, another nice Monday. Sunday was a pretty OK day, although it wasn’t so nice for me because I had terrible problems sleeping Saturday night. Like I only slept 4 hours before Zen woke me up. It’s Monday and I’m still exhausted. Monday morning we woke up, got ready, headed out the door at 10 to go to Bugis. Lucky Zen got to ride the bus and the MRT train and there we were. He was acting up, so we went and got some yummy kaya toast. That was good, although the counter girl was really dim. Then… went to Sim Lim Tower (for the first time) to look around. A dual DVD player and VCR was $280, but we didn’t get it. I looked at a microphone, it was $27, then in another store the same microphone was $100, so went back and got the $27 mic. Went to Sim Lim Square and got a Phillips DVD player for $139, the same model I saw in Courts for $159. Cool. Found DVD-Rs for half the price I normally pay, and CD-Rs for one third the price I normally pay. Nice. Went to Bugis Junction and had our lunch at Ma Maison where we had coupons for a free meal. Nice place, done up in wood, where they serve “western-style Japanese food.” I had a yummy hamburger steak. After we went into the courtyard and let Zen play in the fountain while Naoko went off to buy cheese cake sticks from the famous bakery there. Zen had a lot of fun splashing in the water with the other kids, although he was quite hesitant, or scared, to really jump in and play full on, circling in the “safe” area where he wouldn’t get wet. Eventually, we dragged him away from there, changed him into dry clothes, and took the MRT home. Got home, read Zen to sleep, and I set up the DVD player. It works fine, and doesn’t skip the cheap Studio Ghibli VCDs we bought a few weeks ago. Nice. Read a bit after that, nearly finished The Devil Tree, and napped just a bit. Zen woke up, insisted on watching Spiderman, so off I went for a quick swim. Felt great. Went off by cab to Ai-Ling’s aparrtment, which was nice, met Watanabe-san and Jolly for some nice food. Singapore hot pot is different from Taiwanese hot pot and Japanese hot pot, in that the dipping sauce has plenty of lemon and hot sauce, but it’s yummy. Also uses less vegetables. Took a cab home at 10, got back and I watched the second half of the Apprentice, and then Naoko read Zen to sleep instead of me. Zen whined about that a bit, but he came to grips eventually. The Apprentice was good, and it was a shock at the end because two people got fired!! Oh la la!! Funny how the two people who got booted off the show this week, got $50,000 in diamonds for winning that competition, but the winners this week only got to meet Billy Joel. Monday was the regular busy day stuff. Nothing special except that I ate lunch with Elena. Both of us took food from the “famous yong dau fu” shop, and it was pretty yucky. Who knows why it is famous? Maybe that’s just a line the marketers dreamed up. The lady who worked there was pretty dim too. Worked along and along, left at 8:30. Got home, Zen was still awake and was so happy to see me. I ate dinner, put Zen to sleep, and now I’m here!

Book Review – The Devil Tree, by Jerzy Kosinski: I really like the Painted Bird, Kosinski’s first novel. It’s a brilliantly told, unique book. This one, on the other hand, I feel like I’ve read a million times, whether it’s by Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Leonard Cohen, or even Mario Puzo, each time done better than poor Jerzy did this time. The tale of a sexual libertine, also a millionaire, as he comes into his trust fund after many years abroad and reintroduces himself to New York, sensuous supermodel lovers, and all that rubbish. Not a fantastic book at all. This slim, widely-spaced 200 page book is actually an expanded version of the original tale. Yoiks!!

Eighth wedding yeara

Sunday, April 10th, 2005

Hey, another busy week. Stayed until past 10 on Wednesday , didn’t get to see Zen that night, bummer. Thursday night I went out to an art gallery opening for three Philippino organized by my friend from the BBC, and sponsored by some banks. Nice, fun, good artwork, especially two of them (the other was more clown-like and pastel, the two I liked were more surreal) which was nice. Portal Links shows most of the art, I believe. Friday I mailed off a bunch of packages in the morning, mainly DVDs and such, to friends and family. Cool. Had a super productive day at work. Besides all of the usual running around, I started and completed three articles, and then polished and submitted three more. Submitting six articles in one day must be some sort of record for me. Went home and had a beer with some yummy schnitzels that Naoko had fried up for me, Japanese style. Yummy. Couldn’t watch any DVDs, so I just played a bit of guitar (Leonard Cohen, Cowboy Junkies, Neil Young) and went to sleep. Saturday I looked after Zen – let him play while I swept and wiped the floor and hung up laundry, then he played with Xavier and Sun-woo the neighbours’ kids. I took him to the park at noon where he played alone and with me for a while. It has been oddly cool and windy recently, so being out at noon was quite nice. No swimming this weekend. Had to close up all the windows at night as a cold cold wind hit us. Anyway, got some drinks from the grocery store (tonic water and beer) and then off home to cook lunch and read Zen to sleep. Nice. Worked on computer stuff in the afternoon, read, hung out. Uploaded some videos for later editing, which is good, and then… I dunno. Took Zen for a bike ride again to Courts to look at DVD player prices so our shopping trip Sunday will be more informed. That was OK, rode around some more, got to dinner, Zen played with Xavier and Sun-woo again and I had a beer with Dominic. Read Zen to sleep, did some more music on the computer, then went for a midnight bicycle ride. It was good – cool, fresh air, could see who was still up after midnight in the neighbourhoods. Got to sleep very late.

Did I mention on Tuesday that we found a “House of Japan” that sells second hand clothing from Japan?

Did I mention that a few weeks ago I ate the worst fish of my life? Naoko had bought it “fresh” from the local supermarket. Fish in Singapore is terrible, especially when you’re used to Japanese standards.

Funny things that Zen says: “Papa has a small nose, Zen has a big nose.”
“Zen’s a good girl, papa’s a good girl, mama’s a good boy.”
“Papa, can you have a chocolate cookie?” where Zen mixes up “you” and “I.”
“Can you go to the toilet?” where Zen mixes “you” and “I.”
“Papa, I want Zen’s tiger,” where Zen roars and crawls all over me.

Book review – Notes From An Even Smaller Island, by Neil Humhreys: Not a bad writer, Neil Humphreys is this geeky Brit who came over to Singapore and wrote about his discoveries here. Not that the average Singaporean who reads this book, which is published locally, will learn that much from his musings, but he does present them in a very humorous way and is mostly on the mark in describing his surroundings. Good for him, too for living among the locals in the HDB flats, where real eccentric slice of life stuff happens. Plenty of nice, memorable passages, although his lament about food courts taking over by offering overpriced, bland fare compared to the hawker centers just shows how young he is. The hawker centers are probably not as good as old hawker stands that they replaced, and are certainly not as tasty or cheap as the fare you can buy in Malaysia. He neglects to mention that some hawker center stuff is just plain AWFUL!!

Monday Tuesday

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Hey, another busy Monday . Got there at 8:30, our long meeting, did 3 perspectives, then lunch, then an article, then wrote most of another article, did two conference calls, shot the breeze with the boss. My my, I was a busy beaver. Got home, hung out, watched the Apprentice episode I had taped from Sunday night. My my, nobody seems to like that cute Ivana girl, and Jenn is coming under fire. Weird how winning members of the other team all got $50,000 worth of diamonds. Just for being on the show and winning a dumb challenge – hold a bridal show. Gee. My theory is that Ivana will win the whole thing, already determined because Trump likes her, but is only coming down hard on her for the cameras. I wonder how staged it all is? I like the line “these guys are good fella” from the house renovation episode. Yes, I saw that movie too. Tuesday, yay, our wedding anniversary. We got up, skipped breakfast because we have to fast before our medical. Ouch! I took Zen to school by bicycle, back, waited for Naoko to get her samples ready (no comment), then to the bus stop. We missed a bus by 30 seconds, had to wait over 10 minutes. Got to Clementi and missed our train by 10 seconds. Had to wait 7 minutes. OUCH!! Got there at 9:30, but because there were not many people we were out of there in 2 hours, eating kaya toasts at Ya-Kun while we waited for Susan to come join us. Poor girl – she flaked out in her hotel room for 2 days. I guess that’s fun sometimes too, though. Met a Japanese “Paul and Joe” makeup artist, who seemed pretty cool (nice hair!), then went off to eat Middle-eastern food near the Sultan Mosque on Arab street. Had a fun time poking around this “Grandfather’s Antiques” shop that was really like a museum. Might be a fun place to go back to before too long. The restaurant had great atmosphere, but the service was so-so, the meal came with 2 salads (?!?) and Naoko’s fish was terrible. Actually, fish in Singapore is often quite bad, I wonder why. Oh well. Go to JB then. Or back to Japan. Ha ha. Said “so long” to Susan, then wondered how we should spend the rest of our afternoon off. Went home, took a cab from Clementi, hung out and napped while it rained outside. Picked Zen up at 6, went to eat chicken rice and roti prata, which was quite nice – the old Malay gentleman makes gorgeous, hot, crispy prata! Went home, and I spent the next 5 5hours at the computer mixing songs – OUCH!! Gave Zen a shower and had a lovely time reading Grover, Steamtrain Crew, and Green Eggs and Ham to him. Lovely Zen.

Me Shogun, you geisha

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

Hey, another weekend nearly over. But we’ve had a nice time the past few days. Friday was a regular day where I got tons and tons of great things done – fever pitch. I like days like that. I left around 6:45 or so, and before I left I requested Tuesday off work. Cool. Got home, chilled out, and in the evening Naoko and I watched a really good movie – Me Not Stupid, a Singapore movie by Jack Neo, Singapore’s best (or most famous? – at least locally he seems to be) director and actor. A genuinely very funny film. So we are lucky, having seen two hilarious films in one week. Saturday morning we woke up to feel a strong, frigid wind blowing through the house. Went around closing windows, and back for a few more winks. I wonder if this was one of those spooky things that was a sign that the Pope had passed on from this world, but looking at the news on the Internet it seemed like he was still hanging on. Zen let us sleep until 8:00 or so, so we woke up feeling quite good. We got out of the door at 9:15 and took the bus downtown. Naoko got out at Orchard for work, Zen and I went on to Doby Ghaut and got out into the MRT system. By that time it was raining pretty hard. Rode on to Bugis. Asked some local charity-seeking school children where the exit to Raffles Hospital was, and one girl pointed us one way. Went over there, discovered that she was totally wrong. Never ask a Singapoaren for directions – I don’t think that they intentionally give people the wrong directions for the fun of it (I’ve seen that before), it’s just that they have no clue about their surrounginds. Went in, picked up our little jars for our stool samples and such, then went on to Arab Street with Zen. Very nice – walked along and around and saw the nice Sultan Mosque, and lots of textile shops, discovered a very nice Turkish cafe that I want to come back to, eventually found a lace to eat – was searching for a prata place, and it seemed like they were making prata there, but in the end they only had murtabak, no prata, so that’s what Zen and I munched on instead. Cool. Went off to Seibu and the local Forus-like mall, which is a glassed-in neighbourhood of sorts, very cool. Asked around if anyone was selling skateboarding shoes – of courses nobody is, although some people thought that some shops had some (wrong) – and comic books. Seems like the Sin City set will set me back $100 if I buy it all. Sure it will be good, but why so expensive – it’s black and white!!! Oh well. In the store Zen told me “Papa, I went poo poo in my pants.” He had this near-crying look on his face, so I believed him! Recently he’s pooed in his pants a few times for some reason. I picked him up and carried him off to the toilets, getting lost once, and then into a stall. We got his pants off and discovered… nothing. Nothing except poo smell. Good he hasn’t pooed yet, I thought, only farted, so I put him on the toilet. Nothing. So I dressed him and got ready to leave. Then there I saw, on the floor, a little turd. It must have been his – he pooed in his pants, and it fell through his leg-hole somehow when we got in the stall!! Good thing that didn’t happen when I was carrying him through the mall! So we cleaned it up and went along. I checked out a CD shop to what they sell the new Nick Cave set for, but they weren’t carrying it. They did, however, have a 5 CD set of Kenny G CDs, representing 8 studio albums, for $29. Wow, what a deal!! Took the train, went on to Clementi, it was raining really hard, so we took a cab. Nice. Got home, Zen was hungry so I gave him some rice, and then he was sleepy. Cool. He slept for 3 hours, and I did some work editing a new DVD – February 2004 to October 2004. Nice. Naoko came back after 5:00, so Zen and I went out to pick up some groceries. Got back, let Zen watch some Totoro, then along came Xavier and Sunwoo with their friend Nicole, all 6 or 7 years old. They played play-doh for a while, watched Shinkansen and Thomas, then they went home. Zen got a bath, and then went to sleepy. Naoko and I watched another Jack Neo movie – Home Run, based on the Iranian film “Children of Heaven,” it was OK but not as good as “Me Not Stupid,” although the sets were cool and the little girl actress was sweet. Went to sleep at 1:30. Sunday Zen woke us up early and we were sleepy sleepy sleepy… Then Xavier and Sun-Woo came again to play with Zen. Ouch!! Lived through that, and then got the DVD project done, and went for a nice noon swim. It was cloudy, the pool not so full, a lovely swim.

DVD review – Me Not Stupid: A very funny film about three kids who are down on their luck as they have been relegated to EM3, for dimwits and underachievers, and they and their parents suffer the social stigma attached. In this way it is a close companion piece to “Money No Enough,” which charts the fall and rise of three Singaoreans from-very-different-social-spheres, although the kids really have less to do with their parents’ falls in fortune (but do help in their recoveries). In many ways this is the better film, because the kids are more appealing, the parents are also better characters than the “Money No Enough” caricatures,” and Jack Neo shows himself to be a very clever screenplay writer. Many subtle barbs to social mores in Singapore, such as when he shows that a guy who went to shunned ITE (nicknamed “It’s The End”) to learn how to be a hairdresser can actually be very successful in life. Also reverse prejudice of foreign talent, language study, and the general disregard of kids who are stronger in artistic subjects than the so-called “academic” fields. Interestingly, the two poor kids learn how to shine, while the rich kid’s son, who is genuinely stupid, is not redeemed – he’ll be fine anyway, since his dad is rich, is the message here. He also gets the funniest lines, including a surreal speech about his mom’s shit, and also a freaky “know you inside and out” speech he makes to his teacher, mixing up his words, that could be taken as some sort of reverse pedophilia thing.

DVD review – Home Run: When I heard that Jack Neo had remade the gorgeous “Children of Heaven” film and set it in Singapore, my first thought was “how will a tale of a dirt-poor family be done in prosperous Singapore.” Of course a statement like that is naive, because there are plenty of struggling families here too, unfortunately. But the film is set in 1965, when Singapore had just split from Malaysia, and the kamphong where the film is set certainly could be in Malaysia. Nice shots, cool old village, lots of good Mandarin (barely any English in this one), great scenery. Old lifestyles. More “friendship” stuff in this film, compared to “Me No Stupid” or “Money No Enough,” rather than the origional, and it is funny seeing so very many of the characters from those two films, set in the ’90s, turn up in this period piece playing totally different characters. Good stylistic things – brother and sister writing and whispering to each other while parents argue, trying to keep a low profile and avoid attention or ire. Dancing teacher and kicking shoes, good kids punished by bad luck, dried pork again, punishment # 73, scoring an own goal is disqualified “because it’s my ball and I make the rules” nonsense, poor kids get smart while priviledged kids get lazy is a subtle message among many not-so-subtle messages. Zhou Huajian (Emil Chou) has a cameo as a riot cop getting beat up, but it’s one of those blink-and-you-missed-it sorta thing. Pretty OK film overall, but ultimately doesn’t really come close to the original.

Book review – Shogun: I finally finished reading Shogun by James Clavell about 3 months after starting it. Okay – to me, a good book needs to be strong in three things: plot, characters, and writing style. For Shogun the style was quite all right, the characters weren’t bad, but the plot was where it lost a lot of points. In this way it isn’t as good as a lot of popular books that I have read recently – “Da Vinci Code” had terrible style, not bad characters, but the plot was fantastic. For the Harry Potter books a bit better – okay style, pretty good characters, fantastic plotting. “The Day After Tomorrow” (not the movie but the totally unrelated book by Allan Folsom) had excellent writing style, good characters, and excellent plot. Mario Puzo’s gamblers tale “Fools Die” had great style, excellent characters, but unfortunately the plot was weak (nonexistent, actually). After hearing so many people recommend Shogun, I was very curious, because I will read nearly anything that deals with Japan in a serious way, but this one disappointed me. Barely anything happened in the whole book, and just as war was about to break out the book ended. Considering the terrain that Shogun covers, I think it would have been much better as a 400- or 500-page book. Going on for 1100 pages makes it a bit unbearable. In this way it is kind of like the Dune books, which are mostly very long and uneventful (actually, they are also terribly weak on style). The education of the Anjin was interesting, and this falls under character development. Some of the Japanese characters were interesting, as was the Portuguese pilot Rodrigues (he was terribly under-represented after the first 300 pages) and some of the priests. But outside of one daring escape and two assassination attempts, not much happened in this book. If you compare Shogun as a historical novel to other really great historical novels, 1100 pages of Shogun represent about 300 pages of War and Peace. I though that there should be some sort of sequel to Shogun, so we find out what happens to Toranaga, Buntaro, Blackthorn, and the others. But nothing. I want to read King Rat, because not only is it set in Singapore, but also because it is based on Clavell’s real experience. Shogun, which is obviously the result of a lot of research, has a few points that were quite bad and reflect badly on the writer. First of all, it is utterly impossible that a foreigner could have been made a samurai in any way, shape, or form. I seriously doubt that it has ever happened in the years between Japan’s first contact with Europeans (or, for that matter, Asian foreigners – Korean, Chinese, and other cultures that the Japanese learned from over the 2,500 year history of Japan) that a non-Japanese has been named samurai, particularly a high-ranking samurai like hatamoto. I asked Naoko about it and she was doubtful, but we’ll ask around a bit to people who know a bit about Japanese history. I also found a few small points – language was one, and another was a mention of Buddhist and Shinto nuns. Buddhism has nuns, but Shintoism? Sorry, never heard of it, neither has Naoko.

Nick ‘n’ Shane

Friday, April 1st, 2005

Hey, another nice day – worked hard until 6, then took off for a TV interview spot. Nice to lead on the 6:00 news, wow. What has happened recently? Monday I worked really hard – I stayed until 11 working on a report, and got that in, and that was really great. At least I had a nice lunch – at Raffle’s Hotel, Doc Chang’s, with a new friend. Tuesday I spent a lot of time writing an article, on top of all sorts of administrative stuff and stuff. Left at 7, because Naoko was feeling really ill – bad headache!! I stayed up watching Infernal Affairs I, it was quite good. Wednesday was a busy day – we had a long meeting all afternoon and got a lot of good work accomplished. Called Chicago, USA and France, ha ha. Left at 7:30, most of my work done. Watched Kung-Fu Hustle in the evening, a much funnier movie than I was expecting. Thursday I got to work, did administrative stuff all morning, went to interview one banker at 2, then at 6 I went off to do a TV interview about Bank of America buying into Bank of China and vice versa. I wonder if they’ll change their name to Bank of Chamernica o something. Cool. Bought 3 Superrman VCDs for Matt, that was cheap, and I also found the new Nick Cave 3-CD set, for only $32 in the local music shop. It must have been a mistake, but I grabbed it right away. Weird that such a small shop would carry Nick Cave. Who would have bought it but me? Or was it fate that brought us together?

VCD Review – Infernal Affairs I: bearing all of the typical overblown melodramatic flourishes of yer typical Hong Kong gangster drama, shot in dark dingy browns and greys, along with crisp blues, the stylish drama about cops and robbers is intesting – the cops have had a gangster set himself up among them for 10 years, and vice versa. Neither one of the moles knows about the other, although they actually meet early on. Really a grounded-in-reality version of Face/Off, which was basically a bit of a better film.

DVD Review – Kung-Fu Hustle: starring the so-so enjoyable Steven Chow, this film is much funnier than Shaolin Soccer, of which it is a sequel of sorts. The weird “wild west China” mood of the film reminds of Peace Hotel, Chow Yun-Fat’s “last” Hong Kong movie of about 1993 or thereabouts. I liked the wacky Axe Gang dancing of the beginning of the film (surreal) and the mood of Uzumaki that kind of pervades the film itself. I like less the blind musical assassins with their freaky magic gang-ching. Stylish, sadistic comic book violence, roadrunner SFX, three knives, cobras on lips, fairy kung-fu tailer, Mr. Slippery, Mrs. Lion’s Roar, CG butterfly looked terribly fake. “He is the one” line, and many other things (courtyard battles, flying above the clouds) reminds of the Matrix films, but is ultimately better. “With great power comes great responsibility” is also a funny good. Funny Funny.