Archive for June, 2010

Japan trip 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Every summer Zen and Naoko go to Japan for four weeks when Zen has a month off from his Singapore school. This year they went at the beginning of June, and then on June 17th I flew off too to join them. And not a moment too soon – I was just so busy with so many different things before I left, it was crazy. The last day here I spent the day working from home, but I was really busy from morning until night, editing chapters from my book, helping out with office stuff, and cleaning the place. Very very busy. But it’s all good work and worth it.

I took a taxi to the airport on the evening of Wednesday June 16th around 11:30 PM, just before I left I took a shower, then prepared the suitcases, closed the windows, and called for a taxi. When the taxi arrived I put the suitcases in, but then ran back upstairs to check that I had locked properly. I had. Then 10 minutes later, when we were on the highway I began to wonder if I’d turned off the shower’s hot water heater!!! I half-remembered turning it off, I remembered looking around the dark room and not seeing it the heater light burning, but… I still wasn’t sure. I put the thought out of my mind, went to the airport, checked into the flight, had a beer, got on and flew to Osaka, landed on Thursday, July 17th at 8:20. Nothing interesting to report about the trip, except for the long-haired guy I saw in Kansai airport who was dressed in black and had a big backpack. The guy was tattooed all over his arms and neck, with the tats coming partially onto his cheeks. Pretty freaky.

After killing time in the airport for a while, I got on the 9:35 bus to Himeji with some Italians and some local sourpusses, listened to the same Nagisa Nite song over and over again as I read The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Arrived at 11:30, met Naoko, got a ride with Jii-chan, got back, ate, drank beer, went to pray at the home shrine for baachan, and napped. Zen came back with Nanaka and I talked to them, then I napped some more, ate dinner. I remember at one point sitting at the small square table and thinking that I was very very very very happy. But I was tired, so I went upstairs and napped again – I would have gone to sleep for the night, actually but around 8:30 Masayuki and the family came and wanted to see me. I finally, really slept at 10:00.

Friday June 18th we went off at 10:00 shopping for sunglasses. At the first one we saw a cool set of Ray Bans at a ripoff price, the second and the third had nothing inspiring, but at the fourth we found very nice Ray Bans for a decent price. Worth the wait. Went to Tower Records, bought the Boris “Variations” CD and DVD, then got a cross necklace and a Detroit Metal City (DMC) wristband, a black Uniqlo t-shirt, bought tai-yaki, and went home. Oh yeah, we had Hope-ken ramen for lunch – delicious!

After a short break, went back out and bought Adidas short sports socks at Avail, then blank video camera cassettes at Japan. Dinner of Tonkatsu. Watching TV, Zen was scared because he saw a fake alien mummy on TV, asked me as he went to sleep to tll him “Jesus stories” to make him calm down and relax so that he could go to sleep. But he wasn’t scared and went to sleep quickly. Had strange dreams about being in the office in the middle of the night with Naoko, then there was water leaking from the next unit, then workers came, then TAB staff. Then I dreamed I was hailing a cab.

Saturday June 19th, woke up, had breakfast, went to Himeji Port, bought tickets to Ie-shima, talked to a fishing uncle about the fish he catches, went to Ie-shima, checked in to our lodge, ate onigiri, played catch, napped, Zen and I went for a paddle in a canoe, saw a big black snake baking in the sun. In the water, saw bluish-white jellyfish and red and white striped poison jellyfish, also beautiful herons. We paddled all over the bay, sometimes getting into difficulties when the wind pushed us in the wrong direction (i.e. out to sea), and I had quite a battle at some times. Wished we’d taken the sailboats… Got back, napped, Zen did homework, I read; we had a great balcony with a beautiful view of the shrubs. Went out to build the barbecue. Had major trouble getting the coals going, as I thought we would, but people who were finishing up gave us their coals and pretty soon we had a great batch of barbecued food. Went to the bath at 8:55, Zen went to sleep, then Naoko and I had a restful and wonderful sleep ourselves.

Sunday June 20th we woke up, chilled out, went for a hike to a nearby camping centre. Saw lots of crabs scurrying around, there was a smiley crab as well (see picture below). Heard a crow cawing “ah… ah…”,we said “ho… ho…”. Together it sounded like “A-ho. A-ho, Zen no A-ho…” Got back, ate our instant noodles, napped on the bench, then went for another canoe ride – this time all three of us in the boat. The wind was coming from the other direction, and it was much lighter, a more beautiful ride for sure. Forty minutes into our one-hour ride we heard distant thunder and felt a few drops, and very soon the dude from the office came out in a motor boat to tell us we had to go back because of the coming storm. Sheesh. The drops intensified a bit. We cleaned up our equipment and collected our bags to go at the office. Zen read more of the unchi book, which is about the different types of animal feces. We headed off for the ferry terminal, wearing our rain capes because the precipitation had intensified into a strong mistu. Seven minutes into our journey the rain stopped completely. Funny how Naoko had been worrying for a week that the weekend trip would be washed out, and how her father had been chiding her for booking any sort of an outdoor trip at all during the rainy season; it was, in fact, a beautiful, restful, gorgeous trip. Got to the ferry station – more of a bus stop than a terminal – and saw all the families that we had gotten to know at the nature centre. Took the boat back to Himeji, sat in the open-air back part and watched the islands slip past or zoom by. Got to Himeji, rode back with Jii-chan, chilled out, ate dinner, read more of my book, then went to sleep.

Monday June 21st, Zen went off to school at 7:15, I read my book, then at 10:20 Naoko and I went to River City to buy clothes – boxer shorts, sleeping pants, undershirts – and then I went to rent videos. Stangely, I couldn’t find any that I wanted to watch, so I left without renting anything. Went to an Internet cafe to check five days worth of emails, then headed back by 4:00. Showered, listened to Jesu while writing my journal and drinking beer. Felt extraordinarily good. Been watching the World Cup… can’t believe that irritating bee sound that drowns out all other sounds from the pitch. Went by bicydcle to Nagahama Ramen for gyoza and ramen- yummy. Went to Godai Pharmacy for some medicine stuff – open toe and ear wound cream, and underarm deodorant. Talked to Oma and Opa, talked to Matt as well. Started reading Murakami Haruki’s Underground, drank sochu. Slept.

Tuesday June 22nd. Woke up at 4:20, read for a while – it was already getting light outside; seems strange that the sun rises so early, but it is the evening after Midsummer’s Day and one of the shortest night of the year after all… Went back to sleep for a while, got up for real at 6:45, learned that North Korea had lost to Portugal 7-0. Gosh, what a shame. Hung out, read Underground, watched Boris “Variations” DVD, went to Book Off to look for used CDs, didn’t find anything, went to the video shop, rented “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Milk”, “The Departed”, “Gangs of New York”, and “Balls of Fury”. “Tropic Thunder” is rented out, and they don’t have “Shaun of the Dead”. Bummer. Watched “Balls of Fury”, then Zen came home. Zen did homework, we ate dinner, went out to throw the ball, but not for long – I threw a good ball right at Zen, but he didn’t catch it properly and he missed it, it hit his nose, he cried, some blood flowed, dripped onto his shirt, so went back, cleaned up, chilled out until 9:00, and Naoko and I watched “Milk”.

Zeitgeist section: The asa no drama is “Gegege no nyoubou, about the life of Mizuki Shigeru; the taiga drama on Sundays is about Sakamoto Ryoma. The big news item is sumo gambling, and prime minister Kan’s appearance at the G7 and G20 meetings in… Muskoka!

Wednesday June 23rd; woke up, hung out, watched one hour of “Gangs of New York”, Naoko and her parents went to buy stuff, I went to the internet cafe and Tower Records. Today Spitz released a single but I didn’t buy it, bought Heaven & Hell’s “The Devil You Know”, went back for lunch, read, napped, watched one more hour of “Gangs of New York”, Zen came back, I went to pick up my sunglasses and bought two more t-shirts at uniqlo, Nanaka came over and played catch with Zen after dinner. Went to Book Off to meet Yuki and Kazuo of Love Love, we went to the Yukata Matsuri. At the last minute, Zen was also invited along to the same festival with Masayuki’s family, so we were both in the same festival at the same time (although I never saw them, and they never saw me). Parked, walked aross the railway, wandered along the main street, came across the former guitarist of Droop (Yayoi-chan), bought smoked cheese, bought manjyu, saw a jamon display, went to a cafe where we drank Yebisu, chilled out, listened to Bubble oldies, then psychedelic tunes, then went home.

Thursday June 24th, walked around the neighbourhood testing out my new sunglasses, read Underground, finished it (finally!!), hung out all morning, lots of election news, watched “Gangs of NEw York for the second, third and fourth time, ate lunch, started to watch “The Departed”, Zen came home, went for a cycle, saw the old Jusco, went to throw softball with Zen, ate dinner, went to Mushroom to watch the Love Love rehearsal for their June 29th live show at Osaka Bears – that is the day that I fly off and can’t make the show, but being invited to attend the rehearsal at the Mushroom (my first live house in Japan) is an outstandingly intimate consolation prize, especially since I’ve never really been to a studio with a Japanese band before (I only know what it’s like for my own band). Chilled out with them, introduced them to Black Sabbath, Om, and other good stuff, they showed me Droop videos. Came back, finished watching “The Departed”. Baa-chan will wake up at 3:0 AM to watch Japan play Denmark. Go, Japan!!

Friday, June 25th. Woke up, found out that Japan beat Denmark 3-1, yay Japan! Ate breakfast from 7:07 to 7:37, then went back upstairs and slept another two hours, got up at 9:30, went to the internet cafe, then tried to buy cheap Osaka train tickets, but the shop we used to use was closed (no surprise – it was always pretty run down). Showered, ate lunch, headed off to Osaka. Did find another place to buy cheap tickets, saved 900 yen!! Read on the train, listened to music, drank Chu-hi, got to Osaka, walked around Umeda trying to figure out where I was, it wasn’t easy because the whole place is a construction site. Went out Shinsaibashi station, found Dogra Magra, went into Uniqlo, then along Shinsaibashi, then to Book Off, bought Spitz’s “Hachimitsu”, then to Tower in Namba, where they didn’t have Okuda Tamio or Nagisa Nite CDs. Went around America Mura – Miki Gakki, Time Bomb Records (bought Acid Eater and Shinebuilder CDs), King Kong Records. Got a deal on two cross necklaces, found Freak Scene, talked to Fusao (the fuzz guitarist from Acid Eater and the wife of lead singer Masonna/Yamazaki Maso), bought an Acid Eater t-shirt from her and got a signature for the CD. Went back to Time Bomb records, got a signature from the drummer of Acid Eater as well. Great. Then off to meet Mr Matt Kaufman at Dogra Magra, chilled out, listened to ZZ Top, Boston, and some other stuff, Josh came, another guy came hung out with Master Damone, then went upstairs to watch Dennis Hopper rant and rave about his production of The Last Movie, didn’t watch all of it, plucked on a guitar, comfortably numb, then went to the 200 yen bar, met Jamie and his mad buddies deep into Saturday morning, got to hear some Black Sabbath, David Bowie, then off to the Pink Elephant, where the master was being a rude bastard, then off to the place next to the Pink Elephant, where we chilled out, sang “the Hoochie Koochie Man”, finally falling asleep in another place. Long night! Woke up on the sofa, ate some Yoshinoya gyudon, then took the subway back to Umeda, the train back to Himeji. Read two words of an article in a magazine about Pink Floyd, then fell asleep. Got to Himeji, it was pouring rain. Walked back under an umbrella but still got soaked, slept until 4:30, got up, family came over, and from 5:30 we were eating and drinking at our “barbecue”, now changed to an indoor event because of the lousy weather. Went to sleep at 9:30 or so, slept until morning.

Sunday June 27th, we were supposed to meet Matt and his family at Shiwase no Mura in Kobe, but weren’t sure if the weather would hold out. The weather was so-so, but Matt phoned and called if off anyway for family reasons – too bad, maybe next year. Hung out, went for a bike ride around Himeji castle (two laps), then rented the new “Star Trek”. Watched it in the evening, had a few laughs about some of the scenes.

Monday June 28th, last day in Japan, we packed, I took Zen to the zoo, we saw lions and tigers and bears, watched an ostrich pee and poo, stinky aardvark. Zen rode on the circle chain thing then we went back, had lunch, and off to River City to buy Zen’s shoes, then home, packing, dinner. Had a last sleep, but not before I finished re-reading Eric McCormack’s First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, a book I re-read every year when I have nothing to do in Himeji it seems.

Tuesday June 29th we woke up at 4:50 so that we could be ready by 5:50 to leave for the bust terminal to catch the bus to the airport. Got on the bus, napped and read, got there early, used the toilets, creepy old lady hanging out nearb, got in early, Zen did his homework, but not well enough – Naoko was grouchy. Got in the plane, aisle 33, window seat was the only window seat without a window! Disappointed!!!! Zen played video games a lot, he was happy, although he hated his meal – not enough vegetables! I watched “V for Vendetta” and “The Ghost Writer”, both UK political thrillers. Zen watched part of “How To Tame Your Dragon.” Got to Singapore, took silent taxi home, got in and saw that I really had remembered to turn off the electric heater at the beginning of my journey and wouldn’t need to face an expensive electricity bill/fire/whatever else might have happened to someone who accidentally left a hot water heater on for two weeks. Tidied up, had pizza for dinner, got ready to re-enter the Singapore life.

Wednesday I woke up early, took Zen to school, came back, installed the bicycle basket while Naoko slept, had breakfast, hung out all day.

Here’s Daichi attacking the drums with Deep Purple’s “Burn”.  Since it’s an electronic set, he listens to the noise with headphones, which I quickly put to the camera mic to translate what’s going on.  But he’s quite good, and so sincere!

Here are some great pictures from my Japan trip, followed by media reviews from the trip.

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Zen and Haruka

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Rose of Himeji

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Running Zen

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Glancing Zen

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The head of the PTA

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the land of the rising sun at the rising sun

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Checking out the grapes

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The grapes.

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Love those grapes

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Ramen girl

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Ramen ramen

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Goin' to Ie-jima

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Ie-jima

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Smiley-crab

Beauty

Beauty

Zen's favourite book - Unchi!

Zen's favourite book - Unchi!

The best barbecue ever!

The best barbecue ever!

Beauty

Beauty

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The spooky "insect forest"

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Canoe morning

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Ships at sea

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Zen and the seven-legged octopus "go this way..."

Misty mountain hop

Misty mountain hop

Only one of the 100,000 jellyfish we saw...

Only one of the 100,000 jellyfish we saw...

Feel

Feel

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Here comes Ba-chan!

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Kazuo gets lucky!

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Kazuo + Kazuyuki + Yuki = Love Love

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Yuki chills...

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Kazuyuki and Kazuo

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Kazuyuki, Kazuo and Yuki at the Mushroom!

With Acid Eater fuzz guitarist Fusao

Peter and Acid Eater fuzz guitarist Fusao

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Peter and Acid Eater drummer Akiba

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Dinner at the Fujinos

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Intense Zen

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Still standing

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Himeji Castle under reconstruction

Himeji castle construction

Himeji castle construction

Daichi on Drums

Daichi on Drums

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Zen's least favourite airline meal

While in Japan, I read a few books and saw several movies.  I also bought “a few” CDs.

Book reviews:

MHU

Murakami Haruki - Underground

Underground, by Murakami Haruki – A book about the 1995 sarin gas incident in Tokyo, Japan, when five subway lines were simultaneously vandalised with liquid sarin, which evaporated, killing 12, seriously injuring 54, and affecting 980. It was a horrible incident, and the nadir in Japanese society of a misfit group of misanthropes who we now know had already committed several crimes. I remember thinking at the time “who would want to kill hardworking people on their way to work – aren’t they already suffering enough?” Now having read this book, which is a collection of interviews with some of the survivors, I can see the real tragedy of this, with one of the victims now a near-vegetable, who is described as a devoted and incredibly hard-working individual. Nowadays when she says simple near-words, her family sobs and cheers, even though these were all things that she had been able to do effortlessly – like all of us, before this happened to her. I still have no idea what these people thought that they could accomplish with their evil deeds. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The book is an English translation of a series of articles that Murakami published in Japanese magazines and newspapers, and then published in book form in different editions. The first part covers seven sections, each of which covers a separate incident, be it on a certain train line or at a certain station. The first five sections start off with a description of the perpetrators, mostly describing how they had come from prestigious universities and middle-class backgrounds; but only the first five sections have these descriptions, the last two do not, I’m not sure why. Each of the seven sections has case studies of the victims telling, in their own words, what happened that morning. The case studies vary from three pages long to ten pages long, mere snapshots of interviews that Murakami says sometimes stretched for three hours (I’d guess that a three hour interview would be about 80 pages long according to the size of the pages of this book, maybe more). After a while you get a sense of familiarity with the horror – the people describe the start of their day and its routines, why they are heading into town on a Monday before a national holiday when most people weren’t working, when they noticed something was wrong on the train, the reactions that they noticed in the people around them, how they realised that they were not all right, how they escaped the subway station, the behaviour of the subway and station staff, the organisation of the rescue efforts, how they received medical attention, their post-incident recovery, and their feelings towards the perpetrators. The book includes one interview with a foreigner, one interview with a subway staff member, one interview with the family of a woman who went into a coma and has barely recovered, as well as interviews with the widow and the parents of a man who died that day.

The interviews and the accounts of the victims of that day are very well done, and the five scenarios describing the actions of the perpretrators. Unfortunately, Murakami caps the first part with an essay of mumbo jumbo called “Blind nightmare: where are we Japanese going?” For example, one of his passages is like this:

I am a novelist, and as we all know a novelist is someone who works with ‘narratives’, who spins ‘stories’ professionally. Which meant to me that the task at hand was like a gigantic sword dangling above my head. It’s something I’m going to have to deal with much more seriously from here on. I know I’m going to have to construct a ‘cosmic communication device of my own. I’ll probably have to piece together every last scrap of junk, every weakness, every deficiency inside me to do it. (There, I’ve gone and said it – but the real surprise is that it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do as a writer all along!)

The second part is also very interesting, as it follows the same structure as the first case study section, but in this case he’s interviewing the Aum Shinrikyo survivors. None of them were among the members found guilty of any crimes, they were just people who were for one reason or another drawn into the cult. These case studies are also interesting, but here Murakami tries to draw the interviewees into philosophical discussions, often editorializing and sensationalising somewhat, often alluding to incidents in the Aum world that happened outside of the subway attacks, some of which are not properly contextualised. The stories are often rather pitiful and these people seem like victims of a sort as well, first of Aum itself, and then of the society that judges them for having once been members of the cult. Whether they were brainwashed into conducting criminal activities or whether they were people who legitimately felt that yoga could improve their sense of self-worth, they are likely to live out sad lives.

TGWKTHN

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, by Stieg Larsson – This is the third book in the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson. I had a hard time finding it in Singapore at a good price, but I finally did the day before I went to Japan, so I happily bought a copy – yay. I read it on the flight and was very happy. The story picks up at the end of the cliffhanger second book. While the first book is about Lisbeth Salander slowly becoming a character to take on Mickael Blomkvist, and the second one is about drawing Lisbeth Salander out of hiding, the third one is about knowing just what will become of her life – she’s been shot in the head, but is saved and is in hospital. The story is now about unfurling the secrets of her past – with no help from her – and finding out which sort of extra-judiciary surveillance department has been working to keep her down. She, of course, has her own agenda and her own ideas about how justice is supposed to be meted out. The third book is better than the second book in some ways, and once again Mickael Blomkvist labours intensively (and senselessly, in the way that he has nearly no support from Salander herself) to right the wrongs acted upon Salander, this time enlisting not just the staff of the Millennium, but also several police units. Of course, quite a while before the actual end of the book, our heroes manage to figure out how to utterly annihilate their opposition, both in court and on the streets, and we’re all heading to a happy end. Somehow the book ties up too neatly, and the various superfluous passages require some explaining (presumably Larsson was writing about people he knew in real life), such as the one about the gay investment banker in Gibraltar, and the one about the theft of Erika Berger’s stash of very very very personal items. There is also something about how the chairman of the biggest newspaper in Sweden has invested in a company in Vietnam that uses child labour (is this mirroring something Larsson knew about but couldn’t prove?). The civilness of the good Swedes (Blomkvist and his process-driven bunch) is refreshing to follow, and these people seem fair, good and just. But ultimately it is good fun seeing the Cold War baggage that their dinosaur enemies are destroyed by their own arrogance and presumptuousness, never suspecting that their era of lawless activity was nearing an end. How they do it is somewhat clever; a masterpiece of detective fiction this ain’t, but it also never pretends to be that at all. I was especially happy with the last three pages of the book which I think were very well-done. Good job, Larsson, rest in piece.

DOAWK

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Greg Kinney – Like all of the Wimpy Kid movies, this one is very funny, with interesting comic book artwork. the story follows the life of middle-schooler Greg Heffley through his diary and his simple illustrations. Funny tales of school and classmates (including some very strange ones, bullies, girls, etc). There’s the Cheese Touch, which is like the cooties but it’s acquired when someone touches a piece of cheese that has become part of the schoolyard pavement. Tricks that Greg’s older brother Rodrick plays on him. Funny tales of Rowley (great knock knock jokes), playing video games, and of course the introduction of classic “weird kid” Fregley (“Wanna see my ‘secret freckle’?”) who howls “juice! juice!” when he needs to pee. Greg also has a sleepover with Fregley, who’s also his wrestling partner. We need more Fregley. There’s Rodrick’s band Loded Diper, Greg running for class treasurer, Hallowe’en tales, wrestling class, weightlifting, the class play, Safety Patrol, and Greg’s comic competition. Some of the “bad” comics that Greg was competing with were actually pretty good (check out Rowley’s “Zoo-wee Mama”. The book’s not all fun – there’s also a grim tale of giant snowmen that is a bit tough. But at least it ends well, when we find out what happens to the cheese.

FBOTTATMROW

First Blast of the Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment of Women

First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, by Eric McCormack – I love all of the books that Eric McCormack has written, including this one. Here Eric re-imagines a young Scottish man leaving the Scottish mining towns after family tragedies have made him an orphan, going off to cross the world like Gorden Pym before ending up back in “Camberloo” (a cross of Cambridge and Waterloo, the town in Canada where Eric teaches English Literature) where he enjoys a strange addicted lifestyle of increasing girth and incessant loneliness, never really losing the demons of the past – until they, finally, lose him.

This book follows the usual McCormack tropes of voyage, loneliness, addiction, seafaring, strangers that drift in and out of the story, odd habits (painting prostitutes to look like snake-women), and uncertainties to paint a strongly alluring picture of a habitual paradise.

Check out the recently-created Eric McCormack Wikipedia page.

TJB

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling – I have never seen The Jungle Book movie, I just wanted to understand a bit of what might have captured the imagination of people 100 years ago (and how they might have written stories). The Jungle Book is not a happy story about people bopping around in the jungle, it is about life and death and honour and character and discipline in a pitiless world. Because it is written in a dense style by Rudyard Kipling almost 120 years ago, it is not easy to follow, but it does tell in eight chapters and eight poems interesting tales of the deep jungle. First of all it tells the tale of Mowgli, how he’s rescued from Shere Khan the tiger by Mother Wolf, and championed by Akela, and then it goes into his education, his abduction by the lawless monkey tribes, his confrontation with the Jungle council, his re-emergence into human society, and his final revenge on Shere Khan. The story continues on The Jungle Book 2, but we also have non-Mowgli stories: the amazing tale of Riki-Tiki-Tavi (which I saw once on TV as a non-Mowgli Jungle Book animation), as well as a really wonderful story of a white seal trying to save his seal-mates from perpetual exploitation and hunting from the nearby Russian communities.

Some of the stories are not so great – I didn’t really understand the point of “Toomai of the Elephants” or “Her Majesty’s Servants”, but on the whole it was a great, if somewhat incomprehensible, book.

CD reviews:

BFOW

Acid Eater, Black Fuzz on Wheels

Acid Eater, “Black Fuzz on Wheels” – This is a really great release, better than debut piece “Virulent Fuzz Punk A.C.I.D.”. The release opens up with the killer “Yes, Motion”, with a sinister chord progression, then cheezy organ, and Masonna’s grotesque vocals and electronics, and the album continues in the same vein. Six of the ten songs are originals, and of these “Well” is the standout track, with its funky groovy strangeness. The band also covers Crime’s “Feel The Beat”, the Miracle Workers’ “Love Has No Time” (great version), a pastiche of German movie dialogue from “Schulmadchen Report”, probably a kitsch favourite of Masonna and his guitarist wife Fusao, as well as a Tidal Wave cover “Searching For Love.”

Boris, “Variations” – I have reviewed this CD/DVD on My Big Bad Boris Page.

S

Shrinebuilder

Shrinebuilder, “Shrinebuilder” – This is the definition of epic. Shrinebuilder is a doom/stoner supergroup, consisting of Scott “Wino” Weinrich (guitarist/living legend from Saint Vitus, Obssessed, etc), Al Cisneros (legendary bassist from Sleep, and now Om), Scott Kelly (vocalist and guitarist of Neurosis), and Dale Crover, the drummer from the Melvins and tons of other projects (he also drummed with Nirvana on their original demo). Stellar.

Opening tune “Solar Benediction” doesn’t start off well, with some weedy Wino vocals, but then gets high and mighty with tough guy verses, then it becomes a bit like a Pelican or Isis song with tons of cool chillout guitar parts that build up into some really great guitar sounds . It sounds a bit Soundgarden at times, but the layers of sludge finally get pretty thick and heavy. “Pyramid of the Moon” is a bit Alice in Chains at first, but the tough guy verses kick in and then it builds and builds with the shimmering wah and the oriental motifs into a slamming, penetrating druidic OM-like zone-out. “Blind For All To See” starts out with a groovy Om-like wandering bass buildup, then gets into the killer guitar riffs. Well, it goes into one groovy solo, then back to the chorus, before busting out into another groovy solo. Guitar noises and feedback EVERYWHERE!! “The Architect” – at 5:57 the shortest song on the release – is punchy and gets to the point quickly and is quite like a Saint Vitus song. It’s a pretty conventional rock song, but it does have a pretty trippy guitar solo. This song also ends off with a minute of Al Cisneros’ weird snaky bass sounds. It’s followed by “Science of Anger”, the CD’s longest track at 9:25, which starts off a lot like “The Architect” as a Saint Vitus song, but then becomes tantric and grooves on cool stoner moods,

Check out Scott Kelly’s blog about recording Shrinebuilder.

H&H

Heaven &Hell

Heaven & Hell, “The Devil You Know” – First song has a great title – “Atom and Evil.” Is it about how nuclear weapons are bad? Can’t be sure, said the spider to the fly. It’s great to hear the band making original music again (Heaven & Hell, by the way, is Black Sabbath as they were with Ronnie James Dio on albums such as “Heaven and Hell”, “The Mob Rules” and “Dehumanizer”, except they’re not allowed to be called like that due to a truce with Ozzy Osbourne over who is allowed to use the name “Black Sabbath”), and you have to wonder if this is what people felt when they got a new Black Sabbath album in the old day (I’m old enough to remember when “Mob Rules” was a new album, with hot new singles, fresh on the radio). Too bad, though, that the release has an album almost as ugly as “Born Again” (also by Black Sabbath, but with Ian Gillan singing).

“Fear” is a raunchy rocker that soars nicely, while “Bible Black” starts off softly, with great Dio vocals grabbing the spotlight, turning quickly into a great rocker (this was also the album’s hit single). The song is long, the solo withering. Amazing to think that he had been in show business for fifty years at that point, but had just more than a year left to live (the album was released April 28, 2009, and Dio died on May 16, 2010, aged 67 years old.

“Double The Pain” is a somewhat corny ole track, while “Rock ‘n’ Roll Angel” is a bit more anthemic. “Turn of the Screw” is noble and gigantic, while also seeming quite poppy. “Eating the Cannibals” is probably the best thing on the album, the band gets real tight and has a lot of fun with great, tight riffs and huge noise. “Follow the Tears” is one of those spooky songs, and is more Ozzy than Black Sabbath, but “Neverwhere” is more Dio-era Black Sabbath, with a real bite of venom, with one of those old Tony Iommi solos (to the extent that you wonder if he bothered to put one on any of the other songs, or if he had a stand-in). Excellent! “Breaking into Heaven” the last song on the last full-length feature album Ronnie James Dio released in his life (until I’m proven wrong) is “”Breaking into Heaven.” Besides being somewhat prophetic, the song is good fun and very slow (finally) and plodding through several riffs and other deas. Great; while it’s not a great closer to a great album, it is nice to hear that the music is still there, and to have a Dio soundtrack for the next ten years. Thank you RJD!

SH

Spitz, Hachimitsu


For a full review of these releases, please see My Big Bad Spitz Page.

Movie reviews:

M

Milk

Milk – Great movie with Sean Penn and a bunch of other well-known actors acting as gay ’70s men. Judd Hirsch is in it too, getting away from his Speed Racer thing and a bit closer to his Dogtown thing. Josh Brolin is fantastic as Harvey Milk’s assassin Dan White. It was pretty trippy finding out about the weird world of Anita Bryant and her goofy anti-gay campaigners, but this is what the hate of the 60s and 70s was all about. Great zeitgeist.

GONY

Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York – I watched this film in about five sitting because I kept getting interrupted. It is about Leonardo Dicaprio as the son of Liam Neeson, who confronts Daniel Day Lewis and his gang in a turf war but is slain before his five-year-old eyes. All very Shakespearean, with revenge as the prime motivator throughout. Besides Bill “the Butcher” Cutting and his gang, there are the many other gangs, the criminals, the thieves and stealers, as well as the remnants of the Irish gang Dead Rabbits, with ghouls like Hellcat Maggie and all the rest of the filth and scum that make their living in the wickedest den of scum and villainy. People living sad, fearful lives where even the sex is frightening and traumatic. There are parallels and betrayals and regret and valour, but mostly there is a fearful loss of life, with no honour. What a crazy world. Is it still like this? The most interesting point is when the film ends with the fearsome New York Draft Riots of that year, showing a time when anti-draft sentiment was whipped up and the mobs marched on the house of the mayor, destroying everything, when they looted and raped and lynched, and when they fought against the cannons that the military had to fire on more than just the four dead in Ohio.

TD

The Departed

The Departed – Another DiCaprio movie directed by Scorsese. This guy has worked with everyone!!! Here he is, working with Mark Wahlberg and Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon to remake the amazing Hong Kong crime drama “Infernal Affairs”, where the mob has a mole in the police and the police has a mole in the mob, played by Dicaprio and Damon. But which is which? Great action and guts, but somehow Dicaprio is sleepwalking through this one, with Damon more convincing as a seedy, sleazy recruit gone bad. The violence builds up and gets labyrinthine, as the two characters close in on each other. Great action, great guesswork, but somehow Dicaprio and Nicholson feel miscast.

BOF

Balls of Fury

Balls of Fury – The trailer was funny, Christopher Walken was in it, why not watch? There’s something funny about a fat ping pong player with outrageous sideburns, which is what Dan Fogler is. There’s something funny about equating ping pong with kung fu, and there’s also something funny about James Hong. Indeed, he’s probably the reason I wanted to watch this film, and I like what he does with those chopsticks he always carries around. He acted circles around Dan Fogler and Maggie Q. But… he’s 81 years old, what can you do? The film is about a young prodigee who loses his father when he loses his first match, then he goes into a long slump and turns up in a Las Vegas ping pong show. He is enlisted by the FBI who want to use him as bait to lure him into a confrontation with Feng, played by Christopher Walken, and bring down his evil empire. Shades of Game of Death. Feng’s island has something for every desire, including sex slaves; unfortunately, they are male sex slaves… ha ha, there’s a couple of jokes there. The film carries on to its ridiculous conclusion. It’s good fun, but not great fun.

SM

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire – Somewhat convoluted film that is told in and out of time order roughly at five levels, some levels separated by years, others separated by days, others by hours. The story is about two brothers Jamal and Salim, and their friend Latika, who are played by three teams of actors, roughly aged five, 12 and 21. The film starts when Jamal is thrown into police interrogation, suspected of cheating on a 20,000,000 rupee quiz show. No one can understand how a street kid could get so many questions right, but somehow he does. Through flashback, we understand how he does it. And the police, never having encountered someone so truthful, cannot keep him in the cell any longer. And so he goes back to the TV studios to play the final round.

Of course, the question of luck is a bit like the story of Chance the Gardener in “Being There” – he never did anything other than be himself, and was immensely successful at it – but the story of young people who fought their way out of poverty and bad luck to finally make something of their lives, and to win the support of the population in so doing, is simply a tale that is hard to beat. Some moments of unbelievability – where did these kids learn English, anyway? But it’s a great film.

ST

Star Trek

Star Trek – By now in the Star Trek world everything’s been re-imagined and time-warped and saved and destroyed just so many times that anything can happen. It’s interesting how the new director manages to keep on having the brash Kirk pretty much unable to outshine the creepy Spock, but who would have ever thought that Vulcans could be sexy!!! Eric Bana as a Romulan general bent on revenge has a good blend of corn, and we enjoy the entrance of each familiar player as they come (although maybe Uhuru is just a bit too sassy?). I like the idea of “red matter”, and the mindless violence was really good fun. Zen and I laughed our heads off at Montgomery Scott’s alien sidekick, especially in his last appearance at the end of the movie (“You – get down from there!!!).

TGW

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer – Yet another Polanski movie about a hapless do-gooder who wants to do right, but ultimately cannot. Dig the ironic ending!

VfV

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta – Great dystopian thriller about V and Evey on a one-year revenge- and death-trip. V chilling and cool in his Guy Fawkes mask, his heavy throwing knives, his superhuman fighting ability, his ability to pit his enemies against each other, and his conniving to throw the whole rotten country into anarchy and revolution. What an appropriate message for the mass media! Natalie Portman is not very charismatic in the film, despite getting top billing, with Hugo Weaving enchanting merely throughout the power of his voice and his body language (he’s masked throughout). Great movie, really splendid. I have read the graphic novel, and now want to read it again.

Love Love rules!!!

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Here are some videos of Love Love in rehearsal in Himeji, June 24th, 2010.

Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine

Monday, June 28th, 2010

So cool – somebody has put the whole Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine release “Rampton” on YouTube:

State Bank of India ATM

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Wow, what a busy week – I spent the whole weekend doing stuff for my book, and now the past few days as well practically. Monday I went to an Islamic finance conference. Today I bought a few books that I want to read – Murakami Haruki’s Underground, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (I’ve never read it!), and Stieg Larssen’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Groovy, man. I also bought a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid for Zen, he’ll love it.

Check out this State Bank of India ATM:

State Bank of India ATM

State Bank of India ATM

And don’t forget the Death Metal Rooster:

By the way, this is how it happened:

unexpectedly UnXpected

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Not a bad week – I put the magazine to print last Friday, so this week was mellow and spent taking stock of stuff.

Monday I had my band practice.

Tuesday I went for drinks with my boss and my colleague Arush, then to Mustafa’s in Little India to buy my Black Sabbath cross (7 cm by 4.5 cm, not quite big enough, and the chain not quite long enough, to qualify, but it’s on the right track), and then to the Prince of Wales for a beer. Got home pretty late.

Wednesday I forgot what I did, but Thursday I went out to Wala Wala with two colleagues, which was pretty fun. Saw the UnXpected play, they roiled through “Hard to Handle”, “Highway to Hell”, “Black Dog”, and “War Pigs” (my request). Talked to Shirlyn for a while, she told me a few interesting things, like the circumstances under which she wrote the song “Snow” from her album “Newfound Jealousy.” Made a few new friends, and then went home after the second set. Good stuff!!

Friday I worked a lot a lot a lot, went for beers again with Arush, then headed home. Drank a beer at home, then just passed out. Tired!

Saturday I did a bunch of work, laundry, shopping, and played guitar. I hit an E chord that just fed back on and on, it was beautiful. At 9:00 I headed out to Wala Wala again, got my bus right away, and got to Wala Wala in good time. I found the same people again and we hung out some more, the band came on and I just dug it. They played “Come On Eileen”, which sounded good with Joan’s violin, and of course the classic version of “I Will Survive” (I wish I had my camera with me – there’s no version of this on YouTube). The lyrics are hilarious – “I was alone, I was petrified / When he said he had ten inches, I nearly died.” In the first set they also did “With a Little Help From My Friends”, with Brandon on vocals – I don’t remember hearing him do a song before. There was a girl who brought her mum out to celebrate the mum’s birthday, sweet. They started the second set off with “Master of Puppets”, with Joan providing a violin solo – it was great great great. They also did “Paranoid”, but more like the Megadeth version than the Black Sabbath version, then a great version of “What’s Up” that everybody sang along with. Some song by Extreme, some song by Jason Miraz, some song by Dashboard Confessional, “the Facebook Song” again, and a great mashup of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Radio Gaga” that everybody sang along every word for. The third set was mixed around – some “Kings of Leon” song, a singalong of “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You”, the Argent song that was covered by Kiss on the Bill and Ted movie, and Rene Hombre singing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” A good version of U2′s “One”, Shirlyn’s own “Window” (great version – she sang “Newfound Jealousy” and “Shouldn’t We Try” back-to-back on Thursday, also great versions), that Skid Row song “Sixteen and Life”, and “Whole Lotta Love.” Love!!

I requested a bunch of songs that they didn’t play – for example, Pat Benatar. I wonder if they can do any Pat Benatar songs. I wanted to request Suicidal Tendencies, which they probably don’t know, but really should – “Pledge Your Allegiance”, since it’s all about ST (Shirlyn Tan). “As long as your heart beats – pledge your allegiance.”

Sunday I chilled out, reading, listening to music, doing some work, drinking beer. It’s rainy and yucky out, I wonder what’s happening in town…

Zen’s softball team

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Zen’s softball team has a website. It’s not much, but it does have a few pictures (although I don’t see Zen in any of them).

Call it – HEAVY METAL!!!

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Great, the Heavy Metal movies are online too:

Heavy Metal:

Heavy Metal 2000:

Watch Ralph Bakshi

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Lots of Ralph Bakshi films available on YouTube:

Fritz the Cat:

Heavy Traffic:

Coonskin:

Hey Good Lookin’

Wizards:

Lord of the Rings:

American Pop:

Fire and Ice (no embedded video available).

Music and Emotion at Ten Years After pub

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Yesterday was a good day – I hung out, did some chores, ate good food that Naoko prepared for me before she went to Japan, and I did some work (less nice). At 9:00 I went over to my friend Prakash’s place to check out his guitars. I’ve known Prakash for many years, only recently found out that he lives across the street from me. He’s got tons of cool guitars and recording stuff, and billions of CDs, really amazing stuff! I listened to some of his new stuff, and then we went off to Ten Years After pub in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre to meet another friend… same story, I’ve known him for many years, only recently found out that he lived close by. Neither one of these dudes was familiar with Ten Years After (or many other local businesses, I later found out), so I showed them the place. Unfortunately, once I got to Ten Years After I noticed that something had changed – there was the Music and Emotion bassist Eddie, but no Susanna on vocals, and the other fellow who played the keyboard console and programmes and did the guitar parts was also gone. Now Eddie is playing a stratocaster, and another fellow who plays a left-handed electric-acoustic was backing him up. They had everything programmed into a laptop and were playing some of the old songs that they used to do. The new guy had a good singing voice and was a decent guitarist, but all of the soul was gone, it was a bit sad. I talked to Eddie for a while, he’s just as erratic as ever. He said “so which song are you singing? What stage name should I call you up with?” So I asked him to pull up Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” I sang that without a lyric sheet, I think I did a pretty good job of it, although I forgot the second-last verse (Make a joke and I will cry and you will laugh and I will sigh/ Happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal). That was good fun and pumped some mood into the place. So we chatted, drank beer, and headed home. Went home and watched Jack and the Witch, and then went to sleep.

Sunday I went for a haircut and did some work, played guitar, watched a lot of YouTube clips. I need to do something productive this weekend, it’s already nearly 4:00 PM!

Near me on the main street there are some four-storey apartment buildings that have shops on the ground floor. For about six months now they’ve gated off a certain area in front of the shops, where they initially did a big of digging around but the project has been idle for a long time. Yesterday, they brought out a massive backhoe to dig around, and blocked off the entire sidewalk to get the work done. I feel sorry for the businesses on the ground floor that are now blocked from view, I wonder if they lose business as a result of callous building committees that don’t care a fig about long delays. It used to be a nice neighbourhood…

Singapore's dodgiest construction techniques, Part 1

Singapore's dodgiest construction techniques, Part 1

All this just to build an elevator. Is it worth it?

Singapore's dodgiest construction techniques, part 2

Singapore's dodgiest construction techniques, Part 2

Speaking of construction, check out what they’re doing in front of Beauty World – the new Beauty World MRT Station, due to open in 2020!

Beauty World MRT station construction site, Upper Bukit Timah, Part 1

Beauty World MRT station construction site, Upper Bukit Timah, Part 1

Beauty World MRT station construction site, Upper Bukit Timah, Part 2

Beauty World MRT station construction site, Upper Bukit Timah, Part 2

Beauty World MRT station construction site, Upper Bukit Timah, Part 3

Beauty World MRT station construction site, Upper Bukit Timah, Part 3

I spotted this in the garbage yesterday. Who would throw away such a LOVELY painting?!?!

Sad clowns

Sad clowns

I found some groovy YouTube clips today that I want to share:

Singapore band Zero Sequence, with drummer Brandon Khoo and violinist Joan Chew of UnXpected. Good music.

Scenes of Singapore, from local singer Shirlyn Tan, also of UnXpected, from her release of original songs “Newfound Jealousy”. Great stuff.

My friend Prakash’s band, Morpheus Dream.

A young Frank Zappa (22 years old, and pre-mustache) on the Steve Allen show:

Frank Zappa doing “Muffin Man”. I don’t like Zappa’s music that much (I like the guy a lot, but his music is a bit too all-over-the-place for me), but here he’s got a deep Black Sabbath thing on and he really rocks out. I’m amazed – he’s a total rock god!!

This is the weirdest Bollywood bit I’ve ever seen – SuperIndian and SpiderIndian, bad CG, terrible dance steps, and the un-sexiest costume I’ve ever seen.

Completely bizarre Pepsi commercial, starring Alisan Porter (The “Curly Sue” girl) and Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) from the Sopranos doing what he does best.

Tantilizingly awful commercial. It’s like a horror movie trailer!

Funky cult animated features on YouTube!!

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Hey, check it out, somebody put all of the cult movie Rock & Rule on YouTube (no embedded video available for this one).

They also have Jack and the Witch, a crazy movie where people are turned into evil blue-skinned harpies.