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Japan and Hawaii trip 2018

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

This year, we combined our annual return-to-Japan trip with a trip to some place we hadn’t been to before – Hawai’i! Actually, I’d been there before, but not to all the places we’d been to on this trip. Here is a series of pictures showing what we did in Japan & Hawai’i (as usual, click on the pics to see larger versions).

We started off the trip getting acquainted with newborn Yousei, less than one month old and Naoko’s first great=nephew!

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Proud grandpa Masayuki (Naoko’s brother).

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A cute little snake that Zen’s cousin keeps as a pet.

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Giving grand-dad a massage.

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One of many visits to fabulous Himeji Castle.

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Home cookin’!

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Local flavours.

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On the road to Hawai’i!

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Waikiki beach!!

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Our first full day in Hawai’i – a hike up Diamondhead!!

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Waikiki Beach boogie-boarders.

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The Royal Hawaiian Hotel… cool place.

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Waikiki beach.

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Breakfast at the International House of Pancakes… yum!!

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Heading off to Pearl Harbour.

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The USS Missouri.

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The Pacific Aviation Museum

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View of the hotel pool from our hotel room.

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Driving the rental car in Maui.

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The view from our awesome Maui apartment.

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Our friend’s home!

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Barbecue time!

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Going down to the beach on a Sunday afternoon!

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Local food for dinner!!

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Day trip to Lahaina

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Barbecue dinner!!

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Watching a beautiful Maui sunset from our balcony.

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Day drip to the Haleakala crater.

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Another day at the beach.

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An afternoon on the north shore with our friends.

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So long, Maui, it’s been awesome!!

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Back in Oahu.

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Our hotel had one of the best views in town!!

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We took in a free hula show!!

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Last morning in Hawai’i… we mainly spent it gazing at Diamondhead from our room.

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Heading back to Japan…

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Welcome back!

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I wanted to buy this tiger plush doll!

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Himeji castle!

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See you next time, baby Yousei!

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On the last day we hiked up Mt. Mega…

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…and went to the fish market!

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Book store.

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Himeji Castle.

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Honeymoon 1997

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Twenty years ago Naoko and I got married. It was a great moment for me – to become anchored to another person, to go forth in the world as a team rather than as an individual. Our love was great and strong, as it should be. We got married in Japan in April, and my family came. My brother and his girlfriend arrived first, escorting my grandmother from Germany, and my parents came a few days later. It was a fantastic experience, and I was so happy to have all of my loving family from both sides there on that very special day.

A special note – we were very blessed that my maternal grandmother Henny was able to make the trip. She was nearly 80 at the time and not very healthy, but she made the effort and it was her first time in Asia. My binding memory of her on that visit is that first night in my future in-laws place, a few days before the wedding, when we were having dinner. She said to me in German “are those shrimps? I don’t think I can eat those…” I said “no pressure, just eat what you want.” Some time passed and she said, “you know, I’m curious about how they taste… just let me try a small one.” She did, and she said “wow, these are great!” After the wedding, the family took a trip around a few nearby spots (Nara, Kyoto), and I’ve got great pictures of those visits.

After the wedding, we hung around Himeji for a few weeks, because Naoko’s sister-in-law was due to give birth soon to their second child – Naoko had missed the birth of the first child (and the family’s first of the next generation) as she was studying , so she didn’t want to miss another. Haruka was born on May 9th, and then off we went on May 13th (a Friday, lol), to a big party in Ako, where I had worked for four months and had many dear friends.

The only fixed plan we had was to be in Beijing on July 8th, whence we would be on a tour of the Trans Mongolia-Trans Siberia trains, which would get us to Berlin eventually. So we had three weeks to see whatever lies between Himeji & Beijing. A lot! During that time, there was also a lot of buzz about the handover of Hong Kong from British colonial rule, back to China. That’s what we were heading into. A newly married couple in the late 20s/early 30s, we headed into the unknown. This is what we saw.

(tip – you can always click on the image to see a larger picture!!)

In Geongju!
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The Cheomseongdae in Geongju, Korea. This is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, and possibly even the world. It was built in the 7th century.
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UN cemetery in Pusan.
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Fighting off a dinosaur in Qingdao, China.
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Countdown to the Handover of Hong Kong to China.
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Cycling in Beijing.
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Horsing around in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.
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The Forbidden City, Beijing, China.
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The Great Wall of China at Simatai
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Enjoying the Great Wall of China!
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Looking down from one of the turrets
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The Trans-Mongolia Espress, Beijing-Ulan Bataar!
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Honeymoon in Mongolia
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That’s me eating a cucumber outside of our ger (aka yert, aka bao). We both got sick right around that time too, with different ailments.
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In the Gobi desert with Beth. Or was it Heather?
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A Moscow subway. I love how Naoko wore her Guns N’ Roses t-shirt through that trip!!
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At the Marinski Ballet in Moscow!
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In Berlin with some dog… and Naoko.
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At the Hun’s Grave in Diesdorf with my grandmother.
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Gone for a walk in Diesdorf with my grandmother.
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In Wernigerode with my Grandmother.
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In Wernigerode with my Grandmother. This house is known as “the smallest house in Wernigerode”. I love how thre’s someone peering grumpily out the the window at us.
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In my grandmother’s garden in Diesdorf. That may have been the last time I saw my grandmother.
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Hanging out with Ramin & Arash in Düsseldorf!!
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Honeymoon in Germany with Naoko!!
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Honeymoon Germany. I don’t remember which town this is.
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Honeymoon in Germany, visiting Manfred, Inge and Kai Kremser, and Manfred’s sister & her husband.
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Honeymoon in Germany – hanging out with Dieter and David in Düsseldorf.
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Hanging out with Marcelo & Canaan in Frankfurt!
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At Schloß Neuschwanstein with Naoko.
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At the River Lech in Bavaria.
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Honeymoon in Germany with Naoko.
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Honeymoon in Germany with Naoko.
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Bavarian hay – on the road to Schaffhausen.
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Hanging out with Masako & Phillip and the kids in Schaffhausen.
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Naoko and Melanie in Schaffhausen.
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Naoko & Masako’s son at the Rheinfall in Schaffhausen.
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At Lake Constance.
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At Lake Constance.
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In Strassbourg.
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Swiss Lake with Nicole.
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Naoko and Nicole in Switzerland.
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Switzerland is for lovers!!
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At the Rheinfall with Ralph Hoflich, Nicole and Ingrid.
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Hanging in Switzerland with Ralph & Nicole Hoflich.
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Naoko and Nicole in Switzerland.
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Naoko’s birthday in Schaffhausen (her nickname was “Miki” at the time, lol)!!
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In Strasbourg with Janice Jenny!
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In Schladming with the relatives. Uncle Werner and Tante Gitti! Onkel Ernst! Tante Ingrid Onkel Karl!!
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In Schönberg am Kamp, Austria.
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Salzberg – the Undersberg, the Moos.
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Going for a run in Schönberg!!
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Going for a 10 kilometre run in Schönberg with Norbert.
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Autumn colours.
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On the road from Dresden to the Czech Republic with our car, which we named Rudi. That’s because it was the sound he made – “rudirudirudirudirudi…”
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We tried to find the town where my mom was born. This is all we found, though…
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In České Budějovice, where the original Budsweiser Beer comes from.
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Castle on the Danube.
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Hot spring water in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad).
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Taking a pilsner beer tour in Plzeň.
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Czech forest in Plzeň.
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Naoko among the ruins.
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At Cicmany in Slovakia.
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At our homestay in Hungary. This woman only spoke Hungarian. She kept saying to us “kaput, kaput, kaput…” After a while we realised that she was talking about a key…
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Budapest.
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Random Japanese art exhibit in Budapest.
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Budapest.
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Our Homestay uncle in Budapest.
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Balatonfüred thermal lake in Hungary. Nice place!
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Lake Balaton, Hungary.
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Hungarian art.
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Our first night in Romania, in Timișoara, only eight years after the revolution began there that ended in the fall of Communism in that country.
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Village life in Romania.
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Village life in Romania – with local kids.
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Village life in Romania – ducks crossing bridge.
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In Skopje, Macedonia.
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In Skopje, Macedonia.
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In Skopje, Macedonia.
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In Skopje, Macedonia.
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In Macedonia.
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In Macedonia.
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In Thessaloniki.
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In Cappadocia, with our friend Masako.
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In Cappadocia – we spent a night in a cave hotel.
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A turkey in Turkey. We were there for American thanksgiving, one of the guys in the guest house we were staying at insisted on having turkey for dinner, so off we went to a village to buy a turkey, but we left before it could be served.
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A boathouse in Olimpos, Turkey.
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Hot spring hotel in Pamukkele. I was so sick on the eight-hour drive that I collapsed when we got to the hotel we splurged on, slept 12 hours, but Naoko got to enjoy the waters.
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Ancient greek ruins in Efes (Epheseus).
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Brindisi, Italy, after taking the ferry from Greece. Trying to do a Nevlana dance on the breakwater…
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Bocca della Verità in Rome.
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San Marino. We were sliding all over the road, almost wiped out.
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Christmas dinner in Diesdorf… without Oma.
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This is how we took “wefies” back in the day…
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New Year’s Eve at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
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Paris, Naoko.
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Paris, Naoko.
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At the Dune of Pilat near Bordeaux.
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new Botanical Gardens area – The Learning Forest

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

We woke up early this morning to explore the new Learning Forest area of the Singapore Botanical Garden, and wow is it ever cool! They just opened it up at the end of March, and I can see from one of the maps that they’re also developing another large section just north of if (the only part that is still untouched is an area that we can see from our balcony). Lots of nice pictures

Swan Lake, 7:00 AM.
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The start of the treetop walk at the Learning Garden, there’s easy access from one side of Swan Lake.
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Bamboo garden
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Tall skinny bamboos
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Bamboo bush
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Cousin Itt bamboo…
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Tall bamboo!!
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Bamboo Crosses Path
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Pathway
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Pond
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Groovy bridge
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Tall tree
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Tall tree with reflection
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Reflection of tall tree…
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Fun pond and promenade
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Groovy
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Naoko in contemplation
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Jungle
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Jungle
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Groovy catwalk
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A perfect arch. That’s the moon up there too…
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Yes, we have no bananas…
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Cool map of the Botanical Gardens. Learning Forest is newly completed, and it looks like there will be a “Gallop Extension”, with some sort of building in there. The untouched area is adjacent to our condo complex, and our pool can be seen at the far left edge.
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My babe likes bananas…
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Ginger flowers at the old access area (no longer Learning Forest)
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Ginger flower.
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Ginger flowers
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Someone practicing sword tai chi.
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Near the Bukit Timah Road exit.
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Bamboo bush
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Balcony view

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

We’ve seen some great sunrises, and some interesting cloud views from our balcony (as well as lovely birds, but we couldn’t get good pictures of them). Here are some of the better shots I took in 2016.

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Singapore Got bird!! balcony

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Singapore balcony

 

Christmas 2016

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

We had a nice, quiet family Christmas this year.

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Both Zen and I got haircuts on Christmas Eve. Don’t we look great?

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Zen got his first vinyl – Imagine Dragons!!

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Hooray, we got Twin Peaks, season 1 & 2!!

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I got some of these records on Christmas, some of them before Christmas (but didn’t have a chance to listen to them).

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We also played squash a lot during the break.

Beijing trip

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

This blog post about my recent trip to Beijing is a work-in-progress.

I saw a lot of enclosed motorcycles in Beijing; but… WHY!?!?
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Little provisions shop where I bought some  beer.
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Quiet lane; felt like Chicago.
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Power to the people.
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Hutong moon.
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Zen’s shop!
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View of the hutong from my hotel.
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Time to hit the road… but first an Asahi!
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Weird control tower looks like a prop from Lord Of The Rings.
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My “window” seat didn’t even have a window!
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Oma and Opa in Singapore

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Oma and Opa came to Singapore again. We had a great time on Saturday pigging out at the Raffles Hotel Ball and Billiard Room for a wonderful buffet lunch to celebrate Oma’s birthday, coming up on January 19th.

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Beth Gibbons, Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath”, and Black Sabbath (1963)

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Check it out – Beth Gibbons (Portishead) joins Gonga to do a version of “Black Sabbath”, from the band’s first album, with a video of images from the 1963 Mario Bava movie Black Sabbath, with Boris Karloff. Brilliant!! Of course, since Beth is singing, they re-name the song “Black Sabbeth“!

Been a long time since I’ve blogged

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Yes, it’s sure been a long time since I’ve blogged, here are a few recent pics.

CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO SEE A BIGGER VERSION OF THAT PICTURE!

Green Lodge no more!

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With our friends the Pinholes!

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Zen at his first at-bat with his new high school team. He earned their first hit of the year, and made first base!! They played at The Padang, a huge field in downtown Singapore.

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Zen fielding third base.

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Zen and his mom!

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Here’s what it looked like the last time Zen was new to a team – that was the Coconuts in 2008.

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Celebrating afterwards with No Signboard Seafood!

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No Signboard Seafood’s famous chili crab.

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No Signboard Seafood’s signboard.

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Bought me some classic vinyl!!

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Nobody on the train with us!!

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Ridin’ the bus!

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Back at No Signboard Seafood with our visitor Mei, from Taiwan.

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At the movies with Zen to see Captain America: Winter Soldier.

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Lots of reviews!!!

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Here’s a bunch of old reviews I’ve written recently.

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The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 – A fantastic volume from the master. No one draws anatomy like Ditko, and his human shapes have marvelous fluidity (even if they are all of similar stature). Here they are also backed by cool little stories, and also some very funky diversity in terms of Shade stories (grotesqueries, drama, politics, and triply sci-fi situations), tons of Stalker (not such a great series), with a never-ending stomp of weird war and horror snippets. There’s a lot to love here.

Shade wasn’t popular enough of a title to run past eight issues, with the ninth already-drawn issue remaining unpublished until we see it here for the first time in an intriguing black-and-white version. It’s fully of byzantine story lines, wild villains like Sude (Supreme Decider), wild adventures in the Meta-zone (Shade’s home), the Earth-zone (our home), and the Zero-zone (a hellish limbo that exists between, that includes the Area of Madness), and nice flashbacks to Shade’s happy earlier times with Mellu, his fiancee-cum-mortal enemy. Villains like Form, Khaos and Cloak are simply just cool, while the evil Gola Zae, Zekie and Dr ZZ thrill. Wild insane faces, cool cityscapes, it’s all a dream come true, not to mention Shade’s weird giant shapes! Also interesting is the barbarian king Xexlo, and his wary cooperation with Shade, a man he wishes to destroy.

Shade is pretty amazing, the all-around hero, who just powers on, like Dr Kimble in the Fugitive. The story is about his eventual vindication, and unfortunately the series was cancelled before we ever got that far.

Somewhat bizarrely, the volume ends with a mini-adventure of The Odd Man, someone we never see Kirby muck around with again.

“The Valley Where Time Stood Still” is about the discovery of a weird valley filled with creatures and individuals from the past – escape! A bit over-drawn, and less distinctive. “The Way-out World of Bertram Tilley” is a Walter Mitty story, but trippier and cooler. “The Devil’s Daughter” is a trippy circus tale about a ringmaster going insane. Nice. “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a silly tale of an overly ambitious apprentice who gets his just desserts, not bad. “Death Played A Sideshow” is about a fake fortune teller getting his unscrupulous just desserts. “The Game Of Death” is about a big white hunter who kills a giant elephant, at the cost of a trampled village, getting his just desserts. “Good For Nothing” is a sad tale of an old man who loves his grandson, despite the kid’s mean parents casting him aside, and how his ghost saves everyone’s life.. time to move on. A touching tale. “The Demon And His Boy” is a crazy tale of a lesser demon conjuring a human boy into his world, and how this tale becomes an ironic turnabout. “Epode” is another Bluebeard story, so what.

Next follow four issues of Stalker, telling the tale of an orphan in a cruel world who sells his soul to the demon Dgrth in exchange for powers, then has a change of heart and wants his soul back. He travels the world battling magicians and monsters, killing them with his amazing martial arts, although he never really seems so fearsome. But the unholy soul-selling stuff is pretty scary, actually, strong stuff for Kirby. Nice battles with a four-armed red demon monkey, the princess Srani and the winged harpie, the sea of snakes, another red monkey, interludes with Dgrth, a three-headed giant, and nefarious negotiations with Dgrth that leaves off a screaming Stalker, with no resolution.

A nutty Plop story about a guy called Hubert who’s in love with a dandelion, called “Love Is A Dandy” (or beware jealous vegetarians). “Ghost, Where Do You Hide” is about a vicious lion tamer and the ghosts of a brutalized lion. “Shrieeeeeek!” is a cool story about a ghost mouse getting its revenge on a cheating dirt bag, one of the very good ones, definitely. “The Day After Doomsday” is a cool post-apocalyptic story about the normals in the countryside defending themselves from mutated city folk. Nice. “The 600 Heads Of Death” is an Easter Island tale of slaughter and revenge. “Man’s Best Enemy” is a Weird War tale of wolf-man virus passing from hamster to dog to human. Crazy! “Raze The Flag” is a not-so-great tale of French pirates fighting the Spanish, and the supposed origin of the Jolly Roger. “Death’s Second Face” is an ironic tale of conjoined twins, separate, one going to the USA, the other enlisted in Nazi Germany, and their ironic reunion in a submarine!!! “Return Engagement” is about a centuries-long Scottish blood feud and its fatal showdown in a modern-day graveyard. Nice. “The Man Who Didn’t Believe In Ghosts” is a cool story about a ghost who wants revenge on the guy who ruined his life… and the ironic conclusion of the tale. Nice one!! “Haunted” is a very cool, ironic story about a haunted house that has its reflections in Beetlejuice. “House Of Devil’s Tail” is about an escaped convict who gets his just desserts in Devil’s House. Nice down South dialogue here. “Star Tracker” is a crazy tale of government robots, information suppression, innocent victims, and Agent Stone going on a swamp-hunt. Wild. “Once Upon A Time Machine” is a silly tale about the origin of fairy tales… funny. “Battle Cry” is a cool story about love and war. “The Planet Of Loathing” is also a cool ironic tale of aliens picking the wrong human to interview about the future of the human race. “With Its Head In The Stairs” is a cool tale of a dictator granting his chief scientist anything he wishes… for a month. Great. “Mating Game” is wild and original take on aliens and human mating, with a string of dancers and a few spider-creatures. Brilliant disguises, too!! “Forecast” is a funny tale about invading aliens listening in on a weather forecast… and what happens to their little attack ships in a snowstorm! “The Last Journey” is a silly story of space exploration. “The Dimensions Of Greed” is an amazing twisted tale of murder and time travel. Love this sort of thing. “On The Day Of His Return” is a cool Santa Claus story. “A Switch In Time” is more time travel irony. “Dead Man’s Eyes” is wild mob irony. “Em The Energy Monster” is finally a slip back into shade territory, with trippy monsters and such.

A very, very nice collection.

SDO2

SDO2

Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 2 – Steve Ditko’s work is great – you can recognize the style from a mile away, with his cloned shapes and rubbery fingers, mouthes, eyes. There’s a great poster of Superman at the start, then three issues of Hawk And Dove. Two brothers blessed with super powers, the duo are constantly bickering over their extreme right wing versus left wing ideals. Guess which on is the “hawk”, and which one is the “dove”. Peacenik, warmonger, soft on crime, inhumane… these are all words that are used. It’s interesting how the duo get into strange situations probably never-before-seen in the history of comics as each takes on criminals in their own way. Naturally, they are also captured, beaten up, and jump through hoops to preserve their secret identities, etc. (Bizarrely, the lastt issue has square word balloons!!)That’s followed by an issue of Man-Bat (and Man-Bat’s hot wife Francine, the blood-thirsting and lusty She-Bat) and an issue of The Demon where they both battle Baron Tyme in some sort of Doctor Strange-ish magical adventure, full of proper demons and everything. Batman even shows up in the former tale, believed to be the only time Ditko ever drew the Dark Knight. Then there are a whole bunch of Starman stories, which are for the most part fairly exciting, although nowhere near as good as Shade (and the story, like Shade’s is left unresolved). I like the story of the young prince, sentenced to death when he loses the race for the thrown, and how his sister later comes onto him, not recognizing him in his Starman suit. Starman is nearly invincible, and without a credible story behind how he arrived at his powers, so it’s really not that hot. But the art is great! In one cool episode they escape from an alien collector, then a prison planet, then they stop a rebellion. I like the green-faced red-eyed Yoda-like creature who mentors him, suitably named Mn’Torr.

The second half of the story are mostly tales of the Legion of Super Heroes, none of which are fantastic, although the first appearance of Blok is nice enough. And seeing all the babe Legionnaires floating around – Shadow Lass, yum! The adventure of Doctor Mayavale was pretty weird (strange villain – he’s earned too much good karma in past lifetimes, so he has to be evil in this one), and the dream situations completely absurd. The issue where they try out new Legionnaires, including Blok, is okay, because we get a look at the lame try-outs Lamprey, Crystal Kid and Nightwind, who think it’s all just some game. Dawnstar makes an appearance here, more as a sidekick to Blok than to Wildfire, and I always say you can never have too much Dawnstar. The origin of Blok is kind of lame – I can’t understand why he hated the Legionnaires so much – but the Starburst gang is kind of cool. “The Exaggerated Death of Ultra Boy” is one weird story, and it’s cool how the amnesiac falls in with pirates, led by the luscious vixen in boots Captain Frake. Then there’s a silly tale on a medieval planet where the Legionnaires fight “Lord Romdur” (or is it… Mordur?!?). There’s a cool battle against the Time Trapper and the Molecule Master in modern-day Smallville, and a Superboy who believes he’s Ultra Boy (and a strangely conflicted Phantom Girl), not to mention more Blok and Dawnstar (yum!). At the very end are three short tales – Black Lightning stopping a murderous hold-up gang in tracks mid-robbery, the Spectre helping ease the pain of a woman conflicted about the death of her twin sister in the Titanic, and a ghoulish tale of Apokalips with the minions of Darkseid competing with one another to give him the nastiest “gift”. Granny Goodness pits herself against Desaad in competing for the most unpleasant item. Definitely the last two stories are the best in the whole collection.

CAV1WS

CAV1WS

Captain America, Volume One: Winter Soldier – With the new Captain America Winter Soldier movie coming out, I thought I’d read the original treatment first. Okay, so here it is – Winter Soldier. Great art, especially details of Cap’s uniform and gear, and nice villainy from the Red Skull, and some rogue Russian general, Lukin. Of course, none of us understand what he’s really after, and there are a few pointless episodes like when Crossbones beats up Cap, then runs away from him “no, it shouldn’t be like this”. Sharon Carter’s around, looking hot, which is nice. Cap has lots of nightmares – they take up a few pages, but they don’t mean anything. There are also a few other pointless episodes, like when Cap beats up random terrorists. Cap’s adversaries keep turning up dead – the Red Skull, Mother Night – as well as some of his partners and allies, like Nomad. Crazy! We see Cap meet Vasily Karpov in the village of Kronas during World War II, where he picks up young orphan Alek, who of course grows up to become Aleksander Lukin.

The series advances the idea that Bucky was a trained killer, the one who did the dirty work that Cap couldn’t, as the symbol of America, wearing the stars and stripes, and the red white and blue. And as Winter Soldier, once its been established that Karpov had recovered him and turned him into a brainwashed agent, he kills many, many people, in the crazy world of undercover spying.

This book contains a funky “interlude”, “The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe”, talking about his final year, his cancer diagnosis, his depression and drinking.

CAV2WS

CAV2WS

Captain America, Volume Two: Winter Soldier – Containing the next six issues of the Winter Soldier story arc, following the death of the Red Skull, and the acquisition of the Cosmic Cube by rogue Russian general turned oligarch Aleksander Lukin, head of Kronas Corporation, and all sorts of other stalemated nonsense. This one focuses on the recovery of the wounded Bucky Barnes, and his transformation into the KGB killing machine Winter Soldier. Nice stuff!

AIM blows up Philadelphia, SHIELD sends in Cap, AIM sends in the MODOC squad of killer robots, Crossbones recovers Sylvia Schmidt, the daughter of… the Red Skull?!? Crazy… There are a few distracting episodes (Cap saves a girl from a rapist), and then a goateed Falcon shows up! More memories of World War II, including one particularly sick episode when the Nazis strap TNT to zombie POWs. Lukin starts to feel the corrupting influence of the Cosmic Cube (it’s some sort of One Ring, right?). Nutty. But there are great plot twists at the end, especially when Cap confronts the Winter Soldier at a Kronas compound under a mountain in Brazil, or somewhere. Nice.

The art is stylish and exciting, really excellent work. Really, it’s best to gaze at the art, rather than read all the words. Wonderful stuff.

Funnily enough, though, now that the movie is out the original comic books don’t seem as good. Somehow, Hollywood took this great source material and made it even better (mostly)! And that hardly ever happens!!

HG

HG

Hulk: Gray – The art in this book is really quite amazing… but then again, so many artists do so well with this amazing material… the HULK, man!!! But even with such majestic material to work with, Tim Sales compositions are truly incredible, iconic, and the coloring is also very nice.

The story is a conversation between Bruce Banner and Leonard Samson, psychologist, and it’s pretty silly. I liked them better as macho adversaries. It’s much better if you just savor the sketches once through before you read through the silly text. Oh well…

The story starts off in black and white, with splashes of green (shades of a gamma-rayed Sin City?), then the great Kirby-style grotesqueries of the book’s regular style. We get into the Rick and Bruce story, the Bruce and Betty story, the Hulk and Betty story, the Hulk and bunny story, as our monster makes a little animal friend in Monument Valley… briefly. We also probe the complicated General Ross and Betty Ross story (with hints of the raving loonie Mrs Ross’ story), while enjoying weird spontaneous battle with a golden Iron Man, various soldiers and helicopters, then the Hulk’s confusion as he hits Betty (and she gets pissed off at him!!!).

Love all of the panels that incorporate the Hulk’s ragged and gapped teeth. Monster time!!

This edition has nice touches, like excerpts from Marie Severin’s “Not Brand ECHHH” version of the Hulk. Sheer fanboy tribute stuff, of course, for one of the few women in comics. Nice sketch gallery at the end.

DZ

DZ

Doctor Zhivago – The Blu-Ray has the great film in full, all 200 minutes of it, as well as documentaries on each half of the film, totaling 40 minutes. The film is, of course, a sweeping fantasy made on a grand scale and no expense spared, with each scene meaningful and well-planned. As such, it’s the perfect platform for the great acting of masters like Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, and Rod Steiger. Geraldine Chaplin is also charming as Zhivago’s teen love and wife, Tonya, and in her eyes we see the face of her father Charlie Chaplin, wrapped up in a pixyish teenage form. Christie is not quite convincing as a 17-year-old virgin, but is probably better than the original suggestion for the role of Lara… Sophia Loren! The film goes on and on and on, and each scene is gripping. I want to read the book quite badly, now. Especially effective is Tom Courtenay, as Lara’s husband Sacha, who we see transform from an idealistic student to a husband haunted by revolution to an empowered Soviet monster. By the end, Zhivago is burned out, and so are we after nearly 3.5 hours, but it’s a great feeling. The DVD documentary is mainly composed of scenes from the film interspersed with comments from contemporary Hollywood people who made big films like ET, Big and War Of The Worlds. One of the fellows, Mikael Salomon, recalls working as a projectionist in a theatre that was showing the film, and the grandiosity of screening the epic. They take apart scenes, including the riot scene (and how it’s played out on Zhivago’s face) that includes the splash of blood on white snow that symbolizes both the sacrifices of the revolution as well as Lara’s deflowering; the suicide attempt and Zhivago’s revelation; as well as Zhivago’s final farewell to his true love. One commentator points out that David Lean had made a cold film as a companion to his earlier films Bridge Over The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia – one in snow, another in jungle, and another in the desert. The economic script is equally highly regarded, and how it uses visuals but not dialogue to suggest events.

The DVD contains a flowing number of special features:
Interactive menu of cast facts
“Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic” – 1 hour – Explains how Doctor Zhivago cost $15 million to make, one of the most expensive films ever made up to that time. After a short period of popular indifference to it, the theme song took off, and then the film was catapulted into fame – the Zhivago look came into fashion (mustaches, etc), and baby girls were named Lara. Rod Steiger is interviewed, defending the loathsome character he plays, and Sharif and other individuals pitch in. There was no compromise for Lean – actresses went under trains and were injured, but he continued the shot. Talk of Pasternak and his parallels with Zhivago, with creepy pictures of him – the Jewish poet who loved two women at the same time, and who didn’t intend for his book to be political (but of course it was). Interview with the real “Lara” in 1993 – Olga Ivinskaya. “An orgy of feelings began for Zhivago when he met Olga”. He wrote for 10 years, won Nobel prize in 1958. Pasternak loved Russia, died there in 1960. The book was only published in Russia in 1988, and Lean’s film released in 1994. Olga did two prison sentences in Soviet work camps, possibly for her connection to Pasternak. How to work a 700-page poem to a 284-page screenplay. Finding a location was tough – Yugoslavia did not feel right. Finland and Sweden didn’t have a studio on hand (although some winter scenes were shot in Finland). So in Spain Lean finds horse riders, extras, technical people, and they build sets there and fake the seasonal changes. Looks great. The ice palace was made out of bees wax. Nicholas Roeg worked on it, but left the production after disagreements. Winter scenes may have been in Spain, but the season of the scenes changed from day-to-day. Roeg was replaced by Freddy Young. Maurice Jarre tells story of writing Lara’s theme, how he came up with the tune but made it sound Russian by adding balalaikas from a Russian Orthodox church in LA. But the 22 balalaika players couldn’t read music, so he had to made sure they understood his hand movements. Meanwhile, in Spain, Generalissimo Franco’s spies discovered the cast singing “the Internationale”, it nearly caused a problem. “Maybe they’ll sing in tune after the revolution.” Steiger’s slap of Lara with gloves was unscripted and real. The womens’ hair was very 1960s. One year in pre-production, one year filming, eight weeks post-production! The Sound Of Music was the big Oscar winner that year.
“Zhivago, Behind The Camera With David Lean” – 10 minutes – Nice documentary with David Lean talking, mentions Geraldine Chaplin’s screen test. “Moscow rose anew outside Madrid.” Lean was correct to the last detail.
“David Lean’s Films And Doctor Zhivago” – 7 minutes – Focuses on incidents around the Nobel Prize Pasternak won in 1958, Pasternak’s life, the film project coming together, the 10-acre Moscow set re-created outside of Madrid. Documentary made for Hollywood Paramount theatre.
“Moscow In Madrid” – 5 minutes – Production shots, propaganda.
“Pasternak” – 8 minutes – Focus on Nobel prize, and explains Pasternak’s charmed life. Tolstoi and Rilke were family friends. The young Pasternak had wanted to be a composer, but ends up a poet. His mother was a piano prodigy. On his death bed, Tolstoi left a message for Pasternak!
“New York Press Interview With Julie Christie” – 10 minutes – Meandering and unedited press interviews. “You are an individual!” Christie’s surprised when her words from an earlier interview are read out to her – airhead? Has an anti-marriage message, and hints that film stars are squares. No privacy, no time, can’t live a private life. Three interviews, with questions like “How do you like the USA as compared to your home country?” “I like New York!”
“New York Press Interview With Omar Sharif” – 18 minutes – No mustache, to our great disappointment, then he’s interviewed by five journalists. Inane banter about beddy time, and mutual friends, partying, who he’s hanging out with. Lots of background noise here. Discussion around how he can remember people’s names if he meets them again in the same location. Goofing around on pronunciation of the name “Zhiavago.” Worried about his future and next project. Ascribes his success to luck.
“Geraldine Chaplin screen test” – 3 minutes – Geraldine does the scene where she’s reading the letter from Zhivago twice.
“This Is Julie Christie” – 1 minute – Fluff, with no original shots of the actress.
“This Is Geraldine Chaplin” – 1 minute – Fluff, with no original shots of the actress.
“This Is Omar Sharif” – 1 minute – Fluff, with no original shots of the actor.
“Chaplin In New York” – 2 minutes – Original shots of Geraldine vamping around the city, some interviewing, and plenty of silly narration: “In some ways she is a teenager, and in some very much a woman; in many ways she is still a star-struck girl, although she is already a star. But in all ways she is Geraldine Chaplin, a bona-fide original. To some she is natural, shy, unassuming. Others know her as the girl who arrived in New York dressed in matching hat, jacket and pants of striped fur. But everyone agrees that Geraldine Chaplin has an effect on people, in spite of herself.”
“Original Trailer” – 4 minutes

The CD contains eight tracks of original music from the film, totaling 22 minutes. Things like the Overture, Lara’s Theme, the end title, and the music of significant scenes from throughout the film.

SD

SD

Duck Soup – The film is fantastic! You get nutty musical numbers (some of which you need to read up on to understand the nuances of), fine physical comedy (the two scenes Harpo and Chico do with the lemonade vendor are instant classics), and the film is well known for its nutty mirror scene. Harpo is less funny in this film, as his humor is all spoken and is often rude and flippant; funnier are Harpo and Chico, who steal every scene they’re in with their nutty dynamics – the vendor scene, the court scene, spying, arrests, everything. Love Chico’s barking dog tattoo!! Zeppo is hardly noticeable in the movie (and when he appears he’s not particularly funny either, at least not in comparison to his brothers). The plot is zany – in economically-struggling Freedonia (this was released during the Great Depression, in 1932), the rich Mrs Teasedale will only provide a loan to bail out the country on the condition that Rufus T Firefly, a genius, is named prime minister; Firefly, played by Groucho, is a moron, of course, and he eventually falls for the bait of the arrogant Sylvanian ambassador to start a war between the two nations (sure, that’s always the solution – start a war). One of the film’s funnier points is often overlooked – why exactly does the uptight Mrs Teasedale think that Firefly is a genius!?!?

Given that there’s no bonus materials to this DVD, do yourself a favor, thoughand read up on this film on Wikipedia or somewhere – it’s a fascinating story about how the film initially wasn’t popular at all, but has come to be regarded as the greatest of the Marx Brothers films.

E

E

Elf – While I definitely don’t find Will Farrell as funny as many people do, I was curious to watch Elf, as I’d heard that it had been done well; I’m also a fan of John Favreau, and hey – it’s got James Caan and Bob Newhart, classic actors who don’t make many films any more! Should be good… right?

Caan is fine, and Newhart’s droll delivery is nice for nostalgia critters, but Farrell’s optimism and good cheer is not really infectious. I found it dull and un-funny, although the back story is heart-warming enough – boy tries to re-unite with his emotionally numbed father. Perhaps because the rest of the film was so bland and uneventful (and at times painfully awkward, even creepy, like when Buddy tries to expose the “fraud” Santa), I found the final battle surprisingly good, making Elf an inversion of what regularly happens: the majority of the movie it great, but it all falls apart at the end when it ties up all-too- neatly. As a comedy, it wasn’t too funny, and the only part where I really had to laugh was Buddy’s snowball fight, where he uses skills he picked up as an elf in the North Pole to his advantage – he pummels his opponents cruelly. Not bad.

This is an infinifilm version, which means it comes loaded with all sorts of software and gimmicks and activities (elf karaoke, make your own storybook, be an elf photo activity, etc), but none of the behind-the-scenes and bonus material that films buffs want.

A3PITB

A3PITB

A3, Power In The Blood – Anyone who got the first release by A3 (or maybe they should be called Alabama 3, as they are in the UK, where there’s less interference from country band Alabama), Exit On Coldharbour Lane (a Stones reference), would think that a band this original and talented could do no wrong. Right? Well, sadly, there’s not a single fun or standout track on the album, except maybe the first track “Two Heads”, which is their jokey twist on Townes Van Zandt’s “Two Hands”, which they steal full songwriting credits on, and brings them right back to that old blues thing. Then there’s also the wonderful narration of Hubert Selby Jr on “The Moon Has Lost The Sun”, which otherwise is not a fantastic song. There’s also a 0:48-second blues version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands”, probably one of his best songs, but here it’s kind of thrown away. Shame.

If you got the first 10,000 pressings of the CD, you would also have gotten a second CD, Acoustic Power, with acoustic versions of two songs each from the band’s three albums (including Power In The Blood). These are “Woke Up This Morning” (yes, the 1997 song, a version of which was used as the Sopranos’ opening theme song), “Power In The Blood”, “Disneyland Is Burning”, “U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Any More”, “Year Zero” and “Mansion On The Hill”. The versions are not that interesting, making this an album that isn’t really worth splashing out on, even for the bonus stuff.

Sorry, I love A3, I just wish I could love this more…

BSHOS

BSHOS

Boredoms, Seadrum: House Of Sun – I have been a big fan of the Boredoms in the past, now I am more likely to find that they live up to their name. I bought this because it got good reviews. I must say, that the CD shell is very handsome indeed!

Inside we get two long songs, “Seadrum” and “House Of Sun”. The former starts off with Yoshimi’s voice, then gets into constant drumming with Yoshimi’s Star Trek TV series opening theme-like wailing, lots of piano noise, the second one is more like a 20-minute drone. So, yeah, the music’s nothing special, actually…

F3

F3

Final3 – This is a neat little double album of ambient noise and sounds. Some of them are near-Godflesh in a “Pure II” sense, or like Jesu soundscapes, without a shred of percussion. Occasionally you get what sounds like keyboard (who knows what it really is). The most Godflesh-like songs are the first, “the light orchestra” and the last “northpole.” Some songs are jittery, others are totally drone-ish from start to end. Only two songs go over ten minutes in length. It’s a nice album to play while you’re reading or doing something that needs a bit of white noise in the background. It’s noise, pure and simple, but ambient noise. Some songs are spacescapes, like “hollow”, and I suppose some songs like “golden” involve some sorts of backwards-recording studio play. “sorry” is totally warped apart, while “not real” is very zen. “long lost” sounds like piano pluckings, sorta, while “not real 2″ is very thick and highly sludgy. “trees” actually has multiple layers – I can hear a bass, and maybe two keyboards! The full 17 minutes of “northpole” are highly impressive in their sinisterness, and the fact that it seems like an actual, real song! Love it all, but I don’t think that I could listen to it all the time either…

The 8-page booklet contains seven pages of bleak black-and-white abstract photographs, and one page of song titles and songwriting credits.

SYTDRBSAR

SYTDRBSAR

Sonic Youth, The Destroyed Room: B-sides and Oddities – Well, this is one cool album of 11 b-sides and rarities, most of which are instrumental. It’s 77 minutes long, 1/3 of that being taken up by a 25 minute-long version of “The Diamond Sea” (which is incredible – you can never have too much Diamond Sea). The opening track “Fire Engine Dream [#]“, a Sonic Nurse sessions out-take, has a cool driving beat, and no matter what dissonance enters the picture, it really just gloms and gloms!! “Fauxhemians” comes from All Tomorrow’s Parties 1.1, and it’s a funky jazzy breakdown. Nice bass solo! “Razor Blade” is a cool short song by Kim, an outtake from the Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star sessions. “Blink” is a cool thing that Kim sang for the Pola X soundtrack, with weird mellow accompaniment. It sounds like something that they recorded on one of their major CD releases, not sure which song… “Campfire” has a lot of cool sounds, some of which sound like bottle rockets going up in the air. A geeky number. “Loop Cat” is a whole bunch of weird loopy sounds – weird, weird weird… and highly experimental throughout. “Kim’s Chords” is a funky instrumental that snakes out and has fun. Very nice indeed, so nice that it became a bonus track for the Japanese edition of Sonic Nurse. “Beautiful Plateau” is a bit noisier, with a lot of great wild edge, growing spastic and over-the-top!! Another Sonic Nurse bonus track. “Three-Part Sectional Love Seat [#]” sort of wanders on pretentiously. Nice track, though, a minor release thing, it goes one and on, often shuffling, and sometimes just noise-ing. Fades right out. Great! “Queen Anne Chair” is pretty funky and it gloms along nicely. All the parts come in at the “2-3-4″. The interplay is fantastic, and the musicians fix together quite wonderfully. Love it!!

The final track is 25 minutes of Diamond Sea/heaven. Worth the price of admission alone, even if just to hear Thurston say the words “blood crystallize to sand”. Great progressions, wonderful noise – love it dearly!!!!!

The booklet is nice, with a gorgeous picture of a destroyed room on the cover, and every page after that devoted to two songs on the album, with a close-up of some part of the album cover (not sure if they have any connection to the songs or not, or if they’re just random).

HOH

HOH

House Of Hades, by Rick Riordan – My son has been a massive Rick Riordan fan since he got The Lightning Thief at age seven, and he’s been reading all of the books over and over again ever since. He’s also read outside of the series on Greek and Egyptian myths, which I think is great, and has become the family authority on mythology as a result.

This book picks up where the previous cliffhanger ending left off – Percy and Annabeth have just plunged into the maw of Hell – so is probably one of the most highly-anticipated stories in the series, at least in my opinion (the climaxes to the first series, and the final book in the Kane Chronicles series, would be similar). It chronicles Percy and Annabeth’s journeys through Tartarus, as well as the voyage of the other demigod heroes into central Europe (Italy, Croatia, Malta and Greece). While Riordan relies heavily on caricatured gods and goddesses, this book is interesting in that he shows the human side to one titan and one giant who are not horrible monsters, and he does it in a near-believable way (at least in the case of the giant, who – as an opposite to the god of war Ares – was built to be more peace-like than any giant really should be). He also brings out interesting aspects of complicated goddesses like Hecate, for example, intriguing us even further. And as if all this wasn’t enough, Riordan even goes out on a limb by showing one of the demigods coming out of the closet!! Wow!!!! It’s still treated platonically, and is more like “he has a crush on him” stuff, but it’s still quite a modern take on teenage life. Nice.

The ending of this penultimate book in the series leads up to the finale, and has less of a cliffhanger than the preceding book did (how could it top THAT???!!!). Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book.

OTbook

OTbook

Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens – I was fascinated when Zen told me that he wanted me to help him get Oliver Twist from the library, as he had read an excerpt of it in one of his school story books and was keen to read the whole book. Since when do 12-year-olds take a shine to Dickens? Nevertheless, I did get the book for him, and he bravely read about 200 pages of it before giving up. Good job, kid!

And, since I’d already taken it out, I decided to read it – I’d never read the book, and it had been many years since I’d read any Dickens at all. Oliver Twist is a fantastic tale! Dickens’ second novel, after the episodic Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist was written by the young writer/editor as a dark, moralistic tale in conjunction with the lighter and farcical tale. It’s a fascinating picture of the seedy underbelly of London of that time, and of the hypocritic and corrupt Victorian society that Dickens lived in. The tale of both repentant and unrepentant criminals is interesting, although too based on coincidence, and also strangely Oliver himself hardly appears in the second half!