Archive for March, 2008

Long Time No Blog!!

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Wow, finally time to write this blog… I was incredibly busy in January and February, but things are clearing up a bit temporarily and I can go home as early as 7:30 these days. So everything is looking up.

Amazing – I haven’t blogged since early January…

Since then many things have happened.

Zen is now three months in to his first year of primary school. I wish that I could say that he’s doing well, but he’s struggling a bit. The good news is that he loves his teacher and he has friends, he enjoys being in the school, and he’s not being bullied too much, he’s used to the schedule, and he has plenty of energy and is healthy. Nothing is bugging him, wearing him down, or making him unhealthy about his new environment. On the down side, he’s not doing as well academically as his classmates, and on his tests (yes, he has tests already) he doesn’t perform very well. He also doesn’t quite follow instructions from the teacher, and he doesn’t copy messages about homework assignments into his notebook. But at least he’s come a long way in the two and a half months that he’s been there. His reading and writing has improved tremendously, and his self-confidence is up. If he can improve as quickly as he has so far, he could be up to speed eventually, and maybe even surpassing the other kids. Let’s see. Naoko is giving him a lot of attention after schools, and so am I when I can. Naoko will quit her job in June so that she’ll have even more time to spend with Zen – like in the mornings before he goes to school from 12:00 to 6:45 – which is good. She’ll try to find some part time work, either at her current employer’s or at another place. Let’s see.

Other events:

Zen’s grandmother and grandfather (Oma and Opa) came to Singapore for six weeks, and together we enjoyed Christmas, the New Year, and Oma’s birthday. We ate out in restaurants twice – La Pasta Fresca on Bukit Timah Road and Original Sin in Holland Village (yummy!). Oma and Opa went to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, which we’d like to do too when Zen gets a bit bigger and takes more to the idea of clambouring around on ruins and seeing temples (which currently spook him somewhat). We also went to the bird park together on day.

I finished the manuscript for my book, which I turned in to the publishers. That will be published in mid-year, like in June or July. Can’t wait for it to come out, hope it all turns out well. I’ll still have several rounds of checking proofs and stuff like that, tiring, but it will be worth it. I hope it gains some interest. Yay, a published author…

I got myself a new iMac, which was good. I had some troubles transferring all of the datafiles, and getting all of my applications up and running, but now it works well, yay. I bought myself a router so that the old computer (now Zen’s) can have Internet access. The DVD drive conked out late last year, and I worried about not being able to back up valuable files (like photos), but instead of getting the drive repaired (had bad experiences with that) or fiddling around with a new external CD-drive for reading and writing, I simply bought a new unit. This one is faster, quieter, cooler, has a new OS, and is just as loveble as the old one. One “problem”, though – the newest version of iMovie is way lousier than the old one!!! Basically, iMovie 08 is as user un-friendly and limited as a piece of Microsoft software, while the older one has the elegance you come to expect from an Apple product. I wonder what happened there. I’ve tried out both on the new computer, and I definitely won’t be using the newer version much, it has almost no improvements on the older one, and leaves out essentials that the old one had. Weird, I wonder what happened there. I’m supposing that the next version of iMovie will offer the best of both versions, maybe a toggle between the two “views,” but that’s something for later.

I had a business trip to Japan that went quite well. I stayed at my brother’s for three nights, and on the fourth day off I went back to Singapore. In and out, 13 meetings later, and back home. Wow. Met a lot of lot of lot of bankers. Didn’t do anything really interesting, although I did buy three CDs from my favourite Japanese bands (Boris, Matsutoya Yumi, and Spitz), got an interesting talking toy for Zen, and ate some good food one night with Ralph in Shinjuku. No concerts, though, unfortunately.

One Saturday Zen and I went to eat burgers at Carls Jr. Yummy food, but we made the mistake of ordering too many fries. We’ll do it differently next time. Then we went off looking for guitars, first to Yamaha, then to all of the other guitar shops around there. Every time we asked them for a kids guitar (for Zen) or for an electric guitar (for me), they looked at me funny. Jeez. In the end we found our way to Swee Lee Music, where I had bought my left-handed Fender Stratocaster, my Laney amp, my Digitech Distortion Factory pedal and my Crybaby wah over a year ago. They had a nice little Ibanez Mikro for Zen and an Epiphone Les Paul Studio for me, so I picked them up and headed home to play. Nice, nice, nice. Unfortunately, the Mikro is a bit too heavy for Zen, and he can only play it for two minutes at a time before he complains about the crushing weight. Oops. Maybe he’ll have to wait until he’s nine or ten years old before he plays it regularly, but at least he’ll have it. And who knows, maybe Naoko will even have fun playing it.

After one aborted attempt, we managed a getaway to a resort on nearby Bintan Island, which belongs to Indonesia but looks and feels more like a concession owned and operated by Singapore Inc. Because I didn’t buy an expensive package from a travel agent, I booked the hotel first and then the ferry. Well, the ferries were full, so I had to delay the trip, which was a disappointment to Zen and Naoko but as it turned out that would have been a bad weekend for me to go work-wise, so it was better. The weekend we did go also had its share of logistic complaints – many phone calls and emails and fiddling around on the internet before I could get the ferry tickets sorted – but then when we went it was all right. The ferry ride was only 55 minutes long, and quite nice. The transportation at the ferry terminal was relatively efficient, as was check-in. The resort was okay – the building is nice, although the room wasn’t anything special. We went for a swim, then went to the beach at low tide and ran around and jumped in the waves and enjoyed the festive atmosphere of being together with lots of happy beach families, went back to the room and had some beer and snacks, walked around, went for an expensive dinner, went for a sleep. The next morning we woke up and walked on the beach, which had shrunk down quite a bit in the high tide to a narrow strip, went for another swim in the pool, dug around in the sand on the beach again, got a lot of sun, checked out, spent some more time on the beach, and then went back to Singapore happy. The customs was okay, the ride was all right, and when we got to Singapore we only had to wait 20 minutes for a taxi. Not too bad.

The weekend after we went to Bintan was my business trip to Vietnam. I worked until 2:30 in the morning the night before, got home, slept at 4:00, woke up at 8:00, went to the airport sad at 12:30, checked in with my colleagues, got to Ho Chi Minh City where I had to transfer, went off to get my visa-on-arrival from the window in the brand new airport that had the two guys in it gathering together the passports of 100 travelers. It took 45 minutes for my colleague and I to get our visas, which apparently is faster than it used to be. It then took another 45 minutes until we were through customs, then to collect our luggage, then hustle off to the domestic airport to catch our flight to Hanoi, getting there sweaty and tired and onto the flight. Yuck. Off to Hanoi on a flight full of noisy hairdressers, then a pickup from the hotel shuttle and off to join our colleagues for hotel food and meetings. Sunday we woke up early for a briefing, then lots of work and tension and three days of little sleep. But it was a fantastic event with really great speakers and lots of good vibrations. Monday night we went off to a nice dinner at a great riverside restaurant in a nearby village that was cobbled out of parts from a temple in a town many miles out of town. Interesting. Great outdoor seating, and decent food and music. Tuesday night we went out again after the whole thing was over. We jumped into a cab and headed off to the lake in the centre of town. We walked along a dock and got into a boat that had one big table in the middle of the main cabin. I thought “oh, this is nice, we’ll sit on this floating restaurant that’s going to stay moored up against this dock,” but then after we’d ordered and had a few drinks, sure enough the boat set off. It was a nice enough meal, and the boat cruise was lovely. We got back an hour later, and sure enough we spent less that S$100 for the seven of us to eat and drink in a lovely setting. Nice. Went back to the hotel and worked until 2:30 in the morning. I had to check out of the room at 3:30 AM since my flight back to Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore departed at 6:30, so that was a sleepless night. No matter, I slept in the cab, I slept in the waiting area, I slept in the flight to Ho Chi Minh City, on the flight to Singapore, and in the cab back home. Got home at 2:30 or so, did a bunch of chores, Naoko came back at 5:30, Zen came back at 6:45, we had a family dinner.

Thursday was a quiet day at work, since very few of my colleagues were around, so that was actually quite nice. Friday was a national holiday and I don’t remember doing anything at all. In fact, maybe I just stayed at home all day without even going out once. Have to do that too some times. Saturday I ran errands downtown – took the video camera to the Sony shop to get it serviced for a small issue (no sound coming out of the build-in speaker when I play back tapes, same for when I hook it up to a TV and run the video over a cable, although the sound is recorded intact when I import it into the computer). Went to Swee Lee to pick up a few more guitar accessories (guitar stand, soft strings for Zen’s guitar), then back home to do more work. Sunday, I don’t remember what we did, although later on we did go for a swim.

Peter’s new Epiphone Les Paul Studio

We’re a guitar family

Zen’s rock ‘n’ roll pose

Horiike-san, photo by Zen

Horiike-san playing Zen’s mini-guitar

Bagel picture

Zen on Bintan with a garuda statue in the background

Bintan beach girl

Bintan beach boys

Bintan beach boy

Do the Strand

Bintan Lagoon Resort lobby

Kai’s birthday party

Dragon dance!

Opa and Naoko

Zen and “Snoopy”, his pet doggy…

Peter Naoko Zen at the bird park indoor waterfall

Peter Naoko Opa, photo by Zen

Opa, Oma and Zen

Evan and Lauren
Evan Lauren

The Yokohama Hofliches
Yokohama Hofliches 01

Bird Park penguin, by Zen
Zen Penguin

Peter pic

Peter with Opa
Peter Opa

Zen rose
Zen Rose

Oma and Opa in Cambodia!
Oma and Opa in Cambodia 01

Oma and Opa with Cambodian tree

Cambodian tree
Cambodia Tree

Cambodian Sunset
Cambodia Sunset

His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman

I’d been keen to read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy for some time, and I even bought the first two books. Oddly, however, I don’t really find the series lives up to its perceived reputation. Pullman is considered a storyteller in the vein of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, JK Rowling, and all of the other fantasy writers whose names start with initials. Pullman seems like a weird sort of atheist – very against the structures of the church, so he creates a fictional theology of his own in order to demonstrate how it works doesn’t work in a fictional world. Sort of like a Richard Dawkins, but without the constraints of grounding his crusade in a real world. The main character Lyra is compelling in the first book, as is the tale of her parents. It some falls apart in the second book, when a new character comes into the scene and she shrivels somewhat and becomes secondary. The second book introduces interesting characters that are fallen angels in love, and being to get lost in a murky cosmology that doesn’t really make any sense no matter how much you think about it. Lots of promise, but not enough delivery. Lyra is supposed to be “The One,” kind of like Thomas Anderson in the Matrix or Harry Potter or Anakin Skywalker, but nobody’s really sure why. She was just born that way. The final battle between the armies of evil and the armies of evil is not very well described, and a journey through the land of the dead seems pointless as well. I had no idea what was going on and why. Oh well…

Matsutoya Yumi – seasons colours – spring summer fall winter

Grinderman – Grinderman

Grinderman is a garage scum band headed by Nick Cave and including some of the Bad Seeds. It doesn’t sound too different from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds except that it is not as gloomy, it is rockier, it is more experimental and extreme and weirder than Nick’s work with the Bad Seeds, which takes itself pretty seriously. “Get it on” is a great fuzzy buzzy grunge number full of words like “stratocaster” and “pornographic crown.” Good fun, good sounds, very original. Stuff like “No Pussy Blues” may be edgy, but at its heart it’s still just a song about a guy who can’t get laid. Great guitar squeal, though. “Electric Alice” is very Indian and droney. The self-titles song on the self-titled album is a strange mellow tune that has lots of guitar freakout, seemingly played by Nick Cave himself (although it may just as well be Warren Ellis). “I Don’t Need You (To Set Me Free)” is a pretty normal-sounding song, and “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly To Mars)” is demented weirdness with Nick buzzing like as… bee. A song like “Man in the Moon” sounds like it could have been on “No More Shall We Part.” Grinderman now makes an interesting diversion for Nick Cave – in the past few years he’s begun releasing toned down soundtracks such as “The Proposition” and “The Assassination of Billy The Kid By The Coward…”, his regular Bad Seeds stuff, and now Grinderman. While there’s some overlap, each is a different field – soundtracks are mellow, the Bad Seeds are intense, and Grinderman is from Mars.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

I wasn’t too fussy about the last two Nick Cave CDs – “Nocturama” and “Abbatoir Blues” – much preferring the mellow trilogy of “No More Shall We Part”, “Murder Ballads” and “The Boatman’s Call.” “Dig Lazarus Dig” has a lot of instant appeal to me, with a cracklin’ opening title track, which is sort of derivative of Louie Louie while also getting into some of the mad storytelling that Nick has done so well in songs like “(I’ll Love You) Until The End of the World” and “Scum.” The other songs on the album tell stories and are a lot of fun. “Today’s Lesson” has its cheezy keyboard sounds and rousing chorus. “Moonland” is moody and has good guitar sounds. “Night of the Lotus Eaters” is delicious voodoo swamp. “Albert Goes West” is about guitar sounds and band yelling, great great great. “Call Upon The Author” is more lathering madness, full of lit-rock $10 words. “Hold Onto Yourself” is a cool mellow crooner that sounds like it could have been on “No More Shall We Part.” Cool white noise in the background next to the groovy guitar. “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl)” is a funky ’50s rocker full of sneers and backing band vocals.