Archive for August, 2008

Busy week

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I don’t know what I did this week but work long hours. Ughh… But I did get my box of books, so I have been giving them away to my fans and co-workers. I also have to mail them off to my family. I wonder what the postage is going to be like on that one. I also got my CDs from Amazon, so my collection of Om CDs is nearly complete (I bought “Pilgrimage” last year – you can never have too much Om, even if their brand of drone music all sounds very samey).

CD reviews:

Om, “Variations on a Theme” – Om is such a cool, unique band. It features the drummer and bass player of the awesome band Sleep – the guitarist went off to form the so-so High on Fire, showing where the real talents of the band lay. Om’s lyrics are sort of mystical, whether in a Christian or a general way, without being evangelical, just sort of trippy spacy. Opening track “On the Mountain at Dawn” contains lyrics like “arise to the sky and set free – release toward horizon/ to sun glides the albatross – set onto the skein of freedom.” The bass sound is rubbery and intense, the drums more forming a backdrop, the chanting lyrics may have been delivered by robots and the whole song is measured and repetitive, strolling along at a good walking pace. This, then, forms the template for most of Om’s songs. They do have songs that sound different on their three albums, but most of them follow this pattern. The songs are also very long – on this album there are only three, but two are over ten minutes long and one is over twenty minutes, making it just as long as some albums with eight or nine tracks. In fact, at 45 minutes, this is the longest Om release. The songs blend together and it is nearly impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. This may annoy some, but it also makes for a smooth, trippy ride.

Om, “Conference of the Birds” – The first song of this release is almost a bit jazzy, with the group chanting and droning menacingly to a mellow beat. Then it just goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and om and on and on and on and om and on and on and on, and on and on and om and on and on and on and om and on and on and on, and om and on and on and on and on and on, and om and on and on and on and on, and on and on and on and om and on, and on and on and on and on and on and om and on and on and on, and on and on and on and on, and om and on and on and on…

Movie reviews:


Serendipity – A love story about destiny, like where we have no choice to who will make us happy for the rest of our lives.  Kind of like a more romantic version of “the Matrix” or the Terminator films, but with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale as the perfect couple that need to find each other in order to make the universe whole again.  Good script and interesting situations, the dialogue also crackles with words like “Jungian” and “disenfranchised proletariat.”  Since this movie is about people who find true love, despite already being engaged to someone else, I wonder when they’re going to make a movie about the victims of films like this.  After all, what could be more romantic?


Nico Icon – The cover nearly says it all: “goddess, pop star, jukie, icon.”  The film is spliced with interviews with legends like John Cale and Andy Warhol talking about one of their peers.  Peppered with pictures of one of the most beautiful singers ever, the film is also one of the seamiest this side of “Bad Lieutenant” or “Requiem For A Dream.”  Vicious in her editing, filmmaker Susan Ofteringer quickly jumps from scenes of the beautiful Nico in the late 60s and early 70s, wooing Jim Morrison and Jackson Browne, to the decayed Nico of the mid-80s when she was shooting junk in tour vans and pulling knives on band members.  The film sets up those crazy days of youth when everyone was beautiful and indestructible and could live on rumour and reputation and even keep a small child in tow.  The interviews with John Cale, who sings a song (for Nico?) are just as haunting as the images of the woman, with her unearthly speaking and singing voice.  Also interviews with those no longer with us, like Andy Warhol or Sterling Morrison, are fantastic, as are select cuts from the Warhol films that feature the Velvet Underground and Nico.  One blip is the interview with Carlos de Maldonado-Bostock, a bohemian in Paris, whose credentials and connection to Nico are a bit mysterious.  Why is he in the movie?

Five Year Blog

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Wow, I’ve been blogging five years – first entries are from August 2003! If you don’t believe me, check out the menu at the right.

Here are some pictures of us reading my new book:

Metal Rules!

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Naoko: “Zen, what do you want to be when you are an adult?”
Zen: “I want to be just like Papa.”
Naoko: “You mean his character?”
Zen: “No, how he looks.”
Peter: “So… you want to have a moustache?”
Zen: “No.”
Peter: “So… you want to wear glasses?”
Zen: “No.”
Peter: “So… you want to have a big nose?”
Zen: “Yeah…”

Back from Melbourne, I spent 72 hours in that city.  Monday was a normal day at work, which meant I was there from 8 AM to 7:30.  I got home and Naoko and Zen were partying with three of Naoko’s ex-colleagues.  They gave me beer and dinner and let me pack in peace.  I got out of there at 9:30 in a cab to the airport. I had forgotten how crappy the Singapore airlines flight to Melbourne is – that’s the one that takes off at 23:30 Singapore and lands at 6:30 Singapore time (8:30 local time). Yes, it’s a 7-hour long night flight. To make the flight go better they serve dinner at 2:00 and then breakfast at 4:00. I had a very nice dinner at 8:00, I don’t know why Singapore Airlines thinks that they can outdo what my loving wife served me in my own home, but it seems that they think they can. This flight could have been vastly improved if they had quickly served a small, tasty snack at take-off, and then breakfast as close to landing as possible. Some people pointed out “you should have waived the meal,” but even if I’d been informed that there were two meals on the flight (I wasn’t), waiving them wouldn’t have automatically let me sleep on since there’s a lot of commotion involved with serving a meal in economy class.

I got to Melbourne all right, and I checked into my hotel early. Went to do three interviews, which was fun and nice, and then to hang out in Melbourne a bit. I found a cool comic book and toys shop, but the didn’t have any of the obscure things I was looking for. I also found a cool CD shop that sells EXACTLY the kind of music that I like, but they had none of the CDs I was looking for (although they had many of the obscure CDs that I do own). Got a flyer to a rock show on Thursday night, so I made plans to go to that.

Had a dinner with the conference people, then went out to meet a friend, then back to the room to sleep sleep sleep.

The alarm went off and I felt like I was waking up from a coma. Ughhh…

The first day of the conference went well, although I was stuck in the conference place a bit too long. In the evening they had a great big party for all attendees. I was the first one there, and tried out their “floating heads” gimmick that puts people in front of a blue screen so that they can lip-sync to a song, while their heads float around on animated bodies. The idea is to keep your head synced up with the video. Good fun – I sang “Wild Thing.” They burned me a VCD of it, but now I cannot find it, unfortunately… boo hoo. The big room party included lots of burlesque entertainment (“See girl sawn in half!! See scenes from Chicago!!! See scenes from Moulin Rouge!!!!”) that was good fun. They had people doing amazing things with hula hoops, they had girls spinning on ropes, and they had fat men on a trampoline. They had “name that tune” which was good fun, and the winners had to sing a karaoke-like song. Then they started with the bands, and there were dozens of musicians rotating onstage. One of the guys was the lead singer of the Beasts of Bourbon, a guy called Tex Perkins who is tall and gangly and wears a suit and sings dramatically, tossing his shoulder-length hair around so that you can’t help but be reminded of Nick Cave. They sang tons of great songs, and I danced like a maniac – so much so that I drew the attention of some of the guests. They finally did a song “for the brothers and sisters who are no longer with us” which was, of course, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Good stuff, guys. After that I went upstairs to the pub Fusion, which has a good band on Wednesday nights (at least it did last year) and I got in there one minute before they finished. D’oh!!! After that it was disco time, so I stayed for a bit to watch the attractive disco party people do their thing, but then headed home.

Thursday – woke up and felt great! But my legs were stiff from all the dancing. Ouch! Managed to get to the event, had some food, listened to some sessions, and in the evening went back, packed, and headed out to my own party. That was at the Colonial Hotel, where three local heavy metal bands were due to play. Got there just after it opened, the security guy took one look at me and asked me “do you even know where you are?” I guess I looked too old, or maybe he saw my mustache and assumed I liked other kinds of things for my entertainment. Oh well. The place had three floors, two of which played music. Good stuff – I heard The Stooges, Fugazi, and other good stuff. Melboulne seems like a cool place to hang out. The first band came out – Night Plague – and they did all of the corny death metal/Pantera things. The lead singer was a dude with a great headband, nice piercings, long hair, and a throaty growl. The two guitarists and the bass player took over and did all the great posing things, including spinning the hair in a circle. One of the guitarists was brilliant. He stuck around for the next band, whose name I wish I could remember. They were six people – same guitar dude and a keyboard girl, another guitarist, another bass player, a lead singer, and a really great drummer. They started their set and just went nuts, especially the bass player who was hopping all over the place, shaking his fist in the air. They had a lot of technical problems, and only one of the guitarists, the drummer and the lead singer really had their sound coming through, but they all had fun nonetheless jumping all over the place. The audience seemed to be digging it, and even the bored model in the corner was actually singing along! I took some pictures, wish I’d taken a video. It was the nuttiest night of live music I’ve seen since I was in Japan. Great, great, great… I left before they finished their set, I bet the third band was pretty good. Went home, packed, watched TV, slept.

Friday the 15th – Strange day. I took a taxi to the airport, the driver was an odd man from Ethiopia who spoke terrible English, I could hardly understand him. His driving was terrible too, he was swerving a bit on the road. He nearly took a wrong turn too. I got to the airport and I saw that Singapore Airlines had opened four check-in boothes for the regular passengers and four for the internet check-in people. The queue for the regular check-ins was really long and the internet check-in queue was empty. I guess internet check-in is the new priority pass. It seems a bid pedantic of the airline to let people who aren’t smart enough or informed enough (or who, like me, lacked a computer and an internet connection in Australia) to rot in a long queue just to teach them a lesson. But what should I expect from an airline that serves dinner at 2:00 AM.

I went through the customs, went through the security search, and when I got through the metal detector and the X-ray scan I was asked to go through a random spot check. I don’t know what good a random spot check will do after all the security, but I had no choice but to concede.

Happily the rest of the flight went well. I watched three in-flight movies and a TV show (the Simpsons) and nothing froze, the sound didn’t break up, and no ninnies interrupted me. I got to Singapore, Naoko and Zen were at the airport, and we went home and chilled out. Another trip out of the way.

Saturday we hung out in the morning. In the afternoon I went to visit my new guitar teacher to see what kind of person he is and figure out if he will be a good teacher. He seems quite good and cool and from next week he’ll come to my pad to teach me for 45 minutes. That will cost a bit more, but it will save me from lugging my equipment downtown every week.

Sunday we hung out, and then I went to Zen’s swimming lesson in the afternoon. I started researching about how to publish my novel. Step 1: reach out to literary agents!!!

The “Chicago” revue
Chicago Line

Tex Perkins of the Beasts of Bourbon performing in Melbourne
Tex Perkins

Angry Anderson of Rose Tattoo performing in Melbourne
Angry Anderson

Melbourne city, seagull
Melbourne City

747, ANZ advertisement

Movie reviews:

Asterix and Obelix at the Olympic Games – good, solid fun. Gerard Depardieu is nearly unrecognizable under his Obelix costume. Asterix is a loveable, albeit temperamental, short fellow. The Gauls and the Romans are crazy, everyone has a good time, people scream at each other, and there are interesting light sabre jokes. I laughed out loud a couple of times, forgot what they were but it was a charming movie. Interesting cameos – there’s Michael Schumacher as the leader of the German chariot team, also a cameo by Zidane as a proto-soccer player (the Greeks apparently experimented with a ball for kicking and considered calling the new sport “feetball”), and Jamel Debouzze (best-known for being married to the most beautiful woman in the world, French TV reporter Melisse Theuriau).

The Orphanage – My colleague loves this film, but I found it unbearably similar to a hodge podge of films, including “Ringu,” “the Vanishing, “the Sixth Sense,” and of course also “the Others.” A woman moves back to the orphanage she grew up in so that she can help kids with disabilities. She has an adopted son who starts to see dead people, but who disappears suddenly one day. She begins to uncover secrets about the place in her quest to find out why her son disappeared. At the end there is a resolution of sorts, and then the movie is over. I found myself wondering lots of strange things about this family: why do they want to move into the middle of nowhere? Is their project a commercial enterprise or social work? Why do they seem so wealthy if they’re pumping money into keeping a decrepit mansion under operation? And why is the husband so patient with his half-insane wife?

Son of Rambow – a very quirky film, this is a story of two kids with difficult family situations (the sensitive arty kid’s from a Quaker-like family but his dad died a few years back, the bully kid’s mum and dad are divorced and both absent from the home and he’s “looked after” by his poncy older brother) who begin a film project, which is to recreate a kid’s version of First Blood. Improbably, the two become friends, and there is a warm and tender scene that demonstrates it. Complications arise when the French kids arrive in a bus for their semester overseas and terrorize the British kids. Weird. Crazy. Fun. Of course there is conflict and reconciliation and a quirky ending. Not a fantastic film, no Napoleon Dynamite, but a fun kids film nonetheless.

Asia’s Banking CEOs

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Wow, a big big day – my book came out! Cool stuff. I took it to work this morning and gave it to my big boss, who is responsible for the whole thing in the first place, and he was really delighted with it. I had a great day after that. One of my bosses put out an email letting the company know that my book had come out, and I got a few congratulatory emails, sometimes from people I didn’t really know well. One of my colleagues said “hey, this means you’re a writer now,” and I just had to laugh – I’ve been a writer longer than she’s been at our company, but she meant it in a different way and was happy for me so that’s all good. I got home and there were people here, so I had some food, watched Zen fall asleep near me, and had some beer. Now I’m writing my blog!

Today is also special for another reason – it’s the day the Large Hadron Collider opens in Switzerland. The Economist calls it “the world’s largest machine,” it is a 27 kilometer ring carved into the Alps at the cost or $10 billion, the most significant improvement in this sort of technology for a generation – 25 years. It is supposed to prove the existence of the Higgs boson and – who knows – particles that are responsible for gravity that could be called “gravitons” the way we have electrons and protons. Dark matter, which is believed to compose 22% of the universe, and dark energy, which is believed to compose 74% of the universe, the “Hawking radiation” that might be produced by black holes large and small, all that good stuff. Let’s see if it paves the way for our understanding of the universe by being better, stronger, smarter.
Besides all this stuff – what else? Today Zen had a fun day from school, he went to school in the morning rather than in the afternoon and there was an assembly for Singapore National Day where he got to do activities and sing songs. After that he and Naoko came out to see me near work. First I took them to the nearby TV network’s office and studio to give them a tour and we had a really great tour from one of the producers. So now Naoko and Zen know what that looks like and can understand that part of my experience. After that we went to eat Korean food, which was nice for a change. I had to go off to work, and they went back home and had a nice day together.

This week was pretty good. The weekend before it was nice too – I took Zen to see the Malaysia train on Saturday evening and then after that we went to eat satay and carrot cake and drink beer (me) and 100 Plus (Zen). We went home and met Naoko. A nice weekend, although I did writing and other work too.

Peter’s book
ABC book 01
ABC book 02

Naoko’s pretzels

Zen’s satay
Zen satay

Zen and the flowers
Zen flower

Peter and Zen climb the $2 tree
Peter Zen tree

DVD review:

David Gilmour: Remember That Night, Live At The Royal Albert Hall – Wow, over five hours of David Gilmour. I have to say first off that watching this always makes me think of Pink Floyd in Pompeii. At that time David Gilmour bore a striking resemblance to Leonardo Dicaprio, whereas in this he bears a striking resemblance to Malcolm McDowell or Terrence Stamp, but with less hair. He’s onstage at the Royal Albert Hall, very much the leader of his band of 10 musicians, many of whom are there to recreate the multiple guitar parts of his Pink Floyd and solo songs. Included from his solo albums are only songs from the recent “On An Island” (nothing from “About Face” or “David Gilmour”, for some reason) and he brings David Crosby and Graham Nash to sing harmonies with him. Crosby, Gilmour and Nash sound great, although Crosby and Nash look funny – the former short and paunchy with his hands in his pockets all the time and the latter both boogying and grimacing strainingly as he sings. For a hippy bluesman, it’s a bit odd that Gilmour has such a posh accent, but those guitar solos are great, even if he is also a bit paunchy and makes frog faces as he makes his guitar grown and wail. He mostly plays his all-black Stratocaster, although he does pull out a gold Les Paul for a song, and also a flesh-coloured Telecaster, as well as various Turkish string instruments, slide guitars, and at one point a saxophone. Disc 1 is a full concert recording of one of the band’s nights at the Royal Albert Hall. Gilmour starts the album with three songs from Dark Side of the Moon – “Speak to Me,” “Beathe”, they skip “On the Run,” then play “Time.” It’s odd, to me, to not hear the full album (I never listen to single songs from that album if I don’t have to) but those three songs sound good, especially the saxophone solo done by Dick Parry, the original performer from Dark Side of the Moon recording – he switches from a baritone sax to a tenor sax without skipping a beat, great stuff. Gilmour and the band then plays the full new album, and it’s tight and meaty, with two songs featuring Crosby and Nash, and one with Robert Wyatt of Soft Machine playing the trumpet from his wheelchair. After a break, they come out and play “Shine On Your Crazy Diamond”, which for a while is just David Gilmour and Richard Wright behind his impressive bank of keyboards. There is a very nice version of “Fat Old Sun” from the “Atom Heart Mother” album, and also an impressive “Echoes”… which does hearken the listener back to Live At Pompeii… These people have come a long way in 35 years. “Wish You Were Here” feels very personal before it picks up in a band thing. David sings “Find The Cost of Freedom” with Crosby and Nash, one of their songs, before bringing out David Bowie to sing “Arnold Layne” and “Comfortably Numb.” It might be hard to imagine Bowie singing Pink Floyd songs, but he does a great great job and makes it sound natural (interesting how I also bought a Bowie CD on the same day, “Live Santa Monica “72″). The solo from “Comfortable Numb” is stunning, especially the lead-out version, which just screams and screams and screams. Dear Lord!!! The crowd were dancing in the aisles, it was terribly moving.

But ultimately, while the cameramen do get some nice shots of David soloing and do zoom in on his fingers (one of the main reasons I bought this) the concert suffers a bit from a lack of attention to this point and also some choppy jumping around from player to player, and also an odd “over-the-precipice” camera boom shot that they throw in from time to time that looks like it is the same shot over and over again (you couldnt’ tell if it was taken at a different time in the concert, since it was so far from the stage). But this is not a major problem in the video, since there is plenty of everything to please the viewer and the Pink Floyd fan, especially the nuggets and the great guest features.

Disc 2 has nice songs on it, as well as some documentaries. For the songs, they do “Arnold Layne” and “Comfortable Numb” with Richard Wright instead of David Bowie from the other nights at the Royal Albert Hall and it’s not quite the same – Wright does seem a bit stodgy and square, he clearly has none of Bowie’s mojo. Theres also a nice version of “Wot’s… Uh, the Deal” from “Obscured by Clouds”, one of the nuggets they dug out and a very nice one indeed. Also some Syd Barrett songs “Dominoes” and “Dark Globe.” A cool live-in-the-studio verson of “Astronomy Domine,” an impromptu rendition of a part of “Echoes.” There are five songs performed in the BBC Mermaid Theatre that were part of the first public performance of the album. The video for “On An Island” is very nice, especially the solo which shows David playing in his room of guitars. Smile has background vocals from Polly Sampson, Gilmour’s wife, a sweet ballad.

There are also some good documentaries, such as 45-minute “Breaking Bread, Drinking Wine” about the “On An Island” tour. They band rehearse in the UK at the same production area that Roger Waters is also renting a part of, so there’s a scene of the two having a brief chat and hugging (lots of hugging in this one) and also Nick Mason appearing with David’s drummer Steve DiStanislao. Hanging out with Crosby and Nash and Bowie (3D, as in three Davids – Bowie, Crosby and Gilmour), David practising saxophone, and then going on tour. They play a castle in Linz, and David does “Dark Globe,” his first performance since Syd Barrett died and the first time he’d ever practiced or performed “Dark Globe.” They play at an old Roman amphitheatre in Vienne in France, and of course they reference Pompeii by showing the band doing “Echoes.’ They play in the Florence piazza, then also in San Marcos square in Venice where they run into all sorts of logistics problems. There are fun incidents about playing water glasses onstage, and when they run into a street performer who does this in Venice they drag him onstage with them. At the end they meet Lech Walesa and play the shipyards of Gdansk on the 26th anniversary of the Solidarity movement, which is moving. Before the documentary starts a message says “when you see this special mark press enter to see extended content” which means you don’t have to hunt around for secret easter eggs to access stuff like this.

A 17-minute documentary on the making of “On An Island” is not as good, although you do get a sort of tour of the Astoria, which is Gilmour’s houseboat recording studio on the Thames. There are some stories about the inspirations for some of the songs, and tales of how the lyrics got added and why. There’s also five minutes of backstage images from the west coast of the US, which are only interesting because Jude Law shows up, and maybe Crispin Hellion Glover (but I’m not so sure if it’s him or someone else).

And a photo gallery.

CD review:

David Bowie: Live Santa Monica ’72 – Bowie on tour in 1972 with his Spiders From Mars and very into his Ziggy character, who he killed off at the end of the tour. It was Bowie’s fourth album, if you don’t count that weird first album that had “the Laughing Gnome” on it. Mick Ronson, who died in 1993. He runs through the songs we all know well from the albums with a few glitches – Ronson’s guitar roars at times, sputters at others – with only Space Oddity sounding a bit off with the humming instead of the crescendoing noise of Major Tom’s liftoff. “My Death” is a great acoustic song, part of a set with “Space Oddity” and “Andy Warhol.” The best song on the CD is “The Width of a Circle, which just goes on for over 10 blistering minutes. The CD comes in a pretty card envelope, also a booklet and poster and four cards done like promotional posters of the time. Nice stuff, but nothing really very inspired or worth the premium I paid with it.

Electrico – We Satellites

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Long time no blog. But there’s not too much to report here in fact… I’ve been working hard, Naoko has been baking lots of yummy stuff, and Zen has been studying hard: he has his regular primary school, he takes Japanese lessons on Saturdays, swimming lessons on Sundays, and now he’s learning how to play softball on Sundays as well. It’s good fun. In July we had a special visitor who came to see us twice – Peggy Yang! She was my student in Taiwan in the mid ’90s when she was only a little older than Zen, now she’s 20 years old and doing an internship here in Singapore. Yay, Peggy, thanks for coming to visit us.

Peggy and Zen
Peggy Zen

Peggy and Peter and Naoko
Peggy Peter Naoko

Zen with Naoko’s latest creation
Zen buns

Zen with his first baseball glove (Mizuno, black)
Zen Glove


Zen singing a local version of “Frere Jacques”

Zen and the Malaysia train

Zen’s finger tricks

CD review

Electrico: “We Satellites” – Electrico is one of Singapore’s most high profile bands (it’s a relative term), and they combine keyboard dancibility with guitar rock. In this way they are similar to Coldplay but not quite as dull. In this way it’s almost possible to listen to an entire album without getting restless. The opening track “Zero” is a short, groovy electronic experiment and it then goes right into “Save Our Souls,” a moody tune with that buzzing, soaring guitar drone providing that kind of tense counterpoint that I like so. Maybe a little bit like “Machines Of Loving Grace,” but not quite as dark. “The Slaves And The Digits” is a reggae rocker with cool keyboards (I can’t believe I’d say that) and a wild bass sound, it’s quite good fun. “We Satellites” is a punchy rocker, and the lead singer has a pretty good voice, and all the other components are there – restrained use of keyboards, good guitar effects, nice bass, and a steady drummer. The band’s attempts at ballads are less successful, and are actually quite awful. Sorry guys – great production for a band that has improved since I last heard them, but there’s still a bit of work to be done.

Book Review

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – by Paul Torkay – This is a very unusual book about a fisheries expert who is approached by mysterious people who seem to have a lot of money to engage on a foolish mission to introduce salmon to Yemon. Tigers in Antarctica, squid in the Himalayas, flamingos in Iceland, pandas on the moon. Maybe, why not? The story is told in a series of letters, emails, testimonials and transcripts, so you get a good sense of the unreliable narrator as various points of view of the same incident, but in a more natural way than perhaps Rashomon or the like, since there was no crime, just a project unfolding and coming to its natural conclusion. Some of the characters are a bit caricature-ish, particularly the main henpecked narrator and his shrew of a wife (who has concluded that you need an income of over 70,000 pounds a year to support children, etc.). The mysticism of Sheikh Muhammed is a bit hard to take for someone who has never met a whiskey-sipping mystical sheikh, but the loving descriptions of the geography of Yemen, the sport of fly fishing and the life cycle of the salmon, as well as some brilliant character sketches make this a book well worth reading.