Archive for September, 2008

Formula 1 in Singapore

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Last week a good friend of mine sent me an invite to see the Formula 1 in Singapore. Great, a chance to go and see what it is all about. The whole downtown area is cordoned off for the seating and for the actual race roads, so getting in wasn’t easy. I took a train to the nearest train station from where I was and walked to my gate. After getting lost twice, I finally found my way in. They’ve build a temporary mini-city that could house a thousand people down there, and they’ve asphalted over the grassy areas next to the water to make it easy for a million people to trudge back and forth. I got there and the cars were already whizzing around the track making a high pitch blasting sound as they went. Got to the stand and found him and we tried to make small talk for a while, but it was a bit difficult to make conversation. I filmed cars whizzing around and spent the next few minutes trying to take a picture with a car in it. Got a few. After a while, we went off to get beers. Got a few, then headed back. A colleague of my friend’s invited us into the VIP booth and we went in and had some yummy food, some more beer, some champagne, and watched the cars whiz and whiz and whiz and whiz and whiz. We were across the road from the pit, so we could occasionally hear cars come in to get service, sounding a lot like single prop planes or hoverfoils or something like that (but not normal cars). They’d blast out of there and get back into the race, and off they’d go. Amazing. I still don’t understand what I saw, but it was fun nonetheless. Friday was the test day, Saturday was the qualifying, and Sunday was the finals. I wonder who won.

The rest of the weekend was anticlimactic. I spent Saturday sick, and doing a bit of work. Sunday I did a bit more work and we watched The Bourne Identity. Not a bad flick. Zen was also sick so he didn’t go to Japanese lessons, softball or swimming, but he did go to a party on Saturday night with Naoko while I stayed home and slept.

The Formula 1 track by the pit area. Very loud!!!
the Formula 1 track

That red blur is a car going by.
the blur of a car going by

Me giving it a try on the track after it shut down.
me giving it a try

The sights. The sounds. Just not the smells…

And now… the more accessible, family version of the Singapore F1

Salzburg return!

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Friday, September 29th – After a very busy event in Vienna from September 15-18, I had Friday the 19th all to myself. I met with my boss and colleague over brunch, had some food with Norbert and Theresa, and they took me to the west train station to catch my 15:45 train to Salzburg. I got on it okay, and then spent most of the ride moving backwards to Salzburg, listening to good music on my iPod (Leonard Cohen, Boris, Elliott Smith, Acid King, etc.), drinking big cans of beer as the trollies rolled by. I got there at 7:00. I went to look for a tourist information, but at 7:15 I found one that had closed at 7:00. D’oh!! Got a can of Stiegl beer from the local grocery store for E0.89, cheap. I walked towards downtown, my feet guiding the way. Although I hadn’t been in that part of town for nearly 20 years (I had visited Salzburg in 1989 after my work exchange in Fussen, Germany – arranged to meet Pete Hovinen there and ran into Gerry Bouma by coincidence – and then in 1997 on my honeymoon with Naoko, but in 1997 I didn’t go to the train station), I knew exactly what to do. It was like that scene in “Apt Pupil” when former SS officer Ian McKellan gets right back in jackstep after many years out of uniform. Maybe it’s not the right analogy, but it felt a bit like the old reflexes were being revived. At the river, I spotted an Asian guy looking at a map of Salzburg just like the one I had gotten from the train information kiosk, and we chatted a bit. He’s a radiologist from Korea who had also been in Austria for a conference. He told me where the youth hostel was and said he’d gotten a private room there. I thought I’d check that out, so I found the place and got myself a private room for one night (none were available for the following night). I went out for a stroll around the city, passing first through Mozartplatz, the American Express office, and on to Smoking Statue and the Cafe Paracelsus. It’s now an Irish bar called Dubliners (how original), and I thought about getting my dinner there, but one look at the menu turned me off. I went next to look for the Hotel Elephant that I remember from those days, but it was closed for renovation!! I walked along the Getreidegasse, soaking up the memories. There was a crowd gathered in front of the Mozarts Geburtshaus, but further on barely anyone. Near McDonald’s I met a funky German busker with his dog. I chatted with him for a while, gave him my change, and we sang Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marrianne” together, stopping only when he broke a string. He did cool jamming latin stuff on the guitar, we talked a while about life, and he introduced me to his dog Jimi. I walked around looking for food, found one place that would have been okay, but they were busy and I was looking at an hour wait for my food. Went to yet another place on one of the really narrow alleys Goldgasse, and had a great meal. After the meal there, went out into the big Residenzplatz square next to the Salzburg cathedral and admired the festival going on there. Had a long thin beer at an outdoor stall, marvelled at the happy Austrians enjoying life. Went back to the youth hostel, got another beer, took it back to the room, chilled out and slept.

Saturday, September 20 – What a great night’s sleep on a super-comfortable bed!! Ate breakfast by myself, checked out of my room, and got myself another one for the night – eight-bed dormitory room! Oh well, always something new. Went downtown again, did a bit of shopping before the stores closed, then got on the 22 bus to the Moosstrasse, happy as a clam. Got out at 106 Moosstrasse, went up to the old school. The door was locked, but a little boy let me in. Met one of the sups, she told me where the dean was. I talked to him for a while, with two seniors listening in, about how all the years have treated me, how the years have treated the school, and life in general. The kids don’t do trips as far afield as Moscow any more, so they were interested to hear that we used to go there. The school now has just over 100 students, down from 170 in the day, but all of them live on campus. There is a new building out back (although it’s not that new any more) and there are fewer trees out back and no smoking shed. They still have the old “drinking permission” thing, which is defined as “a beer with dinner,” and no smoking permission at all. Kids are not allowed desktops, and laptops have to be locked away by sups after study hour. I wonder what their cellphone policy is. I went for a walk out back into the Moos, perhaps thinking to walk to my old dorm Edelweiss from my sophomore year, but it was pretty far. I turned around and went down the Moosstrasse to get some food for lunch. I found a new mini-mart at 12:10, but the sign said “closed at 12:00.” D’oh again!! Walked up the Moosstrasse a bit to look for my old dorm from my junior year Kellner (was it called Kellner?), but couldn’t find it either. I guess those old reflexes aren’t as good as I thought. Headed downtown again, walking along the Moosstrasse and marveling at the fantastic greenery, the lovely houses, the fantastic views of the Untersberg, and the monstrous tractors going by all the time. Wow – Austria. Why do I live in chaotic Asia when there’s places like Austria around? I know – it’s the economy, stupid! I found a gas station where I bought a beer, then I found a supermarket where I bought a bun, a pretzel, and a beer. Got to the Riverside Guitars shop that I saw downtown from the bus, but it has also just closed. D’oh again!! Walked along the riverside to take in the craft fare. Bought a monster pretzel as big as my head and munched it as I walked along. Went along the Getreidegasse again and through the town and back to the youth hostel. Got into my room, found my bunk, and met another guy in the room, a backpacker from Australia. Rested up for 15 minutes, chatted a bit, then hit the road again. Went up to the castle. Got there just before 5:00, but it was open until 7:00, so I went there for a tour. In all those years in Salzburg I had never once been up to the castle, or even to walk around the Monchberg that the castle sits on. The castle was pretty funky, except for the modern Austrian military exhibit that showed uniforms and primitive weapons. That was a lot of walking and a lot of climbing, but quite good fun. Went out of the castle, walked along the length of the Monchberg, which was probably nice than the castle itself. Green parkland, with great views of the castle and both sides of Salzburg – downtown looking over the buildings and the river towards the Kapuzinerberg, and then the other way towards the Undersberg – it was just lovely. Unfortunately, the day was overcast and cold, and by 6:30 it was starting to get a bit gloomy. I made it all the way to the Augustiner brewery, so I went in there, had some Leberkas and a Maas of beer, ate and drank in the hall at a table with young Germans. I asked them to take my picture, and hoped we could strike up a conversation, but they were pretty cool. Oh well. Walked back into the city, took a stroll up the Linzergasse on the other side of the river. A lot wider than I remember, it was. Headed back to the Residenzplatz and the carnival there next to Salzburg cathedral. Walked past the cathedral to the otherside, the Domsplatz where they had more carnival attractions and a big beer tent with an oompah band. Cool! I went in just as the band was finishing up. Boo. I got a beer and wandered around looking for a place to sit or some cool people to talk to. I set my beer down at a spot once and took a picture. An old man told me in German that the place was taken, I said I only wanted to set the beer down while I took a picture. After that he seemed like he wanted to talk to me, but his Austrian accent was so difficult to understand I really had no idea what he was talking about. The party was good, except for the patch of scrawny young hooligans who were blocking people’s way and causing trouble, looking for a fight. There’s always one in every crowd. After 30 minutes the band started up again, they played one song, then did “ein prosit,” then took five minutes to figure out what they were going to do next. Good music, but a bit disorganised and not very charismatic. Finished up there, then went back to the youth hostel, had a beer, watched the end of “The Sound Of Music” (which they show there every night) falling asleep in my chair, then up to the dorm room to sleep. I woke up a few times in the night, but mainly slept through until morning.

The two days in Salzburg were amazing. I spent some money, had some food, had some beer, but mainly I walked the streets. I walked for 12 hours on the Saturday I reckon, taking in the sights, breathing the clean air, and munching and drinking. Great, great, great. The whole city is a near-pristine work of art, everything clean and immaculate, the crusty walls centuries-old, fresh paint on everything, and hardly a spot of construction anywhere at all. Walking along the tidy alleys, I just needed to look up to see something surprising, like the huge statue of an angel treading on a demon that was built into a street corner, or ornate street signs in businesses. The views of the rooftops from the hill were something you don’t really get in Vienna or many other cities, and it was a great journey for me.

Sunday, September 21 – Woke up early, went down to have a quick breakfast, got my bag together, and then left the youth hostel to hit the streets again looking for something to see and do. I walked downtown, got near Domplatz and the Salzburg Cathedral just before 8:30 and the bells started ringing – took a video and a picture with my camera, then the batteries breathed their last. I wouldn’t be able to take any more pictures until I could get close to my recharger, but whatever – I had taken over 100 pictures. Went into the Cathedral and there were a couple dozen people sitting waiting for the service to start. While I was there, a bell rang, the lights brightened, and the priest came out. The organ started, and it was the live service! I spent a few moments in there, then left it to the worshippers. Found the Franciscan Church, that is a bit smaller and quite gloomy. Walked across the river and wandered around the Steingasse that is between the row of houses that lines the river and the Kapuzinerberg itself. Climbed up the Kapuzinerberg and got a great great great view of the river, the city, and the Untersberg behind it. Went down, walked towards the train station, with a brief detour around the Mirabellgarden. Took a train just before noon, ate my bun and drank my beer on the train, got to Vienna around 3:00. Went to the Hotel Regina, chilled out a bit there with a great meal, then got my suitcase, got my iPod and camera battery charger out of my luggage, got those things charged up, then headed to the airport. Checked in, did some shopping in the so-so Vienna duty free area, then headed to the plane. After a short flight to Paris, I walked around the Charles de Gaul airport (nice hollow space) and got on my flight. Twelve hours to Singapore and I’m home! Not an eventful flight, not much sleep, not a very good in-flight movie experience (this generation of self-serve entertainment is sub-par, although at least they always seem to have good Simpsons episodes – I almost always manage to get ones I’ve never seen before), but at least lots of mini-Heinekens. Got home, saw my family, showered, distributed presents, unpacked, got started on the long trek back to sanity.

Mozart’s birth house on the Getreidegasse by day.

Moos crucifix just around the corner from the old SIPS building.

Salzburg International Preparatory School, now called American INternational School. Largely unchanged from the eighties, although they’ve cut down the big trees that used to shade one side of the building.

Salzburg castle.

With the smoking statue.

Grave in front of a chapel on the way up to the castle.

Having a beer at the Augustiner brewery.

Busker playing a grand piano in front of the Mozart birth house.

View of Salzburg from the other side of the river with the Untersberg in the distance.

Salzburg church bells

Night Panorama of Salzburg

Salzburg beer hall band

Ooooh… Vienna!

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

I was in Vienna for six days and I never once heard Ultravox’s “Vienna.” I was in Austria for eight days and I never once heard Falco. But boy, did I ever hear a lot of Mozart. Were there any other Austrian composers?

Saturday September 13 to Friday September 19: the odyssey begins – Saturday September 13th I had a nice dinner at home with Naoko and Zen, eating a cake to celebrate early Naoko’s birthday, which was coming on the 14th but I would miss. Went to the airport, got on my KLM flight to Amsterdam, watched Indiana Jones 4, and slept as much as I could. At some point I realized that I probably couldn’t sleep any more, so I woke up and ordered a beer. Watched Don’t Mess With The Zohan and a few Simpsons episodes and had breakfast. Didn’t take anything to read, and the flight didn’t stock any decent reading materials (No newspapers! No Economist!!). I filled the last six blank pages in my dwindling notebook with bad poetry and doodles and twiddled my thumbs for the rest of the flight. The airplane landed somewhat late in Amsterdam, just after 6 AM local time, and I had less than an hour for my connecting flight. I scanned my boarding pass when I got there, then walked across the whole airport, stood in a line to get through the Shengen customs so that I could get to my connecting inter-Europe flight, got lost, then sprinted to the real gate, which was a shuttle bus departure. I still had 8 minutes before departure, but the crappy people there told me there was nothing that they could do, I had missed my flight. I blew my top and screamed at them, but they showed no mercy, the cold nordic wenches. When I went to reschedule my flight I was told that it would be five hours later, and I lost my temper again, to no avail. My five hours in Amsterdam airport were quite dull, but I had a 10 Euro coupon for food, so I had a second breakfast of pizza and beer and chilled out in the airport, mostly wandering around and listening to my iPod. I got bored around 10:00, so I went out of the airport and chilled out in front of the airport in the open air, soaking up the sun and forgetting about my missed flight and feeling glad to be alive. It was just about the only sunlight I was to experience in my eight days in Europe and the warmest temperatures as well. Went up to the roof to look at airplanes on the tarmac, then went back into the airport, caught my flight with plenty of time to spare, and off I went to Vienna. In Vienna I saw conference people that I knew, including my colleague, and we checked into the hotel together. The hotel is a former place, and my room was right next to the elevator. It was a gigantic high-ceilinged
room with a huge ugly chandelier hanging over my bed. Interesting, but a bit yucky. The window looked out to a courtyard. I opened my suitcase, got a few things, then went off to my first party. That was from a major US bank and was held in a grand palace. Nice times, good people. Then off we went to the next party, past all sorts of other palaces and in a great big fancy restaurant. Great food, pretty good company, lots of beer and wine and bottled water (still and sparkling). Walked home and slept around 10:00. Woke up at 4:00 AM (jet lag), and slowly got ready for my day. Checked in to the conference, did a bunch of interviews, went to the opening plenary session, then off to the first party of the evening. That was in a nice little room overlooking the Stephansdom cathedral. We got out of that, walked through the rain to the next party, which was held by a PR company for some IT companies. It was full of IT people, i.e. men, and a few of the PR girls. Hanging out with a lot of IT people didn’t seem like it would be a lot of fun, and the music was terrible, so I headed home and got some rest. Went to sleep at 11, woke up at 5. The rest of the week went a little like that – interviews, parties, sleep. The final party was on Thursday the 19th at the Hofburg, which I guess is one of Vienna’s central palaces. Saw many people I knew throughout the evening, danced, sang karaoke (“A Boy Named Sue” and “Roadhouse Blues”). Ate a bit – they had an odd mix of buffet (queue up for cold food) and waiters bringing around dishes (often the same food). The tables were full of wine and water, but beer was hard to find. Wandered into the band area – the music was great, and at one point they had a pretty cool (if “cool” is the approiate adjective) ABBA set going, and the middle-aged bankers and IT people were really getting into it. The games room was good fun too, and there was a good jazz band playing in another area. Got out of there at 1:30, just missed my bus by seconds (d’oh!), walked home through the midnight streets of Vienna with a bottle of expensive wine in my hand, made it back to the apartment, slept.

Friday September 19th: peace at last – Woke up, packed quickly, went down for breakfast, met my colleague and my boss for a debriefing, my wonderful Austrian friends Norbert and Theresa came by, and we all had a nice talk. The business talk finished near 12:00, I got the last of my stuff together and checked out. Norbert and Theresa took me to the Naschmarkt where we gawked at the gorgeous fresh food and wonderful little eateries. We sat down and had a beer and a pretzel and the best food I had in my whole trip to Austria – a wonderful bowl of Fritattensuppe, which is a hearty clear soup with pancake strips in it. Yum! They took me to the Westbahnhof, which has been under renovation since the 18th (d’oh!) so we had to use the crappy temporary shelter stuff. They set me on my train and off to Salzburg I went. Nostalgia – ho!!

Nice livery!

The Vienna city hall.

The cathedral near our hotel. 

Our hotel. 

Me in front of Hotel Regina.  Cold…

Party number five in a gorgeous hall.

Party number eight with charlatans.

Charlatans in action.

Vienna cops hard at work.

At the Naschmarkt admiring healthy-looking fruits.

An artichoke flower.

Pretzel king.

The best food I had in Vienna – Frittatensuppe.

This guy is not so popular with Austrian vandals – far-right candidate Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party.

Movie reviews:

Don’t Mess With The Zohan – Not a bad movie, although I think that the concept of a nutty ex-commando bringing peace to the Middle East by opening a hair salon at the right time and the right place is a bit insensitive for the most part. With Zohan Adam Sandler creates a character instead of playing himself like he does in most movies (except, memorable, in “Little Nicky”). The movie in general is pretty funny, but mixing politics with grossout humour is a bit tough to take – if it’s not political satire then what is it trying to be?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – This is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. What a dumb story. Shia Leboeuf isn’t quite as intolerable as he was in Transformers, but only marginally. The near-unrecognizable John Hurt also did absolutely nothing for the film, possibly his worst role ever. Cate Blanchett was good, but who knows why she had to be a “psychic.” Terrible, terrible, terrible, much worse than “The Phantom Menace.”

Forgetting Sarah Marshall – This movie was subdued, and actually quite charming. Lots of sex, and only one awkward “ughhh – why didn’t they rewrite that scene” moment. Good one.

Les Visiteurs – Jean Reno playing a smelly medieval knight, with his snivelling medieval manservant, and their misadventures with modern French rural bourgeoisie. I don’t understand French very well, but I know enough to tell that the screenplay dialogue kicked ass – even the subtitles were a scream.

Guitar guys

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Took some nice pictures today.

Naoko Zen Guitar

Naoko Zen Guitar

Naoko Zen Guitar
This was taken at Zen’s school for his lantern festival.

P-p-p-primate power!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Hey, another day, another blog. Not much to report, except a little thing that happened to me on Tuesday morning. I was waiting at the bus stop when i noticed that there were about 30 monkeys at the bus stop across the street! They waited for breaks in traffic and then they headed on over to the other side in waves of 1-5 monkeys or so. I got a few good pics.

Today Zen had his “lantern festival” day at school. They stayed longer, were given a dinner, and then did lantern activities. We went there at 7:45 to collect Zen and to see him walk around the school. That was nice.

Zen bought two books: the WALL*E novelisation, and “The Mummy With No Name – A Geronomo Stilton book.” Zen does a great impression of EVE from the movie.



Zen’s books



Zen E. Neuman

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Another September, another Japanese Prime Minister resigns. September 2007 it was Abe. September 2008 it was Fukuda. September 2009 it will be… sorry, all bets are off.

Not much happening these weeks. It seems that I spend a lot of time in front of the computer doing a bit of this and a bit of that. My social life has deteriorated completely. I have been researching the composition of query letters and and have been sending them out. The first one went out on Wednesday night, and I already had my first rejection on Thursday morning. Oh well, I’ll keep on keeping on.

Last Saturday I took Zen and one of his little buddies to see “The Clone Wars.” The kids enjoyed themselves, but I was wondering where the magic was. Droid armies, clone armies, it somehow doesn’t seem like a real engagement. Starship Troopers had more heart. Oh well, the kiddies enjoyed it. I’m now looking forward to the 3-D re-release of the original Star Wars movies. I wonder how that’s going to proceed – whether they’ll do them in order of story (Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, with Jar-Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn, the weakest characters in the story, albeit with the second-coolest villain – Darth Maul) or in order of release (1977′s Star Wars: A New Hope). I hope it can come out by the time Zen is eight years old, since that’s how old I was when I saw A New Hope…

Wednesday was a similar day – I took the day off and Naoko and Zen and I went to the theatre again to see WALL-E, which was good fun, ate at Burger King, and hung out. Zen was off school this week so he was at home a lot and either doing homework (two hours a day) or playing with his little buddies. Ah, to be a kid…

Zen tooth
Zen lost his first tooth, a lower one.  Hard to see the gap in this picture, but he’s holding the little lost tooth between his fingers.

Movie Reviews:

WALL-E – WALL-E is an interesting movie about a robot that goes about doing stuff with garbage, and over 700 years he builds giant cities of crap. Human beings have gone into outer space to hang out on arks, their lives taken care of for them by automated services, floating around on moving beds and drinking milk shakes all day. It’s all a bit silly, and the message of hope at the end is a bit murky. The saving grace of the film was EVE, WALL-E’s “love interest,” and she is surprisingly fleshed-out (and oddly sexy!) considering that she has a three-word vocabulary: “WALL-E” and “EVE” and “prime directive.” More EVE, less WALL-E, and no humans. That would have been a fun movie. As it is, the film is less interesting than Monsters Inc or Cars. (By the way, Zen does a great impression of EVE saying “WALL-Eeeeee…”)

The Clone Wars – A dull film. The only thing that it manages to resolve is that at the end of the film the Jedi are allied with the Hutt clan, at the beginning they aren’t. The pre-story manages to turn the world of 1977′s “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” upside down, since we see Jabba and the Jedi and armies of stormtroopers all on the same team.

CD Reviews:

Nico: “The Frozen Borderline” – Nico’s second and third albums, with outtakes and demos. Great collection, even if the music is tough to take. Very same-samey with Nico’s voice the only real colour throughout, although one number is sung by her son Ari.