30. April 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Dining · Tags:

‘Jia xiang’ (Mandarin) is the equivalent of hometown, and ‘mee’ (Hokkian) means noodle. There you have it, a noodles’ dish from the hometown of Sarawak (Malaysia).

Yang and I went down to Compass Point for dinner on Tuesday evening. There was a newly opened food outlet by the name of ‘Jia Xiang Mee’. We decided to give it a shot since Yang’s friend raved about the noodles. Prior to this visit, I have already tried this dish at Marina Square and wasn’t impressed at all. Since Yang hadn’t tasted it, I suggested that we have our dinner there.

The ‘humblest’ full meal (which is just a bowl of Jia Xiang Mee) costs $6.50. Both of us ordered this item on the menu (hey, got recession mah). When we were served, Yang commented that he would need to top up his stomach with buns from a bakery later. Hee hee. :)

blog-noodles I suspect that the folks from Sarawak will go nostalgic over the taste of their hometown dish but other than that, I still don’t see what’s the big deal over this wanton mee-aka-jia xiang mee. It is plain that the bowl of noodles we ate was another version of the Chinese wanton mee.

On the dried noodles were sliced BBQ pork and this bowl was accompanied by another bowl of wantons and prawns in soup. The only difference perhaps was a sprinkle of minced pork over the noodles. The sauce used for the noodles resembled the condiments found in the instant noodle Indomee. The wantons were a tad too salty and the soup was laced with MSG. The only saving grace, perhaps, was the noodles itself. They were springly – but aren’t they so instant noodle style as well? Fine, maybe its actual saving grace is in the fact that it tastes exactly like Sarawak’s noodles.

IMO, a food outlet that claims to serve a signature dish should at least show that it takes some finesse to create the dish. I felt like just having eaten a burger that had been quickly assembled together by a part-time hired hand. If this outlet sells chicken rice, it would be a respectable foodie hunt as it requires skill, babe, to whip up a plate of decent chicken rice. Or take roti prata as another example. Not easy to create that fluffy, flaky thing to go well with a special curry dipping sauce ok.

May be I have been too harsh to this hometown’s noodles. But really, do we need to create an upperty image for a quick-fix, humble dish which probably originated as a hawker food in the past for ordinary folks to quickly have a simple meal and carry on with their daily business? I imagined ‘ah peks’ sitting with one leg on wooden stools and shoving down their bowls of jia xiang mee. Food is glorious, yes, but may its glory rest in its rightful place.

30. April 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags:

OK, what about the movie now? I’ll start by commenting on the good parts.

blog-troy-06 Firstly, Petersen’s film cleverly centers his narrative not on the main story – the stealing of Helen and the war – but on the two opposing heroes: Achilles played by Brad Pitt and Hector by Eric Bana.

I found the choice of his two leads interesting: Brad Pitt very famously did an amazing physical prep for his role as the God of All Warriors, and more importantly for the couple of scenes when he gets to display half (and occasionally more) of his naked torso to all the salivating fan-girls. His Achilles looks a bit like a surfer dude in leather, shield, sword and sandals.

Eric Bana on the other hand looks more the stoic, serious, family man Hector who loves his newborn son and his wife Andromache, played by British actress Saffron Burrows but who doesn’t get to do much in the film beside look very stricken every time her screen husband is fighting the Greeks. Hector here is torn between his love for his brother Paris but also desires to smack him on his head for his adulterous affair with another man’s wife.

Both get scenes where they inspire their men, and interestingly in very different ways too. Achilles growls and fires up his elite Myrmidons – the ancient day equivalent of Navy SEALS LOL – by roaring “You are Lions!!!” before they storm the beaches of Troy. Hector on the other hand passionately tells his men to honor their wives and fight for their country in Braveheart fashion. He exudes little optimism that the Trojans can actually win the war, compared to his generals who pompously tell King Priam that Troy’s walls have never been breached.

So, you’ll be fascinated by Pitt’s Bad Boy Achilles. But it’s Bana’s Hector caught in a dilemma you’ll feel for.

blog-troy-08 A lot of how good any film retelling of the Trojan War also depends on the huge battle and individual duel scenes between the heroes.

And the Director’s Cut really doesn’t disappoint in this aspect. It doesn’t reach the height – and occasional absurdity – of The Return of the King, but it’s still incredibly filmed and doesn’t look fake. In fact, I think ROTK’s Battle of Pelennor Fields looked more obviously CGed than Troy does, even though just one year separates the two films’ productions.

And here’s one thing I really like about Troy as compared to John Woo’s Red Cliff. In that Chinese production, all the background fighting looks fake. You basically get all these inexperienced extras clacking their wooden swords at each other hoping every film goer’s attention is instead focused on how Zhou Yu is lopping heads off in the foreground.

In Petersen’s Troy on the other hand, battle scenes aren’t just violent – they actually look realistically violent. You won’t see extras clacking their wooden swords in the background hoping no one will notice. You’ll see swords meeting flesh, spears meeting eyeballs and throats, shields getting smashed, bodies being run over by racing chariots in the huge battle scenes.

I don’t know how Petersen’s crew trained all those extras to fight like their lives depended on it, but it really shows. And of all the modern day sword and sandal war movies I’ve seen, this is the only movie that doesn’t look CGed even if it really was, and the only one that gets one aspect of those murderous ancient battles right: that the fighting was so furious that dead and dismembered bodies just fell on top of each other. You’ll see that in Troy: Director’s Cut.

As kinetic as the large battle scenes are, it’s the individual duel scenes that everyone was talking about. The to-the-death fight scene between Hector and Achilles remains the singularly most exhilarating fight scene I’ve seen anywhere – and I’ve seen and can remember a lot. The more so that no stunt doubles were used. It’s amazingly choreographed, and filled with nuances you’ll be viewing several times over just to catch them all.

I’m reminded of the duels in Richard Lester’s two Three/Four Musketeer movies in the mid-70s which was stylistically almost exactly opposite. The scenes in those two movies didn’t look choreographed but in fact looked exactly as how sword fighting scenes are like – plenty of shoving, pushing, tripping, feinting etc.

The outcome of the contest between Hector and Achilles won’t be in doubt even for someone who has never heard of the legend and doesn’t know who will eventually be left standing. But it is a heartbreaking scene nonetheless when one of the two finally falls.

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The last aspect of the film that I think needs mentioning for a job well-done is the interpretation of Agamemnon and Menelaus. The Agamemnon here is traditional: that he didn’t rally the Greek troops to simply bring Helen back: he wanted Troy’s subjugation for political reasons. Brian Cox is a little old to play the character, but if you can look past his age, he did a great job portraying the politically astute if proud and arrogant Greek Leader. You may not like him, but you have to respect his motivations for waging war.

Petersen’s Menelaus on the other hand deviates a little from the old sources here. In the legend, Menelaus was a relatively small background player of the story. But he genuinely loved his wife and wanted her back even after her adulterous elopement with Paris. So, a bit of a lovesick bird, so to speak.

The Menelaus in Troy however didn’t just want Helen back: he wanted her back so he could personally strangle her in anger. The Menelaus here is a womanizer who snorted that wives are only for breeding. The two onscreen brothers play off each other well, even though in the film they act like brutes.

Concluded in the next post.:)

29. April 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags:

blog-troy-03 For those of us who’re not familiar with the legend, here’s my summary of it.

Paris, a young prince of Troy, is visited by three Goddess who poses to him a question: who’s the fairest of them all. Athena promises him wisdom, Hera promises him power and wealth, and Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman. Paris decides as men would: he chooses beauty above brains and power, and is given the opportunity to steal Helen, the queen of neighboring kingdom Sparta.

Unfortunately, when Helen was deciding who to marry earlier on, she elicited an agreement from her army of suitors: that all her suitors must swear to support whoever she chose. So, all the Greek princes were honor bound to rescue her back from the Trojans. And this they did under the leadership of Agamemnon – the brother of Helen’s husband Menelaus – who rallied the Greek armies and all their kings and princes. They set sail in a thousand ships across the Aegean sea to fight the Trojans and win back Helen. That incidentally is where the phrase “the face that launched a thousand ships” comes from.

The campaign to win Helen back was anything but short and easy. It involved all the Greek and Trojan heroes and heroines, including Achilles – who was regarded as the greatest Champion the Greeks had on their roster – Ajax, Menelaus the luckless husband, Odysseus the wily, Prince Hector (Achilles’ opposite in the Trojan camp), Cassandra the prophetess, and Aeneas. As the story goes, even the Gods – Zeus, Apollo, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Poseiden – got involved with many taking opposite sides in the war.

The war was to last ten years, and in the first nine years was largely on a stalemate with neither side gaining significant advantage for long. In the tenth year however, a series of incidents took place that precipitated the war towards a conclusion. Agamemnon in a moment of folly offends a priest of Apollo, who returns the favor by asking his God to inflict a murderous plague on the Greek armies. When Greek warriors die left right center, Agamemnon is publicly chided by Achilles. Angered at the slight, he punishes Achilles by taking his beloved concubine, Briseis.

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Enraged, Achilles sits out the rest of the war in protest. This emboldens the Trojans and they start making big headway in pushing the Greeks back into the sea.

Pressured, Achilles reluctantly lets his best friend, Patrokles, don his armor and weapons to rally the dazed Greeks. This he does, but when he runs into Prince Hector on the field of battle, the two engage in a duel. Hector kills Patrokles, and enraged (again), Achilles returns to the battle seeking revenge.

In a climatic duel, Achilles kills Hector, then proceeds to disrespect the corpse. But he has a change of heart when Hector’s father, King Priam of Troy, makes a secret visit to personally beg for the return of his son’s body. But the Gods are not appeased, and shortly thereafter, Achilles is killed by a poison arrow that goes right through his only, vulnerable spot: in his heel, bringing about the classic phrase ‘Achilles’ heel’.

The war stretches on just a bit more until Odysseus hatches a scheme to pack all the Greek heroes into a wooden horse they’ll leave behind while the rest of their army pretend to sail away. The Trojans, tired of war, welcome their apparent victory and bring the wooden horse past their gates and celebrate. That night, with the Trojans all drunk into a stupor, the Greek heroes emerge, open the gates to their waiting army – and all proceed to kill, pillage, rape, burn and sack the whole city and its inhabitants.

The story didn’t actually end there though. The Gods were so angered by the Greek’s cruelty in their wanton destruction of Troy that they cursed the Greek heroes – with the result that many would never return home, others would die, while yet others would only return home after more tribulations. Homer’s other story, The Odyssey, basically tells one such story and of Odysseus’ return home.

Continued in the next post.:)

28. April 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags:

blog-troy-01Troy (2004). While blogging about John Woo’s Red Cliff the other day, my mind ventured into a similar retelling of an ancient story of war, tragedy and love: The Trojan War. I dug out my blu-ray edition of Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy: Director’s Cut and re-watched it over two nights – the film runs for 3 hrs 15 minutes.

This is a super long post, so it’s gonna be divided into four parts, with several pictures taken from the movie.:)

When I was a child, My dad had all these old dusty books of the old classics, including works by Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, R. L. Stevenson, and the Greek mythological heroes. I especially loved reading the latter, and grew up being fed off the exploits of these legendary heroes: Theseus, Pegasus, Herakles, Jason and so on. I also remembered my elder brother bring home a couple of large History books he had to buy as a Secondary 1 ACS student (I was in Primary 5), and borrowing them to read too.

Of all the Greek stories, none is more epic than Iliad, made famous through Homer’s interpretation in the form of a poem. I remembered first encountering this story when I was attending earlier primary school through a book I borrowed from the school library. The story was in fragments then though, and centered on the existence of a wooden horse in which the Greek heroes hid in to gain entry into a city of their enemies.

By the time I got through to Primary 6, I’d read the story in its entirety from the old Penguin Classics readers, and since that time, I continued to be on the lookout for literature, books, novels, comic-book series, TV series and films of the story. My favorite sources of the story today include Homer’s Iliad poem, The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough, The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Age of Bronze by Eric Shanower, Daughter of Troy by Sarah Franklin, and A Tale of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green.

blog-troy-02 The classic story has indeed been told that many times in so many forms, and each retelling typically adds its own spin to it. That’s why I’m quite sympathetic to Wolfgang Petersen’s interpretation of the story into film in 2004. Petersen’s Troy was panned by a lot of critics from oversimplifying or changing many of the story’s key themes and points (more on that later): but Homer’s Iliad from the 8th century BC must had been regarded as a travesty to audiences then for taking liberties with the legend, but today is regarded as definitive.

Continued in the next post.:)

28. April 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

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Quantum of Solace (2008). Quantum of Solace was the first James Bond movie I didn’t catch in the theatre since, well 25 years now. I think it was several things. Daniel Craig is a great actor and has the rugged looks that’d make women swoon. The action scenes are a lot more brutal, grittier and exciting too.

However, the charm of Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan’s Bonds and subtle camp of the earlier Bond movies have also been lost in the transition. I enjoyed 2006’s Casino Royale, but outside the classic Bond theme music and M from the Brosnan/Bond films, there’s now little else in the movie that signifies it as a Bond movie.

OK, so new audience, new style – but the 2006 re-imagination and this movie now just looks and feels like any other typical action-thriller.

All that said, there were still things to like in Quantum of Solace. The opening car chase was good with plenty of kinetic motion, crashes. Helped too that they looked relatively plausible – as in cars didn’t just simply explode like tinder cans every time they somersaulted LOL – and Craig’s dialog with M is always fun to listen to, especially his sardonic “I’ll do my best, m’am” when told yet again not to kill everyone he runs into.

But it’s all things you’ve seen before. That aforementioned car chase around the mountain looked and felt like the opening scene from The Living Daylights. The theme of Bond possibly out on a limb for vengeance, and as a potential rogue agent from License to Kill. And intrigue at the opera house (done before), aerial battle where Bond is flying in a weaponless crate (done before), and final showdown at an exotic futuristic-looking location… from every other Bond movie.

Still, if you like the foreign locations, the great production sets – the opera set was incredible – and new fresh looking-actresses looking for their breakout roles could be your thing. And on that, Gemma Arterton as MI6 agent Fields has the movie’s best lines.:)

So, a watchable – if nothing to swoon over.

One of the funniest things about travelling across countries is the amount of smuggling that goes on. I mean, when Matt came by to visit us a year ago, he had a backpack loaded with camera gear for me. And when he returned, we packed for him half a kilo of bak kwa – even if he didn’t successfully smuggle that past customs and had to finish that much of meat in front of the officer LOL.

blog-milo And just recently in my trip to San Francisco, I smuggled two tins of Milo across US Customs for Elina, my co-author, whose husband was also at the Game Developers Conference and who’d be picking up the two tins. Like Australia, US Customs is pretty picky about the kind of foods that get into the country.

While travelers have been able to bring Milo as malt drink powder into the country, I wasn’t taking any chances. I religiously declared the items on my customs form, and even prepared detailed food composition data on the Milo – in case I had to pull out information to convince the customs officials.

The funniest thing? At the customs, the officers took one look at me and waved me through LOL. No scanning of baggage even after I pointed out to the fellow I had items to declare.

Elina told me that Milo powder isn’t available off the shelves in Finland. After the ease I had bringing those two tins, I really should have brought along more. Like a couple more kilograms from NTUC.:)

blog-earthstoodstillThe Day The Earth Stood Still (2008). For this film, I’ll save us the suspense and get right to it: this a one-star, and it isn’t because of Keanu Reeve’s typically wooden acting or Jaden Smith has none of his papa Will Smith’s acting chops. It’s just an abysmally and utterly stupid movie.

What happens if a huge alien sphere speeds across the cosmos heading to earth before landing in Central Park? I’ll tell what I won’t do for sure. If I was a famous scientist handpicked by the government to save us all, I sure won’t be standing almost underneath the damn alien ship in the Park waiting for it to land on my head.

And I definitely won’t run ahead of the military forces to give the alien being that steps out a welcome hug. I would be cowering behind their biggest most heavily armored tank. Better still, I’d dig a hole and hide inside it!

And if history has always shown that “the more advanced civilization exterminates the lesser one” – as the Defense Secretary quips – the last thing I’d do is to antagonize it, like dunno, shooting its envoy just when he steps out!

And if I was the unlucky guy who has to interrogate the alien and ask him if he’s here as a space tourist or to rip us to shreds – especially seeing that he has a 10 storey scarily-high metallic-skinned bodyguard who shoots death rays out of his eyeballs – I sure won’t do it alone with him in a room. I would have had hundreds of elite forces all pointing their guns at him while I grill him.

If that turd of the script wasn’t bad enough, I could get into the acting. Jennifer Connelly is lovely to look at with those sad dopey eyes. But if I had a step-son like Smith who just can’t keep his mouth shut, I would have kicked him right into the path of the rampaging GORT for it to squish like a bug. Put next to the annoying Jake Lloyd‘s Anakin Skywalker, Lloyd is a saint. And ’nuff said about Keanu Reeves’ monotone acting.

And when the world’s facing Armageddon, the military person controlling the unmanned aerial vehicles carrying sidewinders acts like it’s some video game that he can insert another quarter into to start a new game anytime.

So why the one and not zero stars? Well the movie will make you laugh, albeit unintentionally. The scene where Keanu Reeves and James Hong converse in Mandarin is alone worth a star. Hong emerges from the scene respectably well. As for Reeves: well, you’ll either cringe, or laugh – like I did.

26. April 2009 · 11 comments · Categories: All Posts, At Home · Tags:

I blogged here 8 months ago about our quest to find a new replacement sofa for our living room but never really got our hearts into it. Oh, we went by Courts and Ikea a couple of times and saw a couple of models we thought could be suitable but kept putting off a purchase.

Necessity eventually got our procrastinating selves into action. Specifically, the zipper for the fabric cover of our sofa broke yesterday afternoon when I was trying to send the whole thing to wash. So, we took off for Ikea again, and found one that we both liked: a 2 + 2 corner sofa Ektrop series with Idemo Biege colored covers. OK so I said before I didn’t want another sofa with fabric upholstery, but leather was bringing around other challenges in maintenance.

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The thing is a lot larger than the old Beng Tuan cheapo the Ektrop is replacing and the TV area is now sort of partitioned off by the huge sofa. But then again, it’s a lot more comfy with more legroom for my corner. The new sofa arrived this morning – just 17 hours after making the order. The cover looks a little crumpled though since it came packed in boxes. Damage was $1099 + $97 for delivery and assembly.

Now we have to figure out what to do with the other sofa that’s now lying upside down in our living room!

Time flies! It’s been just over a year since I bought the D300, and I thought it’d be fun to do a short post on what’s happened to it over the first year I’ve owned and used it.:)

blog-2008-Rivervale-CIMG3237-toys Cost $2,450 then. Now it’s $2,150. Not too bad price depreciation – whew!

Had my first dust bunny in one month, but fortunately Ling could make time to send it to Nikon Service Center for cleaning.

Bought six new lenses for it, and in addition to my venerable 70-210mm f4-5.6, that’s seven lenses.

Bought a Manfrotto CF tripod and a Manfrotto monopod.

Used the 18-55mm lens more than any other lens (no surprises there). Next lens was the Sigma 10-20mm.

Bought nine filters.

Bought two Tamrac Adventure bags and one Lowepro bag.

Bought nine photographic items from eBay.

Bought the MB-D10 vertical grip for it.

Finished two Blurb photobooks.

Frame counter on the D300: 10,857.

Went on trips in Bali, Phuket and San Francisco.

Went on two fireworks shoots.

Hasn’t been dropped (yet). Whew.:)

Bookmarked 12 camera equipment and photography sites that I check every other day.

Total expenditure $7,747.00 in total on camera equipment. I’m still thinking of a just one or two more peripheral items (no not the 70-200mm f2.8 LOL). E.g. a light tent. But these are comparatively low cost items, so no the second year’s expenditure isn’t going to be anywhere like last year’s – thankfully! :)

25. April 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Music

blog-luciapopp-01 There comes a point in time listening to the classics that you start being able to distinctly tell by listening who’s the person singing a particular role. Funnily, the two vocal ranges I have difficulty with singer identification are Alto and Tenor. Soprano and Bass is easy – I wonder why LOL.

In any case, there several Sopranos I enjoy listening to: there’s Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathleen Battle, and Eva Lind. By far though, the singer I most admire is Lucia Popp. Her voice isn’t expansive and at times almost seems a little ‘small’. But there’s an incredible elegance and passion evident in her voice, and of a very distinct timbre.

She’s especially well-known for handling lyric coloratura soprano repertoire. When she sings in operas of the comedic variety, there’s infectious fun in her voice. Of the recordings I have of her, everyone of them is a favorite: her part as the feisty Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro which I’ve blogged about here before, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, and Rosalinde in Johann Strauus II’s comic opera Die Fledermaus.

Called “one of the most gifted, attractive and intelligent singers of her generation”, she sadly passed away from brain cancer in 1993 at the age of 54.

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