Friday, December 31, 2004

Burger King vs. Hungry Jack's

Ever wondered what's the relationship between Burger King and Hungry Jack's? Their logos are so similar, you'd think they're the same company. So I asked the Burger King lady what's the real deal.

Apparently, they are related. Hungry Jack's is the first Australian's franchise of the Burger King Corporation. When Burger King expanded its operations to Australia, the trademark name is already in use, so they went for Hungry Jack's, named after franchisee Jack Cowin. But wait, there's more. When the existing Australian trademark for Burger King lapsed, the American company wanted to rename Hungry Jack's, but Cowin resisted. A court battle ensued, with Hungry Jack's winning the case. Burger King then proceeded to open several outlets across Australia, some located very close to Hungry Jack's outlets. Cowin later negotiated to buy these outlets and rename them.

As of today, only one Burger King outlet is left in the whole of Australia. And that's the one in Burwood, NSW. Try their Cheeseburger Meal Deal for only $2.50.

Burger King vs. McDonald's

Burger King Burwood is having a Cheeseburger Meal Deal promo for a limited time. For $2.50, you get a cheeseburger ($1.75), regular softdrinks ($1.50), and regular fries ($1.50). That's a saving of almost 50%!

The sign advertising the promo shows some legs lining up for the meal. One pair of legs caught my attention. The person was wearing yellow pants, socks with yellow and red strips, and large red shoes. Those burgers must be really good for Ronald to come over.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Scare Tactics

A few days ago, I got a call from the Auburn Police Department. Apparently, I was involved in a bar brawl and injured a police officer. (Was that you, Hank? This is Charlie. Did you forget your pills again?) The desk officer said they sent me a couple of letters, but never replied, hence the call.

They got my address right, but not the exact unit number. They got my first initial and surname, but not the full name. So I started to wonder. During the questioning, I tried asking the guy who filed the complaint and the case details 'coz it looks like they got the wrong guy. According to police records (keyboard clicks in the background), I have a prior case of rape, and I had to bail myself out. C'mon, this is not even funny anymore. "Hi, Miss. I'd like to have some carnal knowledge of you. Resistance is futile."

At this point, I told the guy I'm not giving out any more personal information over the phone. Will he just give me the police station address, so I can personally sort out matters? The guy then revealed that, "You're on Scare Tactics!" (chuckles and guffaws in the background) where I get a chance to win either $10,000 or a new Jeep. The new show is supposed to come out on TV this week. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and my eyes peeled.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Sleepless in Sydney

Sleepless in Seattle is on this lonely Christmas night. How appropriate. I know a friend who likes this movie a lot, so I'm going to exercise some restraint here. This is one of the better romantic movies I've watched. (Not many.) The selection of songs is just huge, but totally appropriate to the particular scene. Sometimes it feels like the producers first came up with the song list before the story. Every single time there's no mushy dialogue going on, a mushy oldie love song would play.

Another friend just adores Meg Ryan, but honestly I think she's OA. (That's over-acting for you.) I did learn some new acronyms: H&G (hi and goodbye), YOH (your only hope), and MFEO (made for each other). A couple of things that kept me wondering:

  • Is it true that every girl and woman has watched An Affair to Remember (and cried)?
  • That a single woman over age 40 is more likely to be killed by a terrorist than marry?
  • Is it really a sign or just a coincidence?

Christmas with Myself

Yup, I could've gone with that 5-days 4-nights tour to Gold Coast and the cruise to the Great Barrier Reef, but because of work, I had to stay back. The network has experienced major downtimes for the past two Decembers. The customer warned that if it goes down again this year, heads are gonna roll. I want to make sure it's not mine.

Spending Christmas alone is not as sad and bleak as it sounds. You've got the whole place to yourself, the whole day to yourself to do whatever you want. First off, I went to Circular Quay to catch the bus to Maroubra Beach. A lady passed me by and said, "Merry Christmas." I returned the greeting. Then she said, "I like you." Silence. That caught me by surprise. I don't think that's something you tell someone you've met for the very first time. "I hope you enjoy your stay in Sydney." After more than a year, do I still look like a clueless tourist?!

I've heard people say that Maroubra Beach is one of the best in the world. Definitely the place for surfing. There's only relatively few people when I got there. The skies are cloudy and overcast, the waves are choppy, and the wind is just howling, whistling behind my ears. I can't even keep my earphones in place. The rock pools of Maroubra Beach is definitely unique - moss-covered boulders arranged in neat, rectangular shapes.

Back in Circular Quay, I saw a friend's niece, so I called out to her. An extra second of neuron-firing, then she bounded over and gave me a full-on bearhug. And we've only met for a couple of times. I think everybody likes me on Christmas. Her parents are bringing her Grandma on the Manly cruise, and she practically begged me to come along. We played math games and spelling bees throughout the ride. I think the girl needs to get a regular playmate for Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Skipping Christmas with the Kranks

John Grisham calls it a novel. More like a short story to me, and it reads like one, too. I estimate two hours if you read the book in one go.

The premise is simple, the Kranks have been celebrating Christmas since time immemorial - the crowded malls, the corny office parties, the unwanted presents, the annual Christmas Bash. This year, their only daughter is going away to Peru as a Peace Corps volunteer. Luther Krank figured if they skipped Christmas, they would be saving $6,100, and spend that instead on a 10-day cruise in the Caribbean. Their resolve and patience were tested - calls from the stationery store where they buy their Christmas cards, Christmas tree from the Boy Scouts, peer pressure from the neighbors for the community Christmas decor competition, calendars from the police force, carolers visiting them every night, fruitcakes from the fire department, etc.

All these they were able to thwart and resist. The killer blow came when their daughter called from the airport. She's coming home for Christmas...with her Peruvian fiance. Luther should've just said, "No! I already paid for the cruise. Go back to the jungles of Peru with your 1-week old boyfriend." But no, this is a Christmas story, so instead Nora said, "Sure, honey. The tree's all alight; ol' Frosty's up on the roof; and we're having the Christmas bash tonight just for you and your fiance." What happens next is pure pandemonium as there are no more turkey or ham to buy, all the good Christmas trees are sold out, and no one's available for the party.

Lest I give away the whole story, let's just say that if you believe in the Christmas spirit, and you're willing to break a leg to make amends, things will eventually work out. Luther even managed to make good use of those airline tickets and cruise passes.

By the way, the movie version is out already. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Faster, Faster, Faster

Yesterday's episode of The Amazing Race still featured the Philippines. I only caught the latter portion of last week's show. The contestants were traveling by non-airconditioned bus, and have to get off in the middle of EDSA and catch a cab to the Coconut Palace. On a side note, the Filipino lady who welcomed them is Luli, the presidential daughter. We used to work in the same office building in Makati, and she'd come to office with her bodyguards.

Anyway, yesterday's episode took the teams from Coconut Palace to El Nido where they have to identify the national flag, then rappel up Lagen Wall. One funny thing is they keep on shouting, "Faster, faster, faster" whether they're in the taxi or on the boat. C'mon, guys, this is the Philippines. What do you expect?

People who's always rushing should read James Gleick's Faster.

I Did a Bad Thing Today

I did a bad thing today. The train schedule is messed up as usual. While trains to Lidcombe arrive every 15 minutes or so, tonight the next one is arriving 28 minutes later, after the East Hills train.

I noticed this girl looking at the train schedule in frustration, then making a call to someone (her parents, her boyfriend, whoever) to relay the information. A few minutes later, the East Hills train vanished into thin air, and a Turella train tooks its place. It's arriving in 3 minutes' time, and the Lidcombe one in 2. I continued reading the new books catalouge I picked up from Abbey's. Again, the girl made another quick call.

A train came, then another. A quick look at the display shows this is still the Turella train. Wait a minute. What's going on here?! Did another train jump the queue? Did the screen fail to refresh? The Turella train is supposed to be 8-car, but this one's a 4-car.

I made the best possible decision under the circumstances and made a run for it. A quick check with the conductor proved that my hunch was correct. While I was feeling smug for my quick thinking, a sudden wave of guilt hit me. I forgot to tell the girl! A quick shout, a wave of the hand would've sufficed, but in my haste it totally slipped my mind. I don't even want to guess how much longer she has to wait for the next train. I'm sure she saw me running after the train, and after she finds out she missed the right train, she's not gonna be happy.

To the girl, if you happen to be reading this, my sincere apologies.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The First (and Last) 2004 EB Christmas EB last Dec. 18. (Incidentally, the Manila chapter of also had their EB on the same night.) As far as I know, this is the first (and last) EB for the Sydney chapter for the year. There were numerous planned EBs at Blue Mountains and at various parks and restaurants, but unfortunately those didn't push through.

The EB was at Eastwood Hotel Milano Courtyard Restaurant. The turnout wasn't too bad - 11 people all in all. There's bobmacks and akimacks (the hosts), Bowen, kendi, blue_chips and his girlfriend, l33td00d, eymi and her sister, and dimples and her sister. Good food, great people.

Because of the EB, we missed Carols in the Domain. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The China Syndrome - If You Want to Understand IBM Selling Its PC Division, Just Look East

Why IBM Sold Its PC Division to Lenovo

NEC paid more than $1.8 billion for Packard Bell. Gateway paid more cash for e-Machines than Lenovo is paying for IBM (around $1.75 million in cash and stock). So why the deal?

Robert X. Cringely says, "IBM got rid of a headache and in doing so, gained unique access to what will shortly be the world's largest IT market. This deal is all about China, not the U.S.

Doing business in China always requires having a partner. You don't just set up an IBM China and start selling stuff. You find a local partner company and move into the market together. Now IBM's partner will be Lenovo, the biggest, baddest PC maker in China, which is a good partner to have. IBM not only has its Chinese partner, it has a substantial equity position in that partner as a result of this transaction. That's unique as far as I know. Chinese-U.S. corporate partnerships aren't always the easiest marriages, but in this one, IBM actually has a vote. It also got Lenovo to move its global headquarters to the U.S. and accept an American CEO and 10,000 U.S. employees, which will have to change the way Lenovo runs its global business."

The Gadget Gap - Why does all the cool stuff come out in Asia first?

ASIAN POP The Gadget Gap - Why does all the cool stuff come out in Asia first?

The author reckons it's because:

  • In Japan, individual comsumers drive the market. In the US, technology goes where business wants it to go.
  • Japanese teenagers embrace geek chic even when they're young.
  • With real estate prices at astronomical rates, Japanese manufacturers became experts at miniaturinzing and creating multifunction devices.
  • Japan has way better infrastructure to support cutting-edge technologies.

Interesting Train Ride

Some days you just find mundane things very interesting. A state of mind, I guess.

This morning, I saw this guy with a Transformers tattoo on his arm. Not the whole robot, just the insignia. I can't even identify it whether he's an Autobot or a Decepticon. I wonder if he already got the tattoo when he was just a kid.

Seated beside me is this guy with a basketball bag wearing rubber shoes, shorts, and a yellow Louis Vuitton T-shirt (obviously fake). He has these light-blue wrap-around shades and listening to a radio receiver clipped on his shorts. His wife was wearing white pants and tank tops. Now, here's the punchline. They were in their late 30's or early 40's. The guy has white hairs and is balding already. No, I don't have a problem with that. All I said is, I find that "interesting."

The lady in front of me holds up an envelope, wets her lips, and gives the flap a smack. Sealed with a kiss.

(Free) Things to Do in Singapore when You're Alone

Take a (long) walk along Orchard Road. It's Christmas in the Tropics, and almost all of the shops and department stores along Orchard Road are fully decorated. Visa even put up these dancing Christmas trees at the four corners of the Scotts-Orchard intersection. Try doing it late at night when all the lights are ablaze, and there's fewer tourists to get into the way of your pictures.

Explore the Esplanade Roof Terrace at night. Right across the Fullerton Hotel and Merlion Park, the views from here are just spectacular. You can see the Esplanade "bug eyes" up close and personal, too. Find a nice spot among the plants and trees and enjoy the night breeze blowing in from the sea. If you're lucky enough to have a companion, hang out at the waterfront promenade where most of the couples are.

If you want to make the most of your free time (while resting your feet), why not visit the local libraries? There's library@orchard and another one at Esplanade called library@esplanade (what else). Both have an impressive collection of DVDs, CDs, books, magazines, and newspapers. There's even an in-house cafe. I prefer the one at Esplanade. For one, it's newer. There's less people. It has dedicated CD sampling stations and DVD screening rooms. According to my friend, it even has a soundproofed piano practice room. And the best part? It closes at 10pm.

Hop on the topless HiPPO bus. From Nov. 13, 2004 to Jan. 2, 2005, the Singapore Tourism Board is offering visitors free rides on the HiPPO bus as it goes around Orchard Road. Go to the upper deck an take in the panoramic view of the night city lights. Just pray it doesn't rain. Last time I took the 30-minute tour, the guide was getting people to sing Christmas carols in exchange for Duck Tour tickets. Yeah, it drizzled a bit that night.

Free entrance to museums on Friday nights. Most of the museums in Singapore open from 10am to 7pm. On Friday nights, however, some open till 9pm, and entrance from 7pm onwards is free. Choices include Singapore Art Museum, Singapore History Museum, and Asian Civilizations Museum. Now, who would want to go on a museum tour on a Friday night, you ask? I, for one. Except that I had a chicken rice dinner with a friend, plus ice kacang for dessert. So, no contest.

Catch the nightly laserlight shows at Sentosa Musical Fountain or Suntec City's Fountain of Wealth. Did I mention that both are free? The Magical Sentosa show is quite awesome. There's music and water fountains that sway and dance to the beat and fog machines and bursts of fire so hot you can actually feel the heat on your face. I'm sure Sentosa took this idea from Suntec's Fountain of Wealth. Now, Sentosa's Musical Fountain show also have this machine that creates a blanket of water onto which laserlight is projected to create a color image, much like how a regular office projector work. The last time I went to Sentosa, which was a couple of years ago, the show was called "Rise of the Merlion" which tells of the history of Singapura and how it was discovered. Now, the show is about some magical creatures in Sentosa and other baloney. Nice effects, though.

Strictly speaking, the Sentosa show is not exactly free because you have to pay a S$2 entrance fee to enter the island. (Used to be S$6.) What you need to do is to get your friend to book his hotel either at Shangri-La or The Sentosa. The hotel will issue him an entrance pass, which you can then use to enter the island at will. From there, all bus and monorail rides within Sentosa are free. At the end of the day, you can even catch the complimentary bus back to the city.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmas Greetings from Bavaria

Received a Christmas card from my good friend in Germany. It's not everyday that you get handcrafted cards with little cutout stars inside. The envelope even has stamps featuring nativity scenes by Rubens.

Danke schön, mademoiselle. You made me very happy. :-)

Standing Ovation

The thing with standing ovations is that you don't know what it's for anymore. Theoretically, after a breathtaking performance, the audience feels a sense of rapture, so they stand up with joy and break out in thunderous applause. Nowadays, I guess half of the audience stand up and clap to show that they understood or appreciated the show, and the other half complete the standing ovation because the others are blocking their view, and they wanna see what's going on.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Dispose of Thoughtfully

A colleague offered me some Wrigley's Extra chewing gum during our meeting. I was about to throw the wrapper away when I noticed something. The wrapper says, "Please dispose of all litter thoughtfully." I gave it about three seconds of thought, then threw it away.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Missed Again!

So my colleague from KL called up and wanted to know how's my schedule for next week. They flew in a guy from Manila to configure the TA, but as of the moment, the routing's all wrong and packets are not coming out of the external interface. He's thinking of getting me to KL next week for a couple of days to fix things up. Just before I was able to answer, he got an incoming call that he got to take.

He called me back later to say that that was another engineer in Manila he contacted. And he's ok to go to KL next week. Drat! Better luck next time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Silence Is Golden

My sister sees a Cadbury bar on my desk, picks it up, and asks me, "Are you going to eat this?" Talk about trick questions! You tell me how I'm supposed to answer that. "No, I'm waiting for its half-life to pass."

Well, it's not like I'll lose a finger if I don't eat that choco bar. Then again, I heard these things taste great. Moral of the story? Silence is golden.

Dummies Guide to Singlish

Listen to the Singaporeans long enough, and you can start to understand what they're trying to say. Knowing a bit of Malay and Hokkien and Cantonese helps a lot. I'm no expert myself, but you can always pick up the meaning from the context. Those which I don't get (and very often used), I'll just have to presume to be naughty words.

First, Singlish comes with lots of tags. They don't mean anything, but they make the language unique. For example:
Aiyah, will you two stop it?
You're so funny, man.
Actually, hor, that's not what I meant.
He's always like that, lor.
You think this is funny, ah?
No, lah. That's wrong, lah.
Why you so stupid one?

So far, there's only one Singlish interjection I've heard. Use it in place of wow, holy cow, crickey, my goodness, walanghiya, ohmigawd, Jesus H. Christ, etc. I give you, "Wah lau eh!" Ususally used to express surprise. (I have the feeling this is a bad word, so don't use it that often.)
Wah lau eh. My stocks dropped 33% today.
Wah lau eh. Sari, JT, AND Anthony all resigned from the company.
I've heard some people use Alamak! and Adoi!, but nothing beats Wah lau eh!

Some word replacements:
so, very = si beh, damn
tough, severe = teruk, chia lat
woman, girl = char bor
bad luck = suay
crazy = seow
embarrassing = malu
properly = swee-swee
to beat up = hoot
Caucasian = ang moh
what did you say = gong sia mi
to complain = kau peh kau bu
is that so = si ani
bad trip = siao liao
kopi tiam = local traditional coffee shop

All together now:
Heya, have you heard? Half the class failed the exam! Siao liao.
Wah lau eh, you sure? That's bad, man. I studied all night, you know.
Yeah, lor. Me, too. That exam was damn teruk! I did all my graphs swee-swee. Maybe I'll get partial points.
No way, man. Ang moh teacher said all or nothing, leh. Seow char bor. So malu if I fail. I'm gonna hoot her, what!
Gong sia mi? It's not her fault, mah. Kao peh kao bu won't help. Finals next week already.
Adoi! Si ani, meh? Studying is si beh chia lat one. I think I need 85% to pass. So suay. Like that how can?
Can, lah. Quit the kopi tiam, and hit the books. Sure can one.
Ok, lor. If you say so.

As with learning any new language, having a good dictionary helps a lot.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Confused over Accents

I keep getting Singaporean and Malaysian accents mixed up. Not that I can distinguish them in the first place. After having been away from Singapore for a week now, I'm starting to find the accent interesting in a funny way. Like the accent, but not the Singlish.

Just today, I met the wife of a colleague. First thing I asked her after the introduction, "Are you from Singapore?" "No, Malaysia." Same thing happened to me last week at a farewell dinner for a colleague. The girl beside me was speaking with the accent, so I asked her the same question. "No, I'm from Malaysia."

Pai seh. Next time, I'll start with the assumption that people with that accent is from Malaysia. Not unless I'm in Singapore.

Where Does the Time Go?

Seems to me that as we grow older, times passes a bit faster. Maybe this is what Einstein's theory of relativity is all about. We have a more vivid recollection of our college and high school days, but it seems to me that my six years in elementary school lasted a lot longer than nine years of high school and university.

There's always not enough time. There's always hundred more emails to delete, scores of websites to visit, and a couple more applications to download. There's stacks of books to read, packets of stamps to sort, directories of downloaded MP3s to listen to, digital photos to analyze and appreciate. By the time the clock strikes 1am, I'm so sleepy I start nodding off every few minutes. I write blog entries which don't really represent me. I lose control of my pointing finger, and it starts hitting the Delete key randomly on my office emails. (Oh, you were fired a few days ago. Hahaha.)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Words of Wisdom

Be ready. It doesn't matter if the weather forecast says sunny. Bring an umbrella. You can use it rain or shine (if you're Asian). Pack some power bars. You might not have enough time for lunch.

If there's defensive driving, there's also such a thing as defensive walking. Scan your surrounding every few seconds. Project a virtual personal space bubble, and be wary when someone crosses it without your permission.

On a trip, bring only the essentials. Travel light. Nobody remembers what you wore yesterday. Always have your passport, credit cards, and the mobile phone on your person. Everything else is replaceable.

Never be late for an appointment or a date. Ten minutes early is on time. Scout the surroundings, check out the people. Know where the nearest exits (and washrooms) are.

Always have a plan B. Don't over-analyze, and never assume. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Never be caught by surprise.

6 Movies in One Week! (Part Three)

On my flight back from Singapore, I decided to go for Love Actually. In terms of star power, it's got Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, Alan Rickman, Kiera Knightly, et al. Plus Denise Richards. Need I say more? :-) I've been wanting to see this movie for quite some time, but unfortunately, it wasn't as good as I expected it to be. The movie is being billed as a romantic comedy, with different people and different situations showing the various facets of love. My only complaint is that there's just too many characters with multiple storylines crammed into a two-hour movie. The characters are under-developed, and the plots too easily resolved.

You've got the newly-elected British Prime Minister unable to concentrate on running the country because he is distracted by his cute assistant, so he had her transferred. On Christmas Eve, he tracks her down, joins the whole family in her brother's school Christmas pageant, and kissed her in front of the whole audience. Then, there's this guy who has this huge crush on his best friend's fiancee. What can he do? He kept his silence. Come Christmas eve, he visits their house, and pretends to be a caroller so that the guy won't be suspicious. Bearing placards, he explains to the girl that he loves her, but don't worry, he's saying it just this once (since it's Christmas) without hope or agenda, and from now on, they'll all be good friends. We also have this heartbroken author who fell in love with his Portuguese housekeeper after he sees her half-naked jumping into a freezing pond to retrieve his windblown manuscript pages. Again on Christmas Eve, he flies off to France searching for his former housekeeper, locates her at the restaurant where she's working as a waitress, and proposes to her in broken Protuguese. (He has been taking lessons.) This being Christmas, she accepts his English. (She too has been taking lessons...just in case.) There's the secretary who's coming on strong on her married boss. The middle-aged guy felt flattered. He buys a necklace for his young persistent seducer. The wife discovered the necklace, but didn't get it as a Christmas gift, so she knows something's afoot. Later, she confronts her husband. The husband confesses his mistake. End of story.

The remaining stories are very simplistic and unbelievable, so I'll just mention them in passing:

  • Boy has puppy-love-crush on girl who's going back to the US. With the blessings of his Dad, he breaks through several levels of airport security to say goodbye to his girl. (This is after 9/11.)
  • Delusional English slacker thinks he's God's sexiest gift to American girls, so he flies off to Milwaukee. On his first bar stop, he was picked up by three girls who just loves Englishmen with a British accent, and wants him to sleep with them on a single bed - naked.
  • Washed-up former rocker records lousy version of Christmas Is All Around. Surprisingly, it hits #1. Instead of attending the hot parties he's been invited to, he turns up at his lonely manager's flat to spend Christmas with him.
  • Martyr-sister sacrifices her own promising lovelife to take care of her mentally-disturbed brother.
Ah, the crazy things people do during Christmas!

Being a sucker for cartoons and animated movies, I watched Shark's Tale next. Another star-studded event with Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, et al lending their voices to the characters. Coming after Finding Nemo, also with a story involving fish and vegetarian sharks, there tend to be comparisons. I liked the animation and the visuals of Finding Nemo, but Shark's Tale definitely has the better characters and funnier jokes. Having watched a few Renée movies, I'm surprised I wasn't able to spot her character earlier. Her pout later gave her away.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

6 Movies in One Week! (Part Two)

Next movie I watched after the Bourne series is Ocean's Eleven. Yeah, the flight was that long. I've heard some bad reviews about Ocean's Eleven, but since Ocean's Twelve is coming out soon, I thought I might get a preview so I can understand the sequel. Had to say I didn't enjoy the movie that much. I expected much more given that stars such as Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Bernie Mac, et al were starring. They obviously had a good time making the movie, but they didn't seem to put any effort into it. Most of the time, they were just talking and planning with not much action. When Clooney was explaining how tough it is to pull the heist off, I thought, "Oh, this has to be good then." Later, unrealistic things just started happening, and there they are in the vault with the money.

Maybe it's because I'm already on my 5th hour of movie-watching, that's why I wasn't able to appreciate the movie fully? It also doesn't help that I had to return the headset just when the gang is starting their heist. I saw the stewardess coming, so I started fast-forwarding through the movie. Last thing I heard was Clooney saying, "There's $150 million in the vault. You let us go with half, and you still have the other half." With my headset gone, I proceeded to watch a silent movie. Based on the images, the gang somehow managed to walk away with all of the loot. Heck, Clooney even got his wife back. A quick check at The Movie Spoiler filled in all the blanks. Must say the plot twist at the end is pretty smart.

Later in the middle of the week, I watched The Polar Express around midnight at a 24-hour cinema with an old friend. Her first and only choice is Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason, but unfortunately I've seen it before. (See earlier blog entry.) I really wanted to see The Incredibles, but she had seen it, plus Shark's Tale. So we settled for The Polar Express. I've seen parts of the trailer, and the first thing I noticed is the zombie-like characters. They look like humans. They walk and talk like humans, but they come out as dead as dolls. They remind me of the characters in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. They were hyping about the ultra-realistic renderings and how the movements of each strand of Dr. Aki's hair is calculated. Heck, I still prefer the animation in Toy Story and Shrek.

Anyway, the plot is straightforward, but heart-warning. Just what the doctor ordered for cynical grown-ups like me. There's this boy who's going into his teens, and he starts to doubt whether Santa Claus is for real. A few minutes before Christmas, a steam train stops in front of his house. It's the Polar Express on its way to the North Pole. The boy reluctantly joins the ride, where he meets other kids and makes new friends. They had lots of exciting adventures during the trip. In the end, he gets to meet the jolly old man, and wakes up believing in Christmas for the rest of his life.

The first highlight of the movie is when the train pulled up alongside the boy's house. The train looked and sounded so real! The part where these singing and dancing waiters burst into the compartment serving hot chocolate is a nice touch. There's also a sequence where the boy lost the girl's train ticket. The way the ticket flutters about in the air will surely remind viewers of the floating feather sequence at the start of Forrest Gump. Sometimes the realistic animation and the crazy camerawork actually made me feel dizzy, especially during the part when the train is rushing through the tunnels in a 179-degree grade.

Being an engineer, I can't help thinking about the nitty-gritty details of the movie, like what do those letters punched into the tickets mean? (I was mighty happy too when I figured out the word "BELIEVE" before the conductor revealed it.) Then, I also noticed that there were no lady elves working the shops. It was only when the elves started dancing that they showed up. And how many reindeers are there supposed to be in Santa's sleigh? I counted eight, so where's Rudolph? My friend reminded me that I should focus more on the story.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

6 Movies in One Week! (Part One)

Singapore Airlines is always a good way to fly. I agree with my colleagues that the stewardesses are a sight for sore eyes, but most of the time my eyes are fixed on the monitor in front of me. Even in economy class, everyone gets a personal monitor with access to dozens and dozens of movies and TV shows, hundreds of audio CDs, and scores of games. The movies and CDs are all on-demand. You can make a selection any time you want, with options to start, stop, pause, fast-forward, and rewind. And that's how I ended up watching 6 movies in a week.

Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy. Definitely two of the better spy movies I've watched. They're smart, they're slick, they're intelligent. If you're looking for James Bond. Go somewhere else. Story of a black ops agent who loses his memory in a mission gone wrong. With the help of an unwilling stranger, he tries to piece back his life, and later decides he wants out. His handler thinks he has gone rouge, and so orders his operatives in the field to take him out. There's not much plot twists, but it's how the story is played out which makes the movie good. Particularly liked the escape from the US Embassy, the Mini Cooper car chase, and the hand-to-hand combat in the French apartment.

Bourne Supremacy is more of the same, but with a new plot. We find Bourne and his wife Marie living happily and anonymously on the beach in Goa in southern India. A Russian assassin comes to town and before the couple can escape, kills off Marie. As the movie tagline said, "They should've left him alone." Apparently, Bourne knows something from his Treadstone days that someone would prefer he forget permanently. Some agents under CIA surveillance in Berlin were killed during an operation, and the scene was set up so Bourne would take the blame. So Bourne comes out of retirement to face his tormentors head on, and make them leave him alone. More car chases (taxi vs. SUV), more stalkings, more gunfights. I've got a stack of Robert Ludlum books at home, but never read any of them. These movies are interesting enough that I might start reading them.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Lost and Found

Halfway to the gym, I noticed that my membership card is not in my wallet. I'm pretty sure I didn't leave it at home. Oh well, the gym should have an online database, so I'm not that worried.

And what do you know? When I got the gym, the card is right there on the counter. Right where I left it more than a week ago, when I last visited the gym. It's a wonder nobody took it as the membership card doesn't come with a photo. I'm impressed.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Singapore Idol Grand Finals

Was surprised to find out while channel-surfing yesterday that there IS a Singapore Idol. Unlike the Australian Idol, where the last perfomance and finale are on different dates, the Singapore Idol Grand Finals is on the same night, Dec. 1.

By the time I rushed back to the hotel (skipping dinner) and switched on the telly, Taufik and Slyvester have just finished their three songs each. Not to worry though. While waiting for the 11pm verdict, there were enough replays and highlights to allow me to form my own opinion.

It's the same "Idol" packaging, but Singapore's is unique. For one, the audience support is clearly there. The venue was jampacked with teenagers and adults alike. When asked to comment, Dick Lee, singer/songwriter and Idol judge, went onstage to the piano and belted out a medley with lyrics specially written for the show. While waiting for the verdict, the eliminated finalists joined the show, and they had lots and lots of song-and-dance numbers. I'm not making any accusations here, but I have this nasty suspicion that they are lipsyching a la That's Entertainment. The voice levels are just too consistent compared to live numbers of the two finalists.

People have been complaining that the Australian Idol hosts are bad. The Singapore Idol one is even worse. I've seen a few of Gurmit Singh's sitcoms, and he seems to be a local version of Jim Carrey (but not as talented and versatile). No doubt he is popular, but c'mon, a decent host needs to have at least some hosting skills. He goes around asking the finalists and judges, "What are your thoughts right now?" And he does this every few minutes. And he doesn't even try to get a conversation going. Ask a question, get an answer, BANG! Move on to the next victim. Maybe because of this, the judges have been reduced to giving familiar cliches and soundbites. "The voting lines are not yet closed, but we already have two winners." "You are not a good performer. You are an exceptional performer." "Move over, Stevie Wonder, because Taufik is in the house!" "All this time you have been emulating your idols. From now on, people will be emulating you." What's this? Wannabes emulating a copycat?

To make up for his lack of hosting skills, the emcee works the crowd by shouting inanities, such as "Are you having fun?!", "Somebody scream!", "Make some NOISE!!!", "SAY YEAH!!!", etc. And the audience is too pumped up already to ignore him. I'm just happy my choice for Singapore Idol (and Australian Idol) won.