Sunday, January 29, 2006

Australian Open 2006 Men's Finals - Federer vs. Baghdatis

Marcos BaghdatisSo now it has come to this - the unseeded upstart versus the world's number one. Personally, I think Federer will win the championship. Not because Baghdatis is ranked only 54, but because Federer can NOT lose. His game is not as perfect as it was in the earlier matches, but it's just unthinkable for him to lose. Well, 20-year old Baghdatis is a promising player, and he's got unstoppable momentum and the whole Cypriot-Greek community behind him, so he might have a chance. It'd be so romantic for the guy to win the championship.

Roger FederrerBaghdatis clearly set the pace in the first set with his huge serves. Down a set and a break, Federer held his nerve and started fighting back. The second set could've gone to a tiebreaker, but the umpire called Baghdatis' forehand long when it was clearly in. The bad call must've affected Baghdatis somewhat. From there on, Federer had a 10-game winning steak, which took the match away from Baghdatis. Cramps in the fourth set didn't help the Cypriot either. Federer won 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2. Tears of joy and relief from the champ.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Australian Open 2006 Women's Finals - Mauresmo vs. Henin-Hardene

Mauresmo comforts Henin-HardeneI was expecting fireworks in the women's finals match, but it ended with a whimper. It's just not Justine's day - her serves are not going in, and she's making too many unforced errors. Mauresmo must've sensed something was wrong because the normally aggressive French was happy to simply keep the ball in play until Justine makes a mistake. After losing the first set in just 33 minutes, Justine called for the trainer, and had some medication. Two games in the second set, she went up to the umpire to announce she's giving up the match after only 52 minutes of matchplay. So after seven long years, Mauresmo finally wins her first Grand Slam title in a most anti-climactic way. Score 6-1, 2-0.

It's a good thing I watched the match at home. I would've demanded a refund if I had been in the Rod Laver Arena.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Nigel Kennedy Plays Vivaldi

Nigel KennedyFor those who don't know, Nigel Kennedy is commonly recognized as one of the world's best violin virtuosos. As a child, he studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School, then later moved on to the Juilliard School of Music in New York. His recordings of the Brahms and Beethoven violin concertos have each sold over 100,000 copies, but he is best known for his recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Over 2 million copies of the album have been sold; a Guinness Record as the best-selling classical work of all time.

The last time Nigel Kennedy was in Sydney was in December 2003. I missed him then, but I'm not about to miss him now. By the time I called the Opera House box office, all the good seats are gone. That's in spite of the two extra playdates they opened due to popular demand. I managed to get a seat called A35. Must be the worst seat in the house because it's the first row right in front (actually below) the stage, and to the extreme left.

Opera House Concert HallOn top of being my first expensive classical concert, this is also the first time I entered the Opera House's Concert Hall. The place was huge, and the ceilings way up high. I promptly started taking pictures, only to stop when one of the ushers told me that picture-taking is not allowed. Meanwhile, camera flashes are still popping all around me. When Kennedy walked onto the stage, he was greeted with thunderous applause - even before playing a single note. As the bad boy of classical music, he certainly looked the part. No suit, no tux - just a white shirt and a very worn black silk jacket. His hair was closely cropped at the sides, with spiky hair on top, and a stubble on his chin. Yesterday being Australia Day, he played the national anthem with the orchestra. Everybody loved it. Kennedy, who has an Australian father, thought of getting an Australian passport, but later decided against it because he disapproves of Australia sending troops to Iraq. He remains a Brit living in Poland.

I had no idea what's the programme for tonight. I sort of assumed it's going to be Four Seasons. Apparently not. Kennedy and the Sydney Symphony will be playing six of Vivaldi's concertos:

  • Concerto in A minor for violin, strings and harpsichord RV356
  • Concerto in D major for violin, strings and harpsichord RV230
  • Concerto in B flat major for violin, oboe, strings and harpsichord RV548
  • Interval
  • Concerto in D major for 2 violins, strings and harpsichord RV507
  • Concerto in C major for 2 violins, strings and harpsichord RV511
  • Concerto in G minor (Summer from The Four Seasons) for violin, strings and harpsichord RV315
Kennedy's playing is just superb. Every note is clear and precise. While everyone else is seated and staring intently at the music sheets, he would be cavorting about the place, stomping his feet to accentuate some passages, winking at some of the lady violinists, and making them lose concentration. He has great rapport with the orchestra members, and it shows when they play. He calls most of the members by their names. He knows who just had her birthday, who is marrying whom soon, who has a winery, etc. Before he starts with a piece, he would explain a little bit about it to the audience, making jokes now and then. And he is very generous with his music. The first set is supposed to be around 35 minutes, but it extended to an hour. The second half is supposed to be 45 minutes, which was stretched to twice that. Aside from the Vivaldi concertos, we were also treated to a couple of Bach's Two-Part Inventions (originally for piano), which he played with Catherine Hewgill on the cello. In a particularly difficult piece (the 8th), he was playing so fast that Catherine cried out in surprise when it ended!

He talks in a Cockney accent, and his sense of humour is very different. This is his spiel before playing the 8th:
Kennedy: Now we have a very difficult one, where Cat normally hates me after this because like I play it too fast for particularly the purist type of Cat. (Audience laughter.) What is a purist anyway? (Turns to Cat.) What do you think?
Catherine: I don't think it's me. (Audience laughter.)
Kennedy: I also can't say it in public, particularly there's children here. (Audience laughter.) Let's try to play number eight, which is a phenomenally fast number, even by Bach's standard. Thirty children in a lifetime is fast.
In another spiel:
Ladies, this next movement is really, particularly for you because it comes from a romantic episode in Vivaldi's life, which unfortunately, is unrequited love. On one of those mornings, when he was writing one of his concertos, ... he looked out of the window onto one of the canals in Venice, and he saw this gondola going by, which was not an uncommon sight, and still isn't. (Audience laughter.) Sitting in this gondola was just the most beautiful lady that he'd ever seen, and he fell in love immediately, which can happen, even to a man. (Audience laughter.) So he thought, "Man." Well I was just gonna say something I shouldn't then; but like he said, "Man." to himself 'coz he was a man. (Audience laughter.) He said maybe I should open the window and get the number of this lady's gondola. (Audience laughter.) So he made a deft bit lunge at the windows in order to open it and say, "Hi, baby. Would to come and have a look at my manuscript or something? Would you like some fine cappucino?" And unfortunately, he then noticed that it was one of those old-fashioned lead latticework windows which don't open. (Audience laughter.) So the lady just passed on by, and he never saw here again. It's a sad, sad scenario. (Audience laughter.) So he decided to, like instead of love, he needed to fill this space, so he decided to make model gondolas... (Audience laughter.) But this song that we're going to play was actually written for this lady, who I think has been reincarnated here tonight because she looked just like you, baby, in there. (Audience laughter.) Beautiful. Yeah, you. (Points to a lady.) So this is for you, baby. (Audience laughter.)

(So how did I get all this down? Well, I still don't know shorthand, and I don't have photographic memory. What I have is an MP3 player with a voice recording feature. The only problem is that it's optimized for near-field recording, and it's so sensitive that it recorded clearly all my clothes- and paper-rustling, but Kennedy's spiels and playing came out muffled.)

Michael Dauth the Concertmaster, who plays second violin tonight, is no slouch either. Add to the fact that he can balance his violin on his nose, which I'm pretty sure Kennedy can't. When they play the part for two violins, it's like they're dueling. The playing got too intense at one point, and Kennedy broke the string on his violin. The orchestra stopped while Kennedy swapped violins with the closest one he can find. Now the true test of a master, even with an unfamiliar violin without prior tuning, he played as well as before. Also accompanying Kennedy are Monika Raczynska (harpsichord) and Taro Takeuchi (baroque guitar/lute).

Nigel Kennedy at Opera HouseFor the encore, he played his version of Jimi Hendrix' Purple Haze with the orchestra. He got off the stage and walked past the first row, where I was. I took a couple of shots, in spite of what the lady said. He chatted some more, segued into "Strangers in the Night" for a pretty lady he saw. He and the orchestra left the stage, but came back for more when the audience didn't stop applauding. They played one final Scottish Highland tune, the title of which even Kennedy can't remember because he said learned it in a pub. (Hahahah.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australian Open 2006 Men's Semi-Finals - Baghdatis vs. Nalbandian

David NalbandianNow this is a good match. Baghdatis got the overwhelming support of the crowd which really powered him on, and Nalbandian is out to tame the wild man. Baghdatis put up a brave fight in the 2nd set, but Nalbandian's just too good. Baghdatis ought to make more adventurous shots. I mean, being the 52nd seed, what has he got to lose anyway? The tide started turning for Baghdatis on the 3rd set, leading 4-2, then 5-2. Baghdatis made some pretty confident service returns, which turned out to be winners - overhead smashes, blistering serves.

Baghdatis is getting quite comfortable with his game in the crucial 4th set. No sign of fatigue or apprehension. Marcos BaghdatisVery, very confident serves and aces. Leading 4-2. Nalbandian started making lots of unforced errors and bad first serves, showing a hint of uneasiness. Baghdatis goes to 5-3 after winning a deuce. Nalbandian takes it to 5-4. Baghdatis wins the fourth set 6-4 with two sets all. Baghdatis is really on a roll.

Nalbandian gets aggressive at the start of the 5th set. Baghdatis started losing his powerful first serves and lots of unforced errors. Nalbandian broke Baghdatis' serve for 2-0. Now in control. The crowd is getting too rowdy, and the umpire had to remind them (again and again) to be silent during the service. Terrific atmosphere - the kind of game you'd want to watch live. Marcos BaghdatisThis time Nalbandian keeps returning wide. Baghdatis broke his serve 0-40 to make it 3-4, for a chance to tie. Both players can't seem to hold serve. And he ties. Baghdatis plays defensive, and Nalbandian breaks his own serve with unforced errors. Score 5-4, suddenly in favor of Baghdatis. He now has a change to win the match. The score goes to 15-15 when it started raining. Most players would have been frustrated with the loss of momentum, but Baghdatis took it as a sign from heaven and was so happy for the break. Marcos BaghdatisThe roof was closed, the court mopped up, and play continues.

The game goes to 40-30, matchpoint for Baghdatis. Baghdatis makes a great shot, but was declared wide by the umpire. Hawk-eye says it's in by 22cm. Games goes to deuce. Advantage Baghdatis thanks to a forehand into the net from Nalbandian. And a sizzling ace down the middle from crazy Baghdatis seals the deal. Score 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Australian Open 2006 - Roddick vs. PONG

PONGJust love those Amex commercials featuring Roddick. Remember last year's commercial where Roddick booked two seats on his return flight: one for him and one for his (expected) Australian Open trophy? This year, the ad has him playing a match against PONG. "Watch out for this guy. He returns everything," warns his coach. True enough, the white rectangular block at the other end of the court deflects back every shot Roddick makes.

Not about to lose the match to an Atari game, Roddick puts on his thinking cap and goes, "My life is about finding a way to win." He then serves the ball short. Since PONG can only move in one dimension (horizontally), Roddick wins.

Fancy a game with PONG?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

4-Node NSM Upgrade

Can't remember the last time I was awake for 33 hours straight. There were four servers to be upgraded - two of them I have already pre-built, and another two to be built from scratch. Pre-configuring the first two servers saved me a couple of hours, but still I have to migrate 3.5 million subscribers to an LDAP directory, and that takes time. After the migration, there are still little pieces of configuration here and there that needs to be remembered and done: change of IPs, add some static routes, crontabs, etc.

The other two servers are supposed to go in the next night (actually, tonight already), but no way am I going home to take a couple of hours' sleep, then come back to work again, so I pressed on. That's another two rounds of OS installation, package installation, patch installation, LDAP synchronization, configuration, etc. Finished everything by 3pm. Disconnect console cable. Close rack doors. Sign out. Drive home. Sleep.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Movies in the Overflow - Triplets of Belleville

Movies in the Overflow 2006Yup, it's that time of the year again. I just love open-air cinemas, especially when they're free. As part of Sydney Festival 2006, Sydney Olympic Park and Nine Network is sponsoring Movies in the Overflow. Some notable movies include: Madagascar, Shaolin Soccer, Triplets of Belleville, Wallace & Grommit The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Bride and Prejudice, Howl's Moving Castle, and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.

Sydney Festival 2006Tonight's fare is Les Triplettes de Belleville. Heard good things about the movie, but have no idea what it's about. One of those movies where you either like it or hate it. For me, I think my one and a half hours could've been better spent doing something else, but at the moment I have nothing better to do. There's something very appealing in the movie, but I can't put my finger on it. The colors are muted and earthy. The characters are exaggeratedly drawn - most of them obese. This is a semi-silent movie, as the characters make noises and utterances, not speech; except when the Belleville Sisters are singing. You have this plump kid living with his Grandma and a dog. Granny buys Champion a tricycle, which started his passion for cycling. Every day he practises for Tour de France with Granny regulating his training, diet and sleep. During the race, he and two others were picked up by some goons and smuggled into the seaport city of Belleville. Triplets of BellevilleMadame Souza and Bruno gave chase and ended up in a foreign place with no shelter, no money, and no food. Fortunately, they met the Triplets of Belleville, and were taken in. The downside is that they have to eat frogs every single day. With some sleuthing, Madame Souza was able to track down Champion. Apparently, the French mafia godfather who abducted the cyclists are using them as pawns in a gambling game. The cyclists are drugged and strapped onto stationary bikes with a screen in front of them showing the Tour de France route. The three cyclists ride and ride until they fall off the bike from exhaustion, and only winner is left. In the end, it's up to Madame Souza and the Belleville Sisters (and Bruno) to rescue Champion from the clutches of the French Mafia.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Gold Coast Tour Day 5

The Shipping NewsIt's a long boring 12-hour trip back to Sydney. Spent most of my time reading E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News - about a newspaperman in Newfoundland and the women in his life. It's one of those times where the book is better than the movie. The movie is ok with Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore as lead characters, but the story merely plods along until the end. Sometimes you wonder why they're showing this or why they're doing that. The only high point is when they burned down Nutbeem's boat at the height of the farewell party. The fly-away shot at the end is a nice touch, too. With the book, all the small insignificant stuff helps in developing the characters and the story. It's a bit boring, but you get to appreciate the author's prose and style of writing. Don't worry too much about the grammar though.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Gold Coast Tour Day 4

Koala at Paradise CountryOur agenda for the day is Paradise Country in the morning, Sea World in the afternoon, amphibian cruise before dinner, dinner, then sleep. My brother and I decided to skip the amphibian cruise along the Surfers Paradise Esplanade and Broadwater, since it's nothing new. LYW's even skipping Sea World because she'd rather spend more time at the beach. I guess she just had enough of Ocean Park, which I was told was patterned after Sea World. The only reason she didn't skip Paradise Country altogether is because she wants her picture taken with the koala.

Kangaroos at Paradise CountryParadise Country is supposed to give people a taste of the "real Australia" - farm life and outback adventure. You don't have to go too far to experience it though. It's located just beside Movie World and Wet'n'Wild World. First thing they do once you get past the gates, is to drive you straight to the Koala Village and Photo Centre. For a fee, you get to cuddle a koala, and have your picture taken. Personally, I think it's a tourist trap, but the Japanese are just crazy about koalas. LYW believes in having a plan B, so she asked us to take pictures of her while she's posing with the koala. A lot of good that did because the pictures we took are a bit blurred. The Farm's plan A is fine though. Aside from koalas, the park also has a nursery with kangaroos, emus, turkeys, and farm animals such as cows, sheep, alpacas, etc. You can feed them and have pictures taken with them for free.

Billy Tea and Damper at Paradise CountryAs part of the tour, we were shown how billy tea is made and were given damper to sample. The ranch hand even made a show of swinging the tin can with the boiling water inside. Good thing he didn't make a mistake and scald someone. Next, we gathered 'round the show paddocks to see the cowboys and cowgirl rustle the sheep and cattle, thrown some boomerangs, crack the whips, and pose for pictures. Another highlight of the tour is the sheep-shearing demonstration. There are different varieties of sheep and rams and they're smarter than I thought. Sheep and Rams from Paradise CountryFrom one end of the auditorium, they paraded through the audience, up the stage and parked themselves to where their nameplates are. For some audience participation, the host selected two guys and two girls. He was looking for someone big and strong, so he chose me. (Yeah, right!) I was a bit excited because I've never sheared a sheep before, but as it turns out, it was still the guy who sheared the sheep, and I was given the chance to hold onto his had for a few seconds while he was doing it. Better than nothing. Sheep-Shearing at Paradise CountryFor me, he stuffed some raw wool into my shirt to buff up my arm muscles. For the other guy, the wool went into his chest. As for the lady participant, one got a flower made out of wool, and the other got a fluffy futon. It was a great photo-op, but unfortunately my brother is not familiar with my camera controls, and camera battery ran out at exactly that moment. It's a good thing LYW managed to get a few good shots, as the pictures taken by the park photographers weren't printed out yet when we left the place.

Sea WorldThe whole afternoon was spent at Sea World. Major shows here would be the Waterski WipeOut, Planet SOS in 4-D, Quest for the Golden Seal, and the Dolphin Cove Show. Thanks to just-in-time scheduling and lots of legwork, we managed to cover them all. In between showtimes, we even managed to visit Dugong Discovery, Polar Bear Shores, Shark Bay, and the Cartoon Network Cartoon Beach. Dolphin Cove Show at Sea WorldI would say the Dolphin Cove Show is the best of them all, while the Quest for the Golden Seal rates the lowest. I mean, seals can waddle around, balance balls on their noses, wave their arms, walk with their tails up, but they're no match for (Free) Willy and his crew. People just love dolphins. There are lots of rides around the park, but our allotted time was not enough, so we didn't get to try any of them.

Brisbane Town HallThis being our last day in Queensland, we spent the night roaming around the Brisbane city centre. At the intersection of Ann and Albert Streets is the Town Hall. In front of it is the King George Square with metal sculptures here and there. Going down Ann Street, you'll find the Central Train Station on the left, and the Shrine of Remembrance with its Eternal Flame on the right. Go through the ANZAC Square, you'll pass by the Second Boer War memorial statue, and end up at the General Post Office building. Shrine of Remembrance, BrisbaneTurn right for some shopping along Queen Street Mall, or go through the GPO to the Post Office Square. Straight ahead is St. Stephen's Cathedral. If you go further down, you'll end up at Brisbane River. From the Waterfront Place, you get a pretty good view of Story Bridge. From what I've read, Story Bridge is only one of three bridges in the whole Australia, which is climbable. To the right is the City Botanic Gardens. Since it's already late night, we didn't venture in anymore. And that ends our night tour of Brisbane.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Gold Coast Tour Day 3

Lady Musgrave IslandToday we head off for Bundaberg's part of the Great Barrier Reef. A little bit excited, a little bit worried because we didn't get to buy any motion sickness pills. All the pharmacy shops we visited yesterday were still closed for the holidays. I skipped breakfast as a precaution, thinking if I have nothing in the stomach, then maybe I won't be tempted to vomit. Could be a good idea, could be a bad one. It's 4 hours of boat ride from the Bundaberg port to Lady Musgrave Island. I'm beginning to get a bit worried because the longest boat ride I have taken was from Circular Quay to Paramatta, which is only about one hour's worth. Then again, the only times I've puked was over-exercising at the gym, and overdrinking (2 bottles of beer). LYW doesn't have such a problem because she goes wakeboarding on weekends. The 4-hour ride started quite smoothly. The sun was out, but there's clouds here and there. There's a sea breeze blowing, and as long as I keep on talking, I might block out the fact that the clouds are getting less and less, and the waves getting choppier. At one point, I decided to check out the lower deck, and maybe use the washroom. Big mistake. Unknown to me, my body's feeling very dizzy now, and it hit me when I got to the washroom. Let me spare you the gory details, but let me tell you that it's always better to vomit with a full stomach. Puking with an empty stomach is like trying to breathe underwater. Not a nice experience. Worse, by the time I managed to limp back to the upper deck, somebody has taken over my seat. Feeling the effects of the waves again, I plopped down on the nearest empty seat I can find. Apologies to the original occupant, but this is an emergency.

Naughty Terns on Lady Musgrave IslandBy 11:30am, we reached our intended pontoon. After a short break, we rode a glass-bottom boat to reach Lady Musgrave Island. The water's so clear that you can see the corals, fish and turtles passing by. The 14-hectare Lady Musgrave Island is actually just the tip of the iceberg. The "iceberg" being a 1192-hectare Great Barrier Reef coral reef, and about 1/3 of the reef area is a lagoon - over 8kms in circumference. Our tour of Lady Musgrave Island is pretty short - just a short walk to see the naughty terns resting on the trees, and their nests underground. Underground Nests of the Naughty TernsA park volunteer showed us the spot where turtles usually come in to nest and hatch their eggs. After that overview, we took a ride on the semi-submersible. This time, we got an even better view of the fish and the corals. Our guide explained that the corals are not as colorful as the ones on the postcards because the sunlight dulls their colors a bit. The photographers usually take the pictures at night when the corals are most "active", and they use special lens filters. Then, it's back to the pontoon for lunch. Spooked by the morning's incident, I didn't dare eat too much anymore.

Is it healthy to go for swimming immediately after lunch? Everybody seems to think so because that's what we did. I'm not an expert in swimming, but armed with a swimming vest and flippers and the optional snorkeling set, you can pretty much do anything in the water (except dive). The underwater view is just spectacular. The fish look like the real thing, and the corals are so close. The fish seem to be accustomed to the tourists already. One even bit my finger while I was pointing at it. (Yeah, I know, it's rude to point, so I deserve it.)

After almost two hours of snorkeling around, and hopefully burning off most of our lunch, it's time to go back to port. This time we got smart - we got front row seats in the shaded section of the upper deck. A good conversation is a nice way to combat seasickness, but nothing beats the tried-and-tested catnap. This time, we made the 4-hour trip back to shore without any incident.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Gold Coast Tour Day 2

Surfers ParadiseWhat better way to start the day than to drag your luggages all the way to the bus to find it vandalized and wrecked. Apparently, while we were all sound asleep, somebody forced the door of the bus open and turned the inside upside-down in search of treasure. Funny thing, the tourist was telling us yesterday that in spite being a tourist place, Surfers Paradise is quite safe. We can even leave our valuable inside the bus, as it'll be locked down anyway. Surfers ParadiseGood thing nobody listens to tour guides anymore. The bad guy didn't get anything valuable so he broke the gear stick and handle for the turn signals as our punishment. There goes the morning. While waiting for the bad guy to turn himself in and the replacement bus to arrive, we went down the beach with our new friend LYW for a nice stroll and some picture-taking.

Currumbin Wildlife SanctuaryBecause of the delay caused by the morning's incident, we didn't go to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary anymore. It used to be only a bird sanctuary, but has now grown to be the largest collection of native Australian animals in the world. Our new driver took us past Hotel Palazzo Versace and Sea World to a beach whose name I forgot already. Then we're off to Movie World. I have to admit to being a bit excited. It's been years since I last visited a theme park. Enchanted Kingdom's not too bad, but it's not a "real" theme park in my book.

Superman EscapeFirst ride we lined up for upon entering Movie World is the Superman Escape. It was only unveiled a few weeks ago on December 26, and it guarantees 0-100kph in 2 seconds. My brother decided to pass. Funny 'coz I never knew he had acrophobia. Convenient time too because LYW and I dumped all our loose stuff on him - cameras, shades, wallets, keys, coins, etc. The queue was long, but the ride was short, so we got to our seats pretty quickly. The ride was absolutely exhilarating - no 360 turns, but the drops are almost vertical. Superman EscapeTypical rollercoasters would ascent (relatively) slowly, then the drop, but Superman Escape actually accelerates up to 100kph on the way up, then the weightless drop. With Superman behind pushing us, the ride was very fast. Even with my eyes wide open, I can't see where we're going. Would've been nice to bring up your hands like they do in the movies, but both my hands are welded to the handlebars. I still acted my part and screamed with the rest.

Police Academy Stunt ShowNext on our list is the Police Academy Stunt Show. This is one of the park favourites, so we lined up for it very, very early. In fact, we were the first in line. The actual show was half an hour later, but the pre-show entertainment kept us occupied, as people filed into the stadium. The "pre-show entertainment" consisted of this whistle-blowing traffic officer walking behind incoming spectators and mimicking their movements. Police Academy Stunt ShowOnce in a while, he would tickle their ears with a feather and pretend he's got nothing to do with it. The main show is interesting enough - featuring the clueless Commandant Lassard and his team of bumbling cadets. Plus there are four "recruits" plucked from the audience. The comedy is slapstick, but the actors (and actress), who are stuntmen (and stuntwoman) by profession are very good. There's speeding cars doing 180-degree turns, golf carts doing wheelies, gunfights and car chases, trigger-happy robbers, policemen falling off scaffoldings, exploding armoured cars and helicopter, human cannonballs, etc.

Shrek 4D AdventureIt was mid-day, and the heat unbearable. Popped in Roxy Theatre to watch Shrek's 4D Adventure. It's another long long queue. Good thing the theatre's big enough, so we didn't have to wait for the next showtime. So why the 4D? It's basically your regular 3D show, where you watch the feature with special 3D glasses. The extra dimension is provided by the vibrating and lurching seats and light strobes. Matrix ExhibitCompressed air spray onto your legs and neck, and the seat in front squirts water at you. Next we went on a quick tour of the exclusive Matrix Exhibit. It's got loads of scale models, sets, costumes, and props for the Matrix fanatics (like LYW who actually bought the 10-disc collector's edition).

Since we missed the Aerobics Looney Tunes Style Show at 10:30am while lining up for the Police Academy Stunt Show, we made sure we didn't miss the Looney Tunes Musical Revue at 12:40pm. Looney tunes Musical RevueAs I expected, majority of the audience were kiddies. Still, it was fun to see Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and company do their dorky dance moves. Next up is the Scooby-Doo Spooky Coaster. There's a warning in front saying "Waiting Time: 45 minutes". These guys weren't kidding; the wait took that long. While inside the creepy courtyard, we passed the time by chatting and watching the movie teaser/trailer. By the end of the queue, we've seen enough of the movie we don't need to rent the video anymore. Now, my brother joined us for the ride this time. Scooby-Doo Spooky CoasterEverybody knows ghost rides are for kiddies and lovers who pretend to be scared so they can hang on to each other. Nothing to be scared of. Was he wrong. The preview with the animatronic ghouls and gargoyles and spooky sounds was nothing. When the coaster did an about-face and we saw the cavernous indoor rollercoaster track for the first time, that's when the fun begins. Not as spine-tingling as Superman Escape, but exciting enough with its unexpected dips and sudden twists and turns.

Wild West Falls Adventure RideThere's only time for one ride left, and we chose the Wild West Falls Adventure Ride. My brother had enough for the day, so it was up to me and LYW to take the fall. By this time, the heat was really bad. A lots of the guys had their shirts off (and the girls, too). A dunk in the water is most welcome. And that's what we got. After meandering through some ghost towns and Indian reservations, the water current guided us to a machine, which dragged our log up to a volcano. All Star ParadeThen it's a 20m, 70kph drop to the water. As we got the best seats in the house, both of us were drenched. Dried off while watching the All Star Parade, featuring the Warner Bros. Movie World characters like, Batman and Batgirl, the Looney Tunes gang, Austin Powers and his girls, Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang, Shrek and family, etc. Left Movie World around 3pm.

Chinatown BrisbaneThe bus then took us to Brisbane's Fortitude Valley for an early 5pm dinner at Chinatown. We've had enough Chinese cuisine, so we opted out of the pre-arranged dinner. Bad idea - most of the restaurants in the vicinity are closed. After a few minutes of exploration, we settled for the only other restaurant open at that time - a Chinese-Vietnamese one. It's about 300kms from Brisbane to Bundaberg. By the time we got to our accommodation at Bourbong Street Motel, it was already late night. Spent some quality time watching Monster Garage before hitting the sack.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Gold Coast Tour Day 1

Upturned Tree at Coff's HarbourIt's another long drive - 990 kilometers from Sydney to Gold Coast. This time I brought only one book - E. Annie Proulx' The Shipping News. Seen the movie, but didn't like it. I'm pretty sure the book would be better. The committee who gave out the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction can't be wrong.

The Big BananaFirst stop we made is at Coffs Harbour, 565 kilometres north of Sydney and 450 kilometres south of Brisbane. I don't know about you but the only thing I know about Coff's Harbour is The Big Banana and whale-watching. I didn't get to see the whales, but The Big Banana is still there. How big is it? 11 metres long, 5 metres high, and 2.4 metres wide. There's also a souvenir shop nearby, the Cockatoo Cafe, a half-kilometer toboggan ride, an ice-skating rink, etc. Big Banana SkywalkWhile everyone is busy buying trinkets, I took a walk along the Big Banana Skywalk through the banana plantation, which gives a nice view of the place in general and parts of the Pacific coastline.

Stopped for lunch at McDonald's Port Macquarie. I believe this is one of first few Maccas with the new store design being rolled out globally. Gone are the bright red-and-yellow signages in favor of muted, earthy colors. The staff uniform is also different, and there are more common tables and benches to maximize space. Big PrawnNext stop is Ballina. It is located 753kms north of Sydney, and is known for two things - sugar cane plantations and another "big thing" - the Big Prawn.

It was already nightfall when we got to Gold Coast. Stopped at Victoria Square for a quick dinner at Ming Palace. From there, it's a quick drive to our hotel for the night, the International Beach Resort. The room and facilities are nothing to write home about, but its location is wonderful. Cross the Esplanade in front of it, and you're already on the beach. Since it's already dark, my brother and I went to the Adrenalin Park instead. Slingshot at Adrenalin Park, Gold CoastIf you're young and reckless and with money to burn, this is the place for you. There's the SkyDiver where riders are suited up in a harness, hooked up to a tow cable, pulled back, winched to a height of 60 meters, then released. The ad says 0 to 100kph in 1.3 seconds. There's the Slingshot, which throws passengers up into the air at speeds of 160kph. Fly-Coaster at Adrenalin Park, Gold CoastInstead of rubber ropes or bungee cords, the machine uses computer-controlled springs, which means this ride is pretty safe. Then there's the Vomatron. Imagine a 40m-long bar with two passengers on each end. The machine swings them round and round like a Ferris wheel. Nice? Try 120kph. The rides are very expensive - from A$30 to A$90 per ride. You get a huge discount if you opt for a second ride immediately after. Want a video of yourself screaming yourself silly? Pay some more.