Saturday, July 29, 2006

Symphony at the Movies

This has got to be the bestest concert I've ever attended. Conductor Ramon Gumba's performance is just awesome. Some conductors wave their hands in tune with the music, while others are one step ahead of the orchestra. Conductor Gumba is of the latter school. I used to wonder what's a conductor's role in the orchestra as the musicians already know the pieces and they rarely look at him anyway. In tonight's case, the conductor is forceful and commanding, driving the pace of the music. We also had Clive James are presenter. Before each piece is played, he would stand up and give a short commentary on the piece or the composer - some funny anecdotes or personal experiences. He would then seat down on a designated seat on stage and enjoy the music.

Full programme as follows:

Prelude from Vertigo
Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975)
Mr. James that when the movie first came out, he didn't tire of watching it because he had an unhealthy obsession on Miss Kim Novak.

Scherzo from Symphony No. 10
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Ah, Shostakovich and his many film scores.

Things to Come: March - Machines - Attack on the Moon Guns
Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)

Mars from The Planets
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
A staple of war movies, the SSO plays this with so much force and volume, my heart skipped a beat.

The Red Violin - Chaconne for violin and orchestra
John Corigliano (born 1938)

Gabriel's Oboe from The Mission
Ennio Morricone (born 1928)
Wonderfully played by the solo flautist. Others might know this as the background music for Russell Watson's Nella Fantasie.

Main Title from The Big Country
Jerome Moross (1913-1983)
The Big Country is America's attempt to define itself. (The tagline is "Big they fought! Big they loved! Big their story!" No joke.) The main theme is a catchy tune that reminds you of wide open vistas as far as the eyes can see. Something Copland would compose, and Boston Pops would play.

Buckaroo Holiday from Rodeo
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
A witty, almost cheeky song that is certain to bring a smile to your face.

Battle of the Ice from Alexander Nevsky
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Another prolific film score composer. Battle on the Ice is about a Russian price leading his people to fight the invading Teutonic Knights (Germans). Some would say it's a propaganda film. Unfortunately, its timing was wrong. Russia and Germany were allies at that time, so the film was pulled from the theaters. Only when Russia and Germany became at odds years later, then the movie was heavily promoted.

Star Wars V, The Empire Strikes Back: Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme) - Main Title
John Williams (born 1932)
John Williams has composed film scores for most, if not all, of Spielberg's movies - Indiana Jones, Star Wars, E.T., Saving Private Ryan, etc. He has been nominated 45 time, and has won 5 Oscars. Mr. James said he's not jealous of Mr. Williams - he just likes to think that Mr. Williams has lost 40 times.

For the encore, the orchestra played the Shower Theme from Psycho. At middle of the performance, the conductor playfully made some stabbing motion at the seated James. The audience wanted more, so we had the Star Trek Theme. I'll tell you, you can't really call yourself a Trekkie or a Star Wars fan if you haven't seen and heard the pieces performed by a live orchestra. The music truly comes to life!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Switching Cars Confuses the Brain

The brain is truly a wonderful thing. I'm always amazed by the fact that I can remember my university ID number, but can't remember a colleague's name who introduced herself to me one minute ago. (So embarrassing having to ask her name again as she was about to go.) Then we've heard of stories about people losing half their brain, but they still retain all their memories, language and motor abilities, which proves (at least to me) that the human brain is truly underutilized, and that the brain can reconfigure itself on the fly.

Another case in point. We had to go to someplace for something. (See how bad my memory is?) Since it's just a short trip, we decided to take my sister's Corolla instead of the seven-seater Zafira. The Zafira, being a European model, has the wiper controls on the right and the turning lamp controls on the left. The control placement on the Corolla is reversed. Driving the Corolla for the first time, I made a couple of mistakes - activating the wipers instead of the turning lamps. By the time we got back, my brain is already accustomed to the controls. I was even feeling happy that I (my brain) was able to adapt quite quickly. Then, I have to drive the Zafira right afterwards. That became a problem because I got the controls mixed up again. Not only that - I can't even find the controls for the headlights. Suddenly my mind drew a blank. I don't even know which stick to try. I had to stop and look around, and eventually found a knob on the right side of the dashboard. I knew about that knob control ever since we had the Zafira, but it just didn't register after I drove the Corolla. Freaky, isn't it?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

SQ Movie Marathon (Inbound)

I Not Stupid Too

It's a good thing I didn't buy this movie the last time I was in Singapore. I watched I Not Stupid in a filmfest back in Manila, and we have a VCD copy at home. It's the first Jack Neo film I've watched, so everything's insightful and funny to me.

Cut to the sequel. The parents are busier than ever. The kids have all grown up. The proverbial generation gap is getting wider. On one hand, the parents feel they're losing touch with their kids, but they're not really listening to what they're saying. On the other hand, the kids are not getting the support and attention they need, so they turn to other avenues to vent their pent-up angst. Like blogging. Like skipping class and playing arcade games. Like bullying other kids. Like joining the local bad boys club. Like stealing from the elderly. The movie also touches on a number issues like public caning as punishment, sex education in school, cold war between parents and its effect on the kids, etc. If you think that's a bit too much, it is. The movie tries to tackle too many issues at the same time, we end up with half-baked conclusions by the end of 2 hours.

There are a few overly-melodramatic moments like the one where Tom and Jerry's Dad (Jack Neo) knelt down and begged the elderly lady not to report his snatcher-of-a-son to the police, and the part where Jack beats up his son for stealing money, and the son tells him he didn't steal the money - he's just saving up so he can buy time from his Dad. Awww. How's this for the most incredible moment of the movie? Jack is making a 3G client to some potential clients when his son accidentally called his number. Jack accepts the video call and sees his son being beaten up by an angry mob. Continue on with the multimillion presentation or save the son? Ah, tricky decision. Trying to make up for the years of neglect, he runs off to rescue his son. He, too, gets beaten up by the mob. Somehow, all of this is streamed live to the handset (Nokia, of course) he left at the office. The clients thought it's a wonderful demo of 3G's capabilities, and awarded the S$3M deal to the company. That's a win-win scenario, if there ever was one.

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

Another sequel better left unmade. The first Ice Age worked because the animation is top-notch, the characters are endearing, and most importantly there is a plot driving the whole movie. Not so with Ice Age 2. Here's the basic premise: the ice age is coming to an end, an impending flood threatens to wipe out a community of animals, so they make a road trip. The flood catches up with the guys and they're trapped in a flooded valley with the water fast rising. A miracle happens (involving Scrat and his beloved acorn), and the ground opens up to drain the water. The end.

To make the movie longer, we meet some new characters like possums Crash and Eddie and their unlikely sister the mammoth Ellie. Manny had been worrying that he might be last remaining mammoth on the face of the earth, and Ellie showed up just at the right time. Throughout their journey, Manny tried to convince Ellie that she's not a possum and that it's a good idea for her to do the act with him for the good of the species. Quite funny.

The Brothers Grimm

In terms of entertainment value, this is the best of the bunch. Lots of funny banter, comedic action scenes, and colorful costumes. Still I was so drowsy I started dozing off in the middle of the movie. Not even the wonderful Monica Bellucci is enough to keep me away during the long flight.

Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm takes place in French-occupied Germany in 1811. Brothers Jake and Will Grimm are folklore collectors and exorcism impostors on the side. They were eventually exposed by a General Delatombe, who is the head of the French forces. Now, the brothers are supposed to be put to death, but was given a chance at amnesty if they can solve a case of missing girls in the village of Marbaden. General Delatombe believes the haunted forest of Marbaden is the work of another group of trickster, but the locals aren't too sure. Nine girls have already gone missing, and story goes that in the haunted forest lives the evil Mirror Queen who sacrifices girls during the blood moon to give herself eternal life and beauty. With the aid of Angelika, who has already lost her father and her two sisters, they bring down the Mirror Queen, and rescues all the girls and Angelika's Dad.

My synopsis doesn't really do the movie justice as the special effects are really cool, and some of the dialogue can be quite funny. Watch it if you can.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

KL Quirks

  • Drivers rarely follow the speed limit. People consistently drive 20 kph beyond the limit.
  • The locals use their mobile phones quite a lot, even during driving. My cabbie tells me the ladies are the worst offenders. And they drive quite fast, too.
  • Don't make a mistake of putting on the seatbelt. I did it once, and the cabbie was a bit miffed.
  • There's way too many cars on the road, and majority has only one occupant.
  • The populace is predominantly Malay, then Chinese, then Indian. By definition, all Malays are Muslims. I was told the only way a non-Muslim can gain Malaysian citizenship is by converting to Islam. Inter-faith marriages are allowed, as long as the non-Muslim guy or girl convert to Islam.
  • Muslims pray five times a day. On Friday, the men have to go to the mosque during lunchtime to pray. The ladies don't go to the mosques, so they go shopping instead during the 2-hour lunch break.
  • English use is not that prevalent, compared to Singapore or Manila. The local Chinese speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Fookien, Teochew, etc.
  • You have to pay a fee to use the toilet - 20 cents.

Last Day in KL

Already my last day in KL, yet I still have lots of things to do. For one, I wanted to buy some cheap DVDs at Bukit Bintang, then check out the Starhill Gallery. Did a little bit of packing, then headed for the monorail. It's usually crowded on Saturday mornings, but today the platform is just packed. There's a coach waiting, but it's not going anywhere. After like half an hour of waiting, we were told the monorail is definitely grounded. There's a shuttle bus to take us to the next station, so everybody made a mad scramble for it. I waited for the next bus, yet it was still so jammed that the doors had a hard time closing.

Visited Times Square, but all the stalls selling fake DVDs are gone. Tried each and every level - definitely not there anymore. Looks like the anti-piracy cops have been doing their jobs this time. I took the escalators up and up until I reached an unfinished floor. The escalators are not powered on, the floor is plain concrete, no airconditioning, and no ceilings. I climbed up a few more floors, and from my vantage point, took some pictures of the Pudu Prison across the street.

Walked over to Sungei Wang Plaza and it's the same thing. Lots of stalls selling mobile phones, PDAs, and computer parts, but just no fake DVDs. The usual shops are there, but only blank DVD cases are on display. I saw a couple of foreigners huddled around a table flicking through a booklet of DVD covers, and I joined them. I was sort of in a hurry, so I flicked through all of the booklets and gave my list to the guy in charge. He gave me a funny look and said that the minimum order is 5 DVDs. I must've missed the fine print somewhere. I chose two more and the guy says buy 5 get 1 free. After choosing six, he tells me to come back after 20 minutes. Yeah right, just when I'm in a hurry to go back to the hotel so I can pack up and check out before the cut-off time. Oh, and it's pay-first-before-burn.

After 20 minutes of aimlessly walking around, I went back to the shop. The guy took me to a side, pulled out my DVDs from his mailman bag, and that's it. Afternoon, I was planning to tour the Lake Gardens (Taman Tasik Perdana) behind the National Museum, and if I have more time, push on further and visit the National Monument (Tugu Negara). It was so hot the moment I stepped out of the hotel, I changed my plans. Visited the local shrine just beside the monorail station instead, then hitched a free shuttle bus ride back to KL Sentral. Spent the rest of the day working on my laptop at the lobby. One new thing I discovered - there's actually an airconditioned shuttle bus service going from KL Sentral to the airport. It leaves every hour on the hour, and it only costs RM10. Travel time is an hour though compared to KL Expres' 20 minutes, but would you rather pay RM35 or RM10?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Hot-Air Ballooning in Putrajaya

It was supposed to be just another Friday when I overheard some of my colleagues talking about a hot-air balloon activity. Apparently, the company organized one for the local employees. I have no idea what time it is, who are coming, where it's going to be, etc., but sign me up, Scotty. Hitched a ride with my colleague, so by 5:01pm we're on our way to Putrajaya. Apparently, we'll be riding our hot-air balloon somewhere near the Alamanda Shopping Center. We got to the grassy knoll behind the mall just in time to see a bunch of guys setting up shop. Some representatives from Traders Hotel came over to greet up. They're promoting their new corporate services, so they got this Australian outfit to fly the balloon, and give us (and other companies) a free ride to get our goodwill. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. Naturally, the gigantic balloon has the hotel's name and logo printed on it for all to see.

The Aussie blokes pumped the balloon full of hot air, and managed to get it upright, but they had difficulty keeping it in place because there's a wind blowing. After some strenuous pushing and pulling, they decided to wait for the wind to die down a bit. They deflated the balloon, and we went inside Alamanda for some snacks. When we got back to the site half an hour later, the guys were already packing up. The wind's still blowing, so it looks like we won't be going up into the air today. Not happy to go home just like that on a Friday night, a few of the guys decided to have a satay dinner. I would've been happy to go McDonald's or KFC inside Alamanda, but petrol must be cheap here. It took us half an hour of driving (at high speed!) to get to Kajang, the birthplace of satay. We ordered chicken, pork, and lamb satay, and all of them tasted quite good.

After dinner, we had a joyride around the area. Our driver for the night studied in one of the universities nearby, so he's pretty familiar with the place. Drove up a hill, where all the rich Chinese have their mansions, and enjoyed the expansive night city views from there. From there, we went back to Putrajaya to take some more pictures. And what do you know, our driver is a photo enthusiast himself, so he's got a nice tripod in his trunk. Good for me. We left Putrajaya around 11pm, and decided to have a nightcap at Station 1. I was told this is the hip place to be. We got there a little after midnight, and the place is still packed with teenagers and tweens trying to look cool. I commented to my colleague that we're too old for this place, but he doesn't seem to agree with me. The place offers a wide variety of drinks and some finger foods and snacks, and you can play table games while listening to loud music. To pass the time, the three of us played Jenga. You start off with some rectangular wooden blocks, and stack them up into a tower. Everyone takes turns taking out a wooden block and putting it on top of the tower. As the game progresses, the tower builds up with fewer blocks at the base, so the danger of it collapsing becomes more and more with every turn. Played for a couple of rounds, then called it a day around 1:30am.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

For the past few times I've been going to the office, my taxi would pass by this magnificent mosque right in the city. Stuck inside the taxi with my camera, I would jump from one side to another of the back seat trying to get a good shot. Even then, the mosque as seen through the dusty passenger windows or the rear windshield with defogger strips are no good.

Today, as we got close to the mosque, I asked the taxi driver if I can open window to get a shot. He must've misunderstood because he stopped the car in the middle of the street. Not wanting to obstruct traffic, I took some quick shots, and urged him to go. The driver circled around the mosque and stopped at the main entrance for me to take more pictures. I thought of coming out of the cab for a better vantage point, but thought that would be too much already, so I took more photos from inside car. It's a wonder what you get if you just ask.

Thursday, July 13, 2006 Playlist

I've had my up for quite some time now. It works pretty well, except that the hosting site is a bit slow. For my freebie account, I get only 30MB of online storage space and 25MB of daily throughput. It's not much, but fortunately only my sister listens to the songs:

  • Billy Joel - Just the Way You Are
  • Charlie Wilson - Without You
  • David Benoit - Land of the Loving
  • Diana Krall - S'Wonderful
  • Emil Chau - Ming Dian Wo Yao Jia Gei Ni
  • Emil Chau - Nong Qing Hua Bu Gai
  • Eric Clapton - Blue Eyes Blue
  • George Duke - Born to Love You
  • Josh Groban - Cinema Paradiso
  • Josh Groban - To Where You Are
  • Kathy Troccoli - If I'm Not in Love with You
  • Katie Melua - The Closest Thing to Crazy
  • Michael Buble - For Once in My Life
  • Michael Buble - Quando, Quando, Quando
  • Michael Buble - Summer Wind
  • Morten Harken - Can't Take My Eyes Off of You
  • Paul Jackson, Jr. - If You Go Away
  • Robbie Williams - Rock DJ
  • Robbie Williams - Somethin' Stupid
  • Stephanie Mills - All in How Much We Give
Even the best of songs become stale after a few months of listening, so I'm changing the playlist to an all-BoA one. Wonderful Korean singer. Got the looks and the voice to match. Tracks taken mostly from Valenti, My Name, and Best of Soul.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Prime Fine Dining

As part of it's pre-opening preparation, Le Meridien's Prime restaurant invited me for a simulation dinner. Prime specializes in beef and wine. How can I say no to a complimentary dinner and a glass of wine?

The restaurant opens at 6:30pm. I went there around 7pm, and I was their first patron for the night. The place is very swanky - high ceilings, paintings on the walls, special lamps and subdued lighting, very high-backed leather chairs, crates and racks of wine bottles here and there, etc. As I was the only diner, I was given 5-star service. A gentleman introduced me to the restaurant and showed me my table and got me a menu. A lady took my order and inquired if I wanted any magazines or newspapers to read. Another lady poured my glass of mineral water.

The striking thing about Prime is that it's kitchen area is fully visible to the diners. That way you can insult the chef's cooking and still make sure that he doesn't put anything funny in your food. And all the chefs are garbed in black, which is a nice touch. Chefs in white tend to dirty their uniforms faster. The kitchen looks very clean and utilitarian - stainless steel and brass and glass all around.

For my dinner, I ordered French onion soup, prime Australian beef (80 days grain-fed, 320 grams) with truffle sauce and foie gras, and a glass of the house red. For side dishes, I had mashed potatoes with corn and cherry tomato fondue and steamed asparagus. Browsing through the menu, the items are pretty expensive. Starters range from RM15 to RM30 or more, (considering for the same amount, you can get a complete meal elsewhere). The side dishes cost a bit more. The main course is the killer. The choice of beef is mind-boggling (and so are the prices). You have Australian, Angus, and Wagyu. For each type of beef, it differs whether it's 80 days, 120 days, 200 days, grain-fed, grass-fed, etc. The most expensive item on the menu is the 340-gram Australian Wagyu beef (Kobe-style) with a marble score of 6. That one costs RM380. I didn't want to bankrupt the restaurant before its formal opening, so I opted for the cheapest Australian beef on the menu. I think my main course costs only RM80, IIRC.

The lady who took my order brought me bread (two kinds) and a selection of spreads (salted butter, sun-dried tomatoes, and an herb paste). Before I had the chance to try them, my soup came. There's no way you can recognize the French onion soup because on top of the soup bowl is a piece of French toast. (That makes the onion soup French.) The soup bowl is kinda special, too. I didn't bring my camera along, so I'll just describe it. Imagine a square piece of rubber sheet, which represents space-time fabric. Put a heavenly body (the Earth, for example) in the middle of it. The Earth makes a round depression in the rubber sheet. Now freeze time and take out the Earth, so that you end up with a rubber sheet with the corners slightly upturned, with a round depression in the middle. That's how my soup bowl looks like. I ate my soggy French toast and finished the browned onion skins left behind. But where's the soup?!

Next came the beef. Another group of ladies came up to my table with a cart. They rolled up the silver cover and inside is a huge chunk of beef. One of them cuts a slice for me and served it up with the truffle sauce and bits of foie gras. The beef is very nicely prepared, but it lacks the flavour. The mashed potatoes and asparagus are very good, though. The chef dropped by for a chat and I gave him my constructive criticism about the soup and the beef, which was my job for the night anyway. The chef used to travel with QE2 (the Queen Elizabeth II), and he fondly remembers their stops at Circular Quay because as they come into the dock, he said, all these smaller ships and boats would surround and accompany them.

Too bad the restaurant didn't have Italian gelato for the night, so I ordered the tiramisu (RM30). I like my tiramisu done the traditional way. Apparently, Prime is not a traditional restaurant. My tiramisu came in a soup bowl. Instead of the mascarpone cheese and/or custard that comes on top, I get a soup of thin cream with cocoa powder. Digging deep for the Lady Fingers, I find them too soggy - from the espresso, rum, and cream.

All in all, not too bad - good value for my money. I'm sure everything will be better come opening day next week.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kuala Lumpur Current Affairs

  • Tan Sri Francis Yeoh's YTL Corp. proposes RM8 billion high-speed maglev train link from KL Sentral station to Singapore
  • Tan Sri Razali Ismail is claiming RM360 million compensation from the government for work done on the aborted half-bridge project
  • Singaporean man robbed of RM200,000 soon after leaving a bank in Taman Sentosa
  • 70% of public varsity graduates head jobless queue (compared to 26% from private institutions of higher learning)
  • Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to setle RM7,820 in traffic fines
  • Civil service may be able to absord 30,000 grads
  • Durian, hot weather blamed for flu cases
  • Johor Bahru police round up illegal racers at Second Link bridge and seize more than 400 cars and 150 motorcycles
  • Penang taxi drivers agree to start using meters starting August 1
  • Roadworthiness of 150,000 second-hand cars in doubt

Monday, July 10, 2006

Konsert Klasik at Istana Budaya

To commemorate W.A. Mozart's 250th birthday anniversary, the Orkestra Simfoni Kebangsaan (National Symphony Orchestra) is having a Mozart's Greatest Hits concert at the Istana Budaya (National Theater) called Konsert Klasik. I got there quite early after work, so I decided to explore the nearby National Art Gallery. It was closed already, but I managed to take some photos of it's mural-lined walkway. Next on my list is the National Library, but for the life of me, I just can't find it. I asked a couple of locals, but interestingly, they understand not a word of what I'm saying. After some wandering around (and sweating loads), I ended up watching some guys play sepak-takraw at a park. On my way back to the National Theater, I finally figured out that I took a wrong turn. Rushed to the National Library, and it turns out that it's closed on Mondays. Oh well.

I entered the concert hall 10 minutes before 8:30pm. Had this been in Sydney, majority of the orchestra members would have been busy tuning their instruments and the audience settling down already. Not in KL. At 8:30pm, no one is on stage, and the concert hall is only a quarter full. When the concert proper finally started 15 or so minutes later, there are still lots and lots of unoccupied seats. Such a pity.

Full program as follows:

  • Overture: Marriage of Figaro
  • Symphony No. 40 in G minor: I. Molto Allegro
  • Requeim "Dies Irae" (Koir Kebangsaan/The National Choir)
  • Simfonia Concertante for Violin & Viiola: III. Presto (Maya Musaeva and Veronika Thoene)
  • Horn Concerto No. 4 in E flat Major: III. Rondo. Allegro vivace (Kim Vyacheslav)
  • "Welche wonne, welche List" from "Abduction from the Seraglio" (Syafinaz Selamat)
  • March of the Priests from "The Magic Flute"
  • Andante for Flute in C Major (Keiko Nakagawa)
  • Rondo for Flute in D Major (Keiko Nakagawa)
  • Ave Verum Corpus in D Major for Children Choir or Mix Choir (Koir Kebangsaan/The National Choir)
  • Divertimento in D for String Orchestra: III. Presto
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik: I. Allegro
  • Overture: Don Giovanni
The concert is ok, but if I have to be frank, it's not as good as I hoped. The orchestra is performing as if they are rehearsing. You hear the right notes, but there's no life to it. The choir, however, is remarkable. So is the soprano, although she needs to put in more power and volume. The flute and horn solo performances need some improvement. I'm no expert flautist or "hornist", but I can tell that not all of that wind energy is being converted to sound. A lot of it is not being blown into the hole. Final comment to the guy sitting beside me across the walkway. There's no need to thump your feet and nod your head and sway your hands during every piece to show that you've heard it before. And they're not that good to merit your raptuous applause and outbursts of "Bravo!" either. Still not too bad at RM20.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Wimbledon 2006 Men's Championship - Federer vs. Nadal

Men's tennis doesn't get any better than this. World's number one vs. number two. The Swiss matador vs. the Spanish bull. The master vs. the upstart.

Federer is his usual cool self, with his new Nike-designed Wimbledon jacket. You should see it when Nadal stepped into Centre Court. He was running around, jumping up and down, limbering up as if he's on a boxing ring, instead of a tennis court. This boy means business. He has always beaten Federer on clay, but today he's breaking new ground.

Federer is the king of the grass court and he knows it. He totally creamed Nadal in the first set 6-0 in just 25 minutes. Recovering from a bad hangover, Nadal started fighting back. He chases down all of Federer's balls and even manages to return some spectacular shots. Sets two and three ended in tie-breakers with the players winning one each. Prior to the third set that Nadal won, Federer hasn't lost one single set throughout this year's Wimbledon. Nadal just had to spoil Federer's chance at breaking this 30-year record.

Doesn't matter though as Federer won the fourth set 6-3, and with it his fourth Wimbledon crown. Final score 6-0, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (2-7), 6-3.

P.S. See that racquet Federer uses? Bought that exact Wilson racquet just this afternoon. Roger Federer 27 - white and red titanium frame, Double Beam, Power Bridge. Royal Sporting House is selling the tournament-grade racquet for a relatively cheap price, so I bought it. I just hope it's not a fake.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Citrawarna 2006

The Citrawarna Parade is supposed to start at 8:30pm. I got to Merdeka Square with half an hour to spare. The multicoloured lights are on, the stage is set, the crowds are just starting to arrive. I managed to get a good spot - right at the mouth of the island that splits the main parade avenue into two. From here, I will have a good view of the procession as it comes and goes. Turns out a lot of other people have the same idea, so they start camping out in front and around me. Good thing a couple of traffic police were around to shoo them away to the sidewalks, but there's no shortage of people who'd like to try their luck. Photographers are a resolute bunch. Short of being arrested and dragged away, they won't easily give up their vantage point.

The Citrawarna Parade started around 9pm. Formations of performers in different costumes passed us by on their way to the main area in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. They did their song-and-dance numbers in front of the assembled audience, then doubled back. From the other end of the parade avenue, performers representing each of the Malaysian states marched in and took turns entertaining the crowds.

Quite an interesting show: the state representatives with their colorful costumes, upbeat music, lively dances, cheers and jeers from the audience, etc. Unable to take the oppressive heat anymore, I left the place around 11:30pm. Had I known they'd be lighting the fireworks at midnight, I would've stayed a little bit longer. No choice but to enjoy the fireworks display from my hotel room window.

Wimbledon 2006 Ladies' Singles Finals

Nothing to see here. Move along.

I've waited so long for this one, it's just a pity I had to miss it. It's a toss-up between this Mauresmo-Henin-Hardenne thriller or the Citrawarna Parade. I was told the Colours of Malaysia parade happens only once every four years. It's also not every Wimbledon that you get Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne battling each other. Then again, I get to take lots of pictures at the parade. I can also take pictures of the tennis match in front of the TV screen, but that's no fun, so off to Merdeka Square I went.

If you've read this far, Mauresmo won the match 2-6 6-3 6-4.

Tour of Putrajaya

I've always wanted to go to Putrajaya for a tour, but I was told the best way to explore the city is via car. Another option is to take the KLIA Transit to Putrajaya, then from there, either take the local buses or contract a taxi to bring you around. I made some more inquiries and was happy to discover that KLIA Transit itself is operating a day tour called "Discover Putrajaya with KLIA Transit". For RM25, you get one return ticket on KLIA Transit and a self-guided tour on a coach. Other tour operators probably do it better, but they also charge easily 4x-5x more.

The tour started at KL Sentral where we boarded the KLIA Transit (at 11:03am) and got off at the Putrajaya station. We have quite a good mix of foreigners - one Aussie (that's me), two Koreans, a Taiwanese couple, another couple from Denmark, and one Indian family. A tour guide rounded up all the tour members and accompanied us to an airconditioned coach. He tells us that the 46-sq. km. Putrajaya is a planned city, much like Canberra. Unlike Canberra, it's not the capital of Malaysia. We passed by some high-rise condominiums, which are for sale to anyone - locals and foreigners alike. (But who would want to live here as no alcohol and night clubs are allowed?) Our first stop is the Putra Bridge, which gave us a good view of the Putra Mosque (Masjid Putra) and the Prime Minister's Office (Perdana Putra) on the right, and the Seri Perdana (PM's Official Residence) on the left. As we're right on the bridge, we're not allowed to get off the bus, so most of us took pictures from the bus windows.

First real stop on our tour is the Istana Melawati (Melawati Palace). According to the tour guide, this is sort of the summer palace of the King. This is where he sometimes hold official functions. We didn't manage to get into the palace grounds. Not sure if they actually allow visitors. Took some pictures at the gates. Next stop is at Taman Putra Perdana, right in front of Shangri-La Putrajaya. Due to time constraint, we didn't explore the park anymore. Even if we had time, I don't think I'd like to be walking around right underneath the hot mid-day sun. From afar, we can see the Putrajaya Landmark (Mercu Tanda), which is said to resemble a wizard's hat made of tinfoil. The conical monument marks the very spot where work on the city first started. Then-PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamad put in a time capsule at the base of the monument, to be opened in 2020.

From Precint 1, we passed by Parcels E, D, C, and B, all of which house the different government ministries: Education; Energy, Telecoms & Multimedia; Health; Housing & Local Gov't; and Unity & Social Dev't. We next reach Dataran Putra (Putra Plaza), which is the centerpiece of Putrajaya. The 300-metre wide plaza is decorated with water fountains and lights and flags and very nice lamp posts. You can't see this from the ground, but the plaza is decorated with three concentric rings of stars - an outermost 11-pointed star to represent the original 11 states of Malaya in 1957, an inner 13-pointed star to represent the 13 states of Malaysia in 1963, and the innermost 14-pointed star to symbolize the inclusion of the Federal Territories from 1974. Looks so-so in daytime, but spectacular at night (based on the brochure). On one side of the plaza is the Putra Mosque, which is built right beside the Putrajaya Lake. On another side is the Perdana Putra, which serves as the Prime Minister's Office. This one looks just majestic because it's built on top of a hill. You had to walk up an incline if you want a closer look.

I didn't get to explore the Putra Plaza much because I opted to join the river cruise called Cruise Tasik Putrajaya. Most of our tour members opted to have lunch. The river cruise costs RM30, but it's definitely worth it. (Doesn't come with lunch, just a bottle of water.) The 76-seater airconditioned cruise boat (called Belimbing) has wraparound glass windows arching from the passenger armrest level to the ceiling, which afford clear and unobstructed views of the shores of the 400-hectare man-made Putrajaya Lake. However, if you intend to take pictures, it's best to head for the open-air rear deck. The leisure cruise passes by most of Putrajaya's landmarks - the Putra Mosque, Istana Selangor, the International Convention Centre, the Millenium Monument, the Ministry of Finance, the numerous imposing bridges, etc. The lake cruise runs for 45 minutes. By the time we got back, the others have had their lunch and the coach is waiting to take us to the next stop. That's no lunch for me, and no up-close-and-personal visit to the Putra Mosque and the Perdana Putra.

We traveled the length of the Boulevard, passing by Putra Bridge, crossing Dataran Wawasan and Dataran Putrajaya, crossing the ceremonial Seri Gemilang Bridge into the Putrajaya International Convention Centre (PICC). The Boulevard itself is a landmark. Four kilometers and 100 meters wide, it serves as the central spine linking the five core districts of Putrajaya. One thing I noticed is that different sections of the Boulevard has different lamppost designs. Those things must be expensive. PICC is where you want to be for panoramic views of Putrajaya. From here, you can see the stretch of the Boulevard all the way to Perdana Putra at the Putra Plaza around 4kms. away. By 3pm, our time is up, so we were brought back to the KLIA station for our trip back to KL Sentral.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Wimbledon 2006 - Federer vs. Bjorkman

Bjorkman really shouldn't have bothered, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Bjorkman had a good run, but it's just his tough luck that his opponent today is Federer. Federer played a flawless game, and all of Bjorkman experience as a doubles specialist didn't help him any.

Federer dispatched Bjorkman 6-2 6-0 6-2 in just one hour and 17 minutes.

Badminton Night at Kepong

I didn't bring any badminton racquet or rubber shoes with me, but I've got this itch that I just have to scratch. It's been months since I last played any competition-grade badminton. Now, this is Malaysia and these people have been playing badminton every Friday afternoon, so my colleagues are really good. I hitched a ride with one of the guys, and was surprised to see this huge badminton hall with scores of courts. The place is a bit old and the floor is made of timber. My real complaint is that it's too hot. Obviously, they're not supposed to open the windows or use fans or airconditioning, but the heat inside is just unbearable and suffocating. At the end of three doubles games in 2 hours, the only thing on me that is not wet is my pair of socks - just a bit moist.

I was playing so hard, I had to check from time to time if my office shoes are still ok. And I was so dehydrated I drank off 1.5 liters of cold mineral water after the games.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wimbledon 2006 - Nadal vs. Nieminen

Of course, I'm rooting for Nieminen - I work for a Finnish company - yes, the one on his shirt sleeves. (Jarkko Nieminen is the first Finn to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals.) I have to say I'm very impressed with Nadal. To be so young and so good. Watching him play and seeing him make those obvious mistakes, you can just image what he'll do to men's tennis when he manages to control his power and properly harness his strength.

As to be expected, Nadal won the match 6-3 6-4 6-4.

Wimbledon 2006 Ladies' Singles Semi-Finals

Henin-Hardenne (3) vs Clijsters (2)

It's the all-Belgian show with the second-seed Clijsters vs. the third-seed Henin-Harden. For this, I'm rooting for Henin-Hardenne because I want to see a Mauresmo-Henin-Hardenne rematch, which was aborted during this year's Australian Open.

The girls are evenly-matched, although Justine looks a bit weak and short-of-breath. For some reason, she's not using her killer backhands that much. Instead, she opts to give them some slice, which tends to slow down the ball. In any case, the won the first set, and the second one went down to a tiebreaker. Nail-bitingly tense, if you ask me (and Justine's husband).

Justine won 6-4 7-6 (7-4).

Mauresmo (1) vs. Sharapova (4)

As I've mentioned, I'm favouring Mauresmo in this match because she and Justine have some unfinished business.

This is a very exciting match to watch because both girls have the muscle power to deliver some serious shots. Sharapova, however, has the added advantage of using her grunts and shrieks to unnerve her opponents and drive up her own confidence level. She started the game a bit shaky, which gave away the first set to Mauresmo. She got her back her groove in the second set, and made some spectacular shots. In a game with Sharapova, fear is your worst enemy. At the end of the second set, Mauresmo is running scared. Sharapova's serves were so powerful, Mauresmo is reduced to blocking them, instead of returning the service full-on. Sharapova fumbled a bit, but managed to nail set point #4.

Confidence is good, but too much of it is not. Sharapova got too aggressive and made too many unforced errors during the third set. All Mauresmo had to do is stay steady, and let Sharapova do all the work. Mauresmo won 6-3 3-6 6-2.