Friday, December 29, 2006

Back from JB

Was in JB the last the last two days with two old students to eat & relac. They were from my first, yep, my very first batch of students which I'd taught. One's in training to be a teacher and the other is working in the army. It's kinda scary when I come to think about it... yeah, I'm that old. Sniff... My first batch are already working and I know of some who have already gotten married and have kids. It's scary for time has passed. On the flip side, it was great to hang out with them in JB, almost like old times when I was still teaching them.

We stayed at Puteri Pacific hotel, not far from the Causeway itself and either walked or took the taxi around the place. Taxi fares were certainly cheap, ranging from 2 to about 5 singapore dollars. While I don't really like travelling without the meter, I must admit there is beauty in the simplicity of the 'how much to _________' when taking taxis.

I don't know what attracts us Singaporeans to food in Malaysia. Price? Taste? Atmosphere? Yeah, I think food in JB was reasonably cheap. We ate at seafood restaurant, a Hong Kong snack/food restaurant, a roadside hawker centre and a chinese dim sum restaurant. Overall, definitely cheaper than eating in Singapore. Taste-wise? Not bad really. It was kinda oily at times and the drinks were a little too sweet for me, but on the whole, quite good. I enjoyed especially the satay from the hawker centre (only less than 20cents a stick! and the meet was succulent.) and some of the dim sum from the chinese restaurant (the prawns in the siew mai and chee cheong fun were crunchy & sweet - very fresh!). Atmosphere? I think I'm quite spoilt lar. As much as I liked the food, I can't help but wished some of the places were cleaner.

On the first night, we went to catch a movie. My friends decided we ought to catch something different, so we caught a Malaysian movie... CICAK MAN! (Lizard Man). I can't say it was the wisest decision we made... but it was certainly quite an experience.

Pic of the Cicak Man movie advert with my two former students

I think when you have a movie about a Lizard Man, you don't really have much subject matter to work with. It's set in a fictional city, Metrofulus, where the currency is... the 'fulus'. Hairi (super loser & weird clown-type guy) and his friend Danny (handsomer & cooler guy) work in some secret lab where they are testing a virus vaccine on some animals... including... the house lizard! Hairi accidentally releases a cicak which climbs into his coffee cup which he drinks and.... VOILA! He becomes CICAK MAN!

Ah.. but the owner of the company he works for is also the culprit for releasing the virus so that he can earn from the vaccine! Oh no! So now, loser Cicak man and his cool friend has to expose their boss.

What power does cicak man have? He can climb walls, shoot out his tongue to catch insects and people (it's really gross) and he can heal himself! Wow! Super right?

Anyway, there's the requisite love interest who falls in love with the cool friend rather than Hairi (oh the irony!) and at the climatic fight, the cool friend.. DIES to save Cicak Man. Believe me, it's not as dramatic as it sounds.

OK. Let's get to the chase. The movie was bad. So bad that it was actually watchable. I can't help but keep my eyes on the screen just so I could find out if it could get any worse. And yes, it was hilarious. I couldn't believe that people could make a movie like this in this day and age. But oh well, as long as it makes money, I guess people will keep producing such stuff.

Back to my JB trip. Bought some cool stuff there, all related to Death Note! lolz. Have a nice huge Death Note Poster mounted on a board, a whole complete set of Death Note comics for less than 30 singapore dollars and Death Note anime dvd. Very happy!

On the whole, an enjoyable getaway - good food, good entertainment, good accommodations, great company!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to all!

My family has a tradition of celebrating Christmas. We buy presents for each other and usually stay up on Christmas eve to open our presents when the clock strikes midnight.

Got some nice gifts this year:
- The Far Side collection (super heavy! I think I might hurt my back trying to lift up the two mega volumes!)
- Lego Star Wars: Slave I (this one is really hard to find during the year. I think the lego shops brought in more for the Christmas period. Can't wait to start putting it together... probably later today.)
- Xbox game: Gears of War (the graphics on this game are amazing and so far, the gameplay looks pretty good too. Unfortunately, I'm probably gonna try to finish Zelda on the gamecube before starting on this.)
- a BAD BOSS voodoo doll (came in orange colour, my current fave colour. I shall try not to read into what the implications of getting a BAD BOSS voodoo doll means. :P)

Here's wishing all my blog readers a Merry Christmas (& don't forget the reason for the season!)

Death Note 2: The Last Name

I really liked the first movie so I've been looking forward to watching this sequel, especially since the first one ended kinda abruptly. So despite the christmas shopping crowds, I braved the mall at Junction 8 to catch the movie on Sunday afternoon.

Before I say anything else, I admit that I have not read the manga series so I am not comparing this movie with anything other than Part 1.

I think DN2 tries too hard to be clever. While DN1 drew me in with all the plot twists, I found that at times, the twists in DN2 were a little forced and I found myself either getting confused or slightly (I stress 'slightly') bored. With the introduction of the second Kira and other characters, there was less time spent on developing Light further. In fact, I think his only real scene came only at the end. At other times, he just didn't seem as interesting as in Part 1. 'L' was ok but in this sequel, the incessant scenes focussing on his sweet tooth became quite distracting for me.

I guess it was inevitable that in comparison with DN1, the character development was not as interesting. It's probably the freshness factor. Hence, in DN2, they tried to focus a little more on the twists and the cleverness of Light but again, that lost a little excitement since we've already seen it in DN1. It's a bit like that M. Night Shyamalan. After his groundbreaking 'Sixth Sense', he never really wowed the audience anymore coz we kinda came to expect his movies to come with a twist so we aren't really blown away when the twists come. Kinda ironic actually.

However, I will say that as a whole, it was a pretty good movie. If you've watched DN1, you will almost definitely go watch DN2 so my opinions probably won't matter. If you've not watched DN1, I strongly recommend you try to catch the double bill at GV. It might be more interesting when you watch parts 1 & 2 together. This is one DVD set I'll definitely get when it comes out.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Curse of the Golden Flower

I was really looking forward to this epic, especially after the slightly bland Battle of Wits. Boasting stars like Chow Yun Fatt, Gong Li and Jay Chou, together with director Zhang Yimou, my expectations for the movie were quite high. I had read the reviews for the movie in The Straits Times and FIRST magazine. They were quite different. One giving the thumbs down and the other, glowing comments. After watching the movie, I would have to go with the latter - I thought the movie was pretty good.

Zhang Yimou again dazzles with plenty of colour and set-pieces. The golden costumes of the royalty and the glimmering walls of the Imperial palace were breath-taking. No less amazing were the scenes of the imperial palace being decorated for the 'Chung Yang' festival. There weren't many fight scenes but the few they had were done well. I especially liked the one where Chow Yun Fatt sparred with Jay Chou. The director also made it a point to that all the ladies in the movies had their assets bursting through the tips of their dresses. Quite funny actually. Wonder if it was really like this in ancient China.

The actors were definitely in their elements. Chow Yun Fatt was thoroughly believable as the emperor although his spoken mandarin was still just a little off. Gong Li played an excellent empress and I'll admit it was a little distracting at times to see her... assets... bouncing around.. lolz. Then there was Jay Chou. Hmm... Many people complain that he seems to have only one expression when he acts (for eg. in Initial D). In this movie, I don't think he really flexed his facial muscles much more, but he did get involved in some decent fight/battle scenes. Basically, I think he has chosen a role which fits his persona again. For some fun.. keep a look out for his pout during his big battle scene. heh.

SPOILER WARNING (highlight the rest with your mouse if you want to read it)
The story was quite straight forward. Not really a thrill a minute, but I wasn't bored lar. Empress has affair with step-son. Step-son has affair with official's daughter. Empress plots to kill Emperor. Emperor plots to kill empress... lolz.. I think you get the idea. Earlier on, I was kinda fed up with the newspapers for revealing that Jay Chou and Gong Li die at the end. I'm still quite upset coz it really did give away the ending. At the very end, when there was a final tense scene, I already knew the outcome due to the stupid articles.

As an epic movie, I guess COTGF comes close. I still have a soft spot for Heroes cause I think the package was more complete. I think the one scene with Maggie Cheung fighting in the falling leaves almost justified the cost of the ticket! But COTGF is a pretty good movie. I enjoyed it. Catch it if you are in the mood for a Chinese epic.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Night at the Museum

Last night, at the last minute, I decided to go catch Night at the Museum with my brother. Only Cathay cinemas had the movie being screened after 11pm so we made our way to The Cathay at Dhoby Ghaut to catch the 11.30pm show. Was quite lucky coz the I managed to get the last two side-by-side tickets! Unfortunately, it was at the very first row. Luckily, the screen was about 6.5m away from the first row, so it wasn't really that bad. Still bearable.

The movie was quite typically Ben Stiller. He had his usual manic moments and I could actually see some familiar moves from his other movies like Meet the Fockers and Dodgeball. He might be depending too much on his usual roles, a bit like how Jim Carey seemed to act the same in many of his movies. The movie was reasonably funny but certainly not laugh-out-loud hilarious. But it seemed to be quite a crowd pleaser as the cinema quite frequently broke out in laughter. To me, there were some moments which I think escaped most of the crowd - for eg. there was a scene which involved spanking a monkey... Lolz. Get it? Heh. Story? Well, if you have to ask about the story, then you obviously aren't a fan of Ben Stiller movies. There really isn't a decent story.

There were quite a few stars involved in the movie. I knew that Robin Williams and Owen Wilson were in the movie, but I was surprised that they managed to get veterans like Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney to star in the movie. Robin Williams did a decent job, putting in a more controlled performance than usual. Owen Wilson... I never really liked him.. so he was bearable, especially since he was given such a small role. heh.

If you need a laugh or two, NATM should be fine. But don't expect an academy award winner. :-)

Amazing Race Asia

Just watched this week's Amazing Race Asia. This week, they flew from New Zealand to Singapore and then to Bangkok. The Singapore stop was SO LAME! All they had to do was get from airport to Macpherson Road to wash a car at the Caltex station and then find the fountain of wealth at Suntec City and then back to the airport to get a flight to Bangkok. You mean there is nothing else to do in Singapore except to wash a car at Macpherson Road and take a taxi ride to Suntec?!! It's such a pathetic stop. No challenge/excitement whatsoever. I wonder who thought up the road block in Singapore. Should be fired.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Project Superstar - Female Revival Round

Just finished watching the above.

I tell you, I think the four girls should be left underground. It was awful. Although it's tomorrow, I dare say they might as well let in the four guys from tomorrow's revival round rather than any of the girls.

Is it just me or are all the gals in the singing competitions like Singapore Idol and Project Superstar really not as good as the guys?

Wireless Mooching

It's a cute-sounding name for something that can land you in trouble with the law.

Woke up today to the news in the papers that a 17 yr-old had been hauled to court for illegally accessing his neighbour's unsecured wireless network.

I'm not totally sure what's the law, but I find it funny that you can be prosecuted for acessing an unsecured wireless network. If the owner has chosen to make his wirless unsecured, then why is it wrong for someone to have access to his network? It's like... if I use a cheapo wireless microphone in my home to sing karaoke, and my neighbour's radio picks up the transmission, is he liable to be prosecuted? There are tools for a person to make his network secure if he doesn't want others to access it, and I think the onus should be left to the owner to use such tools. Furthermore, given that Singapore is going to become one big wireless hotspot, are we supposed to be worried everytime we connect to a wifi access point in public? Like at a shopping centre food court?

Like I said, I admit I'm not sure what's exactly in the law as the article in the Straits Times just states that what the boy did was illegal and nothing more. It just seems to me that this law is kinda funny.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Shopping

I did my Christmas shopping today. It was pretty crazy & the weather didn't help much with the continuous rain. Heard it's the highest rainfall Singapore has had in 75 years!

Takashimaya was really crowded. If not for the fact that I needed to do my Christmas shopping, I wouldn't have even dared to venture into Orchard Road. Every year, Christmas shopping is a big headache. Surprisingly, this year wasn't as bad. Armed with a tighter budget coz I'm like out of a job right now, it was a little easier to decide what to get for my family. I'm proud to say that after 6 hours of braving the crowds, payment queues & gift-wrap queues, I have finished my shopping! That's a record!

Lining up to get my gifts wrapped was quite interesting. It's scary when the person in front of you reaches the counter and pours out a whole stack of cheapo toys/gifts to be wrapped. I saw this poor girl struggling with at least 10 of such gifts (a cheapo handphone 'chair' in the shape of a tacky high heel shoe) from the same person who stood there with a really chao-bin (hokkien for smelly-face). Heh, I think the gift wrap might've cost more than those gifts. Actually, it does seem to be an interesting job, something which I won't mind doing actually. It can be pretty challenging to have to wrap all the weird shaped gifts. One person was trying to get her golf club bag wrapped!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Heh... my first published letter! Hey.. I know it's not about some deep environmental issue, cyclist safety, or educational debate.. but it's still a published letter!

I've done my service to movie fans in Singapore!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I went to catch the premiere of Eragon at GV Max on Monday. Brother had an extra ticket coz his wife didn't go.

I was kinda excited at going for a premiere but in the end, it wasn't such a big deal. Heh. It's kinda sad coz I always think that the experience of movie going can be so much more special. When we arrived, there were some TV interviews being done with some celebs and people dressed up cheesily as characters from the movie. Entering the cinema, we found the goodie bags placed at every seat... they weren't even personally given out. After waiting for 25mins (which is the usual delay in most GV cinemas anyway) the movie finally started. This being a Starhub premiere, the adverts started with the Starhub advert. I was thinking that it would be really funny if someone forgot and included a Singtel or M1 advert, especially the new one from Singtel which shows this red slim guy fighting with a green fat guy in a video game.

The movie was a bit of a letdown. I know it was written by a 16-year old, but I don't think that's any excuse for the movie to feel like it was written by one. (SPOILER WARNING! SKIP TO THE NEXT PARA IF YOU WANT TO AVOID IT) One thing which I hated was the lack of sense of timing throughout the film. For example, Eragon and his mentor, Brom, were supposed to travel 5-days on horseback towards some place when suddenly Eragon decided to go back in the opposite direction. So, he gets on his dragon and flies back in no time and the funny thing was Brom, who travelled by horseback, suddenly appeared as well! I mean, how could the horse travel as fast as a flying dragon?

The next thing I didn't like was the dragon's voice. The dragon is apparently a female and it was voiced by Rachel Weiz. Throughout the movie, it just didn't feel right. I think I've been spoilt by the movies where the dragons have this deep booming voice, my all-time favourite being Sean Connery in Dragonheart. So, to watch this dragon speak with a sexy female voice was kinda... wrong.

Eragon was supposed to be the Lord of the Rings for this year. It's quite far from that. The director & cinematographer just couldn't give us a sense of scale and awe throughout the movie. So, it's certainly not epic movie.

On the whole, it was an average movie. I'm sure it'll sell plenty of tickets anyway coz it's the big movie of the season, but I'd recommend that you go with little expectations so that you won't be disappointed.

Project Superstar

I'm a Project Superstar fan. It's much better than Singapore Idol, both in terms of the contestants as well as the judges. I've been following the current season since I got back from the States and I just wanted to say that the girls in the competition are really lagging in standards when compared to the guys. As I'm blogging, I'm watching this week's girls' competition and I have to say it's quite painful to hear the girls' solos. Actually Diya and Carrie sounded great in their duet but their solos were very disappointing. Looks like it might be a battle among the guys in the finals again.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Heh heh.. as usual.. back from overseas vacation and my blog posts start to lag. I think it's just the laziness of being at home.

Oh well, I spent the week catching up on all the movies I'd missed while I was away in the US. So, that pretty much means almost a movie each day. heh. Let's see... I've caught Happy Feet (Sat), Battle of Wits (Sun), Casino Royale (Mon), Flushed Away (Tue), Tenancious D (Wed), Deja Vu (Fri), Flag of Our Fathers (Sat). I didn't watch anything on Thursday coz I went out and got myself a toy! Yeah! When I woke up on Thursday, I flipped open the papers and saw an advert from Toys R Us and they had the TMX Elmo on sale!!! In case you don't know, the TMX Elmo is this toy that's totally sold out in the US and it's basically an Elmo which laughs and is able to roll around the floor then return to its original standing position. Sounds silly, I know, but if you haven't seen it, you should just search out TMX Elmo in Youtube and see some of the videos. It's HILARIOUS. Well, it wasn't cheap but let's not talk about money... I think it's a wonderful toy and that's that.

OK, my usual quick movie reviews. Actually, I dunno who reads them. Haha, dun even know why I review them. Nevermind lar, nothing better to do with my life right now anywaez.

Flushed Away - Animation was ok. Humour was very british. I don't really like british comedy and to be honest, I wasn't really very wowed by the movie. Found it a little boring at some parts. But the slugs definitely stole the show. I think my biggest laughs came from all the slug scenes.

Tenacious D - This is typical Jack Black. The movie is full of songs with the F-word. It's amazing how many times/ways Jack can use the F-word in this songs. Humour was typically crude... especially how he switches off a security system... I won't describe it any further. Honestly, I think only Jack Black fans will like this movie. I don't mind him so I found the movie passable. But the cinema had like only less than 10 people I think. What to do? With a name like 'Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny', I don't think it's gonna appeal to many Singaporeans.

Deja Vu - This is one of those murder mysteries mixed with time travel. I thought the movie was watchable, but as usual, once you include time travel, there are plot holes which you have to just ignore. Denzel Washington is in his usual element and does a decent job. The movie managed to keep my attention so the director did a decent job. Just enough explosions and killings and car chases. Watch it if you have nothing else to watch.

Flag of Our Fathers - Frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I went for this movie. Singapore reviewers were pretty harsh on the movie but US reviews were generally good. Not surprising since this is one of those patriotic-american-type movies. Funny thing is, it's kinda like a war movie, but to me, it was really about how the americans twist and modify reality to suit their needs. The movie is about the famous pic of american soldiers raising the american flag during world war II and how the soldiers involved were 'forced' to market themselves in order for the US government to get more money for the war. Yes, it's a pretty heavy movie and a few parts were kinda slow-moving. Don't really think many people will like this movie unless you're a war movie buff or you want to see how people can modify truths to suit their needs.

Tomorrow night, I got an invitation to watch the Premiere of Eragon! Quite excited.

And oh yeah, I think the new National Museum looks pretty good. I'll certainly try to make some time to visit it some time this week.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Casino Royale & Battle of Wits

Went to see a doctor today for my eye. He said it was ok, the bleeding is not within the eye and should clear up within a week or two. Whatever it is... it's gross and the red is like spreading around the iris. Scary.

Went to Vivocity to catch Casino Royale. But before that, I decided to grab a burger at Carl's Junior. This is my first time at a Carl's Junior in Singapore. It's probably gonna be my last time for a long while. I was almost floored when I saw the prices! Basically, burgers went for around 7 to 8 bucks and combo meals were around 10 dollars! That's like twice of what other fast food places charged. Funny thing is, in the US, Carl's Junior isn't even a big chain and they don't look very popular. Here, it's like a gourmet burger. Well, I ordered a bacon and chicken burger which set me back by about $8. Verdict? It's big... taste pretty good... but I don't think it's worth $8. For that price, I'd rather sit down at a restaurant like Swensen's and eat their burger.

Casino Royale is certainly one of the better 007 movies in recent years. Pierce Brosnan was quite good but this Daniel Craig does play the role of a rookie 007 very well. At first I thought the story was a little sucky but luckily it wasn't at the end yet and the ending was more satisfying. A "highly recommended watch" from me.

Yesterday, i caught Battle of Wits. It stars Andy Lau as a strategist who tries to help a state from being invaded. It was billed as 'how a chinese epic movie' should be. Frankly, I don't think so lor. The story was fairly coherent and the battle scenes were executed well, but somehow, for me, it doesn't go into the 'epic movie' zone. In the end, the movie just felt above average. If you asked me, I think the most epic chinese movie for me has to be HERO and the next most enjoyable movie is FENG YUN. I didn't really think Crouching Tiger was that good either.

After Casino, went to get my hair cut and re-dyed coz the black hair was growing out from under the dyed layer. I don't really like what the stylist did. Right now, my hair looks even darker and blacker and the cut just feels wrong. Sigh. I always have this strange sense of fear when I sit in a barber's chair. You never know how it is gonna turn out coz you're pretty much at the mercy of the barber. It's worse when you wear glasses and have to remove them so you can't see what's going on through the cutting process. Oh well.. guess I'm looking for a job now so it doesn't hurt to get my hair into a more work-ready black.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dunno what happened, but my eye has turned all bloody inside. Noticed it yesterday after I woke up. I think maybe some blood vessel broke due to the strain of the 30 hours trip back. No pain, but it's kinda scary looking. Will prob see a doctor tomorrow to get it checked out just to be safe.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Yep, I'm back in Singapore. Haven't been blogging since Houston coz I've been really busy shopping! Thanksgiving sales in the US are really quite fantastic. The shops open at midnight for the people to grab the items at really special prices. My friend bought a 1Gb SD card for only US$3 (which works out to be a little less than S$5)!!! I didn't dare to go for any of the sales on 24 Nov but I still managed to get some good offers a couple of days later. After Houston, I made my way to San Francisco and then San Jose where I basically spent the few days I had shopping like there was not tomorrow. So now, I've stocked up on my new Big Dog shirts, got some nice shoes (at size 15!!), bought my 2007 calendars and bought plenty of DVDs. I even bought some branded polo ralph lauren shirts! haha.. my first 'branded' shirts. My only regret? No PS3 or Wii. I tried lor. I even queued outside the Sony Store in San Francisco for over an hour but gave up when I realized they only at 20gb models left. I only wanted the 60gb models. Wii was also totally unavailable everywhere. On my last day in the states, hopes were briefly raised when I saw a short queue outside a Gamestop shop. But after waiting for about 30mins, the store clerk came and told us they weren't getting any new stock. Bummer.

Flight back was uneventful but quite long. It was 10 hours from San Francisco to Amsterdam, then I had a 10 hour stopover before my 11-hour flight from Amsterdam to Singapore. I'm not good at sleeping on the plane, so all in all, I think I slept for about 5 hours out of the 31 hours of travelling. Quite shacked.

I spent today going out and doing stuff to keep myself awake. Went to Sitex at Singapore exp... it was not very good, didn't even have a Sony booth or Canon booth. Then I popped by the game shop in Tampines and City Hall before going to Great World to catch Happy Feet. I didn't have very high expectations for the movie but I found it quite good. The animation was quite well done and I think the story was good too. Add to it the singing and dancing, I think it's one of the better animated movies this year.

It's 10.40pm now and I'm yawning like mad. Better hit the sack. Jet lag sucks.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving in Houston

Today's Thanksgiving. In terms of being a national holiday, it's pretty much like Chinese New Year. Almost EVERY shop/museum/restaurant is closed! It's kinda sianz, coz I didn't have much to do. Luckily, there was a Thanksgiving Day parade as well as a Christmas Light-up in Uptown Houston, so the day wasn't spent in front of the tv.

I can't help but compare the parade with our Chingay and it's definitely not as polished and colourful. But, there are three things which I really like about this parade. Firstly, I love the balloons. There were about 4 huge balloons and I found them pretty cool. The one below is a huge dog with the Houston Chronicle in its jaws. The balloons aren't as elaborate as the ones in New York's Macy's Thanksgiving parare (they had a gigantic pikachu this year!) but I enjoyed them. The second thing I liked was the unrehearsed and 'genuine' nature of the participants. Most of them were there just to... parade! Not dance or show off complicated routines. They were just walking and waving and doing what they liked to do. I found that refreshing. The last think I really liked... was that people joined the parade to raise awareness of their group and just to wish others a happy thanksgiving. The third pic shows the sikh community just walking and wishing people happy thanksgiving! How's that for racial harmony! They also had schools groups, clubs, firemen & their families, dance schools and even the Harekrishna! I think Singapore groups should consider doing such parades. Not a pretentious show. Just a simple parade for people to join in the celebrations.

In the late afternoon, I went to Uptown Houston to hang around and wait for their official Christmas lightup & fireworks. They had their concert band playing... not very exciting... and then at the very end, after almost 1.5 hours of so-so music, they had a sad sing-a-long. But the fireworks at the end more than made up for it. It lasted about 10 to 15 mins and I thought they were quite good. The light-up was for their main road with about 40 christmas trees lining the sides. Well, it's one month before Christmas, so I guess it's about time. It was weird when I saw Singapore shops putting up Christmas decorations in October!!! They had some reindeer mascots, thought they looked pretty funny. Had to take a pic with one.

Final pic is of a fountain along their local metrorail which runs on only one route linking up their downtown, museum district, park, zoo and medical centres. I liked the metrorail coz it was reasonable (unlimited rides for US$2), fairly clean and it allowed me to see the parts of Houston which were along the route. Singapore should really consider having something like this maybe circling Orchard Road and Marina area.

OK, I'm done with Houston, off to my last stop tomorrow: San Francisco - My favourite city in the US!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Houston - Johnson Space Center

I'm in Houston now, my last stop before moving on the San Francisco/San Jose for some serious shopping. Houston's a big city with everything kinda spread out. One of the main reasons for coming to Houston is to visit the Johnson Space Center, home of Mission Control. You know, the famous line from Apollo 13... "Houston, we have a problem."

JSC is pretty far from downtown Houston. Took over 1 hour on the bus to reach it. The activity center was quite so-so, nothing very special, but I guess the main reason was to visit the actual space center. Went on a 2 hour tour which brought us to the Historic Mission Control (a designated historic monument) where previous Apollo and shuttle missions were controlled from. It's no longer in use. Next stop was a huge hangar where mock-ups of the space station and shuttle were kept for engineers and astronauts to do their training. Final stop was 'Rocket Park', quite a lame name coz it had only two rockets and some boosters on show. But it was cool to see the actual Saturn V rocket which has been kept there on permanent display.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New Orleans

I must admit I am surprised, but I found New Orleans to be a very interesting place and I’m looking forward to planning another trip here again. I guess I didn’t really know what to expect. In my mind, New Orleans was all clubs, drinking, jazz, Mardi Gras. From what I’ve seen, it’s so much more than that.

OK, first, to be honest, I came to see what Hurricane Katrina did to the place. I went on a tour which showed us the devastation caused by the Hurricane, the reasons why the towns were destroyed and also the recovery efforts. It was a very good tour. It’s very humbling to see how these people are picking up the pieces andputting their lives together again. The first pic shows a lighthouse which was destroyed and the second is of the new houses which Habitat for Humanity have started building for the people who lost their homes.

The main tourist areas, although damaged by Katrina, were mostly up and receiving tourists. New Orleans has these Cities of the Dead. Because of the frequent flooding, they have come up with a system of burying their dead in tombs above ground! Very surreal.

In their parks, there are many beautiful Oak Trees. The key feature being the branches spreading out and even reaching down to the ground. I loved finding these beautiful oaks.

The famous French Quarter had some very beautiful buildings. Many had the famous cast iron or rod iron railings. The funny thing is… there is nothing very French about the French Quarter. Most of the buildings are actually of a Spanish design coz the French buildings were mostly burned down in the early years of the settlement.

I also decided to be a bit adventurous and try the famous Gumbo and some creole food. Actually, I know this is kinda insulting, but I thought that they basically taste like very strong tomato stew with different spices. But it did taste quite nice, although it was kinda salty. They served some rice inside the dish but it was so little… almost like a spoonful for the whole plate! Being the Chinese that I am… I ordered an extra plate of rice. Heh. I think they must have thought I was some crazy asian guy, butchering their dish like this.

I didn’t get to do much of the Voodoo tours and I also didn’t get to visit the swamps. I look forward to doing them the next time!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thankfully, my second day in Atlanta was much less rainy. Managed to visit two places: Martin Luther King Memorial Park and the CNN centre in Atlanta.

Turns out Atlanta was MLK's birthplace. Heh, Shows how little I know about Atlanta. Visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was the pastor and also saw his house. There was a display/exhibition on MLK at the park centre. MLK's tomb was also located in the park but unfortunately it was being renovated so I couldn't see it. Quite an informative and interesting experience.

The second place I visited was the CNN centre in Atlanta. They had a studio tour which was pretty interesting. Found out CNN Atlanta is the main HQ of all the CNNs around the world. Heh... I didn't know. In the pic, you see the main atrium of the CNN centre. It used to be a indoor amusement park and the long escalator (supposedly the world's longest free standing escalator) was used to bring people up to the rides.

I've left Atlanta and right now, I'm in New Orleans. Just arrived a couple of hours ago. Have two days here before leaving for Houston. And, oh yeah.. PS3 launched in US today. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that some time within these last 1.5 weeks in the US, I might be able to get my hands on one....

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Today was just rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. Quite sianz. Thankfully, I felt much better so I took the subway to Five Points (the town centre) and managed to visit two places despite the horrible weather.

First was the pretty cool World of Coca-Cola. Heh, to be honest, I didn't even know that Coke originated in Atlanta! They had some displays on the history of Coke but what I especially liked was the video on the history of Coke advertisements. It was really nostalgic to see some of the old coke adverts like the 'I like to teach the world to sing' one. They also had this huge Coke Polar Bear which I HAD to take a pic with. There was also this room where we could taste over 20 drinks from all over the world that was bottled by Coca-Cola, like Mandarin-flavoured Fanta, some watermelon soda, and some other Costa Rica soft drink.

After World of Coca-Cola, I decided to visit what was billed as the world's largest aquarium, the Georgia Aquarium, which was only opened a year ago. No shot of the aquarium from the outside coz it was raining too heavily for me take out my camera. Anyway, not a bad aquarium. It might be the largest, but I don't think it was the most interesting. But I do have something for aquariums with beautiful jellyfish displays.... so, this one passes! Had a very nice display of seahorses and garden eels as well. First time I've seen them in an aquarium.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Full Metal Alchemist - Movie

Yesterday, I bought the US version of the FMA movie (The Conqueror of Shambala) to watch on the train. Wow... it was a really good movie. I liked how they introduced the movie to new viewers as well as tie up loose ends for loyal fans (like me!). It was good to watch the Elric brothers again. Makes me want to rewatch the entire series, but I'm waiting for the english version to come out completely. To loyal FMA fans, go catch the movie, you won't be let down.

Atlanta - sick...

I'm in Atlanta now, about 15 hours by train way from Baltimore. It was an overnight journey which was a little uncomfortable because the seat next to me was not empty and I seem to have caught a bit of a cold. Decided to rest in my room today and hopefully will feel better tomorrow.


Baltimore is kinda conflicted. On one hand, it has a few interesting historical sites & tourist spots, but on the other hand, they are struggling to attract people back to stay in Baltimore. Hence, when I was there, the place looked fairly empty, even though I visited it over a Sunday & Monday.

I concentrated my sightseeing in two areas. The first place is the Harbourplace which is their attempt to inject more excitement into the area. There is a pretty interesting National Aquarium of Baltimore but definitely not the best I have seen. So far, I think those in Japan are still better. In the first pic on the left, the aquarium is the collection of two buildings on the right with sloping roofs. They had a pretty good frog exhibit going on. Here's one of my favourites. Looks like an alien, eh!

On the far end of the harbourplace, there was an interesting quirky museum on pop culture. This guy had a huge collection of old comics and toys and decided to put them up for display. Quite cool. I think there was an original copy of Action Comics where Superman first appeared, though not in mint condition. But I wished he had more things to display from current era. Most of his stuff were concentrated before the 1970s.

On my second day, I spent more time in the cultural district. The pics show two 'firsts' in baltimore. The first monument to George Washington as well as the first cathedral in America. The cathedral had just undergone a renovation and it's been cleaned up real nicely. But I guess, after visiting Rome, no other cathedrals can probably match up. Oh yah, I went for a free tour but left halfway. The guide was soooooo longwinded. It was supposed to be a 45min tour but after 30mins, we were still near the entrance! Sianz.

In my two days in Baltimore, I was quite lucky that the weather, though overcast, was not really bad. It didn't pour so I could walk around. You can see how grey the skies were in the first pic.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New York City

Actually, I've already left New York City.... the internet in the hostel was really inconvenient, and coupled with the late times I returned to the hostel, I decided not to do any blogging.

It's not my first time to New York. I think I've been here twice before, but the last time was probably about 10 yrs ago. New York isn't my favourite city. After this visit, it's a little better, but I still don't really like it.

It's entering into Winter time and the some trees are still yellow. Here's a pic of the path near the hostel where I was staying. Really like the yellow leaves on the tree and on the ground.

Let's start off with why I don't like it... it's kinda dirty. Yeah, the subways are really grimey. Our MRTs in Singapore and the trains in Japan are just leaps and bounds better in terms of cleanliness and organization. Secondly, weather. My arrival day and first day in New York was spoilt by rain. It was not pleasant having to struggle with an umbrella and cold weather. But luckily, the next two days were quite sunny, giving me some time to do some visits and shopping. Lastly, it's just too crowded. It's funny, coz I guess Rome, Tokyo, aren't exactly devoid of people. But somehow, the mass of people in NYC just seems more... congested? Anyway, here's a pic of the famous Time Square being smothered with rain.

OK, having said that, I must admit, I also like some stuff about NYC. First and foremost must be the musicals. I managed to get half-priced tickets to watch Tarzan (the new Disney muscial) and a quirky off-broadway muscial - The Evil Dead. Tarzan was not bad... not fantastic but still enjoyable. The Evil Dead was hilarious. It was like watching a B-grade musical. They actually had a splatter zone where the audience members were splattered with fake blood and body parts! lolz.

This time round, I decided to do the Empire State Building. I find it quite expensive to go up, but what the heck... I've never done it before. The view was pretty good. In the first pic, the building to the far left is the United Nations building. If I'm not wrong, the tall, black one belongs to Donald Trump. After the Empire State Building, I went on a cruise around New York City. Also quite enjoyable. The middle pic is of Wall Street and the World Trade Centre used to stand just behind the building with the pyramid on the top. I think it's about TWICE the height of the tallest buildings in that pic! And of course, the last pic is the famous Stature of Liberty. I was quite lucky to get a shot with the sun setting behind it. I heard they don't let people climb up inside the statue anymore. Made me glad that I did it 10 years ago when I first visited New York. Then, we could climb all the way to the top and peer out from a small window at the crown of the statue!

The pic below is the former site of the World Trade Centre. I think they are supposed to finish building the memorial by 2010. Don't think it's gonna happen. Heh.. maybe that will be the next time I visit NYC.

From New York, I took a train earlier today southwards. After about 2.5 hours, I'm now in Baltimore. Will be spending two days here before leaving for Atlanta.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Today's my last day in Rome. Went to the last few places which I'd missed out so far.

First stop was the Pantheon, the only intact building of ancient Rome, built in 27 BC. It doesn't look very spectacular until you go in and see the huge semi-spherical dome which is the original dome since it was built! The Romans really built things to last!

Next I went on to Piazza Navona, built on the former ruins of an ancient stadium. Was a bit disappointed coz the obelisk was undergoing maintenance and was all boarded up... in fact, quite a few of the obelisks around Rome were all boarded up, like the one above the Spanish steps. A short walk away was the Area Sacra, an excavated area in the middle of modern buildings. This place is famous coz Julius Caesar was killed just behind the 5 pillars you see in the pic.

Had some lunch then went to see this really meaningless monument. Heh.. Only reason why I went was coz I have this fascination with pyramids. It's the only remaining pyramid built by some rich magistrate. No museum, no tours... just went there for a pic.

The last stop of the day was also the most interesting. I went to the last of the 4 major basilicas of Rome - St Paul's Basilica. Ok, I admit, I felt I should also go there coz I'm named after him after all... heh.... It was a beautiful basilica, although it wasn't as grand as St Peter's Basilica. I loved the garden & statue St Paul in front of the Basilica (first pic) and also the beautiful interior. Under the tabernacle is believed to be the remains of St Paul.

In the train on the way back to the hotel, I decided to leave my mark on the train as well. I mean everyone else was doing it... so here it is!

(just joking... dunno who did it, but it's fun to see my surname scratched on the window.)

Just one more note for the day... I was kinda irritated when I got back to the hotel coz my laundry which I had sent in the morning was not back and I am leaving at 6.30am in the morning tomorrow. I had double checked that the laundry would be back in time this morning and was assured that it would be ok. So, now (1) I had to go do laundry at a self-service laundromat immediately as I was out of clothes to travel tmr and (2) I'm short of a T-shirt and 2 underwears for my US trip. Kinda irritating coz I packed pretty little as I knew I was gonna be travelling quite a bit in the US. Now, I'll have to go buy some more underwear and shirts in the US. I think the hotel's gonna compensate me by giving me a discount on the room. Will find out tomorrow.

OK, better sleep soon, dun wanna miss my flight tomorrow.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Very tired.... my feet are killing me.... Today was another day of plenty walking. Set off a bit later coz I was lazing around in my room (since it was Sunday after all).

I signed up for a tour to visit the Catacombs. Not cheap, 40 euros, but after the tour, I think it was quite well spent. Having a guide around to talk about what I am seeing really makes a difference.

The catacombs are a set of underground tunnels where the early Christians who were persecuted were buried. Eerie place. I visited the Catacombs of Saint Domitalla which was the burial place of over 150 000 people. They were buried in an underground structure 4 levels deep! We only got to visit parts of the first two levels. The whole place was like a huge maze underground. Very interesting visit. No pics were allowed, so I only managed to take a pic of the outside which is actually the roof of the underground cathedral.

Next, we visited the Basillica di San Giovanni which is the cathedral of Rome. The guide explained that in order for building to be called a Basillica, it needed to have a 4 things, one of which is are holy relics. The one in this Basillica is supposed to be the skulls of St Peter and St Paul! They also had a piece of wood from the table where Jesus had his Last Supper. This Basillica also had beautiful statues along the nave of the the twelve apostles. This one stood out to me... I think it was supposed to be of Bartholomew... he's supposed to be holding a his own skin coz it's believed that he was skinned alive. Just outside this Basilica was the shrine where the 'holy staircase' is. It's supposed to be the actual marble steps which Jesus climbed up to meet Pontius Pilate. The steps (together with the shred of wood from the last supper table) were brought to Rome by Helen, the mother of Constantine, the first Christian roman emperor.

The last stop on the tour was the Basillica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The relic in this Basilica is a piece of the manger where baby Jesus was laid! It's really quite interesting to see all these holy relics.

After the tour, I decided to go to Capitoline Museum. It's a huge museum and it was totally worth visiting. There were so many sculptures and paintings. I'm not an arty person, but there were two pieces which I really liked. First was the sculpture of The Dying Gaul. I found the sculpture very sad. Next was a painting of the legend of how Rome was founded. The woman in the painting is the mother of Romulus and Remus (the two kids in the painting). The man she is with is a representation of the god of the River Tiber. Click here to read about it more.

All in, another very interesting day. But my feet really hurt. Tomorrow's my last day here, still haven't seen the Pantheon. So much more to see! Hate to admit it, but I'm enjoying Rome!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I spent today wondering all around the streets of Rome. First stop was the famous Trevi Fountain. Never really expected it to be so huge. Heh.. always imagined it to be smaller. Then, I walked to the Spanish steps but on the way, I actually found a Chinese restaurant to have my lunch. I had sweet & Sour pork, sour & spicy soup & a coke. All for 12 euros... S$24.... I have already decided to forget about converting the prices or I'll probably never eat anything other than sandwiches and pizza here.

After Spanish Steps, I went on to visit this Altar of Peace. Thought it was quite interesting, how they reconstructed the entire altar from the different pieces they had found at different times.

Right next to the Altar was a burial mount but the more interesting thing was that an artist had put together some outdoor exhibition on the railings around the mount. He wasn't really charging anything for it but the pieces were quite humourous. Here's one about the 'toilette'.

After that, I took a cruise down the River Tiber. I thought it would be quite nice (cause I like to do river cruises) but I must admit I was a bit disappointed. Firstly, the walls of the river were filled with ugly grafitti. And secondly, many of the sights were kinda obscured by the trees coz the water level was way below the sides.

Then I went up Castel Saint Angelo, a castle by the river. Interesting place but no pics allowed inside. But we could go to the top of the castle and since it was actually dark by then, I could take some nice night pics (finally used my mini-tripod!). The first shot is of Vatican City and the second shot is of the bridge across the river, leading towards Vatican City.