Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year 2008

Last post for 2007!

I would like to wish all readers and visitors a Happy New Year 2008. I hope that everyone will start off the year with bigger and better things in store for the new year. If 2007 was not as much as a success for you, take a moment to reflect and then move on with more determination to make 2008 even better than the year preceding it.

I don’t really know what I would be doing this New Year’s eve. Feeling my age (getting long in the tooth people!), all the hoopla of going somewhere crowded like KLCC, Dataran Merdeka or even the Sunway Lagoon that’s just close by where I’m staying has lost it’s appeal. Especially the thought of having to go by myself … I’m getting an agoraphobic attack just thinking about it.

I wonder if the Starbucks at the Sunway Pyramid new wing would have a good view of the fireworks show at Sunway Lagoon? Of course I think by now, there would already be droves of people thinking of the same thing.

Any who, those planning to go to party the new year in, have a blast guys but do party responsibly. It would be a stupid thing to do to ring in the new year in the emergency room or worse in a coffin. If you’ve been drinking, give the keys to your designated driver so you can get safely home. If you go out drinking without a designated driver then you’re an idiot!

Happy New Year 2008!

Year In Review : Memorable Moments in 2007

2007 has been a really exceptional year for me. To be honest, I am hard-pressed to remember any past years when so many changes that has happened to my life both on a personal and professional level. Having this blog helped me to document them as they happened and for that I am thankful. If for nothing else, I get a chance to take some time out to review previous entries and be amazed at how much my life has changed in the past 365 days.

2007 started with a bang, so to speak, for me. After 12 years of being celibate, I started 2007 by breaking that dry spell (and no it was not a New Year hookup). Technically it was not the full course but it was enough for me to officially declare an end to the long streak. While it was a big deal for me, it turned out to be less significant for the other party. While I was already imagining building a future together, it turned out that I was just an one off thing to be casts aside once dispensed with. A few exchanges later led me to the impression that what seemed so significant for me meant as much as a business transaction for the other party.

To top things off, I was also told then that I might be more appealing to other people if I just lose some weight. Talk about stepping on someone’s balls when they’re already down for the count. I was extremely embarrassed, heartbroken, hurt and bitter at the time but after mulling it over for a bit, I decided to do something that I have never really did before. I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and instead divert all the negative things about myself that I was feeling into something more constructive. I wanted to prove to that person and more importantly to myself that I am worth much more than just a one night fling. What started as a driven obsession for vindication gradually evolved into my journey of self discovery and acceptance. It’s funny when I look back and think that if it was not for that incident, my 2007 might have turned out very differently indeed.

I also got the opportuinity to do a little bit of traveling in 2007. The first was to Manila which was the first time I was out of the country since my last business trip to Hong Kong way back in 2001. The opportunity to go along with a group of significantly older friends I knew from my secondary school alumni came up and for once I decide to take the risk of trying something outside of my comfort zone. The trip was a success for me as not only did it allow me to see a place that I have only seen in pictures before but it allowed me to reflect on how home was compared to other places. The trip also stoked a travel itch that I have long suppressed by what I thought was practical reasons.

The second trip that I took in 2007 was to the Perhentian Island with my family. I have wanted to go to these island after hearing about it for the longest time. When I got there, it more beautiful than I could ever imagined it. It was a place that I could definitely picture losing myself in for months if it was possible. Being able to share the discover with my family was also an added bonus. The last that that we had a family vacation was a few years back when we went up to Langkawi so the trip to Perhentian was something that was long overdue for us. It allowed us some really good family bonding time away for the distractions of our daily lives.

This year also saw me embarking on a fitness journey/experiment to improve myself and my self confidence. After years of struggling with issues with self image, I decided (with a little push from being painfully reminded that I was still fat) get off my fat arse and do something about it. I joined a gym and rededicated myself to eat healthier from the beginning of the year. I remembered how hard it was for me to overcome the feeling of being self conscious about working out in public at the gym. I can still recall the anxiety that I had about changing in the locker room around strangers. Over time, I was able to get it in my head that not everyone who was at the gym looked like they stepped out of a fitness magazine and that I’m not as terrible at it as I thought that I would be. Locker room anxiety also pretty much faded away once I got more comfortable with my own body. Of course that doesn’t me that I’m walking around without clothes in the locker room now (is anyone crazy enough to do that?) but at least I don’t feel the need to wait for people to leave my locker area before I changed like I did when I first started.

An increased level of self confidence in myself also led me to take more chances in 2007 especially when it comes to matters of the heart. I guess I can blame if to the endorphins released by working out but I found myself to be more opened to possibilities that I would normally shy away in past years. Instead of just keeping things clinically sterile, I allowed myself the chance to explore what would happened if I took the next step. What started as just comments left in blog entries changed in to txt messages and then to lunches or coffee meetings. After awhile an familiarity began to set it allowing me to be comfortable to move on in small steps. I’m not the best person to be in a relationship with since I carry with me so much emotional baggage and insecurities but in a way I have been learning to change that. It is still a journey that we are on and there are no guarantees that we would end up at the same destinations in the end so for now I prefer to appreciate the adventure instead.

Last but not least, 2007 was the year when I found a whole new circle of friends that I would not imagine that I would be a part of a year before. Thanks for my own increasing self awareness and acceptance, I was able to come out of the shell that I built around myself and reach out even with the risk of being rejected. These new friends quickly became persons of inspirations and sources of new stories of the human condition for me. Many faced the same challenges, had the same dreams and want the same things in life that I thought that I was the only one yearning for all these years. Some became people that I confided in, shared my fears and embarrassingly revealed my fantasies with without fear of being judged. My life would definitely be less enriched without their presence in my life this year. I think I’ve said it before in earlier blog entries that I made more new friends this year than I did in the past years combined. I can honestly say that the last time I made these many new friends that meant so much to me was back when I was at boarding school. I’ve cherished my friendship with my boarding school buddies for 17 years and no doubt that I would be able to do the same to the friendships that I made this year.

2007 was memorable for me not because of the changes that happened around me but more importantly the changes that happened within me. I will remember it as the year that I stopped just reacting to things but to take charge instead. It was a year that I lessen the reins on my pathological risk avoidance and stretched out to consider possibilities that I would summarily dismiss before. I can honestly say that I’ve grown considerably as a person these past 12 months and my life is the better for it. Looking ahead, I hope that this is just the beginning for better things to come. Realizing that I actually can do things that I set my mind to would hopefully give me the confidence to do more things that I would never considered doing before.

My journey is only starting from this point onwards and I still have far to go.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Year In Review : Gym Journal/Workout Progress 2007

Very early in 2007, I had an embarrassing incident which affected my self image and how I perceived my physical self. Having had worked hard to lose almost 10kgs the year before through controlling my dietary intake, that incident was a wakeup call that told me that I was not doing enough. I took that incident to heart and instead of letting it chip away at my already low self esteem, I resolved to put the embarrassment and anger I felt to better use. I took stock at my own level of fitness at the time and determined that it was time to change things. The feelings of embarrassment, anger, bitterness and self inadequacy left by that incident fueled my determination to overcome years of inertia when it comes to physical fitness.

I signed up for a gym membership at Sunway Pyramid a few weeks after doing some shopping around for the best gym rates. At the time, the gym was only scheduled to open in the 3rd quarter of 2007 so I got cheaper rates by virtue of getting pre-opening rates. Given the proximity of the gym to my apartment, I would be able to spare myself the inconvenience of going far for gym as I would have had I chosen a different gym. I also took advantage of their free InBody checks to determine my current levels of weight, body fat % and BMR. I took those measurements as my baseline and at the beginning of the year I was 80.5kg, 31% body fat with BMR of 1583 kcal.

BMR was basically the amount of calories that a person can burn with just the normal body functions without any exercise. Breathing, walking, cell repair and other internal functions contribute to the BMR levels. I took that BMR level as the minimum level of calories that I would take in for a day. I kept in mind that anything that I ate that went beyond my minimum would have to be burned off someway or it would contribute to weight gain over time. I also had to increase my metabolic rate to increase my BMR levels and I changed the frequency of my meals to do that. Instead of just eating 2 large meals a day like I often do at that time, I broke it down to 5 small meals a day. I tried to estimate the amount of calories that I was taking in per meal and try to limit it to about 300 kcal per meal. I still kept the calorie intake flexible so that I would not miss out on good meals but I try to adjust my portions in those situations.

Since my gym didn’t opened till August of 2007, I spent the preceding months working out using a DP Body Tone II exercise body rowing machine that I bought years earlier but did not use much till this year. At the time, I focused more on upper body conditioning by doing bicep curls, body lifts and some assisted push ups. I also had my daily walks of about 30 minutes each way that I had to do to get to my office as my cardio workout. Once my gym opened, I obviously had more equipments to play with and in the beginning stayed with the stationary bikes for cardio and the weight stack machines for muscle conditioning.

Before the gym opened, I set aside about 1 hour daily for my home workouts. When I started going to the gym, I set myself a goal of making use of the gym facilities at least 4 times a week. I have since upgraded that to 5 times a week with Tuesdays and Saturdays designated as my gym off days. I was able to stick to my 8:30 – 10:30 workout schedule per visit with the exception of Sundays when I would go to the gym earlier in the afternoon to spend about 4 hours there. My workout plan would normally be divided into a 40 minutes cardio warm up, 1 hour of weight or circuit training and a 20 minute cardio cool down. I happy to say that I have been able to more or less stick to that schedule for this year.

From the start of the journey, I also decided to engage the services of a personal trainer to guide me with my workouts. It was quite an expensive item to splurge on since, unlike my gym membership which was on a monthly term, I had to pay all of my PT fees upfront. Looking back, I have to say that it was an great investment despite my initial misgivings about taking a PT. Not only was my PT a source of knowledge on how to use the gym equipments properly, he also helped me to track my progress throughout my fitness journey and motivate me to reach higher levels once he felt that I needed to be challenged. We bonded almost immediately given that we came from almost the same type of background and upbringing which made for an enjoyable partnership. I guess that I may have lucked out in this case, having heard of less than ideal experiences people had with their PT, but I would still recommend gym newbies to consider working with a PT when they start to gain the confidence to properly make use what the gym had to offer.

In terms of work out intensity, I have seen measurable gains in the things that I could do now compared to what I was able to accomplish when I first joined the gym. I remember being unable to completes a series of squats and push ups that I now can breeze through for my circuit training (still have problems with maintaining a 1 minute plank position though). The amount of weights that I load up on the weight stack machines has also gradually increased thanks to the motivation from my PT who always challenge me to move on to the next level when he felt that I was ready even when I thought that he was crazy for suggesting it. I remember how excited I was when I lifted my first 3 digit load (in lbs .. still have a ways to go before I can lift any 3 digits kg load) ever having thought that it was impossible for me to do so. That as definitely one of my red letter days of the year for me.

Without a doubt, getting interested into fitness and really sticking to my gym workout schedule really helped my this year. I got a chance to further lose weight which is now hovering between the 75 – 77 kg range depending on my calorie intake that week. My blood pressure readings also dropped from a high of 196/125 to about 148/98 which is definitely good news for me. I’ve also dropped 2 inches off my waist this year to 34 which was something that I have never been since 12 years ago. I still have not yet reached the optimum weight target for my height but if I stayed my course, it is within the realm of possibility to be achieved in 2008.

Thanks to that embarrassing incident earlier in the year, I was able to use all the feelings it left me to motivate me to go on this fitness journey. I have long since forgiven for the incident but I still call on that memory to spur me onwards to reach for even higher heights to this day. I guess it’s just my way to turn a negative into a great positive for me to work with. As I always told myself, this fitness experiment/journey that I am on is just starting and would be one that I would be happy to continue to share in my future blog entries.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Year In Review : Most Memorable Music in 2007

If there is nothing else to watch on Astro, the two channel most likely to be on my TV would either be the MTV or V Channel. Far from being music savvy, the music videos from these two channels are the only way I could keep abreast of what is popular at the moment. I grew up during the time of the music video explosion with the start of the MTV channel so I rarely listen to the radio for my music. Of course this meant that I’m only somewhat exposed to the more commercial mainstream artists as far as musical exposure goes.

Unlike DVDs, I always insist buying original CDs when it comes to my music. From my experience, buying originals are the only way to get the sound quality that your money is paying for. For me, this is especially essential when buying CDs since the consumer is limited to only their aural senses to appreciate the CD. Original CD prices are still affordable especially for local releases which have been slashed quite a lot relative to the prices a few years ago.

My music tastes generally fall into the international pop category although I have know to venture to other genres for a bit. As far as buying CDs are concerned, I didn’t really get to buy many this year. The few I did buy either stayed in my CD player for months until I tire of them or get copied to my laptop to be added to my office playlist. I guess that eventually I would get one of those MP3 players so I can bring my playlist to the gym as well.

Listed below are some of the more memorable music selections for me in 2007. The accompanying clip was sourced from YouTube.com (obviously) and I guess that the copyrights are squared away somehow so we can embed it in our blogs.

Westlife - Home

Those who know me know how much of a big fan I am of “Westlife” so no list of mine will be complete if I don’t include the single they released in 2007. The song “Home” is of course a cover version they made of the one originally released by Michael Bublé. It’s fairly serviceable but cover versions seems to be all that Westlife has been doing of late. I really miss being able to hear their original material and I do hope that would change soon.






Anuar Zain - Lelaki Ini

This album broadsided me with this song that I long avoided listening to since every member of his legion of fans were raving about every chance they got. Lyrically poetic and wonderfully melodious, it fast became one of my favorite local songs of the year after I listen to it for the first time. I’m not so much of a big fan of the video clip so instead I selected to use a video clip of his live performance at the Anugerah Era ’07 show courtesy of Klubkidd (*waves*)







Melinda Doolittle - My Funny Valentine

Melinda’s performance of “My Funny Valentine” was my favorite of all her performances in American Idol not just because it’s one of my all time favorite songs but also her interpretation of the song was so exciting for me to experience. I really hope that she would release a solo CD even though she didn’t get to the AI finals. I would definitely be buying her CDs just to listen to her wonderful voice and relive the experience again.






Michael Bublé – Everything

I love his music from the first moment that I heard it. A fan of the big band sound and 50’s Americana, it was a refreshing breath of fresh air to hear this crooner reinterpret a lot of the familiar standards for a whole new generation. While is well known for his cover version, his original work on his CDs were no less impressive.

“Everything” has to be in this list. I would not hear the end of it if it wasn’t.





Daughtry-Over You

Another ex contestant from the American Idol who found success without actually winning the show. His vocals were one of the memorable ones during the season that he was on however with his preference for commercial rock, his range on the show was slightly limited. Nevertheless, the show really exposed him to the listening public which guaranteed an almost sure fan base for him when he release his own CD. The choice of remaining with his original band instead of going solo after his AI experience was actually the best for him. I have not actually listened to his full CD yet but I have to say that this song is my favorite.

(Update: 28/12 - Seems that the clip has be removed from YouTube. You can view the clip posted by the band themselves at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C_oHwLcivY)




Samsons-Bukan Diriku

I’m actually quite late in terms of discovering the numerous bands from Indonesia that have been popular on this side of the Straits. It was only during this year, thanks to my youngest brother playlist, that I became aware of some acts like Ungu, Padi and Samsons. I have not quite gotten into them but some of the songs that I heard by them were really good and different from the tired fare released by our own local artists. If more local songs were as fresh as this one, which grew on me as I listened to it, I would definitely be more excited about buying local CD releases.





Shayne Ward - If That's OK With You

Winner of the UK’s “X-Factor” talent search, this tune is one that sneaked up on me and left me utterly devoted to it. It’s hard not to be impressed by the melody and music video itself. I have to admit that I can’t help smiling each time I heard this song.

OK … catchy tune and eye candy. Need I say more?


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Year In Review : Most Memorable DVDs in 2007

Apart from my comic book collection, another way of me wasting my hard earned cash is by buying DVDs of TV series and movies that I like. In 2007, I actually bought 64 separate titles from Amazon.com which is quite an accomplishment given that I have only watched a small portion of them. And yes, these are original DVDs that I bought from Amazon.com. I found that buying them from Amazon.com still gives me the best deal on the net in terms of pricing and assurance that they would arrive safely to my mailbox. I’m particularly impressed by their willingness to replace without cost items that might go missing during transit without a lot of hassle.

Most of my DVD purchases this year have been TV series sets that I am a fan off. Being a completist, I just have to get the next box season set once I start collecting them or else I would be fretting about the incomplete set. As for movies, my rule of thumb of buying their DVDs is to wait for a special edition of the DVD to be released before buying them. I would usually have seen the movies that I buy the DVDs for so I buy them more for the additional features they include in the special edition package. Director commentary tracks, making of featurettes and behind the scene documentaries are the things that I look for when deciding which DVD to buy.

As such, I prefer to buy original Region 1 DVDs instead of the local Region 3 DVDs or even the more cheaper pirated copies. Region 1 DVDs would have both the quality and content that I’m looking for when buying DVDs. I still buy some pirated copies but more for titles that I’m fairly sure that I just want to watch once and not add to my DVD collection. For some movies/series, original DVDs are the only way that I will get to watch them since for obvious reasons they will not get shown in the cinema or the TV locally. Of course it I really wanted to watch them, I could wait a few months and get pirated copies from Plaza Damas but I feel that they are better served by getting my cash so they would continue to put out DVDs of the genre.

I guess eventually I get tired of them and willing to trade them with other collectors for new DVD’s but for the moment they happy sitting where there are. The only problem I have with them is that I am fast running out of shelve space to stack them properly.

Without further delay, here’s my list.

Blade Runner – 4 Disc Collector’s Edition

A must have DVD in any sci-fi fan or DVD collector (or in my case, both), the “Blade Runner – 4 Disc Collector’s Edition” collects a new final cut of the sci-fi classic as well as 3 previously released version of the film. Boasting 3 different commentary tracks including one by Ridley Scott himself and 2 full discs of special features, the set would definitely remain the definitive version of the DVD to purchase for this movie.

There is an even better set, the “Blade Runner – 5 Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition”, with a 5th disc containing a rare workprint version of the film among others, but the price difference was to large for me to justify the additional items added to an already great set.


Grey’s Anatomy: Seasons 1 - 3

I’m not really a big fan of hospital series, having being utterly confused after watching seasons of ER and Chicago Hope, but I was instantly hooked after watching a few episodes of this series. The amount of drama, angst and particularly fetching actors made it one of my must see series whenever I get a chance to see it. The DVD sets has quite a number of extras that make adding them to my collection seemed worth it but truth be told, I just love the show.


Dante’s Cove: Season 2

If I had to describe this series to someone else, I would definitely say that it was what you would get if “Queer As Folk – US series” mated with “Charmed” and sprinkle a whole boatload of camp on top of that union. I bought Season 1 of this series earlier to watch and had a great laugh over the over the top storylines about immortal witches and warlocks who inhabit the titular seaside resort. It was silly, campy and made less sense than square tire on a car. To top it all off, the show has Tracy Scoggins in it channeling her most over the top performance yet which is always fun to watch.

Honestly though, storyline is not the main reason for owning this series. Anyone who says otherwise really does need to get his head (both of them) examined.


Melrose Place: Seasons 1 – 3

This series and “Beverly Hills: 90210” was part of my must see TV watching schedule way back when the aired. Not as stodgy as watching “Dynasty” or “Dallas” (which I did growing up), the young cast made up my perception of what life after college would be like. Watching each episode, I can’t help but snicker at all the stuff that I thought was so cool back then which seems so archaic now. Don’t even get me started on the clothing styles which I ashamedly admit that I copied religiously while I was in college. The show was a trendsetter back then but I can’t help but cringe when I remember half of the things that I wore which was inspired by the show.

Of course the show had a pre “Desperate Housewives” Marcia Cross playing Dr. Kimberly who has to be one of the most memorable characters of the show. The scene revealing how she came back from the dead is still one that fans of the show remember fondly.

More list to follow (hopefully).

Year In Review : Most Memorable Movies in 2007

Last time I did an end of the year review list, it was back in Dec 2005. I skipped doing one last year as I let almost all of the second half of 2006 pass without blogging. I don’t know if I would get to do one entry per day for the next 6 days before the end of the year but I would like to try that.

2007 has been a wonderful year for me. For one, it is officially the first year when I got to write blog entries fairly regularly throughout the year. Quite a few of those entries are related to movies and my attempt at reviewing them. Those how have been reading this blog as well as those who know me outside of the blogworld know how passionate I can be when it comes to movies. I may not be the most technical of reviewers but when I like something, I would try my level best to put to words what I like about it and share it through a blog entry.

So it is appropriate that I start my year end review blog entries with the list of memorable movies that I have watched in 2007. The list is by no means what I consider the best movies to watch in 2007 but they are the ones that still make me excited thinking about them. I have reviewed them before so I would be including links to the reviews that I wrote for the movie for easy reference but it’s not necessary for you to read them again.

Again, this is the list of movies released in 2007 that were the most memorable for me. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are much superior than the rest of the movies you might have seen. You may have your own list and I would like to hear them from you as well either from you leaving them in the comments section or a link back to your blog for the same write-up on your list.

Without further delay, here’s my list.

Stardust
There were quite a few movies released in 2007 that had their beginnings from comic books which makes a comic book fanatic like myself absolutely thrilled beyond belief. While we did not get another dud like “Catwoman” this year (although we did come close with “Ghost Rider”), most of the movies were slightly disappointing to me until “Stardust” came out. It was a fairy tale for adults and the film adaptation stayed fairly true of the original material in both context and content. It was a joy to see on screen what I had enjoyed on printed paper.

Original review: http://nickxandar.blogspot.com/2007/11/movie-review-stardust.html



Transformer
Anyone who grew up in the 80 like me would remember the “Transformers” cartoon show that they showed on TV. We all wanted the “Transformers” toys back then since they were cool and you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood if you had one. When news about a life action feature film about the “Transformers” came out, I was wondering if they would be able to capture the essence of what made “Transformers” a fan favorite. When I finally got to see it, I knew that not only were they able to do that but they have also successfully surpassed all expectations with the updated “Transformers”. It was one of the highlights of my summer movie viewing.

Original review: http://nickxandar.blogspot.com/2007/07/movie-review-transformers.html


Perfume – The Story of A Murderer
This was a surprise find in 2007. I have never read the book that the movie was based on and I had no idea what the movie was about. I was at the cinema with a friend deciding which movie to watch and decided to take a chance to see a movie that I have never heard before or read any reviews about. That in itself was a great accomplishment for me since I have never done such a thing. Turned out it was a great choice to make and the movie turned out to the most intriguing movie that I’ve watched for a while. Intriguing because majority of the movie dealt with the technical challenge of trying to capture the sense of smell in a visual medium. A technical accomplishment and a fairly interesting story combined to put this movie in my most memorable movies of the year list.

Original review: http://nickxandar.blogspot.com/2007/03/movie-review-perfume-story-of-murderer.html


300
Another movie based on a comic book that was most memorable for being able to present such a wonderful visual feast. Working mostly with computer generated imagery, the story of the 300 Spartan soldiers against the might of the Persian empire came to life in full gory details. Each scene screamed to be paused so the viewer can appreciate the complexities involved to produce such a wonderful presentation. The moment that I saw the movie, I knew that I must get the DVD to fully appreciate the wondrous spread of the visual palate achieved in this movie.

Original review: http://nickxandar.blogspot.com/2007/03/movie-review-300.html



Mukhsin
Last but definitely not least on the list is the simple story of young love set in our own backyard (speaking country wise of course). A fitting finale to the Orked trilogy, Yasmin’s “Mukhsin” was something that I would never thought of skipping. Watching “Mukhsin” brought back memories of the viewers own first pangs of love and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Once in a while we need to be reminded of what it felt the first time we know what love was so we know how lucky we were to have known that love. It was a lyrical and refreshing movie well received by fans of Yasmin Ahmad’s work both local and overseas.

Original review: http://nickxandar.blogspot.com/2007/03/movie-review-mukhsin.html



I guess that all for this list. More lists to follow (hopefully)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!


Another holiday so closely following the one that we just had!

That’s the beauty of living in a multicultural country like Malaysia where we all get to celebrate each other’s holidays equally. As a kid, growing up in multi-ethnic neighborhood in Kluang, I remember going to my friends houses for their celebrations and they would come to mine for Hari Raya. Christmas was one that we would look forward to most since it meant that Santa would make an appearance at our kindergarten class to give us presents. We would have shows and learn Christmas carols to sing in class just for when Santa came so he knows that we have been nice and not naughty for the year.

For the longest time, I lost that feeling of being like a kid at Christmas until my first winter at Madison. It was my first time seeing real snow in my life. It happened at about 3 am in the morning and my friend, who came in the same flight to US as I did, actually woke me up to tell me that it was actually snowing. We bundled up quickly and went out to see the first snowflakes started drifted down from the sky. It was nothing short of magical to see it really happening for the first time.

Of course, true to my luck, the snow changed to a blizzard for the next 3 days and dumped almost 3 feet of snow on the ground my first year there.

Nevertheless, I had a clear, sunny, white Christmas my first year in the States. We went up to the park by Camp Randall Stadium to build a snowman and sled down hill just like kids. In the evening, we made hot chocolate with marshmallows and sat at the balcony watching the snow fall. It was a wonderful Christmas memory that I know I will cherish for as long as I live.

For all readers and blog visitors celebrating Christmas, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May you have a smashing and safe celebration wherever you may be.

Something that I wrote sometime back that I usually would dig out to read during the Christmas time. Please accept it as my festive offering to you.

Click here to read : A "Beautiful Thing" Christmas Story

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Salam AidilAdha


I'm planning to go back home to my parents place in Selayang right after work today. I’m also taking Friday off which means that I would have a 4 day weekend ahead of me.

Hari Raya Aidil Adha is not really a big thing in our household since none of my relatives have done the Hajj yet. Other than the morning Eid prayers and the family lunch, we normally will spend the rest of the day at home. I may just vegetate in front of my brother’s computer again playing “Neverwinter Night2: Mask of the Betrayer” again like last Aidil Fitri holidays if my bothers have to work on Friday.

If it turns out that they too took holidays on Friday, I think that I might want to get them together for a brothers’ night out. We have not done that in awhile and it would be nice to be able to go out and catch a live band playing somewhere. They have asked me to come and chill out at Heritage Row before but usually in these outings I would end up as banker for the group so I had to wait for when I had more money to burn.

And yes … I did come into some extra money this month thanks to my contractual yearly bonus. And no .. I would not be able to afford to belanja everyone who leaves a comment asking to belanja them even if I want too … I don’t make anywhere close to a certain someone who shall remain nameless with the 5 digit monthly salary (kih 3x *larik*). I’ve earmarked some of that money for a new toy for myself (and it’s not that one for those whose minds are ensconced in the gutter!), my PT sessions that I intended to add after the current one gets used up as well as a little traveling fund for a trip that I’m planning in 2008.

To all readers, a Happy Eid Adha and have a safe celebration (or time off whichever the case maybe) with the family. For those who would be driving to their hometowns, please drive safely. Aidil Adha is the day when people sacrifice animals like cows to distribute their meat to the poor. Don’t be as stupid as a cow to ritually sacrifice yourselves by driving recklessly on the road.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Movie Review: The Golden Compass

Prior to the movie’s release, I had no awareness at all of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy “His Dark Materials” from which the movie “The Golden Compass” was based on the first book. After the wildly successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter adaptations, Hollywood seemed still to be looking for the next mega-franchise fantasy series to part the devoted fans of these books from their hard earned cash. Some like “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was half way decent to watch while others like “Eragon” made me think of the missed opportunities they could have done better. “The Golden Compass” which saw local release in the cinemas recently was the latest to be added to the list of movies to fill in the void left behind by the LOTR series.

In “The Golden Compass”, audiences enter a parallel world where humans walked around with physical representation of their souls in the form of an animal companion. The companion or “daemons” as they are known in this world could act autonomously and speak for or with it’s human owner. Part voice of conscious, part extension of the human, the daemons were so intricately tied to it’s human owner that any harm inflicted on it would cause pain to the human and vice versa. This parallel world also has talking armored polar bears that rule over the vast Artic snows capes near the north pole as well as fantastic flying machines powered buy an indeterminate power source. Last but not least, this world was also inhabited by witches who lived a much longer lifespan than normal humans.

The audiences’ guide into this fantastical world in “The Golden Compass” is Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards). Left to live and study at the world’s equivalent of our worlds Oxford university by her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), she grows up to be an inquisitive and headstrong young girl who unintentionally learned of more than she should know about the realities of the world that she lived it. The knowledge quickly became dangerous for her when she attracts the attention of the Magisterium, the organization who controlled everything in her world, who sent Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) to take her away from her home to eliminate the threat she and her uncle represented on the Magisterium continued grip on power.

Before going with Mrs. Coulter, Lyra received the last alethiometer, the titular golden compass with the ability to discern the truth for any question asked. A parting gift from the masters who looked over her safety before, the golden compass quickly showed Lyra that things were not as it seemed with Mr. Coulter. When she discovered that her best friend, Roger (Ben Walker), has been abducted by Gobblers under the command of Mrs. Coulter, she escapes with her daemon Pan (Freddie Highmore) to rescue him. Along the way, she finds help in the form of the seafaring Gyptians, a witch called Serafina (Eva Green), an aeronaut called Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot) and an armored polar bear named Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen). This collection of character accompanied Lyra as she traveled north towards the frigid polar icescape to find the location where the Globbers took the children and free them.

Looking at the pace of the film and reading that the screenwriter (and director - Chris Weitz) had to compress 430 pages into a screenplay to fit 114 minutes, I feel that he has done a fairly good job with it. With the exception of some scenes to show audience that Daniel Craig was actually in the movie and not just a name they tacked on the posters, considering the limited screen time he had in this installment, the movie wisely focused on Lyra’s journey. Help comes rather conveniently at each point of the journey but unlike the more successful LOTR adaptation, there seemed to be a lack of urgency and desperation on those points in her journey for the character to merit outside help. More than a few times while watching the movie, I felt that Lyra was just lucky to find help before she got into trouble instead of when she actually desperate to get that help.

“The Golden Compass” was also a beautifully rendered film with a lot of visual spectacles to feast on. From iconic images of airships, multiple daemons on screen at the same time as well as vast sceneries, it was clear the amount of work put in from the CGI department. Unfortunately, audiences were distracted with so much exposition delivered in the scenes to really enjoy them before the plot moves to the next point of the story. There was also a sense of detachment especially in the final climatic scene where the decision of using more wide angle in these scenes meant that the audiences could not feel like they were in the middle of the battle. With the audience not really feeling involved in the climatic battle, we were left with little to cheer about when the movie reach it’s feel good ending (which by the way I heard more bloody and darker than the ending in the movie).

The actors assembled for this movie were all of exceptional caliber in their own right but a decidedly lack of firm direction reduced their opportuinity to shine. Ian McKellen, signing up for another trilogy, was sufficiently regal sounding for Iorek and Sam Elliot was delightfully refreshing as a Southern gentleman aeronaut with a sassy hare daemon named Hester (Kathy Bates). Daniel Craig’s Lord Asriel hardly made a presence in the movie having only a few screens in the beginning and end of the movie. However the best mention for the film has to go to Dakota Blue Richards and Nicole Kidman. Richard’s portrayal of Lyra combined equal amounts of petulant child and wiser than her age qualities that was delightful to watch. She would surely worth looking forward to in future installments of the series to see how she develops. Kidman’s portray of the icy Mrs. Coulter was the highlight of the movie for me. A perfect study on how to portray inner fury simmering behind a smiling façade, Kidman’s first turn as a villain was both equally seductive and chilling.

“The Golden Compass” could have used the kind of magic touch that Peter Jackson had in the LOTR series. Grand in scale and scope, the movie seemed to be a bit lost in terms of focus and direction. It was as if the director himself was feeling detached from the movie that he wrote. It was still serviceable as an opening/origin movie to the trilogy but with the possibility that the next installment may not be made (remember Eragon?) , the movie left audiences frustrated with the amount of loose thread left behind after the credit rolled. That in itself is a pity in my opinion as the world that Lyra and her companions inhabit sounds more interesting to see more of rather than Narnia’s world for example. If this is to be the first and the last installment of the series to see screen, then hopefully at lease it would spur more audience to pick up the original books to read where Lyra’s adventures take her next.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why Do I Blog

Recent events that happened to some of the bloggers on my daily visit list have made me to think about the reason of why people, including myself, blog. Everyone I know from the list seemed to have their own reasons to blog. Is there a common thread that link all bloggers together which is absent in those who choose not to blog? Is there a certain type of personality that tend to produce more bloggers? What about the readers who come to our blogs, are they of a certain personality group as well? Is there a contract between the blogger and the blog reader that should remain sacrosanct without the need to be detailed?

These are the questions that crossed my mind (among other things – I had a really busy past week) when I see the events that have happened unfold. I’m definitely wouldn’t be answering them all in this one entry. I would imagine that I would hardly get through the first few by rambling away this way but I will try my best to share here some of the observations that I have noticed. This is in no way a judgmental attempt to impress my own view point to how people should blog. The blog world would be a very boring place if everyone blogged the same way especially if it’s the way that I blog. Take this entry as a starting point for your own reflection on why you blog, that is if you do. If you don’t, leave a comment behind as to why you don’t. It would definitely make for a more balanced examination of the question to have a view point of those on the non-blogger side of the fence.

Why do I blog? The short of it is that I need an outlet for my words. Thoughts that swirl around in my head sometimes just need to be noted down and documented as part of my life’s journal. The surprising thing was that I have never been one to keep a journal before and yet I’ve kept a type of journal on this blogspot section of the Net for almost 5 years (on and off considering some years I just go silent for extended periods of months). I guess the idea that my words have an audience out there makes me more keen to blog than to keep a journal. Instead of just bouncing around in my head, I can reach out and tell the people who come to my blog what I was thinking.

Does that makes me someone who seeks attention? Probably although those who know me in real life would hardly label me as an attention seeker. Being able to hide myself behind a pseudonym when I write my blog affords me the freedom to overcome my reluctance and give my entries more access into my life. Blogging for me is when I let other people in to who I am and how I live my life. Granted I don’t give as much access as some bloggers on my daily read list but that was my choice to make. The choice was partly out of necessity and my own insecurities of having people judge me based on incomplete data. Judgment from blog readers are bound to happen especially when we put in interactive components like comments and tag board on our blogs.

As content providers, so to speak, we will have to be cognizant that what we know and believe might not be the same as others who read our blog. Some things might be better off left unsaid or undocumented in a blog entry unless we would be ready to accept the reaction of the blog visitors. Far from advocating self censorship, I fully believe that a certain level of tact is definitely required when considering what to share on a public blog. That tact will come from experience so there is no tried and true method to pass on to the next person. Rule of thumb for my own blog entries has been whether I would like to answer more follow up questions resulting from what I put out in my blog entries. If I can’t honestly answer yes to myself then what I was planning to write about would be pushed back to another time when I’m more sure that I would be able to tackle the follow up questions.

The blog readers also bear the burden of responsible blog relationship as the process of blogging is not a one way street. We as blogger value your visits and comment since part of why we do it is to communication to visitors to our blogs. What we don’t need are your judgments and condemnation especially those who think they know all about the blogger by virtue of reading just a few pages from their blog. Holier than thou attitudes are neither requested or welcomed. I can say (at least based on my own blog) that what gets documented in the blog entries are just a small portion of the person the blog writer really is. To pass judgment based on circumstantial evidence only reflects on the shallowness of the person. “Judge not least ye be judged” definitely holds true in comments as they reflect the person who writes down hurtful words.

Our blog entries are also glimpses of our lives that we allow the blog readers to be privy to. For some blogs, this access is more than you would actually get than if you would have known the blogger personally in real life. There is an implicit trust between the blogger and the blog reader that what they read is for their own consumption and not to be shared with others who don’t come to the blogger’s blog. To use part of a blog or images from entries to besmirch the reputation of the blogger is a clear betrayal of that trust. To reproduce private correspondence without it actually being in it’s entirety as well as taken out of context will always be unpardonable in any circumstances or for any reason. Being able to enter the live of a blogger is a privilege that the blogger gives to readers. It’s definitely a privilege that could easily be revoked should the trust relationship between blogger and reader continue to be abused.

A friend once told me that he doesn’t blog because he feels that blogging is too intrusive. I believe that he is correct in his assertion but there are still many of us who feels comfortable with some degree of the intrusion. For me personally it comes from the need to reach out and make a connection with other people. To feel that I am not alone and isolated in my own world. My blog has been successful in that aspect for me at least. I have gained more friends from my blog this year than the past 12 years combined outside of the blog. The fact remains that I blog by choice and not by necessity. That can easily be changed should I feel that I no longer feel safe and comfortable to blog. Events of the past weeks that happened to some of my blogger friends painfully reminds me that there are other people out there who do not want you to be safe and comfortable even within their own blog space.

They will always be there just waiting to pounce hoping that by doing so would make their lives slightly less insignificant. They are not the readers that I would be writing for. I write my blog for those who would listen to what I say even when I get to rambling on and on like today. I write for those who would lend me a sympathetic ear when I need it and an assurance that I am not reaching out to empty space with outstretched hands.

That’s why I blog.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In A Dark Mood

I think it might be the weather or maybe the over-salted pasta that I made but I’m finding myself in a somewhat of a dark mood right now.

A friend once remarked that I have a dark streak simmering just underneath the surface. I have to admit that he is correct in that observation and I know that would actually surprise my other friends since they might have never seen that side of me. I’ve had a lot of practice holding the reins in tightly to make sure those darker impulses don’t go out and wreak havoc in my daily life. Somedays I just have to let them loose for a bit and those are the days that I get into my dark moods.

Last night, still awake at 2am in the morning, I just felt like crying. Don’t ask me why. Just felt that I had to let go and have a cathartic bawl. Since I don’t have anything in particular to cry about, I had to fall back to my old standby of watching Season 2 finale episode of "Dawson’s Creek" which has never fail to reduce me to a sobbing mess. I’m sure people reading this are just snickering at how a teen-angst filled drama series can reduce a grown man to tears but don’t knock it off till you try it yourself. It’s hard not to shed a tear at the 2 scenes in the final third of the episode when Jen comes back to her grandmother’s house and the reconciliation scene between Pacey and his emotionally distant father.

It kills me every time I watch that episode. Got about 5 minutes of therapeutic crying out of it which was good enough for me. If I needed more, I would have selected the "Dawson’s Creek" series finale episode instead. That would keep me sobbing for almost ½ an hour towards the end.

Spent the whole morning just bouncing between light and darkness. I’m just riding it out hoping that it will resolve itself soon. In the meantime, I’m just staying at home listening to Alanis Morissette’s "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" CD on continuous loop.

Alanis Morissette’s first two CD released were practically my life’s soundtrack while I was in college and the remaining part of the 90’s. I had so much anger, unresolved conflicts and self destructive urges in me then that listening to someone as angry and angsty as myself back then was nothing short of comforting. It’s like having a non-judgmental friend to share what you were feeling when you had nothing like that in real life. The first time I heard her, I was in the process of getting drunk on Budweiser beer alone in a bar and instantly got the connection after listening to "All I Really Want" and “You Ought To Know” from the "Jagged Little Pill" album. Much has changed since then but I would always have a soft spot for her first 2 albums.

She has released 2 more full albums after "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" but other than a few of the videos shown on TV, I have not actually listen to her latter work. From what I can gather, her work has mellowed out over the years and doesn’t have the same biting edge of her first 2 albums which is understandable since no one can stay angry forever. I guess that the angst filled songs are more for artists like Pink or Avril Lavigne now who by the way are among my favorites too. I guess I should go out and get those 2 latter CDs one fo these days to balance out my Alanis fix.

But nothing beats spending a dark dreary day in a dark mood listening to Alanis Morissette.

"That I Would Be Good" - Alanis Morissette

That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand if I was not all knowing

That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy

That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be good
Whether with or without you




Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
-Alanis Morissette

I’ll bounce back soon enough.

Post Update (11pm): Bouncing Boy has bounced back to the light side thanks to YM messages from friends.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's Once In A Lifetime Thing, Folks!

OK .. here’s the deal.

I was messing around a few weeks back with the new mic headphone thingy that I just bought. Wanted to see if it was any good since they were selling it quite cheaply at the new wing at Sunway Pyramid. I also wanted to test out a voice capture freeware that I downloaded from the web with the possibility of incorporating audio podcasts in future blog entries.

So .. the result is you get to experience something that I rarely do in public around strangers but almost always when in the shower (definitely not that other thing … this is still a PG-13 blog site, people).

Nickxandar sings!

Be warned! If it the earth seem to be splitting open and the sky starts growl with ominous thunder, please stop the playback. If you hear dogs barking madly and birds start to dive bomb your window, for god’s sake stop the playback.

I don’t want to be blamed for bringing forth the end of the world with my croaking.





If I Let You Go – from Westlife





Keranamu Kekasih – from Puteri Gunung Ledang Musical OST

As you can tell … I’m mind-numbingly bored at the office right now. Just to be clear, I did the recordings in the privacy of my own house a few weeks back and not in the office just now. I’m not that bored to resort to an impromptu karaoke session at the office to amuse myself … yet.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Eye On Malaysia - Ending The Day

We ended the day having tea at the nearby EyeCafe. The menu selection there wasn’t anything to shout about. The brownies they had there was particularly appalling as it tasted more like chocolate cake then a brownie. Good thing that the tiramisu cake that we ordered was fairly good to eat. The prices at the café was somewhat expected of the items that they sell and they had a fairly wide choice of drinks for non-coffee drinkers as well.

We hung around the café until about 6:30pm. The crowd there grew larger as the temperature cooled and the sun began to move lower down the horizon. I think that most people want to go up the “Eye On Malaysia” as the sun began to set and the lights began to come out. As we walked back to where our car was parked, I saw some signs that told us that most of the light and laser shows around the “Eye On Malaysia” actually started around 9pm every night but it was too late for us to wait for.

It was an enjoyable outing and I can finally cross out the “Eye On Malaysia” off my to do things to do before the end of the year. I was initially worried about the crowds but it seems that most people have already had the experience or are not interested to see that view of Kuala Lumpur from high up. If you haven’t and want to, the “Eye On Malaysia” is opened daily but only until 31st Dec.

(EyeCafe near the entrance)

(My mango slurry and a so call artistic shot attempt)

(Parting shot when they opened the roof of the cafe as the sun went down)

Eye On Malaysia - Architecture

I love looking at the architecture of the “Eye On Malaysia”. A lot of clean strong lines going off to the distance in perspective. It’s actually calming to me to see repeated patterns like the way the beams cross here. I guess that having something so ordered to look out was quite relaxing to me.

(My favorite picture of the day)

(Pic of the gondola/viewing pod)

(Center of the Eye On Malaysia)

(From the inside looking out)

Eye On Malaysia - Inside Looking Out

We got to spend about 15 minutes (I think since I wasn’t looking at the watch) in the viewing pod as it revolved around 5 times. The pod did stop a few times in the revolution while they let people who had been in their earlier get off at the base. There was a little swaying of the pod when that happened so it might freak out people who are afraid to go up there in the first place. Thankfully I have conquered my fear of heights (for the most part) and it didn’t really affect me as much as it would a few years ago. I was actually a bit disappointed that the viewing pod did not have a glass bottom so we can see straight down like the cable car that they have in Langkawi.

Thanks to the fairly clear weather, we could see quite a distance away towards KL and surrounding areas that afternoon. I guess that the view would even be more spectacular at night when the city comes alive with lights. I could not convinced the rest to come at night that weekend so I had to make do with an afternoon trip. Other than the KL city center and the suburb sprawl on the opposite side, there wasn’t really much to look at while we were up there. I actually like the view from Menara KL better since one can see a lot more from the top of the tower.

(KL City View)

(Iconic KL from inside the viewing pod)

(Areas surrounding Taman Tasik Titiwangsa)

(Fountains in the lake)

Eye On Malaysia - Supporting Structures

We reached Taman Tasik Titiwangsa at about 4:30pm was lucky to get a parking space quite painlessly given the amount of people at the part last weekend. Other than visit to Restoran Nelayan, it has been ages since I was at the lake side proper. I think the last time I was there involved me messing around in big fiberglass swan paddle boats in the lake around the age of 8. I can’t really tell if there has been a lot changes to the surroundings since then.

Surprisingly, we didn’t actually need to wait long at all to buy tickets as it seems that the crowd was less that I was expecting given that it was the school holidays. I guess that we were still quite early in the day and it was still fairly warm out. We went up to the ticketing booth and paid our tickets (RM15 for adults, ½ price for seniors and children under 12) and waited at the lane for about 5 minutes before we were ushered into our viewing pod/gondola.

(On approach to ticketing boot)

(The ticketing booth)

(The short queue to wait our turn entering the viewing pods)

(Eye On Malaysia - Control Room)

Eye On Malaysia - Exterior

The “Eye On Malaysia” installation at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, KL has been something that I’ve been planning to go to but always postponing it for one reason or another. Since it will be ending at the end of Dec, I decided to go there with my parents, sister and nephew to experience it for ourselves last weekend.

We made it an afternoon outing for us and had quite an enjoyable time. I took some pictures using my mum’s Kodak EasyShare C643 just to record the moment and mess around with a camera. Can’t wait to get my own camera at the end of the year!

Some exterior shots of the “Eye On Malaysia” from the trip

(Shots of the Eye from across the Tasik Titiwangsa)

(On approach to the base of the Eye)

(Istana Budaya from Tasik Titiwangsa and Base of the Eye)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Workout Journal - Personal Training Sessions

It has been almost 2 months and about 20 sessions in my current PT package that I paid for when I first signed on for my gym membership. I have to say that it has really been money well spent for me as I have begun to see improvement both physically and mentally from these sessions. No doubt that most would say that what ever you can learn with a PT, you can actually learn it for free by watching other people work out but I have come to understand how much personalized the training programs could be for the individual. Without having someone to really show you how it should be done, you might even, in the worst case scenario, hurt yourself.

My PT program started off with a little bit of this and that to help PT identify what was my strengths and weaknesses. Right off the bat, we set goals of what I wanted to get out of the session. For me it was to lose weight, gain muscle definition and learn the techniques that I could use in my own workouts. We also identified things that I am good at and what I need to improve. For me it was my stamina and recovery times which was quite good to begin with considering my level of fitness when I started. I already had be frame to support the muscle mass that I was targeting for but I had to build both definition and muscle strength.

Earlier in the program, my PT sessions focused on my learning how to use the equipments correctly and strength training to see how far I can push myself. Gradually, it moved from that to muscle building phase. My workout sessions currently are broken down to 3 components namely a cardio warm up, weight or circuit training and a cardio cool down. I used to just have an hour of PT session but the new program that my PT has designed for me at the moment makes me work for it for almost 2 hours per session. While my PT officially only has to spend 1 hour per session with me, we have an arrangement that I would start the cardio warm up session on my own and he’ll check in with me from time to time until my ‘official’ PT time slot. Cardio cool down is similarly done outside of the official PT slot but considered part of the program.

Since I can’t run worth a damn without looking like Richard Simmons being chased by a pack of lions, my cardio workouts have been mainly on the stationary bikes. I first started out on the Level 3 mark doing just manual cycling for about 20 minutes which was quite challenging for me when I began. Over time I have gone up the Level 5 mark while doing the built-in interval cycling program for 40 minutes. Intervals basically simulates cycling on along a path with different gradient hills. First 20 minutes or so wasn’t that bad but the second half of the programs consisted of me cycling 3 times with max resistance for the selected level. That’s when my legs normally would start screaming at me. To make things more interesting, I also have to maintain sprinting speed (between 100 – 115 rpm) for the last 5 minutes straight. After 2 months, I’m currently averaging about 17.5 km cycling distance and burning off between 290 – 295 calories per cardio warm up session.

After the cardio warm up, my current training plan calls for either weight or circuit training depending on the schedule. I’m currently going through between 6 to 8 different exercises with the weight stack machines per session. We currently combine exercises for a pair of muscle groups in opposite locations of the body per session so I would do chest-triceps in one session, upper back (delts)-bicep in another session and so forth. I currently have 4 combination sessions (chest-triceps, upper back (delts)-bicep, core muscles – abs and lower back, legs and shoulders) that I run through before I complete a circuit training session that hits all muscle groups and the repeat the cycle of sessions. I’m currently doing 3 sets per exercise with a reducing rep count for each set beginning with 12 reps but increasing weight load with each subsequent set. According to my PT, this will help me build the muscle mass that I want to achieve.

I’m not looking for big muscles that would make me look like someone who has to turn sideways just to walk through a doorway so I keep my weights on medium workout intensity. Just enough for me to put in an effort to lift them but not really too heavy that I get discouraged when I can’t. One thing that I have learned from working with my PT is that 9 times out of 10, I would sell myself short when it comes to how much I could do when it comes to weight training. I would tell myself that I would never be able to lift it only to find that it was just all in my head. Sure there was some amount of pain involved in getting to lift almost double what you’ve been lifting before but after the initial shock of realizing that you can actually do it, the pain was just something that I had to file away in the back of my mind as I focused on completing the reps.

Weight training or my circuit training sessions with the PT would normally last between 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how much time I take to rest between sets and exercises. That resting time has been getting less and less as the sessions progressed as my PT wants me to stay in active fat burning phase by moving quickly to the next exercise. Once that’s all done, I would return to the stationary bikes for a cardio cool down. Unlike the warm up at the beginning of the session, I usually set my cool down for 20 minutes cycling on flat terrain on a Level 2 setting. To make things a little more challenging, I set a goal of burning off 100 calories and maintaining a constant sprinting pace between 100 – 115 rpm for the duration of the 20 minutes. Suffice to say that I would be sweating profusely again at the end of workout session.

A 10 minute session at the sauna, cool down and a drawn out shower later, I would be ready to leave the gym after getting dressed. I’m currently spending almost 3 hours at the gym on each visit. Given that I go there 5 times a week, that’s actually quite a lot of gym time clocked but it’s not like I have anything else to do in the evenings anyway. Out of the 5 times a week that I’m at the gym, 3 of them with be sessions with my PT and the remaining 2 would be just me on my own using the knowledge that I have learned from my PT sessions. Most of the time, I would be focusing on working out my core muscles when I workout on my own since they would be the easiest ones to work on without someone to spot you. Good thing that those are the muscle groups that I’m most excited about developing.

I still have 6 more sessions with the PT which would last me until the middle of next month. I’ve already made up my mind to renew it for another 24 sessions once I get paid my yearly bonus at the end of December. It still costs a bomb to renew, the cheapest that I could get was RM 110 per session, but the results that I’m seeing from these past 2 months working with my PT has done nothing but reaffirmed that this was an investment worth it’s weight in gold. I’m also thinking of going to at least one of those free with membership GX classes that I have been to date too intimidated to join. I have been eyeing the spinning classes since I’m already doing my cardio on a stationary bike which makes sense to transition into. Other classed like BodyStep or BodyJam would be a bit of a stretch for me since with my coordination skills, I’m more likely to accidentally poke someone’s eye out with my flailing arms.

I have quite a ways before I look anywhere near like an older A&F model but at least I don’t look like an overweight troll that I used to before. Knowing that gives me hope that I can be better and that’s the crux of why I put myself through all of this.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Movie Review: Beowulf

I have never read “Beowulf” before in my life. It was neither required reading during secondary school nor was it required in any of my classes during college. So fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you see it), I do not know much of the old English epic poem. What little I did know was that it was about a hero how fought and defeated a monster called “Grendel” in a Norse mead hall. I knew that much from watching an old Star Trek: Voyager episode where the holographic doctor got stuck in the ship’s holodeck while it was running a “Beowulf” scenario. I never really knew that there was more than that part to the poem until I watched the recently released reinterpretation of the poem in a full length animated feature medium.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis who earlier pioneered the same animation technique used here in “The Polar Express”, “Beowulf” tells the story of the titular character’s exploits starting with his arrival to the lands ruled by the elderly King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn). The King’s land has been beset by a horrible monster, Grendel (Crispin Glover), who had slaughtered his people as they were reveling in his newly built mead hall. Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his crew of Geatsman arrived on scene vowing to rid the king of his monster which he eventually did in a great battle.

Grendel’s death in the hands of Beowulf did not sit well with his mother who immediately set out to revenge her son’s death. She massacred all of Beowulf’s companion save for Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson) who was sent to prepare their ship for their departure home. Beowulf was again dispatched to deal with the murderous monster in her lair only to find that it had taken the seductive form of a naked woman (Angelina Jolie) who tempted Beowulf with power and glory for exchange for him give her a replacement for her dead son and leave her to live in her lair.

Beowulf returned to the king with proof of Grendel’s death and not of the mother although he told everyone that the deed was done. Knowing what Beowulf had done, King Hrothgar proclaimed the returned hero the new king and promptly threw himself off the tower to leave him to rule his lands. The story fast forwards several decades where the older King Beowulf had to again face a monster menacing his lands but this time in the form of a giant fire breathing dragon. Unlike his battle with Grendel, the fight this time around was more personal to the king as his past sin had finally come to haunt him and all his deeds finally becomes undone.

From what I was able to read of the movie, several changes were made by fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman and co-scribe Roger Avary who wrote the screenplay to the film in order to create a cohesive connection between the different events detailed in the original material. Having not read the original poem, I could only guess what was added or taken out from the storyline but what was left was good enough to propel the movie forward. Beowulf’s character development from a boastful warrior to wizen kind was explained adequately through out the film. The story itself flowed smoothly throughout the movie although some of the quieter moment of the film as a bit of a chore to go through. I found myself almost nodding off while waiting for the next action sequence to start since nothing really substantial was provided to hold my attention.

“Beowulf” was a visual treat to watch with it’s many depictions of the open expanse of the snow covered landscape, blue flame strobe like effect during the Grendel’s fight scenes and the golden shimmering waters of the monster’s lair. All of these set pieces were meticulously rendered in wonderful detail which could better enjoyed when watching the IMAX 3D version of the film which I’m not sure will be shown in Malaysia. Nevertheless, the 2D version that I saw was still quite impressive to watch. Less impressive was the character rendering which although was quite advanced compared to the earlier attempt with the same technique in “The Polar Express”, still had a plastic mannequins quality to the real life actor reproductions. The technology has still a ways to go if it would be used to replace live action actors in a film production as it has not solved the problem of how to make the live actor representation look less creepy.

Voice acting from the stellar cast on “Beowulf” was particularly memorable for me as I tried not to be too distracted by the character representations. Ray Winstone’s voice gave Beowulf the commanding heft that the character required although the frequent pronouncement of “I am Beowulf” left me with flashback to a more superior Gerald Butler in “300”. John Malkovich as Beowulf’s jealous court rival, Unferth, was particularly enjoyable to listen to as he delivered his lines with such mastery of the character. The other actors also left their memorable marks in terms of voice acting which helped to make their on screen characters easier to relate to in an emotional sense even when visually they lack the emotional link.

The two main action sequence in the movie was also choreographed wonderfully to sustain audience attention. The fight scene between Grendel and Beowulf would be remembered for the hideously grotesque depiction of Grendel in his most murderous as well as the cutesy strategic blocking of Beowulf’s privates during the acrobatic battle given that he was stark naked when fighting the monster. Given that we see much more when Grendel’s mother appears on screen, the earlier cover up attempts seems to be a bit on the childish side. Thankfully, we also have an even more exciting climatic battle scene between Beowulf and the dragon. Visually rich, the aerial dogfight left me quite exhilarated by it and made for a really memorable way to end the movie. Special mention should also be made for the sea monster battle montage that came before the Grendel battle for being somewhat appropriately gory for a hero to boast of his success.

While it may not win any fans from those who might prefer the original material, “Beowulf” has some moments of brilliance to get people to come and watch it. Some may even try to guess if it would have made for a better movie had it was acted with live actors instead of representation of them generate with the performance capturing technique. It would definitely lost some of it’s visual richness had it been produced as a live action movie as the cost of having the same level of detail might be a bit too cost prohibitive. One could also wonder if it would not have been better to have the emotional gravitas that only live actors might provide instead of pale reproduction in digital animated form. Regardless of where one stand on the issue, “Beowulf” was still a visual treat to experience.

Just try not to fall asleep during the quieter moments.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful

Although it is a North American holiday (Canada celebrates it too but on a different date), I’m always partial to the idea of the Thanksgiving holiday. Having a day to stop and reflect on things that you are thankful for sounds such a good idea especially when we now hardly get to count our blessings when we go though our busy day. To me, Thanksgiving is also a day to take a step back and review that no matter how bad we thing our life if there are still things that we can be thankful for.

I still remember the first Thanksgiving dinner I ever attended. It was my first year in Madison and I have just been there for a couple of month. Prior to coming to the States, one of my American professors, who was returning back to the State at the end of the last summer semester I was at KPP, extended an open invitation to all of his students to come and have our first Thanksgiving dinner in the States with him and his family. A bunch of us from his class decided that we would get together once the date came and take up his invitation when we all reached the States.

Out of the 10 of us who attended his class that year, only 5 of us who happened to be at the same university managed to get together and make plans to go to my professor’s house. We had hoped that our other classmates from the other universities would make the journey but it turned out only us 5 who came. A flurry of emails flew between us and Prof as the date came closer to finalized details on how to get to his house in suburbs outside of Chicago. We were all really excited as the day came as it would be our first American roadtrip ever.

It so happened that only one of us had a valid drivers license to drive in the State so he obviously became the designated driver for the whole trip. I was assigned to be the navigator since I was the only one of the remaining people who had a fairly good sense of direction. The rest (who incidentally were all girls) were in charge of making sure we had all the items that we need for the roadtrip and the gifts that we would bring for the Prof. All 5 of us packed all our things into an old station wagon borrowed from one of our seniors and left Madison the day before Thanksgiving.

I don’t remember now how long the journey took but I remembered making quite a few number of stops whenever we saw something different to see during the journey. It was actually our first time ever traveling out of Madison and there was so much that we have never seen before on the journey. We made pit stops for bathroom breaks, meal breaks or just to be silly and take pictures of things we saw along the way. It was quite fun actually and really felt like a roadtrip especially when we didn’t really have a particular timetable to follow on our journey to Chicago.

We reached Chicago just as the sun began to set. Everyone was tired from the extended roadtrip and wanted to get ourselves to where we planned to spend the night. We had called ahead to some friends of ours in town and made plans to stay overnight at their place. We were lucky that the directions that they gave us was easy to follow since Chicago was much larger than we expected. Once we had our sleeping arrangements set, we went out with our Chicago hosts to grab a bite to eat before turning in for the night.

Early the next morning on Thanksgiving Day, we called up the Prof to get directions to his house and to know what time we should be there. Since we were already quite close to where they were, they told us to turn up early so we can pitch in with the dinner preparations. This was even more exciting for me personally as not only did I get to share a traditional Thanksgiving meal with our gracious hosts but we also get to help prepare it. We said good bye to our friends who also graciously allowed us to spend the night and went straight out to the suburbs of Chicago to where our Prof’s house was (unfortunately the exact name of the place where it was has slipped my mind now).

We reached the house just after noon and the preparation for the Thanksgiving dinner was well under way. The girls who came with us took it upon themselves to help out in the kitchen with Prof’s wife while us guys went to setup the dining room area for the dinner. Both the Prof and his wife did not have any other relatives to share Thanksgiving with and their children were still quite young at the time so they have been opening their home to students like us to share in the festivities for years. The year that I went there was actually quite special for the two of them as it was the first time that his Malaysian students from when he was teaching at KPP came to his Thanksgiving dinner.

We were all famished by the time that dinner rolled around. Our hosts really went out of their way to make sure that we had a choice of a variety of traditional American Thanksgiving meal dishes as well as making sure that they only used halal ingredients to cook them with. We had a huge turkey with all the trimmings, candied yams, home made bread, pumpkin pie and other dishes associated with the occasion. The dinning table was full of serving plates piled with food that it was hard to imagine anyone finishing it all. There were just about 10 of us (some of Prof’s other students in his then current university also joined us) but I could swear that there was enough food to feed 30 people.

Before we started our meal, we went around the table to tell everyone what we were thankful for that year up to Thanksgiving Day. For me it was very easy to put into words as the opportunity of being able to share in an American tradition in the United States was something that I would always be thankful for on top of the other things that I have been blessed with. Once everyone had they chance to share what we were thankful for, we shared a moment when our hosts said grace and we recite our doa makan to ask for the blessings of the food that we were about to share.

The meal was exactly how I imagined it to be from what I saw on TV. Prof carved the turkey up for us and we all took portions of the bird from the serving plate that was passed from one person to the other. Same thing does with all the other items on the table. We had good food, good drinks and really good company to share on that Thanksgiving night. For a time, we all felt like it was a big family while not related by blood but was strong nevertheless due to the bonds that we all shared. I remembered not being able to stop smiling at the thought that we all had a really great opportunity to experience a slice of American life that we would have never been able to do so had we not taken up the invitation.

Once the dinner was over, we stayed for a bit to help clear up before we had to make our way back to Madison as some of us had to work the following morning after Thanksgiving. Prof’s wife was really disappointed that we could not stay the night but we didn’t really have much of a choice. We thank our gracious host for opening their house and sharing their Thanksgiving meal with us. The Prof’s wife even made us take some leftover turkey sandwiches, potato salad and pumpkin pie back with us to have a long the way which was quite impossible since we were all filled to the brim with all the food we had before. We left their place feeling really happy that we had the chance to really experience the occasion first hand.

I will always be thankful for that opportuinity as I do with all the blessings that I have in my life. This year especially I have so many things to be thankful about. I continue to have a job that gives me the satisfaction and stability that I need. I have my health and the opportunity to further improve it since I joined the gym. I have old friends that I continue to appreciate as well as made a bunch of new friends that I would have never thought of making had I not made changes on how I accepted myself. I’m thankful that I still have my family around me even when we don’t see eye to eye on things sometimes. I know that they will always be there for me if I need them. I’m also thankful for the chance to know several special individuals that have made a large impact to my life this year. Above all I am thankful to received all the blessings that I have this year as well as being where and who I am.

Take some time out and think about what you are thankful for and keep them in mind so they can keep you warm inside even when you think that you’re down in the dumps.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.