Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 2 (Part 1)

Dateline : 3rd Feb 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.
My second day in Manila started quite early at 7:45am. I slept OK for most of the night but was a bit disoriented for a moment when I woke up that morning. I guess that I’m just not used to sleeping in a bigger bed then what I’m used to. Since the group didn’t make plans what they wanted to do in the morning, I decide to explore the streets surrounding the hotel on my own. After a quick shower, which wasn’t hot since the water heater in my bathroom doesn’t seem to be working properly, and a simple breakfast of instant oatmeal later, I left a message to the others of my group that I will be seeing them later at 11am in the lobby. Once that’s all settled, I took my trusty camera and flipped a coin on which direction to walk to.

I started to walk up Adriatico St. Pedro Gil street, past the Robinson’s Place shopping mall that was still preparing to open for the day and found myself in a new area that I could not see from the hotel room that I was staying in. As I walked in that area, I saw people either going home after their night’s activities or just starting to go out for the day. Some looked bright-eyed and bushy tailed while some others looked really worse for wear. Some, who might be working the stores that I passed, called out to me in Tagalog thinking that I’m a local before I told them that I don’t understand their lingo. I was so immersed in my surroundings that I forgotten to take any pictures of the places that I passed.

The other thing that I noticed was the number of homeless people, including little children, in the area. It’s not that we don’t have it in Malaysia but somehow I’ve always kind of ignored them back home. In Manila, I noticed them more readily because they were part of the surroundings that I was observing. Some really looked pitiful especially when they are children who shouldn’t have to be begging on the streets at such a young age. It’s hard not to want to give them something but I know that wouldn’t be wise as they warned against it in the guidebooks. I’m just grateful that they didn’t continue to pester me once I politely declined to give them anything since I could never decide what’s best to do when I’m in that situation. On one hand, I want to help them in someway that I can but on the other, I don’t want to encourage them to continue begging on the street from strangers.

Further up the road, I passed several buildings that look quite well worn with age. Coming from KL, it was quite strange to see almost no new buildings or construction happening in one stretch of road. As I walked down the narrow pavements, I began to realize how much history these buildings must have witnessed throughout the years as they stood there almost unchanging. It was unfortunate that some of the buildings were aging less gracefully than some of the others in the area. The feeling that I got while seeing these buildings was that while they were part of the heritage of that particular section of Manila, no one was really funding much of the upkeep and maintenance of the area.

I continued my walk past what I think was the St Paul College and the nearby National Institute of Science and Technology. I didn’t see a lot of students around so I assume that they also have the weekends off the same as college students in Malaysia. I did notice the higher level of security at the gates of both places than I’ve seen in similar institutions in Malaysia. Moving on, I walked down more college buildings until I hit the end of the block as Pedro Gill St. turned into Taft Ave. I could see the elevated train track which I assumed for Manila’s LRT system but I could not figure out how people got to the station. Taft Ave was a big multilane road and I could not see any pedestrian crossings to get to the station that was in the middle of the avenue. I could have just be standing at the wrong spot at the time to see the way to the station.
(Walking alone through a unfamiliar neighborhood never felt so much fun - Gen. M. Malvar St)

Since I could no longer walk down the road, I turned right along Taft Ave and walked down the block. Again, I was so immersed in the sights that I totally forgot that I had a camera with me. There was one gas station in particular that had the petrol hoses hanging from the roof of the station instead of individual filling stations like they have in Malaysia. People would pull down on the hoses to fill up their cars but I didn’t see how they would punch in how much gas they needed. I guess that they had to walked up to the station window and pay for how much gas they wanted but still seeing those hoses hanging in the air like that was a novelty sight for me. Looking back, I wished that I took a snapshot of that gas station but then again who in their right might would be going around snapping pictures of gas stations.

Not wanting to stray too far from the hotel, I decided to turn right again at the end on the block that I was walking around and found myself walking though a quiet neighborhood on Gen. M. Malvar St. I think it was a residential area since I don’t see as many shops around like I did in Mabini St the day before. One thing that I noticed about the area here is that while there was the smell of decay in the air, you don’t really see mounds rubbish around on the streets like you do in some back alleys in KL. There was also a marked lack of open sewers which made walking the pavements without the risk of falling in to a monsoon drain much easier here.

It was at this point when I thought that I had gotten myself lost. I could not see any of the landmarks that I was expecting to see from my walk earlier. I’ve also misjudged how wide a block could be since it was not something that was common in KL. The map that I had was quite general and didn’t offer real details in terms of landmark that I could use to reorient myself. After letting the momentary panic attack pass me by, I decided to just continue in the direction that I was already walking and hope that I can find my bearings again once I hit the end of the road.

As I walked pass the houses, I began to feel excited that I’m walking through an area that I don’t see many tourists like me past through. It was as if I had a whole part of town for me to explore alone. I passed through what I thought was a high school with some children hanging around outside the gate who smiled at me as I walked by. I also saw a security guard stopping the few cars that was on that road to let 2 old nuns cross the road which is something that I personally have never seen before. I walked pass kitchen windows were the occupants were cooking breakfast that added to the smells of that street. My head was telling me that I was still lost but I was enjoying the new sights and smells to give it much thought.

Eventually, I reached the end of the road and saw a building that I thought I recognized from yesterday. Sure enough, it was the Ramon Magsaysay building that I remembered from trip to Manila Bay on the previous day. I remembered the building quite distinctly because it had a fairly unique art deco look to it and the name was one of the many Filipino presidents that I remembered reading about in my history classes. Once I found this building, I knew exactly where I was and how I would be able to get back to the hotel. Of course being this close to the Baywalk, there was no reason for me not to cross the busy Roxas Ave and see how the day time crowd was at Manila Bay.

(The Ramon Magsaysay Center which became the landmark I used to find my way back)
Next installment : Manila Bay in the morning.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Workout Progress - February '07

In line with my resolution this year to lose more weight and tone up, I’ve decided to document my progress (if any) at the end of every month in my blog. I hope that this would further spur me to keep to the plan and continue setting up higher limits for myself. Being able to later look back at previous progress entries and see improvement (I hope) should also help give me a sense of accomplishment which in theory should help me stay positive during this whole process.

For February, my focus was more on changes to my diet and workout duration. My weight still continues to fluctuate between 79 to 81kg within the same week. I don’t know if that’s good or bad so I need to investigate more whether I should let my weight yo-yo that much within the span of 7 days. If I were to follow BMI measurements the my optimum weight target should be somewhere around the 69 – 72kg range so I still have a ways to go on that.

Based on my last fat check results, I have a BMR of somewhere around the 1600 kcal range. In theory, if I understand it correctly, I could consume up to that number of calories and maintain my current body type with the current level of fitness. I would be able to increase my BMR by increasing my level of fitness so that’s where my workout plan would come in play. I’m also watching what I eat so I can figure out how much calories I am consuming during the day. Anytime I feel that I’m taking in more than my 1600 kcal threshold, I would put in an extra set in my current workout.

Diet plan in February :
- Alfalfa sprouts with black pepper on 2 pieces of lightly buttered wholemeal toast
- 1 Nature Valley Roasted Almond Granola bar
- 1 serving of plan fried rice with tempeh goreng or greens
- 1 hardboiled egg (alternate working days – 2 whole eggs total per week)
- 1 Spirulina cereal 3 in 1 mix.
- skip dinner on alternate days or get/make something roughly less than 300kcal
- plain crackers, cherry tomatoes, cut fruit
Workout Days
- diluted tomato juice during workout
- protein shake 2 hrs after workout

I think that my current diet plan looks fairly balanced and meeting my max 1600 kcal threshold. I do try to keep to it as well during the weekend but usually I have to adjust it since I would most often have my meals when I go out. When that happens, the easiest way for me is to skip dinner since I usually skip them anyway if I have to eat alone. Even when I go out during the weekend, I try to make sure that I’m conscious of how much calories I might be taking in and try to pick the options with the least amount of calories possible from the menu. That’s not to say that I always deprive myself of what I would rather have but I try to not to indulge myself too often.

Since the gym that I’ve signed up has not opened yet, I have to make do with what I currently have in terms of my workout. I still continue to walk to my office every business day so that’s about 30 minutes of walking each way. Add to the minimum of 30 minutes of walking that I try to complete while I’m in the office, I put in about 1 ½ hours of walking during the business day. In February, I added extra sets to the workout that I do with my old DP Body Tone II exercise body rowing machine. I’m currently doing 10 sets of 20 reps for body lifts, 10 set of 20 reps for bicep curls and 10 set of 10 reps for elevated push ups. I usually take about 1 hour to complete the whole circuit as long as I don’t rest to long between the sets. If there isn’t anything more pressing, I try to make sure that I work out daily with extra session during the weekends.

Supplements wise, I continue to load up on Balance Liquid L-Carnitine and have added EAS Creatine to my morning glass of water. I also take the same mix ½ hours before every workout to help me to sustain the level of energy and delay muscle fatigue. I’ve also started taking ½ serving of EAS Myoplex Deluxe protein shakes 2 hours after every workout. I tried to mix the protein shake with low fat milk but it gave me a terrible case of the diarrhea so I switched to mixing it with plain water instead. Good thing that the chocolate protein shake tasted halfway decent even with plain cold water and doesn’t taste chalky like the other ones I’ve tried before. To round things off, I’m still taking 21st Century’s HerbalLipo teas to keep me regular in the morning. I’ll feel bloated during the day if I don’t take it before I go to sleep.

Since my workout focused more on upper body conditioning, I can now see some muscle definition happening in my shoulders and biceps. It’s nothing that’s really noticeable yet but I’m proud to say that it’s there. I still have the moobs (man-boobs) that I'm terribly embarrassed about so I still need to find away to get those flatten out. Still have a gut issue but I think I’m making good progress on that front as I continue to lose inches around my waist if I were to go with the fit of my pant that seems to be looser now compared to last month. I also still need to work to melting away the second chin so I could have a stronger jawline.

Looking ahead in March, I’m planning to get a measuring tape to start keeping body measurements recorded somewhere. I’ve always been too shy to do that even in private but in the interest of being objective, I do need to have a set of baselines to chart the progress as this experiment goes along. I also need to see if I can add another 10 set of 10 reps for elevated pushups and maybe a 10 set of 10 reps for seated abs crunches to my 1 hour workout sessions. I’m also thinking of investing in a heart beat monitor to see if I’m hitting the optimum heart beat levels when I workout so I can adjust the workout if I’m not hitting it.

I’m quite happy with the results that I’m achieving with all that I’ve done in February. I feel fitter, clothes that felt too tight before fit better now and I’m starting to enjoy the time I take for my workouts. I’m still feeling positive about it and feel that I can continue with the current pace and strive to improve it in the coming weeks. I still have 10 months to go to achieve my goals and I feel fairly confident that I’m still on track to achieve it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

CD Review: "Semalam" by Sean Ghazi

While I am aware that Sean Ghazi is an accomplished singer who has appeared in international stage shows, I have to admit that I have never heard him sing before. Being the culturally backwards hick that I am, I have also never seen him on stage before but have heard that he is also an accomplished actor. So when word of mouth reached me that he has put out a CD of his reinterpretation of Malaysian classic tunes, I decided that I would give it a try and see what all the fuss was about. From what I was told, the album sounded uniquely distinct compared to what was in the market right now in terms of local productions. That was a good enough reason for me to try it out since you never know if it could be a start for something better in the near future.

“Semalam”, the debut album by Sean Ghazi, tries to break new ground locally by bringing back old Malay favorites and repackage them in a fresh big band/swing orchestral arrangement. Backed by an international cast of collaborators and a live full orchestra recorded in Sydney, Sean Ghazi invites listeners to journey with him as we return to a bygone era with a fresh set of ears. Looking at the long list of contributors, one would not be faulted if they found themselves easily impressed by the distinguished international credentials gathered together for this debut album. For them to pitch in the production of what is essentially an album of untested genre in the local Malaysian market could very well be a testament to their belief in the artist’s great talent.

The CD opens confidently with the title track “Semalam” Sean Ghazi wrote himself with assistance from Izlyn Ramli. From the first note, audiences are made aware that this CD will be like no other that have come before recently. Sean also put his best foot forward out of the gate in this song by stamping the song with his unique crooner trademark. The only issue that I had with this song was that it was a bit weak if seen as a hook song to get casual listener to listen more to the CD. I firmly believe that the 1st song of ever CD can make or break the whole album and this song unfortunately wasn’t quite up to the job to pull people in.

On the other hand, the more up tempo “Ku Impikan Bintang” would have delivered as a hook song much better than the 1st song. The calypso flavored tune was quite jaunty and fairly engaging to listen to. It’s just one of those tunes that will stay with the listener long after the last refrains have faded. Sean’s delivery of the song does get a bit breathy at times when just singing it with just a solid tone would have done the job just as well or better.

In “Rambut Hitam, Matanya Galak”, listeners cannot be faulted if they feel instantly transported to bygone eras represented by the golden age of Malay films of Jalan Ampas. Sean’s solid delivery of this song helped sell it as an old fashion and fun song to listen to. I don’t really know how the original sounded like but I do really like the big band/swing reinterpretation done to this song. I did wish that the song ended on a more powerful sustained note which would have helped raised the level of intensity of the song a little bit.

“I Have Dreamed” solidly showcased what Sean Ghazi is well known for. I don’t know if it is just familiarity with this “King and I” standard or if he is just more comfortable singing in English but Sean’s vocal performance in this song is in a different league from the other songs preceding it. The strings section of the live orchestra beautifully accompanied Sean’s soaring voice leaving behind a simply magical performance.

The first of 3 P. Ramlee songs interpreted by Sean on this album, “Hujan Di Tengahari”, starts off slightly up tempo than the original from 1954. The good thing is that Sean didn’t try to sound like P. Ramlee but instead choose to deliver the song in his own unique way. It is so easy to over use runs to differentiate the two version but Sean has confidently maintain the balance without resorting to over embellishment. Unfortunately they totally destroyed the song by putting in snippets of “Singing In The Rain” that didn’t really make sense why they did it when the original melody was strong enough to stand on its own. The extraneous addition to a perfectly good song made this my least favorite song on the CD.

Fortunately the CD was quickly redeemed by the beautiful reinterpretation of “Jauh Jauh”. The song allowed Sean Ghazi to fully showcase his dulcet tones to its fullest and prove why it has made him a unique voice not heard before in these recent years. A fine balance of clear and breathy delivery help to make his performance a joy to listen to. The dreamlike quality of this piece stays long after the song has ended.

The choice of taking on Sudirman’s “Punch Card” next was slightly jarring considering it doesn’t really fit in time period of the other songs. I definitely missed the level of energy from this original in this remake. The leisure lounge sound in this reinterpretation made it sound too laid back when juxtaposed to the intensity of the lyrics. I think there are other Sudirman songs that would have made the transition better to fit into this collection. It was not as bad as having a separate song added to it’s melody but I must say that I’m not really feeling this reinterpretation.

“Getaran Jiwa” is one of the perennial favorites that people would try to tackle when they reinterpret P. Ramlee. After Sheila Majid’s jazz interpretation and KRU’s boyband version, it was refreshing to hear the song brought back as close to the original as it can. The simple orchestral arrangement further underscore the beauty of the song in it’s simplicity and memorable lyrics. The only minus point that I would call out here is how that a slightly stronger delivery from Sean would have helped to underscore the emotion content of the song more.

The last P. Ramlee song to be reinterpreted on this CD collection was “Dengar Ini Cerita” as told from the male point of view instead of the female point of view in the original. This is a cheeky song that I personally feel woks better in live performances rather than on recorded versions. Unlike the other songs on the album, modern references like Halle Berry and Ikea furniture peppered the new version of the lyrics. The inclusion of the spoken dialogue while fairly funny at first but does get tired after repeated listening unfortunately.

A second English language offering, “Somewhere My Love” from the film “Dr. Zhivago”, again seemed to show how much more competent Sean is when delivering something that he seems more familiar with, There seems to be more energy behind the vocals in this song compared to the other Malay numbers on the CD with the exception of a few. While I cannot fault the delivery of this song, I would have liked a less predictable arrangement for this song.

“Sabar Menanti” was definitely worth the wait for me. Of all the songs on this CD, I love this song the most. With the clear soaring sounds of the strings section giving wings to Sean Ghazi’s best vocal effort, this song remains the most memorable of 12 songs. Sean committed himself fully into the performance and that clearly shows in his confident delivery of it. It was nearly enough to erase the memory of the few clunkers on this CD.

Sean Ghazi’s debut album ends with the English version of the earlier “Ku Impikan Bintang”. While quite similar in melody and lyrical context, “Let’s Never Stop Falling In Love” seems to be a more superior version by virtue of a more confident vocal delivery. Sean is less breathy and more solid when singing this version compared to the Malay version.

Overall, “Semalam” by Sean Ghazi is a uniquely different offering not seen recently from the local music industry. While the selection of songs does seem to be a bit on the scattershot side in terms of quality, there were enough good ones on it to make you forgive the less than memorable ones. I also wished that they could have added a few lines of background information for each song included on the CD since quite a few of them may not be familiar to the younger target audience. Nevertheless I still feel that Sean Ghazi's debut album was all that word of mouth made it out to be and his vocals are definitely one of the more unique voices in the local music business today. Whether or not this album will be a commercial success, it bodes well as a 1st showcase of what we can expect from this artist in the future.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 1 (Part 2)

Dateline : 2nd Feb 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.
Before coming to Manila, we have already made room reservations at the Palm Plaza Hotel (524 Adriatico St. Pedro Gil, Malate, Manila). We had to wait for a few minutes while they readied our rooms when we checked into the hotel at around 2:30pm. For this trip, we took 2 double rooms and 1 twin sharing room for the 4 of us. I took one of the double rooms and was pleasantly surprised by the size of the room. The bed was actually two twin beds pushed together and it can actually fit 3 people nicely if you wanted. I also got a corner side room which meant that I had 2 different views for my windows. One opened to a street corner with a 24 hrs Korean grocery store while the other faced a Japanese Teriyaki restaurant that opened quite late every night. The only down side to the room is that there was no tea making facilities. We had to actually call down to Housekeeping to get them hot water whenever we wanted it.
(Interior of my room at Palm Plaza Hotel. The double bed was the right size for a threesome - not that it happened on this trip)

(View outside from the two windows in my room)

Since everyone was a bit travel weary after the long trip, we decided to rest up a bit before going out to explore what was available around the hotel at 4:30pm. We walked down the block and turned into Mabini St and had our first introduction of the hectic pace of the area. Mabini St was packed with wall to wall money changers and small shops selling daily items. At first glance, I would say it was like being in a bigger version of Chow Kit that was full of Filipino instead of Indonesian. There were also runner/touts who were approaching us to offer money exchange services and/or companions for the night. They would call out the exchange rates that they were offering to anyone who looked remotely non-local. I guess the tourists were easy to spot since they would be the ones who looked frazzled at the amount of people on the street.

The touts came up to us and asked us where we came from. When we told them we were from Malaysia, they told us that they could show us a place where we could get better foreign exchange rate than what they were offering in the hotel. They were actually quoting 14.20 pesos to 1 ringgit compared to the 13.50 offered elsewhere. My trouble radar started to ping like crazy when I heard this too good to be true offer. Since I already had changed all my ringgit to pesos before coming to Manila, I didn’t needed to change any more cash. My traveling companions however were looking to change their cash to pesos and decided to do so at the place that this tout was taking us to. I didn’t really want to since I thought that there was something fishy about the whole deal but unfortunately I did not voice my concerns to the rest of the group. I stayed outside the place where the others went to change their money and tried to fend off the people who came up to me offering girls for the night.

After changing the money, our group walked further down Mabini St. There were a few shops there selling halal food items and Muslim restaurants. We thought of stopping by for dinner but it was still early for that. As we walked further down the road, we stopped at an establishment selling authentic Philippine handicraft items called Tesoro’s. Since I was looking to buy uniquely Philippine made items to bring back as gifts, I wanted to window shop for what kind of prices that I should expect them to be. What I didn’t realized was that Tesoro’s catered more towards the high end clientele for these items which were truly authentic and exquisitely made. A pińa (pineapple) fiber embroidered hand fan cost about 1700 pesos (RM 133) and a barong Tagalog made of the same fibers would cost about 8000 pesos (RM 624). Given that I had quite a number of people to buy for, these prices were well beyond my price range. It was really a shame since they really had very good pieces in the shop that in hindsight I wished that I could have got for myself.

It was when we left Tesoro’s that the guys who changed their money realized that they were shortchanged by quite a lot from the money changer. Since I was not in the money changer shop when they changed their cash, I didn’t really know how they did it. From what I was able to gather, they were folding the cash when they were counting it and there might be some slight of hand involved in conning the people who came to change their money there. The guys were also ushered out quickly out of the shop after they handed them the money and were told not to count their cash in the open for fear of someone snatching the money away. We actually walked back to the money changer place later that evening but we decided not to confront the people there. The funny thing was there was a street vendor nearby who recognized us from the visit earlier and kind of smiled when we told him what happened. It seemed that the con was a very well known and we just walked into it like lambs to a slaughter.

Walking through Mabini St, I noticed that a lot of the buildings here seemed to be at least 20 years old and could use a fresh coat of paint. Other than the construction site near our hotel, there doesn’t seem to be any new buildings in the area. A lot of them looked fairly worn down and neglected. The other thing that I noticed in the area was the lack of color in the building façade compared to KL. The old buildings seemed to favor more muted colors and I felt that it in part contributed to the run-down appearance that I saw. Coming from a visually frenetic city like KL, Manila seemed like the older dowdy sister who refused to wear makeup for fear of not looking her age. I was particularly surprised to see that even the Jeepneys that I saw was less colorful than the ones that I had built an image of based on what I had seen in films before. My travel guidebook did mention that Mabini St was part of Manila’s red light district that was recently cleaned up but I would have pegged it to be more vibrant than the reality I saw.

(Sunset at Manila Bay)

After walking the length of Mabini St, we ended up at the Baywalk at Manila Bay. I wanted to stay there a while to watch the sunset at the bay in hopes of getting a good photo op. Unfortunately for me, much of the day was overcast and grey which meant the sunset was quite disappointing to watch. It was also strange that being that close to the sea, I didn’t actually smell any sea water in the air. It didn’t feel like I was watching the sun go down at Manila Bay at all since I couldn’t smell the sea where I sat. A disappointing sunset aside, the Baywalk was full of locals doing their own thing and surprisingly very few tourist that I can see from where I was at. It could be that it was too early in the evening from the tourist crowd other than us who had came here for a rest. There were also a few bronze statues in the area of famous Filipino historical figures. Unfortunately the plaques that they placed beside them were only in Tagalog so I could not figure out their significance to Philippine’s history. I was sorely tempted to ask some to help translate them for me but decided against looking more like a dumb tourist that I already was. It was a pity actually since I really wanted to know who these statues were for.

(These horse drawn carriage called calesa took tourist from one end of Manila Bay to the other for a small fee)

(Bronze statues at Manila Bay. I watched this girl happily playing with the statues for a good number of minutes. I wonder if she knew who they were)

After resting for a bit at Manila Bay, we decided to walk back to Mabini St to look for a place for dinner. After retracing our steps for earlier, we decided to have out dinner at a Muslim restaurant called Fharniza Halal Fast-food Restaurant. While the name mentioned fats-food, they don’t actually serve any fast food items that we would expect. They actually served dishes we would most commonly find at your regular “nasi campur’ place in KL. Our meal consisted of a simple combination of fried fish, chicken curry and white rice. They didn’t really had any vegetable dishes on the menu and while the food did hit the spot since we were all hungry at that point, it was nothing to be excited about. It was quite bland relative to what we are used to here and the rice was slightly more undercooked compared to the way we like it in Malaysia. The big surprise for me of the meal was that our bill for food and tea came up to only 250 pesos (RM 20) for the 4 of us. A similar meal in KL would definitely have cost us much more.

(Night view of the street corner across my window. There was more than one type of "business" happening on that street corner at night)

After the meal and the slightly unsavory experience of being conned, the group decided that we would turn in early for the day instead of the earlier plan of going out that night. I have to admit that I was still smarting over my lost handphone at the time and was looking forward to go out to forget about it even though I was feeling every bit travel weary as the others were. While there were more than a few places that I could have gone to for some nightlife action nearby the hotel, I wasn’t confident that I would be OK going to them alone that night given the stroke of bad luck I had today. The last thing I wanted to happen to me that night was getting into trouble that I could have easily avoided by not going out alone. After taking a cold shower to clean off the traveling dust and hopefully the bad luck that followed me, I turned in early for the night with hopes that tomorrow would be a better day.

More pictures from Manila Trip '07 - Day 1 are uploaded here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Movie Review: Ghost Rider

Being a big comic book reader/collector, I have always been wary every time one of my beloved comic book characters gets translated from the four color pages into the big screen medium. Comic book characters have never been the easiest material to work into the 100 plus minute film format as each characters usually have years of story continuity and history that made up what fans love about them. In the wrong hands, it could very easily degenerate into a unwatchable mess as proven before by “Catwoman” which was arguable the worst comic book film known to man. However with the success of the Spiderman, X-Men and Blade franchises, it seems that everyone wanted a piece of the action and license other bankable characters to be turned into a movie in hopes that they would be met with similar success. The latest of the comic book characters to make the transition from printed page to film is “Ghost Rider”.

In the recently released film, directed by Mark Steven Johnson who also directed the less then stellar “Daredevil”, a young stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) discovered that his stunt partner father was dying from cancer. It was at that moment when a stranger came to the carnival where he was performing to offer a cure for his father’s cancer in exchange for young Blaze’s soul. After inavertedly signing the deal, Johnny found his father miraculously cured of his cancer only to be killed shortly after in a stunt seemingly orchestrated by the stranger. Feeling the guilt that his deal sealed his father’s fate, Johnny left the carnival and his teenage lady love to hit the road and find redemption for himself.

Fast forward a couple of years, an much older Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) was more of a stunt cyclist than his father ever was. Famous and adored for his death defying motorcycle stuns, Johnny seemed to be living a charmed life until the stranger from his past reappear to claim his soul. It turned out that the stranger was actually Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), who might be the Devil or an aspect of the fallen angel, and he was there to recruit Johnny to become his demonic bounty hunter known as “Ghost Rider”. The Ghost Rider was needed to prevent his wayward son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), from obtaining an object of power that would allow him to usurp his father’s position of power.

Also reappearing in Johnny’s life at that particular time was Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes), his teenage sweetheart that he left behind after his father died, who was now a television reporter doing a feature about him. Thorn between his reignited attraction to her and his nocturnal activities as the “Ghost Rider”, Johnny soon finds himself in dire predicaments. With the help of a mysterious Caretaker (Sam Elliott), Johnny tries to harness the power of Ghost Rider to defeat Blackheart before he became a bigger threat to humanity than his father.

In the original comic book universe, there were actually 3 people who used the name “Ghost Rider”. Johnny Blaze was actually the 2nd person who used it, being preceded by Carter Slade and subsequently followed by Danny Ketch. I am more familiar with the 3rd Ghost Rider comics as I collected them when they first came out. The Johnny Blaze “Ghost Rider” comics were before my time and for most of the issue that I managed to read, it felt a little more campy than what I am used to relative to the darker 3rd iteration of the character.

After saying that, the “Ghost Rider” in this film came off as an amalgamation of the 2nd and 3rd version of the comic book character. They even put in the 1st “Ghost Rider” in as a character for good measure but unfortunately it helps little to make the film representation of the character any more engaging. Although I have to admit that to see the character on screen was fairly exciting, it felt a little empty as viewers would have seen most of what this CGI character could do in the film from the previously released trailers. Viewers do get to see the result of money that they poured in to the CGI effects for Ghost Rider which accidentally was also the reason why this film’s released date was pushed back from the earlier date planned in 2006. Unfortunately, the payoff for waiting to see this character on screen was diluted by having too little that was not already shown previously.

Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze was just simply the wrong person and much too old to be cast for the role. Being a comic collector himself, I expected him to have some level of reverence for the character and awareness of the fans expectations of how character was being portrayed. His choice to play the character as a quirky and campy caricature of the original comic book character was highly disappointing to me. Every time the film character was shown kicking back by listening to the Carpenters and downing M&M cocktails (since alcohol gave him nightmares), the knife twisted a bit more inside me as they desecrated a perfectly good comic book character. The absence of the quest for redemption that made the original character intriguing was sorely missed in the storyline of this film.

To add salt to the wound, there was hardly any chemistry between Cage and Eva Mendes who played the love interest soon to be in peril. Mendes’s character was very superficially developed and would have be utterly forgettable had it not be for her own “superpower” of fitting into a number of cleavage highlighting outfits designed to distract viewers from the awful wreck of a movie that they were watching. It was not a good sign for the character when viewers couldn’t care less what happens to her when she inevitable got captured by the villain and needed to be saved by the hero.

The other characters in the film unfortunately fared no better that Mendes’s character. Wes Bentley’s turn as the film villain was so clunky that one would expect him to have a pencil thin mustache to twirl as he made his endless proclamations and innate dialogue reading. His three henchmen, fallen angels who had power over the elements of earth, wind and water, were unimaginatively written and ineffectually portrayed to be a foil to the Ghost Rider. Even the two more illustrious actors in this movie, Peter Fonda and Sam Elliot, can be faulted for seemingly phoning in their performances with their bland portrayal of Mephistopheles and Caretaker respectively.

“Ghost Rider” felt like a movie that doesn’t know what to make of itself. On one hand, it wanted to be campy and funny with Cage pulling his quirky mannerism and endless Elvis poses. On the other hand, it wanted to be taken seriously as an entrant into the list of comic book inspired movie. The resulting mess was not as bad as “Catwoman” but it came close to languishing in the “Batman and Robin” level of inane mediocrity. Based on the crowd I saw at the cinema when I watched this movie, I would think that this film would get a fairly reasonable opening week collection at least until word of mouth got passed around to tell people how unnecessary this film was. Fans of the comic book character should be forewarned before they watch this movie lest they experience the same anger and disappointment that I left the cinema with after watching how much unrealized potential in the character that this movie ignored. Other cinema goers would be well advised to save their money and watch “Dreamgirls” instead when it comes to our local cinemas next week.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

In An Ideal World

In an ideal world …

I would be getting a text message from my Valentine first thing in the morning to remind me how much I am loved and that we will be meeting up for dinner after work. As I start my working day, I would be surprised to find a short but sweet handwritten post-it note stuck on my laptop screen by my Valentine the night before while I was not looking. The note will be on my mind the whole day until about lunch time when I would get another surprise delivery from my Valentine. A box of homemade low fat brownies, because my Valentine knows how much I’m struggling to lose weight, would be delivered by courier with the note to remind me to keep some of the brownies to be shared later.

As the end of the working day comes nearer, I would try to convince my boss that I would need to leave the office early but of course I would not be telling him why. After a full days work, I would definitely need to freshen up before the big dinner date. Taking extra care to make sure that I put on my Valentine’s favorite fragrance on me, I would then make my way to KLCC where I was suppose to meet my Valentine. Since I would not know where exactly we were going to have dinner, I would need to call up my Valentine for the location as soon as I reach the place. In keeping with the frivolous mood, my Valentine would lead me on a treasure hunt to find the location where we were suppose to meet for dinner. Every stop of the treasure hunt would have some sort of reminder why I’m so crazy about my Valentine.

When I finally figure out the location for our dinner date, I would find my Valentine already waiting there for me. We wouldn’t have our dinner at one of those fancy places that offer a pre packaged Valentine Day dinner since we both agree that those deals are highly overrated and over priced. We would rather have our romantic dinner at a place that servers the same thing they usually do and not make a big fuss about Valentine’s Day. We would then each order a dish for the other since we know very well what the other person like. We would then just enjoy the time spent together in a quiet dinner just for the two of us. We would occasionally pick up some bits of food from each other’s plate since we don’t mind doing that to each other. Dinner would definitely be an intimate and leisurely affair for us as we savor each morsel of food and enjoy each other’s company.

After dinner, we would take a short walk through the KLCC park before ending somewhere close to the water either at the fountains or the wading pool. We would then share the remaining pieces of the low fat brownies for desserts while our bare feet soak in what is hopefully clean – ish water. Since public displays of affection might not be too much appreciated by the others around us, we would still just sit close enough to pickup the fragrant scents from each other’s body as they waft and mingle in the warm night air. Our fingertips would just meet on the ground between us but it was just enough for the sparks within us to jump the gap. As we sit in the deepening night, we would just talk about our day and how much we were grateful that we had each other to end the day with.

At the end of the night, as we drive back to the apartment, my Valentine and I would make sure that we had our favorite CD playing in the disk player. As we enjoy the moment, I would look to my side at my Valentine and send my thanks heavenward for giving me this person to share the moment with. We would end the night watching a sappy romantic comedy film like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Notting Hill” for the god knows how many time. When not trying to stay tear-free during the film, my Valentine and I would jokingly argue which one of us was more Julia or Meg than the other. As the movie comes to it’s end, my Valentine and I would be comfy in each other’s arms. It would be the only place that I wanted to be since we fitted each other so well. Sex wouldn’t even cross our minds since we both would be content to cuddle with each other till we need to wake up the next morning for a fresh new day.

In an ideal world, my Valentine’s Day would be something to look forward for.

Since I don’t live in an ideal world, I can only look forward to cracking open a bottle of Malta in front of the TV alone until I can’t keep my eyes open any more on Valentine’s Day. I have to try and convince myself that I am not unwanted and unworthy to have a Valentine’s Day fantasy come true.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Blogging, interrupted ...

I was suppose to write about my Manila trip this weekend but I was side tracked by issues with a leaking water tank that I had to deal it before it flooded the apartment above mine. Add to that my insistence of doubling the number of sets I did in my daily workout which left me more than a little sore over the weekend. So instead of the continuation of my Manila trip report, I went around and mess with some funny online quizzes at http://www.blogthings.com/quizzes/.

Just wanted to see how close they come to the way I perceived myself in some of the quizzes.

You Date Like a Woman

According to studies on dating, you date like a woman.
You tend to take romance seriously, and you're not really out for a fling.

A mental and emotional connection always comes first for you.
And rushing the physical stuff is likely to turn you off.

You're highly selective when it comes to dating, and some may say you're too picky.
You know what you want, and when you find it, you're ready to commit.

Ahaks ... definitely right of the button. I've always though of myself as a head first bloke.

Your Birthdate: February 7

Calm and understated, you struggle to express your love with words.
Over time, your partner learns to recognize your passion by the actions you take.
You're good at wooing someone slowly, without them even realizing it!

Number of True Loves You'll Have: 1

Number of Times You'll Have Your Heart Broken: 2

You are most compatible with people born on the 7th, 16th, and 25th of the month.

Yikes ... I've already found and lost my true love and had my heart broken the second time. That doesn't bode well for my love life if I were to believe this.

Your Expression Number is 5

A total multi-tasker, you have a wide variety of talents.
You're very versatile and able to change at a drop of a hat.
A free spirit, you crave change and adventure.

Clever and quick witted, you can convince anyone of anything.
You can do anything you desire... though this sometimes gets you in trouble!
Very popular, you're always thinking up new ways to entertain and amuse your friends.

Your restless and impatient attitude means you don't stay with projects for long.
You tend to be erratic and scattered - it's hard for you to focus.
You often find yourself in a state of flux with constantly changing interests.

Interesting ... there are more hits than misses here.

You Are A Realistic Romantic

It's easy for you to get swept away by romance...
But you've done a pretty good job keeping perspective.
You're still taken in by love poems and sunsets
You just don't fall for every dreamy pick up line!

Can't say I totally agree. I do know when I fall for someone I really fall hard for them. It takes all that I can to not project myself into a relationship that I just make up in my head.

You Are a Drama Princess (or Prince)

You're not over the top dramatic, but you have your moments.
You know how to steal the spotlight...
And how to act out to get your way.

People around you know that you're good for a laugh.
But at times, your drama gets a bit too much for everyone.
Tone it down a tad, and you'll still be the center of attention.

What can I say ... it's one my OGT.

Your Kissing Technique Is: Perfect

Your kissing technique is amazing - and you know it.
You have the confidence to make the first move.
And you always seem to know what kissing style is going to work best.
Sometimes you're passionate, sometimes you're a tease. And you're always amazing!

Well ... I hope so. Someone once remarked that I have really soft kissable lips. Maybe those I've kissed before (all five of you out there) could give me a testimonial to help bolster my confidence.

Your Body Image is 76% Unhealthy, 24% Healthy

Your negative body image is borderline serious. It could turn into an eating disorder or psychological problem.
Perhaps you're just having a bad day. But maybe you need to think about getting help for your problem.

I don't need a quiz to know that I have body image issues. It has been my main gripe since forever. 2007 is going to be the year that I did something for once to change that.

Your True Love Is a Capricorn

Why you'll love a Capricorn:

Hard working and driven, a Capricorn will work overtime to win your heart.
Be prepared to get wined and dined, even once you're convince that your Capricorn is the one!

Why a Capricorn will love you:

You don't rush things. You know it will take a while for a Capricorn to trust you, and you can wait.
Social and outgoing, you can introduce normally shy Capricorn to a great circle of friends.

Eerie ... my so called ex, the person that I thought was my one and only true love soulmate, was a Capricon. Does this means that I've missed the boat in terms of finding true love?

Hopefully there is still the possibility somewhere out there.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 1 (Part 1)

Dateline : 2nd Feb 2007.

Day 1 of my Manila Trip ’07 actually started the night before. Since we all had to catch the 4:30am Skybus from KL Sentral to LCCT, I decided that I would spend the night somewhere near KL Sentral so I didn’t need to bother about trying to get a cab at 3 am in the morning to go to KL Sentral from Sunway. Two of my traveling companions on this trip had the same idea and would be joining me as well for my overnight stay. I had not made any bookings for the night since I don’t really know what’s available in the area.

Taking the 10:20pm Komuter train from Sunway, I arrived in KL Sentral at around 11 pm to find only one of the person’s I will be traveling with there. It seems that the other one will be joining us much later in the night. Since KL Sentral was shutting down for the night, we decided to walk across to the KL Sentral Monorail station and have a drink at the mamak shop there. It was there that we noticed that there was a budget hotel operating on the 2nd floor of the shop and we decided to try our luck at getting a room there for the night.
(Budget hotel on 2nd floor of this mamak shop next to the KL Sentral Monorail Station)

As luck may have it, they had a room with 3 beds available for the night which was just nice since there was going to be 3 of us departing to LCCT from KL Sentral. At RM90 for the 3 beds, it was a fair deal considering we would only be using the rooms for about 4 hours or so for some shut eye. The furnishing in the room were spartan but it was adequate for our needs and was better than the alternative of sleeping on the cold pavement outside of KL Sentral. Given the choice, I would prefer to have a proper bed to sleep in.

We woke up at 3:30am to prepare to leave KL and begin our journey proper. We had our last roti canai breakfast, at least until we came back to KL, and boarded the 4:30am Skybus to LCCT in KLIA Sepang. The journey to LCCT took about 45 minutes through the nearly empty Sg. Besi highway. I was feeling a bit melancholy as the bus made its way out of KL under the light of the full moon. I was excited at being able to make this trip but at the same time I was already missing the KL that I was leaving behind. I guess the city was too much in my blood for me to ignore her tugs as I neared LCCT.

(At RM9 per trip, the Skybus was a hard to beat way to get ourselves to LCCT)
(Arrival/Departure board at LCCT. Note the time gap between the departure times)
LCCT was already busy and full of people even at that early hour. It seems that most of the Air Asia flights out of Malaysia depart very early in the morning followed closely later by domestic flights. Looking it the arrival/departure board, it seems that there is a flight taking off almost every 15 minutes that morning. I don’t think that even KLIA has flights that close together. After meeting up with the last member of out traveling troupe and checking in at the Air Asia ticket counter, we still had about 1 hour to kill before we can board our flight. Since the last arrival of our group had not had his breakfast yet, we ended up spending that time at the McDonalds that they have inside the LCCT which was not so bad although they could have spaced the tables further apart considering that people will be there lugging their hand carry luggage around.

We still had to wait a bit after clearing immigration on 6:30am before they allowed us to walk out of the terminal towards the plane on the airport tarmac. I had hoped that we would get one of those MU festooned planes but it turned out that we got one with the standard Air Asia colors. From what I could tell, our flight that morning was fairly near capacity as I could only see a scattering of empty seats on boards by the time the plane took off at 7:40am
The flight itself was mostly uneventful until we reached somewhere above the South China Sea at around 10:15am. Our flight suddenly ran into some turbulence which tossed the plane about for a bit. I don’t mind it so much when the plane was shaken by the strong winds but when it started to bounce up and down that was when I wished that I had skipped breakfast that morning. I was trying my hardest to keep everything inside me from spewing outside and thankfully no one else lost that battle as well. I think that I would have lost it had anyone else on the plane puked. Fortunately I didn’t have to struggle not to showing every one what I had for breakfast as the plane landed safely at Manila - Clark Air Field at 10:25am which was actually 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

(Somewhere above Luzon Island and still rocked by turbulance)

Another walk through the runway before we were ushered into the immigration control area. At this point every one in the group was turning their mobiles on to check if they could get roaming reception in Manila. When I reached over to where my mobile phone was clipped on my belt, I realized that it was missing. A few frantic moments later, I realized that I must have left it on the plane as I disembarked. I looked in vain around of an Air Asia ground staff to get help getting back on the plane bit none were in sight and the doors going to the tarmac where the planes were was already closed. One of my traveling companions helped to convinced the immigration officer to let me cut the immigration line, much to the consternation of others ahead of me, so I could get processed through as quickly as possible in the hopes that I could get a hold of an Air Asia staff to help me get my phone back.

After rushing through immigration and almost knocking over a Customs officer who was trying to get me to stop and let them check my bags, I was still unable to find an Air Asia staff. It turned out that their only counter was at the other side of the building where the departure gate was. Moving as fast as I could with the bags that I had to carry, I reached the departure area only to find that you need to have a ticket to pass through to the Air Asia counter. I was practically begging the security officers to let me come through so I could talk to someone there before the plane that I just got off taxied down the runway on it’s journey back to KL. Since I can’t leave my bags behind, I had to put them through security checks again before I’m allowed through.

By the time I reached the Air Asia counter, they had already boarded the plane with outbound passengers. The staff at the counter was kind enough to entertain my request that they try to contact someone on the plane to check if they found my phone. Unfortunately no one had turned it in and they could not hold the plane any longer so I was out of luck. I walked out of the terminal feeling more than a little down since I really liked that phone and what was more important was that I had lost all my contact numbers that I stored on my SIM card. I’ve always been careful about my phone but somehow this time it was my own carelessness that caused me to lose that phone.

(Manila - Clark Air Field Terminal)

After such a downer for a starter on this trip, I hoped that things would only be for the better from that point on. We just started our journey as Manila – Clark Air Field was about 2 hours journey from Manila proper. We boarded the Philtranco shuttle bus that serviced the route between the terminal to Manila at the cost of 350 pesos (RM 28) per trip per person. As the bus steadily made its way through scenic Luzon countryside, my mind kept on obsessing about my lost handphone. In the end I accepted it as a way that nature balances itself. I had actually gotten a financial windfall both in the form of a 10% monthly paycheck raise and my stocks sale checks getting cleared just days before the trip. My lost was just nature’s way of making sure that I remained grounded and not get too carried off by my good fortune. Once I accepted that, the trip started to get better for me.

Unlike the route between Sepang to KL, the countryside on the journey from the terminal to Manila was covered by beautiful emerald green paddy fields as far as the eye can see. It reminded me of the stretch of road between Kedah to Perlis during paddy planting time. We could also see how the local in the area lived as we passed houses, makeshift stores, small duck ponds and chicken coops under the bridges that we passed on. It was clearly a poor area of the countryside and you can see how hard their lives are like. Regardless how poor they seemed, there were always smiles on their faces as our bus made its way through their neighborhood. As we came closer to Manila, we began to notice the difference of how the locals lived between the country and the city. There was definitely more cars on the road as we got introduced to the hectic pace of Manila’s notorious traffic.

(Road from terminal to Manila. Paddy fields as far as the eyes can see)

The first stop for our bus was to let some of the passages at SM Megamall in Ortigas. It was there that I saw my first real life jeepney that would be a very familiar sight in the next few days. It was also there where for the first time I saw how much more serious they take security here. There were heavily armed security guards everywhere guarding the banks, ATM machines and even the entrance into the shopping malls. These security guards were not old men like the ones we find in Malaysia but tall strapping men that you know you would not want to mess with.

From Ortigas, we had another half hour journey through Manila’s chaotic traffic towards the bus terminal at Pasay where we would get off. More than once I thought that the cars would hit the bus by the way traffic was weaving in and out around us but some how we managed to make it thorough without any incident. From the bus terminal at Pasay, we took a taxi for 200 pesos (RM 16) to get to our hotel. Being lower to the ground, the organized chaos that is Manila’s traffic seemed so overwhelming and I’m completely stunned how Manila drivers manage to negotiate their way every day without killing someone or themselves. I have no idea how they do it day after day but somehow they do as evidenced by out taxi driver safely delivering us at the doorstep of the Palm Plaza Hotel in one piece.

We were now officially on our way.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Say Hello To My Little Friend

Spent the day yesterday on getting the replacement for my lost SIM card and mobile phone. First thing that I had to do was to get to a Celcom branch to get my SIM card replacement. The one that I went to the last time I lost my phone was in Shah Alam but I wasn’t inclined to go all the way there this time around. I also needed to get a new mobile phone so the Celcom branch near KLCC made more sense to go to. The problem was that I had no idea where it actually was. Since I had no choice but to get the replacement today, I barreled ahead with the plan hoping that it wouldn’t be too hard to the Celcom branch.

I first thought that I should be able to see a Celcom sign on one of the buildings near KLCC. It turned out that the building that I thought was the Celcom building was actually the Maxis building. Since I was told that there was a Celcom branch office within walking distance, I decided to take a walk around the block hoping that I find it soon. Half and hour later, I did manage to find it but not before walking the around the block. Good thing that the SIM card replacement process was quick and painless. With that done, I had to get a new phone.

I had planned to not spend too much on the phone since I only used my previous phone for slightly more than 2 year. Since I had a prior appointment in KL Sentral yesterday, I had to forgo a trip to the mobile shop I usually go to in Low Yat Plaza and get my phone in KL Sentral instead. They didn’t have my previous phone model in stock so the plan replacing like for like went out the window. They did have the next version of the lost phone and it was within my price range. It was then when I saw another alternative.

It was just sitting there, looking pretty and beckoning me to come closer. The curvy lines fitted my palm just right like it was built just for me. The sexy screen slides up smoothly with just a flick of my thumb, ready for action in full 176 x 220 mm, 1.9” 262K colors TFT panel. It slides back in just as effortlessly with just a slight nudge of the screen notch downwards. It feels comfortably weighted in my palm that just holding it tells you that it was solidly built. If there was only one word that can be used to describe the phone’s appearance then the that word would surely be sexy.

The 2MP built-in camera was not only easy to use but with 8x zoom, lighting controls and exposure controls, it feels like a half way decent digital camera. While it will not replace a proper digital camera, it seems to work well in a pinch. With removable micro SD slot storage, more pictures and videos can be stored on the phone easily and downloaded to a computer when needed. If only the phone had some sort of built in flash then it could be complete.

My new gadget baby, phone and 512MB microSD card, cost me RM 1100 to bring back home with me. It was slightly more than what I had planned to spend on my lost phone replacement but the MotorRIZR Z3 was too sexy to pass up. I fully intend to get better acquainted with my new toy in the days ahead.

Time To Add Another Year To My Age

I'm officially 34 years old today.

Yikes !

Hopefully I'm not only a year older but also a year wiser. It would be too depressing to find out that I've not learned anything the past year.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Back Safely, Knackered and Satisfied

(Philippines flag at Manila Bay)

Reach home safely at 6pm today after my adventures in Manila for the past 4 days. As usually, I still have quite a few items to catch up before I can really sit down to write about my experiences on the trip. I’ve have all my notes that I have diligently taken during the trip and also have about 220 odd pictures to sort through so I can select which ones will go on to the blog.

All in all it was an exciting trip because I got to do what I was personally interested in instead of just tagging along for someone else’s idea of fun. It was also an eye opening trip on how much the two countries, Malaysia and Philippines, are different from each other. I’ve also discovered that I seemed to like taking photos of the places and people around me as long as I’m not in them. Being able to hide behind the lens of a camera during the trip was strangely liberating.

Till I get all my stuff together and sit down to write down my travelogue of Manila, below is a list of some of the highlights of my time there. Take it as a teaser for those who might want to come back here for a return visit.

Trip Highlights :
- Losing my mobile phone the moment I arrived in Manila.
- Personally seeing Mabini St. money changers con game on unsuspecting tourists.
- The quest for halal food in Metro Manila
- Getting myself lost in Manila and totally loving every moment of it.
- “You want girl, sir? I have girl, boy and boy-girl. Cheap. Can fuck long time”
- Things that we take for granted in Malaysia that they wish they had in Manila
- Pasalubong shopping or how to shop without breaking the bank
- Stripper acrobatics – could someone explain to me why people think that this is sexy?
- My walk through history
- An audience with Dr. Jose Rizal
- Head banging time at Cowboy Grill and Bar
- The journey back

(Walk in my steps in future blog entires)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Predeparture notes

After months of planning, I’m just about 12 hours from getting on that Air Asia flight bound to Manila. I have to admit that I’m still having butterflies in my stomach about the trip even though I must have planned this trip down to the last detail. I always get worked up and anxious about going on a trip especially when it involves getting on an airplane. I used to be mildly scared of flying but I believe that I have conquered that fear since then but that still doesn’t stop me from being squirrelly until I board the plane.

Spent the whole morning today trying to finish up the last minute chores that I need to get done before my trip. Since I need to get to the LCCT at an ungodly hour in the morning tomorrow, I’m planning to overnight somewhere in KL Sentral area so I don’t need to bother with trying to get a taxi at 4 am in the morning. I don’t really know where I will end up at tonight but hopefully I can find somewhere decent to get some shut eye before getting the Air Asia Skybus to LCCT at 4am. I wonder if I could be in for an interesting time tonight.

I hope to keep a travel journal for this trip and will be posting them up once I come back from Manila unless there is some where I can get internet access at the hotel. I’ve even borrowed my mum’s camera for the trip even though I know next to nothing about taking good pictures and I absolutely hate taking pictures of myself. The way I see it, this trip to Manila might be a once in a lifetime trip so I’ll probably kick myself if I do not take at least a few pictures to document the occasion regardless of my reluctance of being anywhere near a working camera.

Some practice pictures taken at home as I started to pack for the trip.

5 changes of clothes (including the little black shirt that I'm still too intimidated to wear)

Typical Malaysian traveller's must pack - comfort food from home

Strangely the Phillippines Peso and US Dollars are the same size! Need to be careful that I give out the correct bills.

For now, my travel plans looks as follows:

Day 1
Departure from LCCT KL at 7:20am
Arrival at Clark Airport at 11.15 am then bus it into Manila metro.
Free and easy afternoon - Robinson Shopping Mall
Dinner in Mabini area.
Pub crawl
- East Asia - a good show place
- Cowboy Grill - cheap local live band place

Day 2
Morning – Free and easy
Afternoon - visit Globo de Oro Mosque in Quiapo
Glorietta Shopping Mall in Makati
Peninsula Hotel Lobby for the halo-halo (suppose to be similar to local ABC)
Nite Pub crawl - Starshows

Day 3
Morning – Walkabout through Roxas Blvd, Manila Bay
Afternoon - Rizal Park, Intramuros and visit some of the old churches
Nite Pub crawl – somewhere in Malate area

Day 4
Departure from Clark Airport 11:45am
Arrival at LCCT KL at 15:45pm

It’s 2 hours and counting down before I officially start the trip with my overnight adventure in KL Sentral. Lets just say that I’m stoked !