Saturday, March 31, 2007

Workout Progress - March '07

For March, I continued my focus on changes to my diet and workout duration. Based on some discussions that I had with one of the personal trainers from the gym, I made some changes to my diet plan and tweaked it a bit to make it more realistic to my current schedule. I’m still sticking to the small meals, more frequency plan in hopes of increasing my metabolism on top of the workout that I’m currently doing. Weight-wise, I’m still fluctuating between the 78 to 81 range depending on how much I take in and how heavy my workout is for the day. I will still be watching out for that as the yo-yoing weight might not be too good for me.

Diet plan in March :
- Alfalfa sprouts with black pepper on 2 pieces of lightly buttered wholemeal toast
- 2 Bananas
- 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
- 1 Nature Valley Roasted Almond Granola bar
Workout Days
- diluted tomato juice during workout
- protein shake 2 hrs after workout

Supplements :
Balance Liquid L-Carnitine – 10ml per day + 10ml pre workout
EAS Creatine Powder – 10mg x per day + 10mg pre workout
EAS Myoplex Deluxe Protein Shake – ½ serving post workout
21st Century’s HerbalLipo Tea – 1 serving per week day

Per February plan, I did go out a purchase a measuring tape to start keep a record of my body measurements. However I feel more than a little embarrassed to put them up on the blog unlike the InBody Scan results. The InBody scans dealt with measurements that can’t really be seen outright whereas the tape measurements are very revealing of how bad in shape I am currently. On one hand I want to continue to be objective about the whole process and not be bothered about it but somehow it is a major hurdle for me to overcome before I can put those baseline measurements public. For now, I am considering to only put the improvement deltas up from next month onwards.

Looking forward in April, I’m planning to up the resistance level for my bicep curls and body lifts and be more disciplined with the form that I use during my workouts. I’m also currently scheduling my workout session around what’s on TV which is not really a good way of doing it. I just can’t go without my daily allowance of the idiot box! Working out later after the shows that I want to watch is done is not really an option since I won’t be able to fall a sleep at night if I work out too late. I am hoping that that a new higher intensity, low rep workout plan would be able to give me as much if not better gains as my current workouts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 2 (Part 3)

Dateline : 3rd Feb 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.

After recovering from my surreal experience at Rizal Avenue and finishing our drinks, we walked on beyond the Carriedo LRT station before turning right at the end of the avenue. Walking down the road a bit we passed some markets selling daily sundries and fresh produce. I wanted to take a look through the market a bit but the others of the group was less enthusiastic than I was on the prospect of walking through a smelly wet market in the middle of a hot afternoon. Taking the cue from them, I continued on past multitude of vendors selling fresh local mangoes that seems to be everywhere. It was not far from the market that we finally found Ilalim ng Tulay Market.

(View of Ilalim ng Tulay Market)

Ilalim ng Tulay Market was a collection of shops selling locally made handicraft, trinkets and garments set underneath a busy dual carriage overhead pass. My guidebook highlighted this place as the location to go to for cheap souvenirs or pasalubong as they are known in the Philippines to bring back home. We were all on the hunt for these trinkets and especially for me, I was looking to find affordable barong Tagalog and handheld fans to bring back as mementos of my trip here. The variety of items for sale here was mind-boggling as well as the range of quality these items came in. Buyers would definitely have to pay a little bit more for the higher quality versions of the items on sale but even that was still quite reasonable on the wallet.

We spent quite some time browsing through the shops looking for the items that we wanted to buy. It was not surprising that the whole place reminded me of the Filipino market in Kota Kinabalu since they have almost the same items on sale but at a substantially cheaper price. Staying true to my standard operating procedure on shopping, I did not buy anything at that point. I was mostly going around comparing the prices and quality of the items that I was interested in from one shop to the other. We ended up in a shop near the end of the row which had the barong tagalog, fans and tablecloth sets that we were all looking for. To be honest the guys in my group choose to go to that shop because it was the only one there with pretty girls helping the customers who came there.

Part buying and part flirting, the group spent about a hour at that shop. Unlike the rest of the group, I had still not decided at the time if I wanted to buy my souvenirs there. Once the other guys completed their purchases, we decide to walk up to the other side of the market where I saw the Balikbayan Handicraft shop nearby. Like Tesoro’s that we went to the night before, Balikbayan specializes in handicraft products from the various provinces in the Philippines. The prices of the items at Balikbayan was about half of those found at Tesoro’s which made it a acceptable median if one was looking for something of higher quality that what was sold at Ilalim ng Tulay Market but couldn’t afford Tesoro’s prices. The only negative that I say about the place is that the service staff there was slightly less helpful that those at Tesoro’s. I guess that they got tired of having people come into their shop and not buy anything after comparing the prices of the items here relative to the cheaper versions just outside their doorstep.

After browsing at the Balikbayan shop, we decide to find someplace to have lunch at. From the map, we knew that the Globo de Oro Mosque should be somewhere nearby but we could not see any sign of a mosque dome from where we were standing. Once we walked up the road a bit towards the Pasig river, we finally found the dome that we were looking for and proceeded to walk in the general direction of the dome. As we came nearer, it was apparent to me that this was definitely where the less moneyed people lived. Most of the buildings here were dilapidated and there was mounds of rubbish all around the area. Unlike the clean neighborhood that I walk through earlier that morning, the area around Globo de Oro Mosque looked more like a dump then the surrounding area of a place for worship. It was sad to think that the people living in that area continue to dump their refuse just steps outside the mosque entrance that they themselves used as a place of worship.

(View of entrance and side door to Globo de Oro Mosque)

Zuhur prayers had already ended when we reach the mosque. Like most of old Manila, the mosque could definitely have used a through cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. It was built in the same style of mosques found in Malaysia with the addition of some simple local decorations what reminded me of stained glass windows. It was quite an eye-opening experience seeing that mosque’s conditions and comparing it to the much well cared examples in Malaysia. I don’t know why but I felt a wave of apathy from the surrounding area and the people there as if they have resigned themselves to the conditions that they were living in. I was trying my hardest to keep an open mind and positive outlook but it was hard considering that how poorly maintained the mosque and the surrounding areas was. It’s not the surrounding decay that got to me while I was there but the apathy of people who were living in the area for not taking care of the mosque better. I know that I have no right to assume that they didn’t care around the surrounding area since I don’t live the life they lived but it was frustrating to see it as it was that day.

Still trying to reconcile what I was feeling, we decided to get something to eat at the shops at the back of the mosque. These shops sold mostly food on the ground floor and had living quarters for the family at the second floor. Looking from the outside, one could be forgiven if one thought that it was a squatter’s shack which was honestly what it was. For lunch that afternoon, we had plain white rice with stir-fry vegetables, fried chicken and a fish dish very much similar to the “singgang” dish found in Kelantan. I’m horribly bad at trying to recognize cooked fish so I can't tell what type of fish was used but it had a slightly rubbery texture that reminded me of stingray flesh which I’m certain that it wasn’t. Like the other meals that we had thus far in Manila, the food was a bit on the bland side relative to the spicy fare that we had grown accustomed to in Malaysia. I then knew what people meant when they warned me to bring my own chilies when eating Philippine halal food before coming here. I guess that our Malaysian tongues have been too scorched by spices to really appreciated any taste subtleties in the local style of cooking.

(View at the back of Globo de Oro Mosque)

(The sadly neglected dome at Globo de Oro Mosque)

After lunch and combined Zuhur/Asar prayers, we sat for awhile in the mosque to rest before continuing on our journey. I took the time there to update my own travel journal notebook as well as doing rough calculations of how much I have to spend on my pasalubong purchases that I still yet to do. Once I was fairly sure that I have my shopping list completed, we walked back to the Ilalim ng Tulay Market to go to the shop that we went earlier. Along the way, we stopped at another shop to buy some locally crafted key chains and knick knacks. I usually buy key chains on all my trips to give to the people at my office so a stop at a shop like this was a must. I must have spent about 500 pesos on those key chains since I had a large group to buy for from my office. Once that was completed, we proceeded to the final stop of our shopping trip at the shop with the pretty girls when I shopped for all the barong tagalog and fans that I needed in my list while the other guys flirted with the shopkeepers. The asking price from the barongs there was about 900 pesos per piece but I managed to haggle them down to 700 pesos since I was buying them in bulk. I guess that I could have gone lower but I was never good at bargaining especially when I think that these people may not be making that much in terms of profit margins to begin with.

(The shop at Ilalim ng Tulay Market where we shopped for our pasalubong)

Considering the prices that I would have to pay to buy them from either Tesoro’s or the nearby Balikbayan, the barongs here was quite a steal even though the quality may not be as good as what was available in those two places. In the end, I bought 10 banana fiber barong tagalog for the guys on my shopping list and embroidered banana fiber hand fans for the ladies. I must have looked at all possible colors for the barong that they had in the shop before selecting my choices just because some people on my shopping list simply have strange color favorites when it comes to clothes. I did want to buy something more substantial for the ladies on my shopping list but I knew next to nothing about buying garments from women and definitely did not want to offend anyone on my list for buying the wrong size clothes for them. Especially when most on my shopping list were members of my family which meant that I would not hear the end of it if I came back with the wrong size clothes for them. In hindsight I could have gotten them the tablecloth sets or even the woven handbags they sold at that shop to add to the fans that I bought them but we were not the type of family that care much about having tablecloths on the dinning table and the handbags were too bulky for me to pack in the small bag that I brought with me on the trip. Looking back I wished that I had bought a few slightly better quality items from Tesoro’s when I was there especially for my mum and sisters.

(View of Quiapo Church)

Once we were all shopped out, we decided to get back to the hotel to rest before going out again later that night. From Ilalim ng Tulay Market, we only had a walk for a few minutes before reaching the area around the Quiapo Church. There were a lot of people there both just hanging out or selling trinkets from cartons placed on the ground in front of them. Feeling quite tired after the long day, we decide against walking around the area to see what was available but instead to take a jeepney from this area back to Mabini St. I guess that this was some sort of a major jeepney stopping point as there were jeepneys bound for a multitude of destinations there. Wise now to the ways of the jeepney, we quickly spotted one heading to Mabini St. and jump in with the locals. Since there were quite a few of the jeepneys heading to the same direction, we had our pick of which jeepney to get on so it was not very crowded. Learning our lesson from our earlier jeepney adventure, we specifically asked the driver to tell us when we reach Mabini St so we can get off at the correct place.

(Jeepney stop near Quiapo Church)

After reaching our hotel at about 3:30pm, we all went back to our respective rooms to rest before going out again that night. I promptly crashed out on the bed till sometime around 7pm when I woke up to get some dinner which was just the items that I brought with me from home. Next was to get ready for the group’s plan for the night which was to finally sample the nightlife that this part of Manila had to offer. While I was looking forward to go out during the night time in Manila, I was not so keen about the destination. Despite my misgivings, there was no way that I would have gave it a miss since a boring night out is much better than just spending that time in the hotel room.

Next installment : Visit to East Asia Club, Theatre & Restaurant

Monday, March 26, 2007

Movie Review : Perfume - The Story of A Murderer

How does a director film something that by design is almost unfilmable?

Based on a book written by Patrick Suskind, “Perfume : The Story of A Murderer” tells the story of the elusive realm of scents described into words. The film of the same name recently in local cinemas extends the conceit to transformed the words into visual images on screen. The end result could have easily been a horrible mess considering how elusive descriptions of scents could be but surprisingly that was not the case in this adaptation. It actually turned out to be a really interesting way to spend 147 minutes on a Saturday afternoon with good company.

“Perfume: The Story of A Murderer”, directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola, Run"), revolved around the fictional life and times of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) who lived in 18th century France. From the moment of his remarkable birth amidst the offal of the Paris fish market, Grenouille possessed in him 2 astounding characteristic that set him aside from the human masses around him. The first was his almost supernatural sense of smell which gave him the ability to discern even the slightest scent and the second being the total absence of scent on his body. His first attribute would eventually introduced him to the world of perfumery in Paris of the time and his apprenticeship with the perfumer Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) who has passed his prime when Grenouille showed up on his doorstep.

It was with Baldini that Grenouille began to perfect his craft using his astounding sense of smell to duplicate rival perfumes and immensely improve on them with addition of his own. Being the cash cow that long eluded him, Baldini let Grenouille full access to his perfume laboratory and his own considerable experience at the art of making perfume. What Baldini was not aware was that Grenouille had his own reasons for wanting to learn the art of distilling scents into perfumes. Once he has learned all that he could from Baldini, Grenouille moved on to Grasse in Southern France to further perfect his art. It was in this hamlet surrounded by fields of vividly colored lavender that Grenouille ultimate goal was revealed to all. Craving human aromas that himself lacked, Grenouille went on to distil the fragrance from virgin females of the area which also resulted in the victims death. Grenouille would eventually be captured but not before he completed his collection of 13 fragrance notes that he needed to create his ultimate perfume. The perfume would be both his savior and curse in the end once he realized that what he wanted all along was the very thing that he destroyed in the service of his obsession.

“Perfume” was definitely not for everyone much less for those of the faith hearted type. I found it by chance showing at KLCC TGV while trying to decide which movie to watch with a fellow film enthusiast last Saturday afternoon. I had heard of the story from the net but didn’t really know what it was all about and who acted in it. Considering the other options that was showing at that cinema, it looked like the most intriguing of the bunch that we both could agree on. Little that we know that we would be visually assaulted by the rich imagery of the film right from the first frames. In some scenes, the sheer amount of visual layers happening around the actors was simply too impressive to ignore. The film’s high production value was clearly apparent in the meticulous visual details of background, props and period costumes shown on screen.

I was even more impressed by the way the director of photography managed to capture the visual representation of what was essentially the invisible realm of scents that the film’s protagonist explores his life in. Nary a cartoon like haze of fragrance visual cue in sight, “Perfume” quickly enveloped viewers in the world of scents whether they be the stink of a Parisian fish market, the undulating fields of lavender in Grasse or the waft of fragrance from the bare shoulders of a red haired virgin. I remembered sitting there in the dark cinema trying to discern which aromas that surrounded me were real and which were just a memory recall from seeing the scenes as they unfolded. It was as if the director was able to personify scent as a physical being and set her to work on the film. The sheer genius and imaginative camera work on this film made a story that would be nearly unfilmable into a visual feast the such that has not been seen for some time.

Ben Whishaw who played Grenouille in the film was another unexpected find while watching the film. While lacking the number of lines customary attributed to the main character of a film, Whishaw’s performance spoke volumes with his grim and brooding interpretation of the character. With a running narration provided by John Hurt, Whishaw masterfully showed how well he could act even without uttering a word. It was a wonderfully nuanced performance which left me feeling very impressed by this young actor in his film debut. Another surprise for me was Dustin Hoffman’s turn as Baldini whose memorable screen presence played well against the darkening personality that Whishaw’s character was becoming. While it may not be very long in terms of screen time, Hoffman was able to make the best impression with his portrayal of the aging perfumer desperate for a new victory even at the expense of letting a monster develop right under his nose.

From the first frames of “Perfume”, there was no doubt that the story that the film chronicled would be dark and at times fascinatingly morbid. However it was not all dark and gloomy as it had also it’s share of gallows humor. The running gag of what happens to people who gave Grenouille up throughout his life left me smirking and anticipating what would happen next. Audience would also be forewarned to expect a highly controversial sequence in near the end of the film as Grenouille faced the crowd at his public execution. I have to admit that the movement of the story into the realm of magic realism during that sequence totally caught me off guard as I was working under the premise that it was a film that was based on a real story up to that point. I guess that I would have expected it if I read the original novel that this movie was based but since I didn’t it came as a shock to the system which left me reeling at it’s impact. The audience around where I sat that day at KLCC TGV had even less than sympathetic responses to this sequence which they did not hesitate to verbalize them much to my annoyance when all I wanted was to try to make sense of what I was watching.

“Perfume: The Story of A Murderer” was definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. The film asks a lot of the viewers but delivers on the goods once the agreement between the two parties have been accepted. Is “Perfume” an example of how an unfilmable work should be translated into a film? It could be but that is not my place to argue so. While people may not be able to agree on the merits of this film, no one would be able to deny that it is a film that is out of the ordinary.

Friday, March 23, 2007

On Leaving Legacies

Work this week was a little bit crappy at times. It’s not that I don’t love the challenge of my job but somedays it just feels like I want to run head first into a wall out of frustration at things I wish I had better control over. What’s worst is the feeling that I’m stretching myself too thinly to try to juggle all my responsibilities and deliver on my commitments to them.

One of the thing that I hate most in my job is when one of my subordinates come up to me to tender his or her resignation notice. By virtue of the job and client expectations, I run a close-knit group whose members are personally handpicked by me. Every member of my team was selected by how they could gel with existing team members and how their contributions would enhance the group as a whole. My "thing" when it comes to recruiting staff for my team is not just limited to their technical know how but also how their personalities would complement the rest of the team. Needless to say that when I lose a staff from my team, the team balance and dynamics goes out of whack.

To be truthful, I had a feeling that this particular staff will not stay long once he has gotten what he needed i.e. the experience from us. That’s part of the risk of taking in fresh graduates and giving them on the job training that other companies would not even bother to give. I’ve seen some staff from my team staying on just long enough to make themselves marketable from their experience with my team and then go off to greener pastures in some other company. It’s strange to see that since I firmly believe in loyalty to the company that you work with and standing by them through thick or thin.

I guess that ideal of employee loyalty is an outdated one in today’s job market. My first ever job right after secondary school was with a Japanese supermarket chain which I guess was where I picked up that particular work ethics from. I firmly believe in leaving behind legacies and you can’t do that if you don’t stay with one employer long enough for them to recognize your contributions. I try to impart some of that to my team and while some take it to heart, there is not enough of them to really make a difference in how often I have to recruit new people into my team.

At times I feel as the team that I have built up seems to be a training ground of a revolving cast of fresh graduates. It got really bad a few years back when I realized that another department manager took notice of the way I trained my team and started to lure them away with other offers to join their team behind my back. I eventually confronted the manager during one of our operational meetings and gave him a piece of my mind which thankfully put a stop to his shenanigans but it left me quite bitter for a while. It was bad enough that I worked so hard to get these people in and personally made sure that they were trained up to the level of my expectations of my team only to lose them, it was doubly worse other departments see me as their personal training officer and pinch my staff as soon as they get prospectively bright enough to get them noticed.

I do get a sense of pride seeing my old staff moving up the ladder after they left my team. I’ve met a few of them during external seminars and trainings through the years and see them heading their own teams. Some even still send me the occasional email to update me as to how they are doing now. I guess that I can say that these people will be the legacies that I leave behind as proof of the work I’ve done.

Now I have to go and find a new replacement to fill up the opening in my team. Don’t even get me started on the quality of people coming in applying for an IT field job nowadays … that would take a whole other ranting entry to spiel about.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One Where It All Started

Went to the Matta travel fair during the weekend with my mum to shop for a holiday package for the family. The last time we had done it was a few years back to Langkawi with my siblings and their families, my aunt and her clan, my mum and the remaining unmarried siblings which of course included myself. It was quite fun to just spend those 4 days 3 nights there just chilling with the family. Of course we don’t get to do it very often since everyone in the family had their own life to attend to.

This time around my mum wanted to get all the siblings to go on the same trip this year since my aunt and her clan can’t make it this time around. She initially wanted to take an overseas trip this year but unfortunately not everyone in the family might be able to afford it and I didn’t want her to be the person to pay for everyone else on the trip. She has better ways to spend her money especially when she won’t really have a reliable source of income once she stops working at 60. It took some convincing but she finally saw my point of getting the more affordable domestic holiday package for everyone.

Once that choice was decided, it was then a matter of choosing a destinations that would appeal to everyone in the family. The final choices both boiled down to either Kota Kinabalu or Perhentian Islands. I’ve been to KK a few years back and enjoyed myself immensely enough to consider a return trip but Perhentian Islands were totally unchartered territory for me. Always wanted to go there and I’ve even had planned to make the trip alone this year if I had to. I was that determined to get myself to those islands.

So with those 2 destination in hand, we went to PWTC to see what kind of offers were available. I had expected that there will be a huge crowd there but I was simply unprepared to face the throngs of people at the travel fair. Say what you will about the economy, people are still spending their disposable income on traveling both local and overseas by the look of the crowd that was there that afternoon. Unfortunately this presented a problem to me as I would totally be frazzled and go into shutdown mode when I’m in amongst huge crowds. It took all that I have not to go crawling to a secluded corner and curl myself into a ball of flesh at the sight of the overflowing crowds.

Even though there was 3 floors of the fair, I managed to talk my mum to just stay at the 1st floor where all the domestic destinations were. We went thorough the multitude of offers which in essential was fairly identical from one booth to the other. The only thing to watch out for was the extras that there were willing to throw in with the package. We went look for the KK packages which was fairly interesting with Manukan Island day trips and multi-night stays at the long house of Pulau Tiga (Survivor Island). I’ve stayed at Manukan before and really enjoyed myself on my first snorkeling experience ever there. I had to skip Pulau Tiga the last time I was there since we couldn’t tear ourselves from Manukan.

I had planned to at least make an attempt up Mt. Kinabalu if I ever returned to KK but all the tour operators that we talked to at the fair told us that we had to book months ahead of time to get a permit to go up. It seems that they wanted to control the number of people who go up Mt. Kinabalu in a year to preserve the environment there and the waiting list could eventually be a year long fairly near in the future. While it was not the determining factor for us to decide on if we were to pick Kota Kinabalu as out holiday destination, it would have been nice to be able to at least go up part way and experience it ourselves. I guess I have to plan for it another time at least until I get myself physically fitter for the challenge.

Since KK looked like a wash, we decided to look for deals for Perhentian Island. Looking around we decided to choose a small Kuala Besut based travel agency to book out holiday with. We had very good experiences using smaller locally based travel agencies in the past as they would have more local flavor and personalized service that make the holiday much more enjoyable. Banking on that, we signed up to spend 3 days 2 nights stay at the Perhentian Big Island in May during the school holidays. Getting chalets for 9 adults with 3 children took some work especially during the peak season but we finally decided to take just 2 chalets for the group since we don’t expect to spend a lot of time indoors (hopefully).

To keep the cost further down, we all decided to get to Kuala Besut by bus instead of taking a flight out from LCCT to Kuala Terengganu. The bus journey would be a overnight trip so it would be that bad (hopefully). Considering that we only have to pay somewhere around RM 60 per person for the return trip from KL to Kuala Besut, it was a slight inconvenience that could be managed. The whole stay at Perhentian Island will cost us RM 270 per person which includes room, 3 daily meals a day, snorkeling and kayaking trips with guide. So all in all, I’m expecting to spend no more than RM 500 per person for the whole trip which is quite cheap in comparison of what I would have to pay had we chosen to go to KK.

So we finally decided to go on this trip from the 27 to 29th May 2007 which is in the middle of the mid year school holidays. Other than making reservations for the bus tickets at the end of the month and paying for the balance of the reservations at the travel agent in Kuala Besut when we arrive at the start of the trip, we have our travel plans set. I’m really looking forward to spend more snorkeling time than I would be on land while I’m there. Sharing the experience with the whole family would really be the icing on the cake.

Of course spending at time at the beach would mean me going shopping for swimwear since I don’t really have one to wear. I still have the one that I wore while I was on that trip to KK but happily for me it is a bit too loose now that I’ve lost the weight I lost last year. So that means that I have an excuse to finally buy the Speedo board short swim gear that I had my eyes on. It has to be a board short design since there is no way in hell I will be caught wearing one of their skimpy swimsuits designs. In addition to buying new swim wear, I definitely need to increase the intensity of my workouts before the trip so I can bulk up a little bit more so I don’t feel too self conscious at the beach.

As you might be able to tell, I’m really looking forward for the trip.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 2 (Part 2)

Dateline : 3rd Feb 2007.

To read the previous entry, click here.

After my morning walk, I found myself at Manila Baywalk area again for the second time. Unlike in the evenings, the place was full of families taking a stroll by the bay or riding on their bicycles. It seems that the Baywalk is also a popular cycling route as even the area’s security people were on bicycles. There were also quite a few people fishing over the side but I didn’t see anyone catch anything that morning. As I made my way southwards towards the Manila Yacht Club, I noticed that a were a lot of local domestic tourist there as well. At least that’s what I assumed since they were also snapping pictures at the most mundane things like I did but they were speaking the local lingo.

(Manila Baywalk -early morning)

(Children playing at the dinosour statues at Manila Baywalk)

The other thing I notice was the lack of other foreign tourist in the area that morning. I guess that it might have been a little too early in the morning for some of them. Something else that I did not noticed the last time I was at Manila Bay was the number of portable toilets that they had lining the path. While I can appreciate the vital function that they perform, they unfortunately do mar the scenery quite a bit especially when you take into consideration the unpleasant smell wafting from them. It’s a shame really to not have something like that better planned for such a nice public place.

(One of my favorite statues on the Baywalk)

(Philippines flag on the Manila Baywalk)

After snapping a few pictures of children playing around at the bronze statues that dotted the Manila Baywalk and the tall flagpole with the huge Philippines flag, I walked back to the hotel since our group was suppose to meet up again at 11am that morning. Having walked the area before, getting to the hotel was not a problem and soon enough I found the group already waiting for me at the hotel lobby. It was decided that we were going to Quiapo for a bit of shopping and to see the Muslim quarter around the Globo de Oro Mosque. To get to Quiapo from our hotel, we would have to get on a jeepney from Mabini St which by the way will be my first jeepney ride ever.

From our hotel, we walked up the block to the corner of Pedro Gil and Mabini where all the jeepney seems to stop for passengers to get on or off. To get to the destination you want to, you need to look for the destination name that is written on the side of the jeepney. Since quite a few jeepney would have the same route, it was easy for us to find one that was going to Quiapo. Once you get in the back, we had to pass the 7 pesos fare up to the driver. Although the driver can give back change if he had to, paying with small change would be appreciated since he has to drive and count the money to return at the same time. Once you reach your intended destination, you are suppose to tell the driver that you want him to stop and let you off. There was something that the local shouted out to the driver when they wanted him to stop but I did not catch what it was.

(Sights of Manila's jeepneys)

Riding on a jeepney was an adventure. Since there was no AC, closed back door or windows at the side, passengers are fully exposed to the smoke from the traffic. Being in such close proximity to the traffic outside meant that you could clearly see how crazy the traffic was in Manila. If KL had motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic, drivers in Manila had to watch out for trishaws and jeepneys crossing into their lanes. It was both chaotic and exhilarating at the same time. I loved riding on the jeepney but I would never want to drive one as I don’t think my blood pressure could survive it. One drawback of riding in the jeepney was that the passengers seats were higher that the open side panel so you couldn’t really see where you were at that moment. Unless you recognize a landmark in the area, it was hard to figure out when to tell the driver to stop.

That was exactly what happen to us since none of us really knew which landmark to look for to know that we arrived at Quiapo. It was fortunate that the driver was good enough to tell us that we past Quiapo quite a ways back or else we would have sat there in the jeepney for the round trip. Getting off somewhere near Sampaloc Market, we found ourselves lost in Manila, the second time for me personally, without a clue of how to get back to Quiapo. Since the road that were just got off from was a one way lane, we decided to walk down the street in hopes of finding a landmark that we could match to the map that we had.

We walked pass the small hole in the wall shops selling cooked food and it was interesting to note that unlike the colors that you see in Malaysian cooking, Filipino cooking was a bit on the pale side. There was also a marked lack of food aroma from these stalls but I think it was more due to the excessive smoke coming from the road rather than the style of cooking. We also passed what I think was the one of the universities in that area. According to our map, there were quite a number of universities in the area. Not long after that, we saw the Isetann shopping mall and we finally had a landmark to orient ourselves on the map. We walked on a bit further to the Recto LRT station before crossing the road into Rizal Avenue.

(Rizal Avenue)

Rizal Avenue was a pedestrian only mall underneath the overhead LRT tracks. There were shops on both sides of the avenue selling almost everything that you can think of. Not surprisingly, there was even an adult entertainment club in the area which tucked into one of the shops at the side of the avenue. Since it didn’t seemed to be opened, we moved on towards the Carriedo LRT station. I was lagging a bit behind the group looking at the shops as we walked towards the station when I suddenly felt someone’s hand garb my ass. At first I thought that someone was trying to pick my pocket but when I turned around to see who it was the other hand landed on my stomach and started to rub it in a suggestive way. Both hands belong to a young girl who looked like she was in her early 20’s who then started to talk to me in Tagalog.

Even without understanding a single word of Tagalog, I have a fairly good idea of what the girl was proposing. The funny thing was that even though the other people in our group passed her earlier, she locked on to me right from the start. The other guys ahead actually saw this but decided to keep their distance leaving me on my own. It was a bit shocking to be proposed like this in the middle of the day but I had to recover quickly since she still had her hand on my ass in the middle of the walkway. I told her politely that I didn’t understand Tagalog and she just smiled then repeated her offer in English. Since she was not offering something that I was really looking for, I said thanks but no thanks to which she the said that she had a brother who can also show me a good time if I wanted. At this point it was getting a bit too risqué for me no matter how intriguing the offer sounded. I told her that I had to say no to her offer and be off on my way since the others were waiting for me. She looked at the guys who were at this point just laughing at what was happening and told me to come back alone next time.

After that surreal but interesting incident, we all had to sit down for a breather to plan our next course of action. We decided to get some iced teas at a tea shop near the Carriedo LRT station and look at the map to decide which direction Quiapo was from Rizal Avenue. It turned out that we were already within walking distance from Ilalim ng Tulay Market which my guide book noted as the place to get cheap local handicrafts for souvenirs. Since that was the purpose for that day’s walkabout, it was our next destination.
Next installment : Lunch at the Muslim Quarter and shopping in Quiapo

Monday, March 12, 2007

InBody Check Progress - March '07

I ran into my gym sales rep after watching “300” at Sunway Pyramid yesterday and asked him about gym’s opening date. Based on the info that they got from the mall management, they are still on track to open the “California Fitness” gym at Sunway Pyramid sometime in the 3rd quarter of 2007. Can hardly wait to get started there.

Since I had a bit of time, I thought of talking to the personal trainer that they assigned to me but unfortunately he was already engaged with another customer. I guess I’ll call him up earlier to set an appointment before popping in to the membership booth. Since I have not done a InBody body composition scan since last Jan, I’ve asked whether they would let me take one that afternoon. They were offering it free for potential new members and you would actually need to fork out some money if you wanted to do it outside of the membership drive. Since quite a few of the staff seemed to already recognized me by name, blame it to the less than common name and the fact that I shop for groceries at Sunway Pyramid almost every weekend, they ran the scan for me for free. They even thrown in a free on the spot result consultation and review of my current training plan with one of their new personal trainers for me that day.

Other than the slight increase in total body weight, I’m pretty much happy with the progress that I seem to be achieving. While I did gain weight in the past 2 months since the last scan, the weight looks more like the net replacement of muscle mass over fat mass which is always good. I am particularly encouraged by the reduction of body fat % since that is one of the measures that I am most interested it. My goal is to hit somewhere around the 15% levels since the chances for me to hit those single % digits are as good as me walking on the moon.

I found out that the new personal trainer that I was talking to that day previously worked at the other popular gym franchise in Subang and had quite a few years of working as a personal trainer under his belt. We went though both my current diet plan and exercise routine which he pointed out areas for improvement. I don’t know if I can incorporate all that he had suggested with my current schedule and equipment but at least I know where I can still improve. One thing I also appreciate is that they really know how to get you pumped up about working out at the gym when it opens.

The other funny thing is that he was able to immediately pick on which body parts that I wanted to improved most the first time that we talked. Either those parts are the most common ones that men my age looking to improve with gym workout or I have something posted on my forehead that tells people what I want out of my gym workouts. I do hope that it’s not due to the latter.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Movie Review: 300

Based on a popular graphic novel written by Frank Miller, the numerically titled “300” was the other movie that opened this past week in KL which had audiences talking about it. As I stood in line to collect my reserved tickets for the show at Sunway Pyramid TGV today, the two most often overheard conversations was that they were in line to watch either “300” or “Mukhsin” which made me wonder if any of the other films playing this weekend got any audiences. Since I’ve already watch “Mukhsin” yesterday, “300” was the next choice for me to spend my afternoon.

“300” recounts the story of King Leonidas who lead 300 of his Spartan warriors to the battle of Thermopylae against the hordes of invaders from Asia under the command of the Persian god-king Xerxes. Cut off from his supply lines and reinforcement by internal squabbles back home, King Leonidas had only himself and his band of warriors to delay the invader’s advance into his homeland of Sparta. After decimating wave after wave of the Persian army, the brave band of 300 Spartan warriors were summarily dispatched when a Spartan traitor revealed a weakness in the Spartan group’s position to Xerxes. With no reinforcement forthcoming, King Leonidas and his men faced their final hour with great honor and valor. His story and sacrifice would later mobilize the Greek nations to assemble an army that would eventually break Xerxes horde and push them back to Asia.

I have not read the original graphic novel that this film is based on but it does bear the mark of Frank Miller’s style of writing. Much like the approach of fully duplicating the comic panels into film frame of “Sin City”, “300” took the route of filming live actors on digitally created backgrounds. Unlike the earlier released “Sin City”, the color palate of “300” was vividly on display here for all to be amazed. From the first frames of the film, audiences are captivated by the visual feast of CGI magickry and innovation. There were several scenes that looked a little flat but overall the blend of live action with the digital environment was seamless.

While there is a story to follow in “300”, the bulk of the movie centered around the hyper-violent battlefield of Thermopylae where the Spartan army literally hacked the invaders to pieces. The onscreen battle most often were shown in slow motion which gave it a look that was nothing short of a ballet of flying appendages and splashes of blood choreographed to the strangely modern sounding soundtrack. After seeing the first few dismembered limbs fly off on screen, I found myself strangely numb to the battle scenes that followed. It was strange to note that the local censor still snipped out scenes that involved female implied nudity but yet left out at least 2 decapitations on screen. I guess if they had to cut all the scenes that they would usually cut in previous films, “300” would not really make much sense.

Overwhelmed by the visual spectacle, I didn’t really noticed the performance quality of the main actors. I did remember that Gerard Butler as Leonidas gave a sufficiently fair gravitas to the character as did Lena Headey who played his wife Queen Gorgo. Rodrigo Santoro who played Xerxes was made to look like a 8 foot tall version of a drag queen with more jewelry that she knows what to do with. While King Leonidas does state his disdain to Athenian “philosopher and boy-lovers”, it was hard not to read the homoerotic subtext inherent in the dialogue between the Spartan warriors regardless. It did not help the cause as well since the Spartan army was fully buffed up and dressed in as little as the rating would allow it.

While there can be something to be said about the relevancy of this movie to the current political and economical atmosphere between the West and Asia, this movie does not demand to be scrutinized as such. In fact the less that audiences try to fit how the Spartan’s represented the West i.e. America and the invaders represented the mess out there in the Middle East, the more sense the film will be. This is not a film to be used to draw parallels of what is happening now. Audience only need to appreciate the numerous decapitations and ignore any form of social comment that others try to put on it.

In the end, “300” was a eye popping visual feast that made the afternoon go faster. It didn’t really break new ground in terms of technology but it does show off the potential of what the technology can do. The hyper-violent scenes did came across as a little excessive but it should go well with the crowd that could use this as an outlet of channeling their own inner violent urges. With enough testosterone oozing on screen to make a bald woman grow hair, “300” should go well with the audience demographics that it was intended for. For the rest of us, it could be a novel way of spending an afternoon counting the number of times a body part flies off a character on screen.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Movie Review: Mukhsin

In Yasmin Ahmad’s latest film offering, “Mukhsin”, she gives her fans a poignant love letter in the form of a beautiful examination of the story of first love and lost. It is a story that would surely resonate across everyone who goes to see it regardless of age. Looking at the crowd in the cinema when I watched it, I’m fairly certain that the message that “Mukhsin” was trying to convey had touched many and will touch more as word of mouth about how good this movie is starts to spread.

Billed as a prequel to her earlier breakthrough film, “Sepet”, this latest masterpiece tells the story of a 10 year Orked (Sharifah Aryana) and her first encounter with love. Living in a village in Selangor, the tomboyish Orked feels ill at ease among girls her age and much prefer playing with the boys. When the village newcomer, 12 year old Mukhsin (Mohd Shafie Naswip), finally relents to include her into the boys games, the seeds of a close bond began to germinate between the two of them. As the school holiday progressed, their friendship deepen into pangs of first love that both had no idea how to react to. Confused and bewildered, a slight misunderstanding caused Orked to stop talking to Mukhsin until the very last day when he had to return back to his father’s house at the end of the school holidays. In the end, Orked was left with the memory of her first love that she had to learn to let go so she could move on with her life.

Compared to her previous film, “Gubra”, audiences would find “Mukhsin” much easier to follow as the main characters of the movie remained the focus of the movie for most of the time. Forays into the story subplots involving the supporting cast, while does help to enrich the story, at times felt a little too disruptive to the pacing of the story for me. There were times in the movie that I felt a bit restless and wanting them to get back to the story of Orked and Mukhsin. It was not that the actors did not give good performances in the subplot scenes but I felt myself more invested in the main story rather than the subplots. The subplots involving Orked’s bad mouth neighbor and Mukhsin’s brother were the weaker two that slowed the pacing of the move for me. While I can seen the need of the first as a counterpoint to Orked’s own kooky clan and the second giving the backstory to Mukhsin’s family life, I wished that both could have been tighter in scope and more in sync with the flow of the movie.

As for the main meat of the story, “Mukhsin” doesn’t really seem that much innovative on the surface compared to similar Western movies. However when viewed through the lens of local Malaysia productions, one need to acknowledge that “Mukhsin”, like all Yasmin’s offerings that came before it, continues to present audiences with an idealized vision of the Malaysia that could be if we wanted to. Having the main character be a Malay girl living in a kampong, studying in a Chinese language school and speaks fluent British English no less spoke volumes of Yasmin’s continued drive to break down stereotypes of what being Malay meant. Looking at the other local offerings of the recent past, this break from stereotype was nothing less than a breath of fresh air for me.

It was fairly comforting to note that Yasmin’s signature off-screen conversation scenes were firmly included in “Mukhsin”. After getting used to this particular cinematic quirk of hers, I found myself looking forward for them and particularly in “Mukhsin”, these scenes were wonderful to watch. It this outing, this particular style benefited more from the outstanding performances of Sharifah Aryana and Mohd Shafie Naswip who both gave their all when the static camera stayed on their faces during these off-screen conversations. The tighter shots into their faces helped made these signature scenes more memorable compare to the long shots that was used in the previous films.

One would sorely be remiss not to make a note of the outstanding performance given by the two main leads. It was nothing short of spectacular seeing the chemistry between such young actors. Coming for equally famous siblings, Sharifah Aryana was a joy to watch especially when she managed to capture the mannerisms that her sister used when acting as the older version of her Orked character. It was easy to believe that this young girl would later grow up to be the teen that we saw in “Sepet” and the woman we saw in “Gubra”. However, I personally feel that the best performances in “Mukhsin” belonged to Mohd Shafie Naswip. With equal measure of quiet shyness and eye pleasing looks, this newly discovered gem shouldered the weight of the movie in his performance and delivered it in spades. His scene where he said his goodbyes to Orked before he left the village was nothing short of a tour de force from this young actor. His heartwrenching and earnest delivery of the lines still haunted me long after I’ve seen it. This young actor is definitely one to look out for as he matures into his craft.

“Mukhsin” was not without it’s share of slight disappointments for me. One that I have already mentioned earlier was the disruption of film pacing when the main story veered into some of the subplots. The other one that I had an issue with was the inclusion of the older Orked and Jason from “Sepet” in a scene with the younger Orked and Mukhsin. While clearly meant to be taken as an unofficial “dream sequence”, this particular scene played more for those who wanted Jason to be alive at the end of “Sepet”. For those of us, if there are more people than just only me, who accepted Jason’s death that the end of “Sepet” the scene felt a bit extraneous and confusing. The murmurs of confusion from the audience that I was with watching that scene told me that I was not the only one feeling so.

I have to be honest and confess that I was expecting “Mukhsin” to be a rite of passage story. Watching the movie, I realized that it was not exactly what I expected. While the film does deal with Orked’s first love, we don’t really see how much Orked was changed by it in this movie. We don’t see how Mukhsin was changed by the experience as well since we don’t really see him at the end of the movie as the taxi he was in drove off from Orked’s sights. I would have liked to have a stronger emotional dénouement at the end of the story especially having invested so much of my emotions into their relationship. The emotional buildup was already there for the taking but it felt as if the momentum faltered towards the end when audiences were expecting a release of their pent up emotions. Like “Gubra” that came before it, “Mukhsin” left me with the emotional equivalent of blue balls.

I don’t really know why but I have a nagging feeling that there are missing scenes from the final cut of this film that was shown in cinema. There were more than a few consecutive scenes that seem to demand that the audience make a calculated leap of faith to follow the action as it unfolds in the movie. In particular, the progression of Mukhsin’s realization that he might be falling in love with his best friend seemed a little emotionally sparse in content. I think I distinctly remembered a scene that was discussed on Yasmin’s blog site of a conversation that Mukhsin had with his aunt about the nature of love. I was looking forward for that scene and was surprised that it was not in the final cut. I now wonder if I had just imagined it all.

A lot of actors from the previous 3 Yasmin Ahmad’s films made cameo appearances in “Mukhsin”. Add to that the pre credit scene involving Yasmin’s real life parents and the film crew singing “Hujan” from the movie’s soundtrack, there seemed to me a sense of finality that this is the last film of the series involving this set of characters and their lives. If this is so, one could not ask for a better curtain call than “Mukhsin”. The simple but memorable story acted out by nothing less than the best young actors to be discovered in recent years was simply a joy to watch. This heartwarming tale is definitely one of the must see local productions of the year.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Standing On the Edge of a Precipice

Between work and my non-existing personal life, I found myself running on fumes this week. This week is the first time since the recent change in my job responsibilities that I really felt the full scope of what my job now entails. Having to support customers from one end of Asia to the other means that I have to be on standby from the time the Australia folks start work till end of business day in India. I used to only have 5 points to accomplish for the day on my morning to do list, now I have at least 20 to tackle by lunch time. Still I try to find the good in it all so I can move on without falling into hysterics and pulling my hair by the roots. I’ve always believed that there is always a positive way to look at your job no matter how crappy the job seems. Since I can’t change my job today, I might as well find a way to enjoy it for this day.

I still owe myself write-ups on my Manila trip. I really want to make sure that I record everything of note down in the blog so I can remember it for as long as the blog site is up. Unfortunately, it seems lately that every time I sit down and start to write the trip report up, something else comes to distract me. I really want to do it soon before I start forgetting the details that I did not write down in my travel journal while I was there. I guess that if I can find time to type out this rant now then I shouldn’t have any excuse not to type out the trip report.

Movies … I still have to make time to watch “Dreamgirls” in the cinema before their run ends. No doubt I will be buying the DVD when they release it but nothing beats watching a movie at cinema on the big screen. I also need to find time to watch “Mukhsin” and “300” somehow soon. I’ve originally planned to watch all 3 films this weekend but S called me yesterday to ask me to help out for his kenduri in Kajang this weekend. I’m feeling a bit reluctant to help out since he has lately only called me when he wants something done which frankly makes me feel like I’m being underappreciated as a friend. But then again, it is S who is asking. I have never been able to say “no” to him no matter how much I’ve wanted to. There is too much history between us for me not to just bear and grin it.

It’s actually strange that the only time in the day that I really feel less flustered about work and life is during that hour between 7 to 8pm when I’m working out on my exercise machine. I often find myself in some sort of zone when I’m only focused on the repetitive movements, the number of reps I have left to accomplish that day and keeping my form correct when I workout. I’m now finding myself looking forward for my workout session at the end of my work day instead of dreading it like I used to do. I’m hoping that I would be able to sustain this from this point onwards because other than working out, I don’t really think I have anything else to distract me after a long day.

The workouts and the almost daily SMS messages that I’ve been receiving from a certain friend (you know who you are) seems to be the only things that have been keeping me on a level these past weeks. The workout sessions help distract me from everything else that is happening around me while the SMS messages have just brighten up my days and nights. I don’t know what I would do without both in my life now.