Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Workout Progress - July '07

So much for keeping track .. huh.

I guess I lapsed a bit in my workout plan during May & June. I still did my 4 – 6 times a week hourly bicep curls and triceps extension exercises on the body lift machine but it seemed more play than serious body conditioning. Given that May was the first time that I started with the new resistance level (doubled from the previous levels), I had cut the number of sets I did to half of what I normally did on the old resistance level. The plan was that I would gradually work up to the old levels in June.

Between trips, work and things that happened in June, I really slacked off in my workouts. The worst thing was that I was fully aware of myself slacking off! I told myself that I’ve gone too far to waste my effort by taking it too easy so I decide to amp up my commitment to the exercise in July. Thankfully, I have been able to stick to a 5 days on, 2 days rest of 1 hour moderate exercise of 5 set consisting of 20 reps bicep curls and 20 reps triceps extensions in July.

Result wise looks encouraging. I’ve managed to bring to my BP from a high of 196/115 down to 145/95 (which incidentally was one of my major reasons for embarking on this journey) after 7 months of semi-consistent exercise and the diet plan. Lost a few inches from the waist which necessitate a new belt hole on my belt because I was too cheap to buy an new belt. Physically wise, I can see some definition happening in the shoulders and arms cause they are the only parts that I could work on with my current body lift equipment. They are nowhere near the shadow of size that I would like them to be but it’s a start. Chest is looking better than before and at least the man-boobs seem to be shrinking (yay me!). Still light-years to go before I actually develop anything near to be called pecs. Abs … better not talk about them!

Diet plan in July :

Breakfast (8 am)
- 2 piece of lightly toasted Gardenia Breakthru bread (1 with margarine, 1 with jam)
- 1 cup fat free yogurt
Brunch (10 am)
- 1/2 serving of plan fried rice with tempeh goreng or greens
- 1 hardboiled egg (alternate working days – 2 whole eggs total per week)
Lunch (12 pm)
- 1 Spirulina cereal 3 in 1 mix.
Snacks (4 pm)
- 1 Nature Valley Roasted Almond Granola bar
- Japanese Green Tea
Dinner (7 pm)
- buy something roughly less than 300kcal (usually either 3 pieces of kuih, plain tosai, bread or the like)

Workout Days (M/T/T/F/Sun: 7 – 8 pm)
- tomato juice immediately after workout
- protein shake 1 hr after workout as dinner

Supplements :
Balance Liquid L-Carnitine – 10ml per day
EAS Creatine Powder – 10mg per day
EAS Myoplex Deluxe Protein Shake – ½ serving post workout
21st Century’s HerbalLipo Tea – 1 serving per week day
GNC L-Lysine – 1 tablet per day
GNC MegaMen Dietary Supplement – 1 tablet per day

I believe that I’ve somewhat have became accustomed to the current plan and diet even though there have been days that I just want to gorge out. The way I see it, as long as I am aware of how much I take in and balance it out with the other meals that I take afterwards, I’m still able to stay on the good side in the balance sheet. Sticking to moderation is always been my motto in life and it should not be any different in my workout plan. I’m looking forward for the opening of the gym that I signed up for sometime towards the end of Aug at Sunway Pyramid. I’ve already signed up to work with a personal trainer twice a week for 3 months when I start there so hopefully with better equipment, workout tips, monitoring and motivation, I would be able to make much larger gains.

At least enough gains for me to feel better about myself when I look at my own reflection in the mirror.

Monday, July 30, 2007

WooHoo! Moment

No … this won’t be an entry about “The Simpsons” movie that I have not had a chance to see yet. I had planned to watch it last weekend when I went back to my parent’s place but everyone else their plans for the weekend. So instead of watching the movie as I originally planned, we (my mum and sis) spent quality time on retail therapy where they finally convinced me to update my business shirts wardrobe. I am now the proud owner of shirts with stripes to wear to work! I guess I will get used to wearing non solid color shirts to work … eventually.

Today’s entry is about my own woohoo moment this morning at work.

My line of work mostly deal with me troubleshooting a problem that come up in our daily operations of supporting our client’s computers. Every once in a while, I get a problem escalated to me where no one in my team has seen before. When I asked around in my regional team, everyone has seen it bit no one knew how to solve it. Not being one to just ignore the problem, I decided to take on the problem and see if I can figure it out.

That was 3 days ago!

I have this tendency to latch on to a problem like a rabid dog and obsess over it until I can find a solution for it. It is the same whether it’s a problem at work or something from my personal life. I keep thinking about the problem and try to look at it from every angle to see if the solution was something that I have seen before. I tend to try to break the problem into it’s component parts and see if any components are the root cause of the main problem. Suffice to say that I can sometime be overly methodological when it comes to troubleshooting problems.

It was after mulling it over the weekend that I came to the conclusion that it might not be something that I can resolve. When I came back to work today, I was ready to escalate the problem up a level above me to see if they can make sense of it. Fortunately for me, I decided to give it one last try which was when all the pieces fitted together and I saw something that I had missed in my previous deconstruction of the problem. Once I found the key to the problem, the solution fell in place as soon as I thought of it. What was even better was that I was able to replicate the same solution across the board in Asia and will be sending it off to US and Europe if any of my counterparts there run into the same problem.

It was at that point of realization that I let out a spontaneous “WooHoo!”. I didn’t think it at the time but it was loud enough for my staff to look at me strangely. An outburst like that was not something common from me and most have not seen me before it that state. I guess the first thing that they must have thought is that I was overcame by a Homer Simpson moment but I couldn’t tell as they avoided my gaze when I turned to look at them. Slightly embarrassed as I was, it felt good to let the frustrations out even if it is in a form of a “WooHoo!”.

At least my staff now know that their boss is still human and wacky at times.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One With The Journey Back on Day 4

On the last day of my Perhentian trip, I found myself awake at 7am after a somewhat restless night due to the high humidity after last night’s rains. Since our chalets faced West, there wasn’t a good sunrise scene to watch from our verandah. The sky just kind of gradually brighten up as the hour passed from where I sat watching the start of another day. It was a bit of a bittersweet beginning of the day knowing that in a few hours, I would be leaving the island to go back to KL. With that in mind, I started to pack up my belongings after a quick shower and shave while waiting for them to call us for the last meal we would have on the island. Breakfast for us on day 4 was a simple affair of toast, sunny-side up eggs, chicken sausages and coffee. Looking back, the amount and variety of food we had during our stay in the island was quite reasonable given the amount that we paid for the stay.

(Sunrise at Abdul's Chalet Beach)

After breakfast, we still had about 3 hours before the boat from the mainland came to pick us up. My mum, sis and myself decided to walk down the beach and through the jungle track to burn off our breakfast instead of just sitting at the beach. Since we would be away from the others, I decide to take my phone with me for the first time of this walk in case they needed to call us. Phone reception was surprisingly good on the island for my 019 line but they strangely did not have any SMS coverage. I had left my phone in the room during most of the trip and this was the first time I had to use it all trip long.

We started from the Abdul’s Chalet beach and walked up the trail to the next beach. The trail was not took hard as they had installed stone steps to led us over the rocks into the bushes and over to the next beach. I did not catch the name of the next beach but I thought that it was not as nice as the one that we stayed at. The beach was made of much coarser type of sand then they had at our beach and there were a lot more little stones in the water. The chalets on that beach did look a little worse for wear but they did have a proper boat jetty where larger boats could dock and let passengers come on or off. Unlike Abdul’s Chalet, this part of the beach had more locals staying there and my mum even met one of her friends also holidaying with her family there.

(Steps up the trail and the view from the top of the trail)

After walking around the area for a bit, we went back up the bush trail up to the next beach. I was again surprised by the different features of the beach area between the beaches that basically was next to each other just separated by a wall of rock. The area that we were in was called “Teluk KK” where they had a lot of very tall trees instead of the coconut trees that we had on our beach. Instead of having chalets, they had an open camping ground where people could pitch their tents and stay in them. While almost everyone were staying in tents, the location was not without it’s amenities. They had a café, bathrooms, rain shelters and electricity for people who paid for their plot of camping ground. Judging from the crowd, this location seemed to be popular with the local younger crowd since I don’t see a lot of family types and foreigners.

(Teluk KK Beach and Camp site)

Just a short walk away from Teluk KK, we came across a secluded rocky area of the beach where we soon found out acted as a nursery for young fish. The waters was crystal clear and full of miniature versions of the fishes we saw during our snorkeling trip yesterday. I’m guessing that the rocks provided ample natural protection from bigger predators in the sea beyond the rocks so most of the baby fishes came there to find shelter. I was so excited at the find that I didn’t thing twice about wading into the water to get some photographs of them. I already had my broad shorts on so I didn’t have to change into them before walking in. It was when the water hit my thigh that I remembered that I had put my phone in the side pocket of my shorts. Of course by that time it was too late for my phone as it had died off immediately when it came in contact with the salt water. I was distraught at the possibility of losing another phone so soon after losing my previous one in Manila. I took apart the phone the best that I could and set it in the sun hoping that it would dry it off enough for me to switch it on again.

(The scene where I accidently sent my phone to it's untimely death. Can you blame me for being distracted at a place like this? )

After a dip in the water to wash away my disappointment at ruining another phone, we started on our way back to our beach. My phone was still dead at that point and I was totally worried that I would lose all of my numbers from the phone. When we reach our chalet and told them what had happened, they all told me that next time I would have to bring a cheap phone on my vacations and leave the more expensive ones behind. I have been on two trips this year and in the process, lost or ruined 2 different phones on both occasion. I’m just sore at my own recklessness as I’m usually very careful about my phones.

(My view of the beach from my front door on the last day of the trip. Simply magical!)

The boat from the mainland came to pick us up at around 12pm. Unlike the boat that we came in with, the boat back to Kuala Besut was over booked this time around. There mush have been about 20 of us crammed in one a boat that seemed to should have only 15 people at most at one time. Good thing that the trip back to the mainland was uneventful since the seas were calm and the day was clear. I took a look back at Perhentian Island as the boat pulled away from the beach with a promise to myself that I would one day return to the same spot and spend more time on the island one day.

(Looking back at Pulau Perhentian as our boat pulled away from the island paradise)

We reached Kuala Besut about ½ hour later and started loading up our cars for the trip home. Instead of going back the way we came, we decided to take the interior route through Gua Musang in Kelantan and passing the Taman Negara area in Pahang before reaching home in Selayang, Selangor. After finishing the last of the paper work that we had at the tour operator’s office, we departed from Kuala Besut at around 2pm heading northwards towards Gua Musang. We stopped for lunch at a nasi kandar shop near Jerteh taxi stand which was quite quaint as they did mamak food in the style of Kelantanese cooking which I never imagined would be possible.

The weather was still good when we crossed into the Kelantan border after lunch. Along the way, we were able to witness for ourselves the amount of forest clearing that they were doing in the area. We saw whole areas cleared of big trees that must have been hundred of years old and was quite sparse with only the smaller trees that were replanted to replace the ones they cut down. We also passed muddy rivers that my father would tell us was crystal clear just 20 years ago when he was still in the Army and was based there. It was a shame to see the tree trunks on back of the ever present lorries that we pass by during our trip.

Just as we passed Gua Musang town, the weather that was quite pleasant suddenly turned worse and started to dump buckets of water on us. The combination of heavy rains, poor visibility, heavy vehicles on the road and my father’s driving made me more than nervous with the way the journey was going. At that point I was wishing that we had taken the coastal road instead as the Gua Musang road was quite narrow and was full of huge lorries carrying enormous tree trunks. Those who have traveled with me in a car know full well my habit of pressing on the imaginary breaks on the passenger’s side whenever the car I’m in comes too close to the next car for my comfort. Suffice to say that by the time we reached the rest area somewhere in the interior of Pahang, I had developed a nasty leg cramp from stepping on my imaginary breaks the whole way through.

It was still raining all the way until we hit Karak Highway when we stopped at the Genting Sempah rest stop for some dinner. Since no one was quite in the mood to eat anything heavy, we all decided to go to McDonalds again for the meal much to the delight of my nephew and nieces. I was however regretting my decision to wear just a cut-off t-shirt with my thigh length cargo pants because I was freezing my butt off from the air condition there that they must had set on Artic setting. The experience will make me think twice before I choose form over function again. Getting back into the car after dinner didn’t help me get warm either because it was still raining when we made our way after dinner to the short journey from Karak to Selayang. We finally reached home safely at about 11pm that night after spending close to 7 hours on the road.

Looking back, my Perhentian trip was a dream come through. I had always wanted to see those islands that I have heard about all this time for myself and I finally did get to do it with my family. The package tour was better than I expected considering the low price that we had to pay per person. Our accommodation was more than I expected and I highly recommend Abdul’s Chalets to anyone who is planning to stay at Perhentians. Beautiful beaches, convenient café and shops and fairly soon a new boat jetty on the premises makes it the perfect spot to rest and relax. I’m already looking forward to going back there when I get the chance and probably plan to spend more days on the island than I did on this trip.

(Free promo for Abdul's Chalet for anyone going to Perhentians. I highly recommend them)

Preferably with someone that I can share all the new discoveries and the special moments with.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A 3 Day Weekend

I had planned to spend Saturday at home most probably glued to the PS2 controller trying to finish up my already 150 plus hours of Final Fantasy XII. Fortunately for me, something else came up quite early in the morning. At around 9 am, my mum called up to tell me that my sister finally got an on-campus dorm after her successful appeal. Having started the new semester at college without on-campus living arrangement was quite a burden for her since she had to commute from my parents place in Selayang to Shah Alam every day. It was so dire that they actually had made plans for her to stay with me in Sunway should the university rejected her appeal for on-campus living quarters. For obvious reasons, that arrangement would seriously throw a monkey wrench in my living arrangements.

Fortunate for me, my sister got her room at the same dorms that she was in last semester and was moving in on that Saturday. Since they were heading my way, my mum called me up to see if I would be able to meet up with them for lunch and shopping that day. Since I didn’t really have anything else better planned, I agreed and the came to pick me up at around 11:30am. First stop was for lunch at Subang Parade since my youngest brother was also looking for a ready made suit for his convocation ceremony. We had lunch at Secret Recipe and catch up with the latest news of the family. We hit the stores after lunch to look for the suit that fit my brother.

My youngest brother is the tallest and the skinniest of all of us in the family. Shopping for clothes for him has always been an adventure as it’s hard to find something that fit him. In fact that’s a trait that everyone in the family shared, we would always have problems finding a particular item of clothing that fit us. For me it’s always been pants. Unless they are tailored, I could never find a pair of pants that fit me comfortably. Since he needed the suit in short notice and under a limited budget, getting one tailored for himself was out of the question. The first shop that we went didn’t have any suit small enough for his size. We then went to Subang Parade Parkson Grand where there were more suits but the closest that we found was too short in the sleeves.

From Subang Parade, we went to Sunway Pyramid in search of a suit that fit my brother. We finally found one at the one of the boutiques there at a fairly reasonable price of RM410 for suit and pants combo. My brother wanted to find a shirt for himself so he’s budgeting for another RM150 for that. I have to say that it was much cheaper than my first suit that I paid almost RM 1000 for but only wore twice before I got too fat to fit into it. Hopefully my brother will have better luck with his. I have to say that it was a bit surreal helping my youngest brother, who I remember having to change his diapers when he was a baby, pick out his first suit. It’s just one of those milestones that one would think you would only go through when you have children of your own. Guess I’m lucky that I will get to go through the experience twice in my life.

For Sunday morning, I had an inter alumni bowling tournament to go to at Sunway Pyramid. Since I suck at all sports including bowling, I was not taking part in the tournament but was then to lend my support to my alumni team. Learning my lesson from last time, I purposely went about ½ hour after it started so I can avoid having to explain why I could not be on their team if they were short of bowlers. I can hardly break 80 per game when I bowl for fun and there was no way I am going to embarrass myself bowling with people who have triple digit bowling averages in a competition setting. What I could do however was to show up and give me support to the team since it was close by to where I stayed.

Our team didn’t do so well considering they only had 1 practice game before while the other teams was sending people who bowled weekly as a hobby. Our team did however walked away with the most lucky draw winners having 5 out of 8 lucky draws going to the people to my alumni’s team. We joked that the reason for our alumni getting so many lucky draws was that it was ex-TKCian and STF alumni pulling out the slips for the lucky draw. Our school have long histories with those two all girls boarding schools ! I stayed around for the refreshment that was provided and talked a bit with the boys about our upcoming joint 3 boarding school 50 years celebration dinner next month. While we all agreed that the table price was quite steep, it was not something that we would miss since it was a once in a lifetime event.

The bowling tournament ended around 1 pm and I had my weekly groceries to pick up at the supermarket. Since I did my groceries there weekly, I didn’t really have a lot to buy and further more buying too much would be a bother to carry all the way home without a car. Having given up on heavy dinners nowadays, most of my groceries consist of yogurt and bread for the week anyway. I did pick up a fitted sheet for my sofa bed at home which I’m still trying to get used to even as I type this. I don’t really know what got over me but I somehow decided that it might be a good idea to cover up my maroon sofa bed with a banana green colored bed sheet! I now have this bright green thing in the middle of my cramped living room that it is really hard not to notice. I guessed it was better than my first choice of a canary yellow bed sheet.

Today was my monthly Monday off day. I always try to one get in once a month since I had to go and do my banking since they stopped opening banks during the weekend. Things has been much better since Hong Leong bank put in a cash deposit machine in their Sunway branch. It was much more convenient to use it and not have to queue up to pay my card bill at the counter. I also dropped by my Maybank branch to check on the status of my property bank loan which unfortunately is still under their legal department review. I’m getting quite worried with the slow progress but there is nothing that I could do other than wait for them to complete processing it.

The other thing that I went out looking for is the new Harry Potter book. I had decided not to reserve my copy at the Sunway MPH as they were selling them for RM109 per copy when you can get the same copy at Carrefour Subang for RM 69. The difference was large enough for me to get it from Carrefour instead. Unfortunately they told me that they sold out all their copies within 1 hour of opening their Harry Potter display on Saturday morning. They didn’t tell me when they were expecting fresh stocks for the book but they would have it eventually. As much as I’m dying to read the last book of the series, I guess I have to wait till they have it at Carrefour again. Even if I wanted to pay the RM 40 difference, I doubt that I could get a copy of the book in KL now. I wouldn’t be surprised that they sold out everywhere in KL.

Came back home thankful that it did not rained today since I had left my washing out to dry after getting drenched in yesterday’s rains. Messed around with the laptop for a while before working out for about 1 ½ hours today with the exercise machine at home. The diet and work outs have really helped me control my blood pressure. A recent check had me at 145/95 now from a high of 196/115 and this was just a result of diet with moderate exercise. I know my doctor would be so happy for me as he has long wondered how on earth I was able to walk around with that high a blood pressure I had before without bursting a blood vessel every time I sneezed. I’m still at borderline hypertension levels with the latest reading but at least I’m on the right road to beat it.

As you can see, my weekends are not at all exciting unlike some people’s weekend. Always been a homebody and I guess I will always be one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Movie Review : Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Book 5 of the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, was not only the longest one in the series but seemed to me would be the most difficult to translate into film. Unlike the readily visualized action set pieces of the preceding installments, the fifth book was much more introspective focusing on the darkening impulses within Harry himself as he dealt with a new school term at Hogwarts. I remembered most distinctly how angry Harry was at everyone all through the book and how everything changed for him and the people around him by the end. The book represented a turning point in the series and set the tone of the books that followed it. Given the density of the material within the 800 plus pages that had to be condensed to fit within the frame work of a film, I had fully expected some details to be cut out from the screen translation. Fortunately, with even the omissions, the latest film adaptation of the Harry Potter franchise recently released still retained the essence of the tome and managed to satisfy the audience.

At the onset of “Harry Potter and the Order to the Phoenix”, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself having to defend himself against the charge of underage magic usage when he had to use his magic skills to fend off a Dementor attack on himself and his cousin. With the help of Prof Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Harry was cleared of all charges and allowed back to Hogwarts for the new school term where he finds that most of the students think that he was a liar for claiming that the Dark Lord (Ralph Fiennes) had returned. A victim of a smear campaign by the Ministry of Magic and the subservient media, Harry’s life gets even more desperate with the arrival of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher as well as the representative of the Ministry of Magic at Hogwarts.

Among the changes that Umbridge implemented was to ignore the student’s need to practice the magic spells they would need to defend themselves with. Umbridge’s interference at Hogwarts forced a resolute Harry to gather his friends including Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), Neville (Matthew Lewis), Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) to form a club where they could practice their defensive magic in defiance of her. Their practice time would later come in handy when they have to face Lord Voldemort’s DeathEaters at the cavernous Ministry of Magic to save Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), and to recover an item before the DeathEaters did for their master. While the students won the day with the help from the older members of the Order of the Phoenix, it was unfortunately a pyrrhic victory for Harry.

The screenplay as written by Michael Goldenberg did have the unenviable challenge of pruning away peripheral events from the book to fit into the film’s runtime. While this meant losing some of the memorable beats from the book, overall I felt they he did a good job retaining the feel of the book. Being more introspective than the previous book meant that story pacing would be a slight issue as the characters would often stop to reflect what they were feeling. For better or for worse, this was removed from the movie by editing it in a much faster pace than the original material. I wished, however, that they could have retained the sense of growing resentment that Harry had against Dumbledore as described in the book. That change in the character always felt as a major growing up point for the character and a major milestone in his life when Harry discovers that even Dumbledore was not infallible.

Given the nature of the storyline, the action focused more on the students rather than the teachers or the magical environment around them All of the returning main cast seemed to be more comfortable in every succeeding film of the franchise and their familiarity with the character shows in their performance. Daniel Radcliffe (filling out nicely) brings sufficient angst to the character albeit it being a lot more understated compared to his character in the book. I also sorely missed the heighten distrust that threatened to drive a wedge between the 3 main characters as we saw in the book. Without that conflict, the relationship between Hermione and Ron with Harry felt slightly underdone. Most of the existing teaching staff who returned for this installment also suffered from less exposure due to the original storyline being more focused on Harry and therefore had substantially less screen time than they did before.

New characters seen in this installment delightfully added more substance to the tapestry of the franchise. The utterly sweet but ultimately sadistic Dolores Umbridge was played brilliantly by Imelda Staunton left behind a very memorable performance. While not as physically repulsive as detailed in the book, her willingness to take very extreme measures to ensure the students cooperation was fully realized on screen. No less memorable was Evanna Lynch’s ability to realize the ethereal and not-all-there spaciness of Luna “Loony” Lovegood as detailed in the book. While most of the DeathEaters were kept in masks with limited screen time, Helena Bonham Carter stood out among them as quite memorable especially her being able to present both craziness and sexiness in the package of Bellatrix Lestrange which we should be seeing more of in the next installment.

For the most part, the production value for the film was quite high especially with the impressive new black tiled underground Ministry of Magic set where the climactic battle between Voldemort and Dumbledore took place. No less impressive was the final fight scene between the students and the DeathEaters in the prophecy room where we finally get to see dueling wizards at their fullest. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the Order Advance Guard flight over the Thames at the beginning of the film. A fellow blogger mentioned that it looked like something that came off from the old Superman movie and I whole heartedly agree with him on that point. The CGI effect here was not to the standard that we have seen before in the franchise and it really stood out especially with later CGI scenes.

Overall, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” was on par with the other entries of the franchise. It is definitely much darker than it’s predecessors but it reflected the turmoil inherent in soul of the titular character. Things would only get darker from this point on as audiences who have read the next book in the series would attest so bemoaning the departure from the much cheerier earlier films would be a moot point. This is now about Harry Potter growing up realizing that the magic skills that he learnt at Hogwarts was not all for play. They were all on the eve of a civil war between the Dark Lord’s forces and the forces of the Order of the Phoenix. This film chronicled that turning point admirably and a worthy addition to the series that long time fans would enjoy.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Facelift at the Old Stomping Grounds

Took some time out on Sunday for myself to check out the recent changes at Sunway Pyramid. Having just recovered from a particularly embarrassing affliction that plagued me this past week, I was more than looking forward to get out of the house and enjoy some “me” time before I had to start work again on Monday. Of course being a weekend, my first stop was the newly renovated TGV cinemas for the latest Harry Potter film.

I’ve always loved going to the cinemas at Sunway Pyramid. Being so close to my apartment, I have no trouble getting there on time to catch the early bird ticket specials which means that I only pay RM 8 for the usual RM 11 tickets for the first showings of the day. Online booking also meant that I just need to walk up to the booking counters to collect my tickets. So when they close most of the cinemas for renovations a few months ago, I was fairly disappointed. For one it meant that I had to go elsewhere less convenient for my movie fix.

Having had to give away my free tickets to the Harry Potter movie on last Thursday because of my delicate affliction, I decided to take the chance and see if the renovations to the cinema at Sunway Pyramid were completed. I wasn’t so sure about what to expect but since they were taking online bookings for the tickets, I assumed that the cinema halls were at least in somewhat usable conditions. When I arrived at the cinema, the first difference that I noticed was that I had to take the escalators up 1 more floor than before to get to the ticket office.

The old ticket office had a higher ceiling compared to the new one. Coupled with the low lighting in the place, the new cinema lobby did feel slightly claustrophobic. I also missed the big screens that showed the movie trailers which they had before. The smaller screens that they have now were just placed too far off from where people were queuing to watch while they waited their turn to buy their tickets. I did, however, appreciate the new ticket office displays that were set right in front of the customer because it made it easier to select the seats you want. TGV Sunway also now offer Couple’s Seats which I found to be hilarious since I have just recently learnt that they existed at all. Just goes to show that I normally watch movies by myself and even if I went with someone else, snuggling during a movie might be too distracting. Of course, if it were with the right person …

They had 12 cinema halls at the newly renovated TGV Sunway but I’m not too sure if all were opened now. The one I went to was cinema hall 3 which was a medium size hall with stadium style seating much like the one they have in the Cathy Cineleisure cinema at Damansara. One advantage of this new setup is that practically everyone had a clear view of the screen without have someone’s head block the view. The row I was in, for example, had almost an eye level view of the screen which made the movie experience more enjoyable. I did wished that they had slightly higher backed seating as the one that they have now were a bit low for people like me who like to scoot lower into the seat when we are watching the movie. There were ample leg room but the thought of being that close to someone’s feet due to the steep incline of the seating was a bit disconcerting. All in all, I liked what they did with the TGV renovation and happy to come back again to my old stomping grounds for my movie fix.

After the movie, I decided to check out the newly reopened Parkson Grand departmental store at Sunway. They just reopened last weekend after being closed for renovation and I was in the market for some new work clothes so I decided to check them out. I don’t know if this was a new direction from Parkson but they decided to go more upmarket when they renovated the place. The new Sunway Parkson Grand looked almost the same at the one they had in Subang Parade and KLCC. The merchandise that they carried were equally on the more upmarket side. Gone were the RM 69.90 selections what made up almost all my work clothes wardrobe and instead they were selling branded dress shirts made out of Egyptian cotton at RM 250 per piece. Personally if I had to pay that amount of money for a shirt, I would rather have it tailored made and double stitched by a personal tailor.

I don’t know if it’s just me but what is the deal with stripes on a business dress shirt? What happened to wearing just one color for a dress shirt? Am I that behind in terms of fashion? It seemed that the store only had white shirts with colored horizontal stripes in a multitude of strip width. I have been wearing stripes only on casual shirts for as long as I can remember so the thought of wearing them as a business dress shirt was a bit hard to warp around my head. I left the men’s department feeling fully bewildered by the changes and the realization that I may not shop there any more since their merchandise was not what I am accustomed to. I’ve got to find somewhere else to buy my solid colored dress shirts from.

The California Fitness gym at Sunway was still under construction but according to the staff at the sign up booth, it should be opened to members sometime next month. Of all the facelifts at Sunway Pyramid, that would be the one I’m looking forward to most.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Movie Review : Transformers

“Way cooler than Armageddon !”

Truer words have not been spoken of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” especially when stacked up to the other summer blockbuster movies we’ve seen this year. Based on the beloved cartoon franchise people of my age group remember fondly from our youth, “Transformers” is the type of film that make summer blockbusters something to look forward to. All the hype that surrounded this movie paid off handsomely on screen for a change not like the other movies I’ve seen this year. From the first action set piece till the final climatic battle, the movie was truly a thrill ride that you wouldn’t mind going through all over again the moment you step out of the cinema doors after the ending credits.

The movie mainly follows the story of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) whose current goal is to get a car to impress his dream girl, Mikaela (Megan Fox), who also happened to be the hottest girl in his class. After getting the grades and the funds that he promised his father he would, he finally gets his wish in the form of a beat up old Camaro which at times seemed to have a mind of it’s own. Little does Sam realize that his car does have a secret life as gigantic robot which he inavertedly uncovers while chasing after his car when he thought it was being stolen. It turned out that the Camaro (codename Bumblebee) was part of an alien robotic team called the Autobots sent to Earth to find an ancient artifact known as the Allspark. The location of the artifact was lost for centuries but was eventually discovered to be on Earth by Sam’s ancestor. Bumblebee’s team of Autobots, consisting of Jazz (Pontiac Solstice), Ironhide (GMC Pickup truck), Ratchet (Hummer S&R H2) and their leader Optimus Prime (Peterbilt truck), had came to Earth to prevent the Allspark artifact from falling into the hands of their sworn enemies, the Decepticons.

The Decepticons, consisting of Starscream (F-22 Raptor), Barricade (Mustang police car), Frenzy (CD player), Bonecrusher (Buffalo H Mine Protected Vehicle), Blackout (MH-53 Pave Low helicopter), Scorponok (mechanical scorpion) and Devastator (M1 Abrams tank), was already on Earth looking for their lost leader Megatron who had crash landed on Earth centuries earlier on his search for the Allspark artifact. To get the information they needed, they attacked US military installations in the Middle East and on board Air Force One to gain access into the military computer system to find out the location of their leader. Their actions brought them in contact with a team of military specialist led by Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Tech Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson) whose encounter revealed their existence to the US government. Led by the secretary of Defense (Jon Voight), the assembled team raced to stop the Decepticons from retrieving the Allspark cube with help from the Autobots.

“Transformers” is the type of movie that Michael Bay was born to direct. Say what you will about this director, he does know how to do eye-popping spectacles very well as proven in his previous outings in “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor”. The rapid fire pace of the action sets were a joy to experience as long as the audience doesn’t dwell too much on the subtleties of the action on screen. There is the outright requirement for some suspension of disbelieve in all of his movies and “Transformers” is no different in that regard. Given the subject matter and the well executed action set pieces, I would doubt that most of the audience would lose any sleep about the missing subtleties. Being able to finally enjoy a good old summer blockbuster type of movie after the disappointing previous offerings would be good enough for some.

On the human side of the acting equation, “Transformers” would fall under the category of a mixed bag in terms of the quality of acting. As main leads with the most screen time for the human actors, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox gave credible enough performances to retain the interest of audiences while the titular robots were not on screen. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson mostly tried to extend their limited range into the action hero genre with less than memorable success while Jon Voight mostly looked like he was just there to deliver exposition for a paycheck. Attractive computer specialist Maggie Madsen (Rachel Taylor) who worked with the US government to break the Decepticon’s transmission was mostly eye candy for male computer geeks who wished someone like that worked next to them in their cubicle. Other than eye candy, the character was quite pointless except for infuriating the audience who tried to figure out why she had an Australian accent.

The main draw of the movie would surely be the computer generated robots that thrill audiences every time they appear on screen. Using the best CGI that the Industrial Light & Magic special effects master had at their disposals, they were successfully able to impart life like qualities in all the CGI robots who looked very impressive on screen. The makers of the film decide to update the look of the robots by making them more complex looking compared to their original appearance from the early cartoon series. While this made them look hundredfold more impressive this time around, the almost whiplash pace of the action sequences involving the robots were far to fast for audiences to appreciate the levels of detail. The film makers also gave a nod to the cartoon fans by allowing the robots to speak which they initially did not plan to in earlier drafts of the film. Not only do the Autobots and Decepticons speak, they even had Peter Cullen who voice the original Optimum Prime in the cartoons reprise the same role in the movie. Hearing his voice behind the face of the new Optimus Prime was a fanboy’s pay-off for going to watch this movie.

The story frame as written by screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman served the film well even when the robots were not on screen. The comedic beats in the movie was delivered smoothly and at times fairly enjoyable to watch. Look out for the scene of Sam’s parents barging into his room as he frantically looks for the item that the Autobots were there for. Comedic moments aside, the screenwriters wisely focused the movie on gigantic robots beating the circuits out of each other. Watching the robots transformed from their vehicle to robot mode, while was quite repetitive and does require a stretch of the imagination to be believable, would never grow old especially when they are accompanied by the whirls and clicking transforming sound that we fondly remember. It was also amazing to see every cent of the production value on screen being destroyed by rampaging robots when they battle each other. One would not be faulted for wondering how they would top the action sequences from this movie when they do get around to making the sequel which based on the last frame from the closing credits is surely in the plans.

Unlike the line from the original theme song of the cartoon series, there is not much more than meets the eye in Michael Bay’s “Transformers”. What you see is what you get and what you get is an eye popping CGI spectacles that will thrill both those who grew up watching the “Transformers” cartoon and newbie’s alike. As long as the audience is willing to accept the tenuous logic that runs through the movie and not to dwell too long in the absurdities of how a small car can scale up to a 20ft robot then all will go well. So well that by the end of the movie, I would not be surprised if many would gladly pay to go through the experience again. A sure fire hit with the merchandizing aware crowd, this film is the film to watch out when it comes out on DVD and their toys would be the hot ticket on every kid’s (and those still kids at heart) shopping list. After the disappointing summer blockbuster fare in the past weeks, “Transformers” was a welcomed addition and definitely a must watch movie for this year.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Lemonade Time

Got some good news from my property developer this morning. It seems that they are willing to reinstate my voided S&P provided that I get financing on the unit as soon as possible. This means that as soon as I can get the bank to release the progress payment to the property then I will continue to have a claim to the unit. I guess that they would rather have a confirmed buyer now rather than leaving it to the open market. I couldn’t be happier since that means that I would not be losing the RM 18.5K I already dumped into the deal. It would have been too much of a heartache to lose all that money.

On the flip side of things, the pipes went dry in my current apartment over the weekend for no apparent reason or notice. It was just fine on Saturday morning when I took my shower and used up all the water I had collected to wash up my bathroom. The moment I finished washing the walls of my bathroom, the water flow slowed down to a trickle before stopping completely shortly after. I didn’t even get a chance to collect the water I need in my emergency water containers around my place.

I waited for the water to come back for a few hours before I gave up and called my brother to come pick me up. I had a load of wash that I absolutely had to do that weekend and going back to my parents house during the weekend looked to be the only viable option. So I went back on Saturday night, spent the night over and came back Sunday night to find that the taps were still dry. It was good that I was prepared enough to bring my huge water containers with me when I went back to Selayang or else I would have no water to bathe in this morning.

I do hope they fix the water problem today or else it would mean another trip back to Selayang to get water for tomorrow morning. Not that I don’t mind getting the free home cooked meal that my mum would practically force me to take when I go back but the thought of lugging those heavy water containers up 4 flights of stairs does not make me a happy camper. I guess carrying all that water will be my workout replacement for today’s workout session.

When life throws lemons at you, you better prepare to make lemonade.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Perhentian Trip '07 - The One With The Near Death Experience on Day 3

I actually slept quite soundly despite the warm night and woke up on the 3rd day of my vacation fully refreshed and ready for the day’s adventure. Had a quick shower and got ready for breakfast which was banana pancakes, toast, fruits and coffee. Food was actually fairly serviceable for the amount that we paid for the stay so I was happy with it. After we were through with breakfast, we rested up a bit and got ready for our snorkeling trip which was planned for at 9:30am that morning.

When our snorkeling tour guide’s boat came ashore, we found out that he was not told that we would not have any snorkeling equipment with us. Fortunately for us, the resort had enough snorkel gear for all of 11 of us so we got the masks and snorkel from them. Of course they did not charge us for them as it was already included in our total package. We did need life vests to wear which the resort didn’t have enough off so our first stop of our snorkeling trip was the jetty at Perhentian Kecil for more life vests from another tour operator there.

(Jetty at Perhentian Kecil)

After getting all the life vests that we needed, we traveled north along the shores of Perhentian Besar to our first snorkeling spot. On the way there, we passed many secluded beaches that seems only reachable by boat. I tried to make a note of their locations in my mind in case that I decided to go wild a get in a kayak trip up to these beaches later in the trip. These beaches seems to be perfect spots to get away alone or with someone special for some private time.

(Secluded beach reachable only by boat)

We reached our first snorkeling point about 15 minutes into the journey and got suited up to go into the water. Before we did, the tour guide gave use some safety tips and rules to follow while we were snorkeling in the area. The one tip that stood out most for me was when he said to remain calm if we saw anything unexpected under the water. When we asked what he meant by “unexpected”, he just smiled and said “anything that moves down there which is larger than yourself”. Even though he didn’t say it, I knew for certain that he meant sharks.

I don’t swim … at all. I am deathly afraid of situations where I am in water that is deeper than I can stand in. Most of all, I am terrified of encountering a shark in any body of water. I fully blame getting scared shitless after watching “Jaws” as a kid for my water phobia. There was no way I would not be psychologically scarred my whole life having watched that movie as well as the equally terrifying “Piranha” movies. I remembered there was a time back then when I would not even go near any bodies of water for fear of sharks and piranhas. I have only recently been able to overcome that fear and get myself into the sea with a life vest on. Hearing that there could be sharks in the water literally drained the blood out of my face.

(1st snorkeling site and the view of the sea bed from the boat using normal camera)

Having come that far, it would be a huge shame if I were not to go into the water. Since I don’t see any sharks fin cutting the waves in the distance, I guessed that it could be safe to snorkel around for a bit. I was the last of us who got off the boat having finally found the guts to overcome my shark phobia. Of course in the time that I was debating whether to go into the water, I had not noticed how the others got into the water. I did not see any ladders to climb out of the boat so I assume that everyone just flipped overboard into the sea. Since I made it a life rule to never jump headfirst into anything, I figured that I could just drop into the water feet first from the side of the boat.

Really bad idea !!! The moment the water came over my head, I quickly realized that I was plunging into at least 30 feet of water. I’ve always eased myself from the shore into deeper waters in my previous snorkeling trips so I was not expecting to sink so low so fast when I entered the water. I could see the rest of the group floating above me when I experienced a major panic attack. I honestly thought that I would sink down to the bottom even when I was wearing my life vest. I literally had my life flashed in front of my eyes and felt my heart was about to burst out of my chest. Fortunately for me, I was able to get over the initial shock long enough to stay relatively calm and let the life vest do its work for me. I finally came back up to snorkel depth but not before getting a lungful of sea water. I had to hold on to the boat for a bit as I sputter out the sea water and tried to calm down after those frightening moments. In hindsight, those long moments were the most exhilarating moments that I have experienced in a very long time.

(Friendly fishes bribed with bread for a surface photo-op)

Once I got everything under control again, I was able to got back under and enjoy my surrounding. Since we were in about 30 feet of water, the sea bottom looked quite far down. We could see the bottom quite clearly as the waters were crystal clear and sunlight filtered through all the way down. The corals here were more colorful that the ones that I saw the day before but still were not as impressive as the ones that I saw in Sabah. We brought bread to feed the fishes so it was quite easy to get them to come near us as we snorkel. There were times that I was completely surrounded by fishes that I swear I could feel them nibble on my skin which kind of freaked me out a bit. I took some pictures of them and the corals below using the underwater disposable camera that we brought with us with hopes that they would turn out OK since it was the first time I have ever used this type of camera (Ed note: I have yet to see the pictures to date). And yeah … we did actually find Nemo among the corals so I could tick that off my trip to do list that day.

(Nemo ! Found him)

After about 45 minutes snorkeling in the area, we went back to the boat to go to the next spot. On the way there, we went past another boat operator who signaled to our tour guide that there were turtles in the area. It was a really lucky day for us as it was fairly rare to see them that early in the day. We cruised around the area slowly hoping to spot them when the tour guide pointed out a dark shape swimming just a few meters in front of us. It was too deep to really see what it was but from the shape I could imagine that it was a fairly large size turtle. They came to that particular area to feed on the jellyfish that were abundant there. Since most of use could not swim well enough, we could not go into the water with our life vest on to go down to where the turtle was. The tour guide on the other hand was a expert swimmer who took our camera to see if he could take a photo of it before it swam away. I don’t think he managed to as the turtle moved on shortly after he went into the water but I did get to see it’s head when it came up for air just 5 feet from our boat moments later.

After the close encounter with the turtle, we proceeded to the next spot which as called Shark Point for obvious reasons. The area was frequently visited by black tipped reef sharks and people go there to see them up close. While the tour guide told use that these sharks were harmless as long as we don’t provoke them, there was no way in hell I would be going in the water. I’m fairly convinced that on top of blood, sharks could also smell fear and I would be provoking them with mine just being in the water. As some of my group went in, I decided to wait it out on the boat with the rest of us who thought going into the water with sharks is just crazy as I did. While we waited for the rest, the sea got a bit more rougher that when we started on the trip and I started to feel a bit queasy. Thankfully, it was just a momentary situation and by the time we went on to the next spot I was feeling OK again.

(Rocks off Shark Point. The thought of Jaws in the water was enough to keep me on the boat)

Unlike the first place, there were already few boats in the area and the place was filled with other people on their snorkeling trips like we were. I guess it was a quite popular place because of the particularly beautiful coral formations you see under the water at this spot. I finally found a place in Perhentian where the corals rivaled those I saw in Sabah. The fishes here were also much larger here that they were in the first spot we went to. I’m absolutely rubbish at identifying the types of fish that I saw but I’m fairly certain that they were parrot fish and whatever species that Nemo belonged to. I was able to practically snorkeling in the middle of a school of fish at times even with the number of people already in the water with us. I wished that I had not used up most of my underwater camera shot in the previous locations as this last spot gave even better photo ops to get pics of fish underwater.

Out last stop was a secluded beach where there was a natural fresh water spring that we could drink and bathe from. The natural spring water was amazingly sweet tasting and icy cold even when it was already high noon when we reached the area. After washing the salt water off our tired but greatly satisfied bodies, we rested for a bit before getting back into the boat to go back to the resort. Aside the initial shock of literally getting over my head, the snorkeling trip was a success and I was happy with it. I just wished that I was a better swimmer so I could snorkel down nearer to the corals at the sea bed where there were more to see instead of just waiting for the fishes to swim closer to you. Still the excitement of swimming in the middle of a school of fishes was really exciting and would not be forgotten anytime soon.

(Beach where the freshwater spring was)

When we reached the resort, we rested awhile before lunch which chicken curry, assam pedas fish, vegetables and white rice. Feeling absolutely knackered after the snorkeling trip, we all decided to take a nap after lunch and we only woke up at 4pm to go mess around on the beach a bit. I had planned to try my hand at kayaking and go to the secluded beach that I saw earlier in the day but the waves looked a bit rougher that afternoon than it was yesterday. Sure enough, there were ominous dark clouds that rolled into sight as the afternoon progressed. So instead of kayaking, I decided to rent a life vest and just float on my back looking up into the sky. It was then I saw a huge sea eagle circling around the area. I must have spent almost 2 hours just floating on my back watching that eagle traced it’s hypnotic circles around my head all the time hoping that it doesn’t mistake me as a floating carcass and decide to dive bomb for a bite.

(Beach side cafe and the general store where I rent my life vest daily beside it)

As day light began to fade, the clouds seemed darker in the horizon and sure enough it started to rain soon after. It was quite exciting having a front seat to watch nature’s very own light and sound show from the balcony of our chalet. We were suppose to have our complementary barbeque dinner that night and I wondered if we would still since it was raining. Turned out the rains were not that long and it stopped as quickly as it came. We proceeded down to the café where our barbeque dinner was already cooked and waiting for us. We had grilled squid, fish and chicken with rice and friend noodles for the night’s meal. My mum had tried to get a cake as well for tonight as my nephew was celebrating his birthday that night but it was too short notice for the café staff. Instead of cake, they brought out a watermelon cut in the shape of a round cake with slices of oranges as the frosting on the cake and pineapple cubes as candle. It was actually quite sweet of them to do it for us.

(Dark skies over Perhentian Besar)

It rained a bit again just as we were finishing our dinner so we hung around the café for some teh tarik and watch some TV on the small TV set that they had there. When the rains died down, we all went back to the chalet and just sit around to listen the loud crashing waves that came quite close to the edge of the beach where our chalet was. It was not until sometime around 9:30pm that I turned in for the night. It had been an exciting and tiring day that I would not soon forget.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Time to Cut Losses?

My long delayed apartment continues to give me more grief than it’s worth.

The latest headache came in when I found a letter from the developer waiting for me in my mailbox when I came back from work last Friday. I was expecting to hear from them about the project restarting again after being delayed for the past 2 years so I didn’t think much about the letter. Once I opened the letter and read it, I literally had to sit down and get over the shock to find out that the developers had terminated my S&P agreement for non payment. Not only that, everything that I have already put into the property was to be forfeited to the developer company.

For the past 2 years, I have been working with my bank representative to secure a new housing loan for this property. My first loan for the apartment had to be voided when the developer changed my unit after the local council did not approve the original floor plans for the apartment which unfortunately impacted the unit that I bought. When I tried to secure a new loan for the new unit, it came to light that the developer did not have an active developer loan number (or something to that effect) with the banks. This meant that I could not go to any bank to get financing to purchase the apartment.

Every time I talked to someone in the developer’s office about their loan number issue, I continue to get the assurance that it was looked into and that the banks will be advised to their new active loan arrangement. Month after month these past 2 years, I’ve constantly checked with my bank representative who by now knows me by sight if there was any change with the loan situation. In each occasion, I got the same answer back that the developer was still without a valid developer loan license.

While all this was happening, the developer was also sending me notices for penalty interest charges for late payment. At first I went ahead and paid them as they came as I thought that it was just a temporary situation. As the months progressed with little change in the loan problem, I began to withheld payment to these notices after discussing it with one of the staff from the developer’s office who advised me that the will suspend the interest penalty charges. At the time it made sense for me since the project itself was on hold due to financial troubles that the developer was experiencing.

A ray of hope seem to dawn earlier this year when they announced that the project was being revived by a more reputable developer. Everyone who purchased units in that project had to come in and sign a waiver that we would not claim any late delivery charges so the new developer could complete the project without added cost to them. Given that the alternative to the plan was having nothing at all to show for the money that we put in, the majority of the buyers agreed to the plan. I had hoped that with the new developer in plan, the bank would now get a new developer loan number for me but it was still status quo as of 2 weeks ago.

After reading the letter of termination that I got last Friday, I had to sit down and think about what I should do about the property. On one hand, I could cut my losses and start fresh by looking for another suitable property to purchase. This current property has given me nothing but headaches from the day I put my signature on the S&P agreement. On the other had, I already have RM 18.5K of my own hard earned savings plugged into that property and invested about 5 years of my time in it. Thinking about how hard I had to work to get that amount money back then makes it all the more difficult to let it go.

I gave the developer’s office a call this morning to explain my situation and to explore avenues left to me. Fortunately I got the promise that my case will be brought up to the management who will decide if I would be allowed to renew my S&P agreement with them with hopefully a new approved housing loan. I will get to know their decision by next Monday so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. If it works out that I will still have to forfeit the money and the apartment then there would be little more that I can do other than taking the punch and roll with it.