Posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2005
I started my morning at 10:30am with a walk to the Star Ferry terminal so that I could make my way over to Hong Kong Island and the city center (known here as "Hong Kong Central"). The five-minute ferry ride has got to be one of the biggest bargains on earth, as it costs a mere 28¢ (2.20 HK) to cross! This would be an indication of things to come, because most all public transportation is fairly cheap.
Unfortunately, the haze that blanketed Seoul has followed me to Hong Kong, and most of the city is obstructed by it...
I quickly notice that the building which represented The Noble House in the television mini series adaptation of the greatest fiction novel of all time... James Clavell's Noble House... was waiting for me right off the terminal. I just bought yet another copy of the book (my fifth) so I can read it yet again (at least my twentieth time). It's very cool to see all the places named in my favorite book come to life!
After a quick bus ride to the base of The Peak, I take a tram to the top that has been operating in the city for over 100 years...
The ride is pleasant, but frightfully steep in parts. The most amazing thing about it is seeing how very tall buildings and numerous roads have all been built into the hill-side. The density of people here has got to be the most concentrated I have ever seen, and it's a wonder that Hong Kong can support itself at all. The view from the top is incredible, even though the haze is so thick I can barely see Kowloon on the other side of the harbor...
The shopping complex at the top houses a Hard Rock Merchandise Shop but, sadly, no cafe...
I'm getting thirsty at this point, so I drop by McDonalds at the Galleria. They are featuring a special promotion for "Summer Corn Cup" so I decide to have a quick meal, and get some French Fries and a Red Bean Paste Pie (which is deep-fat fried as The Ronald McDonald intended it to be, instead of the baked pie that tastes like crap we have back in the USA). The corn is okay, but doesn't come close to the deliciously famous Quincy Corn from back home. I wish our McDonalds sold McCorn...
I then take a quick taxi ride down to Queen's Road where I walk to the longest outdoor escalator in the world. It's a quick and painless way to reach the housing and shopping in the Mid-Levels of The Peak. I dump off on Hollywood Road so I can go to Man Mo Temple and get my fortune told. Like so many buildings here, the temple is undergoing repairs...
Fortunately, my "Master Fortune Teller" spoke English, so that made things a little easier...
For $2.50 ($20 HK), you could get a quick 1-minute fortune. For $13 ($100 HK), you could get a full fortune and have a question answered. I decided to spend the big money, and asked "Will I live long enough to visit Hong Kong again in this life?" After shaking some coins, consulting some charts, and writing down a lot of Chinese characters, Master Fortune Teller told me that he sees I have some health problems (no doubt, I seem to be falling apart!), but they are all controllable and so I will live to visit Hong Kong again. In fact, he sees me returning to the city as early as October of next year! He further explains that I will fall in love with Hong Kong, and the memories will call me back. This certainly seems feasible to me, so I hand over the $100 HK and buy some crappy souvenirs.
From there, it's back to the Star Ferry so I can have a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is Kowloon-side...
It's a good property, with a nicely appointed merch shop on the first floor and a restaurant spread out over the second. Memorabilia is somewhat sparse, which is quite strange, because they certainly have the room for it. They also have a stage for live music, which should be standard at ALL Hard Rocks.
As I leave, I notice two things... 1) There's a Donna Karan next door, which I am afraid to enter, because I love DK clothing and would probably buy out the store. 2) There's a Pret A Manger across the street, so now I know where I'll be going for breakfast tomorrow morning! Is it too much to hope that they have roasted tomato sandwiches on their morning menu?
I was planning on ending the afternoon at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, but they are closed Thursdays so I am out of luck. Instead I decide to head back to my hotel so I can blog my day, and read a few chapters of Noble House before heading out to the Temple Street Night Market this evening.
All in all, a pretty good first day in Hong Kong, and it's not even over!
Posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2005
Hong Kong Harbor at night is pretty.
Posted on Friday, September 2nd, 2005
Since yesterday involved a lot of running around, today I thought I'd relax a little bit and just wander around Tsim Sha Tsui and take in a couple of museums. It's a real pity that I don't enjoy shopping, because it seems that's what everybody comes to Hong Kong to do. The lobby of my hotel is packed with people trying to load up all their purchases into boxes and newly-purchased suitcases so they can get it all back home.
But not me... I can't stand shopping, and have no desire to drag a bunch of crap back to the States. With the exception of a few Hard Rock Cafe pins and shirts I've packed away in my small suitcase, I'll be able to tell US Customs to kiss my ass. I am so tired of Customs Agents treating people like crap with their condescending attitude and abusive demeanor. I will never forget my very first trip outside the US when I was returning from Japan and was SCREAMED at by a bitch at Customs because I didn't have a receipt for a few cheap souvenirs I had bought. Never mind that my meager purchases couldn't possibly exceed the allowance, she was a bitch and wanted everybody to know it. In the dozens of times I've been subjected to US Customs, I'm guessing there have been only two times I didn't want to beat the shit out of somebody.
Anyway, the first museum I went to was the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which friends had told me was amazing. I was very much looking forward to my visit, and arrived just as they opened so I would be sure to have time to see everything. At first I was blown away by a very cool exhibit of Chinese brush painting... there were precious scrolls filled with stunning artworks that boggle the mind, and every new work somehow managed to top the previous one. It was art-lover's heaven.
But then I found out that huge chunks of the museum were closed due to changing exhibits and became enraged.
Changing out exhibits is a common event at museums, but usually it's done in stages. This way, only one major exhibit is closed at any given time. But the dumbasses at the Hong Kong Museum of Art had decided to close down most of the second floor, and the entirety of the fourth floor all at the same time... effectively halving the exhibits available. Needless to say, they didn't halve the ticket price.
So this was the highly regarded Hong Kong Museum of Art? To me it was more of a joke. A lame and amateurish production with little consideration for their patrons. Disgusted with the entire ordeal, I bailed after less than an hour so I could see if the Hong Kong Museum of History would fare any better.
Fortunately, it wasn't just "better", it was spectacular. All I knew of Hong Kong history I learned from reading the brilliant James Clavell novels Tai-Pan and Noble House (which were semi-fictionalized). But here was the whole story... from geological formation and Neolithic times... to the Opium Wars, British Colonization, and eventually return to China in 1997. And all of it beautifully explained with captivating displays, dioramas and audio-visual presentation. It is hands-down one of the best museums I've visited, and that's saying a lot. If you enjoy history even a little bit, there's a lot to love about the Hong Kong History Museum.
The period of Japanese occupation during the war is a delicate matter to be sure, but I think they did an admirable job of presenting it well. These were tragic times for Hong Kong, and the horrors of day-to-day life for it's inhabitants not a pleasant subject to dwell on. But it was the most memorable portion of the museum to me because of this image...
These are British (I think) residents of the colony being led off to a prison camp from which some were likely not to survive. It's a sobering image but, when you look closely, you see something remarkable and haunting at the same time...
Two of the guys are smiling. I find myself wondering what was happening at this one moment frozen in time. Perhaps the guy in the vest had said something like "smile for the camera, boys" and the guy in front with the black shirt thought it was funny. There's just something so undeniably "human" about it all that puts life into perspective. Even at your darkest hour, your world and everything you know is just a tiny slice of history. And then you realize it's not your life that matters, but how you live it. How you face adversity. How you find your humanity in inhumane conditions.
The joy and the hurt of it all.
Then I look at the television and see the horrifying images coming out of New Orleans and try very hard to keep all this in mind as I watch people struggle to survive in a city that means so much to me. It's heartbreaking and so very human all at the same time. A moment in history where people are having to face their darkest hour.
And doing the very best they can.
And that's why I get so pissed off when I hear people saying things like "well, they got what they deserved in New Orleans, because everybody knew it was bound to happen eventually." It just seems so petty... so unworthy of historical record that people would choose to address somebody else's tragedy with this kind of attitude. A wasted moment of time.
I mean, should San Francisco be abandoned because of the earthquakes? And what about L.A.? People have been talking about the impending "Big One" for decades. Or what about the tornados in Kansas? Should we evacuate the entire State? Typhoons have decimated Hong Kong more than once, should the area be vacated? Hurricanes also ravage Florida, should the Southern Coast to the Keys just leave? Wildfires plague the area I live in... should I be moving out? What about other dangers that plague our societies... flood, drought, landslides, and all the rest? What could go wrong in YOUR town?
We humans lead a fragile existence. There's always going to be something horrifying we have to face, and it's how we deal with it that defines us. Sure New Orleans has always been in danger of destruction from storm and flood. But you know how they face it? They throw a giant party every year and call it Mardi Gras. They developed a rich and unique culture and welcomed people to their wonderful city so they could share it. It's part of what makes me love the city so much, and the reason I am rooting for New Orleans to rise again.
Tomorrow is my last day in Hong Kong. I think I'll head back across the harbor and see what adventures I can find.
Posted on Saturday, September 3rd, 2005
How many people are happy when it rains on their vacation?
Usually, I am not bothered by the weather when I travel. If it rains, it rains, and I try to enjoy myself just the same. But the weather here in Hong Kong has been so hot and muggy that I am grateful for a break. I am tired of being drenched in sweat within five minutes of walking out the door. At least now when I'm wet, it will be for a good reason. Hopefully it will cool things down a bit as well.
I can only guess that the sudden rains are due to this big purple swirly thing that's sitting off the coast of China when I look at the weather map...
Here's hoping this doesn't turn into another swirly thing alert... Katrina's aftermath is enough just now.
Posted on Saturday, September 3rd, 2005
I hung around my hotel room until 8:30 this morning, because that's when the Pret A Manger down the street opens up at Harbour City. They don't have my beloved Egg & Roasted Tomato Baguette, but I still love the food there, and decided it was what I wanted for breakfast.
Except when I got there at 8:40, the sign on the door said they don't open until 10:00... despite their web site stating quite clearly that 8:30 was the time. Pret bastards. Why the f#@% bother to post hours on your web site if they aren't going to be correct? Far better to post nothing at all if you are not going to update them when things change. I registered a complaint on their site, and know that they will make the change straight away because they are an amazing company, but it doesn't make me any happier about having to eat at McDonalds this morning.
After another impossibly cheap ferry-ride across the harbor, I walked up to Queens Road so I could wander the market stalls in the side streets. As you might know from previous entries, this is something I enjoy quite a lot. Hong Kong is rather surprising in that many stalls are packed into narrow streets on steep hills. This made it difficult to take photos where you could see anything, but I eventually found a flat section where I could get a shot...
The produce was beautiful, and I could tell from the boxes that some of it was fresh from Mainland China. The Beijing tomatoes in particular looked quite tasty...
Then my eye caught something that made me laugh. Some stalls were selling Red Delicious apples from my home in Washington State! They looked to be in great shape so, of course, I had to buy one. Red Delicious is not my favorite variety of apple, but it was kind of strange to travel half-way around the world to buy something from my own back yard. Eating it made me feel right at home, and at a price of 5 for $11 HK (28¢ US each) they were quite a bargain...
Despite the rain, it is still a bit miserable outside. The only difference is that instead of being hot, sweaty and miserable, now I'm hot, sweaty, miserable and soaked. But that's okay, since I'm not meeting my friend for dinner for three hours yet. Still plenty of time to blog, check email, and get cleaned up.
And speaking of email, the week would not be complete unless I get some wacky hate-mail. This time it's from a guy who has written to me a few times before, usually telling me that something I've done is getting me sent straight to hell. Apparently my visit to a fortune teller (which I'm told is an "instrument of the devil") from the other day has me queued up for a trip to hell... again.
Whatever. Fortune telling is a huge part of Chinese culture, and I'll be damned (heh heh) if I was going to miss out on the experience. It's part of exploring other walks of like, and is the entire reason I like to travel. Religious whack-jobs may feel that it's better to stick their heads in the sand and insulate themselves against all possible contact with other people's beliefs, but I think that's just stupid. That kind of lame superior attitude is what makes Americans so roundly hated the world over.
Besides, it was just for FUN! I put as much weight on fortune tellers as I do this really cool Bocca della Verita palm reading machine I saw at The Peak on Thursday...
It's just like the real "Mouth of Truth" I saw in Rome! (well, except the original doesn't have a slot for money like this one). Wouldn't it be great to have one of these in your living room for parties?
Wah. Now I have to go get ready for my last night in Hong Kong.
Posted on Saturday, September 3rd, 2005
I dropped by the Hard Rock for drinks with a fellow Hard Rocker living in the city, but he kindly suggested I might like some Chinese for my last dinner in Hong Kong. Turns out he knows of a vegetarian-friendly place, which is a pleasant surprise. I had pretty much resolved myself that I would never be able to eat any local foods here, because absolutely everything contains some form of meat, seafood, or fowl... or is cooked using the juices thereof.
But, before heading out, he thought there was something I might like to see across the street. "Oh, I've been to the Harbour Mall, I say." Undeterred he replied "Yes, I'm sure you have... but you've not seen what I am going to show you or else I am certain you would have written about it in your blog." Intrigued, I agree to brave the crowds at the same mall where I had wanted to eat at Prat Pret earlier this morning.
And, as we walk through the largest shopping center in all of Asia, suddenly I see what it was he had wanted me to see.
Loads and loads of candy. Here's a shop filled with nothing but chips and cookies and biscuits and sweets... most of it imported from Japan. This is a huge deal for me, because I live for this crap...
Fortunately, my friend is a patient guy, and indulges me to spend the next twenty minutes buying out the shop. I buy loads, even though I have no idea how I am going to get it all home. Most of it is familiar to me, but there are some unique treats I'm tempted into trying. $40 US later, I'm leaving with two bags of treats that will most likely be entirely consumed on my way home. Here's just one bag of it...
The biggest find is my much-craved "Lucky Mini Almond" which is the incredibly tasty Meiji version of the Japanese cookie treat known as "pocky" (pronounced "p'oh-kee"). I buy four boxes. They also had Meiji "Qun" (gushing gummy candy) in sour grape flavor, which is another favorite. It would seem I'll be flying home on a sugar-high.
As we leave the mall, I spy Frank Lampard staring at me...
It's a Chelsea Football fan shop. Sure enough, the lads are in Chelsea blue, but I'm a bit puzzled as to why all their shirts say "Samsung Mobile" instead of "Emirates" (who I thought was the Chelsea sponsor). Perry?
Anyway, after dropping my booty of candy treasures off at the hotel, we're off to a spectacular dinner where I ate far more than I should have... I end up full to bursting. With no room for dessert, we head back to the Hard Rock so I can pick up a couple HRC souvenirs, and then walk around the neighborhood a bit to try and burn off all that food. Eventually, we're all caught up talking, and it's time for me to go back to the hotel and pack up for my early-morning flight.
And just like that, my Hong Kong trip has come to an end.
Posted on Sunday, September 4th, 2005
I woke up entirely too early this morning and, since I packed everything up last night, this leaves me with nothing to do for a good two hours yet.
I thought I would write a quick summary of all the things I'll remember from this trip, but I'm pretty sure that anything I take away will easily be overshadowed by the tragedy unfolding for the victims of Hurrican Katrina. As anybody who has read Blogography for any amount of time already knows, I have a deep... almost sacred... love for the city of New Orleans. It hurts quite badly to know what's happening there, and I go to bed each night with my heart aching, then wake up each morning overwhelmed with despair. I am not an emotional person, but entirely too many important memories are tied to this city, and I find myself grief-stricken in a way I don't understand. Especially considering I don't know anybody personally who has been devastated by the flooding.
The only thing saving me is the feeling that it's not actually happening. It's easy to do when you are in a foreign country half a world away where everything is different from what you're accustomed to. In a strange way, it's acting like a buffer between me and what I know to be a very real catastrophe back home. Right now all I can do is make donations to the relief effort and hope against hope that our government gets their shit together and finally provides some help to people who desperately need it.
But then I am reacquainted with the grim facts given by the Mayor of New Orleans, and the despair starts to set in again.
Fortunately, there are also the words of our Fearless Leader to make me feel so much better...
You know, I really sympathize with the fact that President Bush is trying to be encouraging here, but must he whip out these idiotic statements every f#@%ing time? I can forgive a lot, but it was Dubbyah's joking about starting a war that broke the camel's back for me, and it's been a long and painful down-hill slide ever since.
You would think at some point Bush would realize "hey, I always seem to make these embarrassing and inflammatory statements, so why don't I just shut-the-f#@%-up already?" But oh no, right when his slow response to the crisis is being criticized as racially motivated... he's got to try and comfort a Nation by telling us that some wealthy white dude's house is going to be re-built better than ever? Given the thousands of deaths that continue to mount even now, exactly how stupid do you have to be in order to see how this is an incredibly moronic thing to say? I mean, THIS is "good news?" Does he ever think before opening his f#@%ing mouth? Or does he just not care... he knows that people think he's a dumbass, and so he just does his part to live up to low expectations?
I remain utterly dumbfounded. And more than a little bit angry. I could go on about how fascinating it is that the so-called "leader of the free world" doesn't have a decent enough grasp of the English language to understand that "rubble" is already a plural, and "rubbles" is not even a word... but that would just be kicking a goober when he's down.
All we need now is to hire Halliburton for the clean-up, and the circle will be complete.
It's going to be a long, sad, plane-ride home (assuming the thunderstorms allow me to leave Hong Kong at all).
Posted on Monday, September 5th, 2005
Well that was a big bucket of non-stop fun.
I just upgraded Movable Type to version 3.2, which is the blogging software that runs this site. To put it bluntly, the upgrade process sucks ass. After spending hours on two crash-and-burn installs (thank the maker for backups!), I was about to give up. But then I read some forum commentary about NOT upgrading the installation, but instead creating a NEW installation in a NEW folder.
Piece of cake.
How incredibly stupid that SixApart doesn't have this bit of wisdom in their docs, because it would have saved me a lot of wasted time. For anybody wanting to "upgrade" to MT 3.2, here's what worked for me...→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on Tuesday, September 6th, 2005
When it comes to what people like to read here, I don't really care to analyze it. I write what I write and people can choose to read it or not. So when it comes to visitor counts and popularity indexes, and all that kind of stuff... I'm just not that interested. Mostly because stats packages are just too darn complicated to be bothered with.
There are two things I do need to know, however...
The bandwidth is easy enough to monitor, because it's right on the front page of my site control panel. The broken links, on the other hand, are a mess to ferret out of the error log and link referral listings. You can never seem to get broken links without wading through a bunch of crap, and often times I just don't bother.
This really nifty app gives you a smart and streamlined view of statistics for your site at a glance. I've been running it for only a few hours, but already find it indispensable. It's all the things you want to know, without all the junk that gets in the way. As if that weren't enough, it's beautiful to look at too, with a web interface that features dynamic resizing and customization to die for.
Want to know what pages are popular? It's right there, sorted however you want it...
And note the error page. Now that I know about it, it was a simple fix. Bingo. Exactly what I wanted to know. But there's tons of other stuff too... referrers, visitor count break-downs, even the searches people are using to find you, all arranged how you want to look at it...
Pretty sweet. But Mint is also extensible by using easy-to-install modules called "Peppers" (for Pepper-Mint... peppermint... get it?!?). They currently have a Pepper that monitors internal searches, and another that displays browser stats...
Well that's depressing.
The truly shocking bit is that all this only costs $30. A bargain at twice the price. Especially when you factor in that author Shaun Inman provides world-class support for his product. I was having some troubles using Mint with my virtual domain, and he reset the license so I could install it just minutes after I emailed him the problem... and it was approaching midnight at the time! Try getting that kind of help from Adobe or Microsoft.
Anyway, if you are looking for a way of monitoring your web stats that's quick and painless, Mint is worth a look. Just be sure you can meet the requirements and run the compatibility test before shelling out your $30.
Posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2005
Have you ever been tagged with a meme that you could swear you've done before... but can find no trace of it in your archives? Yeah, me too. Maybe it's just that, after two years of rambling on, I've talked about all this stuff at one time or another and it just seems that way.
Oh well. It's nice to get it all out in one place. Anthony, this one's for you:
Seven things I plan to do before I die...
Seven things I can do...
Seven things I can not do...
Seven things that I find really attractive about the opposite sex...
Seven things I say the most...
Seven Books I love...
Right about now, I'm suppose to be tagging a bunch of other people for this meme, but I've sworn not to do that anymore. That being said, doesn't this seem like a job for Chronic Listaholic? And I must admit to being curious as to how Karla, everybody's favorite Textpatriate would answer these questions.
Posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2005
And the Apple domination of downloadable music continues. As absolutely everybody on the planet is probably aware of by now, Apple just finished up a media event to announce a new Motorola iTunes phone and the stunning iPod nano.
It's so sad, but I want one quite badly. This is despite the fact that I already own a full-sized iPod (which I never use) and an iPod Shuffle (which I use constantly). It's just too cool not to own one, and my life suddenly seems incomplete until I have one...
How do they do that? It's like the size of a cookie.
As for the iPod "ROKR" phone... well, I don't know that I really care to have one for the music capabilities. The reason I want it is because it's so tightly integrated with the Mac for transferring my address book and stuff. The fact that I have to dump Verizon in order to get it is not a problem, because it's not like Verizon has bent over backwards to service their Mac customers. If Cingular has the vision to support my platform of choice, then that's the company I want to be with...
I will miss Verizon coverage, which is sweet despite being the antiquated and crappy CDMA version instead of the internationally accepted GSM (finally, an international phone for me!)... but I won't miss their crap phone selection with their even crappier phone features (Bluetooth is only JUST NOW arriving in their phones which is a total joke). I also won't miss their greedy policy of charging me for features that should be free (e.g., you can't download photos you take, because they make you spend the money to email them to yourself, which is balls-stupid).
Hey Verizon... can you hear me now?
Posted on Thursday, September 8th, 2005
After a very full day at work, and a run to Wenatchee for a scary visa photo, I finally had a chance to watch the Apple Media Event that His Royal Steveness streamed via QuickTime.
It made the iPod nano look even more desirable.
All because the smaller size does not mean lesser functionality. They even added features to it. Usually, this would be a down-side to me because I feel elegance lies in simplicity... but since I don't lug around a clunky PDA, I am kind of digging the photo album, world clock, calendar, address book, and everything else... all in such a tiny nothing of a package. So very sweet for the wayward traveler.
I totally can't afford one because my "toy allowance" went to Katrina relief this month, but I suppose that's what credit cards are for.
I ordered mine in white, because it seems so much more classic.
After plunging myself into debt (yet again) I took some solace in the fact that the latest v5 release of iTunes was a free download. In the SteveNote, I could tell that Apple has started to diminish the now-antiquated "brushed metal" effect. What I couldn't see (until I installed it) was that the new streamlined look comes with a glaring bit of retro-harshness. The once beautifully rounded corners have bin nipped off with a clunky little edges that aren't even anti-aliased. Brutal.
I'm not sure what to make of the lack of window edges. It seems that if Apple revises their OS windows this way in the future, they'll all kind of blend together badly. That frame around the edge may make the window bigger, but it serves a purpose. The bizarre thing here is that it's yet another level of disjointed interface elements within the MacOS that keeps drifting further and further into clumsy abandon. If they keep mucking it up like this, soon we Mac users will be worse off than those poor Windows-using bastards we make fun of.
Did somebody accidentally toss out the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines book at Apple?
UPDATE: Strange. I just noticed that iTunes 5 has the capability to store lyrics as part of the song information. How many minutes until somebody writes a tool that automatically downloads them from a lyrics server and pops them into the files. I wonder if there is a way to display the lyrics in lieu of the "visualizer" within iTunes?
Posted on Thursday, September 8th, 2005
Everything sucks today! E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G-!!
I woke up this morning sick to my stomach and wanting to puke my guts out. It only went downhill from there.
I got to work and had to use Microsoft PowerPoint most of the day. MICROSOFT POWERPOINT SUCKS ASS! After using the sublime elegance of Apple Keynote for Macintosh, being forced to use PowerPoint is the equivalent of getting kicked in the balls by a lumberjack in steel-toed boots. All the little niceties that Keynote provides to make work so easy are gone. And, adding insult to injury, PowerPoint creates the ugliest, most horrifying, most boring slideshows imaginable. Hard to work with. Nasty results. Somebody remind me once again why people use Microsoft shit when something so much better is available? Insanity.
During my overindulgent 15-minute lunch hour, I got to fill out forms for an immigration visa application. PAPERWORK SUCKS ASS! Ultimately, I had a hard time figuring out which blows more... the inconvenience of filling out the forms, or the abhorrent photo of myself I had to attach to the application. I don't envy the person at the embassy who has to open the envelope. I envision them pulling out the papers, seeing the photo, and then running screaming from the room. After a Xanax and a bottle of Abolut Vodka, they return to their desk and deny me a visa based of the fact that I am just too heinous to enter the country. Does ANYBODY take good passport photos?
Once I finished up my PowerPoint ordeal, I then spent the next half-hour digging through loads of spam and other crap that had piled up in my email "In Box" during the day. Then I noticed an email from a friend telling me that Depeche Mode American tour dates had been released. This doesn't suck. This is the best news I've had all day. Until I look at the actual dates... only to learn that Depeche Mode lands in Seattle on November 16th. Of course, I'm not here on the 16th. I'm a couple of thousand miles away that day. NOVEMBER 16th SUCKS ASS! WTF? Am I not entitled to ANYTHING going right today? The best band in the universe, who I've been waiting to see on tour for a decade, finally comes to town and I won't be able to go. WAAAAAAAAAHHH!
Once I get home. I check on my blog only to find I have a shit-load of spam comments waiting for me. Turns out that SixApart's much-vaunted "SpamLookup" feature in the new version 3.2 of Movable Type doesn't work very well. In fact, it doesn't work at all, and makes things much more difficult than using good old MT-Blacklist (there's no one-click "mark as junk" anymore... oh no, now you have to navigate a drop-down menu and then click "Save Changes", which is lame). Banning commenters doesn't seem to work (no big surprise, I can't seem to get "trust commenters" to work either). It could be that I'm doing something wrong, but when I click on the "documentation" link to find out, there is no documentation. MOVABLE TYPE SUCKS ASS! Who the f#@% ships a product with essential... nay, F#@&%ING CRITICAL... documentation not available? It's like "here's your blog, good luck with that spam shit, because we've got better things to do than tell you how to deal with it... like adding features to non-paying LiveJournal users or something." This is lame. Manually marking up spam is not fun. Especially when it is so obviously spam in the first place.
You'd think after a day like this, I'd get to go home and relax for a bit. You'd be wrong. By the time I'm done, I'll have spent 6 hours trying to get my scheule for the next two months figured out. MAKING TRAVEL PLANS SUCKS ASS! Trying to coordinate flights from one side of the planet to the other, along with hotels, trains, tickets, and all the other crap that goes along with it is exhausting work. Right now, I have hotels without flights, flights without hotels, and a few days where I don't even know where I'll be, or how I'm getting to where I need to be going. I decided to take a break from the chaos to blog my day, but talking about it is only making me feel worse. If I make it to bed by midnight tonight, I'll consider myself very, very lucky.
Things had better be better tomorrow, or else I cannot be held responsible for my actions.
Posted on Friday, September 9th, 2005
I have never, ever, in my 26 years of computer use regretted upgrading software more than when I installed Movable Type 3.2. Ever since installing it, I have been regularly receiving HUNDREDS of spam comments each day that are somehow not junked. The new "SpamLookup" filter is total shit. It doesn't learn ANYTHING. You would think that once you mark a spam as "junk" the filter would learn to mark all future occurrences as junk. You would be wrong. On top of that, marking commenters as "trusted" or "banned" doesn't work... they are never registered. Even worse, my feeble attempt to add keywords and keyphrases to the SpamLookup preferences have all met with failure. I don't know if it is because the entire plug-in is not working, or whether I am doing something wrong. Since there is ABSOLUTELY NO F#@%ING DOCUMENTATION, how can I know? I am familiar with perl expressions, and have tried dozens of different variations... but nothing works. I go to the SixApart forums for help, but nobody there is getting their questions answered.
I would switch to WordPress or another solution, but I just don't have time to create all new templates, import 1100+ entries, and figure out how to keep from breaking old links. So now my options are to either keep manually junking shit-loads of spam, or turn off comments entirely. I don't know who I am more pissed-off at... spammers, or SixApart for letting them get to me.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I just received another three email notifications for spam while I've been typing this. Oh wait... one of them is from Karla... make that two.
Posted on Saturday, September 10th, 2005
I just spent the past five hours hacking my own blog. I've made several changes, added plug-ins, modified plug-ins, and changed templates. I've done extensive testing after every step, so hopefully everything works okay... but if you run into any problems viewing entries or making comments, please let me know. My email address is on the sidebar of every page.
And coming this evening... an entry one week in the making! An entry so all-consuming that it very nearly destroyed my life! An entry that will astound you with the fact that I could waste so much time over something so geeky and lame! An entry that could be THE LAST BLOGOGRAPHY ENTRY EVER!!... and it's all James Bow's fault!
P.S. Bad Monkey is on the loose. I'd apologize in advance if he bites your ass, but you probably had it coming.
Posted on Saturday, September 10th, 2005
A week ago, just as I was in the process of flying back from Hong Kong, James tagged me with an excellent meme: "If I Were a SuperHero." As a long-time fan and lover of comic books, I was duly excited, and spent the two hour layover I had in Japan coming up with a few ideas and sketching them out.
But then I couldn't stop.
All week, whenever I had a spare moment, I worked up dozens of heroes I thought would be a good fit for me. Pages and pages of them. Ultimately, I knew that something had to be done... my life was being destroyed over a meme. So I decided to narrow the choice down to my top-ten favorites...
...and make it into a collectible card game.
Since this is going to be a pretty big entry, I'll post the first half tonight, and the remaining five tomorrow. James, I hope you're happy!
Supreme Pontiff. Elected to the head of the Catholic Church, Dave became Supreme Pontiff... The Ass-Kicking Pope! Armed with the psychic power to explode people's heads and backed by his faithful followers, Dave uses his Papal Power Staff to smite evil non-believers and people who piss him off. Weakness: flying spaghetti monsters.
Strength: 3, Agility: 4, Charisma: 9, Intelligence: 7, Fighting Ability: 6, POWER RATING: 7.
Dave-Devil. Consigned to hell by his right-wing, conservative, religious wacko Blogography readers, Dave quickly rose through the ranks of Satan's army to become Dave-Devil... The Unholy Terror! Able to crush his foes with his fists of flame, Dave-Devil has near-impervious skin, toughened by the fiery brimstone pits of hell itself! Armed with an evil glare and demonic laugh to paralyze his prey, Dave uses his demonic touch to burn his enemies to their very souls. Weakness: televangelists and holy water.
Strength: 7, Agility: 4, Charisma: 4, Intelligence: 2, Fighting Ability: 7, POWER RATING: 4.
The Lone Dick. As one of the most irritating, annoying people on earth, Dave trained in the monasteries of Los Angeles to become The Lone Dick... a shining shaft of light in the fight against crime! Able to control his molecular structure, The Lone Dick can harden to become impenetrable... but, when nervous or upset, can become ultra-limp and slippery, making him impossible to catch. Dave blasts his foes with his dual Dick Pistols, which spray forth a viscous liquid to immobilize all who would dare oppose him. Weakness: nuns, Bea Arthur, fat chicks in spandex.
Strength: 3, Agility: 7, Charisma: 2, Intelligence: 6, Fighting Ability: 3, POWER RATING: 6.
Tube Dude. After becoming so addicted to watching television that he used to his superior intelligence to merge his brain with a TV set, Dave because Tube Dude... the televised avenger! Able to instantly recall complete episode guides for any television program ever aired with his satellite uplink, Dave uses this vast knowledge to defeat his foes with the power of television. Tube Dude attacks his opponents with his cable whip, and a nuclear-powered remote control that can emit a powerful laser force field. Weakness: dead batteries, stupid network executives with cancelation powers.
Strength: 3, Agility: 3, Charisma: 5, Intelligence: 8, Fighting Ability: 2, POWER RATING: 2.
Stalkerman. Finally succumbing to his overwhelming love of Elizabeth Hurley, Dave used his vast fortune to become Stalkerman... the teleporting scourge of the underworld! Able to instantly teleport to any location on earth, Dave uses his stalking skills to defeat those who would oppose his will for world domination (and to secretly stalk hottie movie stars). Stalkerman is all but undefeatable when using his flash-punch to pummel his enemies from afar. Weakness: paparazzi, tabloids, restraining orders.
Strength: 3, Agility: 9, Charisma: 9, Intelligence: 7, Fighting Ability: 8, POWER RATING: 8.
Tune in tomorrow for the rest... it only gets worse from here...
Posted on Sunday, September 11th, 2005
Comic books have been a very large part of my past, and continue to be a source of enjoyment for me even today. They've changed over the years, of course, trying to compete in a world of ever-escalating violence and fun-time alternatives like videogames... but the idea of escaping into the utopian world of super-powered heroes is just as appealing now as it has always been.
Actually, the escape is more necessary now that it has ever been.
Anyway, onward to concluding the saga of the "If I Were a SuperHero" meme from yesterday...
The Davenator. Modified by aliens from the future, Dave received an impervious endoskeleton, giving him fantastic strength and transforming him into The Davenator... unstoppable force against injustice! Armed with every conceivable weapon he can find, The Davenator mows down his foes with bloody abandon. Weakness: The Governator.
Strength: 8, Agility: 6, Charisma: 3, Intelligence: 3, Fighting Ability: 9, POWER RATING: 7.
Monkey Boy. Bitten by a radioactive monkey, Dave became Monkey Boy... the simian protector of the innocent! Armed with his bananarang, Dave boldly goes where other heroes fear to tread. Infused with radioactive monkey saliva, Monkey Boy received a number of fantastic powers... including his fierce "monkey bite" which can gnaw through bones, his ear-splitting "monkey screech" which stops foes in their tracks, and his "howling bitch-slap" which can annoy even the deadliest of opponents. But the most frightening tool in his arsenal is the deadly "Poo fling" where Dave can throw his radioactive monkey feces at villains, temporarily blinding them (and making them smell like crap). Weakness: Buckaroo Banzai, Lord John Whorfin, Black Lectroids.
Strength: 3, Agility: 7, Charisma: 4, Intelligence: 4, Fighting Ability: 3, POWER RATING: 3.
Captain Road Rage. Fed up with the number of stupid drivers on the road, Dave tricked out his automobile with deadly devices to become Captain Road Rage... motor-powered predator of the streets! His faithful Saturn is armor-plated, and able to tear through even a soccer-mom's Hummer with ease. For those driving slow in the passing lane, Dave often uses his "Sonic Death Horn" to liquify them until they're nothing but a stain on the pavement. Lauded by good drivers everywhere, Captain Road Rage uses his network of "road warriors" to stay one-step ahead of the law. Weakness: road blocks, highway construction.
Strength: 4, Agility: 3, Charisma: 7, Intelligence: 5, Fighting Ability: 8, POWER RATING: 5.
Anger Lad. For years Dave absorbed all the stupidity in the world until one day it exploded within him as all-consuming rage, causing him to be reborn as Anger Lad... furious avenger of sanity! With no real superpowers, Dave has to rely on his righteous fury to batter his foes into submission. Armed only with a foul temper and deadly ranting skills, Anger Lad can easily dispatch common idiots, politicians, talk show hosts, spammers, and whack-jobs, in a flurry of obscenities. Weakness: kittens, rainbows, Betty White.
Strength: 3, Agility: 3, Charisma: 5, Intelligence: 8, Fighting Ability: 2, POWER RATING: 2.
UltraDave. The epitome and culmination of the perfection that is Dave, he has evolved to become UltraDave... glorious overlord of all mankind! Using his god-like powers, Dave can pretty much do anything he wants to do. Dave spends his time making the world a better place for his loyal followers, and bringing blessings and prosperity to all who serve him through his divine might. ALL BOW BEFORE ULTRADAVE, OUR BELOVED RULER!! Weakness: none.
Strength: 9+, Agility: 9+, Charisma: 9+, Intelligence: 9+, Fighting Ability: 9+, POWER RATING: 9+.
Okay then, that was fun! Though, if I start spending this kind of time on future blog entries, it will seriously be time to give it up and move on to something more productive!
Posted on Monday, September 12th, 2005
Much to my shock and delight, the iPod nano I ordered arrived today!
I've only had it for two hours, but it is already one of my most favorite gadgets ever. It has the functionality of a full-sized iPod, but the portability and unobtrusiveness of the iPod shuffle. It is, without a doubt, the finest MP3 player I have yet owned or played with, and once again catapults Apple to the top... nothing else can touch it. It is a stunning display of both design and functionality that has me wishing that Apple would move into other markets. What I wouldn't give to have an iToaster.
The sound quality is stunning... about on par with my iPod shuffle, and slightly superior to my 2G full-size iPod. Unlike the competition I've tested, the volume gets plenty loud as well. The only downfall is that Apple continues to include these suck-ass earphones. I mean, for what they are, they sound okay... but the only way to go is to use in-ear phones. Fortunately, I've got a great pair that really maximize the quality that iPod is capable of.
The display, despite its tiny size, is remarkably crisp, clear, and easy to read. This means that the teeny, tiny little picture of the album artwork is recognizable enough to be useful. Also, the miniscule cards are readily discernible in the included Solitaire game, and the world clock (something I will use OFTEN) is just beautifully rendered. I don't know how they managed it, but the iPod nano is also capable of displaying your photographs, and easily syncs with iPhoto to make it happen. Another nicety is that it will sync with your address book and iCal calendar as well, so it is quickly becoming part-PDA as well as music device.
The iPod nano includes aforementioned crappy earphones, a dock adaptor (THAT DOESN'T FIT MY DOCK!!), a USB-2 connection cable, and a CD with drivers and outdated iTunes software. No FireWire cable is included, which sucks so much ass that I don't even know where to begin... FireWire is a standard that Apple championed, yet they f#@% over the Mac faithful by tossing USB-2 in the box? WTF? Only the most recent rounds of Macs even support USB-2! This means I have to transfer songs over painfully slow USB-1 on my Titanium PowerBook (which is where all my music is). The included adaptor looks like it is supposed to convert my old full-size iPod dock (which has FireWire) to work with nano, but it doesn't fit right... maybe my dock is too old? Oh well, if you just jam it in the dock without the adaptor, it works just fine, which is all I care about (you can, of course, use the cable alone as well). Still, lack of FireWire support out of the box is a notable f#@%-up in an otherwise miraculously perfect product... especially if you don't have a previous model to "steal" from. Okay, this f#@%ING SUCKS... the iPod nano doesn't support FireWire AT ALL! Even if you use an older cable with a FireWire connector. When you plug it in, it comes right up and tells you so. You can still use the dock... with a USB cable... but FireWire is entirely forbidden. This is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!!! If Steve Jobs was here, I would bitch-slap the shit out of him for such a dumbass move. First Apple puts FireWire on everything, then stops supporting it? Thanks a lot f#@%ers. Shit like this is what turns faithful Apple whores into vengeful Apple haters. I am very, VERY pissed. F#@% APPLE... F#@% THEM UP THEIR STUPID ASSES!!!
I've seen some people complain that there isn't enough storage, which is crazy given the size of this thing. 1000 songs at a time is more than enough for me, and I've got a full-sized iPod If I ever want to carry my entire library around. I suppose the extra space would be nice for photos, but I don't think people will be using iPod nano as a substitute for a photo album considering there's no video-out and the small screen makes sharing difficult.
SURPRISES: The iPod nano comes with a stopwatch (with lap timer!), which I didn't see in any of the press materials. The small click-wheel is even more comfortable than the larger wheel on my full-size iPod. The calendar is actually worth using.
DISAPPOINTMENTS: Other than the missing FireWire support, there's only one other quibble... lack of a lanyard so you can wear the thing. Sure there's a "combo" model coming out that integrates headphones into the lanyard, but they're the same crappy earphones Apple is using already. I want a lanyard that lets me use my own earphones. No doubt there will be one soon, but this is a good reason to hang on to your iPod shuffle until something is released.
All in all this is a mind-blowing product. If you don't own an iPod, there are no more excuses, because the iPod nano is practically perfect IF YOU HAVE USB-2. If you already do own an iPod, then this is probably an excuse to upgrade IF YOU HAVE USB-2. Highest possible recommendation IF YOU HAVE USB-2.
Posted on Tuesday, September 13th, 2005
Today I received a sweet fan-mail that had so many nice things to say that I got a little bit choked up reading it. They started off by telling me how much they like my writings and my cartoons... then they went on to say how much they love that they can count on something new at Blogography every day... then they had to tell me that this is their favorite blog and that they often go back and re-read old entries because they find them so entertaining.
At this point I was feeling pretty special. I mean, you like me! You really like me!
But then I got to the end of the e-mail where it said this: "Too bad you rarely comment on the more serious things going on in the world today. I'm sure your readers would like for you to tackle something important from time to time."
I never rehearse or plan ahead what I'm going to write here. I just open up my PowerBook when it's time to write, and whatever happens, happens. But, in the interest of pleasing a fan, I thought I'd try commenting on the serious issues other bloggers are talking about. And since I don't know what they might be, I'll just visit one of the many blog aggregators out there and take a look at the top ten things that people are searching for...
Funny, that didn't seem so different from other entries. Maybe I did it all wrong.
Posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2005
NEW! Google Blogs. Google has released a search tool exclusively for blogs. I guess that makes it "Bloggle?" I'm not very impressed... at least not yet. The search results often look totally random, even when sorted by date. In addition, problems I have with other search services haven't been fixed with Google. For instance, when I search for my name, my own blog doesn't show up in the results. This is despite the fact that my name appears in the sidebar of every single page here. WTF?
NEW! Bankruptcy. Today both Delta and Northwest filed for bankruptcy (or, to make it sound pretty they are calling it "restructuring"). This is kind of sad, because if our major airlines start crapping out, it's going to be really interesting trying to go anywhere when you have to string together a bunch of uncoordinated hops on small carriers. United Airlines, who has gone through bankruptcy itself in 2002, shows that surviving is possible... but operating conditions are getting progressively difficult. My guess is that fares are finally going to start climbing to levels where people are not going to be able to afford it. This, in turn, will cause airlines to shrink or die. Entire tourism industries to fold. More people to lose jobs. We are trapped in a downward spiral and nobody seems to be trying to find a way out. I'd say this is a job for our government but, well, you know...
NEW! Hero Cards. I've received quite a few emails wanting to know how to make hero cards. Just in case anybody is serious, click here to download a ZIP archive with a blank card in both Adobe Illustrator and GIF format. The GIF blank requires you to add your own text... the Illustrator files have text in place. Have fun.
NEW! Television. I just realized that I'm going to be gone as most of the new television season is starting up. Even worse, my TiVo doesn't have room to record everything I'm wanting to see. Even worse than that, my TiVo appears to be dying and I can't find a dual-tuner replacement. And just when you think you can't get any worse, it's been revealed that TiVo is going to start allowing networks to limit how long you can store their shows and disallow you from transferring them to tapes or DVDs. As if TiVo couldn't suck any worse after having canceled their Mac version of TiVo2Go, now they are actively hostile towards their customers. Hopefully DirecTV will come up with another option soon, so I can drop TiVo and tell the dumbasses to bite me.
NEW! Transporter. I am a huge fan of the first The Transporter film. Jason Statham kicks major ass, and tears through a fight scene better than just about any white guy I've ever seen. And when you get down to it, fight scenes and killer car chases are what an action film is all about. It helped that the script was actually worth a crap, but I suppose I should have expected as much from Luc Besson. Keeping all this in mind, I was freaking out when The Transporter 2 was announced, and Statham and Besson were both back onboard. This time, the action has moved to Miami, and "Frank" is a hired as a fill-in driver for a powerful politician's son. But when the son is kidnapped, the plot grows a bit complicated, and more sinister motives are revealed. Is it as good as the first movie? Not even. There's too many slow moments that attempt some really forced drama, and a few of the stunts go way past the relm of believability. But, as far as action films go, it's still pretty good. If you were a fan of the original, it's worth a look just so long as you keep your expectations in check.
UPDATE: Bwaaaahh ha ha haaaah! Thanks Susie! I have no doubt that a bitch could kick my ass... it's been done too many times before...
UPDATE: Now Patrick has a really cool card up! I think "1EE7 H4X0R" would make for a sweet battle against "Tube Dude" by hacking his nuclear-powered remote control!
Posted on Thursday, September 15th, 2005
I'm growing accustomed to disappointment.
When you do just one thing, you'd think that you'd want to do it right. Take Baskin-Robbins for instance. All they sell is ice cream. And because all they sell is overpriced ice cream, you'd think that it would be the best f#@%ing ice cream money can buy.
But you'd be wrong.
Tonight after dinner I went to Baskin-Robbins for a Chocolate-Almond ice cream cone. When I got one, I noticed that it wasn't really ice cream at all. It was balls-nasty sludge from the bottom of the container... all gross and stringy with a chewy, grainy texture that tasted like ass. Even the almonds were mushy. Why would you serve something like that unless you never, ever wanted somebody to come back again? And it's not like there's something different on the menu I can buy... ALL THEY SERVE IS ICE CREAM!! So, needless to say, I ain't going back any time soon. I can buy a full half-gallon of cheap-ass generic ice cream at Safeway for the same price as a waffle cone that tastes better than this crap.
And then there was my master-plan to dump Verizon for my mobile service so I could have a phone that actually works outside the USA. Since My contract is up in a few days, I decided to go ahead and switch. Cingular has just partnered up with Apple, so I thought I'd give them a try. If nothing else, I am assured that I'll have support for my OS choice.
So I surfed on over to Cingular to price out the plan, phone, and options I would be wanting. It was a bit disappointing, mainly because the only free phones you get are the crappy ones. I then remembered a friend who had gotten a great deal from Amazon, and decided to try there. Thanks to a rebate and some other goodies, signing up through Amazon saves me $420 over the life of my 2-year contract. Hmmm...strange. Well, since you can't deal on a web site, I printed out the price comparison and headed to the local Cingular store to see if they had an offer that would get me closer to what I could get with Amazon. The answer? An immediate "NO!" They don't "deal."
That's kind of bizarre when ALL YOU SELL IS MOBILE PHONES!! Oh well, Amazon here I come. I hope my new phone gets here before I have to leave the country. It would be cool to call home from someplace foreign.
Expensive, but cool.
REALLY expensive, but cool.
Speaking of foreign places, another two or three hours tonight, and I think my travel schedule will finally be complete for the next two months. I'm kind of happy about that... even if I don't have a chocolate-almond ice cream cone to celebrate with.
Posted on Friday, September 16th, 2005
Greatest Fark headline ever: "Secrets of Delphi found in ancient text. Science no closer to discovering terrible secret of Turbo Pascal." (of course, not very many people will "get" that, but for those of us who were computer programers in the 80's, it's pretty darn funny).
Posted on Friday, September 16th, 2005
Today was National POW/MIA Recognition Day, set aside for remembering those whom our country has forgotten. Those Prisoners of War or Missing in Action in service of their country.
Most people misunderstand my reasons for supporting a full accounting of our POW/MIAs. It has nothing to do with supporting war or violent acts... in most instances, I most definitely do not. It has everything to do with supporting those who risk their lives to serve their country. These people were called upon to do something most of us could never do, and they deserve better than to be abandoned far from home. For the sake of these brave souls and the friends, family, and loved-ones they left behind, I cannot ever forget.
It's a shame there has to be war at all... but even worse that those who fight on our behalf have to live with the knowledge that they could be discarded by those they have sworn to serve. We should demand more on their behalf, and never forget those not yet returned home.
"A man is never dead until he is forgotten."
Posted on Saturday, September 17th, 2005
WARNING! BORING TECHNICAL ENTRY AHEAD!!
Thanks to a comment from Patrick I've implemented gzip compression on all the pages served up here at Blogography. I pretty much had no choice, because my bandwidth is rapidly approaching quota for the month (again), and I'm running out of tricks. I've tested random pages on various browsers and everything seems to work okay. Though I suppose if it isn't working for you, I'll never know, because you won't be able to read this to know what's happening.
Remarkably, this actually seems to be having an effect. In just 14 hours, my bandwidth usage has dropped by about 16%, and pages are served slightly faster. Sweet! I had no idea that HTML contributed so much to the problem, and was always blaming everything on the abundance of images I use. If you are curious to know if your pages are compressed, or how much bandwidth you could save if they are not, there's a nifty online tool to check your domain.
Another change, thanks to monitoring my logs with the ridiculously clever Mint, is that I've repaired hundreds of broken links I didn't even know I had! When I changed the way my entry archives are named about 7 months ago, I thought that search engines would eventually figure out they shouldn't be linking to the old ones. I was wrong. Google has regularly been sending people here using busted links from over a half-year ago. Isn't Google supposed to be smarter than this?
Anyway, I created a very simple template in Movable Type to generate a list that maps old busted links to new fresh links, and then just copied all 1000 lines of permanent redirects to my "htaccess" file. Simple. Problem solved.
This weeks list of interesting search engine referrals...
Looking over that list, I think that it makes this blog sound a heck of a lot more exciting than it actually is.
UPDATE: Spent the past hour adjusting more little things that were bothering me... all by manually modifying the SQL database. If you know how SQL works, it's a very powerful way to make bulk changes in minutes that would have taken hours by hand, but is scary, scary stuff if you make a mistake. At a couple of points I thought for sure I would have to restore from backup, but always managed to dig myself out again.
Posted on Saturday, September 17th, 2005
Tonight I went to a showing of Just Like Heaven with some friends from work. I was the only guy in the theater. For a chick-flick, it was a pleasant surprise. Mainly due to stars Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, who waltz their way through this romantic comedy almost effortlessly.
The story revolves around Ruffalo's character "David" who moves into an apartment only to discover that it is already occupied by Reese's character "Elizabeth." Problem is... she's a ghost... or is she?
The first half of the film is a bit cliched, but entertaining. The last half a bit sappy, but also entertaining. So overall not such a bad flick, and the dialogue is fairly snappy which is always a plus. Even if you can see the ending coming from miles away, there's always Reese to look at, so some fumbling in the plot is excusable.
The title of the film, Just Like Heaven is from a song by The Cure. I was a bit upset when they opened the movie with some other singer interpreting the song in a very different way, but the Robert Smith original played over the closing credits, so I guess it's all good. What's not so good is that they have the song Brass in Pocket in the film which is not sung by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders... instead they got somebody else to sing it just like Hynde which leaves me asking "what's the point?" Why not just use the original if you want it to sound the same? Probably a money thing, but whatever.
If they're looking for another song by The Cure to base a movie on... I suggest Fascination Street. That would be a sick bit of deliciously naughty cinema!
Posted on Sunday, September 18th, 2005
I didn't bother to watch the Emmys because the most deserving shows never seem to win.
And there was an new episode of Family Guy on.
But, now that the winners have been announced, I figure I might as well dissect the results...
Now I am even more glad I didn't bother to watch, as I would have been screaming at the television most of the time. I mean, Everybody Loves Raymond... are you f#@%ing serious??
Posted on Monday, September 19th, 2005
Today be Talk Like a Pirate Day... the most funnest day ever!
First me had t' go get a pirate name (I was dubbed "Legless Harvey Dread").
Then I be playin' a fine pirate game.
And then I be wearin' me finest pirate garb...
...so that I can be watchin' a fine pirate film!
Posted on Monday, September 19th, 2005
If you are a Star Trek geek, then there is a screen saver called "System 47" by meWho that may very well be one of the coolest screen savers since Flying Toasters. It's available for both Mac & Windows, and is well worth checking out.
If, however, you are a Mac user with a multiple-monitor set-up, then "System 47" IS the coolest screen saver ever, and you should download it immediately (they brilliantly play the monitors separately, which was an unexpected bonus you don't get from most screen savers!).
Oh... did I forget to mention that it's freeware?
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to pretending that I'm a Starfleet Captain...
Posted on Tuesday, September 20th, 2005
It's time for new TV!
Supernatural. Supposed to be spooky. I figured that out when they posted a notice before the show telling you to turn out the lights. Not bad. Not great. "Alex" from Dark Angel is here, as is "Dean" from Gilmore Girls. I'll try it for a few more episodes, but every time I watch I'll be thinking one thing: "Why couldn't they have kept Miracles on the air?"
Threshold. Oooh! The aliens are going to invade not from space, but from a mathematical equation! Promising sci-fi horror show with a who's-who cast that boggles the mind. Peter Dinklage alone will keep me watching. The initial two-hour pilot was a bit covoluted, but at least it tried to keep moving. I think that when it gets cut back to its regular 1-hour running time it could be something interesting. I worry that viewers won't give it a chance.
Surface. Oooh! The aliens are going to invade not from space, but from out of the ocean! And who cares, because this show is slow. Slow. Slow. Slow. At least with Lost they started out with a bang and THEN got slow... here we're starting off boring from the very start. Lake Bell, who I loved in Boston Legal, is a gum-smacking waste of space that is annoying to the point of horror. I hope the sea monsters eat her very soon. Not that I'll ever be tuning into another episode. I predict this will be one of the first casualties of the season.
How I Met Your Mother. All the laughs seem forced, though I think there is enough promise here that it could become something worth watching if they find their "groove." The premise is certainly nifty enough. Neil Patrick Harris, who totally stole Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is once again chewing up every scene he's in, and is easily the highlight for me. He provides one of the best lines of the night as well... "Look at you, you beautiful bastard! You suited up! This is totally going in my blog!!"
Kitchen Confidential. I always thought that Bradley Cooper was wasted on Alias, and this new show proves me right... kind of. It's hard to tell, because I don't like the supporting cast at all. Andrea Parker had a surprise appearance, but it looks as though her character is gone, leaving nobody worth watching (including a sleepwalking Frank Langella and vapid Nicholas "Xander" Brendan). The sad part about this is that Bradley Cooper delivers, and the show's concept is brilliant. Having worked in a couple of kitchens, I know there's delicious material to draw from. I will be watching to see if the cast rises to Cooper's level here, but I remain skeptical... yet hopeful.
Las Vegas. ACK! WHAT HAPPENED TO NESSA HOLT ON LAS VEGAS?!? They seem to have replaced the sweet hotness of Marsha Thomason with the skanky scariness of Laura Flynn Boyle. Now why in the heck would they go and do something as stupid as that? What a revolting development. Oh well, at least Sam is still around. As a P.S. here, I think the new design for the Montecito is stupid... both inside and out. The giant waterfall is ludicrous, and when you marry it to some really bad CGI, the casino looks like a joke. The good news is that they finally got fresh "fly-by" material of the city (including the new Wynn hotel), because I was tired of looking at the old crap over and over.
Medium. Cannot believe that Patricia Arquette won an Emmy over Kristen Bell for her work here. She is not at all bad as an actress, and I actually enjoy her character... it just seems so out of league with what's going on at Veronica Mars. Its one saving grace is the fantastic supporting cast and smart, creative writing team.
Next up... the most acclaimed new comedy of the season, My Name is Earl starring fan-favorite Jason Lee. Bitch-Queen of the Universe Martha Stewart gets an Apprentice knock-off. More alien invasion nonsense with the aptly titled Invasion. Chris Rock brings the funny with Everybody Hates Chris. And Jennifer Love Hewitt takes another stab at destroying television with The Ghost Whisperer.
Posted on Wednesday, September 21st, 2005
I loathe shopping.
I really, really do. There are few things I enjoy less.
That's why I so rarely do it. I buy most everything online and have it sent to me. On those rare occasions when I do have to venture out, I don't actually "shop" per-se... I just go directly to the store that has what I want, and buy whatever is available. No looking for options. No comparison shopping. No hunting for hot sales. No running around trying something better. If the store doesn't have it, I buy whatever is the most similar.
Here are the stores I shop at...
That's it. I don't go anywhere else. I may not always get exactly what I want (and I'm sure I don't get the best price) but I don't much care. The time saved from actually "shopping" makes it all worthwhile to me. Today (well, yesterday now) I had to make a trip to all three of my stores, plus get a haircut. It took three hours, including the 40 minutes it takes to get to Wenatchee and back, plus the time to run across the river to Target.
I'm telling you this to put things into perspective. I go after what I want, and don't mess around when it comes to getting it.
Except, it would seem, when it comes to getting a mobile phone.
Shopping for a mobile carrier sucks ass because if you make the wrong choice, you are trapped in a 24-month contract. One goof and you pay for it for the next 2 years. And it doesn't help that there is no "right choice." There are plusses and minuses for each option...
After spending hours pouring over plans and phones and costs and all the rest, I eventually settled on Cingular. Mostly because they had the next-best coverage after Verizon, and would allow me an international phone so I can call or be called everywhere. Unfortunately, that didn't work out, and the customer service was too frustrating to make me want to stick around.
And that's when something miraculous happened. I was bitching to Verizon about a problem with my phone and brought up how frustrating it is that they don't use GSM phones for international use, and how I was planning on dumping out of my contract because of it. The very nice lady on the other end of the line then goes on to tell me that they now offer "Global Phones" which are combination CDMA/GSM and can be used anywhere. I'll get great coverage locally, as always, and also be able to roam globally via GSM... all with the same phone number!
It was a very expensive $550 phone (and doesn't have BlueTooth) but, as incentive not to leave, Verizon made me a nice offer. It was still more than I wanted to pay... but, just like when I "go shopping," the effort saved was worth the additional cost to me.
Now, I realize that not a lot of people travel as often as I do, but why would Verizon keep this amazing option such a secret? It's buried on their web site in some obscure corner of a FAQ and even the customer service agent had to dig to find it. Bizarre.
Oh well, one less thing for me to do before I have to pack my suitcase.
Posted on Thursday, September 22nd, 2005
It seems like only yesterday I was whining because Depeche Mode was coming to Seattle and I was going to be out of the State.
Well, okay, it wasn't yesterday... it was actually two weeks ago. But still, I was positively crushed that I wouldn't be able to see my most favoritist band ever in concert. It never even occurred to me that I might be able to catch them in a city other than Seattle, until Kevin had left a comment asking about attending his local concert in Chicago. As it turns out, I was going to be in Milwaukee then... just a measly two hours away. Sweet! Looks like I'll be playing the angel after all.
And, thanks to a special promotion that iTunes was running, I was able to score us pre-sale tickets that aren't too bad. The only painful part of the entire ordeal was paying the $9.95 PER TICKET service fee that the TicketMaster bastards charge on top. Yeesh. Do I get lubricant with that?
It's nice to have something to look forward to.
So what I am doing up way too late tonight... errr... early this morning?...
Posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2005
Finally got around to watching My Name is Earl (which is brilliant), Invasion (which shows promise), and the season opener to Lost.
I just don't know what to make of Lost. I mean, had this been the season finale instead of the lame piece of crap show we got months ago... I might be happy. But as a season opener, it's a bit tame. Sure they gave "the hatch" an interesting twist, but when you stop and think about it... there's not much else to it. Somehow I doubt the explanation as to what was down there is going to blow me away, but I remain hopeful.
It will be interesting to see if this season works like last season, where they start off with all the cool stuff and then gradually run out of ideas and drag out the remainder of the season into mindless tedium.
And then there's J.J. Abrams' other show, Alias, which sucked so bad the last couple of seasons that I find myself wondering if I am even going to bother watching this time. I'll probably give it a try to see where they go with the "Vaughn is not Vaughn" story, but what can they do once the pregnancy hits?
Argh. How many days until Veronica Mars' new season starts??
Posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2005
It's 3:45am and I've just woken up. In just over 20 hours, I'll be in China... that's after 15-1/2 hours of flight time with 5 hours worth of layovers in Seattle and San Francisco. It sucks to be me.
It's now 5:22am and I am enjoying the free wireless here at our little local airport, Wenatchee Pangborn Field. I'm hungry, but the only restaurant here has long-since gone out of business.
It's now 7:05am and I am in Seattle eating a delicious Qdoba Egg & Potato Breakfast Burrito after having been told that there isn't a seat for me on the flight from San Francisco to Shanghai. Such is the peril of flying United where I have -zero- status with the airline. But it sure beats getting a "full-body skin rash that itches like hell and doesn't respond to any medical treatment."
It's now 7:47am and I have just spent 20 minutes attempting to find out if I am actually going to get on the flight to Shanghai. The first gate agent tells me he has no idea, and I will have to check and see when I am in San Francisco because the flight "must be sold out." But then the Customer Service Desk opens up so I try again. When I explain the situation, the lady there is completely mystified as to why I wasn't given a seat, because there are plenty available. She even manages to find me a window-seat so I can sleep (even though it is all the way in the ass-end of the plane). Part of me is a little bummed out, because it would have been great to spend the night in San Francisco so I could go eat fortune cookies.
It's now 7:56am and I am paying the outrageously stupid price of $6.95 for an internet connection. I don't have much choice, because I didn't make it through my inbox at work yesterday, and need to get caught up before leaving the country. Wayport bastards. Why not offer connection by the hour at a reasonable rate?
It's now 8:52am and my plane has just arrived. It is very small.
It's now 9:02am and I have done about all I can do with work just now. Everything else will have to wait until I get to China. For the past half-hour a loud-mouthed idiot seated across the lobby has been blathering into his mobile phone LOUDLY about random political crap nobody wants to hear. From what I can tell, the call was initiated by a rather tasteless Bush-bashing television commercial that runs through the administration's failures (up to and including the Katrina fiasco), and then puts up a picture of Dubyah with the word "LEADER" underneath. But then "MIS" drops onto the screen spelling out "MISLEADER." Get it? HA HA HA HA! Whatever. Apparently, these people would rather waste money on television commercials that tell people what they already know, as opposed to say... donating the money to Katrina victims where it could do some actual good. Dumbasses. How much does a commercial on CNN cost? Enough to buy some food and clothing for a lot of people I'll bet.
It's now 9:20am and they will be boarding my flight to SFO soon. This is a good thing, because an obnoxious bitch screeching into her mobile phone sat down next to me and I'm about ready to kick it up her ass. I'm totally doped up on Ibuprofen right now, which means my back isn't bothering me much at all so I could totally do it.
It's now 1:32pm and this will be the last entry for today. In a few minutes, I'll be climbing on a 12-1/2 hour flight, trying not to go insane from the horrors of being trapped in a tiny space for a half-day. Once again I find myself in the unenviable position of leaving the country just as a hurricane is going to hit... knowing that I won't know what's happening until I land and get to my hotel. The good news, if you can look at it that way, is that Rita has been downgraded to a "Category 3" which means potentially a lot less damage. That's something.
See you in China.
Posted on Saturday, September 24th, 2005
I just got here and it's already been an adventure.
Most Chinese natives do not speak English, and I was well aware of this fact before I left the country. It seems only fair, considering I didn't even attempt to learn Mandarin for the trip. To this end, I thoughtfully asked my hotel to email me directions to the property in Chinese characters so that my taxi driver would know where to take me. I'm a swell guy that way.
So as we are heading into the Shanghai from Pudon International Airport, I start to get concerned. Not because I've nick-named my driver "Speed Racer" because of the way he zips in and out of traffic at high speed while flashing his headlights and laying on the horn... but because something doesn't feel right. In preparation for my trips, I always make it a point to memorize a "map" of the city so I can get my bearings and spend less time being lost. But as we approach Shanghai, I notice that we are heading nowhere near the location of my hotel. Upon closer examination of the Chinese address, I notice what appears to be a postal code, but it doesn't match the code of the address I have in English.
They sent me the directions to the wrong hotel.
After a feeble attempt to explain the problem, I finally give up and get across to him to take me to the "wrong" hotel. From there I find somebody who speaks English to give my driver directions to the right hotel. He was a very good sport about the entire ordeal, so I left him a much-too-generous tip and wave goodbye as he tears off into the night.
There's a half-hour of my life I won't be getting back.
On the bright side, I did get a nice tour of the city lights by night. I also get to fill in another country on my map (well, since Hong Kong is once again part of the Middle Kingdom, I suppose I could have filled in China already... but it didn't feel right until I step foot on the mainland).
It's 8:30pm (vs. 5:30am), so I am going to force myself to stay awake another couple of hours so I am synced to the time zone here. This may be a bit difficult considering that I've been awake for 26 hours now.
Hmmm... the maid just came for turn-down service and left me a nifty snack. It's like a small Rice Crispies treat, but with a hint of orange. Delicious!
Posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2005
Today was a very full day with lots to share, so I will probably be breaking the time into multiple entries.
This morning I decided to stop Pudong-side and go up the tallest building in China, Jin Mao Tower. It is a beautiful building with breathtaking views of the city from the 88th floor observation deck. This is looking towards Central Shanghai, with Pearl Tower foremost in the shot...
They have a window inside the tower so you can look all the way down to the reception lobby below. Everything is bathed with a golden light, so it is quite beautiful...
From Jin Mao Tower, it is only a short walk to Pearl Tower. This is a mighty cool structure, and you can go all the way up to the tiny third "ball," which they call the "Space Module"...
This is looking back toward Jin Mao Tower...
And then the opposite side, toward Central Shanghai...
The Chinese people are very hard working and kind, and their friendly demeanor is what makes Shanghai such a great place to visit.
Until it's time to queue.
Once it's time to form a line, the exceedingly warm and gentle Chinese will turn into a dragon. They will push, shove, weasel, cut, squirm, mangle, cheat, and no doubt kill to get ahead of you in the queue. Men, women, young, old... it makes no difference. I have had old women with canes, use their stick like a wedge to push me out of the way so they can get in front of me. There was one man who couldn't squirm past me so he SQUATTED DOWN AND CRAWLED PAST ME!! It is truly shocking to see this kind of behavior, because it is so unexpected. You really have to see it to believe it, and even then you may not trust your eyes.
There was a group of British tourists ahead of me in line for the Pearl Tower elevator. If you've ever been to Great Britain, you know that they have a natural talent for queueing... almost as if it were in their DNA or something. Every line in the country is orderly and very proper. Because of this, even more amusing than watching the Chinese do everything in their power to get ahead in line, was the horrified reaction of the British tourists watching it happen. They were mortified, and could not stop talking about what they were witnessing. Listening to their conversation was worth the price of admission!
This is not true of ALL Chinese, of course, but it is a high enough percentage that you grow tired of it very quickly. It's almost so bad that you don't want to visit any attraction with a queue. Oh well. After a while I developed some meager abilities to combat the line-cutters (usually making myself as wide as I can, holding on to rails, and using my backpack as a shield), so I imagine it gets better with practice.
Posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2005
After my experiences at the towers, I still had time to kill so I went to the Shanghai Aquarium. This is a truly spectacular place with dozens of beautiful dioramas that entertains you both above and below the waters. There are also several underwater walkways where the fish swim all around you. I've seen this kind of thing before, but never has it been used so ambitiously.
This is a really cool aquarium... certainly one of the best I've been to that I can recall...
This little guy was continuously reaching into the water to "pet" the reef sharks, sting rays, and other fish (despite a sign warning in English and Chinese not to do it). I was wondering if there might be piranha in the tank as well, and was worried that he would end up missing a finger or something...
After the aquarium, I needed to go to the other side of the river to meet with some friends for tea. I decided to take the "Bund Tourist Tunnel Tram" which actually goes through a tunnel UNDER the river. It's a psychedelic light show that's pretty bizarre. I think it's actually meant to be an audio-visual art project, because you've got a man speaking english who boldly introduces the various shows with odd phrases like "Acid Lava" and "Star Swirl." Afterwards, a lady will repeat the words in Chinese, but very softly. It's a unique experience, I'll give it that much.
While waiting for my friends, I wandered around the area for a bit. Eventually I spied a tiny kitten, barely bigger than the palm of my hand, who had to come and say hello. I wanted quite badly to take him home, which happens a lot when I travel (like here and here, for example). I guess cats must like me...
I then ran across this sign, which I thought was funny (also something I've done before)...
After tea, my friends and I walked through the cool shopping district in the area. Right in the middle of it all, there's what I think is a "wishing tree" where you can toss a ribbon with a coin attached into a tree. If the ribbon stays up there, your wish comes true. I don't know about all that, but it was a very beautiful site...
Apparently Starbucks is taking over the world, even in The Middle Kingdom. This has to be one of the more interesting I've seen...
In the shopping district, you can buy just about anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G! I saw gloves, scouring pads, toys, kitchen utensils, clothing, shoes, antiques, and everything else you can imagine. Since I am not much of a shopper, this is all lost on me. About the only thing I really wanted was a Chinese lantern, because they look so cool hanging in the shops...
Once our meandering and chatting was over, my friends went off to meet with their family so that they can discuss their plans for heading up to Beijing on October 1st to celebrate "National Day" (named for the founding of the People's Republic of China) which is the most important of Chinese holidays, and is celebrated for an entire week.
I said my goodbyes, promised I'd look them up in Beijing when I get there, and then headed off to The People's Square and the Shanghai Museum.
Posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2005
I love museums and, lucky for me, Shanghai has an amazing property right on People's Square. The collection contained within The Shanghai Museum is a mind-bogglingly beautiful treasure trove that took me 2-1/2 hours to go through, and even that was at a rushed pace. I could have easily spent half a day there.
They have displays of jade carving, pottery, seals, coins, furniture, brush painting, calligraphy, statues, and much more... all beautifully arranged in a really nifty building...
There were many pieces I loved, but this statue was a favorite. His disapproving stare just cuts right through you...
Once outside, I sat at the fountain and watched the kids at play. Chinese Children are adorable, friendly, and very curious. More than a couple times they would come up to say an enthusiastic "hello!" and then wait for you to say "hello!" back so they could say it again. And again. And again. This little guy was particularly friendly, and was happy to have his photo taken...
I later learned that this area of People's Square is a popular place on Sunday because it becomes an "English Corner" where Chinese students of English go to practice their skills. As I was taking photos, I met a guy (Lane) and his girlfriend (Lucille) who were kind enough to strike up a conversation with me. We got on well enough that they asked if I wanted to go with them to a tea house so they could purchase some souvenir teas for their families and talk along the way. Lane's English is better than mine, so it made for fun conversation.
Once at the tea parlor, they asked if I wanted to go to a "Traditional Tea Tasting" which was a fantastic highlight to end my day with. It was made even better, because Lane was translating everything, giving me an understanding about what was going on that I never would have had otherwise...
There were six teas we sampled, each with a fascinating history and purpose. Everything was perfectly orchestrated, and then entire ceremony... from how you hold a tea cup... to the proper water temperature... to what was in it... to where it came from... was given. We also got introduced to the "tea god" who brings you good luck when you pour tea on his back...
The teas we sampled: Ginseng Tea, Jasmine Tea, Fruit Tea, Mountain Green Tea, Li Zhiong Black Tea, and the totally fascinating "Five Golden Flower Art Tea". That last one was the kicker. It starts out as a tea ball with green tea leaves wrapped around five chained flowers. As the water is poured on the ball and it steeps, it unfolds to become a work of art that tastes amazing...
Lucille wanted very much for me to take some back with me, but I can totally envision the Customs Agents searching my bag to find THIS inside...
Can you say "felony drug possession?" I picture myself being dragged away in handcuffs while screaming "IT'S JUST TEA! BOIL ME SOME WATER AND I'LL SHOW YOU... IT'S JUST TEA! IT'S JUUUSSSTTT TEEEEEEEAAA!! It broke my heart to have to decline, but that kind of trouble I just don't need in my life.
After tea, we exchanged email addresses and parted ways. They are also traveling to Beijing for "National Day," so we might yet meet again before I leave China.
I was going to go to the top of the Peace Hotel to see the city lights from their NightBar, but it had been a very full day, so I decided to save that for my next trip into the city. All in all... not a bad day for Dave.
UPDATE: This is a common type of scam in China, so be sure that if "somebody invites you for tea" that you ask for pricing first, and explain that you are ONLY paying for YOUR tea. Usually, it's two or three girls who approach you, and then you find out that "girls don't pay in China" and have to pay for everything. In this case, I told Lane pay for his girlfriend so, if it was a scam, I was only out the $50 for myself (which was worth it to me, because the whole thing was actually kind of cool).
Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2005
Today was pretty much work all day, but on the way back into the city my host rushed me to the ancient village of Zhou Zhuang (aka "Zhouzhuang," about 90 minutes west of Shanghai) so I could try and visit before it got dark. This is a quaint little fishing village that has been kept much the same as it was in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911)... except now the structures are filled with tourist traps, where shopkeepers yell at you to view their wares as you pass by. It's kind of sad, in a way, because there's simply too many people competing over too little profit. I can't help but wonder how some of them manage to get by.
Anyway, Zhou Zhuang is cut by a series of canals, and is linked by beautiful stone bridges. You can walk along the narrow streets, or hire a boat to take you along the canals. The boats are kind of Venice-like, in that the oarsman or oarswoman will serenade you with a song as they push through the water.
Kind of a cool way to end the day by seeing China as it once was...
I'm whipped. Knackered. Exhausted. Beat. Destroyed. Something tells me I might be able to get a little sleep tonight. That would be a pleasant change from the 3 hours I managed to get last night.
Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2005
Knowing that I needed to get caught up with work in the afternoon, I started the day early so I could visit the Temple of the Jade Buddha. It turned out to be more of an adventure than I had thought it was going to be.
I have been skydiving, bungee jumping, diving with sharks, race car driving, held up at knife-point twice, and had a multitude of other dangerous encounters throughout my life. But all of those pale in comparison to taking a taxi through the streets of Shanghai. Especially when you get a driver with a death-wish. Taxi drivers aren't supposed to smoke, play the radio, use their mobile phone, or spit... mine did everything but smoke and, given the ride I had, I kind of wish that I was the one with a cigarette. It was especially disturbing considering that he didn't know where the temple was (despite being a famous landmark) and had a map in his face a good portion of the time.
So there I was, bouncing around in the back seat with LOVE RADIO blasting so loud that my eardrums were bleeding, all while we were tearing through the city at a reckless pace... laying on the horn the entire way and watching the map instead of the road. There were moments where I was thinking to myself "so this is how I'm going to die is it?" And then watch helplessly as the taxi skidded around a corner, narrowly missing a mass of bicycles and pedestrians.
By the time we got to the temple, I was ready to shave my head and become a monk so that I wouldn't have to go through that again.
But the temple itself is pretty sweet, and well worth the dangerous journey to get there. You are not allowed to take pictures of the actual Jade Buddha (which is exquisitely beautiful), but there are plenty of other sites to photograph...
I particularly like the little lion guardians that are everywhere around the temple. Many of them had red "wish ribbons" tied around them, which made for a cool photo subject...
On the way out, I pass through the gift shop so I can get me a wooden "Happy Buddha" statue to take back with me. Given my luck with taxis, I can use all the luck I can get.
Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2005
After my near-death experience getting to the Temple of the Jade Buddha, the ride back into the city center was positively tame. Since I ran out of time on Sunday, I decided to drop by the Shanghai Museum of Art to see the current installation. The museum itself is relatively small... just two rooms with a connecting hallway. There were maybe fifty paintings in one room and 35 in the other.
Turns out that what the museum lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.
The current showing was for a brush artist named Wu Guanzhong, and it was remarkable. Stunning really. I couldn't afford it, but I ended up buying the show book because there was no way I could leave without it.
As I was leaving, I noticed an interesting sign out front...
I had seen a similar sign forbidding psychos in taxis (apparently this excludes the driver), but dismissed it. When I started paying attention, I noticed that signs forbidding psychopaths are actually quite common. This lead me to wonder if psychos are wandering the streets of Shanghai or something (just like New York!).
Once I had finished up at the museum, I was starting to get hungry. Noting a McDonalds down the street, I decided to see if they had the miraculously yummy fried pies that are prevalent at all McDonalds except those in the USA, where we get the shitty baked crap instead. Sure enough, fried pies!! As I sat down with my pies, fries, and a Coke, I noticed this creepy painting directly opposite me...
"Blessed is he who eats unto Him."
My fear of clowns is well documented, but this goes beyond fear... in kind of a Norman-Bates-Psycho-Not-Allowed-In-The-Museum kind of way. I'm going to be having nightmares for months. To calm my nerves, I decided to go snack shopping at the mini-mart across the street. Who knows what cool and exotic chips (crisps) and cookies (biscuits) I might find? Turns out there wasn't much, but the chip selection was rather interesting...
Among the choices... Cool Cucumber Flavor, Cool Lemon Flavor, Cool Green Tea Flavor, American-Style Original, Swiss Cheese Flavor, Italian Red Meat Flavor, and Texas Grilled BBQ Flavor. I tried the Lemon (yargh!) and Swiss Cheese (yum!) varieties, and a box of Pocky for good measure. I then hailed another taxi so I could make my way back Pudong-side. The driver was terrific, but the advertising is what caught my attention...
I think it's basically telling you that if your breasts don't fit in your dress, then visit La Zephire Beauty Management, and they'll fix you right up. I don't need the breast-job (or do I?), but was compelled to take a look at the web site they provided.
This was quite revealing.
Turns out that Heather Graham is a client and spokesmodel for their "Abundant Chest" program! I knew they were fake!!
What I was NOT prepared for was finding out that Jennifer Aniston was also a client and spokesmodel...
GAAAAH! Say it's not so! If Jennifer Aniston can have fake breasts, how can we truly know if ANYTHING is real? Who am I? What am I doing here? Am I real? Or is this all in my head? Leave it to Jennifer Aniston's breasts to make me finally lose my fragile grip on reality...
Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2005
Putting aside the question of my reality, I backtracked to People's Square so I could visit the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. It came highly recommended by a friend who had been to the city, so I decided to give it a try.
Turns out I was mighty glad I did, because the contents within are fascinating in a way that Judicial Confirmation Hearings are supposed to be, but aren't.
If nothing else, it certainly is a cool building to look at...
The highlight of the entire complex is a massively huge 1/500th scale model of Shanghai that boggles the mind. Even with my wide-angle lens, there was just no fitting it into the frame, because it goes on forever...
With something this size, you'd think that they would skimp on the details. You would be wrong. Everything is faithfully reproduced, right down to the smallest detail. In addition, there are lighting cues to explain the layout of the city, all while a cute guide (with the most pleasant speaking voice I have ever heard) runs you through the model...
Interestingly enough, the model not only reflects the current state of the city, but includes future plans as well. The building I went up on Sunday, Jin Mao Tower, is the tallest building in China. But the model reveals that two taller buildings will eventually flank it on either side...
As noon approached, I needed to get back to the hotel so I could get some work done, but I decided to take a little detour first.
When I landed in Shanghai on Saturday night, I was looking forward to taking the MagLev Train into the city. Unfortunately, we arrived so late that the train had long-since shut down for the day. Not one to pass up a ride on the fastest train in the known universe, I figured today was the day. What's cool about the train, other than the fact that you'll be traveling at 430km per hour (267mph), is that you seem to defy gravity while doing it. Magnetic repulsion means that the train never touches the tracks, providing a frictionless run. It's pretty sweet-looking too...
I expected the ride to be smooth to the point of being unnoticeable but, unlike the elevator in Jin Mao Tower (where you cannot sense motion), you do get buffeted around a bit. Still, it's kind of a cool thing to have done. I bought a same-day-return fare in the comfy "VIP" section, which was completely empty...
The entire 30km journey takes just under 8 minutes. Apparently the same journey takes about 40 minutes by taxi...
The Shinkansen "Bullet Train" in Japan was my previous fasten train ride... at 210km per hour, making this one twice as fast. Kind of makes me wonder what the theoretical limit for mass-transit actually is.
And on that note... this ends my last day in Shanghai.
Posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2005
Last night I ended up watching Chinese television and eating in my room instead of going out. I was just too tired to head into the city again.
The show I ended up watching was an English education program with various segments that used movies and music to teach the language in context. Unfortunately, the movie in question was a Pauley Shore flick, which had me cringing at the thought of the Chinese thinking that this movie is in any way indicative of life in America. I mean, Pauley Shore?!? Is there anything that could possibly be more embarrassing? And the phrases for the evening that they were teaching? "I'll make it up to you" and "That's really cool of you."
After a whopping 5 hours sleep, I checked out of my hotel and caught a taxi to Hongqiao airport for my flight to Beijing. My taxi driver, quite surprisingly, was a woman (the first female taxi driver I had seen since I got here). For some reason, I thought that this would make for a less-eventful journey, but I couldn't have been more wrong. She was just as aggressive a driver as any of her male counterparts, if not more so. She could wedge her way into traffic, horn blaring, with the best of them. I was thrilled.
The 2-hour flight to Beijing via Air China, was pleasant enough... except for the fact that we sat on the tarmac for an hour before taking off. And thus began a day of waiting...
*The two hours to the Hard Rock was mainly due to the incompetence of the driver I got, who kept falling asleep at traffic stops and took the busiest route possible to get there... bypassing the Ring Road entirely in favor of driving through Tiananmen Square during rush hour. Easily the worst driver I have EVER had in my life. And, given the number of taxis I've taken over the years, that's saying a lot. It took every ounce of restraint I could muster not to choke the bastard for the entire length of the journey. I had to settle for kicking his seat each time the dumbass fell asleep.
Anyway, pretty much a wasted day. I am hoping to make up for it tomorrow.
Posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2005
Unlike the Shanghai Hard Rock, which has been flagged as "opening soon" for a year after "closing to move," the Hard Rock Cafe Beijing was open for business. It was actually worth the insanely-long 2 hour drive it took to get there. Of course, considering the distance from my hotel was only 10 miles, perhaps not.
Anyway, the HRC Beijing is a surprisingly large dual-level property that's permanently affixed to the front of the Landmark Hotel in the Chaoyang District of Eastern Beijing. As far as properties go, it's actually quite impressive.
The following two shots were taken opposite, giving you an idea of how big the main floor is. When you add the space afforded by the upstairs level, there's quite a lot of room available for seating...
The foosball tables were a nice touch, and something I had never seen at a Hard Rock before...
I loved me the "Comrade Bear" but didn't have room in my suitcase to get one...
It's even prettier at night...
Service was impeccable, and my Veggie Burger was great (though spicier than I'm used to). After a very long day, I'm glad to know that I can count of the Hard Rock to make me feel at home once again... even when half-way around the world.
Posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2005
Last night I arranged to hire a car and driver for today. For 900 Renminbi (about $110 USD) you can be picked up at 7am and then spend the next 9 hours doing whatever you want. A taxi hire would have been cheaper, but I wanted an English-speaking guide to take care of me, and that costs extra. Turns out it was a good move anyway, because my driver was able to explain many interesting facts about the countryside and how the people live there. It also meant that I could add or change my itinerary without any translation hassles.
I started by visiting the Ming Tombs, which house 13 of the 15 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. The entrance to the grounds, called "The Spirit Way" is a nifty path that's guarded by these amazing animal and mythical beast carvings...
My favorite was this guy because he's got some freaky hair going on...
There wasn't a monkey, so I decided to add one (nicely distorted by my wide-angle lens)...
The tombs themselves are not very extravagant but they are interesting. Only one tomb is excavated so you can go down and explore it, but there wasn't much to it at all. Probably because they filled it with a bunch of the Emperor's concubines and buried them alive or something.
It's the little details that just blow you away...
Now that I've seen all this, it has given me definite ideas as to how I want to be buried.
Posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2005
I don't really believe in luck. Though, I suppose if you were to press me, I'd have to say that I'm a fairly lucky individual. I do, however, believe in karma a little bit. And because I am so fortunate to be able to travel to so many interesting places around the world, it's all got to balance out somehow.
Unfortunately, it was my karma to be saddled with very, very bad weather for my trip to The Great Wall of China this afternoon. I tried to look on the bright side and say "hey, it may be raining buckets and I can't see much because of the fog... but I am here at The Great Wall of China, and that's not too bad."
But it wasn't easy to be very convincing.
It was a pretty big disappointment that I could only see small pieces of The Wall at a time, instead of being able to look out and see it stretching to the horizon. I mean, when I dreamed of visiting here all these years, this spooky visage wasn't exactly what I had in mind...
Oh well, I would rather have seen it wet and foggy than never at all. The big picture here is that I've finally stood upon The Great Wall of China, and that IS something...
I guess this means I am one step closer to death now.
Posted on Friday, September 30th, 2005
Yesterday I told my driver not to bother picking me up until 7:30, since nothing really opens until 8:00am. So I awake at 7:00 and look out the window only to see yet another dreary, gray-sky morning with mist limiting the visibility in all directions. Just another depressing day of poor weather in Beijing! Oh well, at least it won't be raining for my trips to the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven.
With the conditions so dreadful, I'm in no hurry to head out into the crowded streets of Beijing, and drop down to the lobby at 7:25am to find my driver waiting for me...
Driver: "I have something to tell you."
Dave: "Uhhh... okay."
Driver: "The Great Wall is very important to you?"
Driver: "Most important to you maybe?"
Dave: "Errr... yes?"
Driver: "I think so. This morning I call Mutianyu and they say no rain. No clouds. Is clear."
Dave (trying desperately to not let my disbelief show): Really?
Driver: Yes. In city weather is bad. But in mountains it is good. No rain. No clouds. Not foggy... is clear. I call for you.
Dave (my interest piqued): So it is sunny and clear skies in Mutianyu?
Driver: Yes. I can take you back again.
Dave (with nothing to lose): Okay. Let's go.
And the entire way to Mutianyu I look out my window to see nothing but fog and mist... the likelihood of there being clear blue skies seems laughable, and I begin to wonder what the scam is. But then we round a corner, and all of a sudden the weather is drastically improved. We approach The Great Wall, and this time I can actually see it.
Now THIS is what I am talking about...
Yes. Needless to say, my driver is getting a big-ass tip.
UPDATE: I went to the "Mutianyu" section of the wall, because I was told it was less crowded with better views. The more common tourist spot is the "Badaling" section, because it is closer with easier access and closer to the Ming Tombs. There was a photo of the Badaling Wall in the China Daily that made me glad for my choice...
Yikes. Compared to this, Mutianyu was positively deserted.
Posted on Friday, September 30th, 2005
After getting my second chance at The Great Wall... I was so happy that I didn't care if I saw anything else today. But I had a driver on the clock, so we headed back into Beijing proper so I could resume my tour of famous places at The Forbidden City...
A stunningly beautiful portrait of Chairman Mao welcomes you into the city. I'm afraid that a photograph can't do it justice... the colors are quite remarkable, almost luminescent, and the rendering itself is just amazing. I have no idea who the artist is, but they did an incredible job...
You can ascend the gate for a small fee and look back out at Tiananmen Square. Since tomorrow is "National Day," the most important of Chinese holidays, the square is already abuzz with activity. Tomorrow it will be overflowing in celebration...
After you walk through the city for a while, there are two things that strike you. The first is the overwhelming attention to detail in every facet of The Forbidden City. Even a simple roof column support is beautiful to the extreme...
The second thing about The Forbidden City that moves you is how OPEN it is. There is huge amounts of open space between structures. The entire city begs to be shot in widescreen...
But it's the quiet spaces I like best...
And, of course, The Forbidden City would not be complete without a f#@%ing Starbucks from those barbarians in the West contaminating Chinese culture...
I shot nearly 70 photos within the walls of The Forbidden City... everything seemed so awe-inspiring and amazing at the time. But now that I am looking through them, I'm surprised at how much that the various sections look the same. Still, it's an amazing experience to walk through the city walls and envision what it must have been like back when The Emperor was truly The Son of Heaven, and ruled all of China from this very place.
Posted on Friday, September 30th, 2005
From The Forbidden City, my driver headed southward to one of the most recognized buildings in Beijing... The Temple of Heaven. Proving that karma does indeed balance out... I found that the "Temple of Prayers for Good Harvest" is closed for repairs until April of next month year. Oh well, if I had to choose between a clear day at The Great Wall and this, I'll take The Wall any day.
And it doesn't hurt that I've seen the reproduction at Epcot's World Showcase in Walt Disney World either.
Since I couldn't actually go into the main building, I had to settle for a trip to the "Imperial Vault of Heaven"...
Next to the Vault is the famous "whispering wall" where you can stand at opposite ends of the curved surface and hear a whisper across it. Unfortunately, there were dozens of people screaming at it (totally missing the point), which meant that you couldn't hear a thing, so that was that.
My favorite part of the Temple of Heaven Park was the Circular Mound which is supposed to have bizarre acoustical properties if you speak whilst standing at its center. With the hordes of noisy tourists buzzing about, it was impossible to know what this might involve. Still, it is a beautiful structure...
And thus ends yet another long day in Beijing. Tomorrow, I'm just going to relax a bit... perhaps journeying to Lama Temple and see what the festivities are like in Tiananmen Square. Or maybe I'll just stay in my hotel room and sleep all day. That sounds equally appealing.