Escape to Japan

I haven’t blogged in a while that it feels silly and weird to type full paragraphs on my laptop again. I have an on-and-off relationship with blogging - occasionally I’d get the urge to write but then there’s always something better to do, like stare at the ceiling and count the cobwebs, or watch my armpit hair grow a millimetre (have you done this? It’s fun - you can also watch your toe nail grow whilst you’re at it). 

But then recently I got myself a new laptop, one of those MacBook Pros with retina display (which by the way is pure awesomeness), and I felt the itchy fingers once again. Yeah, I bid goodbye to my old but trusted Macbook which I purchased back in early 2009. It had become somewhat laggy especially when I’d run a couple of applications at the same time so I restored it to factory settings, cleaned it up a bit and sold it online for about $400. Which is not bad, I must say, considering it was 5 years old. In my defence, my laptop was well taken care of and had looked pretty mint. Any trace of dirt or body fluid had been ostensibly wiped clean. My other secret - get a screen protector, palm rest and keyboard cover and install them on day one. 

Now the other and actually bigger reason I am enthused to blog again is so that I can write about my recent holiday. See I just came back from a trip to Japan - only my number 1 travel destination on earth - that I am totally compelled to write about the experience. I’ve always been keen to go to this exotic country. It’s at the top of my list of travel destinations, far higher than Europe or the Americas. I mean, the land of ninjas, sushi, Godzilla - what’s not to love? In 2011 my interest was rekindled when the tsunami and the related nuclear disaster occurred - not only would I be able to visit the country of my dreams, but now I could also have a chance to take a sniff of radioactive air and perhaps develop a superhero power in the process. Win-win.

So around November last year I decided, to hell with it, I was going to do the trip. I shared my plan with a good friend of mine, Jean, who is based in Bangkok and she jumped, no, shrieked, at the idea of spending Christmas in Japan. A couple of days later our flights were booked and a plan was set in motion. On the 20th of December, we jetted off from Bangkok to the land of the rising sun. 

Day 1


We arrived in Haneda airport around 2AM and immediately looked around the airport for nourishment coming from the long 7 hour flight. We ended up in this quaint little ramen place that was made to look like a traditional restaurant you’d find in a Japanese neighbourhood. The ramen was delicious, you wouldn’t think it was in fact airport food! A Japanese friend, Yoichi, later told me that concessionaires in the airports were actually recently overhauled and upgraded so that they were at par with food from outside. Which does make sense because airport food is likely the first opportunity a visitor would have to try the local food, right? 

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Haneda airport is Japan’s busiest airport, and it was darn nice. It re-established my long-standing belief that you can determine a country’s state of economy by the quality of its airport. It wasn’t crowded when we arrived so we easily found an empty bench where we spent the next couple of hours trying to sleep until we could check in at this inn that we booked. There is actually a capsule hotel right in the airport called First Cabin and it would have been perfect, however when I tried to book there were no slots left. 

I can see your quizzical look all the way from here. For the uninitiated, a capsule hotel is one of these weird only-in-Japan kind of things. Instead of hotel rooms, all you get are these boxes or ‘capsules’ that pretty much look like a coffin. And you sleep in there. 


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Holy baby Jesus, right? It looks like the perfect setting for a horror movie. I really did plan on staying in one to experience how it feels to, erm, sleep in a coffin, but my Japanese friend informed me that he would normally not resort to such places because they have a reputation of being unclean and tacky. In truth, these are really meant for working people - men mostly, because apparently women know better - who missed their last train or flight for the day and don’t want to book a hotel room. Or for intoxicated Japanese men coming from a karaoke joint who needed a place to crash. In that sense I can understand what my friend meant by tacky. The capsule hotel in Haneda airport however is a ‘first class’ capsule accommodation and does not really look like you’re about to be laid to rest. It would have been perfect but oh well. If your plane does arrive in the wee hours of the morning and you want to book a capsule bed at First Cabin, better book ahead.


In Haneda airport I had my first contact with the famed, mysterious and mythical Japanese toilet. I have read so much about it and I was so excited to see one finally. It did not disappoint.

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For starters, the toilet seats were heated. This was winter and you will see how this makes a big difference. I kid you not what joy it is to lay your butt on a warm toilet seat - you wouldn’t want to leave anymore. Next to the toilet bowl there’s this array of buttons for everything you need to do your business. When you’ve done the deed you can push a button and warm water is unleashed that hits your butt in calculated trajectory. You are more than welcome to let out a sigh and smile whilst this is happening. If you’re a lady, you can push this other button for bidet function. I didn’t try it of course, but what I know is that with a bidet, the toilet makes sure the the lady parts are washed in the right angles. Then there’s another button for air drying. Lastly, the airport toilets don’t have it but later on I would also find there’s a button you can push so the toilet plays a musical tune whilst you’re sitting on your throne. I mean come on, Japan. Can you be any more awesome? Wait, you can - how about a button for a mechanical hand to come out from behind you to massage your back while you’re at it, eh? Who’s with me on this?

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Anyways, we headed to our accommodation around 10AM and boarded a train to take us to Asakusa, which is probably the best location to stay in downtown Tokyo if you’re a tourist. It’s got everything - the Tokyo sky tree, Tokyo’s oldest temple, nightlife, restaurants, the works. We were booked in this cosy little inn called K’s House Oasis Tokyo, which is about 10 to 15 minute walk from the Asakusa train station. When we checked in, the receptionist who spoke perfect English handed over a package to me - apparently my local data SIM card had arrived in the mail. Neat.

Side note: If you want to stay connected whilst travelling around Japan I suggest you purchase a local SIM card that will give you 14 days of internet access with 1 GB cap for about 3K Yen. It’s pretty handy for when I need to google something, or use a nifty little app called Hyperdia which gives accurate train schedules. Of course it’s up to you, I’m sure you can survive without internet but I like to have the convenience so this was perfect for me (plus I also wanted to regularly post photos on Facebook whilst touring Tokyo to make my friends jealous, ahihihi). Also, 1 GB sounds small but really that’s thousands of minutes of internet browsing already - or hundreds of cat videos if that’s your thing. 

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//K’s House Oasis Tokyo 


In Asakusa we had late lunch at my first real traditional sushi restaurant with a real sushi chef. It was a bit pricier than the usual sushi place (I think our bill for two people came to about Y3000), but it was worth it. The menu, unfortunately, was in Japanese so we were limited to choosing those that had pictures because, you know, I didn’t want to end up eating raw horse. Which I did, but that’s another story. Our sushi was made to order - when it arrived it was well presented but I made a rookie mistake - I asked for wasabi, which made the chef’s eyebrow go:


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It didn’t take long to realise my mistake - when I took a bite of the sushi, there was already a spread of wasabi in between the rice and the fish - apparently this is standard in Japan. Everywhere else in the world, most of the sushis are served with wasabi kept separate because many non-Japanese don’t actually like wasabi. I had probably insulted the sushi chef with my mistake so to make it up I silently offered a prayer to the Japanese deity Hello Kitty to bless this man and his clan for a thousand years.


We spent most of the day roaming the streets of Asakusa and taking in the taste and smell of Japan. By nightfall, we rode this elaborately lighted trike that took us around the block in the CBD. Everywhere we went people gushed and stared at us and some even took photos as we passed. It wasn’t because we looked like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (which we do), but mainly because our carriage looked like it came out of Walt Disney. And the Japanese liked all things cute and fancy. Like the toilet seats the carriage seats were also heated (the Japanese are geniuses!), and the driver gave us thick blankets to keep us warm as it was about 10 degrees C.

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We also caught up with my friend Yoichi that night - I asked that he take us to a well-recommended Japanese place and he brought us to this wonderful restaurant right in the CBD.

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I knew then I was going to have my fill of Japanese food on this trip.


To be continued…

Monday Jan 27 8pm   | Comments

 
 

The Matrix Has You


The Matrix.

Yes, that movie that starred Keanu Reeves in all his signature single-facial-expression glory. Say what you want about The Matrix, but you and I both know that it was one awesome and badass sci-fi spectacle. It reinvented the entire genre and popularised special effects like “bullet time”, which is now painfully abused in so many films.

When the first movie in the trilogy came out, I was such a happy, geeky schoolboy I almost peed in my pants whilst watching it in the cinema. The philosophy that it tackled, the big budget effects, the music soundtrack - I was in geek heaven. The second and third instalments didn’t quite hit it with the critics, but damn those critics they know not what they were saying. True, the ending was a bit anticlimactic, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the franchise all in all.

Flash forward to fourteen years later, whilst walking along Martin Place in Sydney, my friend Renee nonchalantly mentions out of the blue that a scene in The Matrix was, in fact, shot in that very location where we were standing. My eyes widened.

"Whooo-whaaat?"

Apparently, I’ve been living in The Matrix for three years now and I never knew about it. Somebody hand me a hammer so I conk myself out. 

So what do I do with this gold mine of a realisation? Well, there’s nothing better to do than to embark on… a Matrix walking tour!

And so the weekend saw me watching the movie all over again to try to identify some locations so I can map out my own little tour. I was flabbergasted to realise that the movie was in fact shot entirely (or about 95%) in Sydney. Imagine my delight when even the company where I worked figured in the movie.



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How cool is that? I really do live (and work) in the Matrix!

It took me the whole afternoon to visit all of the locations and honestly it was EXHAUSTING due to all the walking I had to do - probably around 8K all in all to get from one location to another. But you know what, it was all freaking worth it. 

And so may I present - my neighbourhood.

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This is at the intersection of Hunter and Castlereagh streets in the CBD. This figured in the final scene where Neo makes a phone call and then flies up up and away to rock music.



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This is on the intersection of Hickson Road and Towns Place in Millers Point, close to the Sydney Observatory. It’s on this road where Trinity finds a phone booth to escape from an agent in the opening scene. I looked around and there was no phone booth in sight.



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This is the Munns Street bridge over Hickson Road. It was shown in that same scene as above, when the agent rams his truck into the phone booth where Trinity makes the call to escape.


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Another bridge - this time it’s the railway bridge in Surry Hills where Campbell and Elizabeth Streets intersect. This was where Neo was picked up to meet Morpheus for the first time.


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Ah, Metcentre in Margaret Street, where I usually have my lunches. In the movie it’s “Metacortex,” where Neo is employed as a computer programmer. Amazing how they changed the appearance of the leftmost building.


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At Hunter Street near the Grand Hotel. Here Trinity spies on Neo as he is led away by the agents after he was caught at his work place.


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The Colonial First State Bank building in Martin Place. Apparently, Morpheus was held captive in this building. This is where Neo and Trinity stage “the rescue”, which was the climax of the movie.


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The AWA building in York Street with its Eiffel tower-inspired radio tower. This also figured in the daring rooftop rescue scene.



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AON Tower in Kent Street, which served as a backdrop in that scene where an agent was about to kill Neo who had managed to dodge his bullets. Trinity cuts in and utters the line, “Dodge this” and shoots the agent’s brains. Don’t mess with this woman.


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At Martin Place, the smack middle of the CBD. This is where Morpheus teaches Neo about the Matrix. 



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That sexy lady in red by the Martin Place fountain. That sexy boy in grey jumpers in the same location. 



All in all such a fun weekend. 

Monday Aug 12 1pm  6 notes | Comments

 
 

Listening to Pink sing Just Give Me a Reason live - awesome. (at Sydney Entertainment Centre)

Listening to Pink sing Just Give Me a Reason live - awesome. (at Sydney Entertainment Centre)

View HD • Posted Tuesday Aug 6 10pm   | Comments

 
 

Sizing up Man of Steel

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I had my apprehensions when I planned on watching the newest instalment of the Superman franchise. One could only look back at the previous attempt to harbour this skepticism. Superman Returns, which came out in 2006 did pretty good in the box office, but the storyline was a little mediocre… and just plain wrong. I didn’t find it cool that they introduced, well, a spawn. Then Superman had to be involved in a court hearing and his absence acquitted Lex Luthor… I mean really? Brandon Routh tried, but the guy couldn’t act to save his life. The only saving grace was not even Kevin Spacey, but Parker Posey who played the funny and feisty Kitty Kowalski. In fact, in the end I’d say she was the one who defeated Lex Luthor.

When I learned however that the new movie will be produced by Christopher Nolan, the same genius who brought us the Dark Knight trilogy, I had a feeling this was going to be different. And then big names became associated with the film - Amy Adams who is adorable, Kevin Costner, Russel Crowe who is THE GLADIATOR GODDAMMIT, Laurence Fishburne who is FROM THE MATRIX GODDAMMIT and Zack Snyder who brought us the graphic wonder 300. Apparently another ‘relative’ unknown was going to don the cape, but that’s pretty much expected and I think a requirement. By then I was excited as a schoolgirl, I couldn’t wait for the movie to come out.

When it finally landed on the shores of Sydney I went to watch it on the first night it started playing. Two days earlier there was an advanced screening and the cast flew in, but I didn’t know about it until much later - imagine my disappointment. I watched the movie all by myself at my neighbourhood cinema, and I had to decline a dinner invite as well to catch it. My excuse was that I made a prior arrangement with some other friends. I didn’t mention that these friends were Henry Cavill and Amy Adams.

Man of Steel is pretty much a reboot, which is okay because a) it introduced us to the story of what happened in Krypton, and b) the younglings of today do need the background information. However, this is an original story and it’s pretty liberal in its version of the events that transpired before the destruction of Krypton. Spoilers commence here.

The story begins with the imminent doomsday in Superman’s home planet. We are given a view of this world that is very advanced but has started to deteriorate because it had used up its own natural resources, which made the planet’s core very unstable. Further, in an attempt to control population growth, natural birth has been banned for about a century. Offsprings are a product of selective artificial development in baby incubators called Genesis Chamber. Each child is carefully designed to serve a purpose, and all of the unborn’s genetic makeup (and their function in society, effectively) is stored in an artefact called the Codex. We learn that Jor-El, Superman’s father, has another ideal - what if a child aspires for something different than what society has intended for him? What if he aspires for something greater? And so it is revealed that Kal-El, the Kryptonian name of Superman, was secretly born outside of the Codex’ principles, the first natural-born in Krypton in almost a century. To give him a chance at life and escape the impending doom of the planet, the baby Kal-El is shipped off to a habitable planet, which turned out to be Earth. In the process, Jor-El also infuses the genetic Codex of the entire Kryptonian race into every cell in Kal-El’s body. General Zod, who had just mutinied against the planet’s council of leaders for their inaction, battles Jor-El and seeks to retrieve the Codex which he believed was inside the capsule that served as the infant’s transport. But he is subdued in time to allow the little Kal-El to escape. However he manages the kill Jor-El.

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The destruction of Krypton was amazing to behold. It was both poignant, with Kal-El’s mother accepting the fate of her world and tearfully wishing her soon well in his voyage to the unknown, and spectacular, with all the chaos and meltdown occurring up to the eventual explosion of the planet. General Zod, who had been banished to the Phantom Zone in space and therefore had escaped the fate of Krypton, breaks free from imprisonment as result of the explosion. We see him and his sub-commander break down when they see their planet destroyed, and we get to see that Zod is not an altogether unreasonable villain, but an extremist who wants to ensure the survival of his people by any means possible. It is, in fact, what he has been designed to be according to the Codex - a warrior who will protect the planet at all costs.

From here we are introduced to Clark Kent who has grown up to be a very lonely and isolated man. He takes on odd jobs and assumes false names to hide his identity for fear of exposing himself and being rejected by people, as his very existence will shake humanity’s beliefs and religions. He is not Clark Kent the news reporter from Daily Planet, but a wanderer who is conflicted with his identity and purpose. He is dirty, poor and unshaven. He is not socially awkward, rather, he is a complete nobody who secretly saves people but at the same time afraid to trust them for fear of rejection. It is this that endears him to viewers. Here is an outcast like so many of us, a ghost who never fit in. He has so much to hide and so much weight on his shoulders to carry. As his adopted father who loved and raised him as his own put it: ‘You’re not just anyone. One day, you’re going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it’s going to change the world.’ When his superpowers start manifesting, it is not a happy experience, rather it is scary and confusing, and Clark is further buried in self doubt and loneliness. This is not the Superman we are used to. And here Henry Cavill shines in depicting this confused man who cannot form relationships with other people, who remains grounded despite his powers, and who struggles with the loss of his adoptive father who had given up his life to protect his son’s secret. I really think he is the best Superman yet.

Interestingly, I read somewhere that Henry had worked so hard to land the part. This guy had a series of rejections and bad timings before ultimately being cast as the father of all super heroes, and it seemed he was hell bent on playing a high profile movie character. See, our boy lost out to Daniel Craig in the casting for James Bond and to Ryan Reynolds for The Green Lantern. He was hand picked by Stephanie Meyer to play the vampire Edward Cullen but lost out to Robert Pattinson due to his age - although if you asked me that was the greatest thing that could happen to him, not being cast in that movie. He was actually supposed to play Superman in an earlier movie to be directed by McG (of Charlie’s Angels), but that project was eventually shelved in favour of an altogether different story when the director was replaced - that story eventually became Superman Returns which starred Brendon Routh. How tough and cruel was that? But the guy didn’t give up though and many years later auditioned for the second time to play Superman, and he got it this time around. Talk about sweet redemption, and his experience teaches us to never let go of what we aspire for. Henry is also British, which is somewhat weird as Superman is supposed to be the embodiment of truth, justice and - altogether now - the American way. He was born in the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, and a friend and former classmate of mine, Zenie, who now resides in Jersey had the opportunity to see the entire cast when they were there to show off the movie in the main man’s hometown. Spell jealous.

I’m sure guys have been madly checking online to find out what sort of physical preparation Henry Cavill went through to get the Superman-worthy physique. Based on what I’ve read, this took about 6 months of intense workout and massive calorie consumption to bulk up - definitely not for the regular Joe. You can read all about the programme here.


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And then there’s Amy Adams. I’ve always been a fan of Amy, with movies like Junebug, Julie & Julia and Doubt. In this movie she gave much justice to Lois Lane who appeared to be feisty but not overpowering, and inquisitive but at the same time understanding. Her take on the character is so different from Teri Hatcher in the TV series or Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns, or even Margot Kidder from the Superman of the ancient times. Perhaps the best thing about this new version of Lois is her intelligence - she is not depicted as someone who for crying out loud can’t tell Clark Kent from Superman, which is how all other Superman movies portrayed her. That has always been mind boggling for me. She is supposed to be a Pulitzer Prize winner and yet put a pair of spectacles on Superman and she conveniently fails to recognise the guy. That’s not smart at all.

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In this version we also see a pivotal moment in Lois’ humanity - when she decides to protect Clark Kent instead of exposing him when she learns who he really is, to give him a chance to fulfil his purpose. In the movie, Lois covers a story that was triggered by the discovery of an unidentified object hidden under layers of ice in the Arctic. When she visits the site for closer inspection, she notices Clark - who had actually joined the crew as a hired help when he learned of the discovery - doing his own investigation, and she decides to snoop around and follow him. Eventually, she is led through the ice and comes upon an alien spaceship. Her curiosity however gets her into trouble when she snaps a photo of an artificial intelligence system which lashes out at her and cuts her. Clark swoops in and saves her through his laser vision. When she recovers, Clark has by then disappeared along with the ship. Here she realises that Clark is in fact not from this world, and that the questions surrounding his identity were too frightening to contemplate.

It’s a real reboot of the myth of Superman, and this is leaving some die-hard fans either alienated and confused, or downright excited. Some people have started calling the movie blasphemous, some say it’s redundant and unnecessary, and even more saying it’s too dark and violent. Some are also just plain nitpicking. Me, well I belong to the group of people who appreciate and welcome the changes, because I like how they introduced twists and injected more emotion into the story. The Dark Knight trilogy paved the way, and here is a Superman unlike any other before him, one who is desolate, who shows us a more truistic version of events, who makes us feel for the alienated. The story is not without some loose ends, but Snyder’s vision of how the movie is supposed to feel like is clear. It is not light and fun, rather it is brooding. And beautiful. 


[Continued…]

Monday Jul 1 5am   | Comments

 
 
 
 
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