Sunday, December 28, 2008

Unbelievable Vista

It's really unbelievable that Vista comes with a "complimentary" .Net Framework 1.1 plus SP1 which will cause an "endless" installation of a mysterious patch KB929729, given that actually Vista gives you another .Net Framework 3.5 at the same time!

The problem appears when I got my new laptop, with a pre-installed WindowsVista Business version, which is with this notorious .Net Framework 1.1. This version of .Net Framework was known for its stability on Windows XP before, but when it appeared that it was not compatible with the later .Net Framework 2.0 (or I should say it the other way round?), it turned into a nightmare of many developers and even some casual users. One example is the Paint.Net tool (btw I really love this free and handly tool, as a alternative for the expensive and complicated PhotoShop), which swang between these two versions of .Net Framework for quite a long time, and even gave some releases with a .Net Framework 1.1 embedded. Finally those Paint.Net guys chose to follow the latest one, just as most rational developers will do.

After several unsuccessful tries (I got a lot of help from Peter, but sorry I still could not make it...), I had to remove the whole .Net Framework 1.1, so that the "genius" Windows Update will not prompt me for this patch update any more. And guess what, none of my application SW complained about that! Obviously those latest versions of the tools I use have already tuned themselves to the latest version of .Net Framework, which I assume to be 3.5 on my Vista. So, why bother stick to the troublesome 1.1?

Still in a headache period with my new laptop and this new OS:
  1. I cannot see the defragmentation report before do the actual defragment, nor can I see the progress of it.
  2. I cannot find the plain "Add/Remove SW" button anymore.
  3. The "Windows Live Messenger Installation" always fails. (I had to manually download it and install it to bring back my MSN...)
  4. The Windows Media Player 11 still does not include any meaningful codec. I have to download a free codec package to play a traditional DVD. (Microsoft insists that ppl should "purchase" these codec, but pls tell me, how many ppl really did that?)
  5. ...

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Bite of Green Apple – Twilight

Most green apples have a flavor of mixture of sweet and sour, just like that of teenagers’ love. And the temptation of a beautiful green apple, is also like that of a healthy young girl to a … vampire, -- You just want to give it a bite.

At the first glimpse, “Twilight” looks not quite particular in a whole bunch of vampire movie recent years: It doesn’t have the all-star cast like “Interview with the Vampire”, nor does it have the terrific CG effects like “Van Helsing” and “Underworld”. Actually after I finished watching it, it somewhat reminds me the underrated “Queen of the Damned”. If the latter is like a rock song (they used a lot of rock songs in that movie indeed), the “Twilight” will be a “pure love” version.

The word “pure love” here is a word-to-word translation from a Japanese word “jun-ai” (“純愛” in Japanese and Chinese), which is used to described a type of books, movies, cartoons and music, where the theme is “true love can conquer everything”. The leading roles, normally the boy and the girl, always have some great obstacles in their way to the happy-ever-after ending, some are even taboos. The struggle of the couple, and the love shown during this struggle, is the major part, while the real world outside of them and the final endings, happy or not (actually most of the time is unhappy, with death of disease, death of accident, suicide, etc.), are relatively unimportant. This kind of theme is quite popular in East-Asian pop culture nowadays, where you can find a lot of related productions in Japan, Korea, China, etc.

Now you should see the connections between “Twilight” and “jun-ai”: High school boy and girl, teenagers’ love, great obstacles (vampire vs. human being), struggle, all these made it a typical “jun-ai” movie. In western cultures, ppl are used to sex, drugs and violence in high school, and it makes them quite “refreshed” to have a bite of green apple now.

The storyline is quite simple, and there are only a few scenes to demonstrate the mighty power of vampires (not even worthy to mention them once you’ve watched “Van Helsing” and “Underworld”). The huge success in the box office in U.S. has to come from the great acting of the two leading characters: Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Rather fresh persons in the show business (the most remarkable roles for them before “Twilight”, is the dead senior of Harry Potter for Pattinson, and Jodie Foster’s daughter in “Panic Room” for Miss Stewart), both successfully portrayed the shy and lonely (sometimes even freak) teenagers. I particularly like the scenes when Edward tried to start a conversation with Bella with some awkward topics or techniques, and when Bella tried to talk to Edward with a stuttering voice. These scenes look so real, that sometimes I even thought Miss Stewart might really have a crush on Pattinson (maybe actually she does? ^_^).

The makeup of vampires, although already well defined in “Interview with the Vampire” and “Dracula”, looks more like a fake in “Twilight”. Seems they wanna use a mimic of Johnny Depp in “Edward the Scissorhands” (OK, they have the same first name at least), but ended up with a worn-out one. There have been a lot of reviews calling Pattinsom “beautiful”, and even more call him “over-aged”. To me the most remarkable thing in his outlook is his eyes: You can hardly miss them in the crowd. Luckily he got some real gift in acting to balance the outlook.

There’s nothing in “Twilight” that can get you “horror”. So what a young girl screamed in my cinema and tried to find a shelter in her boy friend’s chest, all audience turned back to watch this “show”…

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Australian “Gone with the Wind”

Many ppl called it “the Australian version of ‘Gone with the Wind’ ”, and it really deserves it.

From a half-Caucasian-half-aboriginal boy’s point of view, the kettle breeding, racial discrimination, and the aboriginal culture are interwoven into a big carpet, which is then put in the WWII era. This really reminds me the cotton plantations and slavery in the South, with the American Civil War as the background. And the Great Plains, ranches and deserts, are just like an Aussie version of Tara. (Actually there IS a county called “Tara” in New South Wales, Australia. Built by Irish ppl, maybe?) The air attack to Darwin, maybe not as “hot” as the burn-down of Atlanta, but it’s much more striking, just like the Pearl Harbor. The “Drover” played by Hugh Jackman, is just a cowboy Rhett Butler; But the “Mrs. Boss” (Lady Ashley) played by Nicole Kidman, looks more like Melanie, instead of Scarlet. At the beginning, when a noble lady first stepped on this semi-civilized continent, she behaved like a proud little cuttie who went to the ball for the first time; but when she needs to fight against the villain Neil Fletcher to protect her ranch, it seems that she is far from capable for that (My Lady, if I were you, when that bastard came to my house alone, just use one single shot, and offer the body to the crocodiles, and that, I believe, is what Scarlet is definitely capable of.).

The part that describes the culture of the aboriginals, esp. the soul songs, is a bit too long. The whole movie lasts for 2 hrs 45 min!

For the two made-in-Australia superstars, there’s nothing much “outstanding” here. Hugh Jackman keeps changing between Wolverine and Leopard, and Nicole Kidman definitely learns a lot from Vivian Leigh (one scene she stands under a big tree in the dusk almost makes me shout out “After all, tomorrow is another day!”…). Her best parts are almost all with the little boy Nullah, esp. the two scenes (farewell and reunion) at the wharf, which show us the true love from a mother. Nice job for David Wenham (he also cooperated with Hugh Jackman in “Van Helsing” before), for the bad guy he portrayed is really sth. that you wanna bomb his head with your own heads. But the biggest surprise of this movie is the aboriginal young actor Brandon Walters, a.k.a., Nullah. Compared to the well-trained Jaden Smith, you have to admit that this freshman for acting really got some genius in this area.

The Tourism Australia is one of the major sponsors of this movie, so you can expect a lot of beautiful views of Australia in it. The sponsorship is definitely successful, because now I have already been craving for another Australian trip, esp. Darwin.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Unbeatable True Love? -- The Day the Earth Stood Still

A remake of Black-and-White classic, plus Keanu Reeves, the new “The Day the Earth Stood Still” somehow did not impress me as it should have.

From Cold War to environment protection, Aliens sent the messages, and human kind seems never listened. At the end of the day, the handsome Alien guy (or I should say, a clone) was so touched by the single mother he met, that he sacrificed himself to terminate the program that was supposed to destroy mankind. Looks like true love can beat anything, even Aliens… But just can’t image those high-tech Aliens still use palm recognition to trigger the switch!

The relationship between the mother scientist and the stepson costs a lot of effort, but was it really worthy? The little boy’s imagination about his Rambo-like father looks so unreal, even for a little boy. The mother chose to escape with the Alien guy (given that the guy looks just the same as Keanu Reeves, that’s understandable…) yet still taking a little boy with them? Why not just put the boy at the Professor’s house? That looks much wiser, more like a scientist’s choice, not a panic mother. Or, they just want to keep Mr. Smith Junior in the show. And after the mother was captured, the boy made friends with the Alien within seconds! Amazing? Or I should say, just a human nature of survival?

From Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly to Jaden Smith, the face expressions increased, in that order; and the drama we could feel decreased, in that order. Young Smith got a very emotional acting gift, but that could not save the failure of the scripts. Keanu is almost without any expressions, but God know we just like that! His acting is making you think, about every word he said, and every flash in his eyes. But pls exclude the part about two Aliens talking in McDonald, in Chinese! I can tell you that their Mandarin is very lousy, and I just don’t understand why the writers use such a scene to try to flatter Chinese-speaking audience. To be frank, I only felt insulted. For Jennifer, it seems that how she understands the word “mother” is, as long as the child is at present, you see nothing, talk about nothing, and do for nothing, except for the kid. Ideal mother, which never exists. But in the scenes she is alone or with Keanu, we can still see what a good actress should do. Pity for her Gothic-looking face, maybe she should try again if she is playing the Alien next time.
The Madam Secretary is an obvious metaphor to Rice. The U.S.-central theory is so out-of-date, especially given the news that Mr. Obama called China for help. So I just don’t know whether the scripts were really meant for this theory (I suppose the scripts had been finished before the sub-prime crisis), or this is just a joke. Either way, it makes me even more disgusted. The lines that the U.S. President gave the stupid order of using missiles against the Aliens while he himself (I assume that he is a “he”) were hiding in a “safe location”, are really typical to the current Mr. President. God blessed he is soon to leave.

There are always a lot of digital effects in such a movie nowadays. But the scene that a stadium was destroyed by the “metal locusts” looks not that gorgeous. Maybe they should try the Lady Liberty next time? As a reference, I suggest them (and you too, if you have interests) to watch the Japanese movie “Sinking of Japan”. Also a remake from a classic some 30 yrs ago, this latest one “destroyed” a lot of grand Buddha statues, castles, palaces and other famous buildings in Japan. That, is what I call “destroy human kind”, by destroying all the icons of human civilization, not just a stadium, not some mountains or rivers (that is what I call “destroy the nature”). And one bug I found about digital effects is the scene that when Klaatu and Helen were talking in the cemetery, the yellow leaves on the ground were waved up by the wind, but the trees in the background didn’t move a single twig! Keanu looks like to be “pasted” to the background actually. Even if they need to do sth to the clouds, it should not be that hard to use a more vivid way to do that.

BTW, is there anything related to “earth stood still” here? Actually I wanna call this movie “The Day the Alien Visited”.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Struggling for an ember of hope – City of Ember

Adopted from a best-selling children book, the plot is not quite novel for adult audience: The Earth environment is heavily damaged, so that mankind decided to hide in an underground city for 200 yrs, waiting for the Earth to heal herself. However, after 200 yrs, ppl have forgotten the thing of returning to the surface, until two teenagers found the secret and saved the world.

If you are willing to invest enough money and time, this story could actually be the next “Lord of the Rings” series. But the movie company simply did not wanna take the risk. So the result turns to be more like a teenager version of “Chronicles of Riddick”, or we shall call it “Young Indiana Jones & His First Love”?

As the leading roles, Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway appeared to be too “next-door”, i.e., I cannot see anything can be called “pretty” there. Yes pretty face is superficial, but if this is meant to be a teenager movie, it’s expected to be superficial. If it is NOT a teenager movie, then the writers need to put much more effort in polishing there script – there are so many “holes” there!

The special effect is disappointing too. The scene that the three kids are traveling in a “locker-boat” passing through the underground river, it’s an obvious copy-cat from “Indiana Jones” and “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. Even so, the impression to me is that the figures of the characters are simply “pasted” to the background – seriously, I can see the glue!

Bill Murray is competent in playing the mayor. Sure he is, as an Oscar actor. But is it a big waste for him to act in such an “average” movie?

The season of blockbusters has come, and “City of Ember” can only see the ember of hope in box office now.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Uncle Sam is just an old man now – Body of Lies

The impression I got from this movie, is that US is really an old man now, just like the impression from this global recession.

Russell Crowe’s role as the lead agent is quite annoying. Know nothing, and only do things to suck his own guys, typical manager. And his mid-age man look is just the portrait of the bureaucracy in current US government. If the director just wants us to feel annoyed whenever Russell’s face shown on the screen, then, he is very successful in that point.

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of those rare actors, who owns a face of angel, yet is willing to be trained in hell to portrait a devil. In “Blood Diamond” his South African accent was surprisingly successful, and now in this movie he even learned Arabics! With all his effort in these years, I think it’s time to give him an Oscar now.

Mark Strong is definitely a show stealer. Playing Mani, the head of Jordanian Intelligence Bureau, he brought us a smart, cold-blooded yet charming Arab Knight, reminds me Al Pacino in “Godfather”. With his existence, Russell seems even more miserable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

And old photo of Mark Wahlberg

Bet you can't recognize this is the guy of "Shooter" and "Max Payne"!
This is an ad photo for the underwear of Calvin Klein back to the time Mark was still a rap singer named "Marky Mark". Time changes soooooo much!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Miserable Bond -- 007: Quantum of Solace

Obviously Daniel Craig is doing a totally different Bond: Endless chasing (on the land, over the river, and even in the sky!), bombing, gunshot fighting, martial fighting, plus a sky diving, we hardly see a “Tuxedo Bond” here, but a wounded man in rags for most of the time. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this is a 007 movie, not a Bourne, not an Indiana, not anybody else. (The guy behind Bourne series also worked for Daniel’s two 007 movies so far, no wonder…) God bless someone don’t make Sherlock Holmes to do some kungfu fighting…

It seems that the director wants to show some different aspects of Bond: miseries of the women around him, death of the true friend, etc. But he just did not give Craig enough time or scene to demonstrate the deep sorrow, or he just did not have enough time with the high tension of the speed of the movie?

Make this 007 movie as a sequel of the previous one (Casino Royale) is not quite a good idea, for most of the audience (including me) have already lost track of the casino story. And seems they even want to go on with what ends in this one and make the next one, sounds even more risky for me.

The theme song is quite attractive. Heard that in U.S. the OST even got a better sale than the movie itself…

Monday, November 10, 2008

Relax in Brunei (8) (ending)

As the ending, some facts about Bruneians’ everyday life and travel tips.

Most of Brunei’s fortune comes from the oil. But it’s not true that every Bruneian is a billionaire, or even millionaire. The real “rich guys” are the royals (because of the huge amount of land they own under the monarchy) and a few successful industrialists (most of them are Chinese Bruneians). Normal Bruneians’ life is no different from their Singaporean or Malaysian cousins, except for the following areas:
Education all the way to University (yes, Brunei even got its own university!) is free for all citizens. And if you go to a government clinic, you only need to pay B$1 per visit, no matter what kind of treatment or medicine you got (given that the clinic can offer such treatment/medicine). That’s why with a much lower pay (compared to Singapore, normal ppl’s salary is only about half), Bruneians seem to have an at least roughly equal lifestyle.
Not like Singapore, where private cars are strongly discouraged by COE (a rule in Singapore, that ppl need to bid for COE to own a car, normally 10k to 15k S$, valid for 10 yrs), you only need to pay about B$50 per yr for the road tax plus around B$200 for the insurance, you can buy a Japanese economic car at the price of about B$25k. And since the patrol is so cheap, almost every family in Brunei owns a car, some even got more than one.
If you are a Brunei citizen, the government will give you a piece of land for free when you reach a certain age (normally the legal marriage age). You can use the land for building you own house, doing some small business, or even cultivation. The land can be inherited by your heir/heiress, but you cannot sell it. If you don’t like the land given to you, you can rent another piece from the government, B$5 per year (!!!) for the rental. Normal Bruneian ppl spend B$250k to B$350k to build their own dream house, but with this price, you can hardly buy an 80-sqm flat in from Singapore government (HDB).
Bruneian ppl normally quite respect the royalty, especially the Sultan. He built a lot of public facilities like museum, stadium and traditional handcraft centre for the ppl, and they are all free to the public. So don’t try to “bad-mouth” the Sultan with a Bruneian.

Some travel tips:
1. Wear decent clothes, meaning don’t try to expose your sexy breast, thigh or butt. You will not be arrested even if you do so, and you could still get inside the mosques when you put on the black robe they provide, but most likely you will be politely refused by some restaurants, shops and public buildings. The only exception is when you are doing sports in a gym or swimming, you can wear the sports attires, provided you will change back to “normal” clothes when you step out of the gym or swimming area.
2. If you wanna buy some souvenirs, you will find out that the price are the same all over the country. Difference among the souvenir shops is just the product range. The ones in the airport got some bit high-end stuff, where I bought a quite unique deco – Brunei’s oil!

3. Jerudong Park is out of the sightseeing list of every travel agency in Brunei, and even local taxi driver will tell you that it is a waste of time and money (taxi ride is B$60-70 for return trip from city hotels) to go there. Seems Lonely Planet is kind of out of date here… If you really have half day to kill, try Empire Hotel area instead.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Relax in Brunei (7)

Our last night stayed in Brunei was a “Brunei by Night” tour. Actually we were the only two in the tour, so it became our private package, J.

This tour takes you to the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and the Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque so that you can take night-view photos of these two gorgeous buildings, a water taxi drive on the Kampong Ayer (Water Village), a seafood steamboat dinner by the bay, and finally a shopping trip in the night market and the best shopping mall in Brunei – The Mall.

The Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque (nicknamed “Jame”, pronounced as “jami”) is the biggest mosque among the 103 in Brunei. Built with hundreds of millions of B$ donated by Bruneian ppl, it was sent to the Sultan as a gift, hence it was named after the Sultan (you can find the “Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah” in his long titles). Its location is not quite good – isolated from major shopping and tourism areas, standing by the roadside like a lonely old man. So the best way to visit it is to join a local tour, otherwise you will take the risk that cannot find a taxi to take you back to your hotel!
The night view of Jame is like dream palace:
Jame01 Jame02 Jame03 Jame04 Jame05 Jame06
Every Friday afternoon, the Sultan will pick a mosque to do the pray (as long as he is in Brunei). If he comes to Jame, ppl will open the “Sultan-only” escalator for him, otherwise it is covered by canvas:
Sultan-only escalator

The Water Village (Kampong Ayer) is said to be the oldest and largest in the world now. Hundreds of cottages are connected by planks, and supported by pillars so that they can stand above the water. Within the Water Village, they have their own school, mosque, police station, and even a fire station! Ppl nowadays live in the Water Village also got cars and jobs on the land, only a few of them are still practicing the fishing industry.

To be honest, the water in the bay is both dirty and smelly, because some of the urines of the Water Village are directly expelled to the sea here. Luckily our “dinner by the sea” was in a air-con restaurant, so we could enjoy the night by the bay without any unpleasant smell.

The night market was quite disappointing. Most stalls were selling local vegetables, fruits and Malay snacks. Nothing quite special compared to Singapore.

Melayu Course #3:
"Kampong" means "village", "Ayer" means "water".

Relax in Brunei (6)

The Royal Regalia Building is actually an exhibition hall, which keeps a broad collection of items about the royal family of Brunei.
Me outside Royal Raglia House
The main items include two royal chariots used on the coronation ceremony in 1967 and the jubilee ceremony in 1992, a miniature of the banquet hall in the royal palace, and many gifts for the Sultan from ppl of all around the world.
Royal Chariot
The royal chariot is man-powered by 48 royal guards, and the whole parade consists of other dozens of guards and a band playing traditional Malay instruments.

The Empire Hotel & Resort is the latest pride of Brunei. Currently a 5-star one, it is targeting 7-star rating so that Brunei can catch up with Dubai.
All hotel rooms are with sea-view balconies, and the whole “Empire” also contains some resort villa, a country club and a 18-hole golf court.
Empire Hotel 02
The miniature of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in the lobby. Amazing crystal lamp!
Crystal Camel
The treasure of Empire, the crystal camel. Made of one whole piece of natural crystal, it’s valued over B$250,000.
Swimming pool of Empire Hotel Empire Hotel 04
The “swimming pool” is actually a series of pools that all with the view of South China Sea.
Empire Hotel 06
The main building of the hotel is located on a small bay with beautiful (I guess artificial) beach.
Empire Hotel 05 Empire Hotel 03
The interior decoration of the hotel lobby looks like a “show-off”. Dozens of huge marble pillars give you a feeling that how trivial you are.
Another highlight of the hotel is the brunch buffet they serve during weekends. The price is B$44 per person, not quite a bargain, but you can get a taste of many extraordinary French-style desserts and cakes, also other “regular” stuff like oyster, sashimi, sushi, etc.
The Empire is in the Jerudong area, so not quite convenient for sight-seeing or shopping. But inside it has the country club, a lot of sports utilities, beautiful beach, a shopping gallery (expect some nice handicrafts, but not cheap), and even a cinema and a library! So it’s ideal for a 3D2N pure relaxing trip. And the price is quite reasonable for a 5-star beach resort: normal rooms are less than B$300 per night, and even further discounts from time to time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Relax in Brunei (5)

The trip to the Brunei Museum was full of “surprises”.

This time we decided to try the bus. A free shuttle bus took us from the hotel to Yayasan. When we were looking for the bus interchange, a local guy volunteered to take us there (it was a 10-min walk in the city blocks, not easy for a foreigner), and then just left before we could even say “Thank you”!

The bus interchange is quite worn out, same as the adjacent buildings. The buses are small purple ones which could contain around dozen of ppl. While we were waiting for the bus (No. 39), a local tour guide told us that the museum was closed for the morning because of some event. But at that time we really had no “plan B”, so still boarded the bus (after about half-hour’s waiting) and headed to the museum.

Actually there was an exhibition about the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque held in the museum, in memory of the 50th anniversary of the mosque. One of the sons of the Sultan attended (not sure if it was the Crown Prince), so there were a lot of police, VIPs, guards, etc. We only took a photo of the museum from quite a distance:
Brunei Museum
(See the black Benz’s? The plate numbers are sequential, should be for the royal members and government officials.)

We actually entered the museum before it was officially re-opened. So for about one hour’s time, we were the only visitors inside. The first hall we visited was full of extraordinary south-eastern Asian style antiques, like weapons, jewelry, home appliance, etc. But there was a soldier (not guard or police, real army man!) was “accompanying” us all the time, quite uncomfortable.

The second hall was an introduction to the oil industry in Brunei. We got to know that all the gas consumed in Brunei is locally produced. Now you know why it’s so cheap!

A series of halls show the history of Brunei, especially the chronicles of the current monarchy. Good self-study materials.

Photo-taking is not allowed inside the museum (and all other museums and mosques in Brunei). I only took a photo with the Sultan …’s picture in the lobby:
Me and the Sultan

As mentioned before, we took a ride on the MPV of a lady delivering lunch to the museum to go back to the Bandar, free of charge!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Relax in Brunei (4)

The best place to take photos for Omar is the Yayasan shopping centre area. This shopping centre consists of four buildings embracing one square. Many tourists will take photos of Omar right at the centre of the square. The shopping centre was one of the biggest ones in the last few years of 20th century, but now is just another shopping centre…
Yayasan shopping centre 01 Yayasan shopping centre 02

One thing quite interesting about the shops in Brunei is, for every signboard in the streets, you can find the names of the shops in Arabic characters.

But actually only few Bruneians can understand Arabic. Most of them can just read it out but don’t know what they are reading…

Also took a photo of the huge signboard about the Sultan:
Photo of Sultan

Once a protectorate of Britain, there are still some signs of history in Brunei:

Melayu course #2:
“jalan” means both the action “walk” and the noun “road”. So “Jalan Elizabeth 2” is “Road Elizabeth II”, a very common road name in Commonwealth countries.

Actually Brunei is not all “bling-bling”. Some streets in Bandar, like the ones around the Bus Interchange, are also worn-out, just like those ones in Malacca, Penang, etc.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Relax in Brunei (3)

The town centre of Bandar Seri Begawan is the “Bandar”. It’s an ancient port, with history tracing back to the Age of Discovery. “Seri Begawan” is a royal title to the sultan (BTW the titles of the sultans and queens can be as long as more than 15 words in English!), so the name of the capital can be roughly translated as “Sultan’s Port”. Nowadays Bandar is a centre of tourism interests in Brunei.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is probably the most famous building to the world in Brunei.
Omar01 Omar02 Omar03 Omar04
This mosque is dedicated to the previous Sultan (father to the current Sultan), and “Omar Ali Saifuddin” is his brief name. The architecture style is a mimic of the Taj Mahal, with the main architect and all the white marbles from Italy. It cost more than 60 million Brunei dollars and was finished in 1958. The Bruneians normally called it “Omar”. This year is the 50th anniversary of this mosque, so there are some celebrations within the country. They even re-do the golden plates on all the domes to make it more “shiny”. Unfortunately they did not refresh the water in the pond surrounding the mosque… (The water looks quite dirty now, not like those photos taken for the postcards.)
But the pond is the major characteristic of this mosque, with a stone boat inside. The mosque, the pond, the stone boat and the bridges consist of a unique landmark for Brunei.
The mosque is open to public during the daytime (except for the praying sessions). Ladies need to wear the black robes provided by the mosque, so do the gentlemen who wear shorts. So actually you don’t have to wear long sleeves and pants all the day round in Brunei (Although moderate clothing is preferred. Sexy beach babes are not welcomed here.), but during the rainy season (like now!) they ARE quite useful, esp. during nights.
The interior of a mosque is actually quite similar to a Baroque style church: Dome, colored glass windows, the seat for the Imam (priest in Islam) on the top of several steps of stairs… Just here you don’t have any seat for the prayers – everybody kneels down and sits on the carpets (those carpets are protected from touching of the visitors). Since photo-taking is not allowed inside the mosque, I just took a photo for the garden.
Also got some night views for Omar (that’s why I brought tripod this time…):
Omar07 Omar08 Omar09

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Better just music -- "Sing to the Dawn"

This is Singapore local cartoon movie, quite a big thing for this tiny little island country. So I got a gift voucher for it, as part of its promotion. I should say, it brought back to me that some movie can really drive me out of the cinema. It was only because of the periodically played beautiful songs by Kit Chan that kept me in.

The story is childish (actually the whole film is based on a children story book): In an oriental poor village, father ordered the intelligent daughter to drop out and marry the sone of the landlord, so that her brother could get the scholarship to college. Little girl found out the secret of the landlord that could stop him from destroying the village and build up a casino.
The thing is, probably we could believe that there are still such dumb nice guys existed in this world, but it's just not possible that nowadays' villains could be as stupid as the film describes.

The background drawings are very characteristics to the South-Eastern Asia area. So in case someday ppl in Hollywood wanna make a cartoon about a story that happened in this area (e.g., the cartoon version of Tomb Raider?), can consider these nice pictures. But the human figures are both lousy and out of date. Looks like the designers are still in the early 80's. Recent jobs done by Chinese movie makers are much better in this area.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Relax in Brunei (2)

The public transportation in Brunei is lousy, for everybody owns car here (just like US…). The government bus is cheap (normally B$1 per trip within the Bandar Seri Begawan area), but the frequency is 30-45 min (the rule is 15-20 min, but, you know, it’s just the rule…), so most of the time you could only take taxi, if you don’t have a tour package. And the taxi fee is quite high, 10 min’s drive can easily cost you B$15 to B$20, almost same price as in Europe and Japan.

Our hotel (Orchid Garden Hotel) is a 4-star one, with a small swimming pool, gym, spa (they have the biggest Jacuzzi in Brunei, but the spa is only opened to male and female customers during separated time slots), etc. My favorite point about this hotel is the big, big guestroom, haven’t seen such a big room for quite a long time… The Chinese restaurant called “Vanda” here is quite nice, from a Chinese’ point of view, and it’s really value for cash, due to the 0-GST in Brunei.
See who has been here?

The royal palace (Istana, as in Melayu) is only open to public during the 3-day celebration of Hari Raya, so we could just take several photos outside the main gate. Cannot see much from here actually…

But the taxi driver we met was really nice: she drove us from the hotel to the Istana, then to the town centre (Bandar), only charged us $20 (normally at least $30), and she even waited till we finish the photo shooting at Istana! Actually Bruneians are quite nice people, who lead a relaxed and cozy lifestyle. We were always given way by the vehicles in the road, not like in most other countries where you need to “fight” for the road. And they are very glad to help you, in one way or another. When we visited the museum the other day, we originally had to wait for 30 min or even longer for the bus back to town centre, but the staff at the museum volunteered to ask the favor from a delivery driver to allow us to take a ride in her MPV. Lots of such things, maybe because Beuneians are just too free of time?

Melayu course #1:
1.Melayu follows a “reversed” order for adjectives and nouns. E.g. “Istana Negara” means “National Palace”, where “Istana” means “Palace” while “Negara” means “Nation”.
2.“Bandar” means “Port”. “Seri Begawan” is the royal title of the sultan who established this city as the capital.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Relax in Brunei (1)

Once upon a year, I will have this kind of rush for a leisure trip. This time, in the atmosphere of global recession, I picked Brunei, arguably the richest country in this world. Ironic...

This is a country covering over 5,700 square kilometres, but with only less than 300k people living in it. You can imagine how jealous I was when I got to know that, given that I was living in a small island of 600+ square kilometres and more than 4 million ppl.

The country is rich because one gift from the mother nature, oil. So they can provide free education and healthcare to all citizens, cheap housing (normally 300k B$ for a two-storey landed property with 3 bedrooms and a big living hall), cheap gas (No joke, in Brunei, gasoline is cheaper that coke, only B$0.50 per litre, and diesel at B$0.30 per litre), cheap cars (B$25k for a regular one, neglectable road tax and insurance), and even cheaper water & electricity supply (I read an ad on local newspaper, one bedroom in suburb area for rent, B$150 per month including water & electricity fee...). Now YOU should be jealous also!

In case you don't know, Brunei is under sultan monarchy, which means the Sultan has the absolute power. He is also one of the richest individuals in this world now. Because of the Islamic culture, there are many social rules, such like ban of alchohol. You can only bring in one bottle of wine or 10 cans of beer, and cannot drink in public (some restaurant might even refuse to "serve" you the wine you bring in!). Perhaps this is the main reason that Lonely Planet doesn't like this country, and only gives it 10 pages in a book named "Borneo" (Borneo is the name of the big island where Brunei, Saba, Sarawak are located in). I cannot even find a street map of its capital, Bandar Seri Begawan online. (There is one in the free tourism guide I got at the airport, but not zoom-in enough for walking...)

Actually it's quite convenient to travel to Brunei from Singapore -- at least two flights a day, and the whole flight is less than 2 hours. Best of all, Singapore dollars and Brunei dollars are exchangeable, so I don't need to bother about the money changer things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just another Popcorn Movie -- Max Payne

A typical popcorn movie, adapted from some popular video game (although I never heard of it...), a lot of shooting, bombings, fightings, etc. But the plot is so lousy that you just can't wait to "predict" the next scene.

I cannot see any real "acting" from Mark Wahlberg. He is gorgeous in Shooter, but that does not mean that he can only be a "shooter", not even for always. A career in Hollywood nowadays means much more that shooting around with some extraordinary killing machines.

Western audience may still get fascinated by the "black angles", but go check out the Japanese movie Death Note triology! I'm pretty sure that this American version is just another copy-cat.
BTW they even don't pay much effort in the movie posters:
Looks familiar? Now look at these:
Now we can name them "Bad-Luck Gunman Trio"...

Friday, October 10, 2008

What the hell is this world?! -- Burn After Reading

Yup, this is the first sentence I can spell out after watching this movie, Burn After Reading.

Everything that we believed to be true, to be good, to be with hope, were tortured and torn into pieces in this movie. CIA is just another bureaucy, where the "leaders" can do whatever tracking or "erasing" they want, anyway everything will be "burn after reading" at the end of the day. In personal life, you and my wife, he and your wife, and someone with his wife, who knows. You think someone is tracking you down, but actually they are tracking me down (hence you are just a "by-product"). I have a plan on him, he has a plan on you, and you have a plan on who? The husband just lost his job, and the wife went directly to the divorce lawyer. The lawyer even taught the wife how to steal money from her husband's bank account!

There's a group of weird actors and actress in this movie (don't expect George Clooney or Brad Pitt to do anything "normal"). A quite unpopular plot, so you know that they are heading to Oscar, instead of box office. But the performance of the actors and actress are so good (given you can stand the F and S words, there are more than 60 such things in this movie), that you can really enjoy the acting, in spite of this rather uncomfort story. Trust me, if such an unhappy story happens to you, you will want to shout out some F or S words too.

Read the Chinese version:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My first fashion show!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a model, or fashion designer, or anyone that "works" for a fashion show. I was just invited to watch a fashion show, right under the T-stage, and that's all.
It's the Autumn-Winter 2008 series of Banana Republic @ Paragon shopping mall, Singapore. I'm not quite familiar to this brand. It seems that their design are mostly like "can-wear" ones, not those ones you could only see ppl wearing during a fashion show... But friend told me that this brand is quite expensive, compared to the low-profile design....

View more photos here: