Flying Shanghai Taipei

Is there a way to know which flight route is the newest in the world? I bet Shanghai Taipei rank right up there!

The trip from Shanghai to Taipei used to take a ridiculous 8 hours (door to door, plus wait time) via Hong Kong. Now, there are direct flights between the two thanks to some good common sense by both sides.

When I checked in, I walked over to the Air China (Mainland's airlines, which is very very different from China Airlines, the accident-riddled Taiwan national airlines) to check in. At the counter, the lady kindly tells me "Sir, Taipei flights are over at the international counters in H."

International counter, eh? Since I was at the counter 10 minutes before the gates closed, I didn't inquire further. But as I was walking to the Air China "international counters," I couldn't help but wonder how long it took the two governments to make this work. Did someone mandate that the Taipei check-ins had to be in the international counters (HK and Macao's are there too, I might add)? I bet that took up a solid three days of negotiation to clear up.

Flight was short and sweet. Food was terrible.


Talking heads

"讲就天下无敌, 做就无能为力" Cantonese saying basically describing someone who talks the talk all the time but never walks the walk.

Thanks to the financial crisis (or, in Hong Kong's case, dumb investors, entertainers masked as politicians, and inept government officials), we get to see a lot of talking heads these days. You know them: they sit in a round table and talk.
  • They let you know that the world is collapsing in front of your very own eyes and the government isn't going to do a damn thing to save you.
  • They also let you know that these problems are really easy to solve... only that there exists some invisible force (usually bureaucracy or rich people or big business) that prevents the problem from being solved
  • They let you know who is on your side (the talking head himself or herself, of course)
  • They let you know who is not (those who don't agree with them)
  • Finally, they let you know since they bring up all these problems, they deserve your attention. Or your vote, if those are politicians
Oh, they let you know a lot of things... none of them are good news. And none of them are solutions to all the problems they bring up.

Now, I'm a fairly simple person. I'm lucky to have a very satisfactory life and, therefore, I don't have much to complain about. In these harsh times, it's a privilege to live well and not worry. I don't take it for granted. I imagine if things turn South, I'd be working my ass off to make it go back up. I might complain, but I'll do more.

Which makes these talking heads Josekin's public enemy #1. Criticizing is easy to do. Consider this logic:

1. Nothing in life is perfect
2. Things that aren't perfect can be criticized
3. Things that are criticized ought to be fixed and given a solution
4. The solution is a thing in life

Now, where would Darwin want to be? You don't want to be #1 and be imperfect. You don't want #3 either cus thinking of a solution may be challenging and, ultimately, as #4 and #1 show, the solution won't be perfect.

That leaves the easy way out: #2. Criticize. Complain. Talk the talk. And never walk the walk cus, God forbid, you'd be imperfect if you walk. Criticizing is an easy way with no real down side. And so our talking heads around the globe are really having a grand ol time these days.


Lost in Translation

I do understand and speak Mandarin. So Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson's experience in Tokyo don't really apply to me. Yet, when you are in foreign (as in not your home) land, there is always something that is lost in translation.

The movie was okay. I didn't like the pace of the movie: too slow sometimes, too fast at others. I also find the stereotype of Tokyo a bit overdone. I'd still recommend the movie to see Bill Murray's surprisingly decent acting... it is, after all, a tailor made role for him. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson's fine ass, shown in the first minute for a solid, um, first minute.

Speaking of Johansson, I recently watched Vicky Christina Barcelona. It's the same acting in both movies! I last commented that Johansson's acting was disappointing in that movie. I repeat the same sentiment for Lost in Translation even though the critics seemed to like it. It's the same person in both movies. Where's the acting?

Recommended movie. It does make you think. In a good way. Especially for consultants who travel too much.


The Pursuit of Happyness

So far, in 2009, I've been pretty good with my blog - 23 so far for one and a half month. Next is to read more and connect more.

Watched the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness on Valentines Day (what an awful festival for those who cannot be with their loved ones). Almost watched Lost in Translation as well but my common sense took over and I went to bed.

Pretty straightforward movie about the underdog finally achieving his goals in life, even though he got his biggest break (going to the ball game) through a lie - told in front of his own kid, no less. Great performances by Will Smith (as usual) and his son (I'm telling you, he has the goods. He's no Sixth Sense kid... but his naivety and pureness was infectious).

My only problem with the movie is what seems to be a glorification of money and its correlation to happyness (spelled wrong by the day care centre in the movie). As Will Smith wonders in front of the Dean Witter offices - "They all look so happy" - I'm wondering whether that's the same for every profession. The pursuit of happiness is all relative. You compare your life to a Dean Witter stock broker, then more often than not you will be below the happiness line. Compare your life to those lining up at the homeless shelter, then you will be above the happiness line. I'm glad Will Smith found his way to the top... but what if he didn't? His world won't just shatter into pieces. He has alternatives too.



Govt Job

Hong Kong was never democratic under British colonial rule. The Queen picked the governor, who then piked his government in Hong Kong. Yet in the early 90s, the colonial British government was compelled by the iminent Chinese takeover in 1997 to introduce democracy (Ah, the irony...) to introduce a democratic process by which the legislative council would be by election.

i.e. hmm... we've been a very good dictator of this land... but there's a bad dictator coming along, so let me introduce democracy and then get on with my life in Britain.

Anyway, since the return of sovereignty of Hong Kong (a.k.a. handover) in 1997, the Hong Kong government has always been a passive struggle with the society. They were never good at convincing that the government was doing good for the people. And the people never trusted it sicne they didn't elect it.

Damn, this is a lot of words for something very simple. I saw the following job opening on the English newspaper "The Standard":
  • Binder machine operator

Me me me! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Under the financial crisis, our government is looking for a binder machine operator!? In an English news paper? I assure you all the professional binder machine operators don't read "The Standard". How would I prepare for this interview? I did some binders back in Boston... I might have even saved one of my managers from losing her mind when she could get the machine to work. How much is the pay? Does it come with government benefits? Would anyone notice the folly and start protesting? So many questions.


Reign Over Me

I attended a classmate's funeral last night. We were not close friends but I remembered him as a quiet and thoughtful person who never made a fuss about anything. He was a great pianist and his playing blindfolded has always reminded me on how brilliant he was in music. May he rest in peace.

As we sat in the funeral home, however, all I could really remember was Alan. I had tears yesterdays... but they were not of sadness. They were tears of compassion and sympathy for those whom my classmate loved and left behind: his parents and his sister. I do not like funerals for the emotional roller coasters that it brings up within me. Yet yesterday was a peculiar calmness that overcame the compassionate and sympathetic tears. Perhaps it wasn't one of "my own". Perhaps is knowing that they have all ended up in a happier space. There was a hint of sadness when I remembered Alan. It was a very selfish moment. Yet I relish it like no other.

Watched "Reign Over Me" a while ago. At first I caught it on HBO for the last 30 minutes of it. Then I saw the whole thing the next night. Adam Sandlers piss poor performance was compensated by an excellent story and Don Cheadle. Decent movie over a simple story line. The lesson, as always, don't judge simply because they are not like you. Recommended.

A very emotional movie for me, particularly those last 30 minutes. "I see them all the time." Me too. Especially in weddings, mass gatherings of people, and funerals. And that's why I don't like them. Nothing personal, just selfish.

She cut my hair

Yup, Poison Chow cut my hair at mina dev' wil. I don't even have a joke, honestly. (Was that a Sports Guy line I stole? I don't know...)
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Ultimate poker question

In my dream, two nights ago (Yes, I'm gambling too much):
  • Holding As-Ac (ace of spade, ace of clubs) in the dealer position, I went all in after a big raise in the early position was called by the player before me. Both players called.
  • One player had Qs-Qc
  • The other had Ad-Kd
  • Ah-7h-8h
At this point, I am dominating the hand. I had trips against a pair that can only improve with running Queens. The A-K player is drawing dead against my hand.

However, when the turn came (4th card), I was devastated... in my dreams. And then I woke up.

What was that card?

Which is crueler...

1. Raise it, kill it, eat it?
2. Hunt it, kill it, eat it?

I was watching Planet in Peril (CNN) and it had a section covering the sharks fin industry in Taiwan. It was actually a pretty good piece of reporting, albeit a bit skewed in their opinion on the subject. Um, yes, CNN thinks it's cruel and not right to hunt sharks for just their fins and then throwing the carcass back into sea even though the law requires the fishermen to keep the carcass. For economic reasons, only the fins were kept.

A few friends of mine, as a result of watching this show, have stopped having sharks fin soup. Which is good, because that's where CNN wants the consumers to go. Personally, I don't see the culinary value of sharks fin soup. The taste is so-so and the price merely reflects supply (short) and demand (decent).

Anyway, I digress again. And again. Doesn't #1 sound crueler? Raising something with the sole purpose of killing it later?

I'll eat what's delicious... and that would be steak. I'm sorry that the cow was placed lower in the food chain by mother nature and human intelligence. Somethings are not meant to be, cow. If it's shark fin, I'm also sorry mother nature didn't make the shark smarter and avoid the bait. Such is life, get over it.


Reviewing everything...

Please brace yourselves for a LONG post... in no particular order:

Wall-E: If someone told me that this would be a movie with almost no voice about about two robots roaming around earth and a spaceship, I would have thought disaster in the making. Turns out Disney had this right. A simple depiction of a robot's life as a garbage man on Earth was going to be cute and intriguing. An even simpler relationship between naive rusty robot and sophisticated shiny white robot was going to be fun and pure. I loved the first half hour: Wall-E kept amusing itself despite the devastation around it. I loved the next hour: fat humans relying on machines for everything. I loved the last half an hour: Eve worrying about a rusty robot that probably served better as landfill than as a half functioning robot. Excellent movie, highly recommended for all the details that came with two simple lives.

Clone Wars: Okay... I just had to see what this was about. Not bad even though it was cartoon. Skywalker gives a better performance than the real person... though I wish Natalie Portman appeared in person. One thing to keep in mind: in the past, you could do much more with action scenes in a cartoon. Seems like special effects have caught up... and cartoons can't out-do humans that much anymore. Not recommended.

Vicky, Christina, Barcelona: Typical Woody Allen movie, not that I have seen that many Allen movies. A typical discussion about love and feelings is reflected through the lives of Vicky and Christina. As seen in my earlier submission to the fail blog, Penelope Cruz won an award for her depiction of a mostly deranged woman. By the way, if I may add, Scarlett Johansson sort of disappointed. Throughout the entire movie, she just had this dumb smile and confusing look. Seemed a bit detached from the movie. Anyway, the movie was an okay discussion about love. I didn't find it too thought provoking. Final verdict: slightly recommended if they can cut out all the very annoying narrator.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Really? 13 Oscar nominations? I don't get it. It's not bad. But it's not 13-Oscars worthy... It is watch-a-second-time worthy though, with a simple premise of a person physically aging backwards. Movie aside, I happen to think that the most interesting and painful part should be when you're mentally an old person with lots of memories and experiences trapped in a boys' undeveloped brain and body. Now that would be intriguing. Unfortunately, due to Brad Pitt, the movie had to focus on the period where he can act as a 20-40 year old, thereby putting his body in the 20-40 range as well. Not so intriguing. By the way, how does that deserve an Oscar? At no point did I feel Brad Pitt acted. He looked old, sounded old, and acted old, but was never that convincing. He seemed more confused most of the time. Nonetheless, I want to give this movie a second chance for its fascinating premise. Recommended.

Death Race: I understand Jason Stathem is the perfect person for this kind of role. Framed race car driver participating in a race to get himself free and revenge on the people who framed him. Awesome casting. It's either Stathem or Scofield for the role. Joan Allen, you are a 3-time OSCAR NOMINEE. Please don't emabarass yourself with these movies! Not recommended, unless you hate Joan Allen and want to watch her demise from being a real actress.

Harold and Kumar escape from Guantanamo Bay: The toilet scene was an awesome continuation of the classic White Castle movie. After that it was mostly downhill. Recommended for the first 10 minutes.

Tropic Thunder: I think my expectations were too high for this movie due to PNGF's constant movie raves (last time she loved a move this much was Get Smart (my review) and Borat). It was okay. Funny overall and a bit over the top. Ben Stiller didn't do it for me, though Robert Downey Jr was really funny. Whereby I loved the scene where the driver of the get away truck asks "why are you all jumping off the car?" (because they were firing a missle at it) and the truck promptly blows up, PNGF liked the "you can't go full retard" conversation between Stiller and Downey Jr. We're just different people, I guess. Okay, I admit, the part where Downey Jr says "Look at Sean Penn. Full retard. Nothing in return." was quite funny. Oh, I also admit that PNGF never raved about Borat. I made that up. Recommended with lower expectations.

Restaurant week in NYC during Chinese New Year... luckily coinciding with my visit to NYC (Great business class to NY, not so good back to Shanghai). Here's the lineup:

Morimoto: the restaurant week lunch menu did not have any sushi and sashimi. So I had the Kobe Beef Lunch Set instead. Kobe beef was a bit too cooked and not tender enough. Sushi was great though. As usual, my Octopus benchmark works. PNGF got the restaurant week menu and her cod was drentched in sauce. When the restaurant manager (he's been with Morimoto since 2002... how do you stay with a restaurant for 6 years?) came over and she told him what she didn't like, we were give two signed copies of the Morimoto menus! Rewards for honesty! Yay! Recommended.

Delmonico's: Petit fillet was good. It's been a while since I had steak. Good steaks in Asia don't quite exist, so I stopped trying unless I get a really good recommendation. Delmonico's satisfied me. Decor was good and service was attentive. I'm still missing filet mignon and real American sugar-laden desserts. Anyway, for $35, I'm not asking for anything more. Highly recommended for restaurant week.

Shake shack: again, it's a matter of expectations. In and Out is better, but Shake Shack is not far behind. Burgers are meaty and juicy while not too messy. Their fries are excellent and the milk shake is a must-get. Some may think it's a bit much for a $10 meal... I think it's worth it. Recommended.

Cipriani: when a restaurants requires gentlemen to wear coats, I expect the service to be good and the food to be better. Well, I wore my coat, but nobody asked to hang it for me. Thankfully, the food was not bad. Here's the biggest piece of Salmon tartar I've ever had. A bit on the fat side given the amount of salmon though. Strawberry sorbet was great. Chocolate ice cream was too rich - felt like it was moose. Anyway, as a rule, your food must be good for you to require people to dress up for your restaurants. Not recommended.

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Chinese govt on the shoe thrower

Excerpt from CNN's report:
  • The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said of the incident: "The Chinese side has expressed its strong feelings against the occurrence of the incident. The British side said that they are very sorry that the incident should have happened and the person will be dealt with according to law. Facts have shown that the despicable behavior of the perpetrator is extremely unpopular and can in no way stem the tide of the growing friendly relations and cooperation between China and Britain."
What a dumb statement.

You have some strong feelings? Aww... Josekin's suggestion: have some humor.

Facts have shown the act is extremely unpopular? Let me see them please. I bet it's a popular toll among Chinese. How about one among Tibetans?

And god forbid it stems the relationships between two countries!

My submission to the Fail Blog

Read this on the Shanghai Daily... it's funny cus somehow the pictures got mixed up yet the words are so "close"...

Penelope Cruz Fail, Goya Fail, Photograph Fail, Reporting Fail
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Missing sports... badly

Sigh. I missed the Australian Open final. I also watched Superbowl without the Wing Squad. And I still can't believe I missed an unbelievable game and my share of 30 ginormous wings. (See 2008, 2007, and no 2006)

What a match between Roger Federer and Rafeal Nadal! I saw the highlights on (thank god for Internet) and it was truly amazing. Well, the highlights always are. Rarely do you see such amazing shots throughout the match though. Congrats to Nadal. Dude's a machine on the court. He never gets tired and never gives up on any shot.

Waking up at 9am to watch the SuperBowl is quite the debacle, as Desi has reflected on before. Here's how my morning transpired (All times are approximate):

0730: alarm
0735-0755: snooze 4 times
0800: PNGF wake up call, snooze
0805-0825: snooze another 4 times
0830: PNGF wake up call 2, dismiss (that's what the phone calls it... dismiss)
0831: Ah-ha, SuperBowl on CCTV5, China's sports channel. Hm... what's this? The lady commentator is just confessing that she doesn't understand the sport at all. Thankfully, the guy takes charge and quickly fumbles on explaining what a false start is. All in Chinese, no less. This is going to be great.
0843: Superbowl without commercials pains me. Luckily, it's a pretty good game so far. Oh, and I just realized I'm on the fast track 1st half and it's a recorded sequence!
0904: I think CCTV5 just caught up to real time game at the end of the 2nd quarter.
0908: Oh my god that was a huge momentum swing. Why wouldn't you pound the ball into the end zone with 1 time out is beyond me.
0910: Time for some mutated chicken wings... oh wait... I'm in China. Down to the Le Meridien executive lounge for breakfast.
0920: I tell you, Chinese commentators are dreadful. DREADFUL! Although Larry Fitzgerald's Chinese translation is quite cool.
0925: Oh, they're showing scantily dressed cheerleaders! I think the Chinese commentators are too stunned to comment.
1030: Fast forward to 4th quarter. Remember, I don't get to see ANY commercials. Not even Chinese ones. At any break, they show the season statistics of either Ben Rothilsburger, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward, Willie Parker, or (insert Cardinal RB name). Seriously, this is the 4th time they're telling me that Kurt Warner has a 90.6 QB rating during the regular season.
1031: I'm officially rooting for Arizona to come back and wipe the smiles off those Steelers players. Where's my beer?Oh, it's Apple Juice instead. Sigh.
1039: Excellent. Touchdown, Cardinals! 20-14... (they're down by 6, the commentators tell me... somethings never change: commentators are always the first to notice the score and then tell you about it and help you calculate the difference)
1048: Wow. The Cardinals forced a safety! 20-16 Steelers!
1052: Wow. The Cardinals scored a touchdown! The man can run. 20-23 Cardinals!
1100: Wow. Wow. Wow. Steelers march right back down.
1115: Wow. The Steelers scored a touch down! 27-23 Steelers!
1120: Wow. Warner fumbles... the play is under review.

Now this is what we call a critical moment in a game. If ruled a fumble, game is over. If not, the Cardinals get one more chance to hit the end zone. You dig?

1121: And of course, BEFORE THE RESULTS OF THE REVIEW, our commentators tell us the game is over. And the live feed is cut off.
1121-1124: WHAT THE FUCK!?

Was the fumble upheld? Did Kurt Warner perform his magic on one last last play? Has Ben Rothilsburger proved to be a big time quarter back? Did Holmes get the MVP? Did Larry Fitzgerald get another touchdown? Who won the Superbowl!!!!???

Sadly, I will never know. (just kidding... PNGF tells me within minutes that the fumble was upheld and the Steelers won their sixth Superbowl)

I need Wing Squad in 2010. Wings. Beers. Frolicking. For sure. Either that, or I'm applying for the CCTV5 commentator job next year. Now, what's a tight end in Chinese?

(QB = 四分卫; WR = 外接手; TD = 达阵; FG = 射门; Rush = 冲something; no names, as far as I can tell, for RB, FB, TE, OL, DL, safety, holding, personal foul, and false start...)


United business class #2

Well, just when I thought I've seen it all about United, here's another experience on United business class, on my way back from NYC...
  • Sitting in the old reclining chairs (not bad, by the way), I was watching Death Race (my condolences to Joan Allen) when there was a small commotion behind me. I was sitting in the second to last row on business class. Turns out the lady sitting behind me had sneaked in from economy! During lunch, they finally found out that the number of meals didn't match match the manifest on business class. I think she pleaded innocence. Likely story.
  • Right before landing, there was a pool of water that was seeping through the carpet. Ew.