Saturday, June 24, 2006

Since yesterday we've accumulated a mass of exam scripts to mark. But it's the last weekend of the June hols so we're having 1 last fling before getting stuck back into our marking loads again.

Went with June to watch Silent Hill. Silent Hill 3 -- the game -- creeped me out but the movie came nowhere close. What a disappointment. The movie tried its best with the use of darkness and fog; deep, steep stairwells; and amazing environmental transformation effects. The music was atmospheric, as were the sound effects; all adding up to a creepy ghost town with some pretty disturbed residents, human and otherwise.

A movie is no game, though. Firstly, we know very well that the protagonist isn't going to die halfway through the movie 'cos that'll be the end of the narrative, right there. Um... you know what I mean, right? In the game, at least there is a sense of danger that your avatar could perish in spectacular fashion, and even though that eventuality simply prompts a reload, you still have to think about possible solutions to get past the hazard to continue the story.

Secondly, in the game, you control the pacing of your avatar. You can take your time to observe the surroundings and take in all the ghastly details, building up a sense of dread about opening the next door or descending a dreary staircase. In the movie you're just rushed through the process, following along, having no say in the decision-making process. It's the difference between a carnival ghost train ride and personally exploring the house with a reputation for being haunted in your neighbourhood.

Thirdly, the game makes you feel almost completely alone and friendless whereas the movie crams in too many other characters who seem to want to help. Not that everyone can be trusted, of course, but generally the movie loses the sense of isolation that might have been another fear to exploit.

The monsters in the movie are also quite disappointing. Well, they weren't all that scary in the game either. They were just obstacles to get through to the next objective, but still... The zombie nurses in the game put my nerves on edge, mostly because of their disjointed, misshapen bodies and their disturbing, shuffling gait. But the nurses in the movie have to be played by real people, and they got what looked like a company of modern dance performers to imitate the movement of their game counterparts. Unfortunately, I saw the dancers, not the movement, so another highly anticipated thrill lost.

As in many other horror stories, it's the people that are the real monsters. Fanatic, extreme, self-righteous, conformist, sheep-like human beings that do really nasty things to other people because of their differences. In that respect, at least, the movie got it right.

Some bits also probably censored for the NC-16 rating. The censors with their sharp scissors are the scariest of all.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Oh, my. Vacation's over already. 4 weeks blew by just like that and tomorrow it's back to the old grind again.

In Bali (and I suppose in many other parts of the world too) the kids take their exams first, then they enjoy their holidays. Here in Singapore, we let the kids have their holiday first so that they can use the time to study for their exam which we administer as soon as they come back to school. Pragmatic till the end, we are.

Hope the kids are ready for GP come daybreak!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Meet Abby. We are temporarily sheltering her while a place is being prepared for her at a home for stray cats in Punggol. Posted by Picasa

Meantime, we're also hoping someone will adopt her for good. She's already sterilized and uses the sandbox instinctively. She's gentle and affectionate with us, though she doesn't get along well with Kaiser at all. She'll probably have a hard time living with so many other cats at the home.

Any takers?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Just to balance things, Bali wasn't all that terrible, in case you got the wrong idea from my last entry. It was quite a culture shock at first seeing what it means to have tourism as the main source of income for these folks and hence, every tourist becomes a juicy fruit to wring dry. Once we got wise to this pattern of behaviour, we dealt with it and we really did enjoy our stay.

There were nice people around too. Like the free shuttle bus driver who took us back to our hotel anyway, even though we boarded the wrong shuttle by mistake and the route took us in the opposite direction from where we were going. Also the folks in the main establishments smiled at us a lot but didn't try to make over-friendly conversation, thankfully leaving us alone to browse. And once June got the hang of bargaining, she played the game well and we did get some good rapport from the sarong dealers on Jln Pantai Kuta, where the traditional market is located.

And people aside, Bali is really beautiful. The environment varies so much, from beaches both calm and tumultuous; terraced agricultural greenery; grand mountains and great lakes.

We were there to relax, and relax we did: We half-slept in a large sheltered massage bed on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean at our hotel in Tanah Lot.

We alternately baked in the sun on the beach in Benoa and dipped in the hotel pool to cool off so many times we lost count of our trips back and forth -- well, I did anyway, June just slept under a large umbrella on the beach.

We got to watch World Cup soccer matches every night on our room TV, or on the big screen in the pub if we wanted.

In the 2 spa sessions we had, we were steamed, skinned, tenderized, basted, marinated and boiled with flowers.

We shopped and we ate... what more could we have asked for on a vacation?

And in any case, we hadn't intended to bring much rupiah back anyway. And we didn't. Mission accomplished!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Got away from it all those past few days with no computer and no Internet. And, strangely enough, no withdrawal symptoms either. I was vacationing in Bali, and though I said we didn't need a plan, maybe we should have had one anyway.

My impressions of Bali:

The people have one staple diet -- radish & sotong soup. The radishes are usually those just fallen off the radish truck while the sotong are simply blur. And they get eaten for breakfast unless they get smart, fast.

There is an unquiet desperation for the tourist dollar in Bali. hawkers and street vendors are everywhere, all asking to know where you're from, and most try to make civil chit-chat until you realize that they have something to sell -- some decorative nonsense, or the promise of the adventure of a lifetime, or a sight you'll never see again and if you haven't seen it, you haven't been to Bali. Some vendors aren't even that civil; they crowd around you, blocking off all possible polite exits and shove their wares in your face, while undercutting each other 's prices to entice a deal.

It's sad 'cos they destroy what would otherwise be a scene of breathtaking beauty. For example, the rice terrace and the view of Lake Batur that our cab stopped at on our day-tour we couldn't wait to leave because of the vendors who effectively cut off the scenery while they surrounded us. It's even sadder that there doesn't seem to be anything else they could be doing to make a decent living.

Most of the attractions, even public parks, require some entrance fee and even the ancient Besakih temples required a donation (US$7 per pax recommended) for a guided tour.

Some vendors go so far as to simply be plain dishonest, like the lady who insisted I buy a sarong or I wouldn't be allowed to visit the temple. So, sotong that I was, I bought the sarong she wrapped around my waist at a price that would have allowed her to retire after lunch. It turned out that as long as I wore jeans (which I was wearing at the time) I would have had no conflict with the dress code anyway.

There was this little kid at the Besakih temple who placed a small flower on June's pouch and refused to take it back. He kept chanting, "gimme money" repeatedly and kept following us until our guide advised us to put the flower on the ground and walk on.

Then there was this jolly cab driver whom we engaged to take us from Kuta to our hotel in Benoa. He engaged us in loud conversation and offered to show us where we could see a beautiful sunset "near our hotel" so we said, "ok," as long as it was on the way. It wasn't, and we had to pay an entrance fee to go in, and the cab driver encouraged us to go explore and take photos, though it was nowhere near sunset yet. And he kept his meter running all the while. AND as we were still unfamiliar with the denominations of Indonesian currency then, we seriously overpaid him his fare and he didn't return any change to us. This we discovered only on hindsight when June suddenly wondered why she was so short of cash.

These people really got fat on June the radish and me the sotong, but these experiences hardened our hearts to all street vendors and cab drivers from then on. We said, "no," a lot, and many times we didn't see anybody, we didn't hear anybody and we just kept walking. June made it a point to bargain for everything and we faithfully counted our money and our change till it became a little embarrassing.

And, no, we weren't impressed with the local food either. The decent places to eat were just as expensive as fast food, the menu items didn't seem to offer much variety; and the cheap places to eat would have qualified for a stunt on "Fear Factor." No thanks.

The really sad thing is, we didn't mind spending more on established businesses and multinationals. We couldn't bargain these rates but we happily forked over our hard-earned savings to them anyway. I guess if there's a product or service we want, we're the type to go get it without the provider's effort. But if there's something offered to us that we don't want, no amount of persuasion is going to make us feel good about paying for it. And so our tourist dollar still goes into the hands of the corporations, and away from the hands of the locals whom we were there to "help out" in the first place.

I have photos, of course. A whopping 80+ I've uploaded that mostly tell the tale of our travels. The slideshow takes a while to load, so please be patient. Click.