Category Archives: SpikeLife

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I’m Buying a Guitar

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I’m gonna be 60 in 3 months so I guess I’m too old to call this a mid-life crisis.  An end-of-life crisis?

You guys know that I used to be something of a musician, right? As a kid, I played piano for around 15 years, starting out with classical, as all kids do, eventually studying with the great Barry Goldberg.  And I started playing the double bass when I was around 11 or 12, which is how I ended up performing at Carnegie Hall with a kiddy orchestra when I was 15 years old. I had an electric bass and studied jazz and tried my hand at a bit of rock. I could also play a smidge of violin and guitar.

Back when I was 20 and still in school, I thought I had to make a choice. I was majoring in film production, minoring in music theory and performance and got to a point where I didn’t think it made sense to continue with both. I sat down and did a painful self-assessment. I decided that if I continued as a musician, the best I could look forward to was playing bass in a band that did weddings or cruise ships. I didn’t see myself as an especially talented player – I could sight read really really well but I couldn’t compose or improvise to save my life. I figured if I stuck with film, even if I didn’t make it as a director I could try to be a cameraman or editor or something. So I got rid of my instruments and never really looked back.  I didn’t even stop to reconsider the music decision when I hit 30 and it became clear I wasn’t going to make it in the film industry. I did stuff in the music industry in the 80s  - managing bands, consulting to record companies on catalog reissues, working in syndicated radio – but never thought much about picking up an instrument again.

But for the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking about playing again. But rather than buying some keyboard or bass, it’s going to be a guitar.  In all of my rock and roll fantasies (and I have a lot more than I’d care to admit to), I’m always playing a guitar and not a keyboard or a bass (or one of those tacky keytar things).

So lately I’ve found myself going into Tom Lee Music, the big music retailer in town, and looking at the guitars. It doesn’t hurt (or perhaps it doesn’t help?) that right now, everything is on sale and that I just received my CNY bonus. It’s not like the U.S. here – we don’t have rows of pawn shops with used instruments hanging in the windows.  I’m looking at the classified ads online for musical instruments and not seeing anything of interest listed. So it’s going to be a new guitar.

The next question then is, what guitar to buy. I don’t want to buy some cheap piece of crap that will be totally useless if I actually get good at this or have zero resale value if I end up truly sucking.

There is the Fender Squier. Tom Lee sells some kind of bogus looking starter kit in a box – a Squier guitar, amp, tuner, case and instructional DVD, all for under HK$2,000. It just looks and feels cheap. Plus, even though I know there’s no relation, I can’t fucking stand Billy Squier.

Next thought is a Fender Telecaster. Why? Here’s one reason:

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And Keith Richards is also a big booster of the Telecaster.

But I did some searching on Youtube. You can find a lot of videos comparing the Telecaster sound with the Stratocaster sound. They’re very different and the Strat seems to lend itself more to classic rock and blues. As a friend mentioned, add enough distortion and almost anything sounds cool, and the Strat seems to do this better.

I went back into Tom Lee yesterday, held a few Strats in my hand, and they felt really right. Right now you can get a bottom of the line Strat for under HK$4,000.  The “American Standard” edition starts at around $8,000 but I don’t think I need that, I think the basic one will do. They come in around 57,000 different colors, really classic like the one up top here, although I do always have a thing for blue.

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And, well, one of my tattoos is a Chinese dragon holding a guitar, and the guitar he’s holding is a blue Fender Strat, so that would seem to settle that debate.

I have no thoughts of becoming a rock star at this stage. My goal is to be a halfway competent rhythm guitarist, maybe eventually working up the courage to show up at open mic night at The Wanch. I’m not even going to buy an amp at first – just one of those adapters that will let me practice wearing headphones. But eventually I’m thinking about one of those devices that lets you plug your guitar into an iPad or a MacBook and work with GarageBand and see what I can come up with.

I do worry, of course, about buying this, playing it three times, and then it just sits somewhere, turning into an HK$4,000 paperweight. I spoke to some of my friends in local bands about this and they basically said, “You’ll never lose money on buying a decent quality instrument in Hong Kong, you can always sell it off again.”

So I’m vaguely certain I’m doing this. Sunday or Monday I’m going to try to get to the main Tom Lee store in TST, where they have the largest selection, and buy one. Unless at the last minute I change my mind and go for the keytar.

keytar

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PCCW’s CNY Present to Me – Service

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Well, the epic saga comes to an end. We now have a landline, Netvigator and NOW-TV.  It’s not all peaches and cream – you didn’t think I would suddenly become Little Mary Fucking Sunshine, did you?

PCCW timed it well. We returned from Paris on Tuesday morning and they called me when I was still at the airport. (Did they somehow know my flight itinerary? Do they have access to NSA data?) They booked the appointment for Thursday morning, between 10 AM and noon – which of course means that the guy didn’t show up until 2 PM. By 4 PM everything was connected and working. Thanks to the holiday eve, I was home from work by 6 PM to check things out.

Landline: I’d previously had two landlines. The reason for this was that I was carrying a second line for my domestic helper, long story. So when we told them we just needed the one landline in this place, the number they gave me was the number that my helper was using rather than the number I’ve been using since 2001 and the installer said he could only use that number. I can call PCCW and see if they can change it back. Should be fun. At least we managed to make them take back that useless Eye-TV crap they forced on me “for free” two years ago.

NOW-TV: Of course my wife is thrilled to have GMA-TV again. But several years ago, for reasons I no longer recall, I’d subscribed to a whole host of channels that I no longer have any interest in getting. I’d told PCCW that I wanted to drop those channels now. They told me – they insisted – that I should wait until after it was all installed. I’m sure they have some Machiavellian scheme to make me keep all these channels.

Netvigator: I’ve got mixed emotions on this one, that’s for sure. It’s a matter of the better speed of my 4G connection vs. the presumed stability of a wired internet connection.

To recap, here’s what I’ve used for home Internet for the past year. Keep in mind that HK village houses are constructed of steel-reinforced concrete, which does an amazingly good job of blocking mobile signals and WiFi.  I get a 4G signal when I’m outside on my deck but as soon as I go in the house it drops to 3G. And the strength of a WiFi signal seriously drops between floors.  So:

  1. Outside the house, a 4G USB modem from SmarTone
  2. Plugged into a 4G WiFi router (TP-Link – and I gotta say, dealers will knock TP-Link as being crap made in China, but this sucker has been sitting outside for a year and gotten rained on more than once and still works flawlessly.)
  3. Inside the house, the WiFi signal gets picked up by a WiFi extender positioned by a window, direct line of sight to the outdoor router.
  4. An ethernet cable runs from the extender to a Powerline network adapter
  5. A second Powerline network adapter is upstairs in my office
  6. An ethernet cable runs from that Powerline to my PC

I know, it sounds incredibly kludgy, and it probably is, but it works. I get decent Internet for my desktop PC and we also get strong WiFi for the ground floor of the house. Here’s a screenshot from Speedtest that I did just a few moments ago:

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I’ve actually registered download speeds of up to around 17 Mbps at times but of course a 4G signal is subject to a lot of external factors. Also every few days I’d need to run around the house and reboot all the devices to keep things working well – actually there would be times I’d come home, go to my PC and see the little icon showing no internet connection, and then I’d also have to run around and reboot these devices, sometimes more than once, to get things going. But mostly it worked.

Here’s the Speedtest result I got with Netvigator a few minutes ago:

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So, just to emphasize, these two tests were done within a minute of each other, at approximately 5:20 AM today (I’m still jetlagged, okay?)

PCCW advertises their DSL service at 8 Mbps but no one actually gets that. My 5.89 Mbps is probably one of the better readings that DSL subscribers in HK get.  Bearing in mind once again that if one lives in the urban areas of HK one can receive a 1 Gbps line for less than us suburbanites pay for DSL and that PCCW has no interest in moving to fiber in the NT villages and other companies find all sorts of mysterious roadblocks that prevent them from running fiber to village houses (HKBBN wanted to do this).  And look at how PCCW throttles you on uploading – holy shit.

So mixed blessings indeed.  I’m keeping the 4G USB set-up for the ground floor since it does provide strong WiFi there and the monthly cost is trivial. And I suppose I will keep that line available in my office for when I have to do a lot of uploading or when I’m downloading larger files.  If someone knows of a way to bridge these two lines and then manually select between them, that might prove helpful.

So, Happy Chinese New Year, Kung Hei Fat Choy!

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Paris Trip Notes

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As many of my readers are aware, I got married on December 1st. I took a few days off following the wedding but postponed the honeymoon till late January. The reason for this was that I knew I had a business trip coming up to the UK (Windsor, outside of London) and I figured that with my plane ticket paid for, that would be a nice savings for the trip.

When I looked online to check out visas for Filipinos visiting the UK, I saw that visa approval could take up to 6 weeks. Then I checked France and saw that it would take just 3 to 10 days. So I told my wife we’d be going to Paris. She’s never been outside of Asia in her life and I knew that anywhere in Europe would be exciting for her. Yes, the weather would probably suck in January but who cares – it’s still Paris.

The only flaw in my plan was that my flights were HK -> Heathrow, Heathrow -> Charles DeGaulle, CDG -> HK. She would have to fly on her own to Paris and I couldn’t get her on the same return flight as me. As it happens, we saved quite a bit of money by booking her via Amsterdam, and I was able to set a schedule for her that had us arriving at CDG at almost exactly the same time and departing from CDG on flights that were about an hour apart.

The next nerve-wracking bit was the application for the French visa – actually the Schengen visa, good for the entire Euro zone. The French consulate requires one to make an appointment online, and the earliest appointment I could get for her was January 16th – too close to her January 22nd departure date for comfort in my opinion. But in the end, it all worked out.

Now, Anthony Bourdain’s advice for Paris is that people who go there exhaust themselves by trying to do too much. He suggests just getting drunk and eating cheese. Cute, but a bit arrogant as well, coming from someone who has probably been to Paris at least 100 times and will return there at least another 100. For people who get there just once or twice in their lives, you gotta do what you gotta do in order to see the things everyone wants to see. I tried to find a middle ground – an itinerary that would leave us plenty of time for relaxing as well as fitting in the core sightseeing activities.

So on the evening of the 22nd, we met at CDG and took a taxi to our hotel, the Hotel Jardin Le Brea, located right at the border of the 6th and 14th arrondissements.  We arrived there around midnight, tossed the bags into the hotel room and went out in search of a late dinner. The first few places we walked into had already taken last orders.

Then we found a cozy spot called L’Atelier (not Joel Robuchon’s place). “A friendly pub with a great atmosphere” is how they describe themselves on their web site – and the description was accurate. I just went with a croque monsieur, I forget what my wife ordered, and we had a cheese plate and a lot of wine. And made friends easily with the people at the tables around us. (Everyone else there was French except for one guy from Morocco.) A nice start to the trip.

On Thursday, following breakfast at the hotel, we took a leisurely stroll through the back streets, looking longingly into the windows of classic boulangeries, patisseries, bucheries, charcuteries and fromageries. We made our way over to the Montparnasse Tower, possibly the only skyscraper in central Paris (not including the Eiffel Tower, of course). You can buy tickets to go up to the 56th floor and from there to the 59th floor rooftop deck, which we did.

From there, we bought Metro passes and made a beeline for the Arc d’ Triomphe. No, we didn’t climb the stairs to the top. Instead we did a leisurely stroll down the Champs D’Elysee. (I can report that, just as in Hong Kong, when you’re out on the town and in need of a toilet, McDonald’s is always there for you.)  We stopped into a branch of Paul for some baguettes (jambon and brie for my wife, saucisson for me) and some cake.

Back to the hotel to drop off the results of our shopping and then over to the Eiffel Tower – I’d bought tickets online for 4:30 though this time of year, advance tickets are probably not required. Also this time of year they don’t sell tickets in advance for the top of the tower, just the “2nd floor” due to the possibility of shitty weather and indeed, once there, the booths on the 2nd floor selling tickets to the top were all closed. So we strolled around, got some hot chocolate and found a comfy place to sit. But outside on the deck, it was just too damned windy to stay out there for long.

For dinner that night, I chose Vagenende Brasserie, a brasserie along Boulevard Saint-Germain that’s more than 100 years old and the place where I had my very first meal in Paris. It was every bit as good as I remembered and my wife was delighted with the quality of their classic fare.  After dinner, the combination of jetlag and wine was really hitting her, so it was back to the hotel and time for bed.

Following breakfast on Friday, we went to Notre Dame. We then walked around the area a bit, doing some souvenir shopping and then picking up our tickets for the Louvre. (You can buy your tickets in advance but unlike with the Eiffel Tower you cannot print them out yourself and you can’t pick them up from the museum; you have to find a branch of the ticket agency – Virgin’s shop on the Champs D’Elysee used to be the most convenient but that’s gone now. And again, this time of year, the advance tickets probably were not necessary as the line to get in was quite small.)

We had one of our few bad meals of the trip – a cafe chosen at random, a tiny menu that led me to think, “well, if they just have a few things, they must really know how to make them,” but both of our dishes were really poor.  It was following this lunch that my headaches with HSBC began.

Anyway, after giving up on the bank, we hit the museum.  We saw two of the “big three” – The Mona Lisa (which you could actually get a clear view of, the gallery was not jam packed) and the Venus De Milo. Sadly, for some reason Winged Victory of Samothrace was not on display.  We walked around randomly for a couple of hours until our legs started to give out (well, mine anyway). Back outside the museum, there was a Japanese video crew and a life-size Hello Kitty. Before they could stop us, my wife ran out and I was able to grab a few quick shots of our “celebrity sighting.”

Back to the hotel to rest up before dinner. My plan was for us to go to La Coupole, a historic brasserie near our hotel. But it was Friday night, 9 PM, and we hadn’t booked. We were told we could wait at the bar but it would be at least an hour and we were too hungry to wait.  So we went a few doors down to Le Dome, another art deco jewel (one Michelin star), where we were served a platter with enough shellfish (at least 20 varieties!) to feed an entire country. Crabs, prawns, langoustines, many types of oysters, mussels, clams, cockles, whelks and stuff I didn’t even know the names of. We didn’t finish it all but we came damned close.

Saturday was shopping day. Actually we started by going to the Palais Garnier and then the rooftop of Les Galeries Lafayette for another magnificent view. Another lunch at another branch of Paul, some browsing at Printemps, and then over to Les Marais for some serious shopping.  And then another patisserie where we could sit outside with some amazing cake and coffee before collapsing back at the hotel. Dinner that night was at Le Relais de l’Entrecote – one of its four branches was close to our hotel. The line was out the door but it moved fast.  One thing about this place – it’s cheap (by Parisian standards).  You pay around 23 Euros for salad, steak, fries and bread. The menu only offers cheese, desserts and wine. The only questions from your server are basically “how do you want your steak cooked” and “what do you want to drink.” I don’t think any wine on the list cost more than 40 Euros.

I had everything planned for Sunday, our final full day. I wanted to start off at Centre Pompidou and finish off with a stroll around Montmartre. Alas, it was not to be. I woke up on Sunday morning sick as a dog. I was showing all of the signs of food poisoning. How or where I got it, I can’t say. My wife certainly didn’t have it and we’d eaten all the same stuff, sharing everything. But I was so sick that I got to the point where I’d just drink some water and then throw that up moments later.

Of course my wife had to eat so I went out with her for lunch. She selected an Italian restaurant called Auberge de Venise.  This place seemed to have some history to it – some photos on the wall were from the 1920s when it was an American bar called, I think, Dingo. And the food looked amazing. She had some pasta, that was perfectly cooked. I had to order something and went for a bowl of minestrone. It might have been the best minestrone I’ve ever had but the bowl was the size of my head and I barely made a dent in it. The manager actually seemed quite upset by this but I told him I thought it was amazing but I was ill and really couldn’t eat and he let us escape with our lives.

I went back to the hotel to die some more while my wife walked around Montparnasse one final time.  For dinner, I still wasn’t ready to eat. She wanted to try a branch of a chain called Hippopotamus.  I was afraid this would turn out to be the Paris equivalent of Outback and, unfortunately, I was correct. I didn’t order anything and the only thing she enjoyed there was the bearnaise sauce. After dinner I picked up some yogurt from a nearby market (nope, couldn’t keep that down either).

Fortunately by Monday morning I was feeling better and we left the hotel early for our flights back to Hong Kong. Yes, it was a damned shame that I was sick for that final day. But the rest of the trip was fantastic – and the best part of it might well have been when my wife turned to me and said, “I know you love me, because you brought me here.” (She did also ask if my company had an office in Paris and if so, could I request a transfer there.)

I do want to add that my second visit to Paris was every bit as amazing as my first, probably even better because this time I wasn’t there alone. And once again, despite the stereotype, I found Parisians to be universally warm, friendly and helpful. It may be that I can speak a little French (albeit with a horrendous American accent) or that I was accompanied everywhere by a beautiful woman (and more than few times she got hit on when I’d leave her alone to go to the toilet). It was every bit as memorable as my first trip there.

I know some of you are probably wondering where all the photos are. I’ve been to Paris before and taken all of the standard shots of buildings and monuments and I think you can find better examples in any guide book. Most of the photos this time are the touristy shots – my wife in front of the Louvre, the two of us on the Eiffel Tower, and so on. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook can see them there; I’ll spare everyone else. (For those who care about this sort of thing, I did not bring my Nikon D800 with me as I didn’t want to deal with the weight and also the bulk of carrying multiple lenses. I brought my Sony RX-10 as my main camera, and it did a mostly excellent job. I also brought my Sony RX-100 to have something pocket-sized for carrying around at night and that did okay too.)

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And We’re Home

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Our trip to Paris was mostly great – mostly but not entirely because I woke up on Sunday morning sick as the proverbial dog. I had all the symptoms of food poisoning but how I got it, I don’t know. My wife and I basically ate all the same food (because we shared everything) except on Saturday afternoon, when we stopped for coffee at a patisserie and I had this amazing piece of chocolate cake called L’Elegance (which I pronounced the best candy bar I’d ever eaten).  Sunday, the first time I threw up, the first thing I tasted was chocolate.

At any rate, that put an end to our Sunday plans. Eventually I got to the point where I would drink some water and then throw even that up. It was crappy weather – cold and raining – so we stayed close to the hotel, going out twice so my wife could eat. After her dinner, I tried having a cup of yogurt, but even that didn’t want to stay down.

By Monday morning I was feeling weak – as you might expect – but strong enough to travel and so we left early for the airport and the long flight home. Fortunately I was able to eat two meals on the plane and keep them down – no small feat considering the quality of Cathay Pacific’s food in economy.

We will now proceed to be jet-lagged as hell.  Our flights left Monday around noon (we were on separate flights, long story) and arrived Tuesday morning and neither of us managed much sleep. We’ve both slept a lot today, which is okay for her, as she doesn’t have a job to go to tomorrow. I do.

I might post more details of what we did later on (not that there was anything really remarkable) but for now, I would like to recommend the hotel we stayed in – Hotel Jardin le Brea.  A three-star hotel costing well under 200 Euros per night, the staff all spoke English and were all amazingly friendly and helpful. The room size was small, of course, but adequate for our needs. The buffet breakfast was small but great quality. Free WiFi. Cable TV – which we didn’t think we’d need but of course did when we got stuck in the hotel for a day.

The location, just off the intersection of Boulevard du Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail, meant that we had just a 2 minute walk to the metro and had dozens of bistros and cafes within a 5 minute walk.

The last bit to mention for now – HSBC. I was 110% certain that I had activated the overseas withdrawal thingie for every account I had months ago, when the new policy was enacted. But when I went online to check on that, I saw that it was enabled for every account I had except my Current account. Was it possible that I had omitted that one? Was it possible that the bank reset it when issuing my new Plus card? I’ll probably never know. Once I did activate it for the account, I was able to withdraw cash from an ATM with no problem.

However, that still doesn’t explain why HSBC ATMs told me my HSBC Union Pay card was “defective” and it doesn’t explain why that card didn’t work in ATMs of other banks that are on the Union Pay network (and oddly enough, I did manage to find some in Paris). Nor would it explain why the manager of an HSBC branch in Paris told me that I would probably have success using my HSBC ATM cards at almost any bank other than HSBC.

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Crazy Busy

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There’s just not enough time in the day (or the night).

I’ve been so busy with various things (not least of which is getting ready for a trip to London and Paris; I leave tomorrow) that it didn’t dawn on me today that I’ve never really finished going through my shots of Faye Wan. I picked one out for an upcoming exhibition but then never returned to the rest of the photos. So I’m doing that bit by bit. (Did I mention here yet that I’ve got a photo in a group exhibition running in a gallery in Soho next month? I do.)

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Friends asked me to shoot their wedding. I’m not a wedding photographer by any means but I think I did a fairly respectable job of it.

Then I was hired to shoot a CD launch party, complete with live sets from three bands. That was a paid gig, so I had no excuse not to finish that one off quickly.

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And earlier tonight we had a bit of fun at our studio, PASM Workshop.  It was supposed to be a competition amongst the partners, all shooting a model at the same time and seeing who would come away with the best shot – with the loser buying dinner. We never got to the competition bit, we just shot and then filled our bellies.  During the shoot I was asked why I stopped shooting so soon. Well, I knew I already had some good stuff and there’s only so many hours in the day (and night).

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Now I don’t consider myself a commercial photographer. If I was, like my buddy Richard Chen, then I’d be looking at every detail and making the sorts of minor adjustments to skin tones and texture that only a trained eye would notice. I did try something different here though – bringing out the eyes a bit more. I also have to say that we have a great crew. With this model (Yumi), Harris and Victoria setting up the lights, Tim on hair and Ash doing make-up, it made my work easy – and fun.

As always, more to come.

 

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Ancient Tales From the World of Advertising

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Sunday morning and I’ve got work to do but I’m feeling lazy so I’ll sit here and type instead. Hope this isn’t a repeat of older stuff – after all these years it’s getting harder and harder to keep track.

From around 1976 to 1980, I worked for director/cameraman Bob Gaffney. I had a weird progression of jobs for him. First I’d come in on a part time basis to edit the house reel. Then I got hired to work as a production assistant on various shoots. Then I became the receptionist in the office and from that somehow got promoted to being his business manager. I figure that in those four years I worked on at least 100 TV commercials in various capacities.

Bob had a pretty amazing career in the business. He started out working on March of Time newsreels and ended up with a more-than-20-year relationship with Stanley Kubrick, shooting second unit stuff on Lolita, Strangelove and 2001. He directed one feature film on his own, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. He was the producer of Kubrick’s never-finished Napoleon – which led to him to leaving the feature film business and starting his own production house to do TV commercials (although he continued as a friend and advisor to Kubrick, which is how I ended up doing tiny bits of stuff for The Shining).

Here’s one of my favorites of his spots, a Christmas commercial for Miller Beer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvbR1ppzNiI

Here’s another notable one – Dannon Yogurt, the first U.S. TV commercial to be shot in Soviet Russia – in the 1970′s!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYng_oCaL3w

Bob came back from Russia with some great stories about the shoot, which was in what is now the Ukraine. They would go from farmhouse to farmhouse, generally around 5 a day. At each farm, the story was the same. They’d walk in and be introduced and the people there would break out the home made vodka and start drinking with their new American friends.

Each day, by the afternoon, almost everyone would be passed out except for Bob. As I went through the rushes, I noticed that while everyone else was passed out, Bob’s focus would get sharper as the day went on. I asked him how such a thing was possible and he told me that before they’d enter each farmhouse, he’d have a cup of the Dannon yogurt, which he believed lined his stomach before the drinking would start up.

I’ve never tested this theory to see if it would work for me. One of these days I will.

Anyway, here’s one of my favorites of the many stories he had.  The first American TV broadcast of the film The Sound of Music was in 1976. McDonald’s wanted to do a big music commercial. The concept was to mimic the film’s opening, with a girl spinning around and singing – but instead of on a Swiss mountain top, she’d be in a field of wheat, ready for harvest.

Given the time of year, they had to go to New Zealand to shoot the commercial. So they’re in this field, mountains in the background, a perfect sunny day. As they’re getting ready to shoot, about a mile away in the background Bob notices a cow herd (or shepherd or cowboy or whatever you want to call him) driving a herd of prime cattle. He figures this has to be a gift and calls out that they should hurry up and get the shot.

Not so fast! The representative from McDonald’s came running up and told him, “No! You can’t shoot that!” Bob couldn’t understand it. He thought it was the perfect touch. But the guy from Mickey D told him, “Those are prime beef cattle. If you have those in the shot, people will think that’s what our burgers are made from. We’ll get sued.”

Anyway, I found this short documentary about Gaffney on Youtube. In this part he talks about his work on 2001 and a story from the time when he directed Orson Welles.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djK2PrS7Qhc

 

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New Year’s Day Rambling

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Some of this may/will be a repeat. Such is life.

I’ve been out of the office for 12 days (using up 5 vacation days).  I’m really not in the mood to go back to the office tomorrow, so I’m doing a blog post, which helps me put off going to bed, which helps me put off thinking about returning to work.

My time off was not as exciting or event packed as one might think – I caught a cold a few days before Christmas and so mostly stayed close to home. I had been thinking about a brief Macau or Shenzhen run but didn’t make it to either of them. Also, I’ve got a business trip to the UK coming up in 3 weeks and following that, my wife will meet me in Paris for a proper honeymoon, so I might as well save my money for that.

(Brief grumble: She needs a visa for France. The French consulate web site says 3 to 10 working days for visa processing and she needs to present her plane ticket and hotel reservation with her visa application. It also says one must make an online appointment; one cannot merely show up and wait in line. So I booked everything and then went to their web site to make an appointment for her and the earliest available appointment is January 16th. This is cutting things awfully close.)

After not shooting anything of consequence in a long time, I did do one shoot at PASM that turned out rather nice. Here’s a sample:

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The girl in the photo is Faye Wan, who was the lead singer of HK indie band Hazden. “Was” because she’s just left the band to concentrate on her studies. She’s not a professional model but I knew she not only looked good but that there aren’t too many Chinese women in HK with such prominent tattooes.

I needed something new because I’ll be one of the participating photographers in a group exhibition in Soho in February. It’s called Scraped (link is to the Facebook event page, in case you’re interested) and I needed some new shots for the show.

(Note: I had this thought – having just shot Faye and now planning an upcoming shoot with Chris B from Underground HK, it might be interesting to shoot an entire series featuring tattooed women. If you’re a woman and have tattoes and are interested in having me shoot some portraits of you – or if you know someone who fits the bill – please drop me a line.)

Following that shoot, I went out with friends to one of those places in San Po Kong that every local and almost no expat knows about - 七喜粥麵小廚 –  a place with no English name and no English menu but where people were pulling up in Rolls Royces after midnight for a break. They’re famous for their crab congee – but we were there after midnight and the crab was sold out. We settled for prawn and fish maw congee, which had some amazing huge and tasty prawns in it. Usually I’m not a congee fan but this dish changed my mind – I’d definitely go back for this, or to try the crab. Other dishes maybe not so much. There was raw, marinated fish skin. Goose intestine with noodles. And something that my friends said had no English translation, just “funny fish,” which was mostly chunks of fish bone with some meat on it, tasty but not easy to eat.

So mostly what I did aside from the photo shoot (and the post-processing, which is still not complete) is work on my CD and DVD collections.

I’ve got somewhere around 2,000 to 2,500 DVDs (including Blu-Ray and HD-DVD) and have sorted out around 750 to unload. Using a Mac program called Delicious Library, I can scan the bar code for most of them, build up a catalog, and check the current value for used copies on Amazon. Of course many of them are going for $1 or less, but some are in the $30 or $40 range, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason that I can figure out as to why some of these things are worth what they appear to be worth.

Then I turned to the CDs. That’s far more difficult, as I have at least 5,000 of them and a relatively small space to work in. I got them all out of boxes (I hope), then went through the task of alphabetizing them and sorting out which ones to keep and which ones to lose.  (I’ve only done Rock A-M so far.)

The “get rid of” stack grows depending on my mood at any particular second. I’ll hit some artist and be really brutal and then, for no rhyme or reason, decide to hold onto all of my Peter Hammill or Robyn Hitchcock discs.

Some discs I feel emotionally attached to for one reason or another and want to keep the physical disc, even if I ripped it to MP3 a long time ago. Maybe it’s the packaging or maybe I just feel that I have to have the actual CDs of every Bonzo Dog Band album.

And each time I put a CD into the “sell” pile, I feel a sense of defeat. I bought it once, with all high hopes, thinking it would be something I’d love, something that I’d absorb and it would become a part of my life, and then that never happened with that particular disc. Which in and of itself isn’t anything big, except when I stop to think about what I spent for it times how many I’m getting rid of equals what I might have done with that money.  Oh well. You can’t undo what’s been done, you can only learn and move on.

In the past year I’ve basically stopped buying physical CDs. There are some exceptions (like the super deluxe Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat, which comes with a marvelous book) but mostly, every time I hit a CD shop (an increasingly rare occurrence) and see something I want, I stop and think not just about the money but also about the space it’s going to take up, and more often than not put it back on the shelf.

I’ll run the CDs through Delicious Library soon. I’ve got no delusions at this point about what they’re worth. (I did note that on Amazon, if you look at the Mobile Fidelity gold disc version of Cream’s Disraeli Gears, someone is asking over US$1,000 for it. Good luck to him.)

The last movies I watched ranged from okay to pretty good – Saving Mr. Banks, Don Jon, Prisoners, Riddick, The Butler and American Hustle.

Also, I re-watched Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, now that Criterion has released it on Blu-Ray (and the image quality is amazing). I remember watching this in film school, it was my first Bergman film, thinking it was really perfect. I think at the time I saw my parents in it. This time I wondered if it was me.

And mostly I’ve been playing Springsteen’s new album, which leaked out on the net a few days ago. It’s a real odd grab bag – covers, studio versions of things previously only done live, a new version of Ghost of Tom Joad, some stuff from the archives with Clarence and Danny. Mostly it works for me.

Anyway, Happy New Year everyone. 2013 started off shitty for me and seemed for awhile as if it would only get shittier. Then I got a new job that doesn’t suck and also got married. Let’s see what 2014 has in store …

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Just One of Those Days

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Warning, a post with me bitching and whining in public just because I can. No comments necessary.

I woke up this morning and it was 11 degrees C (51 degrees F) and raining. Coming from NYC, one would think that 51 is nothing, but I’ve been living here for more than a decade and when most of the year is 85 degrees or higher, 51 is frigging cold. The rain just made things more miserable.

Then I had the one bit of good luck I’d get all day – when I got off the mini bus in Tai Po and walked over to the big bus, it was there at the stop waiting for me. This is the first time in 8  months that has happened. Normally I have at least a 5 minute wait and sometimes as much as 20. (The 307 is supposed to run every 8 to 12 minutes but it’s more like every 15 to 20. Local people tell me it used to be much worse. KMB sucks on so many levels I’d barely know where to start.) The bus made it from Tai Po to Causeway Bay in 30 minutes but it took what seemed like another 30 minutes to make it the last couple of miles from Causeway Bay to Wanchai, thanks to heavy traffic due to the rain.

(Hong Kong drivers tend to forget how to drive when it’s raining – well that’s the same the world over, isn’t it? Sunday, driving home from the movies, it took us an hour instead of 30 minutes because there was an accident every couple of miles. Every lane closure in Hong Kong is 20 times worse than it needs to be because at least half the drivers here don’t understand the concept of alternate merge.)

And then, coming home tonight, a 30 minute wait for the bus. I get on the bus, sit down, open my bag and … I left my iPad on my desk in the office. And with it still raining, traffic on the way home was record slow – including one lane closed in Tate’s Cairn Tunnel due to an accident.

It took me almost 2-1/2 hours to get home tonight – about an hour more than usual. Normally I don’t mind if it takes awhile, I’m watching TV or a movie or reading a book on my iPad and don’t notice the time. Tonight, no iPad and low battery on my phone so just sitting there, staring …

Mini bus ride home, seems like a new driver on the route, who didn’t know where any of the stops were. People were calling out “bah si tsam” multiple times and he’d keep going until they’d have to yell out “yau law li do!” and he’d jam on the brakes and apologize and then it would start up all over again in advance of the next stop. I mean, native Cantonese speakers were calling out their village names and the guy was getting them all wrong. “San Tong? I thought Kwun Tong.”  My Cantonese – well you know I get the words mostly right but the tones mostly wrong, which is the equivalent of getting everything wrong to some people. My stop isn’t at a bus stop but it’s a place all the drivers know to stop – except this one. (It’s double weird – you don’t ask for bus stop, you don’t ask for the name of the street, you ask for the name of a collection of houses that’s halfway down the street that the bus doesn’t go down. That’s Hong Kong style for you.) So there was that, but in the end I got home.

Oh, and my upstairs neighbors, adults all, don’t seem to have ever been taught one of life’s most simple lessons – lift the fucking chair when you move it.

There. I feel SO much better now.

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We’ve Got a Pole! Also, Village House Demolition

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I don’t really have a photo of the pole, except in this picture below. I’ll explain the dual significance of this photo in a sec ….

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First off, that pole on the right-hand side of the frame is new; it went up this week. This means that PCCW service should be just around the corner for us – a wedding gift from them? Well, they haven’t called yet to confirm an installation date and a few days later, there are still no wires running to the pole. But I guess it’s soon. My wife will once again get her daily dose of Eat Bulaga.

Now note the guy on the roof of that house. It’s an abandoned house and I thought perhaps someone had decided to repair it and make it livable again. It turns out the guy was “harvesting” the roof tiles before the house was demolished. Here’s the tiles, all ready to be re-used or recycled, I guess.

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And today, I woke up to the sound of the other houses in that row being demolished. The funny thing is – these are the houses that PCCW wanted to run a wire over, but neither they nor me were able to contact the owner to get permission and the people in my village told me the owner had moved to the UK and no one knew how to contact him.

The other thing that strikes me as funny is that in other parts of the world, people would have preserved these houses and completely modernized the insides and then rich kids would pay a premium to live in something charming and authentic like this. But here they’re simply being torn down and will more than likely be replaced by the same 3 story rectangles that you see everywhere else. I suppose a three floor village house can bring more money than these smaller old houses.

Anyway, I’d never seen one of these being demolished before, so I shot some photos before heading out to work. A man who identified himself as “the builder” came over to ask me why I was taking the pictures. I pointed out my house, told him I looked at these old houses every day, and just wanted to capture some final pictures. “Oh, for your memory!”

Here’s a few shots of those houses being torn apart:

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DSC00369Can you see the blue graffiti on the interior wall? Kind of cute. It’s gone now.

And then, the worker stopped and leapt out of his cab. He spotted something in the rubble.

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DSC00378Looks like a teapot. He looked around, as if he was hoping no one saw him grab this treasure. He may have whispered “My precious!” for all I know.

Well, for a short while we’ll have a very open view until the new houses go up.

Someone has also started construction on a new village house in the empty field behind our house. This may also be vaguely interesting to watch as the weeks go by. First they cleared the field, then they dug down only around 3 or 4 feet, levelled it out and poured a concrete base. Now they’re getting ready to do the walls.

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Yes I’m Married

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lennon

 

Yep, I did it. No, I’m probably not going to be posting wedding photos here, but I will share some of the details with you after the fact.  I’ll preface this by saying that while my gf wife was married once before (and me twice before), she was very young and very poor the first time she got married, and the marriage was kind of bare bones. This time she wanted to go all the way. A fancy formal wedding dress, bridesmaids (and me in a suit and tie).

The day started with all of the bridesmaids arriving at our place to get their hair and make-up done. It was insanity in our living room for hours! One friend drove over to pick up the two of us (he’s getting married next month, so I’ll be able to return the favor), which meant the others had to get taxis to make their way from Tai Po to Central, which led to the only real problem of the day.

We arrived at the Cotton Tree Marriage Registry about 45 minutes early. We waited till 15 minutes before our scheduled time to go in to do the final paperwork. And … some of the bridesmaids hadn’t yet arrived, including the woman whom my wife wanted as her witness. But this marriage registry, located in Hong Kong Park, is always fully booked and has to run on schedule. So we had to ask another woman to stand in.

And then the ceremony, a simple civil ceremony but nicely performed by the magistrate. I didn’t try to count how many people showed up for the ceremony – at least 50.

After the ceremony, we did the posing for pictures thing in the park. One very minor annoyance – they have this perfect spot right outside the registry for taking photos, and this day – a Sunday! – it was roped off and there was a guy working away at the concrete with some electric tool, throwing up dust everywhere. So we found another spot. But construction work in Hong Kong Park on a Sunday? Then back into the car – our friend had a bottle of Moet and two glasses so we could toast and giddy for the drive to dinner.

Our dinner was at Anthony’s Ranch in Sai Kung. Why there? Because we have known “Anthony” and his wife for years and the place has been a hangout for us and many of our friends. (We’d arranged for a bus to pick up our guests at Hong Kong Park and take them to the restaurant – it’s cheaper than you’d expect and it made things much easier for everyone.) We knew they’d do right by us – and they did. A huge buffet dinner, plenty of booze, no live music but I had already prepared a playlist, going with straight classic rock love songs.

That’s tougher than you’d think. I didn’t want anything too obscure and I didn’t want anything that’s not rock & roll. And a lot of the bands I really love haven’t done that many love songs. Think about it. Dark Side of the Moon? Not a lot of love songs there. Rolling Stones? Well, of course I threw in Keith’s Happy but most of their other songs tend to take a dark turn (Wild Horses? Wild horses couldn’t keep me away? Try, “I’ve watched you suffer a dull aching pain, now you’ve decided to show me the same.”) Zeppelin? Does anyone really know wtf Stairway to Heaven is even about? Nevertheless, I managed to come up with a few hours worth of stuff. I recall that I did sing along with the Springsteen songs – perhaps a bit loudly, but if I can’t do it on my wedding day, when can I do it? I can’t carry a tune for shit but no kids cried and no adults went running for the exit.

No honeymoon yet. I figure we’ve been living together for more than 5 years already, so there’s no rush. I’ve got a business trip to the UK next month and we will probably do something in Europe right before or after that trip, if everything works out.

Postscript: This morning, the motherboard on my computer decided to die. We had to go to Wanchai anyway so I brought it in to the one shop that I trust there to be diagnosed and fixed. As long as we were there, I figured we should go someplace nice for lunch and opted for The Pawn.

I’ve run hot and cold on The Pawn ever since it first opened but today, everything there was as good as it could be. Not to mention that it was a sunny day and warm enough for us to sit on the balcony and take our time through the three courses.

Tomorrow back to work. But with a big smile on my face and very happy memories of a great day.

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