Archive for March, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

If you are anywhere near a theater where this movie is playing, GO SEE IT. 2-D, 3-D, it doesn’t matter (although 3-D is beautiful). If Pixar is considered the pinnacle of CG animated movies, and Dreamworks is considered Pixar’s crass, less-talented little brother (Kung Fu Panda notwithstanding) — well, let’s just say that Dreamworks just grew up. And Pixar’s gotta step it up now, because Wall-E wasn’t that great, and Up was cute but had some holes in it.

How to Train Your Dragon wasn’t the most unique storyline — it’s actually pretty standard: outcast kid discovers monster friend, has to protect it from the misunderstanding villagers and teach them how good Monster is.  But, if Avatar was amazing graphics laid over a thinly-veiled cliché with very little character development, Dragon is amazing graphics laid over a fresh retelling of a classic storyline, with loads of character development.

If you can see this now, go do it. If it’s not out in your area yet, be the first in line.

– Laura

My book
My book

Check it out, guys and gal:

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1230405

Per Ben’s suggestion, I finally put together a book of photos from my travels. I don’t really have any expectations out of this, but for once, it’s nice to be able to leaf through my photos rather than seeing them on my screen.
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Mama

Check out this Spanish short horror film. Love how it’s tense and atmospheric from the get-go. More mood, atmospherics and genuine creepiness in 3 minutes than some films have managed for their entire run time. Good news is that Guillermo del Toro was so impressed by this that he picked it up for development as a full length feature with the same director at the helm.

Japan, you should never have stopped making horror films. Spain, I think, has supplanted you as the king of moody horror. 残念.

Malaysia

Day 1-Arriving at Kuala Lumpur, I immediately set out to find a place to stay for the night. I finally settled at the Reggae Bar for 24rm/night. I asked around about transportation to Taman Negara, one of Malaysia’s many jungles. Because getting there required 3 vehicle changes, I was told to visit a travel agency at the Mandarin Orient Hotel. There, I paid 75rm for a one way trip for Taman Negara the next morning at 8:00.

Day 2-The Indian food I had the previous night did not agree with my system. I was practically peeing out of my ass, and on top of that, I wanted to throw up so bad. I was so afraid I would throw up on the bus, so I forced myself to sleep during the first part of the bus ride. When we stopped for a lunch, I felt so much better, so I went ahead and ordered lunch. We continued the second part of the bus ride to the ferry. From there, it was a 3 hour ride on the boat to base camp. The town that they dropped us off had plenty of accommodations and I chose a place for 12rm/night.
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Day 3-My morning shower was horrible. Not only was the water cold, but I could piss more than the amount that was coming out of the shower head. It didn’t help there were all these ants crawling on the walls. To start the hike, you need to pay 1rm for a boat to take you to the other side of the river. It was while hiking in Taman Negara that I discovered I was ill prepared. Not only was I wearing worn out sneakers that was slipping all over the terrain, but most of all, I am woefully out of shape. Simply put, I had no stamina and no strength. My situation did not improve as I pressed on into the jungle. As I ventured further and further into areas less traveled by others, my right ankle had an itching sensation. Curious, I raised my pant leg up, and discovered a leech trying to burrow through my sock. As I attempted to remove him, I was really freaking out, because his body kept trying to avoid my fingers, like it was sentient. After removing him, I found 2 smaller leeches on my shoe inching their way to my ankle. I quickly flicked them off, and thought I should check my other ankle. Upon raising that pant leg, I discovered to my horror that a leech was already latched onto my skin. Not having the proper means to remove him, I ripped him off of my skin, which caused my ankle to bleed for the rest of the day. This whole ordeal made up my mind to leave the jungle the next day. When I arrived back at base camp, I inquired with one of the staff about my leech situation. He said there’s no problem, just that it will take longer to heel because they left their teeth on my wound. A few moments later, I had that same itching sensation, and I found another leech on the same wound! Knowing that staff member smoked, I asked to borrow his lighter. This proved easier to remove, however, that leech must have left some weird substance, because now my blood was coming out very viscous. By now, my sock looked like a bloody maxi pad. I made my plans to leave the jungle the next morning by purchasing a ticket to Cameron Highlands for 90rm. I ended the day by joining a night trek (20rm) to see some nocturnal bugs and insects.
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Day 4-Leaving Taman Negara in the morning, I arrive in the town of Tanah Rata in Cameron Highlands in the afternoon. Cameron Highlands is a mountain area where they have several tea plantations. I was surprised to find out it was raining there, and without a jacket and umbrella, I was extremely cold. As a result, I did my best to quickly find a place to stay without being too expensive, and finally chose a room for 25rm. Because of the rain, I decided to walk around town for the rest of the day. There was one area that had a lot of street food vendors and I also found another inn that had rooms for 12rm.
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Day 5-First thing in the morning was to check in into the 12rm inn. The room was tiny and the ceiling angled down from the doorway, so you couldn’t stand straight up. But I had no problem with the place, aside from the walls not being sound proof. I took the local bus (2.5rm) to Sungai, one of the most visited tea plantations located northwest of Tanah Rata. The bus doesn’t take you to the plantation directly. You have to walk 3km from where the bus drops you off. The plantation has an observation deck built into their tea shop. Everybody was content to only taking pictures from that spot, but I went ahead and ventured into the plantation field itself. Though it wasn’t raining, it still wasn’t the ideal weather situation, because the sun barely came out. About 5pm, I started to dash back to where the bus dropped me off. I knew their bus terminal closes at 6:30pm, so I was hoping I can still catch the bus back to Tanah Rata. I waited for over half an hour, and I started to worry how I would get back. Just when I started thinking about hitchhiking, the bus finally arrived.
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Day 6-The next morning, it was overcast again. I made a hike to one of the waterfalls, which was a major disappointment. Not only was it small, but it was also littered. After lunch, I walked 2km to Brahat, another tea plantation. Not only were their fields awesome to look at, but the sun also started to make an appearance. I was really considering to stay until 5pm for better lighting conditions, but there was no guarantee that the sun will stay out, so I made my walk back to town. I was so fortunate to make this decision, because after 5pm, it started to rain hard. I was getting tired of the rain and coldness, so I purchased my bus ticket to return to Kuala Lumpur the next day.

Day 7-Arriving back in Kuala Lumpur, the sky had some awesome cloud formations, so I decided to go to the Petronas Towers to take some sunset pictures. While walking through Kuala Lumpur, I was trying to find a vantage point for a good cityscape shot, but couldn’t find any, so I opted to simply go straight to the towers. That night was definitely full of good fortunes. Not only was the sunset great, but I also met a really cool Malaysian dude. After taking my sunset pictures, I started to make my way back to where I was staying. While waiting for the traffic light to change, I saw a guy with a massive tripod with an equally massive bracket for his DSLR camera. He saw my gear and asked if I got any decent shots. From there, we started talking camera shop, and come to find out he’s Malaysian professional photographer. Calvin had started his interest in photography when he was 12, then studied under Japanese photography masters in Japan for 10 years and came back to Malaysia to marry and have 2 kids. I then asked him where would be a good vantage spot for cityscape shots. He mentioned there were two, then proceeded to say he can take me to one of those spots. I couldn’t believe my luck and after he drove me to one of the vantage spots, I offered to treat him to dinner. He seemed surprised that I hadn’t eaten yet, and mentioned there was a nearby place we can go to eat. I don’t how he did it, but he managed to treat me instead! It was really humbling to not only meet a professional photographer but also a genuine decent human being.
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Day 8-The next morning I took bus 11 to Batu Caves, which was a disappointment to me, especially in contrast to the caves I saw in Vietnam. Afterwards, I went to visit the Lake Gardens, which was also disappointing. It also started to rain, which didn’t make my day any better, except when I randomly came across Little India. The vendors there were selling so much food that I wanted to try everything. I sampled a few, and they were awesome. I told myself I’d have to revisit at least one more time during the week.
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Day 9-I originally intended to visit their zoo, but decided to catch a cultural dance performance, since I haven’t really taken any photos of people since my stay in Malaysia. By the end of the day, it was raining again, and by this time, I was getting tired of Kuala Lumpur. I wanted to visit the city of Putrajaya, which is between Kuala Lumpur and the airport, so I decided to visit that city the next day and eventually arrive at the airport by night.
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Day 10-In front of the MayBank Tower, I took bus 68 to Putrajaya. My original plan was to arrive at the final destination of that bus, Putrajaya Sentral, inquire about transportation from that city to the airport, take the local bus to Putra Mosque, take pictures there until sunset, take the local bus back to Putrajaya Sentral, then finally take the train to the airport (to sleep at the airport and fly out the next morning). However, after riding on the bus for 1 hour, a traffic coordinator indicated to the bus driver that he had to pull over and wait. Since we were already at Putra Mosque, I decided to just get off here, walk around the city, and worry about getting to the airport later. I later realized the reason why the bus had to pull over was because there was a large flux of people arriving at the Putra Mosque for Ramadan. The city is quite modern and one can tell a lot of effort went into their urban planning. What was strange however, was, aside from the people attending the Putra Mosque, there were hardly any people out. It was almost like a ghost town. After the sun had set, I immediately rushed out to Putrajaya Sentral because I didn’t know when the last train would be to the airport. I finally hailed down a bus heading to Putrajay Sentral. The ride was 50sen, but because I had no change, the driver told me to forget about it. After purchasing my train ticket, I realized the total fare I paid from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya to the airport (3.5rm + 6.2rm) was cheaper than a direct bus from Kuala Lumpur to the airport (12.5rm).
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Some closing thoughts: It’s amazing that this country can have such a mix of ethnicity (Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian) that can coexist peacefully. And unlike America, they seem to be able to retain their cultural identity, rather than being homogenized. It’s also ironic that of all the Southeast countries I’ve visited, Malaysia not only seems to be the most developed, but also the nicest (and least pushy). Calvin had mentioned an interesting thing about the current state of Malaysia. With the economy being as it is now, there have been less tourists coming through, but on the contrary, the Middle Easterners have been making more of a presence in Malaysia. So much so that restaurants and other facilities have been popping up to accommodate them. As a result, more of Malaysia’s economy is coming from the Middle Easterners and may eventually have more influence upon the Muslim viewpoint to become more conservative.