Friday, June 27, 2008

on the stage: Beauty & the Beast

at Kuala Lumpur Convention Center

Finally, a musical of worldwide acclaim comes to Malaysia (let's not even talk about Cats, which is feeble at the best of times). This is momentous because most musicals of any note or quality go straight to Singapore, and bypass this place. Possibly due to censorship issues, red tape, and probable demands for bribes & handouts from politicians and customs and immigrations officials and their kind.

Anyway, Beauty & the Beast is running at the Plenary Hall of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center for the next week or so, I think most tickets are sold out by now. We got the RM250 tickets, but with the CIMB credit card we got a 20% discount on the tix.

The venue was a nice and large one, but we had to sit quite far away from the stage, so we couldn't really see the actors very clearly. At least the view was unobstructed. Air-conditioning was adequate but the foyer area was rather too small to handle such a large crowd of people.

The story is quite obvious, it's the same as the Disney movie (this musical is also produced by Disney). So I'm not going to bother going into details about it here. They just had to add additional scenes and songs to extend the production (you wouldn't pay hundreds of $$$ just for a quick 1 1/2 hour show, would you?!)

For the most part, the production was alright. Definitely not the standard we'd expect from an international production. The sound system was poor, highs were overly amplified, bass was not sufficient, and voices cut in and out occasionally. The balancing between voices was also quite poor. Sometimes one voice would overpower the others.

Acting was average at best as well. Nothing overly stood out in terms of the acting quality. The choreography was really poor, while the stage was really too small to hold something of this caliber and magnitude. It really caused problems with the movement and I think really stretched the audiences' suspension of disbelief.

Let's see, what about the music? It is a musical after all, and a Disney musical to boot. I'd say that the music was also very average. The actors for Belle, the Beast, Lumiere and Lefou were alright, but Gaston was really unsuitable and underpowered for the role, and he tended to fudge the higher notes (and he was definitely not ripped like the real Gaston! He actually looked kinda scrawny). Besides a few real instruments like the trumpet and double bass, most of the orchestral parts were synthesized and it really showed, especially in parts like the strings. Also, many of the songs were done too slowly, resulting in a very insipid tempo and performance.

All in, it was a good experience to finally get to see this (after 14 years, this debuted on Broadway in 1994) but it left much to be desired. I wish we could get some good musicals with some actual quality. This production really wasn't actually worthy of the Disney name, and certainly didn't live up to the standards that Disney would have required from their Broadway or West End productions.

Venue: 6.5/10
Acting: 6/10
Orchestra: 4/10 *fail*
Choreography: 3/10 *fail*
Sound system: 2/10 *fail*

key roles
Belle: 7/10
Beast: 8/10
Gaston: 2/10 *fail*

key songs
Belle: 3/10 (much to slow to be effective) *fail*
Gaston: 1/10 (really, really insipid performance) *fail*
Be Our Guest: 2/10 (really disappointing and bad choreography) *fail*
If I Can't Love Her: 8/10 (really the best performance of the evening)
Beauty and the Beast: 6/10 (ok performance by Mrs. Potts)

overall: 5/10

P/S: yes, folks, I did bump into people I know there. As many of you say, it's inevitable.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

brush wash wash

don't hate me, but

this song is just too addictive!

it just won't stop playing in my head!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

it's here!




HTC Touch Diamond...

I'm speechless.

irrational desire to own this developing fast

Monday, June 16, 2008

on the road: Club Med Cherating Beach

last weekend we got to have the Club Med experience at Cherating Beach, courtesy of Shell IT International's desktop team. Yes, perks of working at a large multi-national. Altogether, over 600 employees and their spouses got to go on the trip, fully sponsored. Not too shabby!

all this included a little goodie bag (but only for the employees) which included a weekender bag, Club Med t-shirt and a brand new iPod Shuffle (good perks, in my opinion). So my wife gets these freebies. Nothing for me, but hey, a free holiday, who's complaining?

6 buses were provided for the journey, in addition to the many who chose to drive on their own. Many people decided at the last minute to drive on their own, and neglected to inform the organizers that they would not be taking the bus, making everybody wait and the organizers had to call them to check if they were coming or not. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?! Don't they have any sense of responsibility or remorse? Making everybody wait for over an hour for no reason is not a good thing to do.

All in, the bus journey took about 5+ hours. Rather tiring. Leaving Cyberjaya at about 10am, we reached Club Med at about 3pm after a 45 minute break along the way.

Club Med is an all-inclusive resort where all your meals, drinks, entertainment and activities are included in the price of the stay. So, every meal is a buffet meal (breakfast, lunch & dinner), drinks at the bar are free-flow and absolutely free and you can participate in kayaking, sailing, archery, golf, rock-climbing, all free of charge.

The place is at a gorgeous location along Cherating Beach (near Kuantan on the east coast). They have their own private stretch of beach, and it's kept pristine clean by the resort, pretty nice compared to the filth we normally find on typical Malaysian beaches. Just to give you an idea of what we're talking about...Sorry... HP imaging...

anyway, it was very enjoyable, with a nice swimming pool as well (as the sea is sometimes too rough for swimming), and GOs generally pretty cheerful and helpful.

Yes, the GOs. Short for Guest Officers or something like that, they are mostly young people from around the world (probably taking summer jobs) and they man stuff like the retail shop, reception, bar, and the various recreational activities.

Every night there's a show put on by the GOs, so the same people you see at the bar or at the archery range during the day are then dancing and acting at night.

Like I said, every meal was a buffet, and they have a very wide selection of food. Roast meats at the carvery, Japanese, Korean, Italian, European, local, Chinese, kids menu... just a huge selection of food to choose from. Most of the noobs kept to the Chinese section which offered stuff like char koay teow, or yong tow foo, etc. We avoided that section, mainly because it was too crowded, but also, unless it was exceptionally good, what's the point of eating the same stuff you eat almost every other day? It's mind boggling when there's a bewildering array of other food around.

The food was hit and miss, however. It's to be expected of most buffets, especially of this magnitude, that some items would be sub-standard and some would be quite good.

The main problem I had at the place, besides the fact that it was just too crowded with Shell people, was the air-conditioning. It's a hot and humid season, and for the most part it was just too hot to be anywhere (although there was a nice breeze at the beach itself). The room air-conditioning was quite poor, without any temperature control, and although the room itself was nice and cosy (with the smallest bathroom I've ever seen in a high-end place) with a nice and very comfortable bed, the heat was just too much for the air-conditioning and the only place of refuge was a very nicely cooled lounge right next to the bar. Perfect :)

All in, Club Med Cherating Beach is a nice place to go, they really just need to do up the air-conditioning properly. Other than that, no complaints, it would be a great place to be with a small group of friends. Going with 650+ other Shell employees of which we didn't really know that many wasn't a very fun time.

Beach: 8 (out of 10)
Food: 6
Rooms: 7
Air-conditioning: 3 (only the lounge saves this score)
Activities: 6
Entertainment: 7
Overall: 7 - I'd go back again (if I could afford it), this time with a small group of friends, preferably.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

making sense

it is just me, or was CSI:LV last night just completely whacked?

3 separate cases, which turned out to be completely interlinked, people with green blood, spontaneous combustion, and to top it off, a completely delightful appearance by the guys from the Mythbusters team! I guess they were there for the spontaneous combustion experiments. Good stuff.

What sobers me is the prospect that another CSI team member is gonna leave the show. This time for good. Yes, CSI:LV is killing off one of its members, quite shocking and unexpected. I mean, Sara was kinda always with one foot out the door (and half unhinged anyway) but this is really sudden. For those who don't know who it is yet, keep watching. It will come in a couple of weeks.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Langkawi trip

last week my wife's cousin came back from the US and so the entire family (my wife's parents, siblings, cousin, uncle & aunts, nephew & nieces) all went for a holiday at Langkawi

We stayed at the Sunset Beach Resort, which is a nice little boutique resort on Pantai Cenang, on the west coast of the island. Squeezing everyone in a Toyota Hiace van proved a bit of a challenge (11 adults and 3 kids) but we managed to putter around with that.

The resort was a nice quiet place that had a clientele of mainly western tourists, some of which stayed there for weeks or even months. That is, quiet until our family descended on the place (true to their Hakka origins). I hope none of the other guests were too put off by our presence. The rooms were basic, having an air-conditioner, hot water shower, a mini-fridge and a tv (although ours was spoilt, we didn't really care as we don't watch much tv anyway). No shower screen to prevent the rest of the bathroom from getting wet.

Breakfast at the resort was basic but okay. It consisted of fruits and toast (both unlimited), and 2 eggs with half a sausage (yes, I know, half a sausage is rather pathetic). Sunset Beach Resort has access right to the beach, and the breakfast place is right next to the beach, so it's nice to have breakfast while watching the waves crash on the beach.

The beach itself is ok. Being Langkawi, there's the odd occasional alcohol bottle strewn about but other than that, it's relatively cleaner than most other Malaysian beaches (which isn't saying much, most other places are cleaner than Malaysian beaches). We had fun hanging around in the water and waiting for the waves to come crashing in and jumping with the waves. The downside was that the water was quite sandy and everyone would get sand in their swimming costumes.

Food, as expected, was expensive and the first few meals were disasters. The first meal which was a lunch in Kuah town cost us over RM300 and didn't have anything much, and wasn't very good either. Dinner which was down the road from the resort wasn't much better, and by the second day some of us were really fed up with Chinese food (although, some of the older ones only ate Chinese food, and the kids were extremely unadventurous and picky). We managed to celebrate Father's Day on the second day when we went to another restaurant which was also managed by the Sun Group, which was called Sunvillage Grill (adjoining Matahari Malay Restaurant). The funny thing was that only 3 people ordered stuff from the grill, whereas most people ordered food from Matahari (since they're managed by the same company, they allowed cross-ordering). I ordered the surf & turf, craving for a nice steak. What came was okay but quite a disappointment. The steak came all chopped up and probably griddle fried, teppanyaki style. The shrimp was okay but the potato salad that came with the meal was rather good. The Malay food there was pretty good as well, and came in abundant portions. By the end, nobody was able to move.

We also went adventuring and ended up at Sun Cafe (also by the Sun Group) which served international food. We had desserts there two nights out of three and they were good. Chilled lemon mousse cake and crepe suzette were good there. Second night we went back there to have the same things again.

On the third day, since it was more of a free and easy day, some of us younger folk went to adventure further and went to L'osteria, an Italian restaurant nearby. The pizzas and pastas there were pretty yummy! Although the pizza bianca (with smoked salmon and rocket lettuce) was an acquired taste.

We went to Underwater world as well and it wasn't really as good as previous years, mainly due to the fish poisoning case last year, I guess they hadn't restocked everything yet. It was quite unpleasant as well with many Malaysian kids running around and screaming their heads off. Can't Malaysian parents just take care of their kids and not let them scream all the time? Kids littering, banging on the display glasses (and stressing the fish) and worse, the adults were doing it too! And using flash photography! Are these people actually educated or did they just buy their way through school?

Dinner on that last night was some decent Chinese food (finally!) with some really huge mantis prawns! Although it cost about RM420.

One final note, this was the only time I actually semi-enjoyed flying with Air Asia. The reason being that normally Air Asia flights are overly crowded and without any seat assignments, everything goes chaotic when it's time to board the plane.

surprisingly good, surprisingly bad

I've been busy the past couple of weeks. Will try to update as much as I can in this session.

a couple of weekends ago, my parents wanted to go to a place in Puchong called Shabu Shabu. Shabu Shabu means swish swish in Japanese, in which you cook thin slices of beef in broth. This place doesn't really fit the description, but, hey, it was pretty good.

Shabu Shabu is beside the Bandar Puteri Giant, I don't know the address. For RM25+ you can opt for the buffet, with which you get your own pot of broth, and you get to take plates off the conveyor belt ala Genki/Sakae Sushi style. They've got various meats and vegetables that you can choose from. I immediately thickened my soup with cauliflower, onion and egg, which made it wonderfully flavorful and thick. I then proceeded to fill it with all manner of beef, mutton, chicken, pork, and various meatballs and crab sticks and vegetables. The deal also came with drinks, which was good value for just about RM27 nett or so. I'd definitely go again!

Conversely, on Sunday went to Bubba Gump for lunch after church with some friends. We were seated outside in the corridor as the tables inside were all taken up. We seated ourselves (first sign of bad service!) and were not given any menus. I had to peep around the corner and signal to the girl at the front desk for menus. After we were ready to order, I flipped the sign (either Stop to get the waiter to stop by your table for service, or Run to tell the waiter not to disturb you) to Stop, and waited.

And waited

And waited

finally I managed to get the attention of the girl at the front desk again, she asked another waitress to come and see what we wanted. I told her we wanted to order, at which she replied "oh, I'll get your waiter".


Okay, if our table has an assigned waiter, how come we hadn't seen him for the past 15 minutes?

Anyway, the waiter finally came, took our orders. One of the huge disadvantages of Bubba Gump is that they don't have any cheap drinks. Not the bad quality ones, mind you, I mean casual drinks like Coke, or something that's not as pretentious as all the expensive ones they have on offer. So waters all around. The waiter also made some feeble attempt at entertaining us with some trivia from Forrest Gump (which was nowhere as well presented as the first time I went).

The food finally arrived. May's Lt. Dan's fishwich was not good (according to her). She chose the charbroiled fish which was nowhere near as large as the bun it came in, which made it look rather bad and substandard. Neo's hamburger looked much better and smelled good, but he said that it was salty in certain places and only so-so.

I had the clam chowder which was excellent as usual, and the Dumb Luck Coconut shrimp, which I really regretted ordering. Now, don't get me wrong, it tasted very good, but paying RM38.90 for seven shrimp and some fries and a bit of coleslaw just isn't my idea of value-for-money. For RM44.90 I could have ordered the Shrimper's heaven, which would have included coconut shrimp, and various other types of shrimp, much better value.

And onion rings were excellent! That's at least one thing that is consistently good

Anyway, in a nutshell... the food was okay and the service was absolutely terrible, something that really surprised me. I think I will swear off going to Bubba Gump in the daytime and stick to only going at night, when the service I had twice was very good.