Archive for the ‘blog’ Category

May 14th, 2011 dotted line

First YouTube uploads!

Taken with the Nokia N8 – Sydney:

and Bondi Beach:

September 22nd, 2009 dotted line

Dinner and Hope



September 13th, 2009 dotted line

Credit Card, Cash

See Expenses.



September 7th, 2009 dotted line


A year ago, to the day, I started keeping an expense journal. Every item of personal expenditure has been duly recorded for the last 365 days, and I have been surprised by how closely linked money and almost everything I do of consequence are linked. My expense diary is my defacto personal diary.


Monthly totals

May 6th, 2009 dotted line

Shopping in London

To walk through London in sunshine is to realize you’re in one of the great cities of the world. Here are some favorite stores in a week of living in Covent Garden (thanks for letting me live like a non-tourist, Manny!):

  • Scoop Gelato, a block away on Shorts Gardens. I was there twice and saw different flavors each time; few things beat sucking down gelato in sunshine, while watching half of Europe walk by in Neal’s Yard. Pistachio and coconut one time, and milk and mango sorbet the next – very, very good, and at £2.50 for a small cup, decent value for gelato in London.
  • Many of the world-class restaurants in the West End have fixed price pre-theatre menus (generally under 20 pounds), and there are deals to be had if you’re prepared to eat before 7 pm. Arbutus was excellent, and Joel Robuchon also has a branch here.
  • Abbott and Holder, purveyors of original English drawings, watercolors, oils and other artwork, located opposite the British Museum. They have a large selection over three floors, aren’t exorbitantly priced, and make for a unique gift or souvenir.
  • The Dover Bookshop, on Earlham Street; you don’t see a bookshop devoted to wallpaper patterns everyday.
  • Stanfords on Long Acre Road, travel maps, books and other resources over three spacious floors.
  • Tayyabs (thanks Manny), the best Indian restaurant in London, found near Whitechapel tube and worth our 50 minute standing wait. Ridiculously sophisticated interior for the rock bottom prices, it’s even BYOB, which you can buy at nearby off-license stores.
  • Marks & Spencer Food, the Long Acre Road store. Simply heaven-sent if you live in the city by yourself, with terrific packaging, great variety (Goan prawn curry, anyone?) and prices, and thoroughly modern. The self-checkout machines ensure lines move quickly.
  • Selfridges, now my favorite English department store, and their flagship on Oxford Street. Their Pantone 109 yellow and black carrier bags are iconic, and though you can’t buy souvenir versions of these like you can at Harrods’ (a shortcoming which will probably be rectified at some point), you can get a reusable Selfridges Food Hall-branded shopping bag. Centennial celebrations are taking place throughout 2009, seen in the window displays, the basement Ultra Lounge, and main stage.
  • The flagship store is contemporary and has a sense of fun where Harrods can be somewhat old-fashioned and fusty (not to mention chaotic with tourists), and bright and open where Harvey Nichols can be cramped and a little soulless IMHO. The range may be smaller, but it’s intelligently selected – I purchased this clever wine aerator made by Scandinavian Menu. Artisan du Chocolat are on-site, and excellent.
  • Harrods, Knightsbridge. Okay, the interior could do with some updating, but its product range and sense of luxe is still the one to beat (the food halls are deservedly famous), and the service is terrific. Come to think of it, the service in most of these stores is great, though being called “Sir” all the time can take some getting used to. I got a taste of espresso made by a bean-to-coffee machine from Jura, and played on the best digital piano yet, the Roland LX-10 (the Ivory Feel keys allow you to basically “grip” the keyboard, a tactile experience like no other).
  • The Topman flagship store in Oxford Circus, with almost Asian sizing if you overlook the too-long sleeves and torsos.
  • The Covent Garden Boots pharmacy has a great selection of travel-sized products, including labels such as FCUK, Hugo Boss, and L’Oreal.
  • A nice surprise – the proliferation of Muji and Uniqlo stores throughout the city (why are there none in San Francisco?), including three Mujis on Oxford Street alone (following the pattern of NeXT, Esprit and others, presumably so shoppers can stick to just one side the entire length of the street). Not-so-nice, the markup – the yen price is the pound price. Also not-so-nice, clothing is UK-sizing, not Japanese.
  • Special mention goes to the best staged production I’ve ever seen, the National Theatre’s War Horse playing in the West End. It veers close to but never topples into sentimentality, and the integration of life-size horse puppets into the sets and story is original and incredibly effective.


Selfridges window display

February 24th, 2009 dotted line

Impressions of Manhattan

  • Everyone jaywalks! Egregiously!
  • Public transportation is comprehensive, cheap and convenient. For a tourist, a 7-Day Unlimited MetCard costs $25, and is good for both the subway and buses. I had no problem getting taxis.
  • This has to be the center of the universe. Where else will you find speakers as distinguished and diverse as Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Malcolm Gladwell, and Woody Allen, speaking at the local Y?
  • It’s a great town for well-heeled foodies, especially in the present economic downturn. It’s fairly easy to get tables now, and there are deals seemingly on everywhere, with Michelin-rated restaurants still offering their Restaurant Week specials from last month. Good guides include the New York Times’ dining section, and Zagat.
  • It’s a big city with busy people; but they are unfailingly civil, and often helpful. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting, but this was nice.
  • Everyone gives a hundred percent, and more. It seems that’s what it takes to make it, and you can smell it in the air.
  • Scarves are a prerequisite at this time of year.
  • Of the big four museums (MOMA, Met, Guggenheim, Natural History), I came away loving the MOMA (which has one of Monet‘s large scale water lilies). The Met is colossal – you could spend the entire morning looking at just its Impressionist collection (including impressive selections from Monet and Van Gogh). They have a selection of ukiyo-e prints from Hokusai (including the The Great Wave off Kanagawa) and Hiroshige.
  • Must-see museum for next time: The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, on the Museum Mile.
  • There are two sporting halls of fame if you fancy a drive – Baseball in Cooperstown, NY is impressively curated and reverently presented, and beats Basketball in Springfield, MA, which feels like a noisy mall in the ‘burbs.
  • Better than both is the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

Manhattan from the air

July 21st, 2008 dotted line


Roast duck and pork over rice for five dollars. Oranges, nashi apples, sixty cents a pound. A punnet of strawberries, a pack of bokchoy, a dollar each. Bing cherries and lychees for two dollars a pound.

I recently started going into Chinatown for groceries (along Stockton, and also Powell). Of course, I knew that things would be cheaper than Safeway or Cala, and there would also be things found nowhere else. The hustle and bustle, Asian-style manners (line etiquette equals line cutting), smells on the street and wet stores the department of public health probably wouldn’t approve of, small grannies and smaller children, docile frogs stacked in styrofoam boxes, pungent durian and jackfruit, pirated VCDs and the occasional cassette tape, and Cantonese, the lingua franca.

What did surprise me was how I felt last weekend when I went into a dried goods store, hunting for egg noodles, Chinese sausage and fish balls. Some gentle Cantonese pop played as I browsed the small aisles, and for some reason, I felt a sudden happiness, even euphoria. I listened to simple melodies, occasional words half-remembered and half-learnt, occasionally making sense, and heard in them the voices and sounds I grew up with. In this city where I’ve been trying so hard to change myself, being reminded of where I came from and who I am, and the people who helped make me this way, made me happy.

The sounds, sights and smells, take me back to market shopping back in Malaysia, pasar malams and eating in stalls, noisy cousins and relatives, and I start seeing a bit of myself in people around me everywhere I look, because they look like me, and I feel like I almost know them. Home-cooked meals, picking at fish heads, bone marrow, eating rice from a bowl.

As I need it a four block-walk away, an entire world apart, self-contained and self-sufficient.


Chinatown New Year

April 11th, 2008 dotted line


April 11th, 2008 dotted line


I don’t own a TV.

However, two months ago I bought a Dell XPS 420 desktop and a 30-inch monitor (3007WFP-HC). The machine is spec’d with 4GB RAM and the least inexpensive quad processor in Intel’s lineup, with a basic dedicated graphics card. All up, slightly less than $2.5K. This is a box for processing photos, surfing the web, playing the occasional game, and occasional work (IntelliJ at 2560 x 1600 = productivity).

What I didn’t expect to be doing was watching movies on demand. I joined Netflix last week, and discovered their all-you-can-eat movies-on-demand, which comes with all but their most basic plans. I signed up for the $8.99 1-disc at-a-time plan.

I remember what a buzz there was when Netflix first came out with its DVD rentals via mail plan. I can see what the fuss is about, having just got my first DVD in the mail, but online streaming movies are amazing. Sure, the online selection doesn’t approach that of the mail-out collection (it’s growing everyday), but that would be to miss the selling point, which is huge – if I find something I like, I wait all of 20 seconds before I start watching. Quality is on par with DVD, perhaps a little less, but eminently watchable on a 30-inch screen from my couch. I’ve been watching mostly foreign movies, and if my tastes ever ran into 80’s television sitcoms and series, or B-grade movies (they don’t, but if they did), I’d be all set too. $9 a month is simply a no-brainer.

Looking online, the major free-to-air stations like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are making available full episodes (some in HD) of most of their series (together with ads) as well. For music, I use Pandora or Slacker, and more and more radio stations are streaming their broadcasts online (which I listen to through this sidebar gadget). I’m typing this post listening to KQED and glancing at the Windows sidebar where I have the weekend weather, latest exchange rates, and time in Australia and Asia where friends and family are.

What I do miss TV for is broadcasts of live events (basically NBA games). Then again, that’s what friends with cable, sports bars, and HDTV, another amazing technology, are for.

June 23rd, 2007 dotted line

Washing machine woes

Somehow I managed to put my jeans into the wash. Now, while that’s been known to happen occasionally, I did manage to leave everything in my pockets this time (don’t ask). Here’s how they fared after a full spin and dry cycle:

  • Money made it, just a little worse for wear at the corners and hologram intact – I guess they make bills pretty tough.
  • Fisher pen is working, albeit dented.
  • Suica (train pass) also survived, still getting me through station gates.
  • Alien registration card too (the ink is fainter).
  • And credit card – that would’ve been a hassle to replace here.
  • The cell phone did not, which I was a little bummed about – my address book is gone. Unlocked, it had been with me on trips to the States, South-East Asia and Australia, and I’d only had it a year. I was surprised the SIM card made it though – my new phone takes a micro SD card, and I think now that will have a pretty good chance of surviving a similar mishap.