Archive for December, 2009
She who must be obeyed has been working over Xmas, and has to work today and tomorrow in order to accumulate some days for a trip we intend taking in January. But yesterday was a rare day off so we found ourselves, as is usually the case, sitting in a coffee shop.
I could see her looking around at the slick surroundings in a slick shopping mall, and then came the question: “How has life changed since you were young”?
Apparently this was initially intended as a rhetorical question, because she then amused me for fifteen minutes with stories of her youth, when there were no coffee shops, no shopping malls, and the best she could manage was to stand in the only local store with a one baht coin and ponder for a long time what sweeties to buy (nothing much has changed over the years with regards to her pondering duration). Climbing trees to gather mangoes, going to her grandmother’s house to enjoy her cooking, it all sounded like a pretty good childhood.
“And how about you” she asked, “do you remember the old days in black and white”?
She always refers to my childhood as “the old days”, and as the only photographs she has seen of those times are in black and white, maybe she thinks my recall is also in monochrome.
But it was a difficult question to answer. There are so many variables in life. Of course the world changes, but so does your personal perception of that world. Your circumstances change, your lifestyle changes, and each time you move to live in a different country you have to partially reset the perception counter and start again.
I told her I thought the world is a less gentle place than it used to be, but also that I was less naive than I used to be, and maybe the world has always been a dangerous, unpleasant place and I am just more aware of it now. I told her I remembered waking to a choking yellow mist outside our home in Teesside, enthusiastically produced by the ICI chemical works on a regular basis and probably poisonous; an occurrence that would not be tolerated in today’s society (unless it happened in another country in which case nobody would really care). I told her that anything more than 3 baths a week would have been considered a waste of water (looking back, given that now I consider anything less than two showers a day as unacceptable, that was pretty disgusting). But most of all, I told her, the biggest change has been in technology, and I don’t mean the introduction of cup holders in cars (although they have become an essential part of civilised living).
It’s the internet. Nothing else in my lifetime has permeated and changed my everyday life to the same extent. Of course, first we had to have computers, and they came along in a household friendly size at just the right time to start my three year old son on the path to the technical maestro he is today. But it’s the internet that has most altered my little world.
In my youth I would retire to the toilet with my father’s copy of The Daily Mirror newspaper and absorb whatever it was that the editor was trying to make me believe. Nowadays I can retire to the toilet with my phone and get the news as reported by Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, or a blogger sitting in Afghanistan. Provided I stay away from Fox News, all theses sources are providing an element of the truth and I am left to decide which to accept as fact. In “the old days”, I would eagerly await for a letter to drop through the slot in the front door. Now, I am slotless, and correspondences arrive almost instantaneously from anywhere in the world, and I can read them anywhere there is a phone signal.
And for much of my life, the television has served as the main source of entertainment and information in the home. The moon landing, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Blackadder; all my defining cultural moments of the last century came out of the small box in the corner (your defining moments may differ).
And there is still good stuff to be found on the TV. James May’s Toy Stories has been a recent delight. Yesterday I watched the latest Top Gear in (sort of) HD. And plenty of excellent series from America to enjoy; such as House M.D. But I don’t get them from the TV, I download them from the internet. I don’t watch the news on TV anymore, the internet has better coverage. I don’t watch three year old, generally crap, movies on the TV, I download a rip of the DVD from the internet. I don’t keep a personal diary any more, I have Pattaya Days (actually, I never kept a personal diary for more than three days into a new year after someone gave me a diary for Xmas “to record your thoughts in”. My first thought always being “why didn’t you give me cash instead?”).
And now we don’t watch TV any more. She who must be obeyed would occasionally watch the Thai news, or a mindless celebrity entertainment channel; but now she is straight onto the computer when she gets home to pick flowers, tend to pets, plough fields and undertake all the necessary tasks required to manage her various Facebook games. And I stopped watching a long time ago. So it is time to say goodbye.
Our television service is provided by True – UBC, and it is truly horrible. There are many, many channels, but they are all junk, or in Thai, or both. The last few months I only ever switched on to watch the Grand Prix races, but the commentary was so dire I have instead been downloading the excellent BBC coverage and watching the race on the following day. So I called up UBC and attempted to cancel.
Sawadee krap, I would like to cancel my UBC subscription.
Yes sir, it expires at the end of this month, would you like to renew?
No, I want to cancel.
Oh, can I ask why?
Yes, all your channels are rubbish.
Well perhaps you would like to move to a cheaper package with fewer channels?
So I would get fewer channels, but they would all still be rubbish?
Oh…. Well perhaps you have a friend and you could transfer your subscription to them.
I don’t have any friends.
So please come and take away the satellite dish.
Oh. Well, I can’t actually authorise that, but someone will call you back to arrange this. Thank you for using our service.
Of course nobody has called me back and I suspect they never will. Still, we can always turn the satellite dish into a wok; now that’s something your couldn’t do in the old days.
So, what proposals do we have today Brad?
Well, there’s a man who wants to make a movie using mainly special effects. The lead character will be blue and the movie will go on for nearly three hours.
Oh God, not another indie wannabe director. I suppose he is looking for 100,000 dollars to make his low-budget masterpiece.
Not exactly, he wants $300 million.
What?! You’d have to be on a shitload of drugs and have drunk enough alcohol to drown a horse to say “yes” to that one. And I am and I have. So, what’s the man’s name?
Oh, fuck off!
Not really, James Cameron.
Mr. Cameron has an impressive track record. Aliens, Terminator and little movie about a boat sinking. And you would need a reputation like his to get a studio to commit to something as massive as Avatar. Fifteen years in gestation, Four years to make, $300 million dollars, and all for a movie that can only really be appreciated in a limited number of venues and requires viewers to wear 3D glasses. A brave decision by someone.
But the results are stunning. In 2D it’s probably nothing more than an average sci-fi story; but in 3D it is a thing of beauty.
Prior to entering the cinema, she who must be obeyed expressed concerns that the glasses would not fit on her nose. This is part of her ongoing campaign to convince me that she is nasally flawed and needs cosmetic surgery to boost the size of her hooter. Never going to happen, and of course the glasses fitted her just fine. Not the usual white cardboard crap, but black plastic offerings with Dolby 3D digital embossed down the side. And the movie was not the usual ‘reach out and try and grab it’ 3D effects piece of junk. It was a movie which you just happened to watch in 3D, which gave the whole thing depth and impact. Scenes shot with a camera had a startling clarity, and the CGI scenes (which are most of the movie), brought an alien world to life.
The story is fairly simple. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy saves world and wins back girl. But when the boy is a crippled marine and the girl is from another planet; then it does add a bit extra. The story may be simple, but it is never boring and the 2+ hours flies past.
Avatar is an experience the like of which you will not have experienced before. 3D must be the future of cinema (and home movies). Oh, and James Cameron is a genius; but I say that having just had enough alcohol to drown a hamster.
Or, from the same musical source and perhaps more appropriate given that we are talking more Chinese gods than Buddha: Paint it black.
Having not had a chance to play much with my new camera, I took a little trip to Viharn Sien this morning. a pretty Chinese temple next to the lake featured in the Pattaya Days header image.
It’s a good place to take visitors for an hour or so, the best bit being the collection of statues on the roof; which to the untrained eye (i.e. mine) are cast in bronze.
So most disappointed to discover that they have now been painted black.
This must be a recent change, because there was man with a pot of black paint going round touching up in case any bronze was showing through. Maybe this is some form of Chinese custom and in due course they will be restored to their real colour; but it did rather spoil the photographic opportunities, with dark shadows everywhere. Took a few shots though, using black and white in many cases as there was not much colour on offer.
Loved using the GF1; image quality was excellent and the ability to easily switch to manual focusing was very useful when trying to focus on the eyes for this shot:
Inside there are some painted walls. A bit dark, but no problem for the GF1 with an F1.7 lens attached; this one at F2.0
What a fine little camera. If I could wean myself off action photography I would sell all my big camera gear and shoot only with a camera like this.
It a depressing feature of modern life that, on occasion, young men will take a gun or three and open fire on a school, workplace or some other location where people are gathered. Society recoils in horror and urgently needs a scapegoat for this evil deed. It could be poor parenting, a history of abuse, a pervasive gun culture, or just teenage hormones needing an extreme outlet; but all of these reasons need some analysis, and perhaps some partial acceptance of culpability by those doing the analysing. So it is much easier to blame it on a video game.
The traditional fall guy in these cases has been the Grand Theft Auto series of games, where anti-social behaviour is mandatory and where drugs, prostitution and the elimination of police cars and those who ride in them is de rigueur. But now there is a new target for those who see a link between video games and real life violence (i.e. idiots), and it’s called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
MW2 has the two required features to make it the fall guy when Billy Bob wipes out his school chums. Firstly, it is very popular; having sold seven million copies on the first day of release and taking $500 million in sales in the first week. Secondly, it is deliciously contraversial, thanks to something now known as “the airport level”.
I am fairly crap at shooting games. I no longer have the hand/eye coordination required to jump, crouch, roll and shoot whilst taking on a small army single handed. Luckily, if I get shot up a little bit then I can hide in a corner for a few seconds until the red mist subsides and I somehow heal; or if I get shot up a lot and die; then I can click on the mouse and be instantly resurrected. All very lifelike. But in the airport level, nobody shoots back so I rather enjoyed it.
I am some sort of secret agent trying to infiltrate a terrorist cell. To prove my worth, I must take part in a raid on a Russian airport. This requires me, along with my fellow terrorists, to walk into the departures area, without a boarding card but with a large gun, and massacre everyone in sight. All those people clogging up the aisles with their trolleys; dead. The long queue for check-in populated by idiots who can’t find their tickets once they are at the desk; pile of corpses. The suits with business-provided credit cards loading up on duty free booze; full of holes.
Apparently I was meant to feel some sort of guilt at the prospect of mowing down innocent travellers; but to be honest I didn’t. I was glad of the respite from being constantly shot at in the previous level; and thus dying on a regular basis. And quite honestly, I feel a wave of hatred against anyone who chooses to fly on the same day as I do; so it was gratifying to wipe them all out and have the airport to myself; although sadly I got a little carried away and killed all the check-in staff too so there was nobody left to issue me with a ticket. But, although I enjoyed it, I did think the airport scenario was totally unrealistic; because there were no children; and we all know that children are the real problem at airports.
The little bastards run into your trolley when you are in a rush to get to check in. Whilst waiting to board, most likely you will be hit in the head by some toy that Mummy has bought them to keep them entertained at your expense; and woe betide you if you are sat anywhere near them on the plane. Goodbye any chance of sleep and hello every likelihood of having a fruity dessert dumped on your head. If I had my way I’d have them rounded up upon arrival at the airport, packed into crates with one unbreakable toy and a bottle of water each, and then stuck in the hold. Make life a whole lot more tolerable for the rest of us, including the parents although they would never admit it.
But of course their were no children in the “airport level” because it is a given that, in computer games and movies, you may put children into a little bit of harms way; but in no circumstances can you set up a scenario whereby they can be cut to pieces with machine gun fire in the cosmetics duty free shop. More’s the pity, would have made Modern Warfare 2 truly controversial.
Regular readers may recall the collision between two boats earlier this month which resulted in two deaths.
As predicted, the overhaul of safety procedures and prosecution of the owners of the boats never happened; but the unwitting drivers of the boats were promptly arrested because it was their fault they were employed without being properly licenced…..
There has now been some more “action”. A meeting was held yesterday morning at Pattaya City Hall, attended by a cast of thousands where, according to Pattaya Daily News, it was stated “that the city needs co-operation from all of the boat owners to strictly control their staff in following the rules. Police officers and rescue teams, including Harbour Department officers must be on patrol and arrest any illegal boat or boats that break any rules. Boats must be fully checked before leaving the pier and life jackets must be provided for everyone.”
Given that the owners have happily ignored the rules for years, and government officials have let them (and yes genuinej, I suspect some symbiosis going on); it is unlikely that a gang of officials sitting round a table making grand pronouncements is going to make the slightest bit of difference.
And in other news:
Yesterday a boat carrying tourists sank and seventeen people were injured. The boat had had a second storey added, and when most of the passengers went onto the top deck, the boat became top heavy and was capsized by a “large wave” (I was out sailing yesterday, there were no large waves). Opinions have been expressed that the boat did not have the certification for the modification; hardly surprising because few of the boats have certification for anything.
Good to see that the city hall pronouncements are having the expected effect (i.e. none at all).
There is a man with a barrow full of fried insects who appears after dark. He announces his presence by playing the drums and then follows up with a performance on the spoons.
He is quite a character, but not enough of one to make me consider buying his insects.
Consider the cow.
Look deep into the eyes and what do you see? A soulful being pondering existence and yearning for a mountain top and clear air? Unlikely, unless you are on drugs. At best it is ruminating about why it has to ruminate and manage a four-compartment stomach just to process grass. Most likely it is just being, and waiting to be a steak.
But imagine how Dick McDonald would have felt if he had awoken one morning and decided that such a gentle, placid creature should not be destined to be substantial component of a Big Mac (along with worms, cardboard and the general detritus swept off the floor at the abattoir). Imagine if he dedicated the rest of his life to righting his perceived wrongs.
Meet Richard O’Barry. Those of you old enough and sad enough (that excludes me of course), will have seen him in the TV series Flipper; something to do with a dolphin who did wonderful deeds, a sort of aquatic Lassie with more water and less barking. O’Barry was a dolphin trainer and worked on the show and trained dolphins for aquariums; until he suddenly decided that dolphins in captivity were a bad thing and dedicated the rest of his life to freeing his new friends.
Problem was, as a direct result of the popularity of Flipper, dolphin shows were springing up all over the globe; and increasing numbers of dolphins were having their afternoon swim interrupted by men with nets and bad intentions. In a futile attempt to close the Pandora’s box he had opened, O’Barry has spent the last thirty years in a cycle that involves him illegally freeing dolphins; followed immediately by the law locking him up for a period. And then he found the cove.
The Japanese have no qualms about killing almost anything that swims, including whales, but not apparently dolphins. But they do herd vast numbers of dolphins inshore at a place called Taijii; and then select those most likely to be good at balancing a ball on their nose for shipment to oceanariums around the world. But then the remaining dolphins are not set free, but herded into a nearby cove from which they do not reappear; but the water coming out of the cove does change to a suspicious shade of red. What’s going on? Dolphin paintballing?
The Cove documents the efforts of O’Barry and a team of various specialists to penetrate the tight security around the cove and film what transpires to be not paintballing but the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of dolphins annually. The meat then gets slipped into supermarkets marked as whale; although it is quite different from whale meat in as much as it contains dangerous levels of mercury. Not that you would know that until your hair fell out and you started to feel really heavy (my knowledge of the effects of mercury poisoning is limited).
The first half of the documentary is the set-up and we meet O’Barry’s team and the not at all welcoming Japanese fisherman whose livelihood this is. We also get the full “dolphins are wonderful” treatment, and of course they are. They surf, they are friendly, it looks like they are smiling, and you can teach them to do tricks (but that is wrong nowadays). The actual penetration of the cove, with subsurface cameras and sound equipment, and with video cameras hidden inside false rocks, is reasonably exciting; a bit like Ocean’s Eleven, but with more ocean, less barking and nobody that looks like George Clooney.
Of course the slaughter is very unpleasant to witness, although I expect no worse than what happens everyday in a shed somewhere near you to a hapless pig, cow or llama.
In its favour, The Cove is interesting, at times exciting, and laced with surprising humour given the subject matter. And the ending is a lovely example of “sticking it to the man”. But I can’t help thinking it is rather overstating the extremity of the act; given all the other shit that is happening around the world. But just to show my solidarity, I vow never to eat a dolphin burger again. Or a Big Mac.
You can’t beat a bit of misery for Xmas.
Quite frankly I am sick of the manufactured pap that too often passes for popular music. Nowhere is this crap more publicly promoted than in the feeble “talent” shows such as the X-Factor which I have never personally suffered; but was made aware of the winner last year whose claim to fame was that she looked like an elephant but could actually sing. Her crime was then to release a cover, or rather a crude karaoke version of Hallelujah, a song that only should be attempted by artists. I understand this year’s winner has released similar junk and has been successfully kept from the number one position by a mass purchasing of a Rage Against The Machine song, which I have never heard either, but it has to be better than Cowell-pop.
The musical misery is reinforced by it being the time of year when a trip to the supermarket ensures we are subjected to treatments of Jingle Bells sung by tone-deaf children who are obviously being battered by a mallet during the recording, although sadly not hard enough to render them unconscious, or preferably dead so they can’t record further dirges next year.
How delightful then that I chanced upon this:
Mr. David Gray, who may not be everyone’s cup of tea and I am not sure he is mine; but at least he writes songs, plays instruments and is apparently excellent live. In other words he is a proper musician. It’s a fine song about… well I am not sure what it is about but it is certainly dark and cynical and contains lines such as the title of this post, and “Bullied, suckered, pimped and patronised; every day of your tawdry little lives”, and you can’t get much more festive than that without sticking a sprig of holly on top of it.
But the clincher that makes this the Pattaya Days Christmas Number One (accept no substitutes), is the involvement of Annie Lennox; one of only three great people to come out of Aberdeen (the other being Jock, and you if you happen to be Aberdonian). Like Susan Boyle’s extreme fatness, Ms.Lennox has a gimmick too. Hers is that she has a fucking awesome voice.