Monday, December 3, 2007

Movie Review: The Kingdom

Rating: *** 1/2 /5 (Watch it!)

Unlike most people, I never planned to watch this movie, nor was I even remotely interested in it. One of my friends kept showing me trailer after trailer of this movie in the hopes of trying to kindle some sort of interest, but all I saw were tons of explosions, and tons of people dying. I didn't think that would be the sort of thing that I would like to spend 2 hours watching, so I gave him a very big "MEH".

The movie is about a terrorist attack on Americans in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing over a hundred people. The FBI is unable to send agents to investigate due to diplomatic relations. However, Special Agent Fleury (Jamie Foxx) and his team (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Chris Cooper) decide to take matters into their own hands and find a way to get into Saudi Arabia to investigate, and find the terrorist leader.

Perhaps the greatest part of the whole movie was the opening sequence that details the United States' turbulent history with Saudi Arabia. Not only is it a nice summary, but the montage and the way they were shown is awesome. The rest of the movie is an action movie with bits of politics sprinkled in now and then to make it seem more realistic.

I've never really been a big action fan, although I've seen my fair share, and loved them. This movie pushes it quite a bit, but there is a good reason for it, which I'll mention a little later. The political side of this movie, for the most part, seem like an after-thought. It was as if the writers were trying to figure out how to send only a small team of FBI agents to Saudi Arabia, instead of the whole crew. Then one of them goes, "Aha! Politics! Let's have some guy totally against it, and that's it!" And that's exactly what happened in the movie. The Attorney General didn't want it, so case closed. And they try to sprinkle bits and pieces of political machinations by those people, which didn't have much meaning to the main plot of the movie. To top it off, there didn't seem to be much consequence for the "rogue" FBI agents. Then again, since they're the heroes of the story, I guess the politicians can disregard their actions.

One of the good things about this movie is that it gives us a glimpse of Saudi Arabia, a locale very different from the New York's and LA's of most American movies. The downside is that Americans are still the heroes. They depict the Arabian investigators as harsh, cruel, and unrelenting in their investigations, but in the end, entirely wrong. They didn't even know enough to preserve evidence. Then the Americans come along and suddenly find evidence after evidence that the Arabians supposedly missed. Boy, those Americans sure are the smartest people in the world! What did we expect from a Pro-American movie, right? Although, I guess they didn't really insult the Arabians much, as they still gave them a hero to look up to in al'Ghazi, who only helped in killing.

That aside, this movie did have some memorable lines as Damon Schmidt's, "Can we dial down the boobies?" But the best line of the movie comes at the end, "I said we were going to kill them all." Both sides say the same thing, and it is this line that defines the whole movie, and justifies the past 2 hours. If they had said it at the beginning of the movie, I would tell people to leave after that, because everything else was just filler. This line is the meat of the movie, and for those steering clear of social and moral commentary, you may stop reading now.

It seems that in this day and age, revenge is considered to be the normal social practice. If someone does something to me, I have every right to do something back to them. They killed my loved one, I have to kill them back. And if I do, I'm the hero. We can see it especially in the movies, but also in the news. Everyday, people are doing to others what they do unto them. To me, this is a sign of the moral bankruptcy that most of society toady live in. Their morality is not based on... well, God, but instead it's based on their own opinions. I think it's right, so it is. Because of this, each person has his own morality, which others must conform to. Since we know this isn't possible, then we get into a lot of situations where people get into disagreements.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kunshan Trip - Day 2

Today started off like yesterday. Wake up early, have breakfast, then go to training. There were more hands on training this time around, and I still learned quite a few things. There were also some special guests from other suppliers over to "teach" us, and by that, I mean, "give us their sales pitch". One of them was someone I liked to call "Blinky McBlinker", cuz he couldn't for the life of him stop blinking! Every word he said, he would blink at least once. Sometimes, he would do a quadruple blink, 4 blinks in quick succession. Sometimes, he would do the slow-mo blink, which is like one of those blinks women do in the movies to flirt with guys. Sometimes, he would do the closed-eye blink, where he blinks, and while his eyes are closed, blinks again. Don't ask me how that's possible. But each type of blink was never more than a second away from the next blink. I wanted to gouge my eyes out! Everytime _I_ blinked, I would get really conscious of it, especially watching him do it. I'd think that I'm blinking like him. It's very irritating! Anyway, aside from that little annoyance, the rest of the training went well. Around 6pm, they took us to dinner at a fancy chinese restaurant, where the food was way better than last night's, but not quite as good as the typical chinese food I'm used to. Their way of cooking is different. There were some good foods though, so it was a satisfactory meal. After the meal, as they promised, they took us to the foot massage place. It was about 10 minutes walk in the cold, but it was nice and refreshing, and good after a hearty meal. When we got there, there were a lot of people waiting, and we had to wait half an hour to get served. It was only 3 in a room, so Paul and I and a Thailand guy were in the room together. Once we were in, they gave us tea and oranges, and had us relax in almost, but not-quite Lazy boys. We waited a while for them to show up and start massaging our feet. One thing I noticed when we got there was that they had the opposite sex serve people. So if you were a guy, they got a girl to serve you, and vice versa. Unfortunately, they gave me a guy. I hope they weren't implying anything. They asked me if it was ok, and I said yes. The other two guys got girls. Anyway, it was almost half an hour after we were in the room before they started. First, they had us put our feet inside these buckets of really hot tea. They were so hot, that when we took our feet off, they were red. They had massaged our backs while our feet were doused. After they took out our red feet, they started shaving off the hard skin, and then massaged our feet and calves for a good 45 minutes. After that, they put lots and lots of ginger on top of our legs and covered them with hot towels. They kept them there for around 15 minutes. Let me tell you they were scalding hot, and I just wanted to reach out and rip them off. But I didn't. They said it was supposed to make your body cooler or something. Something about yin and yang, how chinese believe some foods like ginger raise your body's yin, or is it yang. Anyway, it's supposed to be hugely popular, and this was the only place that did it. So we suffered through it. It wasn't bad, though. After they took them out, it felt so good, but my legs were hot for the entire walk home in the cold. All throughout the massage, they kept trying to talk to us, but they only spoke mandarin, and no english. And Paul and the Thailandese didn't know much mandarin. I tried my best, and at least got to talk to them a bit. Good practice, I guess. Anyway, it was an interesting experience.

Pics can be seen over here. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which may not be posted until the day after tomorrow.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kunshan Trip - Day 1

So, in the last minute, I was invited to join my cousin, Paul, in China for training by one of our suppliers, all expenses paid, except plane tickets. At first, I was very hesitant to go. It was last minute, and the AZCOP Young Pro camp was this week. But my dad encouraged me to go, and after much prodding, I acceded. And now that I'm here, I'm glad I did come.

My flight was with Cebu Pacific since it was cheap, and also, it was the only one with an early flight back on Thursday, so I can come back early to head to the AZCOP camp. Unfortunately, the flight was 8pm Sunday night, and arriving in Shanghai at 12:40. From there, I had to take a 2-hour ride to Kunshan, which is south of Shanghai. Also, Cebu Pacific doesn't serve food or drinks, instead, selling them at a huge markup. I decided to buy Mickey D's, and take it out for the flight when I got hungry. Good thing I did. Anyway, the flight was uneventful, but I didn't get any sleep. Immigration through Shanghai was quick, but it was a long walk from where we got off the plane to the exit. There was a driver waiting for me, and this other guy from one of our rival companies. The driver was driving a Benz, and gave us wet towels and water, then took our luggages to the car. I made some small talk with the driver in Mandarin, and with the other guy in Tagalog, but after a while, I got tired, and just stopped talking, but couldn't fall asleep. After 2 hours, we got to the hotel, which was actually a really nice hotel, and the part of town it was in was like Mississauga, except with more hotels and restaurants, and an industrial park here and there. The roads were clean, and there was no traffic. Anyway, once we got to the hotel and checked-in, I went up to my room, where Paul was already sound asleep. I quietly unpacked, texted my parents, then went to bed. 4 hours later, I woke up to the sound of my alarm, and got ready. Paul and I ate breakfast downstairs, which was a buffet like Shangri-La's. They had tons of food. Then we went to the lobby to wait for the bus. When we got there, the other people were already there. Everyone was so friendly, and started introducing themselves to us and each other, and we all started talking. There were a lot of people from the supplier's different branches who were there to receive training. There were also people from different countries who also had printing businesses. They were also friendly with us, and didn't mind sharing trade secrets. After the introductions, we all got in the bus and left for the training. On the way, we saw a whole slew of police officers loitering around a park. It turns out that there are a lot of police in this town, so it's pretty safe.

Once we got to the training grounds, they gave us a tour, and started with the training. Most of today were classroom lessons, but I knew most of the stuff. I did learn some new things, though, which was good. Lunch was at their cafeteria, and it was weird. They gave us pork stew and shrimp with vegetables and rice. They were pretty salty. But it was free, so whatever. Oh, I got to drink their Coke here, and it tasted like Coke with lychee flavour. Kinda interesting. Oh, and the lid is opened much like you would open those chinese juices in cans. Yeah, weird. Anyway, the training was from 9:30am to 5pm. A long day, but we learned a lot. After that, they took us back to the hotel to rest for a bit, and then they would take us out for dinner. They took us to this place about half an hour away from where we were. It was near the ocean, I think, or some large body of water anyway. There were a lot of restaurants around there, except they all look like modern houses with glass walls in front so you can see inside. Each of them had 2 floors, with tons of rooms. To our surprise, at the back of all those houses were rivers or lakes or some large body of water, and they had boards there for them to walk through, and tons of nets to catch crabs, which was what they were popular for. We went in one of the restaurants and they ordered for us. They ordered a lot of food, from shrimp, snail, eel, steamed fish, steamed chicken, spinach, soup, etc. And they served those first before the crab. It was a good hour before they got to the crabs. We were all saving our appetites for them. When they finally came, it was interesting. We each got 2 crabs, one male and one female. They weren't that big. I'd say the size of a hand. But they had a lot of roe, and they were not bad. Everyone was using their hands, and enjoying the crabs quite a bit. I'd say the crabs were the highlight of the dinner. The other foods were... different. They had a different taste to it. Oh, and they also ordered rice wine for us, cuz they said it balances the crabs, something to do with the Chinese yin/yang thing of foods. The rice wine was ok. Kind of strong, but I was never really into wine. At the end, we were more interested in the labels of the wine bottle than the wine itself, with each of us trying to guess what method and materials were used.

After dinner, we headed back home, and it was 9pm when we got back. One of the people invited us all for free foot massages, but everyone was tired, and took a raincheck for tomorrow instead. I went back up to my room to relax, and use the internet, which was normally 60 yen, but free of charge for me. It's great!

Well, that's it for my first day. Stay tuned for the second day. In the meantime, check out my pics of the restaurant. I apologize for the "I didn't think I'd need my camera so I didn't bring it, and had to use my iPhone instead" shots.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Name of the Game

So, during my high school/university days, I was pretty big into gaming, especially collectible card gaming. And I especially played and donated an exhorbitantly generous amount of time and currency to this Game that Shall Not Be Named. And unfortunately, it took a rather rude awakening to make me give it up. It was painful, and it took a lot of time before I completely got it out of my system. It's not entirely out, as I still browse the website once in a while to see what's up. But I'd say I have no inclination to play that game anymore. Which brings me to another card game that I like to play. This one is different. You don't spend money like water trying to find that rare card you desperately need for that deck you're only gonna play once to upstage your friend. All the cards in that set come together. In one box! Wow! Anyway, this game was introduced to me by one of my Canadian friends, Nathan, when we were bored of Heroclix and Magic, and needed some new thing to play. And I actually enjoyed it. The game is fun, and it's also fun-NY. The game I'm talking about, of course, is Munchkin.

Munchkin is a game unlike any other. First of all, because it doesn't take itself seriously. It makes fun of itself and its subject matter. Basically, the main game is a humorous take on role-playing games (rpg) based on the concept of munchkins (immature role-players, playing "to win"). Everyone who plays the game, Munchkin, essentially plays as a munchkin, doing anything they can to win, even cheat, or backstab their friends. And that's why Munchkin is so fun. You don't have to hide your duplicitous nature any longer. It's all out in the open, and it's more fun that way. For example, I once played this game where one of my friends (Let's call him "J") was about to defeat a monster in battle. Another friend (Let's call him "W") decided he didn't want J to win the battle, so he played a card against J that made the monster stronger, and J couldn't beat it. After J resigned himself to retreat, W offered to help him in exchange for all his loot. I laughed like crazy when I heard that. That is the sort of deliciously evil things you could do in this game. And the game applauds and rewards you for it. Of course, all this is in good fun. No one should ever take a game of Munchkin seriously.

And for those who think Fantasy/Lord of the Rings-style games are not for them, well, Munchkin has other variants that might tickle their fancy. There's Super Munchkin for superheroes, Star Munchkin for sci-fi, Munchkin Bites for horror, Munchkin Fu for martial arts, Munchkin Impossible for spies, Munchkin Cthulu for Lovecraft fans, and the soon-to-be-released The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin for cowboys, and Munchkin Booty for pirates. Each of these games use the material from their respective genres, and makes fun of them. There's also a Munchkin Blender that will let you play all of them together!

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, recently, I was able to acquire the rights to distribute these games in the Philippines. And my stock has just arrived!

If you're in the Philippines and would like to buy this game, you can txt or call me at 0917-899-1701, or email me at "a r c d e l u x e @ r o g e r s . c o m" without the spaces. Or you can visit one of the retailers carrying the games. So far, Druid's Keep at Magallanes will carry it, and I'm in talks with Hobbes & Landes, and Neutral Grounds to carry it. Hopefully, more card/hobby stores will come onboard as well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pure Awesomeness!

Kids, let me tell you about "How I Met Your Mother". This is seriously the BEST. SITCOM. EVER. And I never say that lightly. It surpasses all the other so-called sitcoms. Seinfeld. Friends. Everybody Loves Raymond. Frasier. None of them hold a candle to this show. This show is what every other sitcom should aspire to. Never have I ever laughed throughout the duration of a sitcom's whole episode, but I have consistently done it for "How I Met Your Mother". With choice lines like, "It's gonna be Legen... wait for it. And I hope you're not lactose-intolerant, cuz the second half of that words is... dary!" and "When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead! True story!"

For the uninitiated, the show is about a guy named Ted Mosby (played by Josh Radnor), who, in the year 2030, is telling his two kids, a guy and a girl, the story of how he met their mother. He first tells them about how he met a girl named Robin and instantly fell in love with her. He spends the whole first season courting her. He's helped by his friend Marshall, and his fiancee, Lily (Alyson Hannigan of Buffy fame), who have been together since college, and are planning their wedding. And finally, his "best friend", Barney (played by Doogie Howser, Neil Patrick Harris), who teaches him the art of picking up women, and living the bachelor life. The show has tons of twists to it that you're not quite sure what's gonna happen in the end. But one thing we do know is that Ted does eventually get married and have kids. If you're still on the fence about this show, I suggest you give it a try. You're welcome. :)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Moral Dilemma

So yesterday, I was on my way to meet some friends at the Mall of Asia when I made a mistake. I wanted to turn left, and there were plenty of people doing u-turns to where I was going, so I thought it was alright. Turns out, it wasn't. I didn't notice the cop signaling me not to cross until it was too late and he was in front of me, stopping me. He told me what I did wrong, and asked for my license. My mind was racing furiously, trying to decide whether I would do the right thing, admit my mistake, and accept my fate, or whether I should... do "something else". (Btw, that something else being the B-word, followed by "rib", and ending in "e".) I decided that I will accept the consequences of my mistake. I tried to explain to the cop that I didn't know I wasn't allowed to turn left there. He told me that he had been signaling me trying to stop me from crossing, but I didn't see. He then showed me the list of fines, and pointed to the P2,000 that I had to pay city hall. I nodded acceptance and gave him my license, saying that I was wrong, and I have no choice. He paused, then looked around, then handed me back my license. To my utter relief, he told me that he'll let me off with a warning. I was shocked, but my mind was racing again. My wallet was out, because I was putting my license back in. But do I give him some money as a gesture of gratitude, or do I just thank him and leave. In the end, I decided to thank him and leave. I felt a little guilty for not giving him something for letting me go, but if I did, then wouldn't I have been, in a sense, doing what I was trying not to do in the first place? Then again, by allowing him to let me go, am I similarly guilty of "getting away with it"? Hmmm...

Friday, October 19, 2007

My Eyes! The Goggles Do Nothing!

A “no-prize” for whoever can tell me where the title comes from. ☺
Another “no-prize” for whoever can tell me where the “no-prize” comes from. ☺

For about four years now, I’ve been debating whether or not to have laser eye surgery, so I wouldn’t need to wear glasses anymore. My prescription was quite high, and my glasses were weighing down heavily on my nose, leaving scars. I had a check up four years earlier at the Asian Eye Institute (AEI) here in the Philippines to see whether or not I’m qualified for laser surgery. Unfortunately, the doctor (Dr. Robert Ang) told me that my cornea is too thin, and it was not possible for me to do LASIK. LASIK is the process where they slice a flap from your cornea and insert a lens underneath. The process is painless, and the next day, you’re back to normal with no pain or after-effects. I know several people who have gone through it, and none have ever had problems with it. The other procedure is PRK, where they shave off your cornea until your vision is clear. The down side to this procedure would be that your cornea would be even thinner, and it’s easier for your eyes to get infected. Also, the pain will last a week, and it will take about 1 to 3 months to heal. The advantage to this would be that your eye is stronger, and you don’t have to fear the flap being loose and the lens being pushed out of place. So there are good and bad sides to both. The doctor said I was able to do PRK, but my cornea would be even thinner, and he can’t account for all of the astigmatism, as they’d have to shave off more than is possible. So, I decided to hold off on the operation, hoping that in the future, they would have better technology that I could take advantage off.

The future is now, and unfortunately, still no better technology for laser surgery. Just more precise calculations. Well, after talking it over with my parents, I decide to do it. My mom wanted to have it done as well, but wanted to see my results first. Anyway, last Thursday, we went to the AEI again for the check up. And they told us to go back on Saturday for the 3-hour check up, where they will see if I’m qualified. So, Saturday, we go back, and it does take three hours. They put a lot of eye drops on me, and checked my eyes with the machines, and had me rest for half an hour. At the end of the exam, Dr. Ang tells me the situation is still the same as before, but their laser is more precise now, so there’s less risk for me to do PRK. I still can’t do LASIK. And we told him that we will go ahead and schedule the PRK for Monday. He gave me a short list of things not to do on that day, and sent us off.

So, Monday morning, we head to the gym for a light exercise, and a bath. My appointment was for 12pm, so we had a small snack before we went to the doctor’s office. Once we got there, they made us wait a few minutes, which gave us time to pray. After that, I was called in. They gave me a locker key, then asked me to go inside their changing room. A male nurse there helped me take off my shoes and put on the hospital gown and head cap. Then, he took me to the waiting area outside the operation room, and had me sit in a Lazy Boy to await my impending operation. It was quite a wait, and after a while, I had to pee. I tried to hold it in, but realized I couldn’t, and asked to be shown to the washroom. When I got back, it was more waiting, but there were two others waiting beside me, also in lazy boys. Finally, they called me in, and with a deep breath, I walked into the operation room, where Dr. Ang and a few nurses were waiting. There was a big bed at the far end of the room, and a machine hooked up to it. They told me to lie on the bed. There was a slot where my head would rest. They assured me that the operation would not hurt, then dropped some anesthesia onto my left eye. They covered my right eye with a bandage, as they would be doing the operation one eye at a time. Then they put this device, which was attached to an arm attached to the machine, on top of my eye. The doctor kept assuring me the whole time that it wouldn’t hurt, then began brushing my eye, and poking at it. Good thing the anesthesia worked, and I felt nothing. Finally, it was time for the laser. The device on top of my eye, emitted a red light and a green light, both blinking. That was it. The doctor said I would smell burning, and I did. They did it four times, a few percent at a time. The first time was 24%, then 48%, then 73%, then 100%. I’d say it took about a minute or two. Not that long. I did smell burning, which was probably from my eye. The doctor did some further poking and stuff, then put a contact lens with no prescription on my eye to protect it from infection. Then, they bandaged my left eye and opened my right eye and did the same thing. After the operation, they had me walk out of the room and wait in my lazy boy again. The next patient was shown in. I had to wait until the next patient was done, and the doctor came out to check us both, then said we were ok. The nurse gave us some drops, and instructions as to what to do and what not to do. We were scheduled to see the doctor the next day for another check up. Surprisingly, there were no pain, and I could see relatively better, even with the goggles they gave us to wear for protection.

After the operation, we went out for lunch, and had a walk around. I didn’t feel any pain, just my eyes being tired, so I took a nap. I felt so confident that I was ok, that I decided to go to a meeting we had that night. At first, it started out ok. People looked at me weirdly because of the goggles, but no pain so far. Then an hour into the meeting, excruciating pain! I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and they kept watering. I had to step out of the room into the dark several times to recover. But I couldn’t take it anymore, and my good friend, Justine, offered to drive me home, which I agreed to. Once we got home, I immediately went to bed, and tried to fall asleep despite the pain. Sometime in the night, I finally did. The next day, there was still pain, a little subdued, but it was still there. We went to the doctor’s, and he dropped some anesthesia and loosed the lenses a bit, after which, I was fine. But once the anesthesia wore off, everything was so bright, it was blinding, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. We once again went back home where I tried to sleep it off again. The third day, it was a little better, and I could open my eyes a bit, and use the computer for about a minute or two before it would hurt. But close to night time, I was able to see in bright areas without glare or pain, but after watching some tv, it was back, so I went to sleep. This morning, I’m able to see in bright areas, and use the computer long enough to surf the web, and type this post up. Hopefully, it will improve as the day goes on. We’ll see what happens tomorrow when I go to the doctor’s to have the contact lens removed.