Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Continuation

Egyptian Culture

A few snapshots of a whirling dervish and a belly dancer, who performed during a Nile cruise dinner at the Khulkhal Arabian Restaurant.

The food was slightly above average, but the entertainment was nothing short of excellent, especially the Folkloric
Tanoura show “Spin Man”( aka whirling dervish ), which features 30 to 45 minutes of continuous
mind-boggling twirling.

Tried uploading a video clip but think the file size is too large. Sorry...

The restaurant was packed to the brim that night, and the atmosphere a mixture of rowdy and celebratory. However, I couldn't help noticing their waiters -- all in their 20s, clean cut and remarkably handsome.

One in particular stood out, mostly because I kept catching him staring at me from across the room. There was a moment that was almost like something out of a movie, but only my mom knows what happened. :)

Twilight Book 2

Is tonnes better than its predecessor. Writing's still mediocre, but at least the plot has improved significantly, though nowhere as satisfying as a good Harry Potter novel.

No surprise about its huge weekend box office haul - almost US$71 million - kicking Quantum Of Solace off the top spot. Reviews are mixed so far, but probably won't deter me from seeing the film and forming my own opinions ( critics panned Wanted, but I LOVED it ).

Lots of great interviews on YouTube, like this one from the Ellen DeGeneres show.

3 more weeks to go before it hits local theatres. Yeesh.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Michael Feinstein's The Sinatra Project

Here's a link to his official website.

I actually own one of his albums from a few years back. Bought it out of curiosity but found it dull -- something I attribute to an obscure repertoire and a rather lethargic delivery.

After avoiding his CDs for long enough, I succumbed and sampled this new release at my favourite music store, and have completely fallen in love with it.

Although the title is designed to draw Sinatra fans, the arrangements are vastly different from the originals, with a number of songs which were recorded but never commercially released.

There're classics like Cole Porter's Begin The Beguine and George Gershwin's I've Got A Crush On You, plus lesser known gems such as There's A Small Hotel, Fools Rush In and It's All Right With Me.

Many are done in the big band swing style which I adore so much, but even the slower ballads are exquisite, thanks to masterful performances by Feinstein. He sounds nothing like what I remember from that earlier album, showing off a rich tone, unbelievable lung power and heartfelt emotion in every word he sings.

Huge personal favourites include Begin The Beguine ( one of the best versions I've ever heard ), Exactly Like You, The Song Is You and At Long Last Love ( all wonderfully spirited and playful ).

However, the track I've been putting on constant repeat mode is #10, How Long Will It Last. A duet with China Forbes, it brings to mind the grand musicals of yore, when love was described as a many-splendoured thing.

Interestingly, this song immediately made me think of Twilight ( I'm not obsessed, just engrossed :)). I'm serious - just take a look at the lyrics to see what I mean:
[ I've indicated who sings each line to help enhance the experience ]

[male] My dear, there's no concealing that you've won my heart
[female] Still, I have a feeling that someday we'll part
[M] Will our affair soon break up and fade like the dawn?
[F] Will I some morning wake up to find you are gone?

[M] Though you hold me in your arms tonight / Will tomorrow bring the same delight?
Though we love each other / How long will it last?
[F] You are like a burning flame to me / Will you always be the same to me?
Though I taste your kisses / How long will they last?

[Both] Whatever you may do / This heart of mine is true
I'll still believe in you / though ___ will pass??? [ sorry, having trouble with this line ]

[F] With you happiness and bliss appear
[M] All my troubles seem to disappear
Yet my constant fear is
[ Both ] How long will it last?

L, tell me if you agree with my assessment! :)

Got my hands on the Twilight sequels - all 3 of them - today. Have already started on Book 2, which is much better than the juvenile Book 1. Addictive stuff.

Have been bombarded by the film's publicity blitz as well, all over local cable's E! Entertainment and CNN's Showbiz Tonight. Am surprisingly enjoying it a lot, especially snippets of various interviews with Robert Pattinson. He looks hilariously frazzled in every single one of them, cracking jokes in that crisp British accent, lamenting how he can't find a girlfriend ( err, right ), singing co-star Kristen Stewart's praises before getting flustered and laughing uncontrollably, even dodging rumours that he proposed to her on the movie set ( she doesn't deny it, but inserts a disclaimer that "everyone got a bit nutsy", so I guess that qualifies as a yes, though it was probably meant as a gag ).

The movie teasers already demonstrate a lot of on-screen chemistry between the two. Would be kinda nice if it spilled over into real life eh? I'm rooting for them. :)

A final update before the weekend. Plans to go to NYC have been derailed by forces beyond my control. But the upside to this is (1) I can go ahead and get a new cat now ( maybe two, who knows ), and (2) I plan to head to France and London next June, with the hope of seeing Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic if possible.

Recovered from the initial disappointment very quickly, which is great. Thank you, Mr. Spacey, for helping with that. :D

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Congratulations, Mr. Jackman!

It's official -- the Australian hunk has earned his first Sexiest Man Alive title. Very well-deserved. :)

A quick look at the rest sharing the Top 15 spots revealed a few hits and misses ( my personal opinion, that is ).

Worthy: Daniel Craig, Jon Hamm, Javier Bardem, Robert Pattinson ( yes, the Twilight guy ).

Not worthy: David Beckham, Michael Phelps, Joshua Jackson, Zac Efron ( who's known to be extremely vain and uptight about his "carefully ruffled" hair ).

There're a few other choices that I can't comment on, since they're not prominently featured on local TV or on the big screen. I'm hoping cable will screen Gossip Girl soon, as I've heard good things about the series ( Ed Westwick's from that ).

Did a quick People search - don't think James McAvoy made it this year. Darn...

I subscribe to the magazine. Can't wait to get it in my mail. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Early Impressions Of Twilight

The novel... of course.

Before I begin, though, a link to the official movie site.

spoilers alert

spoilers alert

spoilers alert

spoilers alert

I did say I'm fascinated by the vampire folklore, but my exposure has been mostly limited to films and TV.

Books-wise, I currently count maybe 4 such novels that I've read so far -- Bram Stoker's Dracula ( a must-have ), Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire ( long-winded but superior to the movie adaptation ), one more with a title and author I can't even recall ( wasn't very good, obviously ), and now, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight.

After a single weekend, I'm at page 360, and eager to pen my thoughts prior to hitting the finale.

First, to answer the more straightforward questions:

1) Is it as good as everyone says it is?

I find this a tough call. On one hand, Meyer is not a strong writer in many ways. Her vocabulary ( for someone with a college degree in English literature ) is rather lacking, but then again I have to consider the fact that the story is told from Bella's perspective, and she's a 17-year-old high school student, so what should one expect?

However, having just completed Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, which is "narrated" by a pubescent girl, the language difference is massive. I don't think Mary Boleyn was that sophisticated, but Gregory's style is 100 times more graceful, with much more complicated plotlines and extremely compelling dialogue.

Twilight, in comparison to something like that, doesn't stand a chance. Although I agree it's hardly fair to hold the former against the latter, considering the markedly different genres and target demographics.

On the other hand, it's been such a long time since I've spent a whole afternoon and hours past bedtime glued to a book, defying exhaustion and choosing this over a much-needed nap. I've even brought it to work so I can continue when the shift quietens down -- now that's never happened before.

After beating around the bush, do I have a final verdict?

In terms of writing style, no, it isn't as good as I thought it would be.

But the story and characters are pretty special.
More on these later...

2) What irks me?

As mentioned earlier, the writing is a little lacklustre. Though a college grad, Meyer has since become a full-time homemaker with 3 young children to care for. During an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, she admitted to balancing her infant on her lap while typing out the manuscript. Little wonder the prose came out this way. :)

In the first 250 pages, I was immensely irritated by her repetitive use of certain words, e.g. beautiful, gorgeous, grimaced, smirked. I found it unnecessary to hammer home the point that YES, Edward Cullen is drop dead gorgeous ( pun intended ). Meyer's breathless descriptions about his runway model looks started to grate on my nerves, and this wasn't helped by Bella's infatuation, which I found childish, in view of her supposed superior intelligence ( she's in an advanced class back in her hometown, reads Chaucer, listens to Debussy, and is a whiz at English and Biology ).

The high-tension scene where Edward saves Bella from being crushed by a van ended up confusing me, as I struggled to understand the sequence of events and eventually failed to make sense of it.

Also, Bella's awkward clumsiness kept getting played up at every opportunity, with her tripping all over herself and accidentally crashing into or whacking people during gym class.
And yet, despite all this, she gets pursued by 3 popular boys AND catches Edward's eye.

A bit melodramatic, no?

However, I pressed on...

3) What was the turning point?

Chapter 13: Confessions ( page 260 ).

This, IMHO, is the novel's brightest spark, keeping me up late on Saturday night.

I actually started my reading session a couple of chapters earlier, but got a bit of a jolt when, in Chapter 12, Meyer placed Bella in her bedroom, listening to Chopin nocturnes as she attempted to sleep before a pivotal outing with Edward the next morning.

I happened to be plugged into my Discman that instant, enjoying music from a new classical artiste I'd recently discovered -- a young Polish pianist named Rafal Blechacz. Guess what he specializes in? Chopin preludes.

I literally froze when I read Meyer's words, coupled with Blechacz's album blasting in my ears. Eerie, man.

Anyway, I've gone off track a little. Chapter 13, for me at least, turned the whole experience around. After 25 pages set in a meadow of wild flowers, featuring a no-holds-barred conversation that explains almost everything I needed to know, I found the initial annoyance I felt dissipating completely.
It really was quite remarkable.

4) What comes next?

Unfortunately, the following chapters don't measure up to number 13. There's a high-speed baseball game in a forest clearing that perhaps aims to be Quidditch's equivalent, but again, Meyer's writing fails to convey its power and exuberance ( JK Rowling's first 3 Harry Potter books are truly spectacular in this respect ). Predictably, a group of villains is introduced to spice things up. The usual plot tricks.

5) Will the movie be better than the novel?

I strongly suspect so. The actors handpicked for the lead roles have good acting credentials. I can't say that Robert Pattinson ( who plays Edward, and is best remembered as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter 4 ) fits Meyer's mould to a T, since he isn't that conventionally handsome. But I believe he has the depth and personality to make the character his own, perhaps even surpassing the author's vision and fan expectations.

Kristen Stewart suits Bella very well. Let's hope she does a good job with the acting part.
I've seen short clips of the scene where Edward first saves Bella's life. Doesn't seem to match what the book depicts, but that's okay.

There's also a sneak peek of a bedroom scene ( got this in my DVD of Penelope - which stars James McAvoy :)) where Edward jumps out Bella's window with her on his back -- don't recall reading about this in any of the chapters. A bit of screenplay tweaking?

Then of course, there's a big fight scene, and lots of lovey-dovey bits where the two protagonists get intimate ( but remain chaste ) with each other. Should be very interesting.

6) Will I read Book 2?

If I can get my hands on it, then yes. Took me a while to obtain a rental copy of Twilight, and Books 2 and 3 are currently unavailable. Will stop short of buying them, since my conscience won't allow it, heh.

Was telling L earlier today about how Twilight has been stirring up some memories for me. I may be twice Bella's age, but many of the novel's themes and a few of its memorable scenes made me reminisce about people I've met in the past, places I've been and things I've done.

They made me smile at times, and caused my heart to ache at others. Amazing how a fictional work filled with teen angst can have such an effect on me. There's hope after all. :)
Catch the trailer and various clips here.
I can't wait to see it at the cineplex. :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ahh... :)

After my streak of disastrous shifts, I'm relieved to have survived a really REALLY great call.

Unusually quiet for a Wednesday, but also, a huge thank you to my terrific team of MOs, and my capable and hardworking registrar.

The one that appeals to me most is Johnny Depp. I've been a fan since his 21 Jump Street days -- although he was quite an Ah Beng at the time. Went through a bad boy period in the '90s, but has evolved nicely into a family man, box office star and, best of all, accomplished actor who can do just about anything.
Forget about his weird fashion sense at award ceremonies. With the right stylist ( usually for photo shoots ), he looks like a million bucks ( see picture ).

Robert Downey, Jr. is also a big fave. Am going to add him to my Top 10 actors list soon, once I figure out who to kick off. He's a long shot for Sexiest Man Alive, but should be somewhere in the Top 5, thanks in large part to his fabulous lead role in Iron Man. I much prefer him in drama mode -- e.g. Zodiac -- but there's no denying he's one good-looking dude.

Daniel Craig's a great choice, but not a strong contender given his short Hollywood history and British background. Has a non-American ever garnered the title? I think not, but correct me if I'm wrong.
Still, he's one of the few blonde actors I actually like ( don't ask me why I gravitate towards brunettes ). No-one can quite wear a suit the way he does. :)

Hugh Jackman - possible, but not one I'm rooting for ( though I like him a lot in Someone Like You, with Ashley Judd ); Michael Phelps - bleah ( gold medals aside, he doesn't seem very intelligent ); Justin Timberlake - lacks substance; Will Smith - consorts with Scientologists, enough said; Christian Bale - too dour; George Clooney and Brad Pitt - not worthy of a 3rd win; Leonardo DiCaprio - too pudgy; David Beckham - no man with a squeaky voice can be considered sexy, helloooo.

People mag should have 2 categories: older and younger Sexiest Man Alive winners. The latter may include the likes of Shia LaBeouf and James McAvoy, no?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Get Ready To (G)Rumble

Am basking in a well-deserved break, after stressing myself out these past few weeks over a project proposal for MOH. Had to forgo a visit to the cineplex to catch Quantum Of Solace ( am very PO-ed about that ), and discovered a lone strand of silvery white hair on my scalp this morning. My second, I believe.

Also worked 4 days straight over the weekend and Monday, which wore me down considerably. Not just because of the incessant ambulance diversions - at times every hour, on the hour - but due to the unbelievable number of super-sick patients we saw.

However, we made a number of good saves, which helped defuse the exasperation I felt.

In one case, my registrar was astute enough to suspect a rare but life-threatening condition in a young woman with severe dyspnoea. A bedside ultrasound confirmed the diagnosis, upon which we rang the relevant specialist, Dr. X, for an urgent consult. Dr. X then proceeded to interrogate the MO who made the call, asking what model of ultrasound machine we use, what views we obtained, whether we're CERTAIN it's what we think it is, etc. Obviously Dr. X has no regard for ER physicians' skills in this area.
So when Dr. X brought a nifty portable U/S from the ward to repeat the scan, I stood beside the patient to wait for the verdict, which was grudgingly given but confirmed our initial findings. The lady was then whisked to the ICU for an urgent procedure.

And FYI, we did the scan using a 5-year old relic of an U/S machine, with a probe that's been dropped so many times the image has degenerated into an almost unintelligible haze.

But we still made the diagnosis. :D

For the 2nd patient, it was a suicide attempt which caused severe airway compromise, confirmed on a bedside nasoendoscopy which I performed. The MO-on-call for the department we were admitting to irritated me with the first words she uttered, "Are you a nurse or a doctor?" - in a haughty tone, might I add.
This necessitated a need to pull rank, which I did, explaining the patient's CRITICAL condition and need for immediate attention. Instead of saying, "Okay, I'm coming down now", she decided to bombard me with queries about the extent of the injuries, how the patient was found, etc. I mean, what difference does it make, if I TELL you to come down STAT?!
Another medical junior who thinks the ER is full of idiots, I suppose.

I cut the conversation short, told her to "come down now and SEE THE PATIENT", and hung up on her.
The anaesthetist was then called, a registrar who PROMPTLY came to the resus room, no questions asked, and pushed the patient to the Emergency Operating Theatre for intubation within 5-10 minutes.
Now THAT'S what real medicine is all about.

In the final case, another resus patient came in febrile with abdominal pain and active bleeding. She had just been discharged from the ward earlier the same day. While my registrar attended to her, the MO assisting made a call to the relevant specialist team, speaking to a fellow MO - let's call her Dr. Y - upstairs. I happened to be sitting right next to my stressed-out MO at that moment, and heard him stammer while presenting the history and physical findings.
It was easy to tell that Dr. Y was giving him a hard time. One of the first things he told her was how ILL the patient was - actively bleeding, hypotensive, just discharged from Y's ward that morning - but she kept asking a slew of questions, refusing to come down and do something pro-active.

After 3 minutes of eavesdropping, I asked my MO to pass me the phone.

Me: Hello, this is Dr. spacefan, A&E [ my rank ].

Dr. Y: Oh, hello.

Me: I believe my MO has informed you that the patient is hypotensive and actively bleeding. I don't see a point in asking him so many questions, can you come down now to see her? If you need more information, you can look it up in the computer discharge summary.

Dr. Y: Uh, okay, can I have the patient's IC number?


Dr. Y: Okay, I'm coming down.

Me: Thank you.

After placing the handset on the receiver, I turned back to my PC to continue typing.
My MO leaned towards me and whispered, "Thank you, Dr. spacefan."
"Next time, don't let anyone bully you," I replied. "When a patient is critical, be firm and make the doctor come down immediately. If you have any problems, get an A&E senior to help you."

It's only the 2nd week of the MO changeover and I've already intervened in 2 instances of unprofessional behaviour. Hospital core values my ^&*%$@

On A Lighter Note

Here's some movie hype I'm caught up in. Will be acquiring a rental copy of the novel later this week.

Vampires fascinate me. Anyone remember the TV series Dark Shadows starring Ben Cross? Also highly recommended: The Lost Boys -- something I've watched countless times since childhood, and still never tire of.

Another great film I watched on HBO last week - Recount, starring Kevin Spacey. Check out this great scene, one of many in a truly excellent account of the 2000 Florida elections disaster.

Spacey is, as always, superb. He gracefully juggles the role of campaign manager Ron Klain, playing leader, confidante and take-no-prisoners ruthless.

The best part isn't featured on YouTube - a few minutes alone in an office, where Klain takes the pivotal call from Al Gore, with the latter advising him to stop fighting and let Bush win. Spacey breaks down but camouflages it with a forced, steady voice. He implores Gore repeatedly to change his mind, but the decision is final.

Bravo, Mr. Spacey. What a powerful delivery!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Photo Break

...before resuming work on an admin project this Sunday morning -- how depressing is that...
Here's one taken during an afternoon felucca ride on the Nile River.
As described on Wikipedia, it was indeed quiet and relaxing, with the gentle breeze propelling the boats forward, and the warm weather causing a significant amount of blissful lethargy.
Thankfully, I was kept awake by a stimulating conversation with a NASA engineer, as we discussed topics ranging from the U.S. Presidential elections to Hurricane Gustav and medicine.
And you'll be happy to know that the Nile doesn't stink, unlike the waterways of Venice ( at least the narrower ones ).

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Brief Summary

The U.S. Presidential elections culminated in the outcome I was praying for. I'm a supporter of the Democrats ( have to divert my interest somewhere, since the local political scene is pretty much dead ), and haven't been this excited or elated since Bill Clinton clinched the position in 1992.

I have great hopes for President Obama, and am confident he will endeavour to make good on his promises.

Mad Men finally premiered on local digital cable this week. Verdict on the pilot episode - fabulous! It's easy to forget how the past was actually much more decadent than the present, before health warnings, political correctness and feminism intervened. All the characters smoke like chimneys in every scene, and the amount of male chauvinism, sexual harrassment and multiple forms of discrimation sends me reeling.

But in a good way. :)

Lead actor Jon Hamm is the new Patrick Dempsey -- only much better-looking and a lot more interesting.

Thank you, Starhub! Now if only they'll bring Gossip Girl to Asia. It has to be superior to 90210 -- caught the premiere recently and find it intolerably insipid. No-one on that show seems able to act.

Have completed Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. Took me 6 weeks of late-night reading ( couldn't give up my TV fare to make extra room ), and have gotta say it's definitely one of the best novels I've read in a really long time. In fact, I think the last book which captivated me this effectively was John Berendt's The City Of Falling Angels, and Berendt happens to be my unrivalled favourite contemporary author ( the other being Thomas Hardy, who hails from a different era ).
Am always happy to discover a new writer whose works I can enjoy at leisure.

Michael Crichton's death came as a shock when I read about in the papers this morning. Together with the fact that he's been married FIVE times! The only Crichton novel I've ever read is Disclosure, 'cos the rest kinda sucked. Agree with critics that he isn't a good writer, but somehow, his ideas make for cool screenplays, though not always good films ( i.e. Congo ).
Still, his direction of Coma ( based on Robin Cook's most famous book and starring a very young and gorgeous Michael Douglas ) was most skilful, and his best creation, the TV series ER, remains unsurpassed in terms of writing, acting and realistic resuscitation scenes.

May you rest in peace.

Weekend's going to be busy. Damn mouth ulcers are killing me. Bloody stressed out, argh!