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Monday, June 26, 2017 - 23:07 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

More Travel Notes

Fork & Spooning

Disposable spoons don't seem to get no love in America, whether with Chinese takeout in Baltimore (next to the quite filling Hip Hop Fish & Chicken), or street food carts in Washington D.C. and New York City - apparently, they expect a fork to do double duty. But then, given the rent they're paying, I'd understand their pinching pennies (and handcuffing unlicensed competitors)

Goin' To The Mall

"Since a housewrecker differs significantly from a homewrecker, the inference is clear that house and home mean different things."

- the always-quotable Paul Fussell,
seen at the National Building Museum

At least one mall has been doing okay amidst the ongoing retail apocalypse, egged on by Amazon trialling Amazon Go, and now swallowing up Whole Foods (even Walmart's feeling threatened, going by how they're forcing their vendors to drop AWS). Frankly, I don't expect Singapore to be spared, given how much retail space has sprung up, but also due to the generally-mediocre service standards (which happens to be one of brick-and-mortar retail's last bastions): while shopping for my first new badminton racket in about twenty years, I figured I could ask the proprietor for some advice (this was a specialist shop, mind), and was informed by the uncle that "all the rackets are about the same". Now, I understand fully that equipment doesn't replace skill, but I'm not sure if this kind of response helps sales much...

[N.B. After playing a bit of basketball and badminton, I do admit that I could do with more regular exercise.]

But yes, the National Mall (not to be confused with the Mall of America), probably the cultural heart of the nation. Museums and epic monuments abound, with so many of them - like the Lincoln Memorial - by now firmly etched into the public consciousness by repeated reference in media (on which mall - sorry, more - later). Strictly speaking, not all of these are on the Mall proper (which doesn't help their popularity), but nothing that a good stroll can't reach.

Seat of the GOD-EMPEROR on Earth
[N.B. Imperial citizens may not approach too closely, for their own safety]

There are the other firm old favourites, like the Washington Monument, National Art Gallery and Air & Space Museum, but I have to confess to preferring the more modern and offbeat offerings. There's the open-concept Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial (opened 2011), possibly the most... comfortable of the bunch, and the National Museum of the American Indian (opened 2004), which seems to take pains to continually re-emphasize in bold print that the United States honours its treaties with the natives; but, how did the apocryphal Henry Ford quote go... "Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the Government take care of him, better take a closer look at the American Indian."

One thing about the museums under the Smithsonian umbrella - they're free, and thus great for those on a budget. My personal faves, the Newseum and the International Spy Museum, aren't - but you do mostly get what you pay for. Certainly, if nothing else, they should aid one's understanding of the crumbling Russian narrative, being as it is at the intersection of alleged spycraft and deception.

Another commonality is that striving to be a good journalist can be hazardous to one's health too, although spies probably get the bulk of the rep (which reminds me, I have got to catch up with the full James Bond canon someday). The Newseum maintains memorials to those martyred in their mission to report the truth, as well as appeals to free those imprisoned for the same. And, of course, a large display devoted to the infamous Press Freedom Index.

The CIA has for one has not been impressed by the increasing prevalence of leaks, but as Snowden pithily puts it: it's no surprise that the CIA is baffled to find that the public respects those who reveal official crimes, more than those who commit them (and, by Chomsky's Who Rules the World, there's no shortage of examples of the CIA being total bastards, in ways that are nigh-impossible to reconcile with being "the good guys"; then again, they had some amazing ideas)

On Location

Intercontinental flights mean plenty of catching up on movies, and while British Airways' selection wasn't quite up to Air New Zealand's in my opinion (the safety vids definitely weren't), there remained plenty to explore. As I sat through my picks, it dawned on me that there were some... similarities:

Film NameLocation(s)
AlliedLondon, Casablanca, etc
Assassin's CreedLondon, Granada (15th century), etc
Doctor StrangeNew York City, London, Hong Kong, etc
I, David BlakeNewcastle (major secondary character from London)
Live By NightBoston, Miami, etc
PassengersSpace, New York City (Aurora Lane origin flashback)
Penguins of MadagascarNew York City, Antarctica, etc
Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryN/A (a galaxy far, far away)
The Devil Wears PradaNew York City, Paris, etc
xXx: Return of Xander CageNew York City, the Philippines, Detroit, etc

Out of the ten movies, half of them had scenes from the Big Apple, and even those that didn't take place in NYC or London arguably had events significantly directly impacted by decisions taken in those two cities; that's soft power for you, and it doesn't get usurped quite that easily.

I'm not sure I want to commit to individual reviews for the lot, so I'll just rush through some random comments. Maybe let's begin with Doctor Strange, estranged twin of Gregory House and a thoroughly unlikeable fellow who probably wouldn't get through a day without being punched in the face but for his sole saving grace - being unreasonably good at surgery. A large motor mishap on a rainy day sees his fine motor skills ruined, and after his rehab stalls, he turns to alternative cures in Steve Jobs fashion, winding up in exotic Kamar-Taj.

There, he is granted an audience with The Ancient One, whom he quite justifiably expects to be Asian (hey come on, it's Nepal), but Chinese students Tibet outrage, so, you know. Anyway, Dr. Strange understandably doesn't buy The Celtic One's metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, but comes around to her point of view after getting force-fed some top-grade LSD. He's then convinced to stay (Wifi included, of course, they aren't savages), and spends his days training with brass knuckles, progressing to drawing dinky patterns in the air with sparklers.

Dr. Strange's quest to regain hand control for his job soon runs into complications, when he is informed that he has to see off an unthinkably malevolent soul-destroying entity, that has long had evil designs on New York, London and Hong Kong. He wavers at the enormity of the task, but regains his courage when it is clarified that said nemesis is merely the Elder Dark God Dormammu, Demon Lord of Chaos, and not Goldman Sachs. Dormamon's minion Kaecilius (who really went overboard with the eyeshadow) attempts to woo Dr. Strange by promising that "those who believeth in Him shalt have eternal life", but come on, who hasn't heard that line before?

"Personally, just between me and you, it helps to look presentable in the conversion business, just sayin'."
(Source: anoncraft.com)

I hope it isn't too much of a spoiler to mention that Dr. Strange saves the Earth with some timetrollery and the assistance of Wong, who apparently snuck in beneath the producers' race-sensitivity threshold to wield a paddle in defence of Kowloon.

The action continues in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, which doubtlessly to the great disappointment of at least some curious adolescents, doesn't contain much adult material if at all, despite its promising title. The closest they got was probably the inclusion of Neymar in the opening and ending (really), through his indirect connection with the timeless fetish flick "Young Brazilians getting whipped by entire German soccer team".

Anyway, there was never going to be much logic going on in a Xander Cage movie, and so we get Ip Man and Tony Jaa smashing up CIA headquarters by gun-fu fighting, alongside the aspirationally-named DJ Harvard Zhou, who is all but acknowledged in his achievement-free description to have gotten in via hongerdai influence. There's plenty of explosions (mostly unnecessary), a game of Musical Grenades, more explosions, gratuitous booty footage, satellites falling and exploding, some switching of sides, and we're done.

I followed that up with Rogue One, and wasn't surprised to discover that the Super Rey stereotype had found favour with the studios, going by how much speculation had been going about that Jyn Erso is Rey's mum. So Jyn and party land on a desert planet to fight the Taliban, and... I rubbed my eyes. Surely Dr. Strange's time manipulation hadn't...

But there it was, clear as day, a bedraggled and blind Ip Man, and one can almost sense the resignation - even through his milky, wasted eyes - as he stands up for his introduction fight:

Make way, living Oriental mystical warrior-monk trope incoming. Yes, I know kung-fu, chop chop, haiii-ya, got the long stick and everything. Backflip? Nimble feet? Gotta whole package, man.

And, as Ip Man brains the first unlucky stormtrooper, one can - if one is observant enough - make out what he's mouthing:

Maybe I should have just said that I was Tibetan, instead...

[To be continued...]

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