Category Archives: Reviews

Things I Learnt In Hanoi

Breathtaking Ha Long Bay

My recent trip to Hanoi really opened up my eyes to the cultures and lifestyle of this capital city of Vietnam. It was my first ever visit to this country, so I thought I would list down some of my observations and lessons learnt about Hanoi..

1. Get a Local SIM card when you are there.

Mobile SIMs are surprisingly very cheap over there. I bought a Viettel SIM with 600MB data  for only VND150,000, which is about RM25. I even had some credits to make about 10 minutes of international call as well! :-)

2. Traffic rules do not apply in Hanoi

Traffic lights, roundabouts, road signs, zebra crossings, etc. are absolutely meaningless here. It’s ALL-WAY traffic where motorists moves in whatever direction they want!

A meaningless road sign
The meaningless roundabout…

3. Motorcycle Helmets in Hanoi are also meaningless…

Although all motorcyclists and scooterists wear them, it is as good as wearing a toy helmet! The material used is so thin I doubt if it offered any protection to the wearer at all!

4. Getting 5 seconds of peace is like striking lottery!

The streets of Hanoi is constantly noisy with horns blaring and motor sounds. If you are a light sleeper, you’d best find a hotel with near-perfect sound proofing…:-p

5. You cannot survive the streets without your HORN!

With fellow motorists to your left, right, front and back almost all the time, it is essential to HONK-AS-YOU-DRIVE/RIDE. Horns is Hanoi are therefore SO essential here they should just engineer it to honk automatically every 3 seconds. Seriously.

6. Hanoi riders and drivers are possibly amongst the most skilful in the world!

Moving around these streets with these kind of chaotic traffic on an everyday basis is proof of their incredible road skills!

7. Rubbish is naturally thrown on the roadside or just about anywhere at all!

Dustbins are hardly seen in the streets of Hanoi. So it becomes quite natural for them to just throw rubbish on the floor. every 2-3 hours, some cleaners will come around with a push-cart garbage dump to clean the streets…

The garbage trolley..

8. Be prepared to HAGGLE

When going shopping, always remember that the opening prices is always marked up. So, be prepare to haggle and get the best bargain possible. Most shops in the same area sells virtually the same stuff. So don’t feel bad by declining one shop and testing out the prices of other shops. My tip is to counter the opening price by 40-50% and work from there.

9. One needs proper strategy just to cross the road.

in Hanoi, forget about the universal Look left, look right, look left again…cross. Here, the proper strategy is to simply PRAY, CLOSE YOUR EYES and CROSS THE ROAD! Hanoi motorists will somehow do extremely well to avoid hitting you! Don’t worry, about a first few crossings filled with heart attacks, you should be able to get used to it.

Here’s a sample video clip of a junction you need to cross in the Old Quarters…

10. Beware of street peddlers

There are certain groups of people hanging out around the streets who are always on the look out to make a quick buck. One are men armed with some small tools who will always try to persuade you that your show needs to be fixed. I was approached by these people no less than 5 times during my visit. The other group are lady peddlers who are a carrying fruit baskets. They would offer you to take a photo with their baskets….for a price, of course.

11. Secret meaning of XE OM

One of the cheapest ways of getting around Hanoi is by motorcycle taxis, or better known as Xe Om. You can spot them at most street corners on their bikes and a spare helmet. They will usually promote or offer their services by calling out Xe Om! After trying out their services for my customised city tour, I believe Xe Om secretly stands for Xtreme Entertainment On Motorcycle! Thrilling, heart-stopping and cheap! Definitely a recommended ride – since I don’t think they have any entertainment parks in this city…

12. Vietnamese coffee if STRONG

Since I am not really a coffee lover, I cannot confirm if Vietnamese coffee is the best in the world. It does however, tastes stronger than most coffee I’ve tasted. And anything hot and strong is surely good stuff to have in the chilly, breezy weather of Hanoi. And if the coffee here is strong, they also have Vietnamese tea here which is also just as strong!

12. Best way to LEPAK in Hanoi

Find a restaurant along the streets that serves arguably the cheapest beer on the planet, Bia Hoi (usually on sale at VND5000 (about only RM1!!!), pull up a stool, sit on it next to a small table, order your Bia Hoi, some food, and watch life pass by on the streets….

Lepaking Hanoi style, at No 2 Duong Thanh

13. Sandwiches are HUGE!!

Before coming here, I knew a bit about the Vietnamese sandwich or Ban Minh. Wehen I reached here, I noticed another similar dish that was just as popular was their KEBAB. And the size of it just blew me away!

14. Be amazed with their telecom lines

If your free, try turning your head upwards and admire the stretch and bundles of telecom lines running (not very high) around the city area. Although the Government has plans to put them all underground sometime in the future, the telecom lines is a sight that has to be seen and appreciated.

15. Almost Impossible to tell the Originals from the Fakes

There are just so many FAKE stuff (handbags, clothes, shirts, etc.) in Hanoi that it is quite impossible to tell the real apart from the fakes. so the best thing to do is just to NOT go there with intention to get original stuff. Your expectations might just be crushed. 😛

16. Best Pho in the world

Personally, it’s just noodle soup with beef/chicken/pork to me, but many people seem to go ga-ga over Pho. Having said that, any trip to Vietnam would not be complete without eating this dish.

Even the STREETS are called PHO!! Different pronunciation though..

17. Making new friends during tours

Through the Street Food Tour and the Ha Long bay tour which I took, I managed to make many new friends from all over the world, like Germany, Chile, Uruguay, USA, China, France, Australia, Singapore and Japan!

18. Ha Long Bay tour guides are very good story-tellers and have creative imagination!

This is especially significant during the tour to the Dong Thien Cung, where one could see beautiful rock formations inside the caves. Trust me, after coming out of the caves, you’ll never look at any other rock feature the same way again!

19. Lower your sails of expectation for Ha Long Bay cruises

If you are planning to go to Ha Long bay during your stay in Hanoi, I’d bet you would have this picture of the cruise boat in your mind…

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What you’d actually get….:-P

Do lower your expectations because more likely than not, you will board a boat without any such sails. When I reached the jetty area, I surveyed all the boats docked there and I spotted NONE with sails. Of course, having said that, try not to let the missing sails spoil your Ha Long bay tour. It is still a MUST-SEE tour when you go to Hanoi!

20. Standard of English is fast improving with the younger generation

I observed that whilst the older folk in Hanoi spoke almost ZERO English, it was encouraging to see most of the younger generation ably speaking the language. Most of these younger population would either still be studying or currently working in the hotel industry. Many of the English-speaking tour guides in Hanoi are actually university students working part time to get some side income. Even the young taxi driver that took me to the airport on my final day was happily listening to some techno-rock mash-up with shocking repetitive lyrics like “m***** f****** b****” Yes, the passion to learn English amongst the younger generation here is indeed very strong!

21. Get your hotel to help you get a taxi

Before coming to Hanoi, I had read many disturbing stories about the rampant taxi scams in Hanoi. There were cases of taxi drivers taking the unsuspecting victims for a free tour around the city before eventually reaching the destination for a higher price, obviously. Then there are also stories of taxis with ‘faulty’ meters that starts at a higher rate. My solution was to get your hotel (or any other hotel nearby where you are) to call a taxi for you. Give them your destination and request for the hotel’s assistance to be the spokesperson to tell the driver where you need to go. The wonderful staff at Paradise Boutique Hotel where I stayed even went the extra mile to check the taxi meter before giving the OK for the driver to leave. In addition, more often than not all hotels would have their list of reliable taxis they can call for their guests.

22. So many TV channels!

I was quite surprised to find the hotel TV with more than 80 channels!! Of course, the bulk of these are Vietnamese dramas…:-p

23. Exotic foods are quite easy to find here.

If you’re adventurous enough, you can quite easily find some exotic foods like dog, cat, snail, crocodile, etc.

24. No worries if you run out of Vietnamese Dong!

Whilst most shops in Hanoi readily accept USD and VND, I found out that they are also quite open to accepting just about ANY OTHER currency from tourists! Of course, you’d have to follow their ‘daily’ conversion rate. So at the end of the day, you may not need to convert so much VND t bring to Hanoi…

25. The weather is quite cold, chilly and breezy around Year End

Check the weather forecast before heading to Hanoi. When I visited this month, I was welcomed with breezy, chilly winds everyday. The temperature went down to as low as 12 degrees Celsius and only as high as 18 degrees Celsius.

Brace yourself for chilly Hanoi!

26. Prepare to eat like a KID again!

Most of the tables and chairs in the Old Quarters seem like they were specially made for kids. My personal theory is that the stall owners don’t want table hoggers…haha…

27. Bring your own water to Ha Long bay

Most (if not ALL) of the Ha Long Bay tours will cover just the food, but not the water. Water (and Bia Hoi, of course) is happily served at a cost when the boat had already left the jetty. If you bring your own water, you could easily save some money here.

28. What souvenirs to buy home from Hanoi?

The top 5 popular stuff tourist buy from Hanoi are (i) Silk stuff; (ii) Coffee; (iii) Lacquer stuff; (iv) Pirated DVDs – around USD0.75 per piece!; (v) North Face bags!

Reel Review: Iron Man 3

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In a summer filled with so many explosive blockbusters, there are several movies that everyone has penciled in to watch…one of which has got to be Iron Man 3. I guess it was very highly anticipated not only because the Iron Man movie franchise was perhaps the most successful superhero franchise of Marvel movies, it is also a sort of first follow-up movie in the aftermath from The Avengers.

The third installment starts off rather philosophically with Tony Stark bemoaning how we sometimes create our own demons. We are taken on a flashback to 1999 where we are introduced to a bio scientist Maya Hansen, who is doing some research on Extremis, which is some formula with regenerative properties. They also have a brief encounter with Aldrich Killian, who offers both Stark and Hansen to join his company – Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). Stark dismisses the offer and inadvertently embarrasses Killian as well.

In the present, a very restless Stark is seen performing more research and tinkering on his Iron Man suits – latest being Mark 42 (!!!…if my memory is correct, we only saw Mark 7 in The Avengers!!!). Obviously still shaken from his near-death experience as seen in The Avengers, it is clear that all is not well with his relationship with Pepper too. We are quickly introduced to a series of frightening Al-Qaeda-ish threats and boastings on TV from a sinister terrorist known only as The Mandarin. This villain and his organisation called The Ten Rings has been responsible for a series of unexplainable bombings, which may be related to the Extremis, all over the country.

When one of such bombings leaves Stark’s security chief, Happy (seriously!) very badly injured, Stark takes it rather personally by issuing a live threat on TV to The Mandarin, as well as giving him an open invitation by giving out his home address. The Mandarin responds very quickly when Stark’s home becomes a direct target of the Mandarin’s attack helicopters. This incident drives Stark to relentlessly pursue The Mandarin and bring him down.

It may sound like a rather simple storyline of a superhero bringing down a terrorist to justice but along the journey, we are offered a glimpse of Stark’s inner battles and discovering more about the man inside the Iron Man Suit.

Personally, I didn’t quite enjoy IM3 as much as I did with the very first IM1 although it was probably better than the thoroughly disappointing IM2….which brings a lesson that sometimes we do not need VVIP villains like Whiplash or The Mandarin to make a good movie. I still remember Iron Man’s adversary in IM1 was only the Iron Monger, yet other elements within that movie connected well to make it fantastic.

In summary, these are some of the key points which I liked and didn’t like about IM3:

What I Liked:

1. Trauma caused by events in The Avengers gave it  some satisfactory link and continuity with the on-going Marvel cinemaverse.

2. More action from Pepper! 😀

3. The very villainous twists throughout the movie. Always enjoy movies that surprises me! :-)

What I Disliked:

1. Personally I felt every single scene with Stark and some kid in a small town didn’t work. The dialogue felt really awkward and very artificial. The tried and tested superhero-kid chemistry usually works but in IM3, it was probably one of the weaker sub-plots.

2. Entire movie was pretty humourless. Read: dull. Perhaps the director was trying to create and maintain that tension throughout the movie but to me, a comic book movie should at the end of the day also have some erm, comic elements too!

3. Movie tries to be too philosophical and dark, focusing on Stark’s human self and lesser on the armor….very similar to what Christopher Nolan did with The Dark Knight Rises masterpiece. Unfortunately, whilst Nolan successfully built the momentum of his Batman version over a trilogy, IM3 failed to stir that gripping aspect and idea in this film.

4. Iron Patriot. Almost pointless and role-less in this movie. I could actually feel the pain everytime he appears. Almost like watching a cheap side-kick prancing around. Sigh.

5. Casting. Apart from Ben Kingsley (superbly casted as The Mandarin), everyone else didn’t really look comfortable on set at all. Hmmmm.

 

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Reel Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

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Star Trek Into Darkness is absolutely BRILLIANT. In fact, the brilliance already started more than a year ago when director JJ Abrams initiated his deceptive cloaking technology and shrouded the main villain in total mystery or erm…darkness. Heh. For months Trek fans and other people were simply adding on to the hype of identifying who Benedict Cumberbatch would be portraying. I saw this magic work with my own eyes when the identity of the villain was finally revealed, the entire cinema hall was filed with loud “Gasps” of shock and surprise!

When the Star Trek movie reboot in 2009 was so successful, many people (including myself) were anxiously waiting…not so much as to see what was the next adventure for the rebooted Kirk and his Enterprise, but also with question marks of how JJ Abrams could top his superb 2009 effort. Like a Vulcan would truthfully tell you…..Into Darkness did it!

The pace of Into Darkness is one frenetic ride that doesn’t let up right from the opening sequence, where Kirk and his crew try to save an entire planet from an erupting volcano, whilst managing to incorporate a chase in the jungles ala Indiana Jones, Enterprise hiding under the ocean and the suspenseful rescue mission of Spock from the volcano! What I loved about this 10-minute hook was that it beautifully illustrates the importance of the much revered Prime Directive to everyone.

The movie then seamlessly shifts to our mysterious villain, John Harrison, an agent of Starfleet, who calculatively plots a horrific bombing act in London and thus, officially declaring war on Starfleet. This solo act of terrorism sparks a manhunt at Starfleet’s highest level to apprehend this ‘one-man weapon of mass destruction’ which leads Kirk and his crew all the way to a deserted area of the Klingon homeworld, Qo’noS, which sets up some really good drama and action sets involving Klingons (yay!). The plot gets a little more complicated after that when John finally reveals his motives and real identity (YAY!). Suddenly the initial (and simple) ‘revenge’ episode plot is spiraled into something much, much bigger, which eventually threatens Earth itself!

One area with much improvement over the first installment was the chemistry between Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock, which was simply amazing. Their banter, insults and friendship is the type of space ‘bromance’ that lifts Into Darkness above the ‘ordinary flick’ level. Throw in the deadpan expressions, insults and colourful metaphors (eg. Jim, you don’t rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tire..) from Karl Urban’s ‘Bones’ McCoy and this movie just comes to life with its witty dialogue.

“Brilliant…with the numerous plot twists like a Bajoran wormhole, dialogue as sharp as the Kahless blade, pacing as fast as Warp Factor 10, action sequences as explosive as an unstable warp core and bright, colourful character chemistry like Dilithium Crystals…”

Visually, Into Darkness is a feast for the eyes. The special effects of the Enterprise emerging from the ocean in the opening sequence, the fight scenes in space and all the destruction scenes were truly unbelievable and really sensational to marvel at! The action sequences would be another key highlight of the movie. Hand-to-hand combat, starship dogfights, space diving-slalom, gunfights, etc. Phew. As I said before, probably the only time the audience got to take a rest and move away from the edge of the seat was during the opening title sequence bit. Heh.

I also liked how the character of John Harrison was developed. Personally, I thought he was somewhat of an anti-villian-type where there were times in the movie that we could actually feel for him and there were times where we would really despise him. I have to admit there were times that I felt as though John was playing with our minds as well…. manipulating us to cheer for him too, perhaps? Hmmmm. That being said, Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast here as his voice, height and facial intensity makes this mysterious villain very, very menacing indeed.

Another thing that JJ Abrams did well in Star Trek 2009, which he also replicated in Into Darkness was the lace the movie with ‘easter eggs’ of Trek lore – be it the type of costumes, the classic one-liners, references to future trek, etc. – which I feel would really connect well with all Trek fans. Yes! Tribbles are in this movie too! (Yay!) Last but not least, there were quite a number of welcomed twists in the plot that makes Into Darkness a truly rollicking space ride indeed!

If I could think of anything negative about the movie, it would be the lack of balanced character development amongst all main crew, with Sulu and Uhura getting pretty limited screen time this time around. Surprisingly Scotty had quite a big share of the limelight, and he did so with much comic relief. Ha. But I guess this is only natural considering the focus of the entire film very much centered on the explosive Kirk-John’s hero-villain stand-off. Another gripe is our local censors, which managed to snipped off certain parts of the movie which everyone had already seen in the trailers?!! C’mon!! There are also some very minor plotholes (eg. slowness of news after London bombing, etc.) which were not glaring enough to wreck the movie’s awesomeness. :-)

To sign off my review, I think I could summarise this movie as a magnificent Star Trek mesh up…with the numerous plot twists like a Bajoran wormhole, dialogue as sharp as the Kahless blade, pacing as fast as Warp Factor 10, action sequences as explosive as an unstable warp core and bright, colourful character chemistry like Dilithium Crystals…Into Darkness is certainly worth every single latinum you have to pay for to see it!

 

Plot:

Acting:

Script:

Pace/Flow:

OVERALL:

 

You may also want to read my other blog postings leading up to Into Darkness:

My Star Trek 2009 review!

5 Thoughts on Into Darkness Teaser

5 Possible Villains of Into Darkness

Star Trek Quotes for Everyday Use

10 Things to do while waiting for Into Darkness

Star Trek: The Exhibition

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Being a self-professed Trekkie, I was crazily excited ( to say the least) when I read about Star Trek: The Exhibition being showcased right here in Malaysia!! Currently on-going from 13 Dec 2012 till 31 Mar 2013 at the National Science Centre, it is something I simply cannot miss! 😛

Star Trek™: The Exhibition is the largest collection of authenticStar Trek artifacts and information ever put on public display. A truly impressive array of exhibits featuring sets, costumes, priceless museum pieces and props from all five Star Trektelevision series and 11 Star Trek feature films, including the 2009  blockbuster film directed by J.J. Abrams. Together these components offer Star Trek fans and novices alike an opportunity to experience first-hand the imagination, artistry, technology and meticulous craftsmanship that have made Star Trek the most enduring science-fiction franchise in history. (source: http://startrek.emsexhibits.com/about-the-exhibit/)

After plotting out my calendar, I decided to take two of my older children to experience Star Trek first hand through this exhibition on 27 Dec, right after our Christmas break. So I did go in with high expectations of a full Star Trek immersion experience, but unfortunately I came out feeling as if the exhibition should have been titled Star Trek: The Ferengi Exhibition instead…

Having paid RM20 (adult) and RM10 (child) tickets, I was disappointed that cameras were not allowed in the exhibition. Instead we were given a piece of paper that promotes three specific locations where we could get a photo-op of the Exhibition..

The above card was supposed to be a lanyard which we could keep as a souvenir later, but since it didn’t come with any neckstraps, mine ended up slightly crumpled in my jeans pocket. 😛

These were the three ‘exclusive’ photos which we took at the exhibit:

Kirk’s Chair
The Bridge
Transporter Room

Although the exhibition did showcase almost the entire history of Star Trek, its artifacts, costumes, starships, history wall, etc. pretty comprehensively, I walked through the entire exhibit with a niggling feeling that the entire exhibition wasn’t quite as interactive as I had hoped it to be.

Even when we reached the end of the hall, there was a miserable collection of Star Trek merchandise for sale, which I felt was such a put off! Even the processing speed for our 3 exclusive photos was definitely NOT at Warp speed as we had to wait more than 30 minutes to get our photos. I seriously do not know how they will manage the crowd during weekends…

Anyway, since I love Star Trek, I will not only gripe about it but offer some suggestions for improvement for such exhibitions in the future:

1. The entire exhibit feels so old school. Whilst it may have entertained people from a decade ago, may I remind that the world is already quite technologically advanced now and thus the exhibit should be made more hands on and interactive.

2. Have fully functioning turbo-lifts to access certain decks or quarters.

3. Don’t just display Klingon high thrones without allowing us to sit on it?! Sigh.

4. Hands on or interactive game using the Kahless Blade; or Starfleet phasers.

5. Have a better range of Star Trek merchandise for the public. Heck, even the collection of Trek books or movies should also be on sale here!

6. Holodeck? hello?!!

7. A simulation of the Replicator would have been a nice touch. We don’t expect the REAL food to be produced, but I’m pretty sure a simple voice search for teh described food can be displayed in visual form (as a start!)

8. 4D ride on the Enterprise Bridge…complete with flares lights! 😛

9. Hands on try out of the communicator. It’s just an enhancement of our walkie talkie today! I’m sure this could be re-produced right?

10. Virtual trying on of Star Trek costumes/uniforms – with pictures too, of course.

11. Real-life working universal translator to say translate English to Klingon! That would be way cool! 😀

12. It would be nice to also walk through various significant areas of the Enterprise like the Sickbay, Ready Room, Engineering, etc.

13. The Star Trek classic pinball machine should be here too!

14. Having a huge map of the Trek galaxy complete with all the known quadrants would be good. :-)

15. Have a replica of Quark’s bar where we can have a ‘taste’ of Romulan ale or some classic Earl Grey…:-D

Sigh….anyway, guess I can’t expect much for a RM20 entrance ticket. Great exhibition overall, but could have been better if it was more interactive:-D

Football – Bloody Hell!

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Book: Football – Bloody Hell!

Genre: Biography/Football

Author: Patrick Barclay

Thickness: 512 pages

Tagline: The Biography of Alex Ferguson

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If anyone told me that I would be reading a BIOGRAPHY in my lifetime, I would have laughed myself silly! Somehow, I have always had this low regard for biographies – oft looking down on them as boring, dull books that heaps praises on themselves. Wait, perhaps those are autobiographies? Hmmmm. Anyway, when my sister gave me this biography of Sir Alex Ferguson (SAF) as a present some time ago, I had no choice but to read it…..and after reading my very first EVER biography, I have to say it isn’t quite half as bad as I had initially thought. 😛

In fact, Football – Bloody Hell! was so good that I had some difficulty putting it down, hence finishing it quite fast, actually! I just didn’t have time to sit down and write a review of it, that’s all. My bad.

Storyline

The biography starts off very nicely, tracing the humble beginnings of SAF as a striker when it began with Queen’s Park to St Johnstone to Dunfermline, Rangers, Falkirk and Ayr United. Always unable to secure first team football almost whereever he went, SAF started to realised that his actual talent may not be in playing but in tactics! It was revealed that SAF loved to discuss tactics and strategies after every football match!

So it wasn’t really surprising that somewhere along the way, he trained to become a coach and eventually started his career as manager in East Sterlingshire in 1974 , St Mirren in the same year, before eventually moving on to his prime tenure in Aberdeen from 1978 to 1986. It was during this time that SAF’s Aberdeen managed to challenge the Old Firm (Celtic & Rangers) consistently in the Scottish League. The biography also tells of his short stint in managing the Scotland national team in the 1986 World Cup before moving on to take charge of Manchester United.

His adventure in Manchester takes up a bigger portion of the book, where we are offered a overview, season by season of his struggles and successes there, right through the treble winning season of 1999 and eventually  to the UCL final of the 2010/11 season.

Off-field, much is shared about his family life, his relationship with his family members, other managers, etc. and also his troubled own business, horse-racing addiction, etc. I would say the biography is quite comprehensive and covers just about everything you like and need to know about SAF.

Writing

For a biography, I am glad to note that the writing isn’t all that dry. I could almost feel the pain during his troubled times and also revel in the successes during SAF’s better times. The writing is very easy to follow and can be humorous at times. :-)

Of course, I did feel that the better part of the writing was all events from page 1 leading right up to the treble winning season of 1998/99. it was as if the writer paced his book to climax there. Because beyond that season, the writing started to feel a little rushed for me – as if just to keep the pages as updated to the current year as possible.

Key Takeaways

I have to admit, it was kinda exciting to finally read and understand a little bit more of the mind of perhaps one of the greatest football managers of all time. So, I thought it would be good for me to try to recall some of the things or gems I picked up from his biography:

– one of SAF’s principles is that we’ve got to have discipline to work hard in whatever we do.

– SAF was rather infamous on the field for rough tactics , elbowing opponents, etc. heck, he even owned a bar called The Elbows Room! Now I could see why he has a fondness and similarity of a certain Wayne Rooney..

– He picked up most of his mind games from the legendary Jock Stein. Here I learnt some techniques of putting pressure on your opponents…”The title is now for Newcastle to lose…”, etc.

– However good a manager that he is, SAF always seemed to do badly in horse-racing bets. Conclusion: Being a good football manager is different from a football predictor.

– I noticed many in his family – brother, sons, etc. also eventually entered the football industry – some even through his influence. Most of this did not end well. Moral: too many family members in the same industry is hazardous…

– SAF taught me to always celebrate your opponent’s successes, especially after being defeated by them. He never failed to produce a bottle of wine to the manager of the team who tops United in the BPL or beats them in the UCL. Great humility and exemplary.

– SAF was also very persistent in signing the player that he wants. He shows that as well as he could bark on the football pitch, he could also display the human touch in personally following up with the players he wants till they sign up fir the club.

– Family was very important to SAF.

– SAF is always able to learn something from the people he meets in his life.

Conclusion

I found that after reading SAF’s biography, I am now able to better appreciate the wonderful stuff he has done and is still doing for the Manchester United Football Club. And more than that, there were some lessons of life that I could learn as well, making this biography the BEST (and perhaps the only one) that I will ever read!

 

Storyline:

Writing:

Key Takeaways:

OVERALL:

Some Big Bad Thoughts

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Yup. The World’s Biggest book sale is BACK! This year, the highly (and globally, probably) anticipated Big Bad Wolf Book Sale makes its presence at the Mines Convention Centre. With discounts ranging from 75 – 95% and over 3 million titles on offer, who could resist, right? :-p

Being a book lover who has never failed to attend the BBW Sale, I made earlier plans to take leave with my wife on 7 Dec itself (its first official opening day) and throng the BBW venue to have a better selection of the available loot. Not surprisingly, many, MANY people also had the same idea, because by the time we went in around 9am, all roads leading into the MIECC was already jammed up. I also heard that apparently the crowds had already started to gather outside the building like some K-Pop concert even before the sale opened its gates at 6.30am!

It was a good thing we know the area quite well, so we promptly made our way to the Shopping Fair and parked in Level 1 there instead, where there was a link road directly to the MIECC. No jams and stress heading to the sale!

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So, how did this year’s BBW Sale do compared to previous years? Here are some of my thoughts…

– Better layout arrangement of books. Although I personally felt the MAEPS which was used in last year’s sale was a much bigger venue, the layout of books in MIECC felt more organised and easier to move around.

– With thousands of people coming to the sale, Malaysia as a book-reading nation continues to surprise me!

– The sales were so good that the inside toilets were actually quite empty!

– Having the kid’s playzone was a nice touch. Parents could actually leave their kids there and shop in peace!

– MIECC being next to Mines Shopping Fair meant that food wouldn’t be an issue…a huge positive improvement from last year’s venue.

– New BBW price tags. Another nice touch….much cooler compared to the plain, dull price tags of before.

– BBW merchandise (T-shirts, bags, etc.) also made their debut this year. Was delighted that the quality was pretty good too!

– Another good move by the organisers was to set up another section of the Sale for those children books with pop-ups, toys, 3D glasses, etc. – all things that could easily be damaged by the ruthless book lovers. This way, all of the good stuff were protected. Two thumbs up!

– Another nice touch was the facility for the shoppers to leave their loot temporarily at a deposit area so that they could continue shopping. They also had this facility last time, but in MIECC, the counter included some awesome looking high rack shelves. More organised and efficient.

All in all, I went home TIRED, but very happy with my loot worth over RM600…

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I’m impressed with the ways BBW keeps improving itself year after year, not only in terms of offering us more book titles, but also in terms of the arrangement, logistics and planning of the venue!

These are some suggestions for improvement for BBW in the future…

1. Use colored price tags, like YELLOW for RM5 tags, RED for RM10 tags, etc. Definitely a time saver at checkout lines.

2. Alternatively, have some price specific lines, like a counter that only checks out RM5 items, etc.

3. Stamp some of the boxes with BBW logo and allow environment-friendly shoppers to carry the boxes home. This could save on the precious plastic bag production too..

4. OCBC’s credit card promotion should also start like 3 months prior to the sale. Personally, I still find it rather irritating for the sales person to be following me around whilst I’m scouring for books!

5 Things I Learnt from US Open 2012

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1. If at first you do not succeed, you’d need to try AGAIN. and AGAIN. and AGAIN. and AGAIN…

2. Ivan Lendl is one heck of a coach!

3. Berdych can start selling video tutorials on how to beat Roger Federer.

4. The only person that can beat Serena Williams now is Serena Williams.

5. The only thing that blew the competition away were the tornadoes. Most matches (especially the final week ones) were pretty tight, signifying a much more competitive era in tennis now.

Star Trek: Klingons – Blood Will Tell

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Book: Star Trek: Klingons – Blood Will Tell

Genre: Graphic Novel/Science Fiction/Comic

Writers: Scott Tipton/David Tipton

Illustrator: David Messina

Thickness: 168 pages

Tagline: NA

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Here is a confession: As big as a Star trek fan as I am, I have never really thought much about its comic books. Not sure if it is the cheesy artwork on the covers or some bias that sci-fi on comics just doesn’t quite add up.

This is the reason why I only started to pick up some of these Star Trek graphic novels (note: some of them are even just a collection of their monthly comic series) at last year’s Big Bad Wolf Sale when they were selling em CHEAP at RM5 a pop.

However, after reading through some of these, I have to sheepishly admit that I was so glad I bought those ST graphic novels! I was thoroughly impressed by the refreshing writing in their pages. Of course, the artwork isn’t exactly visually stunning, but the quality of the storylines more than makes up for it.

Today, I shall review about one of the ST graphic novels I finished quite a while ago, and it’s all about Klingons. Seriously. Younger Trekkies may not know much about the Klingons but this warrior race was sorta like the main baddie in the Original series, so it’s really worth a look at how much drama they brought to the original crew…

Storyline

Basically, the story starts off on the Klingon home planet where they are undecided whether they should go to war with the Federation of Planets or to make peace. It then zooms in on the protagonist of the story, Kahnrah who has the vote that will break the tie and determine this critical decision.

As he ponders on what his vote will be with K’ahlynn, his grand daughter, Kahnrah starts to reminiscent about historical encounters between the Klingons and the Federation. Through these stories, he gains more insight before making his decision at the end of the story.

Writing

The uniqueness of this book is that it recollects classic stories in the ST: Original Series lore where the Klingons featured prominently. The only difference is that all of these stories are now told in this graphic novel from the perspective of the Klingons! How cool is that?!

The Klingon-based stories covered in this graphic novel include “Errand of Mercy“, which is incidentally the first episode that introduced the Klingons to the ST universe, “The Trouble with Tribbles“, “Day of the Dove” and “A Private Little War“. For those of you who are familiar with the stories mentioned here, you should be able to enjoy this graphic novel more because you’d be able to understand the beauty of unraveling the classic stories again, only from another point of view.

I especially enjoyed this panel where K’ahlynn shrieks in shock “Kirk Again?!!” after listening through some of these stories, where the Kirk’s Enterprise was seemingly always involved in all of them!

Artwork

I have to say although the artwork feels water-colourish at times, it was actually pretty decent. Again, I have to mention ST comic artwork seems to be its weakest department; which is a waste considering its excellent story-telling.

Glue Factor (difficulty of putting the book down!)

Well paced wit all Enterprise-Klingon encounters smartly separated in each chapter. And yes, it’s a comic book too, so reading visual panels is always easy on the eyes and speed. 😛

Conclusion

Excellent book to read, especially if you are a fan. I simply loved the way the writer managed to capture the essence of those classic Klingon episodes and spun it from their perspective instead. A superb effort and play on the adage “there’s always two sides to every story”

 

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Reel Review: The Avengers

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Some people say that you can judge the quality of a movie by counting the number of times you check your watch when the movie is still screening. When I exited the cinema after a whopping 142 minutes, I never even got close to touching my watch. In fact, I seriously thought the movie felt too short! Yup, folks…The Avengers is really THAT good!

I have to admit that I went into the cinema with many high expectations of this movie. All the buzz and hype leading to its release certainly didn’t help. 😛 So, were my high expectations met? Oh YEAH…not only did The Avengers met it, it surpassed it beyond ‘infinity’ (hint! hint!)

The story starts off explosively enough with Loki attacking a SHIELD facility and steals the Tesseract, a cosmic cube with mucho mucho powers of universal proportions (what else?!). It is also capable of opening up a portal to allow an alien army from another dimension known as the Chitauri to invade Earth with Loki at helm. This immediately triggers Nick Fury to become ‘very desperate’ enough to begin gathering Earth’s mightiest heroes..Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk (Bruce Banner), Black Widow and Hawkeye.

The initial ‘assembly’ didn’t exactly go as planned as the customary mistrust, teamwork issues, bickering, arguments, etc. sets up some mouth-watering superhero vs superhero battles. The heroes seem to be like a hopelessly divided lot after falling for Loki’s schemes during the stellar battle scene onboard the Helicarrier.

Eventually, they would regroup and stand ‘assembled’ in Manhattan (where else?!) where Loki’s army of Chitauris would begin its invasion of Earth. Would the Avengers prevail?

Under the directorship of Joss Whedon ( he of Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse fame), the Avengers benefited from a very impressive script – witty and charming dialogue with just the right amount of action sequences. With a movie of this magnitude and so many heroes clamoring for silver screen space, Whedon successfully and cleverly distributes the stage spotlight for all the characters to shine without allowing some characters to be given the teacher’s pet treatment (read: Wolverine from X-Men movies). I also began to appreciate that Whedon chose to use the Chitauris as the alien army in the movie compared to more regular and obvious alien races like the Skrull or the Kree. With already so many superhero characters to develop into the storyline, putting in the Skrull or Kree would surely mean additional time to be clocked in to explain their origins, powers, etc. The Chitauris were less prominent and better choice for the audience to keep focused on the main antagonist, Loki.

All the action sequences’ choreography and movements were excellently filmed. I certainly liked that not too many slo-mo shots or shaky camera realistic shots were used. Compared to the action scenes in Transformers where the battle scenes ranged from being too messy, choppy or confusing to follow at times, The Avengers has clearly set the standard of how action sequences should be filmed as it allows the audience to be totally immersed in the action lines! Another gem of the movie has to be the technological evolution of the CGI Hulk. When compared with the earlier screen versions, the Hulk here is definitely the most realistic and impressive!

One of the many talents I love about Whedon is his ability to create great team chemistry as seen in his earlier works. In the Avengers, he brings this up to another level with many great teamwork spots – where a superhero tag-team fights side-by-side – Cap/Iron Man, Thor/Hulk, Cap/Widow, Widow/Hawkeye, Cap/Thor, Iron Man/Cap, etc. In addition, the superhero vs superhero scenes didn’t disappoint as well. We were treated to superb battles like Iron Man vs Thor, Widow vs Hawkeye, Thor vs Hulk, etc.

I have to admit the casting was another special touch. For example, it isn’t easy finding the right actor to portray Bruce Banner/Hulk but I think they have hit the jackpot with Mark Ruffalo, who carries Banner’s shy, geeky persona to its very best. Jeremy Renner was certainly ‘spot on’ to play Hawkeye. I did notice Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow having difficulties maintaining her Russian accent but overall, I think she managed to stay tough with the guys. Robert Downey Jr. as usual has the best lines as Iron Man/Tony Stark, Chris Evans did well enough to play the soldier out of time/captain of the team when needed role. Whilst Chris Hemsworth played Thor well, I personally thought Thor looked best in all battle scenes. 😛

If there was any flaw to The Avengers, it would have to be its overly simple storyline. I kinda expected a little more sub-plot twists to the story, but at the end of the day, it turned out to be plain old enemy aliens invading earth (via USA, of course) and superheroes standing united to defend it. I guess when I start to analyse deeper, Whedon was probably doing his best movie cover of a comic-book, where plots are kept simple and actions fast and furious!

In summary, The Avengers is one engaging and exhilarating ride of a lifetime that shouldn’t be missed. Although framed with a rather simplistic and childish plot, the movie is brilliantly paced with its sharp dialogue, fantastic action sequences and wonderful team chemistry. it certainly delivers in all departments and has undoubtedly thrown down the ‘gauntlet’ to future superhero movies to follow.

Oh yeah…don’t forget to stay on after the movie to catch an exclusive teaser after half of the credits roll. It’s gonna make you breathlessly wait for the sequel! 😀

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OOPS!

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Book: OOPS!

Genre: Management/Business

Author: Aubrey C. Daniels

Thickness: 190 pages

Tagline: “13 Management Practices That Waste Time And Money (and what to do instead)”

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Gosh! It sure has been a while since I last posted a  book review, as per my personal commitment to read, read, read (and review, review, review…of course). I realise that much of the challenge may not be the lack of time to read, but possibly the lack of time to review them! I already have a growing stack of books that needs reviewing…

Anyway, I was recommended to read this book which was supposed to shed some refreshing insights on Management Practices…13 to be exact. The lure of the book is basically getting to know what are 13 normal management (or mis-management, rather) practices that may have been over-used worldwide and what we could or should do instead.

The book is written by one of the more renown management gurus, Mr Aubrey Daniels, so it was certainly worth a read.

 

Content

For those who are working or specifically in management or HR, the content is very much relevant and hits the nail on the head most of the time.

As you read through the 13 practices, you’d more often than not find yourself chuckle and go “Yeah…that makes sense!” It’s also shocking to see how many of these practices are still widely promoted in many companies around the world!

For example the books shares that the “Employee of the Month” practice (which is very widely used all over the world) is essentially a no-no because the largest number of people impacted positively by this method is exactly…ONE! Everyone else would be visibly upset. Besides, it is also not personal, not immediate, not contingent and not frequent.

Another one that I liked is the popular practice known as ‘The Sandwich’. It is aptly named as a method for correcting performance where criticism is sandwiched between two positive statements. The book mentions that this practice will do well to ensure the main message is missed altogether! Check out this sample ‘sandwiched’ message that clearly confuses the intended employee:

“You are one of the best employees we’ve got, when you are here. If you don’t improve your attendance in the next two months, we are going to have to terminate you. Why, you have more talent in your little finger than most people have in their whole body and that is why I am so concerned about you.”

The suggested method to use instead would be one where the corrective feedback is given in a more straightforward manner by emphasizing on the specific, desired behaviour to take place. The alternative address to the sample above is as follows:

“Tim, you have been late three days this week. I have spoken to you about this before and you know how important it is for you to be here on timebecause other employees cannot complete their work until you do yours. If you are late again this month, you will be terminated. Do you have any questions? Now, what can I do to help you be punctual?”

Good stuff, huh?

 

Writing

Although this is supposed to be a management book (read: boring), I found the writing of Mr Daniels very easy to follow. Even if I had no prior knowledge or background in HR management, I would still be able to understand the message he is trying to deliver.

Mr Daniels has managed to avoid too many business jargons and kept me interested through simple layman illustrations as he goes through each of the management practices. Nice!

 

Glue Factor (difficulty of putting the book down!)

It’s a management book…sheesh!

My way of saying that management books are typically not glue-y at all. Nevertheless, Mr Daniels has managed to inject some humourous illustrations and cartoons too that surely helps in keeping the reader not putting down the book for too long!

 

Conclusion

Overall, an excellent book that critically debunks many of the more popular management practices and offers more refreshing and innovative solutions instead.

Of course, as with all management books, for every book that promotes Method A, there will be another book that will promote Method B. So whilst I tend to agree with most of the content of the book, I also believe that not all methods or suggestions can work for every company.

Definitely worth a read!

 

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