Friday, June 26, 2009

X-Files: My Face Is Out There

As you may have read here last year, I wound up on the set of Chris Carter's movie X-Files: I Want To Believe. While Chris and another friend of his were both somewhat certain I made it into the final cut of the film, neither I nor my friends were able to find me when we went to the theater to see it. Aaaargh! Unfortunately, seeing the movie once is enough and I gave up after the first viewing.

Months later, the DVD came out and I figured I would try the deleted scenes to see if I hiding in there somewhere. Nope. I tried combing the two main emergency room sequences. Sure enough, while running scene 12 (where Skully is doing the stem cell operation on the terminally ill boy) in slow motion, I found a few spots with me! Whohoo!

Me staring at Skully and the incoming big-ass needle, second one over from the left (the only nurse with chest hair).

I am in the background on the upper left, pointing at the X-ray panel for no reason.

Closer view of me pointing at the X-ray panel, left side.

I'm dead center, facing away from camera standing at the foot of the stretcher.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Brazil: Paraty daytime continued...

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Brazil: Rainy Divine Festival Day in Paraty

Day two in Ubatuba, Brazil and the Sun god was NOT interested in aiding us in our mission to attain pure beach satisfaction. So we drove to the village of Paraty, where they were having a Divine Festival. There, we ate authentic "country Brazilian" food (like cow tail) served to us by a one-armed gypsy who claimed to have two wives.
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Monday, May 12, 2008

Where Is Brian? Ubatuba, Brazil

A few hours south of So Paulo is a little coastal town called Ubatuba. Normally, this place would be bustling with tourists and surfers, but this is the beginning of the off season, which explains why we're the only ones staying at this Pousada (bed and breakfast). The weather is, well, disappointing so far. Apparently, we just missed a week worth of sun. Now it's pretty much overcast with alluring hints of blue sky here and there.

Food-wise, there's an abnormal number of pizzerias along one main street, the common self-service BBQ buffet places, a few japanese/sushi places, an arabian restaurant and a mexican place.

More to come...

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hong Kong: Ocean Park

Ocean Park, located in Aberdeen on the south of Hong Kong island, is a strange theme park / aquarium that's been around since the late 1970's. While it's no Six Flags or Disneyland, it does have a strange charm, and stunning views of the China sea. It's aquarium "atole" tank is one of (if not the) largest in the world, filled with GIANT rays, groupers, sharks, eels, tuna, and assorted sea life. The park even has mascots, though the character designs are a bit odd -- a sea lion and a... fairy?

Getting up to the park from the bus drop off consists of 5 slow-moving covered outdoor escalators with cool air and audio greetings in different languages. On the sides are news clips showing the park's historical milestones. Some of the rides are available at the earlier mountain levels, but most are all the way at the top, and others are reachable by the harrowing gondola Sky Ride that connects the two park sections. The only ride I tried (other than the Sky Ride) was the typical log-splash ride, very refreshing in the 100F heat.

Just when you think you might be in some less popular American park, you go to one of the refreshment stands -- reminding you immediately that you are in Asia -- duck legs, octopus balls, soba noodles, dried squid and unfamiliar tea drinks are on the menu along with Coke. Few American foods.

This is not a flat park, and it does require a lot of walking, which feels more difficult due to the heat (in June particularly). I saw a pair of plus-size women (American or British perhaps) who appeared to be having difficulty. Fortunately, my personal training sessions the month before really came in handy here and the rest of the trip. All the insides of the buildings (like most in Hong Kong I visited) have magnficent air conditioners.

Main entrance, before you go around to ascend the escalators:

The Sky Ride: Two cars going in two directions moving peacefully along the mountain, with views of the bay and China Sea.

It's a bit like riding a Christmas ornament, no?

The dolphin & sea lion show (more photos pending) was amusing. Wasn't certain if the marine mammals understood English, Chinese or both, given that England owned Hong Kong for so long and now it was back under Chinese rule. I was surprised to see the opening act, a Caribbean band consisting of one American and two guys who might have been South American (but definitely not Asian).

Sunset over Aberdeen:

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hong Kong: The Peak

Victoria Peak (or "The Peak") is this amazingly high mountain reachable by tram that has an air-conditioned mall/observation deck shaped like an Imperial Star Wars vehicle on top, surrounded by beautiful hiking paths, giant man-eating rubber trees, and views of the China Sea. It was clear within minutes of arival that I should spend the entire day and evening there.

Inside the observation deck is a multi-floor mall of souvenir shops, coffee shops (including one that has snagged the best corner glass window looking out onto the skyscrapers below), restaurants, an Internet café, and most importantly, the BEST AIR CONDITIONER IN THE WORLD!

(Ok, I have no idea if it really is, but when you've just traversed blocks worth of 100+ F humid sweaty Communist heat, the shear intensity of commercial coldness enveloping you like an ice pack of Capitalism feels oh so good.)

Nearby, there are hiking trails leading around the top and down to the bottom of the other side (which view Aberdeen and the China Sea). Even though it was hot, the beauty of it all and overpriced caffeine kept me trudging sweatily forward. And I knew that once around again, there'd be that oh-so-nice blast of freezing air. Along the path in parts, mysterious driveways to presumably hidden mansions or resort hotels, some with "for lease" signs. (If I remember correctly, it was $28,000 Hong Kong dollars a month for one of them -- a mere $3,500? Wow! It was $8000 a month for a small place on Telegraph Hill, San Francisco during the height of the boom. Maybe one of the man-eating rubber trees has diminished its value.)

Not knowing really where else to see in Hong Kong, I waited until the sun set, as more and more locals and tourists arrived by tram to take snapshots of the city. I heard more English spoken around me than in I had in weeks. Hong Kong at night is gorgeous -- not quite as sci-fi as Shanghai (the buildings being older) but still having animated lighting.

Up next: Forget Hong Kong Disneyland. Ocean Park is the place to be!

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Hong Kong Overview

Hong Kong was an unplanned stop. Had intended to go there, but with my girlfriend and some planning. Unfortunately, my her project got extended and we decided it best I go off by myself. No matter, I had my Lonely PLanet book along with me and Hong Kong should be (so I thought) filled with English speaking people.

After securing a hotel via the train station agency, I got some dim sum and walked around:

Hong Kong is like the San Francisco Bay with a much larger Chinatown. Now, add way more skyscrapers. No, more! Keep adding them. Then, make one of the mountain peaks WAY higher than the others, even taller than those skyscrapers. Make Angel Island and Alcatraz a lot bigger. Cover them with skyscrapers too. Go on, do it. Get rid of the Golden Gate Bridge, and crank the temperature and humidity WAY up. Put an amusement park high up on one of the mountains. No wait, spread it out over two and put a gondola between them.

Good, there you go:

Up next, views from "The Peak!"

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Back to China

After Osaka, I flew to Guangzhou to visit my ex-girlfriend, and then took the train from there to Hong Kong. Sadly, I did not get any photos of Guangzhou, but if you want some idea of what it's like, go see the documentary "Manufactured Landscapes". (It also shows great footage of the old Shanghai, the areas my friends there didn't show me much of, now being paved over with buildings like the ones in the photos I've posted.)

Guangzhou is more what I imagined Communist China to be like. Functional, but not pleasant. By this time in the summer, the temperatures were up to 36 Celsius and 80% humidity. Lots of cement structures, some covered with Microsoft Windows background-like patterns, some with brass birdcage balconies. The Mega Center island is vast, covered with imposing university block fortresses. From the view we had, there's a gargantuan cement freeway that arches up off into the foggy distance and back behind to some unseeable entrance. A symbol of hope, or a reminder that getting off the island is a steep climb? (Actually, there is a subway line but it was closed due to the floods a month earlier while I was there)

We went to a grocery store. There, along with the usual aisles of cereal, coffee and sauces, was the live food section with tanks of big fish, crabs, frogs, turtles... Much like you'd find in an outdoor Chinatown. But for me the big surprise was the frozen crocodile -- its distinctive tail lying there in the ice next to a large fish. We stuck to the small fishes for our dinner, which were delicious.

Downtown, we saw the old art institute (I thought it looked much cozier with its green vines and sculpture garden, but apparently it was too noisy). We visited a shopping district, where one can buy all kinds of insanely cheap gadgets, handbags, toys, and whatnot. We also saw abandoned, unfinished hulls of buildings which failed commercially, or were never completed because the owner jumped off the top to his death, scaring away occupants. Never destroyed either, so they sit there as a perpetual reminder that not all growth is positive.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

High-speed Osaka Tour

Roughly a year ago, I met a young Japanese man here (Mr. Takuya) in Los Angeles, who upon finding out I would be in Japan, invited me to dinner in his city, Osaka. Because I left Kyoto late, and because the rendezvous point I arranged through his friend over the phone (since she spoke better English) was farther than anticipated (via train) from my hotel, I was about an hour later than we had intended. Oops. Fortunately, the three ladies waiting for me spotted me instantly (not too many Americans, I guess). We then all piled into Mr. Takuya's car waiting outside.

We did a quick driving tour around Osaka. The conversation that evening was quite humorous given the language barrier, but everyone had little electronic dictionaries. This made it work well enough. Mr. Takuya drove, while I chatted with the ladies in the back seat. They told me they were students (from Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Kyoto), who had failed their Japanese entrance exams, so they were all studying together in Osaka. They pointed out various Osakan landmarks and I tried to catch a glimpse of them between buildings and trees in the way.

Unfortunately, my batteries gave out (as they had been doing a lot -- my camera only likes Nimh) and was only able to capture a few shots. Here is a tiny bit of Osakan architecture (probably not its finest) as we drove along:

Then we headed to the famous Dotombori district, filled with restaurants and things to do at night. I had hoped we might go to a Teppanyaki steakhouse restaurant, a favorite example of which is the Osaka Grill in San Francisco (a more refined version of the popular Benihana chain). Many of these restaurants had long waits, so we opted for a Okonomiyaki place (which I had never tried before).

Here are most of us (minus the photographer) in front:

Unlike the teppanyaki steakhouses I've been to, this type of place has you cook everything yourself sitting near the floor in a small private room with a phone to call the waiters with. (Okonomiyaki translates roughly to "grill whatever you want, the way you want.") There were no English menus anywhere, so my hosts picked the food choices. The raw ingredients arrived in bowls. Meats, chopped yams, onions, raw eggs, rice sheets, octopus, dried fish flakes, mayonaise... Other stuff... I have no idea really. The ladies took over immediately, stirring, mixing, combining and then pouring onto the hot grill at our low-flying table.

At one point, we talked about how Osakans and Tokyoites don't always like each other. I asked why. There was a pause, then a lot of typing on personal dictionaries. Mr. Takuya turned his screen towards me and it read "not on same wave length". A-ha!

After eating, we walked around the district. I saw a strange Ferris wheel-like ride thing built into the side of a building, with each car lit up with neon lights in the shape of a buddha(!) Also saw a place to eat fugu (the poisonous pufferfish), which had a nicely illuminated tank of large deadly fishes swimming and quietly daring people to come inside and eat them. We found a temple and each got fortunes written on paper. Apparently mine was very good. One of theirs suggested bad health, another a bad marriage ahead. I was supposed to keep mine, but they took theirs, folded them up origami-style, then attached them to the wooden structure of the temple itself, amidst hundreds if not thousands of other presumably bad fortunes. (What happens when the Temple gets filled up with bad fortunes? Misfortunate leaks out into the city? Yikes!)

Finally, we said goodbye to the ladies and Mr. Takuya took me to visit his Uncle's exotic sushi restaurant, where a whole family party (great aunt, uncle, aunt, friends) had already gathered after hours and eaten. I'm not sure that they were all that interested in meeting a tired American who spoke no Japanese, but Mr. Takuya's Uncle gave us some very good bonito tuna at least.

Then we bid farewell and headed to Takuya's apartment where I met his girlfriend, a friendly Korean woman. She also had a dictionary computer and practiced her English with me. Meanwhile, Mr. Takuya demonstrated his various electronic toys, including a miniature helicopter that floated around the apartment, and a remote-controlled matchbox car. Despite it being about midnight at this point and my consciousness fading, Mr. Takuya decided we should go see the 24-hour electronics shopping store so he could buy me a Gameboy Micro before I left. How generous!

One side note: Japanese GPS is way ahead of ours. Instead of typing in my hotel's address (which I didn't have with me), he was able to type in the hotel phone number and voila! There it was on the map. Coolness.

UPDATE: You can learn how to cook okinomiyaki at home!

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Kyoto: Sunshine & Temples

Weather-wise, Japan was sunny for me on the days I left each city. Kyoto rained enough for me to buy an umbrella. Since temples and rain didn't make for exciting photo opportunities, I delayed my train trip to Osaka to check out Nijo Castle (which is not really a castle in the European sense):

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Kyoto: Eclectic Shops

You can certainly find American chains in Japan. I spotted KFC, Starbucks, McDonald's, Wendy's, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf -- even a Tully's! But my new favorite coffee chain, sadly not available in the States: Caffe Veloce...

It's inexpensive, has great interior design, good service, and this really cool giant slow-spinning globe with counter seating around it. Mesmerizing!

Then there are the weird, found-only-in-Kyoto places. Like this Octopus Ball shop:

Or my personal favorite, a Captain Santa store! (With his side-kick reindeer... )

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Kyoto Overview

Kyoto is a cute little city with a river, canals, old buildings and lots of people walking and riding bicycles. In fact, at night the young men drive their girlfriends who stand on the fender (sometimes holding umbrellas):

Here's a typical old street in Kyoto, which at night would likely be filled with slow-moving miniature taxi cabs:

Kyoto still has many temples. Some are isolated, up in the mountains away from evidence of the modern world, while most are like this one. Right next to a laundrymat, a Coke machine, power lines, and probably has a worker's motorcycle parked in front:

This is an arcade street, almost exactly like the ones in Tokyo or Osaka. It's a covered street of shops. Some touristy. Some farmer's market-like. Sometimes commercial -- Wendy's, Sharkey's Pizza (Wha? That's a Los Angeles chain).

My first night there, I went out to get a bite to eat but forgot my camera (Doh!) I walked along the river, discovering that couples were sitting along the cobblestone bank. How romantic! But the intriguing thing to me was that they were all spaced exactly equidistant from each other, perhaps 15 feet or so. That's what I call precision! Many of the restaurants have patio decks that go out onto the bank.

Many strange eating places. Starbucks. I also found a Gyo Koku, a Japanese charcoal grill place that has opened up at many Los Angeles-area locations. Annoyingly, it is actually cheaper in Kyoto! I had drinks at an English pub, an African-themed club, and had some donburi (rice with a heavy curry stew).

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posted by Brian at 1:26 PM 0 comments links to this post