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Month: July 2012

Bangkok days 2&3

Bangkok days 2&3

On Monday and Tuesday Sam was preparing for the wedding.  That meant a lot of tagging along (and then staying home) for me.  On Monday Sam got her dress fitted and then we went to Jay’s house for a bit.  I wanted to do a photoshoot there of her awesome modern+tropical house, but we weren’t there very long.  We drove back into the city where Jay went to the gym and Sam and I walked around for a bit before getting massages.

You can’t go to Bangkok without taking a photo of Ronald praying.

Yes, I know he’s not praying.  I’m surprised the bible belt in America hasn’t ordered these though.  Every time I see it I think of Ron English.  I didn’t try the Tuna Pie.   Trust me, it looks much worse in real life.

Because of the tropical climate, it’s easy for public spaces both inside and out to have lots of plants.  Plant walls (some spanning five stories) are very common.  I want this in my house.  I do not want the humidity, though.

The malls in Bangkok often take on science fiction aesthetics.  In the photo below which mixes the Bangkok Transit System, an office building and a mall I can see Blade Runner, Total Recall, Batman (the Tim Burton version) and more.

As it got later we decided to try and find a Thai comic book store.  A coworker had requested this on the day I left and I found it so interesting that I had to make it my mission.  Unfortunately all the “comic book” stores at the malls were filled with nothing but Manga.

Despite not finding any comics at the mall, we did cross paths with the always interesting, Miss Puke.  Yes, you read that right.

Ironically, after taking the BTS and walking the rest of the way back to Jay’s condo we found a tiny open air magazine shop that had what must be Thai comic books.  They weren’t quite Manga, and weren’t quite the size of regular “American” comics, but it’ll have to do.

On Tuesday Sam had to get her dress and go through the wedding rehearsal.  I elected to take it easy and lounge instead.  How could you not with great Thai tv channels like the Panda Channel.

My day consisted of eating Thai fruit, watching the Olympics and writing these last three blog entries.

First Sunday in Bangkok

First Sunday in Bangkok

While in Bangkok on this trip Sam and I had the privilege of staying in her friend Jay’s brand new luxury condo in the heart of the city.  Jay is one of Sam’s oldest friends and she’s actually the reason we made the trip to Thailand this year, as she is getting married on August 1st.

The complex has two towers, but I only took a shot of one of them at night.  The two shots below are from Jay’s living room balcony.

At noon Sam’s sister and brother-in-law picked us up and we went to a Chinese restaurant in Central Praram 9.  The mall reminded me of the spaceship the humans inhabit in Wall-E.

It was gigantic and streamlined on the outside.  The inside was hollow and fitted with white panelling from top to bottom with glowing colors.

White boys have long been suckers for fried chicken skin.  At this Chinese restaurant they served fried duck skin with a kind of sweet thin burrito wrap and green onion.

We also had some fried soft shell crab in curry.

A noodle dish and a spicy salmon dish.

And lastly, the REST of the duck.

On the way back to Jay’s condo we bought 5 kilograms of Rambutan and Mangosteen (heavy on the mangosteen).

A few hours later we were on our way to Jay’s rehearsal dinner.  The dinner was held at the Neilson Hayes Library.  The library was opened by western (British) immigrants to Siam in the 19th century, and that feel is still alive and well on an inside that screams out for a scene in an Indiana Jones film.

Joe, Jay and Sam’s friend,  (with other friends) organized the event and decor.  It was very tastefully done, with a color theme of “Tiffany’s” that matched the existing brown and light blue interior of the building.

There are tons of photos on facebook of this event as everyone had a cameraphone.  Here is a sample (courtesy of Nutsuda) of me lurking about taking photos before it started:

We were told that this was the first time anyone had been allowed to host a dinner party inside the library. The meal was a very western themed, which was fitting for the location.  Dinner started off with french onion soup.  The guest list included a chef, a good cook (Sam) and many other cosmopolitan individuals that noticed the lack of cheese in the soup (Sam also noted that the onions had been cooked wrong).  From what I hear, the chefs had little experience with western/european cooking, which caused the bride’s friend in charge of the menu some frustration.

The food was still all very good though.  The second dish was a fried soft-shell crab, which made two for us that day – and the second consecutive Thailand trip in which soft-shell crab was the first meal eaten. In fact, last year our first meal was also with Jay.

Dinner was a choice of fish or steak, and we chose the steak.  If I just had some sour cream for those potatoes I could have imagined I was back in Ohio.

As a blackberry and apple cobbler was served for dessert most of the guests made speeches about the bride and groom to be.  Although I can’t understand Thai, from the reactions of the guests and the bride I can only assume the tales told were a mix of the embarrassing, the heartfelt and the congratulatory.  From what little Sam translated for me, it would seem all of Jay’s friends have been touched by her generosity; of which I have little doubt since we’ve already benefited from it multiple times.

After the speeches everyone was stuffed inside a small circular domed gallery for photos.  One of the guests brought a much more impressive camera (and tripod) than I had, so he was doing the main shots, but I tried to sneak in my own from time to time.

The above shot is the setup for a real shot.  Below is the shot by the pro, Matt.


Seoul Korea

Seoul Korea

I am physically incapable of sleeping on an aircraft.  This is now confirmed as fact.

After a midnight flight out of LAX and 12 hours in the air over the pacific ocean we arrived at Incheon in Seoul Korea. Incheon has to be the cleanest airport I’ve ever seen.  I was able to get a nap (perhaps 45 minutes) on the benches next to immigration after we deplaned.  Sam was plotting our day-trip in the city as I tried to sleep.  We specifically scheduled a 14 hour layover in Seoul so we could go out and see a bit of the city instead of being cooped up in an airport like last year. Direct flights to Bangkok from Los Angeles are outrageously expensive, so you have to plan in a layover as part of your flight.

Since neither of us spoke Korean it was an interesting exercise is self-survival.  We exchanged for about $100 worth of Won and set off for Seoul Station.  There were signs at the station that were quite amusing.

The no smoking sign was not amusing, as it was being completely ignored.

We first walked down the street next to the station until we found a small “hole in the wall” Korean restaurant.

The proprietor didn’t speak a word of English, but he was happy to see his first customers of the day.  We can both now say we’ve had real kimchi in Korea.

I still don’t like it much.  The boiled pork and green sauce is much better.
The heat and humidity in Seoul is actually more (or “worse”, depending on your point of view) than Bangkok.  We decided to make the Tv tower our first destination.  Of course, when you look at maps everything is flat.  Not knowing much about Seoul we didn’t realize we’d be hiking uphill for about a mile.  After almost no sleep in over 24 hours and the sun peaking out from behind the clouds it was a challenge.  We made it to Namsan Park first by hiking along the outside of the wall.

After checking out the park we walked over the hill to the cable car station.  The cable car travels to the base of the tower,  where there are cultural displays to peruse or interact with.

We decided to go all the way up to the observation deck at the tv tower, but found that the city was blanketed in fog, so visibility was very low.

After our lunch, cable tickets, tram tickets and observatory tickets our cash was running low as well.  We decided to take the subway to the middle of the city to see Bosingak.  The structure was observable but closed to entrance.  We backtracked a bit and walked along the river Cheonggyecheon.

From there we walked north past this crazy building, which seems to be a central point to Korean modern cultural identity – as they put in the background of all their newscasts.  (“all” = the few we saw on tv while we were in the country for 14 hours).

As is known, the Koreans are more wired in than Americans.  We saw many Koreans using their Galaxy Notes, apparently not shackled to AT&T and thus actually useful.  I had to take a photo of one shop that was missing a regular sign, but simply had a QR code.

Minutes later we found ourselves at the temple of Jogyesa.  When we arrived there was a long prayer line winding around in front of the building.

Just another block northwest up the street we came to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

From there we walked down Gwanghwamun Square to the subway.

We took the subway east to Jongmyo.

We kept seeing these strange birds with blue feathers walking and flying around. Perhaps it’s one of these fellows?

Just outside the grounds there was what seemed to be a senior citizen Go game playing festival.  There were hundreds of older Korean men playing go.

It was then time to high-tail it to the airport as it was almost 4pm and our plane was set to take off at 6.

Outside of Seoul the countryside on the Airport Railroad becomes very beautiful, if only for the brilliant green everywhere.  The architecture is very carefully placed and designed so as to not interfere too much with the natural real estate.

We cleared security with only 15 minutes until boarding  We’d heard there were free showers at the airport and we were determined to use them.  We ended up taking a 5 minute shower together before hoofing it back down to the gate in our same sweat soaked clothes.

When we hit Bangkok after 10pm Sam’s friend picked us up and took us to her brand new luxury condo, where we’d have the pleasure of staying for a few days. More on that later.

“Shrugged” is appropriate

“Shrugged” is appropriate

Unlike most Americans, I was alone on July 4th and decided to “celebrate” by catching up on my netflix queue.  One of the films I watched was Atlas Shrugged (part 1).  I’d already heard the production was sub-par, so that wasn’t surprising.  What I was surprised with was how unambiguous but also uninformed the economic talking points were.  If you don’t want spoilers about the book or film, stop reading now.

It seems not a single character with a name in the film has less than a million dollars in the bank.  Some of them are clearly defined as “bad” and others “good,” but the misery of the 1% is a hard concept to sell.  Although I hated Somewhere (it’s unnecessarily boring, but maybe that’s the point), it at least paints a more “human” portrayal of the ennui of access to a bottomless bank account.  In Somewhere, rich people have character flaws that don’t involve greed, and expensive cars can break down.  In Atlas Shrugged, we owe the rich more than money, as the world would grind to a halt without their tireless commitment to keeping us, the talentless (or else we’d be rich, right?) masses afloat.  There are numerous NOT subtle hints at this message.

On the way to work a character in a limo drives past a “welfare distribution” truck from the government.  The welfare line curves around the block.  I imagine the filmmakers wanted us to identify with the sleek black limo and recoil in disgust at the losers waiting for a free meal.  As the character got out of the limo and walked into her giant office building with intricate marble walls and floors, I couldn’t help but think about how much of her accumulated wealth could have bought loaves of bread for those people.  In a later scene, IN A LIMO no less, we hear in the background that gasoline has hit a record high price.   At the beginning of the film a man already stated “If times is tough for the rich folk, do you have any idea how hard it is for us (the poor)?”  Yes, we’re expected to identify with the people in the limos in this film, because if they JUST didn’t have regulations to deal with … um… they wouldn’t be as stressed out all the time?

Even a day after watching the film I’m still not sure who I was supposed to identify with.   I think, given the time spent showing their “strong moral fiber” we’re supposed to identify with Dagny Taggart, a railroad heiress and Mr. Reardon, a steel foundry owner.  However, in act three the married Mr. Reardon sleeps with Dagny.  Isn’t that bad?  Oh, that’s right, act one established his wife is a bitch that doesn’t work and doesn’t appreciate how cool the steel business is – so it’s okay to cheat on her.

Although the protagonists were confusing, the points the film was trying to convey about economics and government were anything but.  In fact, the “morals” of the story were stated in plain language spoken bits that likely frustrated the actors involved.  In one scene Mr. Reardon bluntly explains to Dagny that a “Revolutionary” new energy company failed because  (paraphrasing as I couldn’t find the script online to qoute directly from) “The owners decided to flatten all wages to the same amount regardless of talent or skill level and the good people left, the remaining employees couldn’t handle the workload and the company folded.”  This falls in line with the central theme through the entire movie of the government encouraging policies that right wingers today would like you to believe are akin to our “Socialist president”, but are actually more akin to hardline Marxism.  Repeatedly the film brings in characters from the government only to show how currupt they are.  In the world of Atlas a new government rule on monopolies outlaws any one individual from owning more than one company.

Considering Roosevelt actually DID break up a railroad company and it neither doomed America nor the railroad industry this is especially telling of the filmmakers’ disconnect from reality.   In the film we literally see scenes of Mr. Reardon’s other companies being taken away from him, one by one.  Apparently he owned all the underlying suppliers for his own business.  It is never explained to the audience that this isn’t really what a monopoly is or why they are usually broken up.   Although owning the supply chain can certainly help you build a monopoly in a market, it isn’t a de facto proof of a monopoly as is presented in the film.  In the film we are led to believe that Reardon is competing with other manufacturers who, presumably, have their own supply chains.  In fact, since Reardon is using a brand new and different type of steel, we can only assume that he actually isn’t using monopolistic practices at all as we know them in the real world.  In this case, the prosecution of Reardon is done to make the persecution of monopolies look bad, but my mind was exploding with incredulity as I watched.  In a preceding scene the other steel companies and market players literally get together over dinner to sponsor legislation blocking the manufacture of a cheaper type of steel.  In the real world, under the same Antitrust Act that governs monopolies, it would be Mr. Reardon’s competitors that would be feeling the heat for price fixing.

It also occurred to me that it was odd that with all the negativity surrounding the “government” in the film, and the heavy handed badmouthing of lobbyists, it was confusing how such rich and powerful men like Reardon couldn’t have a lobbyist of their own, like in real life, and prevent the passage of the new monopolies act.

I’ve digressed, though, let’s get back to that mysterious energy company that went bankrupt.  After all, the government didn’t shut them down, they did it to themselves by voluntarily using a “socialist” wage policy, right?  The entire sequence was shocking to me how blatantly the filmmakers pretended that large corporations always have the public’s best interest at heart.  When a revolutionary energy company gets shut down, what are the odds it was “socialist policies in the workplace” and not a buyout from a threatened competitor?  The makers of this film (and anyone that identifies with it) need to sit down in a Clockwork Orange torture chair and watch Who Killed the Electric Car.  Hint: it wasn’t socialist wage policies 😉

The film started to verge into Orwellian territory (as any un self-aware right wing “think” piece does) when the Ministry of Science (or whatever it was called in the film) releases a bogus report about the structural “dangers” (they’re never detailed) of Mr. Reardon’s new steel fabrication.  It is a given, and admitted to Dagny by a scared government employee, that the report is bogus and the steel is safe.  How do we know it’s safe?  Dagny, our hero, took engineering classes back in college.  Done.  Despite the obvious canard that one woman, who is a career manager, not an engineer, can judge the veracity of steel by herself because she has an engineering degree, the larger crime the filmmakers commit is to play the popular right wing anti-science card.  We’re lead to believe that “scientists” in Atlas make it up as they go along and CEOs never tell a lie.  Sadly, based on polling about global warming alone, we can conclude that this view is not just an allegation for many in the flyover states in real life, but an affirmation of fact.  Science is not to be trusted.  It’s perhaps a larger problem in the real world than in the movie, which is the scariest thing, as that part of the movie in fictional 2016 most closely parallels the real world of 2012.

The biggest ideological failure in the film is the gross interpretation of the invisible hand.   Instead of viewing economics as activity governed by scarcity of resources, the film pretends the world has unlimited resources and if it weren’t for the government (see: Democrats) we’d be living in a utopia.  To bring the point home, the answer to the question “who is John Gault” is answered by John himself saying he’s created just such a utopia, where individuals are unencumbered by government to put their ideas in action.  He calls it “Atlantis.”  Yes, the words are actually said on film.  It is perhaps the most hilarious line in the film.  To further expand on what Atlantis is and why John is taking away all the “good” inventors/managers/accountants you have to watch part II, of course.

Or you could just go to wikipedia and read about the book.  Apparently “Atlantis” is code for John’s super double ultra mega secret gathering of powerful decision makers (Bohemian Grove, anyone?).  John has been convincing these frustrated “meaningful” people to go on strike so “helpless” (yes, the non business owners are actually referred to as that in one scene) people can see their value and convince the government to leave them alone.  Of course, in real life, the invisible hand would push other competitors into the newly opened market since barriers to entry would be incredibly low.  Imagine if Michael Dell, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates all suddenly left the computer industry in 1999.  Would the world stop using computers and wait for them to come back?  What does your most basic understanding of Adam Smith’s economics tell you?  Apparently Ayn Rand didn’t know as much about economics as you do!

It all feels a bit too much like Christian Rock Hard, which essentially tells the same story (while hilariously lambasting the Christian Rock industry simultaneously) but is endlessly more poignant and more enjoyable to watch.  However, unlike Atlas, at the end of the Southpark episode the boys realize that their drive to make music wasn’t to make money after all and they start playing again.  The point of Atlas Shrugged is that talent without reimbursement should not be used.  We see this in the political sphere right now when taxes come up.  Republicans can always find some rich man who vows to quit his business if he has to pay 1% more in taxes or pay for healthcare or…whatever the issue is that democrats are doing to give him a “hard time.”  This is basically the open admittance of purified greed.  Which is weird since most of these people are supposed to be god-fearing Christians… right?  Jesus encouraged the rich man to give up everything he owned to the poor, not fight for every penny.

In the last ten years I’ve skipped up a couple of tax brackets.  I don’t enjoy paying more taxes every year, but I’m sure as hell not going to quit my job for an easier one so I don’t have to pay more.  That (making money) doesn’t even address the core of the argument that I fear many will miss altogether, but the eight year old boys in South Park could see clearly.  My definition of an “Artist” is someone that has great skill in and enjoys doing their work.  Artists don’t do it for the money; that’s the difference between Art and Avarice.   This film proposes just the opposite; that sans money nobody would follow their calling as avarice is a natural human proclivity and creativity is only a means to satisfy it.  Can you imagine the loss of art and culture if this attitude was adopted before the renaissance?  Art and commerce have always been linked, but if you don’t know which one comes first, you’re not an Artist.

I’ve always been curious about, but never read, Atlas Shrugged.  I’m certainly less inclined to read it now.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

I started blogging about our new home a few days ago, but I didn’t have any photos.  On Sunday I went out with my camera and finally shot some photos around the complex.  If you want photos of the inside, you’ll have to wait a bit longer as everything is still in flux.   Perhaps you’re as eager as our little friend here, he visits us about twice a day.

Although it seems now like poof! Sam and I just moved in together and found this place in a hurry, it was actually a long drawn out process.  We looked at many homes over many months and considered many more.  We took a business approach to the search (as you’d expect from a couple that met in business school) and kept a lengthy detailed spreadsheet of our hunting.  We had ten distinct variables in the spreadsheet to grade properties by.  We entered over 100 properties for review, toured 39 of them, and made official offers on three of them (there would have been a fourth and fifth, but we were beaten to the punch on a Ray Kappe property and denied funding for a UCLA property with a renter ratio too high).  Only one offer was accepted, but we had to go through 6 counter-offers with the seller (a brutal process which, we’ve heard, is now becoming the norm in a tight market).  But enough about that… on to the photos of the place…

So I lied.  I took one shot of Sam cooking in the new kitchen:

I mentioned before that our patio had to be replaced.  Below is a before shot (where you can’t see the water damage).

And here, below, is how it looks as of today – the basic work will be finished some time this week, then we’ll probably finish the “garden” part after we return from Thailand in August.

Step outside the patio and you can see the long stone path that leads around the back of the building:

Which terminates in this nice grassy area:

On the opposite side of the building is a dog park:

Tennis Courts:

Now we’ll go down the road a bit.  As I walked down to get these shots I realized this wasn’t entirely legal.  There was no sidewalk and “no pedestrians” signs posted on the bridge.  Oh well.  Below is a shot looking down toward Hollywood from the bridge across the 101 freeway.

And turning around, a view of the freeway heading north.  On the right side up the street is the entrance to our complex.

And, if you’re travelling north up Cahuenga boulevard you’ll come to the sign just before the entrance:

After passing through the entrance you can see the office on the left and tennis courts on the right, as well as a little garden to the far right.  I’m going to put day and night photos of a few locations below as I went out around 9pm Sunday night to take more photos of the same locations at night.

Our third floor neighbor’s balcony spout was dripping onto our patio all day.  Around 7pm I had had enough (surely this couldn’t be from overflowing planters after 7 hours) and went to knock on their door.  There was no response, but I noticed at the end of the hallway a “sun deck” that nobody had ever told us about.  This deck has a view looking south into Hollywood and beyond.

When I went out at night I explored more of the complex than I’d seen before.  I took shots of our “regular” pool by our building.

Then I climbed the long garden laced staircases between buildings to see if I could find find another pool we’d only heard about.

Climbing up further still, to the last building on that side of the hill, I found a high vantage point.

From this point you can see down into Hollywood and below.  That building in the front of the complex (on the left) is our building.  The orange lights streaming from the right side towards the middle are from the 101 freeway.  The bright lights in the center at the base of the hill is Hollywood and Highland.  You can’t see it, but just on the other side of the hill on the right is the Hollywood Bowl.  Just on the other side of the hills on the left is the Hollywood Reservoir.