Monday, July 26, 2010

Savoring Music

Inspired by this great piece from the Washington Post:

As Dostoyevsky so poetically phrased it: "Beauty will save the world". A quote that became the motto of Serbian tennis star Janko Tipsarevic, and also one my personal favorites. As a humble student of music, I believe music creates a rare phenomena with the ability to bring together the most different of people. The appreciation and creation of which does not require one to be educated in anyway. It is story telling without boundaries that transcends above anything else.

We really do live in a special time in the history of music, where the commercialization of this art has allowed inferior "musicians" to make a living in the scene. The likes of which are common place in modern society where visual flare has crept it's way into what was simply appreciated by the ears just a few decades ago. Though, I would find it far fetched to call it a crisis in what has become of people's taste in music. Yet, in the case where a world class violinist was ignored by 99% of a rush hour crowd, it's hard to not notice the obvious implication.

Is it really the case that most people are unable to appreciate quality music these days? I would not think so. I believe the issue isn't so much people's inability to appreciate a piece of timeless music, but the impatience most of us have developed through this fast paced life style as a byproduct of the leaps and bounds in technological advances we have made in recent years.

We have become a society that is ever so content to be fed, rather than feed oneself. Entertainment all comes in a nice package presented so it's easily consumed and just as easily expires. We take and grab hold of what is closest to us, and few of us ever venture much further.

I remember the days before MP3s were rampant when most of us paid for music, I would listen to the same songs over and over again. I knew the entire Smashing Pumpkin Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album forwards and backwards like the back of my hand. It was a bit insane how I knew pretty much every detail in every track. I find myself doing less and less of that since the day I downloaded my first mp3 (Blur - Song 2). I still find myself putting songs I really like on repeat, but I don't think I could compare it to the days of tapes and CDs.

Classical music has become niche market. As is jazz, blues and the other types of music that requires patience to appreciate. I remember attending a Evgeny Kissin piano concert a while ago. World class pianist, amazing technique and interpretation. One of the best I've heard live. I paid $25 for a floor seat, and the crowd was also at least 20 years older than me on average. Quite astonishing really. You could also tell that, when glancing around during a piece, the crowd was there to appreciate the music. There was no lights or smoke or some fancy big video screen, just a Steinway grand piano and a pianist. The excitement was in the intricately planned execution of a piece of timeless music by a supreme musician. Unfortunately, not exactly the kind of concert your average 20 something friend would want to go to these days.

Perhaps if we all slowed down a bit these days, have some patience, and start to savor the little things in life is when we'll start to appreciate more. Until then, I'll enjoy my cheap tickets to go see world class musicians.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lu Yen Hsun makes history in style

It was only a year and a half ago when I wrote a match analysis of Lu's stunning upset of former world #3 David Nalbandian in the 2nd round of the 2009 Australian Open. It was no small feat. Nalbandian was one of the few players that the mighty Federer considered to be one of his biggest rivals early in his career. To beat a player of that caliber certainly deserved praise on paper, however, I knew the Nalbandian he beat was far from his best form. In fact, Australian Open 2009 would be his last grand slam to date. The talented Argentinian would never regain his form.

I remember in the analysis giving credit to Lu's gutsy performance, but was also harsh of his obvious weaknesses. Loopy backhand without much penetration, mediocre serve, consistency issues on his ground strokes, defensive minded player. The making of his game resembled a counter punching style that would have worked only in the 90s and early 2000s, when counter punchers with a lot of ground speed could make up for their lack of power. We have seen many players of this style peak early during their career only to recess into 2nd tier or lower rankings in recent years.

Michael Chang won the 1987 French Open at the tender age of 17, becoming the first in the group of young elite US players to win a grand slam, and since then reached just 2 more grand slam finals for the rest of his career. Lleyton Hewitt, won his 2 grand slams very early in his career, Wimbledon and US Open in 2000 and 2001 respectively, it has been 5 years since he last reached beyond the Quarter Finals at a grand slam. Both textbook counter punchers that became victims of the modern game.

Tennis today has changed drastically with the improvement of racket and string technology and the general fitness of athletes. It has been mentioned by many experts and retired pros such as McEnroe and Sampras that today's game is a power game. Having penetration on both wings and the ability to setup a point from the base line and hit a winner from any part of the court is a common trait shared by all the current top 10 players. Just 10 years ago, you would see more finesse players such a Tim Henmen, Juan Carlos Ferrero have their place in the top 10. Not anymore. Today's game is power power and more power. Del Potro's display of his canon of a forehand in winning the 2009 US Open against Federer is a testament to this trend.

I have to admit, my assessment of Lu's future back in 2009 was not optimistic. He was a player that played a style that had long been put in the book of the obsolete approach to tennis, and was only going to get harder for him. He may continue to perform well in the challenger circuit, but he would never become a force to be reckoned with in any ATP tournament.

However, the Lu Yen Hsun I watched today was a different beast. There is a good chance he was playing out of his mind, but it was evident to me that all the glaring weaknesses I pointed out in his game a year ago was long behind him. A 120mph serve that he placed with good accuracy, very flat ground strokes that had plenty of penetration, one that imposed his game on his opponent, and went into a point working the angles to setup for that eventual winner. These are the exact tools you need to succeed in today's game.

If he can continue with the kind of consistency he mustered up today, and he certainly showed that he has the capability of performing at this level, he could break into the top 50 and become one of those dangerous dark horses at grand slams. Let's not kid ourselves, this could very well be his best achievement, but he has already cemented a place in the history books by becoming only the 2nd Asian man to reach the QF at a grand slam tournament. Tennis, after all, is one of the toughest sport both physically and mentally, and from a nation where sports is just not taken all that seriously, this is a colossal achievement and I am tremendously proud to be affiliated under the same flag. He can now proudly join the ranks of Chien Ming Wang, Kuo Hong Chih as one of the biggest stars in Taiwan sports today.

Lu, now 26, has at least another 3 years of prime time tennis ahead of him. The current repertoire of strokes he has in his arsenal is a good sign of things to come. On his back he carries not just his responsibility to achieve something substantial for himself as a tennis player, but also as the new star of Taiwan. His achievements today will transcend beyond just another statistic in the books, but inspire interest in this relatively unpopular sport in Taiwan. Today will most certainly go down as one the most important moments in the history Taiwan tennis. I look forward to his future performance, and will support him like I always have as a fellow Taiwanese.

ESPN Highlights of the match. Kudos for saying he's from Taiwan and not Chinese Taipei.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hello World

After years of blogging through Facebook, I decided to open up my thoughts to everyone else. I've imported some of my better pieces from the past and left the terrible ones out. Hopefully from now on there will be less of the latter.

Lust, Caution

I have been meaning to write this review for some time now, especially considering the amount of controversy that it has stirred up. From the nude sex scenes to the banning of the lead actress, Tang Wei, in China. It wasn't until I read an article on Tang Wei's courageous and gutsy comeback into the film industry that I decided to finally pen this piece.

This film adaptation of Eileen Chang's famous short story was absolutely sublime. The pacing, acting, music, scenes, and colors that generated the overall atmosphere for the movie had to have been designed and planned by a mind that is very sensitive yet bold to the sight and sounds that is in the film's director, Ang Lee. With that said, this movie is about the details. The very little intricate details that most fail to appreciate. I watched this movie 3 times, and every time I noticed something I hadn't before. It was like reading a great novel, it gets better with every read-through.

From the beginning scene of the four women playing cards, it was evident to me that a lot of attention had to be paid to the screen. The dialog is simple, without many words, such that each actor/actress's facial expressions and body language became an important source in communicating their state of mind to the audience. A picture speaks a thousand words. Every scene showed meticulous control over every moving part. It's was akin to a piece of music where every note was meant to be. The overall atmosphere felt very raw, and real. Aside from the purposefully yet tasteful saturation of colors, it didn't overload your senses. Aside from the vivid sex scenes of course, which in my opinion were essential to the movie. The rest of the film was done in such a way that it couldn't use a epic music score, action sequence, and many things that is present in most films. It relied on accentuating with less, and that is much more difficult to pull off in my opinion.

I became an instant fan of Tang Wei after this film. People unfairly dismissed her acting skills because of her rise to fame over this movie. The actress I saw on screen was absolutely amazing. It's no surprised Ang Lee picked her for the role. There's simply no one else that could've replaced her. She was a very mature actress that had a lot of talent and knew how to use it. That could've only came from someone that had a true passion for the arts and spent years honing their craft. I loved her acting within minutes of the movie. She had the uncanny ability to communicate a lot without saying much. Like a jazz singer that interprets a song not through powerful and rangy vocals, but through tone, texture and granular control.

The level of intricacy is deep and rare, such that I believe it's hard for most people to appreciate. It's a shame that the hype over the sex scenes made people blind about what is really great about this movie. I've read and heard much criticism of this film. Most of which tastelessly centered around the notion that it's artsy porn. I was disappointed in people's reception, but I also understood it. This movie wasn't meant to appeal to the masses. I just hoped that more people would see what I saw, and appreciate it the way I did. I can only hope this review does the film some justice.

Spring Break: Puerto Rico

A year ago, I took a week long vacation to St. Kitts. One thing I took away from that trip was that I really enjoyed nature raw with just a touch of commercialization. A small bar on the beach side perhaps. For me, a vacation on an island is all about the beach with an afternoon of snorkeling or horseback riding dabbled here and there. It wasn't the kind of vacation where I'd schedule full days of activities. Relaxation was the focus.

Before I get into more detail, let's go through what I did:

1. Old San Juan
2. Fort El Morro
3. Aguadillas's Crash Boat Beach (supposedly famous)
4. El Yunque Rain Forest
5. Brief stint at the "2nd best beach in the world" Flameco beach on the island of Culebra
6. Kayak and Snorkeling at Culebra
7. Bio bay at Fajardo
8. Casinos
9. Beach resort at Ritz Carlton

This is in 4 days. If you do a vaca on an island this is most possibly the worst angle to approach it. I'm not sure why I agreed to go with this schedule, but it should only be done on trip to a more culture centric country like France or Italy. My most enjoyable day at PR was spending the afternoon on the beach resort at the Ritz Carlton hotel and then going with a group of my brothers friends to a nice dinner and some drinking/clubbing afterwards. That's what we should have done. Take it easy.

Aside from Old San Juan and the Flamenco beach on Culebra, the rest of the activities we did I was very unimpressed with. You want a rain forest with a real water fall? Go to Taiwan. You want to go snorkeling? Go to the Bali islands. Bio bay? I'd rather watch it on discovery channel. Way over hyped.

Flamenco beach was very awesome though. Clearest waters with the whitest of sands. Unfortunately we only spent a mere 30minutes as a pit stop before snorkeling. If I could do this over again I'd just spend the whole day at there. The scenery was truly paradise-like.

Old San Juan reminded me a lot about Europe. Small stone alley ways with a bunch of small shops dabbled all over the place, it was really nice to just walk around and look around shops. Too many run of the mill souvenir stores though. Forts are ok, but if you've seen them before they aren't very different.

Caribbean food is mostly overpriced and tastes lame. PR is definitely overpriced for food. It tastes decent though. Probably one of the better islands for food I've been to. Mofongos (local thing, basically mashed up plantains) was alright, but other than that there isn't much that is local to PR. If anything, you can always fall back on a whopper.

For me, PR was a place where there was no shortage of activities, but most of them were mediocre and unimpressive. If you've traveled a decent amount as I have there's nothing PR can offer that really gets me excited, other than Flamenco beach of course. The biggest downside of it all was that you waste an insane amount of time travelling. I put 450miles on my rental car in a matter of 3 days. That's easily 8 hours of driving. Seeing a large amount of American corporate infestation of fast food restaurants (tons of burger king for some reason) and Walmarts certainly didn't help. I felt like I barely got away.

Would I recommend Puerto Rico as your next vacation destination? No. Unless you are easily amused like most American reviewers on yelp. I rate PR a C+. The only activities you should engage in there is drinking, night life, and the beach. Miami is a better alternative to this. I'm thinking Brazil next.


Today I was chatting with my friend about Obama's plan to put restrictions on commercial banks from doing proprietary trading. Somewhere down the line we started talking about how much people in the banking industry make:

friend: my friend whos a 3rd year at jp morgan
friend: get 175k for bonus
friend: base raise to 100
friend: lol
friend: thats 3rd year coming out of college
friend: making almost 300k

This isn't going to be the first time I hear about someone around my age making a lot more money than I am, nor will this be the last. Yet, every time I sigh, and my heart sinks a little. I know I really shouldn't. Money doesn't make you happy. If I thought it did, I would've gone to wall street 4 years ago right out of college and become one of those big swinging dicks wearing a $6000 suit working at a firm named after some people's last names. Still, to be honest, I want to make that much money. Who wouldn't? When you don't, and someone else you know does, your ego dents a little.

They say money can't buy happiness? Look at the fucking smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby. Anybody who tells you money is the root of all evil doesn't fucking have any. - Jim Young, Boiler Room (2000)

Maybe it's true. I can imagine it's hard to be happy being poor, and it's probably easier being rich. I don't know. I haven't been on either end of the spectrum. I guess you just have to make enough, but what's enough? That dollar amount is as large as the amount of greed you can stomach. It probably sounds a bit sick, but it's not entirely wrong.

When I started looking for a job, I had 2 big fears:

1. Hating what I do
2. Working in a cubicle

I managed to avoid both, somehow. I should be very happy with myself, and in many ways I am. It's not always this simple though. I realized, when you venture out into the real world where there's a lot of people, chances are some of them are going to make you feel inadequate. Whether it's the money they make, the cars they drive, or the size of their TVs. It's become apparent to me that I've become a victim of the vanity fair that is modern society's lust and greed.

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world." - Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)

Despite all this confusion about how much do I really need to achieve, there is 1 aspect of my life that I value above all else:

1. Happiness

I remember when I talked to Amy about her trip with a Taiwanese medical team to Ladakh. She said the monks there were a long hike away from the nearest city, ate mostly home grown vegetables, and were conservative with water. Yet, they were probably some of the happiest people in this world. I could tell the experience was life changing for her. I wasn't there, but I can only imagine being there, experiencing it personally and the revelation one must feel from it. I'm very envious of those that can be happy with so little.

I will always believe in pursuing whatever makes you happy. For me, it's the only way to live without regrets. Yet when you grow up in modern society where your life revolves around so many ideas, it becomes very hard to stay true. Maybe it's just insecurity, but the fact that none of us start on equal footing with one another promotes the desire for us to compare with each other. When you start comparing, there's no end and you start to lose sight of what is really important to you. You forget how to live a happy life.

The guy that has nothing could be just as happy as the guy who has everything. It's just a matter of perspective, and I need to find my own perspective.

Sherlock Holmes

It was surprisingly entertaining to say the least, but definitely could have been better. Here's why: If Robert Downey Jr. was not Holmes in the movie, and should an inferior actor have been in his place, this movie would have been your typical action packed mediocrity Hollywood is so good at producing and most tasteless movie goers continue to accept as "good".

I'll admit though, that I haven't read a single Sherlock Holmes book growing up. My mystery novel readings were primarily on the Arsene Lupin series, which I first stumbled upon in 3rd grade when my mom confiscated one of them from a student while she was still an English teacher. After watching the movie, and should the depiction of Holmes be accurate to the books, Lupin is very much the French Sherlock Holmes sans a few small yet significant personality traits that ultimately make them entertaining in their unique ways which...I'll leave for another discussion after I go through a few books in the series this movie is based on.

Now back to Holmes. A genius detective with a keen sense of perception and unmatched deductive reasoning nicely rounded off with an eccentric personality. The result is a character that every guy pretty much wants to be and every girl wishes was single. Robert Downey Jr., whom recently played a very similar role in Iron Man, could not have been more suitable for this role. Boy did he pull it off. The kind of intellectual charm was mesmerizing enough for me to stop thinking about the rest of the movie. I almost failed to recognize Watson was played by another actor I enjoyed watching, Jude Law, until about half way into the movie.

So, I did seem a bit harsh on the premise that this movie would've been a disaster if it weren't for Downey's brilliant acting. That's not really true, it's just that the acting was so good when you took it out, the movie was in comparison was just ok.

The plot, from a mystery novel stand point of view is fairly standard. Lay out the mysteries that are seemingly mind boggling and provide bread crumb sized clues to the audience until the brilliant rationalization of the truth at the end. I have no problem with that, practically every mystery story follows this pattern more of less anyway. Still, I remember the thrill of finding out what happened when I read the Lupin series as a child and being in awe at the intellectual complexity of it all. However, I felt none of that at the end of the movie. The explanations to the mysteries were uninteresting, and fairly predictable. It was a bit boring really.

So, at the end the movie had great acting for the most part, nicely done music that brought out the exciting atmosphere, and impressive action sequences, but it missed the most important, essential ingredient all great mystery stories all have in the plot. That's a shame, because if it were me, I would've traded anything for a great plot that brought out the same emotions when I finished a Arsene Lupin novel.

Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar

This book is written by James Bach, a high school drop out turned software tester extraordinaire, about his life long journey of self-education. I've always looked up to people like this. The idea that being really good at what you do without having gone through some kind of university for a degree is a sexy idea, for lack of a better word.

I wiki all the time, and I usually end up chain-reading links on related topics until I can't see what the tab reads on my browser anymore. Then I just create new browser windows and keep going until Firefox inevitably crashes. Ok, I lied about the last part, but I do wiki a lot.

I've always been one those people that had a hard time doing well in school. Sitting in a lecture and taking exams was not my cup of tea. It's still surprising to me that I've made it this far without having to repeat anything. I learn a lot better on my own, without some syllabus or course curriculum telling me what I need to know. In many ways, I don't agree with the shove-down-your-throat method of teaching employed at pretty much every school out there. I'm rebellious in nature, and I hate being forced to do anything.

However, like the author, academia is not what I'm opposed to. Some of the most interesting stuff I learned were through research papers written by PhDs. Still, I believe it's important to maintain the ability to have the curiosity to learn outside of class or work regardless of whether or not a class environment works for you.

The key word here is curiosity. One can attempt to self-educate by reading about something they don't care much for only to fail at the end, but if the person dived into a topic because of a genuine curiosity it becomes very self-fulfilling. The chain of topics you end up visiting becomes incredibly vast.

Night clubs are suppose to be fun...right?

So you spent some $20 for cover, $5 or $10 if you're smooth like my roommate and talk the front desk person into letting us in for cheap since it's "someone's" birthday. After the awkward shouting of names into each other's ears in a poor attempt to introduce yourselves and buying a round of terribly expensive shots; Single girls dance among themselves ignoring most guys that attempt to get close, and the single guys go hunting groups of girls like the aforementioned. Oh the couples you ask? Honestly I have no idea why they're even there.

Notice how it's usually the guys that get terribly wasted at the end of the night? The more they fail at getting girls to dance with them, the more drinks they buy in an attempt loosen up and go for it again. The girls on the other hand dance in their little circle of boring, fueled by the little jolts of excitement from rejecting the poor guys attempting the dance with them. The cycle repeats itself until whatever happens next. Usually they all go home, most of the time by themselves.

That's national past time of seniors and super senior college students and young professionals in a nut shell. Characterized by mostly loud music, expensive alcohol, ridiculous cover price, flashing lights, a lot of uninteresting girls, and mostly horny men.

I've done this whole clubbing thing for a while now. Not because I enjoy it, but among a majority of my friend, that's the thing to do on a Friday/Saturday night. For a while I just went with the flow and didn't ask too many questions. Like what the fuck are we here for? Meet girls? Dance? or just drink massive amounts of alcohol and act retarded? I can only remember a few times that I didn't stand on the dance floor at about 3AM, $150+ down, questioning myself and this whole clubbing thing.

Sure I've had fun at clubs. Much less than I'd care to admit though. I just never quite grasped the hype in going out to a club. I'd much rather sit at a sports bar, pub or a lounge, sip a wine or beer, and talk meaningful or even meaningless shit with friends while watching basketball on a big screen TV or listen to that live jazz fusion band.

The point of getting together with friends and friends of friends is to mingle, strike a conversation with that girl you find attractive, joke around, play drinking games and tell stories. Isn't that more fun than trying to dance, shouting at the stressed out bartender for drinks, and waking up in a parking lot the next morning?

Andy Timmons: The Tone King

I remember the first time I heard of this guy was watching the Ibanez 90th anniversary show which also featured Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai. At one point, PG and AT were taking terms jamming over a blues based rock song called Red Rooster, and the solo Andy dished out was just out of this world. (

The phrasing was so unique and new to me my jaw dropped for while. I remember rewinding to that section just for that solo multiple times. So from there, I started to listen to songs he had written. I played his "That was then, this is now" album front and back that I got my roommate at the time (Antonio) interested in his stuff.

There's something very distinct about his tone, his style. The guy isn't a super control-oriented guitarist like Steve Vai is, but a more feel-my-way-through-the-melody type of guitar player. He doesn't pick every note but instead slides around the neck to hit notes, vibratos in and out of licks, and bends to notes you really don't expect. Every song he has that has him going into a solo, he never makes it sound like it's planned. It almost sounds like he improvised everything on the spot. Kinda like this: (This was a one take, semi-improvised track that ended up on his CD)

I really can't put my finger on what his style is. The rock aspect is obviously there, but he also adds a little bit of jazz fusion into his playing. The outcome is song after song of tireless music that is always inspiring.

His sound on the other hand, is very similar to what John Mayer has. At least since the resolution album. Very bottom heavy, bright but not ear piercing highs, and very strat-inspired sounds. It has less "twang" than a classic strat tone though. His gear isn't overly complex. A few compressors, delay units, a Ibanez TS909, BB preamp, all into either the mesa lonestar or the stiletto.

From listening to a lot of his songs, he really loves to play with the delays. A double delay with different settings that give it a space-ish dreamy clean tone is what I hear on a lot of his slower songs. On his more rock-ish tunes he has the drive channel engaged on lead and boosts with the TS909, then uses compressor peddles to keep it from going over the top. So all in all, some 4~5 analogue peddles is all he really uses. He plays a Ibanez AT100/300 guitar, which is basically a ibanez-strat in many ways. Although, the AT300 features a less popular mahogany body which gives it a darker sound compared to the Alder bodied, maple neck of the AT100 in my opinion.
------GEAR TALK ENDS------

His stuff you should check out:
September -
This never made it on a CD, but is a great song nonetheless

Cry For you -
This is to Andy Timmons like what "For the love of god" is to Steve Vai. His signature song.

Pink Champagne Sparkle -
A track I personally like a lot. He changed a few things for this live performance. I personally like the CD version better though.

Wall-E: A breathe of fresh air

I'm a big fan of Pixar's animated films. They never ceased to amaze me with their creativity, imagination and just plain genius that fills every film they've released. I thought Wall-E was a masterpiece. One that took a very bold and risky move adopting an otherwise very interesting premise.

Underneath the beautiful animation and masterfully engineered sound effects, which gave voice to Wall-E and Eve, laid a simple yet flavorful love story that really moved me. While there was another major theme related to saving the world and humanity, it all became somewhat secondary to the simple desire of holding your loved one's hand.

This is one of Pixar's best films of all time, one that really pushed the envelops of imagination and set a new standard in the industry. I only own a handful of DVDs, this will be the next one in my selective collection.