Wednesday, 8 April 2009


Am sure it has become most evident this here ol' blog's been lacking some love this year. I have been increasing my efforts to not be sat in front of comp for nameless hours every day.

(-) decreased comp time with (+) increased Facebook time= (0) time for bloggering

But! Despair not, there is such a thing as chronic procrastination and a fervent, bubbling narcissism that just won't die. Enough reason for me to be hence writing about my more recent escapades.

This week I've attended Qing Ming for the second time in a row. I believe that's a record for me. That's grave sweeping day for the uninitiated, btw. And finished Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. One did not cause the other, but I will find a link before this palaver ends.

On the one hand, you really could not get more traditional than Qing Ming. It involves ancestor worship, firecrackers, food, fake riches (every Chinese occasion needs to involve moolah), cleaning (see: Chinese New Year), setting things on fire and incessant noise.

In our family my eldest uncle is the most knowledgable in these matters so we just put things and pour things where we are told. I had the thought: what happens when I need to decide where to put things and what to pour? We are not that traditional, but still a disconcerting thought.

Food, rice wine and chinese tea are put out, and also coffee for my grandpa. When I was dragged to Qing Ming as a kid on the rare occasion we were in town at the right time, I used to think it was a waste of a perfectly good shopping day. Standing around in the burning heat, pulling out weeds will give you thoughts like that. But now I think it's nice we do it. My gong gong passed away when I was 6 or 7, so I have very sketchy memories of him. I didn't know he liked coffee so much. We sent him a yellow Mercedes this year. It's kind of a deliciously crazy image; gong gong burning rubber in a yellow Merc.

From the prism of my western education, "ancestor worship" seems equally bizarre. But I figure if you're going to show respect and create rituals for anyone, to mark the way they led their life, which is basically what religion involves, then why not your elders? It is said a child never repays a parent's sacrifice. Your own parents have more kindness for you in their little finger than some holy guy from millenia ago.

I have been lucky I guess, my dad adored his parents. And the same is true of me. But I know the same is not true for a lot of people. That alone I think is worthy of worship.

So that's tradition which seemed weird but I found my way around to seeing the point/liking.

Brideshead Revisited on the other hand, turned out to be something traditional I thought I would like and was kind of ..meh.

See I have se-ri-ous banana credentials. I am seriously white on the inside. I would join a Jane Austen Book club if there was one around here. Mark Twain even better. I read Pride and Prejudice (almost) every year. I follow Stephen Fry's twitter. I love a good period drama. I will watch anything involving ridiculous hats or ridiculously hyphenated names or English manors. I will swoon at all three.

But I feel Brideshead was so so heavy on the Englishness and light on the why-should-I-care factor. The curtains were so starched. The protagonist's upper lip was so. stiff. that he was barely likeable let alone someone I could empathise with. Literally none of the characters came out likeable. Doomed, hopeless, rich, nonsensical. But likeable.. no. So when everything falls apart, I had a hard time feeling sorry for the guy. Perhaps I not being British, have not appreciated the raging emotion in between the lines. Perhaps this is like a Zen rock garden. Everything has been distilled into the design, down to the last pebble. Even if it does look like a bunch of rocks.

I am taking recommendations for the next off the list. My ones of readers: please comment!

* Where I got the inclination to read Brideshead

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Wrapping it up

Thought I'd pop back in to send you off to '09 properly and do the requisite navel-gazing that this time of year inspires.

I can safely say these 12 months have been some of the most:
seeringly painful
...that I've had in a while.

Whatever it's been like for you, hope the new year is a good one.


Thursday, 6 November 2008

Tourism Australia's campaign by Baz Luhrmann (Billabong)

Australia really isn't a hard sell. Yet the ads for Tourism Australia seem never to quite hit the mark. The previous campaign; "Where the bloody hell are ya?" had to be watered down all over Asia. This one's currently copping some flak from Australians. Beautiful, but a little hokey in its stereotypes. I'm a big fan of Baz Luhrmann, who brought us Moulin Rouge, so was a little disappointed with this.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Macktastic Goes to Work

For those who suspect me of constantly faffing around, frittering my savings and my life on travel and dancing (is ok, I'm first in that queue)...I have evidence of work! haHA!

I went to Singapore for a few days last month to style the pictures for a book. A whole three days was spent in a studio, knee deep in spices, wine and takeaway packs of every kind of Asian food money could buy, plus the odd crab. AND I got to go to the crockery wholesalers and pick all kinds of cute plates out. So exciting!

Even more swoon-inducing: We got the food and wine, I laid it out, and Collin the photographer shot it(!) Then, we stood around discussing for a few minutes, and we were off to the next shot!

In advertising, shoots are of course a bit more common than the smaller publishing budgets allow. But so many noses are poked into your business, you might as well not bother. I was working on a shoot for Chicken Essence once–there is only one BRAND you might think of there..and I had to artfully arrange 9 packs of eye-gougingly hideous, cheena-looking product for the "1st prize" shot in the competition leaflet. Oh. My. Gawd.

I thought I'd get it over with and get to lunch. It'll be on a pad, on a bit of string, between packet soup and toilet paper. Just keep it simple, right? Nej!

After leafing through the 5 arrangements I had to draw for the client, they agreed on one with the accounts person from the agency (like John Travolta's hair, clients' existence was based mostly on belief and very little actual evidence). Then I had to arrange it exactly how it had been drawn and we emailed it back. Then we had to wait around for client to reply that "err acherlly, I think the option number 2, like, more dynamic". Rinse and repeat until some rubbery bits of tofu and a few strands of noodles are your only choice in the foodcourt.

So, was a big thrill to go in with ideas and have them realised. It was not without hardships, which included:
• a hunt through a whole bag of coriander for the exact. perfect. leaf.
• Phil gamely going through the rubbish for a 3rd knobbly lime
• getting the damn chicken and the slippery skin to sit. just. so.

Finished tired but satisfied :)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Are we still on?

Hello again to my fives of readers!

October kind of got away from me, huh? It was kind of a big month. I would say probably the biggest this year. And this year hasn't been shabby so far neither. Here's what happened:


A while back i heard my friends Odd (who's quite normal), SK and Claire were going to Pulau Tioman, which is one of Malaysia's many idyllic islands near Singapore and I recklessly said "Hey! I'll join you! I'll just meet you at the ferry. No worries!"

So I spent end of September trying to get bus tickets to Mersing for a Tioman trip during Hari Raya!

Ha!ha!ha! That is not me laughing–that is the sound of ticket sellers at KL's famously crap Pudu station on hearing my request. My choices: get there at 4am then wait til 8am for the 1st ferry, OR go to Kuantan and double my trip time then get there at 5am. OR, the scintillating-Take the train to then get a bus to Mersing at 5am. OR,.. well you get the picture.

In the end, the travel gods smiled down on me and confirmed a ticket on the Berjaya Air waitlist. Here marks the end of my relationship with the Malaysian public transport system. Good luck and good riddance!

The replica plane that they sent to fill in for a real plane

An exciting wait in the under-renovation Subang airport, and I was on my way in a tiny plane with a lot of Germans. Is it the same group of Germans following me aorund? Every time I go islanding (real word, I swear)! I thought summer was over for Europeans? I don't get it.

Anyway I flew Berjaya Air and stayed at.. Berjaya Resort and ate Berjaya food and rode the Berjaya was one of those really authentic experiences. I looked at the Berjaya view (see above) for 3 days, so I can't say I have any complaints!

KL Swing

Next up is where things begin to go off the rails... in a totally good way. In late September, I met this girl Ling who had created a KL Swing Facebook group and I offered to help.

We are both Malaysian-ish and had both been in town for about 6months, separately bitching that there was no Swing dancing. In between then and early October, we held a free taster class in Tiara's Aroma Beauty Salon in Bangsar (good floors, crap sound system, cheap) and then she promptly accepted a job in Singapore!

Note the awesome black light deco

That meant I was on my lonesome for the Oct 9 workshop we had organised with Sinclair, my teacher from Singapore. I like to think I am realistic. I probably err on the side of glass woefully half empty. Just to be, you know, safe. So I fully expected to find myself alone, in a Punjabi bar called Topaz (good floors, crap lights, cheap :D) but to my great surprise and delight, most everyone who replied on facebook, and then some, showed up.

They very obligingly learned the 8-count in mood lighting–I had asked the manager to help me turn off 1) the disco ball 2) the strobe lights. I tried for 3) non-smoking, but he wasn't having a bar of it.

Having noted I could safely get enough people for the class, I began the search for a proper studio. Weekday nights are dance studios' bread and butter, so it took alot of calling around before I found 2 separate ones for Sinclair's next visit, which was last Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesday went great, once it got started! Monsoon rains, immigration queues and mega traffic meant Sinclair's trip from the airport was much longer and arduous-er than expected. Started half an hour late, but we got there in the end!

More pix here at FB


In between workshops, I popped down to Singapore for some work. Some very exciting days spent in a darkened room! My first coffee table book shoot. I really really wanna share, but that'll have to wait.

I also got to hang with my girls J & P who very bravely took me to Bellini Grande for "A new realm in live entertainment"–according to the poster. It was another realm all right! It boasts about a bajillion musicians and an all-hot cast of singers and dancers. It's meant to be in the vague vacinity of Swing Jazz, but it's more closely related to a cheesy day-time Vegas variety show than a Big Band. It's all showbiz T & A with a Kermit puppet, a faux-Southern singer and an Elvis impersonator to boot. My face really hurt when I left from all the laughing-I recommend everyone do it once! Is cheesier than the whole of Wisconsin.

Oh yeah, somewhere in there I turned 29 :) So far, it's not too bad. Not too bad at all.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Sammi country, Norway and Copenhagen

[After side trips to Chiang Mai and Singapore, Macktastic has returned to battle the never-ending post...]

Taking a short flight to the very north of Finland, we took a long ass bus...further north to Saariselke. On the way,we stopped for a "Sammi Experience". As in we experienced drinking tea in a hut with costumed people. I think they were actually Sammi people, but it's kind of cheesy. Like me walking around in a cheongsam doing a teacup dance (yes, it happened, no, there's no photos). They are the indigenous people of those parts and their original job is herding reindeer, but like many indigenous people the world over, they also fill tourist itineraries.

Official Cruise Outfit

After our last night in Finland, we crossed over to Kirkenes in Norway, for the 6-day Hurtigruten cruise which would take us down Norway's western coast to Bergen. It's touted all over their literature as THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VOYAGE IN THE WORLD. It's more like THE COLDEST VOYAGE IN THE WORLD, but I'm not one to mess with people's copy.

It began as a postal ship serving the people of northern Norway who would be cut off without it in winter. Now it carries cargo and tourists daily from each port. So it's a very nice way to travel, but it's not one of your huge commercial cruises with 24-hr buffet and rock-climbing wall. I had a conversation with a Norwegian at Herrang about it:
Me: I went on the Hurtigruten.
Norwegian: ohhh the HUER-ti-groo-TEN

Me: umm yep.

Norwegian: Which ship did you take?

Me: The Nordlys.
Norwegian: ohhh the NAWRT-liss

Me: You know it??

Norwegian: Sure, everyone knows them.

Me: You've been on it then?

Norwegian: Nah, too expensive.
Me: ...

The expense is because well, it's Norway, but really you can't outsource this kind of product to Asia:

Stunning Midnight Sun at Tromso

Awe-inspiring Trollfjord

Beyond-charming fishing villages

Drool-inducing Chef onboard :D

Sadly, the voyage did come to an end, but happily it was in the bustling port of Bergen:

Bryggen in Bergen!

'Bustling' is such an old-fashioned word, but I think it's right. Bergen has a World Heritage Site in Bryggen-a collection of the old buildings that they used to process fish through. The town centre is pretty much wall-to-wall heritage buildings though, and has a backdrop of seven mountains. It's basically a fairytale.

Which is why it's not hard to imagine that Bergen's most famous son is the composer Edvard Grieg who wrote the classic Morning Mood. If you think of dawn breaking and birds chirping and rainbows and morning dew, that is the music of Bergen you're hearing in your head.

We only had one night there though, before we set off to Oslo via the super scenic Flam railway.

But though the views that we got whilst speeding through the mountains was spectacular, it was what happened inside that stuck with me. Getting to our seat had been a real bunfight. Once the doors opened, it was like a very fancy version of the scramble in musical chairs, except with a lot more Japanese tourists armed with pointy umbrellas.

Luckily for us, we got in the same cabin with a Spanish group. Particularly a Spanish padre, who decided to serenade one of the aunties on the tour. The whole cabin joined him in "Guantanamera", "La Bamba" and a very passionate rendition of "Besame Mucho". Love when stuff like that happens :)

After hopping off the Flam Railway, there was another long-ass scenic bus journey to Oslo. Which disappointingly, looked like this:

This is where I slag off Oslo:
Oh man, we at Macktastic thought we could say we heart Scandinavia, but Oslo is standing in the way! Maybe it was a bad hair day for Oslo, but the whole of the city centre was under construction. Was a big disappointment after super-slick Stockholm and happily-neat Helsinki.

Wickipedia says it's the "fastest-growing Scandinavian capital. The increase is due, in almost equal degree, to high birth rates and immigration". I'm from Australia, I am a big fan of multi-culturalism, and until Oslo, thought it'd be a good thing for everyone.

Now, I'm not so sure. The rest of Norway, and Scandinavia for that matter, was safe, clean, well organised and had very few street people. Oslo in contrast was more like New York-grotty, chaotic and security-challenged. It doesn't feel like the rest of Norway at all, which was kind of sad.

I can't recommend skipping Oslo though, because it has one saving grace, and it's pretty big. Vigeland Sculpture Park is part of an 80-acre park and is more than 200 scultpures, plus a monolith and a fountain. It was sculptor Gustav Vigeland's lifetime's work and the monolith (that's in the background of the pic) was finished just before his death.

The sculptures are all human figures and when you walk through it, the experience is of seeing the entire gamut of emotion and relationship from birth to death played out in bronze and granite. I am so in love with this place. I think I could have spent the whole 2 weeks here and it would have been worthwhile.

See more of the stunning figures in my Oslo pix.

We got rushed out of the park to be on the ferry to the last stop on the tour: Copenhagen in Denmark.

Copenhagen was the most fun place of the whole trip for me. I'm sure it didn't have anything to do with that I could wave goodbye to the tour, and was finally free (!) The accoms came down quite a few stars. Actually all of them. But, post-ye olde tour and pre-Herrang, I'll be ever grateful to Copenhagen for giving me some awesomely awesome days there. So a big TACK for that, and a big SORRY! for causing those biking accidents on the streets :p

For the full set of pix of eeeevvverything, go here.

[Macktastic promises not to harp on anymore about Scandinavia now. No, really. I really mean it]

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Hej Stockholm and Helsinki!

I basically never thought I would get to Scandinavia until I was diving in a pile of money Scrooge McDuck-style. So what I know about the place can be summed up in this list: Ikea, Volvo, Absolut, Nokia, and from my design degree; an ability to speak briefly and shallowly about Arne Jacobsen's egg chair. Also, the most famous Scandinavian of all: the Swedish Chef from The Muppets.

Armed with this scarily in-depth knowledge, I boarded a Finn Air flight with the 20+ other uncles and aunties on the tour + mum + 'real' uncle + aunty. Joining me in the under-40 crowd was my 7 year-old cousin. The planes were old-school, with only the screens in the aisle viewing PG movies involving pigs/dogs. This caused me to immediately curse myself for being too cheap to buy an iPod.

I turned to assessing my fellow travelers for entertainment. There were a lot of older people on board, but they were distinctly stylish old people. They sported interesting hairstyles and the heavy-framed glasses that I associate with creative types. It was more akin to being at an architect's convention.

We finally got to Helsinki, where we were thoroughly checked before being allowed to wait for our shuttle to Stockholm. Only this time I saw something unbelievable: hot airport security staff.

From the waifish girl who pokes a gloved hand into your bag, to the windswept guy monitoring the scanner and the well-coiffed people ready to pat you down; one and all looked as if they were just earning some cash until their gig as a model/lead singer/TV host took off. I wasn't allowed to take pictures, or run back through the scanner and put some metal on so I could be patted down. Boo.

When we finally got in to Stockholm, it was about 8pm and we got our first glaring taste of the long sunlight hours. Next morning, we were whisked around on a city tour. Our tour guide happened to be the one person in Stockholm who doesn't have great English, but no matter. Stockholm is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe I've been to, so it speaks for itself.

Having been the centre of an empire in the 17th century and more or less stayed out of war since then, there's been a lot of peace time and money to get things right. Everywhere you turn, there is an impressive building or structure decorating the skyline. Gamla Stan, or Old Town, has the main concentration, but the rest of the city isn't short either.

Then there's the water. Stockholm is set on a few islands at the heart of an archipelago of 30,000 islands. The directions to anything involve "...then you cross a bridge..". This is a good thing for those totally hopeless at directions (like me) but also because it's pretty everywhere you look. It's not just glittering in appearance either; you can swim and fish in the heart of town.

In fact the only thing as ubiquitous as the water, is the H&Ms. They are EVERYWHERE! Initially, it was like a dream come true. But after your first 10 or so mega H&Ms, it starts to get old. I know, I didn't think it was possible either.

Just as I was figuring out how to pronounce the A with the little o on top, we were off on a ferry to...


The overnight ferry was our first of many boats on this trip. This was the Viking line, which is Swedish for duty free alcohol/cigarettes and poker machine bonanza. Just like the original Vikings. We got our own tiny cabins but other people preferred to sit on the freezing deck and drink through the night. Awesome. Clearly the famous Scandinavian prudishness on alcohol doesn't extend to the open seas.

The harrowing effects of alcohol abuse

It also doesn't extend to Helsinki. Finland, I would find out, is culturally closer to Russia, whereas Sweden-Norway-Denmark are more Germanic. Hence the open tolerance, if not encouragement to enjoy a tipple, or twenty, outside. It's all done very safely though; I was walking around at 2am and the only threat I felt was from the cold.

Helsinki was an outpost of the Russian empire, so it doesn't have the grandeur and importance of Stockholm, but it's charming nonetheless. And the prices are less heart-breaking more reasonable. This was the largest and most well-equipped hotel room that we got. Ironing boards! Hairdryers! Is enough to make a girl dizzy with happiness.

The only downside is they seemed to have a lot less people who look like part-time models and a lot more who look like guitarists in a death metal band. You can't move for all the people with blond roots and stringy black hair trying to look disturbed and haunted.

This girl struck it lucky with great hair, and great everything else; if your sunnies don't match your bag and bike, I wouldn't know why you bother leaving the house. I vote her most stylish cyclist in Scandinavia, which is a pretty tough competition. She wins my approval, and isn't that pretty much all anyone needs?

Next: Brrr Norway