Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Billboards of Sunset

Sunset is one of the main boulevards that run through Los Angeles.  I don't often venture down here because it tends to be crowded, expensive and I'm embarrassed to park my 97 Chrysler in the valet parking lots.  But today I wanted to do something a little different so I hiked all the way from Runyon Canyon and if you don't know where that is, I assure you it was a VERY long walk.

I should have taken photos of the people that I saw but I'm really not good at that.  I'm much better at taking pictures of the billboards because they stay still and they don't think I'm asking them for money.

First up, we have the Whisky A Go-Go.  I've been here once, a couple of years ago to see a friend of mine play.  It's pretty small but as far as venues go, it is legendary.  The Doors were the house band here many many years ago, Janis Joplin deep throated her lyrics up on its stage and there were plenty of other famous names who have followed.

The Whiskey is currently plastered with ads for the new movie Rock of Ages.  Tom Cruise is cast as the aging rocker, Stacee Jaxx.  I'm really mad about this.  I like Tom as an actor but c'mon, he ain't no Stacee!

The new Pixar movie is called BRAVE.  Don't know much about it except it features a Scottish lass who thinks she can kick some ass.  Ho hum.  Don't know if I'll see this one.  I'm all for girl power but this one could be a rental.  But then again, it IS Pixar and they made me love clown fish and green ogres.  

The Pink Dot is a strange fixture on Sunset.  It sticks out like a candy lollipop among the grey cement.  I've never been inside and since it really is just a convenience store, I don't think I'll be taking a trip there anytime soon.  

The billboard above advertises a comedy central show.  I'm kinda diggin' Jordan Peele.  I think he's pretty funny and maybe one of these days, I'll actually watch the Peele and Key show.  

Who says there aren't third acts?  Oh Joey, you have survived again.  This is one show that I have never watched--in fact, I wasn't even sure that it made it to another season.  

Matt looks quite happy.  One of these days, I too hope to sit in a pool wearing a tux with a script on my lap.  Then I will know that I have made it.

Anger Management?  Never watched it.  You're probably getting the impression that I don't watch a lot of tv and that impression is largely correct.  

Charlie Sheen just looks creepier and creepier.  He looks like that perverted uncle that you try to keep your kids away from.  I feel like I need to wash my hands just from looking at this billboard.  

But Stryper is playing at House of Blues on June 22.  Get your tickets now!

There are plenty of ridiculous ideas for tv shows but I couldn't believe my ears when I heard there was a reality show about long term storage facilities.  Wow.  Someone definitely slept with someone else to get this idea greenlit.  If you haven't seen it, the show is about people who bet on the contents of abandoned storage lockers.  It is exciting as it sounds.  

What do they really expect to find?  They get excited when they find old tools for godsakes!  What would be really cool is if they found a dead body or a severed head.  Or maybe just some intestines and they had to figure out if they were human or animal.  

I can't believe that I am not a showrunner.    

When did abs become so important for all those men who want to feel superficially proud of themselves?  

And why does Calvin Klein feel the need to plaster some half-naked guy with his legs wide open on Sunset Boulevard?  

What if some 11 year old from was on vacation from Kansas and she saw this provocative advertising while walking down the boulevard with her parents?  It might suddenly usher her into puberty and then her parents would have to deal with all those awkward conversations when they all really wanted to discuss was how much Brittney enjoyed the teacup ride at Disneyland.  

I don't wear Calvins anymore.  I don't look like the guy on the front of the package and that depresses me a little.  They really need to start putting fat hairy guys on the front.  That way, the underwear buyers can feel much better about themselves when they look in the mirror and strike a ninja pose.  

True Blood Season 5 has started!  

But I'm still watching Season 4 because I'm cheap and I don't get HBO and the last season has only recently been released on DVD through netflix.  I've watched two episodes so far and .... not a lot has happened.  That's okay.  I'll keep on watching because I'm a sucker for blood, sex and good looking people who occasionally get naked.  

Sookie is still annoying and I don't care if she is a fairy, she deserves to get drained of all her blood and then locked away until the series is over.  

Must have crossed over to West Hollywood.  This looks like a condom for clowns.  Gay clowns but clowns nonetheless.  If clowns had sex and wanted to be safe.  

It took me six hours roundtrip for this hike.  Not sure if I'll be doing it again anytime soon ...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The strange natural beauty of Mono Lake

Several years ago, I remember seeing some photos of weird stone formations in a lake and after finding out that the lake was in California, I was determined to visit it someday.    

Last week, during an impromptu road trip, I got the chance. 

Mono Lake is in the northern part of California, east of Yosemite.  It is very unique because it contains "tufas" which are essentially limestone pillars.  These pillars are formed when underwater springs rich in calcium mix with the alkaline lake water and precipitates form.  When the level of the lake drops (which it has over the past fifty years), the tufas are exposed.  

If you're still confused about where this place is, I have provided a map.  It takes about five or six hours to get there from Los Angeles.  

View Larger Map

I have never seen anything like this place.  Beautiful, serene, almost alien.  The largest congregation of tufas are on the south coast of the lake which is where the photos below were taken.  I can imagine that dawn would be a great time to visit and the motivation to get great pictures would definitely make me get out of bed at 5am and slog my way down to the water's edge.  Bishop is the nearest town and there are plenty of hotels to choose from.  I suggest LaQuinta because you can make your own Belgian waffles for breakfast and they allow dogs.

If you're up in that area, there are a couple of other attractions.  The ancient Bristlecone forest is nearby which has trees that are several thousand years old.  (Photos to be posted later).  Bodie, an deserted mining town, is north of Mono Lake but I didn't have time to check it out.  I've also heard that the road isn't good and I would likely need a car newer than a 1997 Chrysler convertible to make the trek.  There is also Mammoth skiing area if you like playing around in the white stuff.

This is a great area of California and I can't wait to get back.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Handsome boy

I'm trying out a new program for black and white photos called Silver Efex Pro 2 and it produces some pretty amazing results.

Here is Chan who is my pain-in-the-ass Pekingese who requires walking at 6am.  If he could walk himself, he would be perfect!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Helping Cambodia is like buying a beautiful broken mug

Last November, I was in Cambodia for about three weeks doing work for the Savong Foundation which I created to help a community in the northern part of that country. 

A few days before I made the long trip back home, I met a lady who was trying to make a business by selling Cambodian pottery.  She had a few samples for me to look at and I was very impressed at the quality and care that had gone into shaping each piece.  Since I love to drink coffee out of large mugs, I thought it would be perfect to have her make a custom design for my morning caffeine ritual. 

She was thrilled to have a new customer and I was excited about taking home a souvenir from a country that I had grown to love over the past couple of years.  We sat down and I told her everything that I wanted:

The size. 

The shape. 

The colour. 

And I wanted Khmer writing all over it.  I didn’t really care what the writing said.  I just wanted it to be covered in the beautiful Cambodian script.     

She smiled and nodded and took notes and I was convinced that she understood everything that I said.  I asked her how much and she told me $20.  It seemed a bit high (keep in mind that many Cambodians make $50/month or less) but I was happy to support her fledgling business.  I was told that it would be ready at least a day before I was scheduled to leave and we agreed on a time and place for the pick-up.  In my mind, everything seemed very clear and simple. 

A day before leaving, I contacted the woman because I had not yet heard from her.  Everything was fine she said but the mug wasn’t ready.  She assured me that it would be ready before my flight.  I was a little worried about this because I had other last minute things to do besides picking up a souvenir but Cambodians are such gracious and happy people, I told her that it wasn’t a problem and we would meet the morning of my departure. 

I couldn’t wait to see the mug.  The delay only increased my excitement.  On my previous trips, I had taken a few souvenirs back with me but this was something I could use every morning and in my mind’s eye, I saw exactly what it was going to look like. 

At the agreed upon time, I anxiously awaited the woman’s arrival.  She was late but not by too much time.  After spending three weeks in Cambodia, I was quite familiar with how fluid appointment times were and since I was still on Cambodian time, it really didn’t bother me.  She greeted with a huge smile and proudly pulled four mugs out of a large shopping bag.  I took a look at each one. 

None of them looked like what I had described to her.  None of them. 

I picked each one up.  There was no doubt that they were all beautiful.  Handmade.  Rustic stain.  And on the bottom was a Khmer signature.  They were large but not the giant size that I had requested.  I was disappointed but the woman was beaming with a smile and in some weird way, I felt like I couldn’t disappoint her

“I’ll take this one” and picked up the one that had an elephant head for a handle. 

“Would you like to take all of them?”

Did you ever read those books when you were a kid that gave you a choice at the end of the page?  If you chose one thing, it would send you off to a certain page and if you chose something else, you would flip to a different page?  The flow of the story would change depending on your decisions so you could read the entire book a couple of times and have several different versions. 

I felt like there were several different ways I could answer pottery lady and each answer would take me to a different outcome. 

For example: 

“You can take all your mugs and stick them where the sun don’t shine!”  Although this may have required some Khmer translation, the emotion behind the words would have gotten my point across. 


“Are you kidding me?  I gave you EXACT details on what I wanted for a mug and not only did you NOT do what I wanted, you are trying to sell me FOUR mugs that cost as much as a luxury meal in Los Angeles!”


“Well, I’ll take one but it isn’t really what I wanted so I’ll pay you $10 for it.”


“They’re all so beautiful but I only need one.  Here’s $20.  I wish you the best luck for your business.” 

I chose the latter and handed over my money.  She was thankful and she told me that she hoped she would see me again when I returned to her country.  I assured her that I would keep my eye out for her—and buy my pottery somewhere else.

Actually, I only thought that last part.  C'mon, I'm a polite Canadian.     

Despite my crappy packing skills (I just throw everything in and hope for the best), the mug managed to make its way across the Pacific in one piece.  I’m not sure if I was so lucky but I was at least happy to stuff fast food down my gullet once again and have a really long hot shower.  You have no idea how luxurious a hot shower is until you’ve been deprived for three weeks.    

Several days after arrival, I pulled my mug out of the suitcase, cleaned it up and poured some steamy hot brew into it while I was weeding through my morning emails.  Moments later, I noticed that the coffee that was supposed to be inside the container was now outside of it and dripping onto the floor.  I snatched up the mug and lo and behold, the beautiful souvenir that was supposed to be useful and meet my design expectations was clearly leaking from a defective seam in the bottom. 

The older I get the more patient I get.  I think it’s from all those years working with animals.  I have learned that the more upset I am, the worse it gets for me and anger really doesn’t improve a situation.  Ten years ago, I probably would have thrown the mug against the wall and stomped on all the pieces.  Instead, I calmly emptied the remaining coffee into the sink, rinsed out the residue, cleaned up my desk and poured some stain remover onto the carpet.  I dried the mug and contemplated its fate.  I wasn’t going to throw it away; I paid $20 for the damn thing.  In the end, I stuck some pencils and pens in it and proclaimed it my Cambodian homemade pencil and pen holder.

And actually, I kinda like it.  It is far prettier than the hazy piece of glassware that I used before and as a pencil and pen holder, it hasn’t disappointed me at all. 

Working in Cambodia is very much like the story of this mug.  The Cambodian people are wonderful and NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) such as The Savong Foundation want to see them succeed.  Yes, we can do lots of planning to make everything perfect but everything seems to cost more and take longer than what it should.  And the end result is usually not what was expected.  Should we be frustrated and angry and give up?  Of course not because that doesn’t help anyone.  A better approach is to be flexible, open and explore other possibilities within this unique culture and then something good will usually happen.  Therein lies the reward and everyone goes home happy even if it means using a big Korean Starbucks mug for their morning brew.

The Savong Foundation is dedicated to helping the communities of northern Cambodia.  Please visit us at our website for more information.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to be an international hero

The Savong Foundation is a 501(c)3 registered charity based in Los Angeles, California. Its mission is to support projects in northern Cambodia which includes the Savong School, the Savong Orphan Center, the Student Center as well as outreach projects in the community.

I'm very proud to write that we just had our first year anniversary and what a year it has been!  

We have worked with people all over the world and have been involved in projects that range from finding sponsors for the children at the orphan center to installing a solar panel at the school.  Earlier this year, we opened the student center which is home to ten "big kids" who attend the local high school and university.  And on the horizon is extending the dental hygiene program implemented by the Angkor Hospital for Children so that more people are aware of the health benefits of a great smile.  

But like all charities, we can't do our work without you.  

We count on your support to help spread the word about the foundation and raise money for our projects.  We are a small charity but we work hard in making sure that the donated funds go towards the people who are much less fortunate than ourselves.  None of our board members take a salary and we cover all our travelling expenses to Cambodia with our own money.     

Would you like to join our family?  Here's how:  
And of course, if you go to Cambodia, you can see everything for yourself!

On behalf of the Savong Foundation, I sincerely thank you for all your support.  

Phil Caldwell
CEO Savong Foundation

My Dream Job

Have you heard?

NBC has a new show this fall about a grumpy veterinarian!  I would be perfect!

Well, not for the main character because the show has already been cast and Justin Kirk gets to play the smarmy vet.

But they might need a consultant for the show.  A living breathing real life veterinarian who has suffered for years in the trenches of animal care.  And that, my friends, would be me.

A job that combines veterinary medicine, television, comedy and extra money?  I can't think of anything better.

Check it out.  What do you think?

Mr. Greenblatt, have your people call me people.  Stat!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sign of the times

This was a sign that I happened to see in an upscale neighborhood.

Dang, these neighborhood watch people are hard-core!  

You sure don't want to be caught buying ice tea or skittles in this 'hood.  Or you gonna pay, brother, you gonna pay.