Sunday, March 28, 2010

Return to Cambodia

I can't believe that almost a year and a half has passed since I was in Cambodia.  Although the time has passed quickly, this fascinating country has never left my mind. 

And now I have some very exciting news.  I have been very blessed to get another opportunity to visit.  I leave tomorrow from LAX!!! 

There is one stop-over in Seoul and then it's on to Siem Reap which is the gateway to the world famous temples. 

Although I hope to visit the temples, savour the food, enjoy the nightlife and meet as many people as possible, my other motivation for going is to help build water pumps as well as an addition to a children's shelter.  Thanks to the extreme generosity of people from the United States, Canada and Japan, I have collected $2800 for this purpose!!!

It is very thrilling for me to have the opportunity to help these great people. 

I will try to update my blog as much as possible but if things get a little busy, I will be sure to post all my pictures and stories when I get back.   

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today in the stairwell

Well, the socks in the stairwell have finally disappeared.  In some ways, I miss them. 

However, something else has taken their place.  I was pleasantly surprised by this flyer advertising a bevy of bellydancers! 

Where did this flyer come from? 
North Hollywood is apparently very mysterious. 

Have you seen this man?

This is the knucklehead that drove into me while I was driving home on Saturday night. 

For such a big guy, it was kinda pathetic that he was driving a Suzuki go-cart.  I guess the go-go dancing gig isn't quite cutting it while he struggles to be the next Van Damme. 

Being a nice guy, I offered to bypass the insurance companies.  This was a big mistake for two reasons.  One:  the damage was not substantial and anything less than $750 won't affect either of our insurance policies.  (I didn't know this at the time).  Two:  Mr. Dwonch told me to go to an autobody shop he recommended and when the idiot didn't like the price I was quoted, he told me to go somewhere else.  The last thing I have time for right now is to run around town getting the lowest possible price to get my car fixed.  And the accident was HIS FAULT!   

As of right now, he isn't playing ball with me anymore.  That's fine.  I filed an accident report with the DMV so I hope he really does have insurance or else he's gonna have a lot more problems. 

Live and learn.  It doesn't pay to be nice in a city with Neanderthals who barely have enough brain power to put one foot in front of the other nevermind driving a four wheel vehicle. 

Monday, March 22, 2010


These are socks located in the stairwell where I currently live. 

They look very sad and dirty but at least they have each other. 

My opinions of Alice

In Tim Burton's hands, Alice in Wonderland was an amazing spectacle.  There was a big headed queen, playing card soldiers, a smoky Cheshire cat and a Mad Hatter with eyes so round and fluorescent, you can't help but be mesmerized.  In 3D, it was even more impressive and it's no wonder that it opened at the top of the box office.  Have some razzle dazzle and a good trailer and the odds are you're gonna make some money. 

But as much as Alice in Wonderland was pretty to look at, it fell apart in almost all other aspects.  Alice herself looked bored as she explored this fantastic new world and although there was a hint of character development (she built up the courage to slay the beast at the end!), it was awkwardly handled.  She was obviously a free spirit at the beginning of the movie and at the end so what did she learn through her adventures?  The Mad Hatter also needed some fine tuning; good ol' Johnny Depp made his Hatter creepy and weird just like he made Willy Wonka creepy and weird.  Every time I see him in these movies, I think he should be arrested for pedophilia. 

The plot was as straightforward as they come but even that was bungled.  It was predicted that Alice was going to slay the Jabberwocky almost as soon as she entered Wonderland which destroyed any sense of suspense that we might have felt.  In fact, it was even shown how she would slay the Jabberwocky so by the time she did it, we felt as if we had seen it all before which of course we had.   I was also not sure why the screenwriter decided to make this the second visit to Wonderland for Alice.  It didn't add anything to the plot because Alice didn't remember the first time anyway.    

And I suppose for a movie that is marketed to children, it was unneccessarily dark.  Being a Tim Burton film, I would expect this (does the guy wear anything except black?) but he really should have stayed closer to the original feel of the book.  Yes, I know the queen's signature expression is "Off with his head" but it became very repetitive in the movie and even I cringed when a cute little froggie was dragged away for a beheading.  And Alice did her own beheading too.  The Jabberwocky gets it and just like some bad horror movie, the head bounced down a set of stairs.  Nice touch.  When did Wonderland become such a nightmare? 

I guess there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.  I saw the movie at the legendary El Capitan theater in the VIP seats (at a cost of $25 which included a drink and popcorn) so that was an experience by itself.  I wasn't bored because there was always something cool to look at even  if that something was a a floating top hat that looked so real, I was tempted to reach out and touch it. 

Unfortunately, my evening ended on a sour note.  As I was getting on the 101 in a very busy area of Hollywood, I was side-swiped by another car.  After I tracked down the driver, he admitted that it was his fault and agreed to pay for the damanges.  After spending $2000 on my car in the last month, I have no desire to spend any more. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Off to see the Tim Burton craptacular presentation of Alice in Wonderland. I'm seeing it at the historic El Capitan theater in Hollywood.

I can't wait!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Leaving home

For the past four years, I've called Studio City home.  I moved there after I got the brilliant idea that I should move to Los Angeles and try something a little different after living in Las Vegas for 12 years. 

I found an apartment during one crazy weekend of searching.  It was an older apartment but the location near Ventura Boulevard was great and it was only a five minute drive to work.  The rent was $1500 (2 bedroom) which was really hard to swallow considering that I had been paying less than $700 for my mortgage in the City of Lights.  Everyone had warned me that living in L.A. was expensive and now I was discovering it for myself.   

No problem, I thought.  In two years, I'll be a famous writer living in the Pacific Pallisades. 


Life can be so damn cruel sometimes. 

Anyhoo, I never intended to stay in the same apartment for so long but time passed quickly and I gradually adapted to the things that annoyed me initially (the beige carpets, the worn-down laundry facilities, the dark cave atmosphere and the upstairs guy who yelled obscenities every morning).  Towards the end, I was comfortable where I was but for me, that was a sign that I had to move on. 

Dusty was there on there final day.  Yep, that's him on the carpet and not some heap of furry clothing. 

If anyone needs an apartment, it is now available.  Right on Moorpark next to Coldwater Canyon.  It is within walking distance to Starbucks which I suppose is a plus in L.A. 

As for me, I have moved to a much newer apartment complex in North Hollywood, or NoHo if you want to be fancy about it.  I'm staring out of my window looking at blooming azaleas and palm trees.  There is a rooftop pool and a club house and a gym.  So far, I'm really digging it. 

And I'm here for the next 14 months. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fantasy Island house

If you've thought to yourself, "hmmm, I wonder if Los Angeles County has an arboretum", then I have the answer for you. 

Why, yes it does! 

And it's located in Arcadia which is nowhere near Hollywood for those of you who've never had the pleasure of ingesting L.A. smog.   

And you might also be wondering why I would take a trip to this place.  And the answer lies in the picture below.  

It is the location of the Fantasy Island house used in the opening credits of the iconic television show which aired in the late seventies and early eighties. 

The tower where Tattoo yelled out "ze plane, ze plane" is still there along with the bell.  Unfortunately you are not allowed to enter the house and live your Fantasy Island fantasies.  However, there is nothing stopping you from yelling out "ze plane, ze plane" from ground level and join the hordes of tourists who have likely done the same thing. 

This house is actually called the Queen Anne Cottage and was built in 1881.  It is a beautiful piece of Victorian architecture and extremely well preserved. 

The Arboretum is a great place to come and relax.  For eight dollars (take some cash because they don't accept plastic), you can tour the extensive grounds which do evoke a tropical location. 

I recommend coming in the early spring.  It was a little cold in March and the blossoms were just coming out.  Everything else was pretty much dead. 

And there was even some wildlife hanging around.  These peacocks were damn proud and didn't mind having their picture taken. 

For those of you who are hankering for some more Fantasy Island, you can check out the series on DVD. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why I hate Yelp and you should too

Have you heard of the review site Yelp?  Unfortunately I have. 

Yelp wants you to believe that they have an unbiased way of presenting online reviews. They say that they have a “magical algorithm” which eliminates false reviews which can either skew the overall rating in either a positive or negative direction. They say that they have no control over this algorithm so human bias is removed from the equation.

What baloney!

This is how their “magical algorithm” works. If it isn’t, I hope that Yelp can clarify the issue because being mysterious is really hurting them right now.

If you review a business and it is your first review, then the algorithm picks it up and eliminates it from the business listing. The algorithm thinks that, because you are not a frequent reviewer, you are either a friend of the business (and therefore trying to inflate the overall rating) or you are a competitor and trying to sabotage the overall rating. Although the review is eliminated from the business listing, it will still stay on the reviewer’s profile page and be pretty much useless.

The problem with this is that there are many legitimate reviewers who do not frequently review businesses. Apparently their reviews are not as worthy as the reviewers who have nothing better to do than fill pages with their opinions. This is incredibly frustrating for small business owners because many very good reviews are eliminated. At our clinic, four legitimate and positive reviews in the past month have gone by-by for this reason.

On the flip side, it is dang near IMPOSSIBLE to get rid of bad reviews even if they aren’t even about your business! We have two reviews on our site that are obviously fraudulent (one review describes a situation that happened to a neighboring clinic and has nothing to do with us) and yet we have tried unsuccessfully to take them down. The best we can do is write a comment at the bottom saying that this review doesn’t refer to us. Of course, the one star stands and contributes to our overall rating.

And don’t think for a minute that Yelp is all automated algorithms and has no human meddling. If you PAY them a pricely monthly sum (usually $300 or so), you can “enhance” your business page by highlighting a great review, pushing the negative reviews to the bottom of the pile (so that they are less likely to be read) and get rid of competitor’s ads on your listing. So far we haven’t paid this extortion money but I’m wondering if we did whether we would finally be able to get rid of those fraudulent reviews.

I think it’s time that Yelp needs to come clean and be very clear about all its policies. Whether it chooses to do so or whether it is forced to do so because of a class-action lawsuit is still unclear. In the end, I hope that a better business model comes out of it.

Oh, and if you want to talk to a customer service rep about any problems that you might be having?

Fuggetaboutit. No customer service number exists. Hmmmm, wonder why?

My rating of YELP. One star that’s fading fast.

Monday, March 8, 2010

At the Oscars!

Watching the Academy Awards is a little like having a beautiful girlfriend who steals your money; you keep seeing her because she's nice eye candy but you keep hoping that she will change her less than endearing ways.

The 82nd annual award show was business as usual. There were lots of gorgeous women and stylish men but at the end of the evening, I felt robbed, just like I do every year. The show was too long, too predictable and certainly not entertaining enough to keep me wide eyed for nearly four hours. Yes, I understand that the producers have a tough job but it’s time that someone thinks outside the box.

Here are my suggestions. Thanks for asking.

• Get rid of any cheesy opening number which features a guy in a glittery jacket belting out a lame Broadway-style song. Instead make this guy the host of next year’s Oscars and if he knocks it out of the park (which I suspect he will), then give him a contract for 10 years.

• Enough gushing over the actors and the actresses! Yes, we know they are all perfect people and were amazing to work with so the saccharine tributes by their friends were redundant and should be cut.

• Reduce the number of categories. Do we really need separate categories for sound mixing and sound editing? (What the hell is the difference? Actually, I don’t care and certainly don’t want it to be explained during the telecast!) Does anyone care about the Documentary Short Subject, Animated Short or the Foreign Language Film? It’s better to reduce the number of categories than treat the winners of these categories like buzz kills by shutting them up with swelling music and kicking them off the stage.

• Don’t ever allow Miley “Cabbage Patch Doll” Cyrus to give out an award again. It’s just insulting to everyone else who has deserved to be there.

• Get rid of the In Memoriam. This is just a depressing dose of reality that nobody wants during a generally upbeat awards show. Save it for another show and see how many people show up.

• Let Cirque de Soleil take over the dance numbers. They will be weird, exciting, bold and above all, acrobatic. Don’t allow anyone to do the robot dance again.

• Bring back the original song performances. Reduce the number of nominations for Randy Newman to one per year. Preferably have the original artists perform the song.

• Coach the winners. Act happy! Act like it was unexpected! Burst into tears or jump up and down! Don’t be boooooooring. I think that Mo’Nique knew she was going to win so that speech was pretty lame coming from a stand-up comedienne. Some of the most memorable Oscar moments have come from actors who have exhibited pure uninhibited JOY. Cuba Gooding Jr., Adrien Brody and that Italian guy who wanted to make love to everyone in the firmament come to mind.

• Reduce the number of Best Picture nominees to five. Make it an exclusive group. Show clips from these movies that make us realize again why we fell in love with them.

And I know you are dying to know who I thought SHOULD win so here are my votes:

LEADING ACTOR: Colin Firth for A Single Man. I did not see Crazy Heart but Colin Firth’s portrayal was so honest, it was painful.

LEADING ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock. Okay, she deserved it most among the nominees. Meryl Streep, you’ve had your well deserved turns at the podium and I’m not sure why it was so difficult to portray an expressionless fat black chick.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Walz. Perhaps the best thing about this strange movie.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Vera Farmiga. When I first saw her, I wondered where this talented beauty had come from. Completely believable in her role and perfect age-appropriate chemistry with George.

ANIMATED FEATURE: Up. No doubt about it, this movie is another charmer from Pixar.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Up. A completely original concept with beautiful arcs for indelible characters. The Hurt Locker was a great movie but the screenplay was not what made it that way.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: There is no doubt that Precious was a fine screenplay but my vote was for District 9 which gave us a very sympathetic view of alien life forms.

DIRECTING: James Cameron. Yes, I know he doesn't seem like a very likeable person but the guy is truly a visionary and he knows how to keep an audience captivated.

BEST PICTURE: Avatar. Can anyone ignore the fact that this film has made gazillions of dollars? The Best Picture category should never be a popularity contest but this film took a decade to make and will revolutionize the industry. I’m not sure that The Hurt Locker will stand the test of time and it may have won simply to give an extended middle finger to the director’s ex-husband.

That’s it. See you at the movies!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sleeping Dusty

When you're 120 in human years you deserve to sleep like this.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Generous support

I would like to thank all of the supporters who have recently donated to help Savong's school (, Savong's orphanage ( as well as my Cambodian Good Water Fund. 

A very special thanks to the Yokohama International Woman's Club who has given me $550 to spend on the children. 

I also have very generous supporters in Canada and the United States.  I am so thankful for all the good will. 

During my time over in Cambodia, I will put all this donated money to very good use.  I have been in contact with foreigners living in Cambodia and have learnt a lot about the best way to handle donations.  It isn't as easy as it first appeared!  

I am still hoping to raise enough money to build an addition onto the orphanage.  I realize this is a tough time for everyone but if there is an extra money in your wallet or purse these days, I assure you that it will be well spent on the less fortunate. 

Please stay tuned. I hope to keep everyone up to date with pictures and articles.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Return to Cambodia

About a year and a half ago, I travelled to Cambodia and fell in love with its culture, its geography and above all, its people.

Cambodia is one of the poorest and most troubled countries in the world but its people, especially its children, are some of the happiest that I’ve ever met. They welcomed me like a king and they were very eager to learn about my background, my language and the countries that I have lived in.

During my short stay, I managed to teach at a local school run by Svay Savong. This English language school is entirely free for its students and I was so impressed by its success that I promised Savong that I would help him with his ambitious endeavors.

After returning home, I have helped Savong buy bicycles for the children and build water pumps for several families. For his orphanage (which is currently home to 29 children), I have helped him build toilets, buy a motorcycle and pay for an English language teacher. This money has not all come out of my pocket; I have had very generous support from people in the United States, Canada and Japan.

I am very excited to tell you that I will be returning to Cambodia at the end of this month. I will be there for 10 days and although I will be spending some time exploring crumbling temples, I hope to do as much charitable work as possible. It is my hope to teach at the school, build water pumps and contribute to the orphanage. This should be very rewarding and I’m sure my efforts will be deeply appreciated.

Although I (absolutely) hate asking for money, I believe in this cause so much I am writing this email to do just that. If I were a rich, I would just use my own money to help these people but like everyone else, I have felt the pinch of a tough economy. We can do more as a group and I am hoping to raise $1000 before I leave. Even a small amount of money ($5 or $10) can really help out but if you are feeling generous, $210 can build a water pump for a family. I will also make sure that a sign is made with your name on it to indicate where the donation came from.

If you are thinking about donating but have some doubt ... take a look at the water that some of these people drink. 

Now aren't you thankful that you have tap water? 

Unfortunately I am not a tax deductible charity but any donation will get you GREAT karma points.

You can give any amount of money through my paypal account. The link is here:  The Cambodian Good Water Fund.

If you would like to see the amazing beauty of Cambodia, you can view a slideshow of my photos here:  Cambodian Slide Show.  The link will take you to my collection and then just click on the slideshow that is labeled Cambodia. 

There is sound so turn up the volume.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And please watch my blog for exciting updates!