Thursday, December 29, 2011

Photoshop fun


This sign is at the entrance to the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Karaoke in Cambodia

There were many great experiences while I was in Cambodia but the one that took me by surprise was my first visit to a Karaoke club.

That night, I was with my Cambodian friend.  We had just finished a good dinner and he asked me what I wanted to do with what was left of the evening.  I remember telling him that I wanted to go somewhere quiet and talk.  Maybe with some music.  But nothing too loud.  My days in Cambodia were very busy and by 8pm, I was usually sleeping standing up.  I wasn’t in the mood for anything too exciting but my mood apparently didn’t matter since my friend knew exactly what he wanted to do all along.  And he wanted to sing. 

We pulled up to the karaoke building and the first thing I noticed was that there were large numbers of very young, well dressed women lounging around at the entrance.  They gave me some curious looks and the first thing I thought was that my friend was taking me on a side trip to a brothel.  In Cambodia, sometimes it is fun to see where things will go so I dutifully followed my friend up some large stairs where a sturdy older woman who kinda reminded me of a worn-out gym school teacher ushered us into a smallish room.  She talked to my friend briefly in Khmer, sprayed some air freshener which was probably called Mist of Cheap Cambodian Whore and she left.

The room was not in good shape but when the lights were lowered, it didn’t really matter.  There were large stains on the carpet, there were dark patches of suspected mold on the walls and the fabric couches had tears and cigarette burns.  But the room was nonetheless inviting.  There was a large TV screen, some coffee tables where beer and snacks were efficiently laid out and a large pool table.  Neon lights were begging us to be “Happy, Happy, Happy!”  I plunked myself down on the couch and waited for the next thing to happen. 

As I soon found out, the karaoke rooms are private.  Apparently fights would break out if too many Asians were competing over the same song book.  I can’t imagine someone kicking someone else’s ass over a Brittney Spear’s song but I suppose anything is possible on this side of the world.  But when I say private, I don’t mean that there aren’t other people.  Two younger girls dressed in uniform came in and started setting up the karaoke machine.  Another girl came in and started to open the beer.  A friend of my friend arrived and I thought that everyone was there that was going to be there.  But boy, was I wrong. 

The door opened and about twenty very scantily clad women were paraded into the room.  I didn’t dare ask how old the youngest was (maybe I should have) but the oldest didn’t look any older than 21.   Now I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were all beautiful.  Cambodian women have a very exotic look and at that age, they are stunning.  Dressed in their cocktail dresses, it was like I was suddenly the judge on a Miss Cambodia pageant.
 
“You have to pick one”, my friend said. 

“You’re kidding me”, I replied. 

I wasn’t really sure what the protocol was here.  My first thought was what in the hell was I getting myself into?  My second thought was that I only had about $20 in my pocket and I had no idea how much the girl was going to cost.  Or the Karaoke room.  And my third thought was there was no way I could choose.  I have a hard time deciding what clothes to wear in the morning.  There was no way I could pick out something as serious as a fake date for an evening. 

I looked down the lineup.  Some of the girls looked at me but most acted very indifferent.  Very cool.  Very professional like they had seen everything (and maybe had done everything) a million times before I had gotten there.  I wanted someone who looked fun and there were a couple that caught my eye.  I figured that if I were going to be in this awkward situation, I wanted someone who I could joke around with and dance with and …

“How about that one?” I said to my friend. 

“She’s ugly”, he said without hesitation.  I later found out that none of them could speak English so I guess the insult landed on deaf ears. 

“Then you pick out one for me.” 

I obviously wasn’t good at picking out choice Cambodian meat (which was how they were presented and NOT how I felt about them) so I decided to leave it to someone who had apparently better taste.  My friend went over, grabbed one by the hand and brought her back to sit with me.


She looked at me, smiled very shyly and clasped her hands on her lap.  I asked her what her name was and she, of course, had no clue what I was saying.  This was going to be tough but then I remembered that my iPhone had a little app that translates English into Khmer.  I pulled out the phone and tapped away.  I found out her name was … something.  I can’t remember what she said but I have a hard enough time remembering names anyway.  Then I asked her everything on the app.  Where she lived.  The directions to the airport.  I counted from 1 to 10 and told her that it was a sunny day.  She smiled and laughed but I think deep down inside she thought I was a moron and was probably hoping that I had more than $20 in my pocket. 

I’m a nervous drinker.  Whenever I’m in strange situations, I tend to drink more than I should.  This isn’t by design but it does loosen me up and calms my nerves.  In this situation, the funny thing was that every time I took a drink, my date had to drink too.  And we had to clink the glasses and stare into each other’s eyes like we were madly in love or something.   The other funny thing was that the beer was bottomless.  In other words, as soon as the glass was emptied by a mouthful, a host rushed over and filled it back up.  So you never know how much beer you’re drinking.  Very smart for the karaoke business but no so smart for the dumb foreigners who don’t have an off switch for drinking.  If there is alcohol in front of me, I tend to drink it.  And it can be any alcohol.  Strong or weak.  Whisky or wine.  I’ll suck it down.  Thankfully in this case, it was Angkor Beer which is great tasting and not especially strong.  At least initially. 

The music was fired up and the lyrics scrolled across the screen.  My friend jumped up and belted out an obvious Khmer love song.  If you have ever been to an Asian karaoke bar, you know what I mean when I say that the karaoke videos are amusing even by themselves.  You really don’t need the added entertainment of hearing your friends trying to hold a note.  The actors in these cheesy videos are required to have two “looks”; they either look they are in complete lust with each other or they look like they have been torn apart and this forsaken love has left them tortured forever.  And the backgrounds seem so arbitrary.  I remember looking at one video in my drunken stupor and thinking, “why in the hell are these lovers in Istanbul?”  Recognizing that the background was indeed Istanbul was a proud accomplishment for me at that hour in the evening and I mentally patted myself on my back.    

I got the feeling that my date was hungry because the host came over with some packages of “something” and my date looked at me with big eyes and pointed at the snack.  I nodded yes and she eagerly ripped it open and spilled the contents on the plate.  I wasn’t sure what they were.  Small and round and moist and very pale.  She stabbed one with a toothpick and aimed it at my mouth.  I opened up (like a good little baby) and she stuck it in.  I’m not sure how to describe the taste.  A little garlicky.  Maybe a little fishy?  It was soft and squishy.  An acquired taste which I quickly acquired because she proceeded to stick more down my gullet at every opportunity.  I think she was being polite.  She was starving and didn’t want to make it look like she was eating without me.  The host came over with some more snacks but these ones didn’t look as appetizing.  In fact, they looked like larvae in tomato sauce.  Did I eat them as my date forced them upon me?  Hell yes!  I really can’t say no.  I simply made a mental note to be on high alert for any intestinal grumblings.  Getting hit with EBD (Explosive Butt Disease) in Cambodia can happen at any moment but usually there are at least some initial warning signs. 

You don’t have to ask me twice to sing especially with a group of people who don’t speak English or barely know it.  I went through the songbook and picked out songs that I would never sing in a million years back home.  Kesha.  Yes, I will admit it.  I sang Kesha because what happens in Cambodia stays in Cambodia unless you spill all your guts out on a public blog.  I think I did it pretty well because it got everyone up dancing and if you can’t dance to Kesha, then you really haven’t drunk enough.   

As the evening was winding down, I got the nagging feeling that I actually had to pay my date.  I was certainly not under the illusion that I was so charming and attractive that I was going to get away with a freebie.  And getting mouth fed like a baby bird and getting smiled at every five seconds was not going to be cheap.  I pulled out my wallet.  Yep, the $20 was still there and sadly had not multiplied itself since I had last checked.  I snuck over to my friend and asked him how much I should tip.  He told me not more than $5 and $3 was appropriate if I didn’t have enough money.  I looked over at my date.  She was with me for about three hours and my friend was asking me to give her less money than what it costs to buy a venti frap at Starbucks.  I couldn’t do it.  I felt like she deserved more for putting up with my goofy crap.  I asked my friend for change and he gave me two $10 bills and I went back to my date and gave her one of them.  She folded it up.  Clasped her hands together.  Gave me a polite bow and disappeared out the door.  As quickly as that, she was gone.  

In a weird way, I felt cheated.  (Maybe she did too?)  I think I half expected her to give me her email address or exchange phone numbers.  Or give me a big kiss.  Or whisper in my ear what she could have done for more money.  Leaving like that was like getting a band aid ripped off.  The lights came up and the illusion was over.  I remember the same feeling at my high school dances.  Okay, everyone go home.  The party is over and pretend like you don’t know each other again. 

When we were leaving I saw my ex-fake-date by the front door.  I looked at her and she looked at me.   She didn’t look down and held my gaze.  But I couldn’t interpret it.  Was she being polite?  Was she as curious about me as I was about her?  Was she just being professional and giving me a last taste before hooking up with the next guy that came around?  I don’t know.

But the fact that she made me linger one last time probably means she is just being good at what she does.

Even so, I wish her well.  


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Free money from Angela


Dear Good Friend in Christ Jesus. Well, we're not good friends but occasionally, we do talk.  

I am Mrs. angela jones, an aging widow suffering from a long time illness. That sucks Angela.  How can I help you?  i am currently admitted in a private hospital in Abidjan cote d' ivoire. OMG, how did you end up in that hell hole?  I have some funds I inherited from my late loving husband Mr michael jones, the sum of US$5.500. 000 which he deposited in a bank He was probably loving someone else if that's all he left you. I need a very honest and God fearing Christian that can use this funds for God's work. If he is all powerful, why can't he do his own work for Chrissakes?  Doesn't he know that I'm busy down here?  15% out of this fund will be for your compensation for doing this work of God. If he is going to ask me to build a goddamn ark, then I deserve a helluva lot more than 15%!  I found your email address from the internet and decided to contact you. Why not?  I'm as God fearing as the next asshole.  Please if you would be able to use these funds for the Lord's work, kindly reply me back with this email address; angela.jones02@hotmail.com Do you think the Lord wants me to work in Cambodia because if so, he better send more cash.  

Your Sister In The Lord.
Hang tight there, sista!  You gotta brother who will gladly shrink your purse.  
 
Mrs.angela jones.  Sincerely, DrPhil.  Love ya!  Oh, and God loves you too.  :) 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If you're eating in a restaurant ...

in Siem Reap, Cambodia and you made the choice to sit outside in the pub street alley, it's quite likely that a child will come along and beg for money.


Their stories are heartbreaking and it takes a strong heart to say no ...

But giving them money only keeps them begging and they likely won't even see any of the money anyway.

So, if you think you're life sucks, think of how lucky you were when you were nine.  You probably didn't have to wander the streets asking for a handout.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thought for the day

Living in Los Angeles is like attending a party that you haven't been invited to.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cambodia Dos and Don'ts


I've been to Cambodia four times now and I am DEFINITELY not an expert but I feel like I've had enough experiences around Siem Reap to at least be knowledgeable enough to share some insight.  It is a very complex country but a fascinating one and there is a lot to learn even for those world travelers who think they've seen it all.

So take this advice  ... or not.  Part of the complexity of Cambodia is that everyone has a different opinion on what to see, how to behave and how to help.

DOs
  • Buy a temple pass late in the afternoon (I believe the time is after 5pm).  You will be able to enter that evening for free and enjoy the pass on the subsequent days.  
  • Getting up at dawn to see Angkor Wat is definitely worth the effort.  The crowd is a lot of fun and the people watching is just as entertaining as seeing the sun come up over the iconic building.  Get there early and rent a red chair.
  • The only time to see the Bayon (the temple with the big heads) or Ta Prohm (the temple with the large trees) is either very early in the morning or last thing in the evening.  If you go during the other times, you will be swamped by large collections of Korean tourists who will take pictures of EVERYTHING.  
  • Go see Preah Khan.  This is a huge overlooked temple that is one of my favorites.  If you go when it is raining, you will think that you've entered another world.  
  • Buy a red wool "bracelet" from an old woman.  It will give you protection when you decide to climb up some of the steeper temples such as Ta Keo.  
  • If it's your first time in Cambodia, hire a tour guide.  They will give you some insight into the fascinating history of the temples and also show you the best places to capture that great photo.  
  • Drink from a fresh coconut.  Not only is it cheaper than a coke but it is much, much better for you if you're sweating your ... ahem, extremities off.  
  • Go enjoy pub street.  Yes, I know, it isn't very "Cambodian" but it sure is a lot of fun and there are some good restaurants (Tigre de Papier, Molly Malone's, Grand Cafe, Khmer Kitchen, Picasso's--not all technically on pub street but close enough).  
  • If you can find yourself a local to take you to a karaoke bar, it is well worth it.  These are private rooms and even bad singers can sound remarkably good.  You can have yourself a female escort for a couple of bucks an hour.  Leave with her and it will be more.  (Keep in mind, prostitution in Cambodia is illegal).  
  • Go see Apsara dancing.  Intricate steady movements make this an interesting spectacle to watch.  There are a couple of free shows in town but I saw one combined with a buffet and it was a lot of fun.  
  • Support the tuk-tuk drivers.  For $2 they will take you all over town.  For $10 to $15 you can have a private driver for the whole day.  
  • If you want to take a picture of a monk with their very photogenic orange robes, ask them first.  They are just like regular people and will enjoy practicing their English.  
  • Take your shoes off before you enter someone's home.  
  • If you would like to help Cambodia, support the organizations that are well established and have a good record.  Here's one that you should help out:  The Savong Foundation.  I'm the CEO so perhaps I'm a little biased.  
  • Take the side trips out to Banteay Srei (the incredible "women's temple"), Kbal Spean (with its carved river beds) and especially the sacred mountain of Phnom Kulen (the big waterfall is amazing!).
  • Check your money for any rips or tears.  In Cambodia, the main currency is American dollars and they won't take a damaged bill.  No one has ever explained to me why this is so.     
  • Buy yourself a local phone for about $20.  You can call your favorite tuk tuk driver to pick you up wherever you are.  

DON'Ts; 
  • Don't buy trinkets from the children.  Don't even give them money.  You're just turning them into beggars and giving their parent(s) an excuse for the children NOT to go to school. 
  • If a Cambodian shows up unexpectedly while you're trampling around a temple and offers some "tour guide" information, politely decline his company or else he will expect a tip when he decides he has spent enough time with you.  If a policeman does the same thing, don't be shocked; they hardly make any money and kind tourists are a good source of income.  
  • Don't drink the damn tap water.  Or even brush your teeth in it unless you like EBD (explosive butt disease).  
  • Don't play with the stray dogs.  They may look cute but they can also bite unexpectedly and I'll bet you a couple thousand Riel that they aren't vaccinated against rabies.  The same goes for monkeys who can harbour even more dangerous diseases.  
  • Don't be rude to the vendors who are walking around trying to sell you a scarf or a carving.  They are trying to make a living and won't appreciate being barked at like a dog.  
  • Don't go visit an "orphanage" just to see smiling kids and take pictures of them.  If you want to help, make sure the orphan center is legit (keep in mind that even the legit orphan centers don't always have orphans.  Many of them have parents.) and donate money directly to the organization in charge. 
  • Don't let the poverty get you down.  Cambodia is a developing country and needs a lot of help but things are slowly changing for the better.   
  • Don't expect that Cambodians do things the way we do.  They don't.  (This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn.)

So that's it.  I'm sure I'll think of more but I've got to go eat.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Winding down in Siem Reap

As you may have noticed (if you pay any attention to this blog), I have not posted lately.

There are two reasons for that:  I have been insanely busy trying to make some progress with the Savong Foundation and when I have some downtime, I prefer to sleep but also, I wrote a couple of posts on my phone which were promptly lost due to an app error.  Thank you Blogpress! 

One of my posts was about Cambodian Karaoke and I'll have to go back and re-write it since the experience was so unique.  But not tonight.  Maybe when I get back home which will be in about four days.

Of course the time here has gone by very quickly and quite frankly, it has been a roller coaster.  There are days when I think everything is going well and there are definitely days when I think everything is crashing around me.  Tonight I'm in a good mood because everything went well today.  We started the day early and bought a couple of more things for the student center but most of the day was spent interviewing the eight students (out of ten) who will call the center their home.

One by one, we talked to the students about their families, their experiences at the orphan center (where they previously lived), their school lives and their dreams for the future.  All of them want to go to university (three of them are there already) and they have big plans.  The opportunities that they have been given are so enormously appreciated.  If it weren't for the work of Savong (and his very extended network of donors), most of these kids would be leading very dead-end lives in very menial jobs.  I  am thrilled and excited to be a part of their journey.

But OH MY GOD, it has been challenging.  The Cambodian culture is very different from the one in which I grew up and it takes a complete mind bend to understand how they do some of the things they do.  This trip was all about getting information and really looking at things from a different perspective because to help a culture, you really need to understand it.  For example, in Western Society there would be no way that teenage boys would sleep together in one bed and so a dormitory in the United States would provide a bed for each teenager.  Over here, it's okay (and preferable?) for a couple of boys to sleep together so there is no need to buy extra beds because they will be wasted.   And getting the right answer over here depends on how you ask the question.  You WON'T get the information you need unless you phrase the question very carefully and even then, don't expect to find out everything.

But Cambodia is not the US and we can't expect them to do things OUR way.  Americans are in love with efficiency and organization and structure but Cambodia --well, they're not but that's okay.  We just have to bend with the wind if we want to continue working over here because banging our head against the wall is very bloody and really not at all productive.

So tonight, I'm sitting here listening to the sound of the tuk-tuks and the general hum of a very busy street outside my guesthouse.  Eddie and I don't have a lot of plans for tonight.  We may go to Picasso's which is a very American (or possibly British) style tapas bar down in the busy area of town known as Pub street.  For lunch, we had macerated chicken "porridge" from a street vendor (which may haunt me tomorrow when I see what comes out of my ass) so I don't feel too bad about having a little slice of home this evening. 

Cambodia--what a strange, wonderful, frustrating, sad and happy place.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday night in Siem Reap

It's not all about the temples and improving people's lives ...

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Samdech Tep Vong,Siem Reap,Cambodia

Lunch in Cambodia

When you order chicken in Cambodia, you get all the chicken including the damn feet.

We had lunch today in a hut overlooking a muddy river. I always take the safest route and I ordered noodles which are usually fail-safe. Eddie ordered roasted chicken so he shouldn't have been surprised when the amputated appendages arrived. They are apparently quite delicious but I wouldn't know--I'm just not that adventurous.

Of course I'm not going to miss out on a good photo-op!




I also refuse to eat tarantulas and other assorted insects which are also eaten in this country.

Eating pizza on pubstreet is sometimes as risky as I want to get.

Posted using BlogPress from
my iPhone

The crazy chaos of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today, I'm celebrating three days of solid bowel movements.  That's quite an accomplishment considering some of the crap that I've eaten since I first stepped on Cambodian soil a couple of days ago.

The flight from Los Angeles to Siem Reap went by much better than expected.  Korean Air has really great service and I feel far more comfortable flying half way across the world in one of their planes than flying in a cramped seat on one of our domestic airlines.  And Korean Air has really hot fly attendants--I think it is a job requirement to look really pretty in a tight fitting size O dress.  Safety is my biggest priority, of course, and I made it into Cambodia in one piece.  Very tired after 18 hours of flying but very safe.

The day doesn't begin slowly and easily in Siem Reap, it gets ripped wide open.  I woke up the first morning to the sound of honking cars, screaming kids and barking dogs.  My friend and I are staying at the Seven Candles Guesthouse (where we have stayed for the past three visits) and it's always a treat to stay with Ponheary Ly and her gracious family.  There are plenty of places to stay in this town but my vote goes to this guesthouse where you feel like you're a relative visiting from out of town.  Four generations of Ponheary's family live in this house and you will not be disappointed by the warm and friendly ambience.  The location is on Wat Bo road providing easy access to the downtown area.  Give a tuktuk driver a buck or so and you'll be there in a couple of minutes.  As an added bonus, if you stay at the Seven Candles, you are helping to support a very worthwhile charity called the Ponheary Ly Foundation (organized by Lori Carlson, an American) which provides clothes and supplies to children so that they can attend school.  And school is the answer--at least that is what their tshirt says.

But did I mention that there is another charity that needs support?  The Savong Foundation???

The main reason why I'm here is to do work for my charity, the aforementioned Savong Foundation (www.savongfoundation.org).  Today, we met with our fearless leader, Savong, and discussed some of the plan for the coming two weeks.  There is sooooo much I would like to accomplish that I worry that I won't get everything done .... but I'm optimistic at this point.  The main focus will be to see what is needed to get the Savong Student Center up and running.  This is a home for the older children so that they can attend a better school in Siem Reap.  Unfortunately, we are short on the funds needed to get this project completed (the building is there but the students aren't) so a lot of our discussions will be about the cost of ongoing support and how we can raise the necessary funds.  Savong has accomplished an incredible amount so far so I have no doubt our collaborative efforts will eventually result in success.

And now, the sun is getting lower in the sky.  It's a beautiful sunset once again (similar to the one I witnessed on top of the Pre Rup temple last evening) and I'm already thinking about what's on the dinner menu for tonight.  I'm listening to the hum of the trucks and the cars outside--the noise hasn't really died down yet--and the air is cool and comfortable.  It's going to be a good night.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cambodia #4

And so I return to Cambodia for the fourth time in three years.


This visit is not just a vacation; I'm doing work for my foundation (http://www.savongfoundation.org) and checking on a lot of projects.  We're trying to open up a new student center and I want to check on the progress of the medical clinic.  November is a great time to go.  The floods have receded--at least where I'm going--and the weather is tolerable.  I'm really looking forward to the visit.  There are a lot of things I hope to accomplish and it will be so exciting to see all the people that I haven't seen for a year.  

I leave next Sunday.  The flight is tough and there is a long layover in Seoul.  The following Wednesday, if all goes well, I'll wake up to the chaos and confusion of Siem Reap, located in the northern part of Cambodia.  I'll be staying at the Seven Candles Guesthouse which is a home away from home.    

As I get ready for my trip, I'm reading a fascinating book about the modern history of Cambodia.  It's called Cambodia's Curse and is written by Joel Brinkley. If you have even the slightest curiosity about this exotic country, you need to read this book.  It tells of the the problems that this country faces, mostly caused by a corrupt government and the horrific stories will definitely make you appreciate the values of democracy.  It's tragic how much the Cambodian people have suffered and will continue to suffer.  With this in mind, I feel that if I can make a few of their lives a little better through the work that I do, then I can feel better about the relative luxuries that surround me each day.

In the introduction of this book, there is a quote by Joseph Mussomeli, the past ambassador to Cambodia.  "Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit.  You will fall in love with it, and eventually it will break your heart."

True words?  I've yet to find out ...

But for now, I'm still in the honeymoon stage.

If you would like to like to donate towards our projects, please see our razoo page.  We appreciate any donation that we receive and it is work like ours that truly helps the Cambodian people at a grassroots level.

 http://www.razoo.com/story/Savongfoundation

Thanks!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Cult of Islam?

I think I have an open mind.     
    
I’ve travelled through Asia, Europe and North America.  I’ve met people from a variety of different cultures.  I ENJOY learning about the differences that separate us and the similarities that make us human.  And even though I was raised in a Presbyterian family, I feel that if you believe in a different God or Entity, then you have every right to do so.    

But lately, there has been something that has been bothering me.   Despite my boasts about having a worldly point of view, I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around a certain subject.  And that subject is Islam. 

I just don’t get it. 

Let me give you a current example.  If you read CNN.com or pay attention to Human Rights Watch, you may have heard the story about the Christian Pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, who has been sentenced to hang for the crime of Apostasy.   If you’re not familiar with Apostasy, it is basically giving up Islam for another religion and in this case, it is Christianity.  If this is the type of punishment that Muslims give to each other for leaving their faith behind, then it pretty much guarantees that there won’t be a lot of defectors to a more benevolent religion.  And if Islam is using this type of psychological control to keep the herd in control, then how can this be described as a religion?  Sounds to me like more of a cult. 

I realize that these are inflammatory statements and I would GLADLY like to be proven ignorant by someone who knows a lot more about religions that what I do.  But don’t tell me that these punishments are handed down by extremists unless you are going to tell me that the whole nation of Iran is extreme.  And don’t tell me that nobody dies from Apostasy anymore because even the threat of it is ridiculous to me.  And if you tell me that Yousef knew what was going to happen and deserves his punishment, then we have nothing more to say to each other. 

Why isn’t the whole country of Iran up in arms about this sentence?  Why would they let this guy be condemned to death for his beliefs?  Geez, in the United States we debate about whether we should execute criminals who go on a human shooting spree in a mall and take out twenty lives.  I suppose it boils down to a degree of tolerance and it doesn’t seem like there is any with Islam. 

Islam has been getting a lot of bad press lately and maybe outsiders shouldn’t even try to understand it.  Maybe we should just accept that we can’t understand it and let it go.  Or maybe (here’s a suggestion), the leaders of Islam in this country should do a much better job about educating Westerners about their beliefs.  Right now, I bet if you ask a lot of Americans the difference between Muslims and terrorists, you’re going to get a lot of blank stares.  And whose fault is that?  The Muslim community, plain and simple.  The outcry over the Islamic Center near the previous site of the twin towers reinforces how little Americans know about this religion.  Americans fear what we don’t know and as a country, we sometimes know very little. 

I hope the international community doesn’t forget about Yousef Nadarkhani.  I realize that in every religion, there can be extremes of interpretation, but no one deserves to die for something as peaceful as a belief in a different God.  



And on that issue, I definitely have a closed mind.      

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Self-portrait

Just in time for Halloween!



WORST MOVIE SMACKDOWN

There seems to be some debate over what is the WORST MOVIE of all time.  Of course, I’m not talking about those awful low budget student productions which are so bad, they’re just bad.  I’m talking about the movies which are soooooo bad, they’re really really good.   And we have two contenders.

In one corner, we have The Room (2003).  This is Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece which deals with the passion and the pain of a modern romance that ends in tragedy.  With scenes that go nowhere, transitions that leave you scratching your head, actors who don’t understand the concept of subtlety and some very icky sex scenes, NOT TO MENTION a lead actor who looks like a long-haired Quasimodo, The Room has all the right ingredients to make something so wrong. 

But equally fierce, I would like to present you with Troll 2 (1990) which has a cast of vegetarian goblins who make unsuspecting visitors eat green food so that they turn into plants.  In this movie, we learn that a kick in the groin can make you into a “homo” and coffee is the “devil’s drink”.  The most frightening aspect of this movie is that the director found money and people to make this disaster. 

As far as I know, both movies were meant to be serious movies.  The Room was meant to be a drama and Troll 2 was apparently meant to be terrifying.  But that’s what makes them great WORST MOVIES.  If the directors had tried to make them as bad as they turned out to be, they never would have been as good.  Or as bad.  Which is good. 

I think. 

But only one movie can be the WORST MOVIE so I took a very analytical approach to come up with a winner.  I’ve compared these two movies with regards to the common goods we look for in our so-bad-they’re-good movies.

Here are the results:   

Gratuitous sex and nudity:  The Room gets off to a banging start with a scene that looks and sounds like a 70s porno.  There is soft music, a red rose, weird moans and entangled limbs all shot through the gauzy filter of the bed’s canopy.  And did I mention there is butt clenching?  Yes, my friends, there is MALE BUTT CLENCHING that just doesn’t stop.  At least, it didn’t seem to stop.  This scene is repeated a couple of times throughout the movie and it doesn’t get any more tolerable by the third time.

I don’t recall if there is any nudity in Troll 2 but they probably would have had to pay the actors more if there had been a nipple shot so they probably avoided it.  They do, however, have a sex scene which is just about the weirdest sex scene I have ever seen in my life.  It involves corn and popcorn and well, you just have to see it because I’m not sure if I could describe it.  I have no idea what the popcorn had to do with anything except perhaps to remind audiences that they should buy more concessions or take a bathroom break. 

The Room gets the edge.  Did I mention the butt clenching?  Ugggghhhhhh ….

Catchy One –Liners:  The Room has got so many great one-liners that you can purchase a bobble-headed doll of Tommy Wiseau that spouts them out.  My co-worker has one and this is how I was first acquainted with the movie.  Here are some of my favorites …

“I’m fed up with this world!”

“Don’t touch me mothafucka!” 

“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” 

“The candles, the music, the sexy dress. I mean, what's going on here?”

By themselves, these quotes may not sound like much but you have to hear them with the main character’s voice which is a cross, in my humble opinion, between a Jersey accent and an Eastern European trash accent.  Yep, it’s as bad as you might imagine.  Who sounds like this?  Okay, you’re right.  I guess Tommy Wiseau does and who the hell knows where he grew up. 

Troll 2 also has its fair share of great one-liners. 

“I’m the victim of a nocturnal rapture.  I have to release my lowest instincts with a woman.” 

“Grandpa!  Are you really in hell?” 

“And you can’t piss on hospitality!  I WON’T ALLOW IT!” 

“Joshua is not a little shit; he’s just very sensitive.” 

I’m gonna go with Troll 2.  Although The Room has some great lines and there are bonus points for the obnoxious accent with which they are delivered, there seems to be more variety and bite with Troll 2. 

Awful Acting:  You can’t have the one-liners if you don’t have the atrocious delivery.  Tommy Wiseau is just plain dreadful as the lead character in The Room.  When I was watching him, I got the feeling that a dog turd would have more emotional range.  When he actually tries to emote, it comes off as hysterically funny such as when he has a breakdown at the end of the movie.  He lets out these loud groans which sound like he has a bad hairball caught in his throat and then he trashes his apartment like an enraged Frankenstein.  He is supported by an equally awful cast.  The actress who played Lisa should get an annual razzie for her portrayal of the cheating girlfriend and her mother who “definitely has breast cancer” spits out her monologues as if she is reading off a teleprompter.  I pity the guy who played Mark (Greg Sestero) who probably regrets ever being credited in this disaster. 

Troll 2 has a uniformly horrible cast.  From the overzealous dad who takes his family to a town inhabited by Goblins to the grandpa who has the creepiest pedophile grin I’ve ever seen in a movie, there is not one redeeming actor in the bunch.  All the lines are delivered in an inappropriate way and a special mention should go to the wicked witchy lady who has never met a piece of dialogue that she didn’t want to punctuate with crazy eyes and weird smiles.  Thankfully, most of these actors realized that they shouldn’t give up their day jobs.  At the screening of Troll 2, George Hardy (who played the dad) was there and he is now a dentist in Alabama.  Good choice, George. 

I’m gonna give the nod to Troll 2.  Tommy Wiseau is in a league all of his own but as an ensemble, Troll 2 should get the award.
 
Outrageous Plot: The Room is really a very simple movie and without the bad acting, the unrealistic dialogue, the heaving body parts, it is quite boring.  It’s about a girl who doesn’t love her boyfriend anymore so she decides to sleep with his best friend.  The boyfriend finds out about her cheatin’ ways and he *SPOILER ALERT* blows his head off in slow motion.  Everyone is sad and that’s the end.

Troll 2 is just completely f*#@ng nuts.  It’s about a family who goes on a vacation to Nilbog which is a town that is full of goblins.  Not trolls but goblins.   (The reality is that there aren’t any Trolls in Troll 2).  *SPOILER ALERT*  These goblins are vegetarian so they turn people into plants and then eat them.  How great is that?!  I’ll give them points for such a gruesome storyline because after all, I would not want to be turned into foliage and then have my extremities munched on by a bunch of ripened dwarfs.  That is a little terrifying when you think about it.  But then it gets better.  How do you kill these things?  You use a Bologna sandwich which has CHOLESTEROL and TOXINS! 

There is no way that The Room can compete with the madness in Troll 2.  And that Bologna sandwich is a huge plot twist that I didn’t see coming AT ALL.  Kudos to the monsters. 

It’s pretty close.  Both The Room and Troll 2 raise bad moviemaking to a fine art form and I congratulate both of them for their twisted endeavors.  But, like in all those award shows, a winner must be chosen and so, for the WORST MOVIE, I choose ….

Troll 2.  It does everything right … er, I mean wrong.

 And for that, I am thankful.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Chinatown of Los Angeles

I've been to the Chinatowns in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and my favourite so far has been the one in New York.

I was there about twenty years ago and I made the trek because I wanted to see the chicken who could play tic-tac-toe.  Apparently no one could beat this damn chicken so of course, I wanted to see just how smart this feathered beast was.  Just as I was about to enter the building where the chicken held court, I literally chickened out.  I can't remember why I turned away.  I think it was because I felt like the chicken was being abused in some way despite the fact that it was rewarded with food each time it won a game.  Apparently, I didn't want to be a part of some weird animal torture.

So I never met the chicken that played tic-tac-toe.

But the New York Chinatown was very impressive and I still have the silver Buddha I bought there.

The Chinatown in Los Angeles is situated in the downtown area.  It's a fairly small area and seems very practical--not overly welcoming to tourists unless you take some time to explore all the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood.  But it is worth a visit even if you're time is limited and you're tired of driving by big houses where the moviestars live.

Here are some photos of my recent visit ...








Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Photoshop Fun

I'm still learning photoshop and while I'm having a lot of fun, there are some art casualties along the way.

Such as the example below.  

I'm not sure what I had in mind.  I was trying out some layer and brush techniques and ended up with something that could be called SciFi Vomit.  

But I just didn't have the heart to delete it.

Even the ugly babies I create deserve some love.  


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Twelve reasons why the Apocalypse is upon us

  •     Someone's definition of a star is Rob Kardashian
  •     Killers can be set free if they have a smart lawyer and a dumb jury
  •    The latest Transformers movie made over $350 million at the domestic box office
  •     DrPhil thinks he is qualified to give weight loss advice
  •   Charlie Sheen is $100 million dollars richer just because he is an asshole
  •  The Learning Channel can show toddlers wearing hooker outfits and fake breasts and isn’t immediately shut down
  • There are still people who believe that Sarah Palin should run for President
  •  PETA is using porn to promote their message
  • The United States can’t afford to wage any more wars yet they do it anyway
  • An assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University is telling parents not to let their kids watch Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars because it might cause them to question their own sexual identity 
  • Michelle Bachmann was born
And the number one reason why the Apocalypse is upon us:  
  •  They still haven’t told us whether the iPhone 5 is being released or even if it’s going to be called the iPhone 5

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Canals of Venice

Nope, not THAT Venice.

There is another Venice which you might not be familiar with if you've never been to California.

Venice, Los Angeles is a funky beach community which has a great boardwalk where you can buy art or incense or jewelry from homeless-looking "artists".  It is one of my favorite places in LA to hang out if I have a lazy afternoon to spare.

But there is a reason, of course, why Venice is called Venice.  Back in 1905, a developer named Abbot Kinney wanted to recreate the look and feel of Venice, Italy so he designed a community with bridges and canals.  After a couple of decades, the area fell apart and it wasn't until the early 90s that the subdivision was renovated and restored.

Now it is a very desirable and upscale neighborhood and from the pictures below, I think you'll see why.

The houses are all very unique and they are well maintained.

And where else in Los Angeles can you step outside your front door and go for a canoe ride?

It's a cool area to check out if you're in the neighborhood.  The real Venice, it isn't.  But c'mon, nothing is real in LA anyway.





Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jumping on the bandwagon

I've resisted it for a long time but I've finally given in ...

Yes, I've joined the twittosphere.

For better or for worse.

You can read my tweets over in the right hand corner of this blog.  I've come to the conclusion that I have far more questions than answers so I'm just going to be posting questions.  Mostly stupid questions but questions all the same.

And I've decided to give my popsites blog a rest.  www.popsites.blogspot.com  I really liked doing this blog which was about filming and music locations in Los Angeles but each post took too much time to do.  I may start it up again at a later date but for now, I will be sadly letting it cover up with dust.

So for these people drifting on by, I hope you find something interesting in all the ramblings.  And if you have any interest in charity work and/or Cambodia, please check out my facebook page at www.facebook.com/savongfoundation.

Thanks!

Phil

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Big $10 Fundraiser

Five years ago, I never would have guessed that I would be so involved in a country very, very far away from home.  

But Cambodia is a magical country and I have no regrets about starting a foundation which helps the people who live there.  

The Savong Foundation was officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) registered US charity on May 4, 2011.  Its mission is to support the Savong School (which teaches English, Japanese and Korean to over 600 students at no charge), the Savong Orphan Center (home to about 35 children) and the medical clinic (which sees about 30 patients from the surrounding community at no charge).  These are great projects and I'm very pleased that we are just about to embark upon another ...

The Savong Student Center

This center will allow the older students from the Savong Orphan Center to attend a better school in Siem Reap.  It hasn't opened yet because we are still waiting to get the financing in place.  

And this is where you can help.  

I've started the Big $10 Fundraiser for the Savong Student Center.  100% of the donations will go towards the center and with all the support that is out there, we hope to raise $3000 to fund the center well into the future.

For me, fundraising is a tough business because I HATE asking people for money.  I remember when I was a teenager spending some time in England and back in those days, the hostels charged 5 pounds for a night.  My friend and I completely ran out of money--and I mean completely--and those were the days before ATMs and neither of us had a credit card.  We met a girl at the hostel and very painfully, we asked her to loan us the money to stay one more night.  She was so kind and didn't hesitate to help us out but an hour later, we gave her back the money.  We just couldn't keep it.  Instead we decided to sleep in a leek field and hitchhiked back to London (which took us a day) so that my dad could wire us some money to an international bank.  

But I am passionate about this cause so that's why I'm asking for your help.  And I'm only asking for $10 a person which is about the cost of two coffees in LA.  

Here is the link for more information:  


And please follow our progress on facebook:  


Online fundraising for The Big $10 Fundraiser for the Savong Student Center


Thanks for your support!  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Computer problems ...

I've been away for a while.  Or more accurately, my computer has been away for a while and all these troubles have caused me to feel like this:


A little upside down with one eye bigger than the other against a psychedelic background.  Yup, that pretty much sums up how I felt last week when my computer crashed for the SECOND time.

After the first time, it worked briefly --about five days-- and I really thought that it was well on the path to recovery.  Sadly, it was just a brief hiccup before a complete flat-line and no matter how hard I tried, how much I swore, how much research I did on the resuscitation of hard drives, there was nothing I could do to bring the dead back to life.

Thankfully, I did a pretty good job at backing up all my important data but for several days, I really wondered how much I had lost.  And it really pissed me off that, in the year 2011, I couldn't perform a couple of keyboard strokes and bring everything magically back.  Heck, we're supposed to be living on the moon by now!  We can't even build computers that automatically fix themselves?

I'll tell ya, trying to get a hard drive back to working order is no easy task, and in my case, it was impossible.  And here are the things that drove me a little crazy ..
  • I bought a computer for a couple thousand dollars and they didn't bother to include a restore disk in case the hard drive did crash.  I had to download it from another site and they charged me $10. The money was not the issue.  
  • In order for the restore disk to work, you have to have a hard drive that is at least semi-functional.  If the hard drive is really messed up, forget using the restore disk. 
  • there is SO much misinformation out there about trying to restore a hard drive.  I don't know if the computer help forums are full of 16 year olds who have just taken their first computer course but it sure seemed like it based on the quality of the advice that was dished out.  
  • Computers don't care about tears and/or begging.  Even God was indifferent.  
  • The blue screen of death caused me so much anxiety that I hated to walk outdoors in the California summer and see the blue sky. 
  • After admitting defeat, I called up India (oh, I mean Dell) and they were more than happy to order me a new hard drive and Windows 7.  After a couple of days, I didn't get a confirmation email.  I called them up and they had no record of my order or the conversation that I had with the customer service rep.  They asked for the order numbers and of course, I didn't have them.  Who writes down those things anyway?   I hung up the phone and marched my ass down to Staples where I bought them over the counter.  I still haven't received anything from Dell.  
  • I asked the Staples dude how much it would cost for him to install Windows.  He told me $100.  $100 to install SOFTWARE!  I guess they expect you to bend over and take it too.  
  • Installing a hard drive isn't as easy as you might think.  For about an hour, I tried to get the damn thing to work until I realized that I hadn't taken the adaptor part on the old hard drive and placed it on the new one.  Jamming computer parts together is not a solution.  It makes you feel better but it isn't a solution.  
  • Windows 7 is fairly easy to install--but the instructions are COMPLETELY useless.  Basically, the booklet says, "Put the disk into the drive and you're there".  You might be somewhere but you're definitely not there.  32 bit?  64 bit?  Partitions?  What the hell?  How is a lay person supposed to know this crap.  $100 suddenly seemed reasonable.  I could almost hear the Staples clerk laughing to himself a couple of miles away.  
But AMAZINGLY enough, my hard drive works and Windows 7 works and so far, everything is good. And I did it myself.  So screw Dell and Windows and Staples and all those 16 year old computer geeks who think that just because they know how to play HALO, they know how to fix a hard drive.   

So, I'm back to spending hours in front of my computer again.  

Maybe I should have just thrown it all away and gone back to a more simple time.  Who needs facebook anyway?  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Computer crashes and other adventures

I remember reading somewhere that there are three major stressors that one can go through in life ...

Death of a loved one
Divorce
Loss of a job

I would like to add another to the list.

Death of a hard drive.

There is nothing worse that seeing the blue screen of death pop up unexpectedly after booting up.  Now I fully realize that this is a problem unique to first world countries because, for example, people in Somalia  don't have the same fear about electronic devices.  They don't have electronic devices.  And if they did, they would probably try to eat them.  

But it doesn't diminish the problem when it happens to ME.  And it DID.  And I FREAKED OUT and went into serious depression.   Yes, I did have a backup but I wasn't entirely sure that everything was saved and if you have ever had a hard drive go down, you know what kind of a headache it can be loading everything back into your exorcised computer.  It's just a royal pain in the ass.

It took me a couple of days to figure out what to do.  And if anyone is reading this with the same problem (and you're using vista), you have to download a "rescue disk" (because the idiots who sold you the computer are trying to save $.50 by not including it in your start-up kit) and use that as a boot disk.  Unless your hard drive is really toasted, then that should work.  And thankfully, it did with me.

So now I can post pictures of my recent trip to southwestern Ontario where I grew up.  That's Canada, eh and not Ontario, California.  We have a cottage on a lake which on a good day is post-card perfect.

Here it is, Lake Belwood.






This is what constitutes a tourist attraction in southwestern Ontario.  The "kissing bridge" in West Montrose.



The farmer's market where the Mennonites sell their produce.  Hmmm, corn and tomatoes that don't taste like cardboard!


The town of Elora with the Grand river running through it.  


I just happened to be there on a day when there were flower reflections in the water.  Doesn't happen very often but sometimes I get lucky.  



This animal was seen during our trip to Collingwood which is on the southern point of Georgian bay.  Not sure what he is.  An otter?  I'm a veterinarian.  Maybe I should know these things.  


My dad doing some water skiing.  Pretty amazing for a guy who is in his 70s.  


And the beautiful canoe trip down the Grand river.  It doesn't look as idyllic as it appears.  Most of the time you tip over or hit rocks or get attacked by other canoeists.  Only the brave survive.  


This part of Canada is a very beautiful place.  Sadly (for me anyway), it will all turn grey and cold in another two months.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A new orphan center!

There is a new building going up in Cambodia and it's our new orphan center.

But the children aren't *technically* orphans. They are older kids who come from very poor backgrounds and who will get the opportunity to attend a school in the nearby town. The center will give them a place to stay and study.

So we need a great new name for the center ...

Check out our facebook page and place your vote!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

a little weirdness for today

There is a large sign that I walk by almost every day and I haven't quite figured it out ...

There are two women, half a man and a bulldog bathed in spotlights.  The man is in the lower part of the picture and he doesn't look very happy about it.  I'm guessing from the suit that he works in a bank that isn't doing very well.  Or maybe he's upset because he doesn't have any feet.

The women, on the other hand, seem quite content.  Perhaps they are pleased that they are in the superior position and there is half a man below them.  Perhaps they had something to do with that arrangement.     Female power at its most provocative.

And then the bulldog with the big smile.  It's fat and has no reason to be happy because it's probably suffering from the usual long list of medical problems that bulldogs suffer from.   It is smiling through the pain.  It probably has a name like Brutus and likes to attack other dogs.

It's weird.  I know.  I really can't figure it out.


But if you think that one is weird, take a look at this one ...


"Grandpa, can you come over while I yell at my lover's crotch?"

"Sure, hon.  Should we all get naked?"

"Sounds great.  See you in a few."

This was taken a couple of years ago when I was in Amsterdam.  I have NO idea what this sign is trying to convey but it did leave a lasting impression.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The end is near and it's not about Harry Potter

For those people who don't live in LA, you may not care.

But for those people who do, we have the equivalent of a nuclear blast coming our way and it is commonly known as  ...

CARMAGEDDON!!!

The 405 freeway will be shut down for a couple of days while they take apart a bridge for a roadway widening project.  This means that half a million cars will have to be diverted each day and it will be fun, fun, fun!

Everyone knows that the public transportation system in LA is a joke so that's not an option.

And walking anywhere in this city is illegal so that's out.

Riding a horse just isn't practical for a couple of days.  Neither is renting a plane.

So, my fellow Angelenos, we're going to have to tough it out in our cars.  I hope the good Lord blesses us with some great radio stations and a helluva lot of patience because we're gonna need it.

And we'll also need some alternate routes besides the 405.  Let's just say you wanted to go from North Hollywood to Santa Monica for work.  This is the road that you probably would take, highlighted in purple.


But while CARMAGEDDON  is going on, I suggest the route highlighted in red.  


Just tell your boss you'll be a little late.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Point Mugu in Malibu

There is some beautiful hiking to be done on the coast of Los Angeles, near Malibu.

Today I was at Point Mugu State Park and it was an incredible day.  With beauty like this, it's no wonder that we pay such high taxes for living here.

The hike took about two hours round trip.  The trailhead is at the Sycamore Canyon campsite.




Sometimes you just get lucky and get to snap a photo like this.