Saturday, July 23, 2011

Manama, Bahrain

Dear Bahrain,

There's no use having a 3000 sq ft of duty free stores if you don't have any ATM machines.

Mr. Too Cool To Carry Cash

Last week we were frolicking at the beach in the south of France when someone broke into my friend's apartment where I was crashing, and stole a whole bunch of stuff including my perfume (so if you see some scruffy, barely literate person walking around the south of France smelling so good, you know you've found the thief). So now I'm walking around unscented and have the smell of 9 hours on an airplane on me. That's when I thought I should buy a new perfume. So I asked the guy at the airport info point where the nearest ATM machine was. His infuriating answer was, "We used to have 4 machines. Now we have none."

It was as if someone told me Starbucks stopped selling coffee. It makes zero sense.

"So how are people supposed to purchase stuff from your humongous duty free store?" I asked, annoyed.

"They go to the money changer and get themselves all the dinars they need," he said with a smirk.

This is one of the drawbacks of relying too much on your credit card. When you're in a foreign country where ATM machines are scarce (even at the airport WTF??) and stores don't accept credit cards, you don't know what to do. I scraped my bag for every piece of euro notes and coins that I had, and in the end I managed to get the money changer to give me 7 Bahrain dinars which is just enough to get me 2 hot dogs, a Sprite and fries at JASMI'S, the local fast food chain.

Bahrain is an oven. I've been to Dubai, Qatar and Jordan and I know how hot it is on this side of the world. But that doesn't mean I'm used to it. We're in the middle of summer but it was still 15°-20° in Paris when I left France, so I'm not really used to practically having the sun breathing on my back. Taxi drivers here (like taxi drivers everywhere) are big cheats. The trick of the trade is to appear nonchalant when hailing a taxi, and act like you know Manama (the capital city) like the back of your hand. That's what I did, and I was charged 4 dinars to get to the city centre.

Okay need to look for power source for my computer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Impending Death of 3D Movies

Let's talk movies.

This year has been very disappointing, movie-wise. I saw Bad Teacher last week and it sucked. Well, granted, I saw the Spanish-dubbed version because I was in Valencia so I didn't get all the jokes but even then, I could still see that the film sucked ass. As for Justin Timberlake, he's as good an actor as David Hasselhoff is a singer, and that's NOT a compliment. Moral of the story is: Stick to what you do best (not that David Hasselhoff is an excellent actor, but for Hollywood, he's tolerable).

Then again, Justin Timberlake is still lightyears better than Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in the latest Harry Potter. Yes folks, I watched the last installment of the Harry Potter series for the sole reason that someone literally dragged me to the movies, paid for my ticket and forced me to watch it. I fell asleep for 15 minutes before waking up, more determined than ever to understand the Harry Potter hype once and for all. I remember sitting through the first movie and telling myself that Emma Watson was really cute, but she had no clue about acting. During the last movie, I still thought she was cute (maybe even 'hot', now that she's no longer a minor) and her voice has matured, but she's still as stiff as a morning wood. It's surprising to see Daniel Radcliffe still struggling to be convincing as an actor, because he's done Broadway, and Broadway is the birthplace of excellent thespians. As for the ginger one who plays Ron, I think he did okay. And Ralph Fiennes is great as Voldemort, but then again he's always been great so no surprise there. And the film itself? Personally I think it's shitty. Well, I might not be in the position to judge because I've never read the book and I don't know what the hell they were running around, fighting gargoyles, chasing dragons, lashing out stupid Latin terms at strange looking creatures for. But I do know that the film wasn't as good as it should have been, because a friend of mine who's possibly the most gigantic Harry Potter fan (the one responsible for dragging me to the movies) said so.

And I still think 3D movies are a rip off. I strongly believe the novelty of 3D movies has worn off and in all honesty, we can all do away with those 3D glasses. It gives me headache, and it's not all that magical.


I was browsing through the magazine section of a Relay store at a Parisian railway station, thinking I should probably start reading more printed newspaper and magazines. I've always read books and novels on the train, but sometimes it bores me. Yes, I do get bored with books sometimes, especially if the book I had intended to read through the whole journey turned out to be crappy and I've no other reading materials.

I had forgotten how many magazines there are in circulation today. And at any Parisian train stations, given the number of tourists, they always have a whole section dedicated to foreign publications. I was spoilt for choice. I remembered buying a lot of magazines as a kid, and everytime I went to the bookstore I would feel like I was already in the future because in the beginning of June, you can already buy the July issue of any magazine. Now somehow, I felt weird browsing through the magazines. It's like I was revisiting an old hobby.

It's funny how at the forefront of the store they always put the trashy magazines, with headlines ranging from "Which D-list celebrity cheated on her E-list celebrity husband" to "How To Intensify Your Orgasm". And women flock to these magazines like moths to flames. I'm not judging these women because you don't need an intellectual read for a 2-hour train ride. And these magazines cost a mere 1 euro, and with the amount of who-cares crap you can know about your favourite TV star, it's actually value for your money.

And for the guys, they had all kinds of themed magazines, and it's surprising how specific these themes can be. You have "Sports Cars" or "Headphones" or "English Premier League" or "The iPad Magazine" or "Speakers" or "The Hunting Digest" or "The Fisherman's Digest" or even maybe "The Hammer Magazine". You name a masculine tool, I can show you an entire magazine dedicated to it. My knowledge of hammers is limited to "they drive nails into things", and that's about it. So I wonder if these magazines are issued every month because with almost 200 pages per issue, this must mean that there's a HUGE SHITLOAD of things I don't know about hammers. Or maybe hammers have a kinky lifestyle of their own in a parallel universe that you can only discover by buying the magazine. I, for one, don't care about hammers all that much so no thank you.

Since I had a 10-hour train ride, I needed something insightful, with varied topics, not too heavy (like Business Week), not too trashy, not too adult but not too young. And most importantly, not too expensive (all the imported magazines cost quite a penny). After much deliberation, surprisingly I chose GQ France. In other countries, GQ is the magazine with topless women on the cover, and it covers topics like "How To Get Her Off In 10 Steps". But to my surprise, in France they've chosen a completely different route, a lot classier and a lot more French. They put the legendary footballer Michel Platini on the cover and they talk about sportsmen, about stars fallen from grace like Mel Gibson, they interview female politicians and ask them about their lives in a male-dominated world, they had a geography section where they discuss Namibia, they have articles on obscure French cologne brands. They have French footballer Florent Malouda posing for the fashion spreads, making it appealing to the mostly male readers because, although they're not homophobic, seeing effeminate men modelling men clothes doesn't really speak to them.

And it cost 3.50€. So I bought it, and after a 10-hour train ride to the south of France, I reckoned it was a good choice.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Napoleon Dynamite: Story of My Life

Someone told me I should loosen up and stop being the nerdiest, most boring person ever.

Let's see. Every day, at 6.05pm without fail, I'll be in front of my TV to watch Questions Pour Un Champion, a French general knowledge quiz show akin to the American Jeopardy. I even registered myself on their website to be a contestant. Earlier this year, the production came to my town and invited me to participate in the preliminary test comprising of 50 very difficult, random general knowledge questions encompassing themes from science, mathematics, mythology, art, literature, cinema, gastronomy, music, history and everything in between. I got 13 answers right, but I needed at least 20 to qualify for the second round. And I was the only person in the room who knew the answer to "What is the name of an energy center in tantra?", the answer being "chakra". I was quite disappointed for not making the next round, but I was still quite proud of myself for being one of the youngest participants that day and the only non-French in the room.

I spend my days reading books or surfing the net just reading trivial stuff. My favourite Internet-related pastime is clicking on a random Wiki page and just keep on clicking on subsequent interesting links I see on each page, just reading away. Since I was young, I love committing silly little facts to memory for no reason.

As much as I say I hate computer-related stuff, I can get very easily engrossed in computer programming. I remember spending 3 straight days of April in front of my PC building a math program using C language. To do this, I had to construct algorithms from scratch and by the end, I had almost 15 pages of algorithms consisting of mathematical equations transformed into loops. Programming is all about the maths. I told everyone it was hell, but actually I secretly enjoyed it because after all the debugging was done, I had a beautiful, flawlessly functioning program that allows people to solve complicated matrix problems like a boss. And as much as I hate computer-related stuff, I managed to repair my old computer quite a number of times on my own, and it worked great for 5 years.

I like watching old movies, all the way back to the silent era. I have a huge collection of them, and my friends used to call my external hard disk "the hard disk of death" because according to them, just browsing through the list of films I had made them want to hang themselves. I organize my movie collection based on the genre, then the year of release, and then the director. In two weeks, I'll be attending a Stanley Kubrick retrospective held by a small movie theatre in my town.

I love museums. I can spend hours just looking at one painting. I studied about art movements. I read extensively on impressionism. I love Claude Monet, and one of my biggest dreams is to go to the MoMA in New York.

I love philosophy and can talk for hours about Jean Paul Sartre.

Most of all, I'm finishing my master's degree in Mechanical Engineering, and I'm fascinated by fluid mechanics.

So in short, yes, I am the most boring, nerdiest person in the world, and I'm actually proud of it. What's wrong with being a nerd anyway? A couple of years ago I tried to be one of the cool guys, but I felt like I fell short.

Being cool is awesome. Everyone adores you and wants to be like you, but at the end of the day all that pretense wears you down and all you want to do is just be yourself and do the things you really like no matter what people say.

Since I was a little boy I've never been one of the cool kids. Even in my family I've always stood out as the nerdy bespectacled boy (I'm the only one of my siblings to wear glasses). So I don't see why I should start caring about being the cool kid now. If being a nerd means being ambitious, having goals and a passion in life, then please God let me be the biggest nerd out there.

So to all the nerds out there, don't let the cool people bring you down. Do what makes you the happiest. If people slag you off for being a nerd, just remember that Jim Parson, the actor from The Big Bang Theory, is one of the highest paid actors on TV right now for playing Sheldon Cooper, the most humongous nerd of all time. So who's cool now, eh?