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January 2007 Archives

January 1, 2007

Another Circle Around The Sun


I made it down to the harborside last night to see the two fireworks shows--one at 9 p.m. for the little kids and the big one at midnight. I managed to make my way to the east side of Circular Quay after navigating a sea of humanity (think The Who concert, Cincinnati, 1979) for a spectacular view of the Harbour Bridge pyrotechnics. It's the 75th anniversary of the bridge, thus the diamond-shaped lights in the middle of the structure.

I am 14 hours ahead of the East Coast U.S. time zone, so this was my earliest New Year's celebration ever!

Song Of The Day #1

A bit obvious, perhaps: "New Year's Day" by U2 on the War album.

U2 - War - New Year's Day

January 2, 2007

A Hollywood Classic


After dropping off my passport and visa paperwork at the Indian Consulate in the morning, I took the bus over to the Paddington neighborhood to see The African Queen, the John Huston-directed 1951 classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. I had never seen it before, and it was far better to watch the film on the big screen. One of the art cinemas in town had a restored color print. Besides, while there are a bunch of films playing back home I am still eager to see, there's precious little else playing in the movie theaters here that looks worthwhile. The Queen--which I watched Sunday--was one exception and Babel--which I surely will catch one of these days--is another.

Song Of The Day #2

Okay, this song may be another obvious choice, given where I am right now, but it's an interesting acoustic take on "Down Under" by the lead singer of Men At Work.

Colin Hay - Man @ Work - Down Under (Acoustic Version)

Figaro, Figaro


Rather than just looking at the landmark Opera House here in Sydney, I decided to see something IN the building, and so I attend the opening night of the summer season, catching The Marriage Of Figaro. The Mozart opera is something of a sequel to The Barber Of Seville, which I saw at The Met a few weeks back. Both productions were impressive, though the Sydney opera couldn't compete with the star power and manic energy of the New York production. It may be that Rossini's Figaro is a more interesting character, too. Both shows were impressive, but the Barber was more fun.

January 3, 2007

Life In The Antipodes

The modernity of a city like Sydney can lead one to forget just how remote this continent is from the rest of the world. For example, I have yet to be able to find an International Herald Tribune anywhere in Sydney, even though it's widely available throughout Europe and Asia, for instance. I had no luck finding American newspapers in South Africa six months ago, either, so maybe it's a south of the equator thing?

Song Of The Day #3

Keeping with the Australian theme, here's my favorite song about a woman lying naked on the floor.

Natalie Imbruglia - Left of the Middle - Torn

January 4, 2007

The Overnight Train To Brisbane


I took the overnight train to Brisbane, the city lodged between the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast north of Sydney. When I booked a berth in the sleeper car yesterday morning, it looked like I'd have the place to myself. Instead I would up with a bit of a crazy old Australian guy to share the space with. I knew things were a bit off when I found two garbage bags on the floor of the compartment when I boarded; as I went to move this trash into the hallway, a grizzled fellow banged on the window, indicating I should leave the bags in place. I first thought he was a train worker, whose job it was to clear the trash. When he came on board, though, it was clear that these garbage bags were his luggage! Anyway, the guy talked non-stop about all sorts of details of his life history until I got my iPod headphones in place an hour into the journey. I survived the trip, even though we were awakened at 2:30 a.m. to change trains because there was something wrong with a screen on the engine, whatever that means. No worries, as they say down here.

Song Of The Day #4

Today's offering is from Elton John's Live In Australia album--which now is 20 years old! This gem of a song, performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, is called "The Greatest Discovery."

Elton John - Live in Australia - The Greatest Discovery

Blood Diamond


On a whim, I caught the 3:30 showing of Blood Diamond in a downtown mall in Brisbane. An entertaining movie about the brutal intersection of the diamond industry and African warfare. Not a great film, but a reasonably well made one on a provocative topic.

January 5, 2007

My Sabbatical Travels

Here is a map of where I've been and where I am going on this four-month sabbatical:

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NAME="map" WIDTH="910" HEIGHT="455"
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Here is a bigger version of the map.

Song Of The Day #5

This ain't no party
This ain't no disco
This ain't no foolin' around.
That's The Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime."

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense - Life During Wartime

Goin' Walkabout

I am renting a car and heading out with no specific plans before my train leaves Brisbane for the ride back to Sydney on Sunday afternoon. I'll either head north to the Sunshine Coast or south to the Gold Coast or both or perhaps just head west into the bush. We'll see.

Life's A Beach


After some automotive bushwacking through the Glass House Mountains and some beautiful scenery around Maleny, I arrived at the Sunshine Coast in southeast Queensland. I am staying in Mudjimba, just north of Maroochydore and Mooloolaba, just east of Bli Bli, and just south of Eumundi and Noosa. (Aboriginal names are pretty common here, as you can see, much as Native American place names are all over New England.)

The entire area is focused on beach culture. Surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers dot the Pacific coast, especially this time of year, as Australian schools are closed for summer vacation and many families are traveling on holiday.

January 6, 2007

The Beauty Of The Information Age

When I got up this morning and checked my e-mail, there was a message from the iTunes Music Store alerting me that the latest episode of The Office was available for download. Staying in touch with favorite shows back home like this is a relatively recent treat; certainly I couldn't do it during my last sabbatical trip in 1998.

Earlier in the week, I downloaded from iTMS an episode from the Discovery Atlas series on the Discovery Channel, one called "Australia Revealed." The overview of the country is nearly two hours long--but still only $1.99!--beautifully photographed in high definition, and narrated by Russell Crowe. I was turned on to the series by another Discovery Atlas episode ("China Revealed") on DVD that I was given for Christmas by a cousin; I watched this documentary on my portable Panasonic player on one of my flights. It's a great series. You can see it in all its splendor on the Discovery HD network, if you get it. Or you can order the DVDs for about $20 or download episodes from iTunes Music Store for $2. Here's the link to "Australia Revealed":

Discovery Atlas - Discovery Atlas, Season 1 - Discovery Atlas: Australia Revealed

Just My Luck

The Australian newspapers reported with glee that the local currency had tied its record strength relative to the American dollar. It's bad enough I get whacked on the exchange rate every time I go to western Europe, but now it's happening here, too!

Song Of The Day #6

The David Bowie classic: Life On Mars? 'Nuff said.

David Bowie - Hunky Dory - Life On Mars?

January 7, 2007

Another Rail Journey

I'll be driving back to Brisbane shortly to catch the train to Sydney, which will arrive early Monday morning. Let's hope I don't share the compartment with the same guy I did on the way up!

Song Of The Day #7

We're just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here - Wish You Were Here

January 8, 2007

Back In Sydney


Arrived in Sydney on the overnight train just after 7 this morning and checked into my hotel, which is adjacent to the rail station.

This trip was much better than the one a few days before, as I had the compartment to myself. I watched Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on my portable DVD player and slept well in spite of all the creaking and croaking of the train car as it made its way south.

Song Of The Day #8

This is a Sydney-themed piece: the great anti-war song "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" about an Australian soldier going to fight for the British Empire at Gallipoli in World War I. This cover is by The Pogues.

Pogues - Rum Sodomy & the Lash [Expanded] - The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

The Passport Shuffle

I picked up my passport today at the Indian Consulate downtown and then brought it over to the Vietnamese Consulate in Darling Harbor. (I am getting tourist visas to both countries.) The Vietnamese office was a far more pleasant experience: a shorter wait for service, a shorter interval for processing my visa, and it's less expensive, too. In fact, I'd have paid $70 in either the U.S. or Australia for the visa, but that turns out to be at least 20% cheaper here due to the exchange rate. Plus because I handled it myself, I avoided doubling the cost by using an expediter, which I would have had to do back home.

My Reading List


I've been working my way through Volume I of Gene Wolfe's The Book Of The New Sun, a highly regarded science fantasy tale I picked up last week here in Sydney. Like the best of the genre, it's very provocative and creates a detailed world of its own.

January 9, 2007

Song Of The Day #9

Boston's "More Than A Feeling." I heard it on the radio Sunday morning while driving back to Brisbane and it brought back memories of junior high school. A great song.

Boston - Boston - More Than a Feeling

Tennis Today


I am heading out to the Olympic park here in Sydney for the Medibank International, a combined ATP/WTA tournament that serves as a tune-up for the Australian Open, which begins next week in Melbourne. When I was here last in 1998, the Sydney event--historically known as the New South Wales Open--was then called the adidas International and was still played at White City, one of the classic venues of the sport, close to the center of town.

I am looking forward to seeing the Olympic facility used for the 2000 Sydney Games. Top seed Rafael Nadal is playing in one of the featured matches of the day in the tennis stadium, as are James Blake, Amelie Mauresmo, and Kim Clijsters.

The Day's Matches


I took these shots at the Sydney Tennis Centre at the Olympic Park in the Homebush Bay section of Sydney. I had a great seat down low in the stadium for the feature matches and wandered the grounds extensively, spending a lot of time at the practice courts. It was a good day of tennis: Blake won handily, Mauresmo pulled through in three, Clijsters obliterated Aussie Nicole Pratt, then Nadal retired trailing 5-6 (on serve) in the first set of his match against up-and-coming Chris Guccione from Melbourne (who has a huge serve). Nadal strained a leg muscle and opted to rest if before the Aussie Open, which begins next week.


I stayed late to watch the Bryan brothers play doubles; I left after they won the first set, but apparently they lost in the match tiebreak to Clement/Llodra.


Surprises From Steve Jobs?


In just a few hours--I won't see this until Wednesday morning my time--Steve Jobs kicks off the MacWorld Expo with his keynote address, one of those now-classic deliveries in which he unveils all the new tech that Apple has been working on behind closed doors. Lots of speculation as to what we'll see this time around. Expectations are high, in part fueled by the promo banner above, which has been posted on Apple's own website the past week or so.

January 10, 2007

Apple Calling


So the iPhone arrives! Looks pretty sweet. And the other goodies are impressive as well.

Song Of The Day #10

The Dire Straits, "Sultans Of Swing," featuring some of Mark Knopfler's virtuoso work on the guitar.

Dire Straits - Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing

Cool Design


You can buy these "slimline" cans of Coke products all over Sydney. The design is striking, but it's something of a rip-off: these sell for about $2, whereas the "normal" cans go for about $1.50 and have and additional 75ml of soda, thus you are asked to pay more for less!

Steve's Spell


I watched the QuickTime stream of Steve Jobs' keynote address at the MacWorld Expo. It ran nearly two hours (though had the treat of a John Mayer mini-concert included at the end). There's no doubt this guy is the master of the format. His "reality distortion field" was in full effect and he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, cheering wildly as he demonstrated the features of the new iPhone.

A couple of minor surprises about his remarks, though. There was no introduction of iLife '07 or iWork '07, nor anything to say about the new Leopard version of OS X. In fact there wasn't much talk about the Mac at all!

On another front, Microsoft announed at the conference that Office for Mac 2008 will be released later this year as a univeral binary with all sorts of nifty new features. Hopefully the new version of Entourage will play nicer with Exchange.



I fnally got around to seeing Babel tonight. It's a long movie, but it is engaging. At first, it's not clear why the film is jumping around along four seemingly disparate storylines, but it all comes together. The film is well made and thought-provoking.

January 11, 2007

Song Of The Day #11

This is Peter Gabriel's 1990 re-recording of his own "Here Comes The Flood." It's a much better version than the original, which is a bit too over-produced for my tastes.

Peter Gabriel - Shaking the Tree - Sixteen Golden Greats - Here Comes the Flood (1990 Re-Recording Version)

A Really Big Screen Adventure


This morning, I walked over to Darling Harbor's IMAX theater to see The Mystery Of The Nile. As I am scheduled to be spend some time on the Nile myself just a few weeks from now, I thought this would be a good preparation for my visit to Egypt. The ads for the film are a bit misleading, as the film is much less about the historical aspects of Egyptian culture along the river (pyramids, tombs, etc.) than it is about an adventure-filled modern-day rafting trip from the source of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia down to the river's mouth in Alexandria. Still, the photography was stunning in the big film format.

Good To Go

I picked up my visa at the Vietnamese consulate this afternoon, so I am now all set with clearances for the remainder of my trip. The rest of the countries I am visiting either don't require Americans to obtain a visa or will issue one upon entry.

Temperature Check

According to my Dashboard widget, these are the temperatures for today here and at home (in Farenheit, of course):

Sydney, New South Wales:
low: 75°
high: 90°

Wallingford, Connecticut:
low: 24°
high: 36°

That's why I'm here!

January 12, 2007

Song Of The Day #12

The master lyricist among the singer-songwriters who came to prominence in the 1970s was Jackson Browne. Here is one of his earliest hits: "Doctor My Eyes."

Jackson Browne - Jackson Browne

Another Good Movie From Mexico


I saw Pan's Labyrinth this afternoon. This movie, like Babel and Children Of Men (the latter of which I have not yet seen), is a highly regarded recent release from a talented Mexican director. This film by Guillermo de Toro--who brought us Hellboy--featured Spanish dialogue (and subtitles in English) and was viusually very imaginitive. It's a thoughtful, creative fairy tale set against the grim realities of fascist Spain in 1944. I recommend it.

Bondi Blue


After the film, I headed over to Bondi Beach to take in the sights and have a quick dip in the Pacific Ocean. This beach is iconic in Australian culture.

If you remember the very first version of the iMac, introduced in 1998--the breakthrough machine that Steve Jobs used to turn Apple around, the one with the "hockey puck" mouse--its color was labeled "Bondi Blue" after the Sydney beach.

Sundown In Sydney


In my last night in the city, I took the "harbor lights cruise" which left Circular Quay at 8 p.m., just before the sun set to the west of the city. The 75-minute ride around the harbor showed off many of the neighborhoods all around the harbor and provided great views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, both of which were wonderfully illuminated. Mother Nature coöperated by providing an electrical storm to the west, which provided some atmospheric lightning that looked pretty cool above the lights of the city.

January 13, 2007

So Long, Sydney

Off to the airport and Melbourne!

Song Of The Day #13

An '80s classic: R.E.M.'s "Orange Crush."

R.E.M. - Green

Hello, Melbourne!

After a short--one hour--flight, I arrived at the Melbourne airport. This was my first time there, as in 1998 I drove to the city from Sydney (through Canberra) and I left on a train bound for Adelaide. My driver from the airport to my hotel spent the trip telling me just how much better in every possible way Melbourne was than Sydney.

I am now off to the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club for the finals of the AAMI Classic featuring Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.



The Kooyong venue was the site of the Australian Open for many years before the shift to Melbourne Park in 1988. It's clear why the event moved: the club is charming, but the demands of a grand slam event outgrew what the facility could offer. The club is a great site for this exhibition tournament, though, which eight of the top male players use as a warm-up for the Open across town. I took the train from the city center and was deposited a stone's throw from the club. It was fortunate that I booked my ticket online the evening before, for this was the first time a session sold out in the Classic. I arrived as the third-place playoff was underway (Andy Murray beat Marat Safin in a first-set tiebreak and cruised to a quick second-set win). Though assigned an upper-tier seat, I finagled my way down low and spend most of the afternoon at the level of the first row behind court and thus captured these images at pretty short range.


The main event was the Federer/Roddick match. Roddick took the first set 6-2, and his groundstrokes were penetrating much deeper into the court than they had been in a while. This enabled Andy to come to net to knock off some easy winners time and again. I guess Jimmy Connors gets some credit for that.


Federer was clearly fired up for the second set and came out like gangbusters, quickly breaking Roddick and showing the smooth shot-making skill that has made him #1 in the world. He won it 6-3. Watching the Swiss player's game from this close, I was amazed at what he could do with a ball when he was in trouble. It's not that he can scramble to recover tough shots--other players such as Nadal are better at that--but rather the way he can take, say, a low short ball with no pace and deftly flick it on a sharp angle with even less pace for a clean winner. Most other players would struggle to do more than put that ball back into play! His touch is buttery.

The third set was hard fought, but Roddick's resolve carried the day, taking the decider 6-3.

January 14, 2007

Song Of The Day #14

This is Jem's cover of one of Paul McCartney's greatest solo works, "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Jem - Music from The O.C.: Mix 2

Technology And Travel

Having spent time in Australia on both my sabbatical trips, in 1998 and 2007, I was reflecting today on the differences between the experiences that have resulted from technology.

Certainly the Web and e-mail had become common by '98, but my access to them while abroad was pretty rare. Basically, I was dependent on Internet cafés to touch base with folks at home and catch up with sports scores and such back at school. I was able to connect perhaps twice a week, if lucky. This time around I am traveling with my laptop and have been able to get in-room broadband access at each of my hotels thus far.

Communications programs like Skype and iChat have made it practically free to stay in touch with people back in the States in real time conversations. This was unheard of nine years ago.

I've been able to entertain myself on this trip, both with with my portable DVD player and with television shows I downloaded to my iBook from my DVR before I left home. Even better, I've been able to keep up with recent shows that have aired while I've been abroad, such as episodes of The Office and 30 Rock, by downloading them via the iTunes Music Store. I am looking foward to staying up-to-date with 24 and Battlestar Galactica and Heroes and Lost when they resume new episodes, too. And I admit one of the benefits of being out from under the firewall of an academic community is unimpeded access to BitTorrent sites and other file sharing networks to get media.

Also, the iPod phenomenon has changed my interaction with my environment. I am able to wander city streets or cruise through stores to the beat of my own private soundtrack. I try not to use the iPod too much in this manner so I don't miss out on the local soundscape, but there are times it's nice to retreat into a familiar, comfortable song in a strange place.

January 15, 2007

Grand Slam Action


I am getting ready to head over to Melbourne Park for the opening day of the Australian Open. I was last here in 1998. The venue has a great layout and is very spectator-friendly. There's a good line-up on the show courts, but a lot of the attraction for me is the outer courts and the practice courts.

There are some interesting storylines building for this year's tournament:

• Can Federer continue his dominance of the major events and win a tenth Slam event?
• Can Nadal breakthrough in a major other than Roland Garros?
• Will Andy Roddick build on the momentum he established in the second half of
• Will James Blake live up to his seeding and get past the fourth round for the first time in Melbourne?
• Can Maria Sharapova win a second major in a row?
• Will Kim Clijsters add another Grand Slam title to her resumé in her final year on the tour?
• Can Amelie Mauresmo defend her crown?
• Will Serena Williams be a factor again at this level?

Song Of The Day #15

Here is "Bright Lights" by Matchbox Twenty.

Matchbox Twenty - More Than You Think You Are

Day One Of The Aussie Open


The tennis is clearly the center of attention in Melbourne for this fortnight, even more than is the case in London or New York (I have yet to be in Paris during the French Open, so I can't speak to that). There's front page coverage in all the nation's newspapers. The city clearly is bending over backwards for the visitors attending the tournament: a ticket to the Open gets you free tram rides throughout the city to get to and from the event!

Feature Matches


At Melbourne Park, the big names on Rod Laver Arena were Amelie Mauresmo, Roger Federer, and Marcos Baghdatis. Mauresmo cruised, Federer kicked into gear after a tight first set, and last year's finalist Baghdatis prevailed in four sets over another former runner-up, Ranier Schuettler.

I also spent a lot of time on the outside courts, too, watching the likes of Richard Gasquet and Paradorn Srichapan compete and seeing Carlos Moya, Rafael Nadal, and Lleyton Hewitt practice.

The layout of the facility is very spectator friendly and the addition of Vodaphone Arena--new since my last visit here in 1998--makes it a much more expansive venue. I didn't see Roddick's match over on Vodaphone, but he rallied from a set down and 2-5 to win in four, with some verbal fireworks aimed at the umpire along the way.

Though it was warm, it was overcast for much of the day, which made it much more comfortable for players and fans alike.

January 16, 2007

This Show Is Growing On Me


While waiting for the new season of 24 to be posted on iTunes Music Store, I have been catching up on epidoses of 30 Rock, a show which is getting better and better by the week. Alec Baldwin is brilliant in his role as the overbearing G.E. executive in charge of programming and microwave ovens, and the quirky minor characters are getting fleshed out nicely too. Though this show is not yet in the league of The Office--which also started slowly, as I recall--it's picking up steam.

Song Of The Day #16

This cover of "(What A) Wonderful World" is from Art Garfunkel's 1977 album Watermark. I can remember hearing it for the first time on the radio many years later. It features the striking harmonic blend of the voices of Paul Simon and James Taylor with Garfunkel.

Art Garfunkel - Garfunkel - (What A) Wonderful World

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?


Top seed Maria Sharapova played in the first featured match on Rod Laver Arena today. If today's form is any indication, the young Russian may have a rocky road ahead in this tournament. She eked out the win, 8-6 in the third, after surrendering a 5-0 lead in the final set. But along the way, she sprayed balls all over the court and hit two of the shakiest second serves and the absolute worst overhead shank I've ever seen from a pro player (the ball landed a foot in front of her!). Sharapova's victory was more the result of her opponent--Camille Pin of France--choking when she served for the match and was as close as two points away from pulling off the upset.

A Scorcher

As temperatures soared past 35°C (95°F) in Melbourne, the combination of heat and humidity forced the Australian Open to invoke its Extreme Heat Policy, which meant cancelling the start of any new matches on outer courts. (Matches already underway would be played to their conclusion.) The two main show courts each feature a retractable roof, which meant I got to watch the roof of Rod Laver Arena slowly close over the course of about fifteen minutes; I was amazed at how quiet the process was. Once finished, the atmosphere of the court was entirely transformed for the Nadal and Clijsters matches that followed. It felt like an indoor tournament, as the lighting and even the reverberating sounds of the match were significantly different. It didn't seem to matter at all to the top players, though, as both Nadal and Clijsters cruised in straight sets--the latter with a double bagel! As a spectator, it was surely more enjoyable to watch the tennis from air conditioned comfort.

Golden Globes

I just finished watching the telecast of the Golden Globes Awards, which was reasonably entertaining. I haven't seen Dreamgirls, but I did see Babel last week and I guess these two films were the big winners of the night. Ugly Betty is a show I've never seen, either, but it's hard to believe it's better than The Office. Helen Mirren took two statues for playing the two Queens Elizabeth--an impressive accomplishment. Anyway, being able to see the show made me feel a little bit like being at home.

January 17, 2007

Song Of The Day #17

A one-hit wonder from the 1970s: "Magic" by Pilot.

Pilot - Best of the 70s

A Quiet Day In Melbourne

I didn't attend the tournament today, but the coverage is extensive on both Channel Seven and one of the Fox sports channels here in Australia. Today was overcast and MUCH cooler than yesterday's sauna-like conditions. I explored the downtown area leisurely and generally took it easy. Tomorrow morning I fly to Perth.

January 18, 2007


I am now on the western coast of Australia, on the Indian Ocean. My hotel is in the city center. It's a smallish city--especially compared to Melbourne and Sydney, with just a few skyscrapers and an extensive outdoor pedestrian mall (like the one I remember in Adelaide).

Song Of The Day #18

Paul McCartney called this tune from the landmark Pet Sounds album the most beautiful song ever written. It's Brian Wilson in top form with "God Only Knows."

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds - God Only Knows

January 19, 2007

Jack Bauer Is Gonna Have Another Bad Day


I watched the first four hours of Season 6 of 24 in the last day and a half. Although the show is preposterous in many ways, it's damned entertaining, too. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm addicted--so much so that I shelled out $45 for a Season Pass in the iTunes Music Store so I won't miss an episode while globe-trotting.

Change Of Plans

I rearranged my Egypt plans, visiting a travel agent here in Perth and booking a tour that will cover Cairo and the sights around Luxor and Aswan for the week I will be in the country. This way all of my hotel, transport, and sight-seeing will be arranged for me. I'm usually skeptical of these set-ups, but I concluded this approach will be a lot easier, especially after working my way through India on my own itinerary.

Song Of The Day #19

"I like to dream . . . " Thus begins "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf.

Steppenwolf - Steppenwolf the Second - Magic Carpet Ride

The Barber Offers Some Perspective

I got my hair cut this afternoon, so it will be maintenance free for the rest of the trip. The barber was a friendly guy who explained to me that western Australia is in boom times right now, largely because of the Chinese demand for raw materials. It's a huge mining area around here and the locals are benefitting from the construction boom in the Middle Kingdom.

Early To Rise

I called the airport shuttle service to arrange my trip back to the airport tomorrow morning for my flight to Singapore. It's an 8:15 departure, so conventional wisdom would have me at the airport (about 20 minutes away from the city center) a bit after 6 a.m. Unfortunately, the 5 a.m. shuttle doesn't go to the international terminal, so I've been asked to take the 4 a.m. trip--UGH! The woman on the phone was unhelpful; when I asked how far apart the domestic and international terminals were (thinking I could sleep a little later and just walk to the other terminal) she said she had never been to the airport. This is someone whose job it is to arrange airport transportation! So I've got my bags all packed already and two alarms set for 3:40 a.m.

Heavyweight Bout


The Andy Roddick/Marat Safin third round match in the Aussie Open was great tennis. Roddick prevailed in four sets in front of coach Jimmy Connors who returned to Australia for the first time in thirty years.


Connors was the 1974 champ in Melbourne but in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Aussie Open was considered lacking in prestige and few of the top male players made the trip Down Under to contest it. A quick look at the honor roll of champions reflects that: Mark Edmonson, Brian Teacher, and Johan Kriek--hardly household names for the general public--all won titles in that era. Even clay court king Guillermo Vilas was able to nab two crowns on the grass at Kooyong. The tide turned a bit in the mid-1980s and certainly in 1988 when Tennis Australia moved the event to the new Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park) venue and hard courts.

January 20, 2007

Arriving In Singapore

I am back in the northern hemisphere (just barely)!

Aside from the absurd 4:00 a.m. shuttle pick-up (compounded by the fact that my 8:15 flight was listed as a 9:15 departure when I got to the airport, supposedly on account of daylight savings time--which meant I easily could have slept in and taken a later shuttle) the trip from Perth to Singapore was quite pleasant. The woman at the check-in counter not only got me an aisle seat, but put me in an otherwise empty row so I could stretch out and be comfortable. The Singapore Airlines service was excellent, with good food and a choice of periodicals on board the plane (a rarity nowadays); I digested the latest issues of The International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Time, National Geographic, and Conde Nast Traveler.

Upon arriving in Singapore, I cleared immigration and customs quickly and took the train into the city to Orchard Road, the shopping district and the location of my hotel. The walk from the station to my hotel gave me the impression the whole city was one big shopping mall, but I think that's a function of this particular neighborhood. Still, there were a range of shopping options, from the "flea market" feel of electronics vendors to upscale department stores.

One other thing: it's incredibly humid here. Australia was warm, but never got as humid as today in Singapore is. It just started pouring, so maybe things will get more comfortable once the rain breaks.

Song Of The Day #20

One of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs: "Human Touch."

Bruce Springsteen - Human Touch - Human Touch

January 21, 2007

Nightlife In The City

I met up with former student and tennis captain Ming Ong '05, who took me to his house for dinner (we stopped for ice cream on the way and I picked up the last two issues of Entertainment Weekly--one of my favorite guilty pleasures back home--in a shop). After dinner we polished off half a bottle of scotch (!) and then went out clubbing--not a typical night in Wallingford for me. One of Ming's friends was celebrating a birthday at the fashionable Ministry Of Sound, and I lasted until about 1 a.m. when my sleep-deprived state led me back to my hotel via a taxi to crash.

Song Of The Day #21

Few pop songs have hooks as well crafted as "Invisible Touch" by Genesis. This reminds me of the year of my college graduation and the five weeks I was a substitute teacher at my alma mater, Bayport-Blue Point High School, and particularly of the 10th grade field trip I chaperoned to Great Adventure theme park the last week of school. (By the way, the key change late in the song is sublime.)

Genesis - Invisible Touch - Invisible Touch

High Tea At The Ritz-Carlton


I connected with a current applicant to Choate--a tennis player--who had contacted me via e-mail in the fall. He met me at my hotel this afternoon and he and his mother drove me around the city a bit to see the sights and then treated me to high tea at the Ritz-Carlton, a very Anglophile experience in an enjoyable setting with all sorts of sweet treats for consumption. It was a pleasant meeting.

Earlier in the day, I explored the shopping on Orchard Road. Lots of what's there is typical of what you'd find in a good U.S. mall: a Borders bookstore, an Apple store, a Nike store, etc.

Singapore seems as though it would be an easy place for an expatriate to live.

January 22, 2007

Song Of The Day #22

The timeless "Pinball Wizard" from The Who's rock opera Tommy. (By the way, Elton John, who played the Pinball Wizard in the movie version of Tommy, has a great cover of this tune, too.)

The Who - Tommy - Pinball Wizard

Rafa Edges Murray


Nadal just prevailed in five sets over Andy Murray, wearing the Scot out in the final stages of the match in the wee hours of the morning in Melbourne. Though Rafa trailed 0-1 and 1-2 in sets, he battled tenciously and his edge in fitness enabled him to take this first meeting between the two players. This could be the beginning of an interesting Murray/Nadal rivalry.

What this tournament demonstrated was that Andy Murray clearly will be a threat in the majors in the foreseeable future. He was one of only two players to beat Federer last year and the addition of Brad Gilbert to his coaching team is only going to hasten is development as a player. He looked impressive when I saw him in person beating Safin at Kooyong and was repeatedly drilling winners against Nadal for much of tonight's match--something precious few players can pull off. Murray has already broken into the top 20 and I suspect a top 10 slot is not too far away.

January 23, 2007

Good Morning Vietnam

. . . or good afternoon, actually, since it took me an hour to get through the immigration line at the airport here in Saigon!

It was a short flight here from Singapore. It looks like they are building a new terminal complex at the airport, but the one I went through surely wasn't it. After picking up my luggage--which had been removed from the carousel during my interminable wait in the arrivals hall--I took out 1,000,000 dong from the ATM (a bit over $60), arranged a taxi, and left the building to find hordes of people waiting outside, as if the Beatles had arrived in New York City for the first time. (Interestingly, this is the first country on my trip to use a currency other than the dollar.)


The ride across town to my hotel was an adventure in itself. The streets were choked with cars, trucks, bicycle-driven carts, and more motor scooters and light cycles than I thought existed on the planet. I saw literally thousands of them. And not one helmet! It was pretty common for folks to cover their mouths and noses with a bandana of sorts, which made it look like we were driving through groups of bandits. The rules of the road here must be more like suggestions. It felt like Mr. Toad's wild ride, in that more than once I looked ahead to see a couple of cycle riders heading straight toward us in our lane, only to veer off at the last second. There were precious few traffic lights, meaning negotiating intersections, plazas, and roundabouts had an "every man for himself" feel to it. But people seemed used to it and I got to my destination in one piece.

The hotel is very comfortable, clearly a place that caters to Western business travelers. Things are dirt cheap in this country: the taxi, meals, Internet access in the hotel.

When I settled into my room, I tuned the television to Star Sports (an international ESPN network) to catch the tail end of Roddick's one-sided win over Mardy Fish. This advances Roddick to the semifinals, where he'll likely face Roger Federer.

I am about to head out to check out the local sights.

Song Of The Day #23

Because I will forever associate it with the opening of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now--and the opening lines of the film, spoken by Martin Sheen playing Willard: "Saigon . . . shit; I'm still only in Saigon," an unforgettable line that I have been repeating to myself like a mantra the past few hours since arriving in the city--here is "The End" by The Doors.

The Doors - Greatest Hits - The End


My hotel runs a free shuttle twice an hour down to the central business district in town, which makes it convenient to check out the city. Unlike the more developed Asian cities like Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Singapore, there are very few skyscrapers here. My hotel is the tallest building in its district (Saigon is divided into a number of districts) and even in the center of the city, there are only a handful of ] hotels and office buildings with more than, say, 6-8 floors.

I still can't believe the traffic. Moving through town in a van is like a shark moving through the ocean, surrounded by schools of fish (scooters) heading in seemingly all directions. It would be madness to rent a vehicle here; I can't imagine crossing the street, let alone driving on one! Vehicles go wherever they want, cutting across the road with impunity. Of course, might makes right, so the bigger vehicles wind up getting the right of way. And there are SO many motorbikes; they are what bicycles were in Beijing 25 years ago (or what cars are on the Southern California freeways today!).

You can still detect the French influence in the city, with its broad, tree-lined avenues and older buildings reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

January 24, 2007

Song Of The Day #24

As much as I try to purge this tune from my mind, it's an infectious ditty. I've seen the music video a couple of times during my trip and it's memorable too: "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" by the Scissor Sisters.

Scissor Sisters - Ta-Dah - I Don't Feel Like Dancin'

Tennis Coverage


My hotel in Saigon gets the Star Sports network, which carries the Australian Open, just as it did in Singapore; the difference is that in the coverage here there is no commentary. Over the weekend, I listened to Vijay Amritraj providing the analysis on each match--supposedly from a Singapore studio, I'm told--but here I guess the idea is to provide a linguistically neutral presentation. So it's basically the raw feed, with live match sounds and the post-match on-court interviews. Though at times the play-by-play and color men and women in the booth can be overbearing, I find it's a little dry to listen to just the match sounds.

No Federer/Nadal Showdown This Time

The top two men's tennis players will NOT be meeting in the year's Australian Open, as a very much on-form Francisco Gonzalez continued his strong run (wins over Hewitt and Blake) at the tournament by bouncing Rafael Nadal out in straight sets. The marquee match left in the event is the Federer/Roddick semifinal tomorrow. Gonzalez will take on Tommy Haas in the other half of the draw.

January 25, 2007

Song Of The Day #25

The song title "Let's Go" is fitting for another off-to-the-airport-and-into-another-country-day for me. This song from The Cars' second album evokes memories of my 9th-grade cross country season, sitting in the team captain's living room, listening to this song (on a vinyl record playing on a turntable, of course) instead of doing our assigned workout.

The Cars - Candy-O - Let's Go

In Siam I Am

I arrived in Bangkok at the impressive new airport. My experience getting to the hotel was a bit difficult due to the language barrier with the driver. After some confusion as to which part of town the hotel actually was in--I had to boot up the iBook in the taxi to look up the address--once we got to the right road he kept insisting we were at my hotel every few buildings, but I knew the name was wrong. Luckily I spotted the President Solitaire around a bend as we backtracked and am now settled into pretty plush digs.

The dominant feature of my room is a huge flat-screen television and I got to the room just in time to catch the start of the Federer-Roddick semifinal from Melbourne. I guess this will delay my getting out and about to see Bangkok.

Roger Rolls On


Well, that didn't take long. Federer thumped Roddick. After 4-all in the first set, the Swiss player took 14 of the final 16 games. The Fed was devastating, playing nearly flawless tennis. It was hard not to feel sorry for Roddick, who had no answers for the dazzling winners his opponent hit from all corners of the court.

January 26, 2007

Song Of The Day #26

A trashy one hit wonder from the '80s is in my head for obvious reasons: Murray Head's "One Night In Bangkok."

Murray Head - Broadway's Greatest Leading Men


The part of the city in which I am staying--Sukhumvit Road--has a large population of expats, and hence good shopping, restaurants, and hotels. The streets are full of vendors and this is most apparent in the range of aromas that assaults you as you pass the various options for street food. All kinds of knock-off T-shirts, bags, CDs, and DVDs are on offer. As I walked into the city center--which is dominated by a few huge, modern shopping malls--the presence of vendors seemed to drop off and Bangkok looked much more similar to big cities back home.

The BTS Skyway is a cheap and convenient form of public transportation. It only covers limited territory, but it happens to serve my needs well, given where I am situated.

Gonzalez Advances


Fernando Gonzalez of Chile continued his dream run, manhandling Tommy Haas in striaght sets to move into his first Slam final. If he plays like this on Sunday, he might even be able to challenge Federer.

Interestingly, the quick finish to the match meant that the scheduled Australia Day fireworks--which awkwardly would have been going off while play was underway--began almost at the moment of Gonzalez's victory.

Hard Rock Cafe


Yes, admittedly, it's a touristy thing to do, but I enjoyed a good dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in Siam Square. Sometime you just need some good ol' American food. This restaurant happened to feature far more reasonable prices than its counterparts.

January 27, 2007

Song Of The Day #27

I, um, acquired online the second season of Extras, starring Ricky Gervais--a very funny show which is airing on HBO back home this month. This song--the title track of the Cat Stevens classic album Tea For The Tillerman, plays over the closing credits. (By the way, episode 4 in this season guest stars Chris Martin of Coldplay, who also stands in for Cat Stevens on this song at the end of the show.)

Cat Stevens - Tea for the Tillerman - Tea for the Tillerman

Serena Is Back


In keeping with the lopsided results in the men's semis, Serena Williams just finishing an absolute pasting of top-seeded Maria Sharapova in the final of the Australian Open for her third Melbourne crown. The score was 6-1, 6-2, and it wasn't that close! Serena's path to her eighth major title evokes memories of Andre Agassi's phoenix-like rebirth at several points in his career; maybe she can enter a second phase of reasserted dominance, too? Today it was clear that even the #1-ranked player in the world could be outclassed by Williams in top form. (Maybe this will inspire Venus to get back on court, too?)

Bryans Prevail

I got to watch the entirety of the men's doubles final on Star Sports. The Bryan brothers successfully defended their title against the second-seeded Bjorkman/Mirnyi team, 7-5, 7-5.

I Need My Comedy Fix

No new episodes of The Office or 30 Rock this past Thursday. I guess I'll have to wait another week to download my little bits of mirth. Of course, there's always Sunday's Battlestar Galactica and the formidable Monday line-up--Prison Break, 24, Heroes, and Studio 60--to download and tide me over in the meantime.

News Junkie

As a media omnivore, I was happy to find a chain of stores in Bangkok called Bookazine that carry a good selection of international publications. I was able to stock up and get my fix from the International Herald Tribune and USA Today, as well as The Economist, Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker, and Time.

Bye Bye, Bangkok

I'm all packed up and about to say goodbye to the City of Angels in the Land of Smiles. Next stop: India.

A Stark Contrast

I left the shiny new airport in Bangkok and arrived in Calcutta at the dumpiest airport I've ever seen in a major city. The small international terminal was state of the art . . . for about 1961. No jetway, so we had to deplane out on the tarmac and walk in. Clearing immigration took about two minutes, so the law of averages meant, of course, that I had to wait at least half an hour to get my checked baggage off the barely-functioning carousel. Then it turned out there was no ATM in the international terminal and a hellacious line to change money at the one place still open for business at that hour on a Satuday night. So I hoofed it over to the domestic terminal and found an ATM and booked a taxi to my hotel.

On my way out of the the terminal I was besieged by men wanting to carry my bags and children begging for a handout. The taxi cab itself must have been fifty years old--no joke. And driving into the city I began to wonder if I should head back to the airport and leave this place. All I can say is that Calcutta at night looked like a post-apocalyptic nightmare: what a city might look like in a Mad Max movie. Traffic was chaos; apparently you can do whatever you want on the roads in India so long as you honk your horn repeatedly. Thus I was serenaded by a cacophony of horns throughout the 25-minute trip. The infrastructure of the city appeared to be falling apart. What was once the seat of the British raj seemed to be in shambles. Linguistic difficulties with the driver--who allegedly was speaking English--meant it took us a while to get to the destination, even though I had written down the address for him. My hotel turned out to be an oasis of peace in the center of a strangely disconcerting city.

January 28, 2007

Song Of The Day #28

Here is a great song: "Amie" by Pure Prarie League.

Pure Prairie League - Pure Prairie League: Greatest Hits - Amie

Oh, Calcutta!

I'll concede the hotel here in Calcutta is quite pleasant: great service, Star Sports on the television to keep up with the final weekend of the Aussie Open, decent food. But honestly I feel trapped in my hotel, because there's really not much worth seeing in the neighborhood, other than lots of people looking to separate me from my cash by selling rides or wares, or just by begging.

Second Thoughts On Federer/Roddick

Star Sports is nothing if not thorough in its coverage of the Aussie Open. Most of the major matches have been replayed at least once. The Federer/Roddick semifinal is being aired now in anticipation of the final, to be televised live.

While I was blown away by the magic of Federer when I watched this match live, in hindsight I wonder if Roddick really helped the Swiss player look so good. Andy seemed intent on coming behind some awfully short balls, for one thing. And where was that big serve and the booming putaways I saw in Kooyong two weeks before? Admittedly, Roger was in rare form, but the American didn't do much to get him out of his comfort zone in this match after 4-all in the first set. Roddick got frustrated quickly and didn't seem to be able to switch game plans. It would have been an uphill battle in any case, but maybe Connors can help him flesh out a few more options for the next time they meet.

To The Airport Once More

My ride to the airport is ready, so I have to leave the men's final in Melbourne at 4-all in the first set. Gonzalez has been able to stay with Federer thus far, but Gonzo doesn't look as fearsome as he did in his last few matches and I am sure Federer has another gear (or two) that he can tap when things get tight. We'll see.

Calcutta To Delhi

Well, by light of day, Calcutta was not quite the Dantean vision I had seen the night before. The city was still pretty unimpressive, but not quite a circle of hell. And there was a bit of striking rural scenery to be had en route to the airport.

The domestic terminal at Calcutta was so crowded there was no place to sit once I checked in and cleared security. My flight was late and was slowed by strong head winds, so I arrived in Delhi about two hours behind scheduled. Fortunately, my hotel had someone there to meet me and transport me into the city. My initial view of the place was that while it's not quite modern by Western standards, it's much better than what I saw on a similar drive into Calcutta.

Upon arrival at my hotel in the Karol Bagh section of New Delhi, I was told it was overbooked but that they could accommodate me at another property just around the corner. The manager threw in a free dinner and breakfast, and at that point I was happy just to have a place to crash, so I told him it would be no problem. He told me to move back to the main hotel in the morning.

January 29, 2007

The Wire


Getting used DVDs on Amazon.com is often a great deal. I picked up the first two seasons of the critically-acclaimed series The Wire a few months back. I finally started watching the first episodes on the plane last night and in bed this morning. Good stuff. And supposedly it gets a lot better in seasons to come.

Song Of The Day #29

Carly Simon explained the context of this song once at I concert I attended in Hartford (Carly and Hall & Oates shared billing at The Meadows about a decade ago). It is about one of the Eastern gurus she worked with back in the early 1970s. The song is called "Haven't Got Time For The Pain."

Carly Simon - Reflections - Carly Simon's Greatest Hits - Haven't Got Time for the Pain

A Chorus Of Horns

I had breakfast on the rooftop of my hotel, which provided a fine vantage point to observe just how horrible the air quality is here. The nonstop blaring of horns--which would have bothered me all night if I were a light sleeper--is something one gets used to, I guess. I got to read all about Federer's 10th Slam title victory--most of which I missed while travelling--in the local papers over breakfast.


I finally got an adapter from the hotel so I could recharge the iBook and my iPod. None of the plugs I brought with me fit the sockets here--not even the one from South Africa, which I thought would do the trick. After a few false starts, I got the wireless Internet connection working as well, so I am back in business on the technical side of things.

Connaught Place

I took the Metro down to Connaught Place late this afternoon to check out the city center. It's nice enough--certainly cleaner and more presentable than Karol Bagh, where I am staying--but not really anywhere close to a place like Singapore or even Bangkok. Hard to believe India is being touted as the next big economic power along with China; from my vantage point, it seems there is still a long way to go here.

January 30, 2007

Song Of The Day #30

Alanis Morissette, "You Learn."

Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill - You Learn

To Agra By Rail

I actually have booked two hotel rooms tonight in two different cities. I am keeping most of my stuff--including the iBook--here in New Delhi, but I am taking a late afternoon train to Agra (almost a four-hour trip) and will stay at the Trident Hilton there. It's too much of a hassle to pack up all my gear and schlep it on the train, only to come back to the same hotel tomorrow night. So I am taking only what will fit in my knapsack. The object is a sunrise viewing of the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, my return train doesn't leave Agra until 6:50 p.m., so I'll have time to kill after the Taj.

January 31, 2007

Song Of The Day #31

A little California song from Tom Petty: "Free Fallin'" is its name!

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Full Moon Fever - Free Fallin'

An Architectural Wonder At Dawn


Got up early this morning to get to the Taj Mahal before sunrise. Though there was a bit of fog, as it burned off, I managed to take some photos in the morning light. No doubt the highlight of my time in India thus far.

Agra And Agro

Agra is where I spent last night and most of today. "Agro," on the other hand, is British slang for aggravation.

The city--town, really--of Agra was a pleasant excursion and seeing the Taj Mahal bright and early really made the trip worthwhile. My hotel was modern and comfortable and I spent most of the afternoon there reading and watching episodes of The Wire before I had to catch the train back to New Delhi.

Where the agro kicks in is the feeling that foreigners here are regarded an easy mark for unscrupulous taxi drivers and their associates. Case in point: when I got back to Delhi tonight--at another station in town than the main one I left from yesterday (which conveniently was on the Metro system)--coming off the platform an aggressive young man was pushing his taxi on me for a fare of 750 rupees. Sensing a rip-off, I was smart enough to fend him off (though he was relentless). He lowered his price nearly by half, to 400, as I walked toward the competition. Sure enough, when I found the pre-paid taxi stand, where rates in the city are standardized, the fare turned out to be 125 rupees (about $1.50)! Even in Agra, where the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers were unusually pleasant, they were always angling for more business with sight-seeing tours during the day. On the way to the train station, I had to endure the hard sell at two shops, mostly so my driver could pick up his modest commission for delivering a tourist; I came close to missing my train as a result (which would have been a disaster). It's a little hard to enjoy the travel when you have the sense you're thought of as a target. (Of course add to this the beggars--many of whom are little children--who gravitate toward lighter-skinned visitors whenver a taxi stops in traffic.)

I've tried to be generous with tips, recognizing what I earn in a day may be more than some people here earn in a month. But it can be wearying to have everyone seemingly looking to part one from his money.

About January 2007

This page contains all entries posted to As Far As You Know in January 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2006 is the previous archive.

February 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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