- Been feeling pretty crap, so it was good that we went out and got me some air this week. Early in the week we visited the Gardens By the Bay at night, to err… see some dahlias. Apparently they’re a thing appropriate to the Chinese New Year season. The iPhone 12 Pro’s night mode and ProRAW came in pretty handy.
- Sunday was a day for some exhibitions. Somehow, I’d never been (or can’t remember having been) to the Gillman Barracks “art precinct” — don’t ask me what makes a precinct versus a district or development. In any case, old British-era army barracks turned into galleries.
- Having been stuck at home or familiar places for most of the last few months, my cameras haven’t been getting much use. The Leica CL was selected for this particular excursion and boy is it a joy to use; mostly because I shoot in Program Mode and don’t have to fiddle very much.
- I didn’t listen to music for many days. I got into Clubhouse thanks to a kind mutual named Brian Li on Twitter, and spent many hours just listening to people talk in various irritating ways that reminded me of being on conference calls. But at least now I can leave at will and pick the subject matter.
- Most of my Clubhouse time has been spent in crypto-related rooms, and if you follow any of it, last week was a fairly interesting period. Various DeFi assets rose by a large factor, and then the week closed with Michael Saylor/Microstrategy’s annual World.Now conference which was aimed at helping other corporations ‘connect their balance sheets to the Bitcoin network’. Oh yeah, and Elon Musk toyed around with Dogecoin and lots of people bought it (it’s now technically the next week and Tesla just declared a $1.5bn investment which has sent the BTC price to $44,000).
- A revelation: the more time I spend reading articles, watching YouTube videos, and listening to Clubhouse conversations about crypto, the more I understand what it’s like to be radicalized online. There’s a gradual envelopment into a new worldview that quickly becomes the default. And when you start to read something that argues the opposite, you want to close the window. Catchy phrases that embody the core philosophies spring forth in your head in response to triggers you hear (e.g. going to the moon, hardest money in the world, stack sats). You can’t imagine what it’d be like to not believe. Of course things will play out this way! How is it so many people can’t see the future when it’s right in front of them?
- I weighed myself at the end of last weekend’s staycation, which arguably came at the end of a multi-month odyssey of bad eating, and found that I was heavier than I have been in at least 6 years. So the first half of this week was devoted to eating salads and lowering my caloric intake as much as possible. I also skipped drinking every day, and I think it’s come down a touch. I will have to keep this going in an effort to return to a figure that could be called normal (both on the scale and irl).
- No surprises, but Christmas was different and the lead up was even less detectably Christmas-feeling than it is every year — I am prone to declaring that ‘THIS year, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas’, every single time. Nonetheless, efforts were made, and I shall probably look back on this year’s edition with fondness.
- There was work to be done up to the last minute of Christmas Eve, and there’ll be some work to do next week too, but I am looking forward to a bit of a rest and some reading/gaming in early January. I say this here to remind myself to actually do it, and not just scroll Twitter on the couch for days.
- It’s not often that I fire up the podcast app and listen to anything, but I uncharacteristically spent a few hours this week on financial/investing-related content, which will hopefully help to set up a better 2021. I don’t know why I spent the first half (or more) of my life resistant to the idea of understanding economics and money; well, I suppose I can make a guess as to the underlying repulsions, but it’s never too late to change your mind and try to let some new thoughts in.
- My birthday was months ago, but I think the realization only started to land in the last few months (and almost completely subconsciously!). I was talking to someone awhile ago about how you just one day catch yourself changing up stuff or trying new things, and oh hey what a coincidence 4-0, and they said yeah, it’s a real thing and it’s started happening to me too, except a year in advance. I’m always lagging.
- A reunion of sorts: Many years ago, possibly a decade, I chanced upon a wonky, clearly Not Proper Art painting at the Affordable Art Fair and sort of fell for it. It was an underdog. It was absolute innocence, defenseless against the world. Kim hated it and walked us away. I wanted to go back for another look and maybe take a photo but never got the chance. In any case, it was way too expensive for me to even consider. As with all things that get away, you want them even more, irrationally. I remember calling the gallery up for the local artist’s name and writing it down in Evernote. And all these years, I’ve been holding a vivid memory of it in my head, and I bring it up from time to time to tease and horrify Kim with the idea of putting it up in our home. We found it online this week. It’s still unsold, at the same gallery. The price has come down by about half. I have money these days. It’s still higher than it probably should be. I don’t know. It’s almost exactly as I remembered it. Maybe I’ll buy it just to scratch the itch and close the book.
- App of the Week: Mimi Hearing Test [iOS]. This free app will test your hearing in about 5 minutes if you have a pair of headphones that they’ve calibrated for, and tell you how degraded your ears are. It outputs an “audiogram” assessment to Apple’s Health.app, which can be used to tune the sound quality of AirPods beyond the usual Hearing Accommodations. It’s pretty great and I think everyone should try it.
It’s a rare treat for me to be able to visit Japan two years in a row, but that happened last month after we realized my airline miles bank could handle it. Our time was largely planned around meals, exhibitions, and not a great deal else. Looking back, I should have spent a little more time making a good to-do list. As soon as we arrived home, I started hearing and reading about all sorts of other things we could have done. Maybe next year.
It became a bit of a tradition for me to make these konbini snack haul videos every night at the hotel, showing a camera all the native junk food and drinks I bought to eat while lazing around. Unfortunately, I didn’t do any this time around. Why? Leading up to the trip, I started eating less and being healthier so that I could pig out on holiday. Ironically, that had two effects: a smaller appetite, and a habit of reading nutritional info labels.
Once there, I was looking at the calorie counts on everything, and having more than a 400kcal sandwich and 150kcal milk coffee for breakfast seemed irresponsible. In the past, I was probably eating 1000kcals just at breakfast alone. Those colorful, convenient packages are more energy-dense than they look… like how a microwavable spaghetti ready meal from 7-Eleven will easily run you over 900kcals.
This trip will be remembered for having spent (too?) much of it in queues. Nearly straight off the plane, we stood three hours in line at Nakiryu waiting for their Michelin-starred take on Szechuan dan dan noodles. It was amazing but three hours is a little much. I’d do it again at twice the price and half the wait.
Another epic wait was at the fairly new “Borderless” exhibition by teamLab in Odaiba, where the line stretched as far as one could see, before extending around the corner for another equal length. You approach it from the head of the line, and then walk down the entire way to find the end, and it’s painfully demoralizing. We honestly considered skipping it and going home, but it moved quickly and only took an hour. Once in line, you will be kept entertained by the disbelieving faces of newbs going through the same rite of passage.
As an experience, I have to recommend it. teamLab pull off some amazing stuff both in terms of technical achievement and sheer conceptual audacity. I don’t know how many members they have, but I’ll bet they’re all overworked. This permanent exhibition is presented in conjunction with Epson, and when you look at the number of high resolution projectors employed to carve these interactive fantasy worlds out of the dark, it makes sense.
We were also fortunate to visit 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT when an exhibition about Naoto Fukusawa’s iconic INFOBAR phone was on in commemoration of its 15th anniversary and the new xv model. The anniversary model runs some severely restricted version of Android to recreate the minimal featurephone experience. It’s a beautiful object that I used to dream about being able to use, back in the pre-smartphone days. We just don’t get this kind of product design anymore now that the screen has become the primary element.
Every time I’m in Japan, I try to notice what games people are playing, the devices they’re using, what’s being advertised and so on, because it’s still quite an insulated cultural environment and many of those things don’t make their way outside or fail to catch on if they do.
Last November, a Korean-made mobile game called Destiny Child was being heavily advertised on TV and around the city on billboards. The ads were highly visual, showing off some detailed 2D character animations and no gameplay to speak of, so I had no idea what it was about but I wanted to try it. For a whole year afterwards, I’d periodically do a search for Destiny Child on the App Store to see if it had made it out in English. This year, upon our return after the 10 days or so in Japan, it was finally released globally in English. It’s a kinda ecchi mobile gacha game and not for everyone, but you can find it here: https://itunes.apple.com/sg/app/destiny-child/id1416959016?mt=8
I’m still waiting for Level-9’s The Snack World (3DS) to cross the language divide.
You already know this, but the Switch is killing it. The fact that it’s region-free, and a few games that come out first in Japan include support for English and other European languages, has been seized upon by some retailers who have stuck up notices for tourists about what games they can safely buy home. Sony had some pretty slick in-store displays for Judge Eyes and PSVR, but Nintendo had the crowd-drawing content between Pokémon Let’s Go, Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Mario Party.
Compared to a year ago, smokeless tobacco products seemed to be in decline. I recall seeing people use Marlboro’s IQOS devices everywhere, and in smoking lounges (at the airport, for example), the majority of people were using similar systems.
Now, it seemed like the proportions were reversed. I overheard (mostly inferred from snatches of words I understood, actually) a lady talking to her friend about JT’s Ploom Tech while smoking a regular cigarette, saying how it wasn’t that good. She even pulled the device out of a pouch in her bag to show it off.
Having tried Ploom Tech, I can see why. It’s nothing like a cigarette and really lacks a lot of the experience. IQOS is much closer. I’d be interested to know the reasons behind this pattern, if true. Was it just a fad, or do smokeless products have a future? I think their adoption could do a ton to improve the air in cities, and improve quality of life for smokers as well.
A couple of years ago, everyone on the train listened to music with cords hanging from their faces and that was the picture almost everywhere. Riding the Tokyo metro in 2017, I noticed many more making the move to wireless (the same story in Singapore), but the majority of these were neckbuds and the like — sub-$100 Bluetooth headphones connected by a cable.
This year, commuters were noticeably switching to so-called true wireless headphones, including Apple’s AirPods which have exploded in popularity. It’s an overall trend in consumer electronics, helped by the fact that prices have come down and identical OEM buds under a slew of new brand names can be had for very little. Just look in my Instagram ads sometime.
But after looking at tons of them in the big stores like Bic and Yodobashi Camera, I’ve concluded that almost none of them are competitive with the AirPods on battery life or charging case size. The Jabra Elite 65T has probably the smallest case (I bought a pair), and Sony‘s are laughably large. They are like mini coffins, and won’t fit in any pockets. Instant fail. Even after a year, no one has nailed battery life, solid connectivity, and portability like Apple did with AirPods. If only they fit my ears without falling out.
I don’t know if the reports of iPhone XR demand being weaker than expected are true, but you’d never know it from walking the aisles in a store. It had just come out when we were there, but the shelves were already filled with third-party accessories. And stores were pitching them at the front, with iPhone XS and XS Max goods relegated to the rear. Clearly, manufacturers and retailers were ready for it to be the most popular model.
Magazines and retail
I posted about this in an Instagram story, but it bears repeating here. The Japanese publishing industry and its continued survival is an interesting phenomenon I wish someone at Netflix would commission a documentary on. Digital devices are everywhere, and I believe Amazon had some success convincing people to read manga on their Kindles, but paper is still everywhere.
Walk into any magazine section and you’ll see specialist interest publications on niche hobbies: fountain pens, shooting film through vintage lenses, ballet, fabric decoration, birdwatching, and even individual apps and games. None of this is news, but every year I see that companies can keep doing this makes me feel incredibly bittersweet about not being able to read Japanese and live in their world. I’d love to know how close to the line of viability they stray, and whether or not young people are still considering a career in the industry.
Just this month, Bunkitsu, a mammoth new bookstore has opened with over 30,000 titles and a so-crazy-it-might-work business model: visitors have to pay a ¥1500 cover charge.
I’ve wistfully said similar things about their retail landscape in other posts, and how you’re sure to find supplies for (insert odd past time) somewhere. But while you can shop, learn, and find community online from anywhere in the world, it’s different when physical spaces are reserved for this exploration and sharing.
That’s why places like Tsutaya at Daikanyama T-Site (see last post) are so special; they’re like magazines you can walk around in. Feeling out of touch with culture? A quick trip immerses you in what Thom Yorke is up to (writing the score for a remake of Suspira, btw here’s the LP cover and a t-shirt and the movie poster and one of the costumes from the production… wanna hear it on this new pair of headphones?); what the new Pixel 3 feels like to hold; what drinks Starbucks is peddling for Christmas this year; which classic albums are 50 years old today; and a ton of other media about whatever you care about. Yeah it’s all driven by consumerism, but let me have it.
I have no doubt that we will collectively realize what we’ve lost if/when physical retail collapses, and attempt to restore it. Possibly through VR or mixed reality. Some form of socially curating, presenting, and trading is crucial to the creative process, and I think it has to have a tactility and presence to work. Or maybe I’m just old now.
I packed light with just an iPhone XS Max and the Panasonic LX10 I bought earlier in the year, and decided to try something new: processing every color photo with the same filter/film simulation in VSCO. It’s the KA1, aka their recreation of Kodak Ektachrome E100G. Because their Film X filters allow you to adjust “character” and warmth along a spectrum, you can actually make any single film sim work on a variety of photos; contrasty and warm in some, faded and cool in others. The goal was to set a consistent look across the two cameras and one moment in time. I’ll probably look back on these in the future and want to edit them all over again, but this is good for now.
Some iPhone photos from a recent visit. I’d been meaning to see the Eames one for months, but it’s always a bit hard to get out to the Marina Bay Sands because there isn’t a lot to do afterwards if you’re not in the mood for an expensive meal or drinks.
There are quite a few pieces in the Eames area, including some original interactive activities from an educational exhibit they designed, although the gallery layout leaves a little to be desired. A roughshod detail here, an odd pathway there, and lots of furniture out of reach, labeled “do not touch”, leaves you empty; it’s only at the very end when you sink into a permitted Ottoman that you feel the humanity of their designs.
The Chanel Black Jacket photo exhibition is much more enjoyable to explore, because there’s nothing between you and the content on display.
Here are the official exhibition summaries:
Explore the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames, the most famous couple in design.
Most known for their timeless furniture creations, their influence and innovation extended far beyond that into architecture, exhibition design, toy making and film.
CHANEL’s photographic exhibition dedicated to Karl Lagerfeld’s book “The Little Black Jacket: CHANEL’s classic revisited by Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld” opens in Singapore, joining a new stage of the exhibition that underlines CHANEL’s values of creativity and modernity.
Discover the exhibition that pays tribute to CHANEL’s little black jacket. Through over a hundred photographs the jacket is adapted and worn differently by some of today’s greatest personalities in contemporary culture. Slipped on by the French singer, Vanessa Paradis, transformed into a headdress for the American actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, or adapted to Alice Dellal’s neo-punk look – this fashion masterpiece can adapt to any style.
Two of the movies I’ve been waiting for in one weekend. Pacific Rim in IMAX 3D (found the 3D dull, dim, and uncomfortable), and Keanu Reeves’s directorial debut, Man of Taichi (thankfully in 2D). Both are films I’d like to go see again.
They are both fascinating in that Pacific Rim is the monster (kaiju) movie that Japan could never make, while Man of Taichi is the martial arts (gongfu) movie that Hong Kong could never make. Both borrow richly from their sources, but add something of their own. In Pacific Rim’s case, wads of special effects money and (unfortunately) Michael Bay’s apocalypse movie template. Andy Baio remarked on Twitter that it’s the worst of Transformers, Armageddon, and Independence Day rolled into one. While that’s a fair assessment of its characterizations and plotting, Del Toro at least executes his material as if he’s seen some anime and knows how to shoot a fight so you can actually see it.
What it really needed was a tight script and team dynamics you could both enjoy and invest in. Instead of Michael Bay’s template, I wish they’d taken Joss Whedon’s. But no, it falls back on faceless national stereotypes and comically bad romance tropes. Rinko Kikuchi may have an Oscar, but I wouldn’t trust whoever oversaw her doe-eyed scenes with bland Charlie Hunnam to direct traffic on a one-way street. Perhaps the Mako Mori character was just meant to be younger than Kikuchi looks, but her uncertainty and shyness were incongruous with having the coolest/most badass hair in the movie.
Man of Taichi takes the best of Enter The Dragon, Bloodsport, and Ong Bak (fighting tournaments with explosive combat scenes), and adds both directorial and visual restraint to a philosophical story layer that HK films sometimes try to do (Ip Man, much of Jet Li’s period work), but almost always too heavy-handedly. For the genre of film that he’s taken on, I think Keanu Reeves has shown himself to be a good director. Not for an actor, or for a Hollywood man, but a good director, period.
Man of Taichi’s star is Tiger Chen, a stuntman that Reeves met during the production of The Matrix. I won’t complain about his performance in the film’s non-fight scenes, because it never gets in the way, which is more than I can say for Pacific Rim’s moments of downtime. When he fights, or is seen struggling with the Star Wars-like light vs. dark side moral dilemma of his pugilism, Chen’s placid face conveys exactly the intensity required. In the final moments of the film’s final fight, he uses it as a blank canvas to great effect — much like Keanu Reeves in his portrayal as Neo in The Matrix when we needed to believe a world lay inside a computer. Some see wooden acting, I choose to see inspired detachment.
Reeves is in this film too, as the main antagonist. My viewing companion was not impressed. Maybe I’m just a fan, but again, I found his typically one-dimensional portrayal to be perfect for the film. It’s so hard to see what’s going on behind the rigid, mechanical demeanor that it produces an oppressive sense of mystery, fear, and apprehension whenever he enters the room opposite the human, naive, in-over-his-head Chen. You simply don’t know what Reeves is supposed to be capable of, or if he’s even meant to be human. I felt the whole thing could go From Dusk Till Dawn at any point and literally reveal Reeves as Satan with Krav Maga training. Through the stark presentation, voice effects, sleek dark suits and occasional black mask, bloodlessly pale face, and perfunctory short utterances, you are invited to read his existence in the whole scenario as a let-it-all-hang-out metaphor for demonic evil. All villains are, but this one does it without overacting in the face!
Where Pacific Rim is happy to show great swathes of the world, and then gleefully destroy it, much of Man of Taichi takes place indoors, with only a few establishing skyline shots of Beijing and Hong Kong. Like Hong Kong, the sparse fight arenas are all concrete surfaces and sharp corners for flesh to get caught on, and you are constantly made aware of the combatants’ mortality. In Pacific Rim, the robot Jaegers are virtually invincible except when fighting the Kaijus, which are only flesh, and bleed. You could toss a Jaeger through a skyscraper made of the same metals, but it only malfunctions when punched in the face by a tentacle. Like in Man of Steel, which got flack for Superman allowing awesome amounts of collateral damage, Pacific Rim’s environment is an inconsequential foam that inhabits the fight space, to be ignored by everyone except the audience, whose job it is to be overwhelmed by enjoyable particle effects.
In both films, there is a man with a knife. One is played to the hilt by Ron Perlman, who talks a lot, wears gold shoes, sunglasses, and flips a flashy butterfly knife around for effect. I can’t remember if he had a cigar in his mouth but there might as well have been. In the other universe, Keanu Reeves pulls the blade out low at the waist, and stabs silently and mercilessly before you know it’s there. It is beautiful and unintentional asymmetry.
I recommend seeing both. Pacific Rim is a dream come true for many of us who love giant robots and schlocky movies with men in rubber monster suits, but by only improving upon visuals, its clearest future is as an HDTV/4K showcase at your local electronics dealer. I think Man of Taichi might become a cult martial arts classic talked about and recommended to friends for years.
Pacific Rim is obviously out now, Man of Taichi is out in Asia and is slated to be in the U.S. sometime in 2013.
|Snowstorm finale, Instagrammed from my iPhone|
My girlfriend and I attended last night’s performance of the award-winning Slava’s Snowshow (now on till the 9th of September, at the Marina Bay Sands theaters), which isn’t easily described because it has clowns, but isn’t really for kids; its narrative has no binding logic, but it says a lot without words; there’s snow, as promised, but really it’s about dreams, playacting, physical comedy, scenes of profound Godot-esque surrealism (as you’d expect from Russian clowns) , departures, alienation, and (I got the sense of this) having fun by being lost.
The Times of London called it “a theatre classic of the 20th century”, and its creator, Slava Polunin, was formerly of the Cirque du Soleil where he served as a clown-in-chief of sorts.
I don’t want to spoil it too much, but as long as you’re sitting in the stalls, you can’t escape being immersed in its key scenes. The performers regularly break the fourth wall (does this apply to the stage?), multiple objects and effects break free from the front and rush to the back of the hall, creating for adults a sense of wonderment that evokes memories of childhood play.
Even at around 80 minutes, it’s all over a little too quickly. I wish I’d paid a little more attention to the details, and the use of music (which was excellent, and the hall handled acoustics well). It’s something I can definitely see myself going for again someday, somewhere else in the world.
There’s about a week and a half to go, and tickets are still available. Try the link below for the Marina Bay Sands’ website.
|Photo credit: Marina Bay Sands|