Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Nightingale - Review

When I read a historical fiction, I expect – of course – a historical fiction, not a soap opera with eye-rolling cliché and melodrama. The Nightingale is filled with exaggerated dramatic moments and chick-lit plot. It didn’t make a good historical fiction even if Kristin Hannah threw in a *SPOILER* rape element.

Few things.

1.    The Characters

None of the characters are really likable, especially the two protagonists Vianne and Isabelle.

Let’s talk about Isabelle. She was impulsive, hot-tempered, uncontrollable, irresponsible. She had not only once put her family in danger due to her childish thinking and behavior. When Beck billeted at Vianne’s house, she was rude to him thereby risking her sister’s and niece’s life. Had Beck not been a decent man, all of them would have been dead.

As for Vianne, she was just plain stupid. She hid Rachel in her cellar on the day of the deportation of Jewish, but only until noon. She couldn’t even wait till the end of the day before she thought it was safe to let her out. And Rachel, being even dumber, risked getting deported (which she did) for a bath.

“I went to town. Everything seems normal. Maybe Beck was being overly cautious, but I think you should spend one more night down there.” 
Rachel’s face was drawn, tired-looking. “I’ll need diapers. And a quick bath. Ari and I both smelled.”

In another event when Isabelle was shot and Vianne insisted that her sister stayed to be cared by her. Having killed Beck moments ago, she needed to be reminded that an injured woman in her house was going to draw attention. If she would have used her brain a little it would not be so much effort to figure out this rocket science.

“Enough,” Henri said, stepping between them. “She can’t stay here, Vianne. Think about it. The Germans are going to come looking for their dead captain. They don’t need to find a woman with gunshot wound and false papers. You understand?”

Sometimes characters were shaped in a way that they were not supposed to be likable. But in this case the result was that I ended up not caring much about what happened to them.

2.    The Writing

The writing style is generally flat and, yes, chick-lit. I don’t have anything against such genre. I even gave a high review for Me Before You and I specifically praised Jojo Moyes’ writing. But The Nightingale, is a chick-lit with historical fiction in disguise.

She was so surprised that she couldn’t think how to respond. He was saying he would die to protect Isabelle. He turned to her, gazed at her. Gazed, not looked.

There were things like these that reminded me of E.L.James’ infamous Fifty Shades trilogy. Kristin Hannah seemed to think her emphasizing of a “gaze” instead of a “look” would stun or awe the readers emotionally.

For the first time, Gaëtan smiled and Vianne understood how this scrawny, sharp-featured man in his beggar’s clothes had swept Isabelle off her feet. He had the kind of smile that inhabited every part of his face – his eyes, his cheeks; there was even a dimple.

That’s right, dimple is the answer to all questions!

3.    Fiction or imagination?

There were events and moments when I wondered did Kristin Hannah do her research properly.

Times when it was “freezing cold” when hiking through the Nightingale escape route. Now I’d been to hiking in Nepal. It was neither raining nor snowing, but the temperature was low, close to sub-zero. But when we hiked, there wasn’t an instant when we felt “freezing cold”. When we walked our body generated heat, especially when there was a uphill hike or up a flight of steps. At all times, we wore a layer of long-sleeve shirt during the hike. When we stopped for meals it was not until for a while that we needed to wear the down jacket. So when Hannah described the mountain scene, I had many doubts.

Times when Hannah explained Rossignol’s family financial status and asset. Julien Rossignol was a war soldier and a bookseller and he owned a property (Le Jardin) in Carriveau, a bookshop and an apartment in Paris. I am no expert of France economy in the 1940s but I thought that was a bit too well-off for a bookseller.

Overall I gave it a 2 star out of 5. This is the first book I read of Kristin Hannah’s and I will keep in mind not to read another one.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sharing My Itinerary - Hokkaido - Day 3

Day 3

Collected car from Times Car Rental, within walking distance from Superhotel Kushiro Ekimae. I made the booking through a website called Tabirai - English-friendly and very responsive to every question asked.
  • Car collection on Day 3 at 10am, return on Day 5 at 11am.
  • Price 11 800 yen (rental and included CDW coverage) + 3240 yen (for NOC coverage) = total 15 040 yen. NOC coverage is 1080 yen per day, hence for 3 days would be 3240 yen.
  • The car was completed with 4WD (four wheel drive), snow tire and a built-in GPS device.
  • CDW and NOC are some sort of a safety insurance package and super safety insurance package respectively. You could read about it here. It is highly recommended that you get the NOC package.
The easiest way to navigate in Japan is either with (a) map code, or (b) phone number of the destination. In my case nothing went wrong with map code that I found using this website. Of course, all these research had to be done beforehand.

Visited Kushiro Tanchozuru National Park or 釧路市丹顶鹤自然公园. Entrance fee 470 yen. Free parking just outside of the park.

Drove to Akan Lake and checked in to ryokan (Japanese style hotel).

Visited Ainu Kotan Village. Everthing in the Akan Lake town is within walking distance.

Accommodation: Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings, 12 100 yen per person per night for a 3-person-room, addtional 250 yen is payable for onsen (hot spring) charges. Buffet dinner and buffet breakfast included. Free parking available.

There was no outdoor onsen in the Tsuruga Wings, however there was a passage connected to Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga, which had a larger onsen located in the open. Both ryokan belonged to the Tsuruga group, and guests from both were free to use any onsen facility. Usually it is more comfortable in a outdoor onsen as there'll be a good view, and it is less stuffy. It is amazing feeling snow flakes falling on your head and face, while your body stays warm in the sulphur-smelled water.

Kushiro Tanchozuru National Park

Posing in a Winter Sonata feel.

Our room in the ryokan. The futon will be laid by the hotel staff in the evening when we were out for dinner.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sharing My Itinerary - Hokkaido - Day 2

Day 2

Dog Sledding, 32 000 yen for 3 pax and 1 sled. Pick up and drop off at Hoshino Tomamu Resort included. They provided jackets, fleece vests, gloves, and snow boots, as well as a CD with pictures they took of us. Fun and worth it. We almost lost a GoPro for the dogs were too excited at the beginning. We found it back in the snow afterwards.

Free and easy around Tomamu Resort area. In my case, we went to the onsen (hot spring) to relax. I could understand then why did the Japanese love onsen. Most of the grander onsen are located in the open air. So before you can get in, you need to endure the cold wind blowing against your naked skin. But when you finally submerge yourself into the 40 degrees Celcius water, it is almost heaven. So much so that I didn't want to get up. By the end of the trip I felt the most natural thing to do was to relax in the onsen at least once a day.

In the evening we boarded the free shuttle bus from resort lobby to Tomamu station.

Boarded JR train from to Kushiro station with JR 4-day flexi pass.

Accommodation: Superhotel Kushiro Ekimae, 2700 yen per night per person, for a 3-person-room. Buffet breakfast included.

Superhotel in my opinion, best value-for-money ever. Price per night per pax is approximately MYR100, breakfast included. Where else could you find a decent hotel with such a price? But then again it was also because Superhotel in Kushiro was cheaper since it was not much of a tourist spot. I did check that Superhotel in other places, for instance Osaka, were much more expensive.

Bonding with the dogs.

This was how we looked before the crash.

After crashing once.

This was during the second or third crash.

At Tomamu station.

Waiting for the train.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sharing My Itinerary - Hokkaido - Day 1

I am sharing with you a very detailed itinerary that I planned for Hokkaido, last January. It was winter.

Day 1

Arrival at Shin-Chitose Airport.
  • Purchased JR Pass (4-day flexi), 22,000 yen. The term "flexi" because I could use it to take 4 days of JR, either consecutively or non-consecutively, within 10 days from the date of purchase / collection. In my case, I listed down all the JR train fares for each day that I would be spending, and then I picked the top 4 most expensive days to use the pass.
  • Purchased Asahiyama Zoo ticket set or 旭山動物園きっぷ, 6130 yen, which included roundtrip JR train ticket from/to Asahikawa station, roundtrip bus ticket between Asahikawa station to the zoo, and the zoo entrance ticket.
Boarded the JR train from airport to Tomamu station. Since the train ticket for today is not the top 4 most expensive, I bought the ticket separately, 3430 yen.

There were free shuttle buses from Tomamu station to Hoshino Tomamu Resort. It was a ski resort with many other attractions - some sort like Genting Highlands in Malaysia, but better. Note that the restaurants were quite pricey as well.
  • Visited Chapel on the Water 水の教会. It was a famous architectural building by Tadao Ando, only opened to visitors for 1 hour starting at 9pm.
  • Visited Ice Village. 
Accommodation: Hoshino Resort Tomamu, 13,000 yen per night per person for a 3-person-room. Buffet breakfast included.

The most spacious room I had ever stayed in Japan but, f***ing expensive!

View from the hotel room.

Chapel on the Water

A church in the Ice Village

Monday, January 9, 2017

Enough is Enough !

After the previous incident, I had been scammed...



...and again...

"Am Autumn Oliver by name"??? Who the hell talks like that??? Did they Google translate Nigerian??? Can't they hire scammers with better English proficiency???

This was when I said to myself, enough! And I took down the advertisement on Mudah and decided never to post anything on it ever again. Unbelievable number of scammers! Gosh!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Passenger - Movie Review


What was it about?

Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, why was I surprised that it was, indeed, a love story? Well it was a romance packaged as a sci-fi, to be exact.

The story started with Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) waking up from his hibernation, which was supposed to last 120 years. But due to a malfunction, he woke up 90 years earlier than scheduled. Alone on the unmanned spaceship, his attempts of putting himself back into hibernation failed. After a year of suffering, he then made a difficult decision - he broke another hibernation pot inhabited by Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), in desperation of company.

Did it meet my expectations?

For the record, I went into the cinema expecting a sci-fi thriller. Can you blame me or anyone that had watch the trailer? The trailer practically labelled it a sci-fi movie! I'd also like to say that the science of it was not very convincing.

Jim's space suit sustained the heat vent from the fusion reactor. Seriously?

Jim got thrown out from the vent and was travelling in the backward direction of the spaceship. He was still in vicinity after 5 seconds or so. Wasn't the spaceship travelling at half of light speed?

Jim threw the steel door that he used as shield in the backward direction, causing himself a forward thrust. Erm... I'm not really sure about this but, really?

I also thought the story would open at the point when Aurora woke up. And then she'd meet Jim and at this moment she (as well as the audience) wouldn't know yet, about his intentionally breaking her hibernation pot. As the story moved, she'd discover it from Arthur, and so would the audience. Hence instilling the suspense, the twist, and the flash-back story telling technique.

But instead the movie chose to do it the opposite way - bringing in the story from Jim's point of view. It probably wanted to portray Jim's stranded situation, his helplessness and desperation, which I thought was very successful.

Did I like it?

I loved it. Of course I was a little disappointed that the romantic element played a big part of it, instead of the sci-fi element. But the story was very refreshing that I was able to forgive a misleading trailer.

Friday, December 30, 2016

I have (almost) been scammed!

Yes, I have! And I survived to tell the tale...

The Baiting Stage

Like all scams, it began with greed. I posted an advertisement on Mudah to sell my used camera. The price I fixed was RM600, equivalent to USD133.75. It's amazing such a low price can attract scammers. I'm officially amazed.

Anyway, I received a WhatsApp message the next day, from a +234 number, a Nigerian country code. If you type "mudah nige" into Google search bar, these are the first things that come up.

Haven't even complete the word "nigerian", Google search bar tells it all.

The seemingly interested buyer, refer henceforth as "the Nigerian", told me he was from UK and wanted to buy the camera for his cousin in Sabah. He asked me to check the postage fee to Sabah, which I did. It was about RM16 via PosLaju.

Without much questions, the Nigerian asked for my banking details and immediately transferred RM1050 to my account. And all these, were confirmed by his bank, the First Direct Bank. The payable amount was only RM616 including postage, but he paid in excess of RM434. Now, this is the bait.

The Pre-Scamming Stage

According to the email from First Direct Bank, I needed to provide proof of postage before they would credit the money into my bank account, apparently to avoid money laundering.

First email from the bank. My bank account number is the number of times I died and reincarnated.

I was again amazed by how badly-written and unprofessional the email sounded, not the mention the grammatical errors. Can't I be impressed by a more skilled scammer? How can these scammers survive in such a challenging and harsh environment? How do they even compete with the better scammers?

So the Nigerian insisted that I post him the camera today, right away. Since I was bored, and have all the time in the world (don't ask why), so I played along.

Conversation with the Nigerian Part 1. The tracking number is a lottery number I trust will be announced this week.

He then asked for the PosLaju receipt, but of course I didn't have it. I just forged some Maybank2U online payment slip, took a picture and sent to him. It was a photo after all so I guess he couldn't tell that it was a fake. I even forged a PosLaju consignment note (don't ask how) and sent back to his First Direct Bank.

The Real Scam Stage 1

Now this was when the real thing came. He made a payment in excess of RM400! So, how? He asked me. F***ing call your bank and make changes, I suggested. But the problem was, the bank said no, apparently for security reasons. Wow, such customer service. And such high security.

Okay fine, I would refund the money after the transaction had been done successfully. Bank said no again, they needed to see the refund before they could credit my account. I repeatedly demanded reasoning behind this, as I wanted to see how clever they could get and what excuses they could come up with to get around with this. But the Nigerian guy kept saying it could not be done, I had to refund the money first etc. He just kept repeating the same thing, like a retard.

Conversation with the Nigerian Part 2. He wanted to delay my suspicion before the camera could reach him.

Conversation with the Nigerian Part 3. I made him believe that I will refund RM250 to him.

So I gave him what he wanted. I refunded the money to him. Of course I forged a Maybank2U online transfer slip again, which made me realized how easily it could be done. Something to note for future reference - be it a scam or anything at all.

The Real Scam Stage 2

So what happens when you successfully cheated someone of RM250? The answer is simple. The more the merrier!

Of course the amount RM1050 is too little to be transferred. Nobody transfer that kind of money okay. Of course you need a minimum of RM2000. What is anything below RM2000? The bank was very regret to inform me that the transaction had failed, because apparently their valued customer, the Nigerian, had never had a transfer less than MYR2000.00 with them!

Second email from the bank. Transaction had failed. 

Seriously... How can anyone fall for this? And that was not all. In order to be able to transfer the money, he had made an additional transfer of RM950 into my account, so now I had to refund him this very amount as well. It's so fun right! We love transferring money from one to another!

By that time I was bored beyond hope. These scammers, they are just not creative enough. I felt lazy to entertain the Nigerian anymore so blocked that +234 number on WhatsApp. He then sent another message from another number saying that I was trying to scam him. LOL. Nice try, Nigerian.

Well that was the end of the scam and yes I had a good laugh. I had two names and a RHB account number, which I thought belong to the scammer, or at least to someone linked to him. I had thought of filing a police report but then, this amateur scammer, why had he not been caught? His skills were stupid and he gave out bank account numbers. Those who got scammed (if any) surely had reported to the police. The only reason he was still out there, either because the PDRM didn't bother, or because he was some insider with PDRM or had linkage with them. If I were to report him, and I had played him that way, would he track me down and come for revenge?

Anyway, I figured I should still provide the information here, on my blog, for the sake of all mankind. Whether or not I file a report is another story. Without further ado, let me introduce the cast:
Mr. D***head Aizad Razi (it only appeared in emails hence it could be a fake name)
Mr. F***face Mohd Afzan Afiq, owner of RHB account 15211200049444

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Elfen Lied - Anime Review

Anime has been one of my pastimes during the last few months. I've been watching some famous ones that anime fans would consider classic - Steins;Gate, Puella Madoka Magica, etc. Hours ago I just finished Elfen Lied. When you look for "greatest anime of all time" in YouTube, you almost always get Elfen Lied in the list. I'm not gonna lie - it got my attention due to its gory content.

I would have to say, it didn't live up to my expectations at all.

Well, here is my SPOILER review.

The Characters

The first thing I have to say is the characters are freaking flat. None of them is likable. None of them makes me feel emotionally attached to. None of them is really fully developed. 

We have Kouta, who had a dark childhood from watching his little sister and father being killed by Lucy / Nyu whom he considered as a friend. We have Lucy / Nyu, who as a child was bullied and betrayed by normal humans. We have Mayu, who was sexually abused by her stepfather. We have Kurama, who lost his newborn and wife, because his newborn was a Diclonius. I'm supposed to sympathize with these characters I guess. But they are so poorly-developed and so lacked of vibe. And the flashbacks didn't help either. At times I felt myself waiting for the emotional touch and it felt like it almost reach me, but then disappeared quickly.

What disturbs me most is, they didn't even try to explain why Lucy / Nyu was having split personality. I mean, she had been living her past few years in a lab facility and then suddenly when she escaped, she had split personality??? That's just too convenient for the plot, which brings me to the next point.

The Plot

The anime opened with intriguing gory scenes of a Diclonius escaping from a experimental lab facility. Then it built up to pre-climax with explanations on events in the past, including the childhood of Lucy / Nyu and how she befriended Kouta. There were little hints at the first few episodes signalling something happened in the past, and then flashbacks towards the ending which supposed to disclose the "twist". Well in short, the big twist was - *drumroll* - that Lucy / Nyu as a child was the killer of Kouta's family. I think this is the most interesting part in the whole of the series.

The gory scenes were, well gory, and that's it. They didn't leave a strong impression on me and neither were they disturbing, particularly #35 (Mariko) who was Kurama's daughter. I felt that more could be done to this character. She was supposedly raised in a lab since she was born and isolated from all other human beings. Her becoming of a blood thirsty killer and her attachment to the idea of Kurama being a father were not well-explained and simply unconvincing.

And what was the experiments conducted in the lab facility anyway? What exactly were they trying to achieve? It didn't seem to be solely for academical purposes. Towards the ending it was shown the director of the lab, Kakuzawa took off his wig and revealed that he, too was a Diclonius. Quite a reveal but I needed to ask - and then what? And in the same scene we saw that Arakawa decided to hide the identity of Kouta, being related to Lucy / Nyu - again, for convenience of the plot.

The character of Bando seemed very redundant as well. He didn't make any significant contributions or advancements to the plot. And the part where Kurama fixed his artificial hand in exchange for him to kill Mariko - first of all, why did he think Bando can kill her when she is so-all-powerful? Second of all, how did he even know Bando would be at the beach? 

The Ending

I found myself asking "that's it?" towards the last scene - surprised to find that it concluded with a mere 13 episodes. I've always liked short anime but, this one just left you hanging. Its open ending is the worst in the history of open endings.

The last scene led us to believe that Lucy / Nyu survived and came back to Kouta. If so, how? The organization behind the experimental lab facility appeared to be having quite the influence with the government, the police and the special forces. It couldn't be this simple that they left her alone after all these hard work of capturing her alive. 

All in all, Elfen Lied was a total disappointment and certainly overrated in my opinion.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Me Before You - A Book Review

I had just finished The Witcher 3 (minus the expansions) on PS4 and there was no good free games available for a few months now - damn you Sony. Hence recently I've gone back to reading. It felt like high school again. I used to drive to my friend ST's house to borrow some books during the school holidays. Normally I came back with 5 or 6 and I would stack them neatly on my study table and evaluate which one to start.

I have no idea why this book in particular could squeeze a review out of me. But here I am, back with a new post on my blog that I have abandoned since... let me check... January 2015! That was more than a year ago! And I should be ashamed that I didn't get to finish what I started. Well, in my own defense I would like to clarify that my blog is not exactly intended for popularity purposes. It's actually like a personal journal which I don't mind letting anyone read. So that means I could just come back and write something whenever I feel like it, and not write anything whenever I don't feel like it, right? Right?

Okay, back to the review. Before you proceed, I should just warn you (if anyone is reading at all), that this is a SPOILER review of Jojo Moyes' Me Before You. Proceed at your own risk!

First of all, I think it is quite well-written for a romantic novel and it's so refreshing to the eye. Well maybe it's because I have never been exposed to too many novels of this genre. I distinctly remember reading some during my teens. I remember A Greek God At The Ladies' Club by Jenna McKnight, Message In A Bottle by Nicholas Sparks, and some book which I can't remember by Nora Roberts. That was pretty much it, and they were so bad I needed to drag myself forcefully towards the last page, in between countless eye-rollings and frustrated outbursts. Oh, not forgetting to mention the ever so popular Fifty Shades Of Grey that everyone made a big fuss about. E.L.James had so limited vocabulary that the whole book had repetitive sentence structures and repetitive words. What I'm saying is, I'm pretty happy with Me Before You, given my experience with books of this genre.

The story was told with Louisa Clark's narration, with a few chapters from different characters point of view. There was one from Camilla Traynor, one from Steven Traynor, then Nathan, and one from Katrina Clark. These chapters, I felt, were entirely unnecessary and pointless. They didn't contribute anything to the whole story. It was as if the author worried that it would be too bland and so she tried adding some salt and pepper. But totally unnecessary.

I felt a little depressed upon finishing the book. I guess it's because prior to reading Me Before You, I was on Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is super depressing! That might have affect my mood a little. Well you could probably guess that Me Before You is a sad ending. But as much as I hate it, it actually makes perfect sense to me. I can totally understand why Will Traynor had to do what he did. It's a little selfish, yes. But let's face it, you gotta live (or not live) for yourself. It is an interesting issue to explore - whether it is right to take your own life.

Finally, here's a trailer to the movie that's coming out in June this year. I don't think I would be able to watch it alone so I guess I would have to drag Feeder into this. Sorry!

P.S. This is the first time I'm blogging since I bought my Surface Pro 3. And I just gotta say, the keyboard is amazing!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) Trek - Day 3

The best thing about trekking, is that you get to meet strangers. Along the trek you'd give way to a group of Koreans. Upon saying anyo haseyo you'd get a reply that they were on their way to ABC as well. While waiting for dinner at the dining hall, you'd be placed next to a couple from Germany or Canada. And it always seem natural to start an introduction and get the conversation flowing. Or you'd meet two friendly Chinese-Australian ladies. And the next thing you know, you'd be studying Lonely Planet together and recommending good restaurants in Pokhara.

I mean, for me that would seldom happen when I travel in the cities or towns. Hence that was like something different.

Day 3: Dovan - Deurali

On day 3 the hardship continued. Though the trek was easier compared to the previous two days - less steps / rocks to climb and shorter walking time.

And something motivating happened. Living in Malaysia my whole life, I hardly have the chance to experience autumn, let alone winter. So you could imagine our excitement at the first sight of snow.

First sight of snow.

At about 3pm we had already reached Deurali, the place we would be spending the night in. Perhaps it was not peak season in December, most of Deurali guest houses were closed.

Reaching Deurali.

From our guest house overlooking the rest of Deurali. Most of which were closed.

We would be staying in Shangri-la Guest House. What luxury!

That day was an easy day. I remember I still had the energy to laugh along the way and upon reaching. And we had plenty of free time to roam around taking pictures and having snow fights.

One of the many silly pictures we took.

God knows what shit I'd been through for this profile picture.

The trio who made it!

At night, again, the two were getting ready for star-shooting. Come on guys! It became a routine or something?

Ninjas at night.