gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

I'm working on a new template for my blog. The background is picked, but fitting the rest of it together is going to be tougher work. Certainly it does mean I've to learn a bit of CSS and experiment with it directly on my blog template.

The only problem is, I don't exactly have enough of a testing ground that's offline, and my online hours are expensive.

Still, when the new look appears, patient and faithful readers of my blog will know.

gambitch [ 2:00 PM]

Friday, August 06, 2004

To de-stress a little, I've been watching videos of the first season of The West Wing. And I'm moved to say I really like it!

And on a more personal level (this doesn't really happen very often!) I think Mallory's absolutely lovely, deliciously charming! "Mallory who?" you ask? Well, Mallory your daughter - or more correctly, Mallory, daughter of Leo McGarry, Chief of Staff of the White House. Mallory, incidentally, is played by Allison Smith, who I think characterizes this role so very well.

To sidetrack a bit, it looks like Allison Smith doesn't really get that many roles on television or screen. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that American showbiz is so huge there are just way too many talents out there who don't get regular and long appearances. Plus some of them do theatre, and that's not beamed on television. You look at some of the other big cast members on The West Wing, and that seems to be a recurring thing with lots of them. Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler) seems to have no credits to his name on IMDB, and he's an actor who's easily over 30, heck, maybe over 40!

When you compare that to the scene here in much of the East, the difference is too obvious - lots of people just get routinely overused when they could well be crap. In fairness, some of them are decent, or very good even, but if they bothered to move away from trying to promote youngish idols and slapping them with plum roles that they usually end up fluffing, perhaps we'd get to see more serious talent.

But ah well, no time for stress today!

I just thought I'd share my pick for dialogue of the day, from the episode Enemies. Mallory receives two tickets to the Beijing Opera from her father and decides to invite friend Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe).

Sam: You're asking me out on a date?
Mal: No.
Sam: No?
Mal: No, I'm asking you if you'd like to go together with me to see an internationally renowned opera company perform a work indigenous to its culture.
Sam: Right, and in what way will it distinguish itself from a date?
Mal: There will be, under no circumstances, sex for you at the end of the evening.
Sam: (pause) Okay.

Charming, isn't she?

gambitch [ 3:33 AM]

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Yesterday's episode of The Amazing Race provided a bagful of surprises. First of all, after seeing four teams go, the fifth leg was to be a non-elimination leg. I had never counted on this happening so early on, and was indeed dead certain that the Bowling Moms were finally going to bow out. As it happened, they were last to check in, but the surprise of this being a non-elimination leg really caught me.

But things are obviously going to be tough for them. As a new twist to the non-elimination phase, they were stripped of all their money, and would receive nothing at the start of the sixth leg. Which means if they want money to spend, they're going to have to beg, borrow or earn. (Stealing is obviously not allowed!) The only way this can steer away from being overly debilitating is that the next leg be itself inexpensive. I don't expect teams to get much more than 80 Washingtons, and the logical thing is that the start of the race does not involve a taxi ride back into Cairo. Still, can the Bowling Moms survive the next leg on no dosh? It's going to be pretty hard.

The other big surprise was learning that there were going to be only two Fast Forwards throughout the whole race. So that's why I didn't see anyone play the Fast Forward in the first four legs - there weren't any! The idea of only two chances to Fast Forward is very interesting - it seriously impairs the chances of a trailing team of catching up. And right now the trailing teams are really trailing. Hopefully there are mechanisms to ensure that teams still manage to bunch up well.

Still no sign of the Yield coming into play so far. Maybe later?

Yesterday's leg was interesting, overall. Starting off by searching for a Rembrandt in the Hermitage Museum was really great and beautiful; it lets all the teams shake off the trauma of that caviar Roadblock. And they get to do it nice, bright and early. So I was right - all the teams got to sleep through much more normal hours for a change, with Chip and Kim departing a little after 9am!

I was really impressed by the clever moves by Colin and Christie - first checking with a travel agent for an Air France into Cairo at 2.35pm, and then switching to another flight when they stopped over in Paris to arrive in the small hours, half a day early. Now is that intelligent or what? But I think they really fluffed it by playing the Fast Forward. When they picked up their Route Info at the Tower of Cairo, it was 9am (and the other teams were only due in at 3.15pm). They could have had a leisurely trot to the Pyramids, done the Roadblock, done the Detour, and still have finished everything before everyone else flew in. Besides, unless they were lightning quick about their job, they probably checked in at the Pit Stop at around 10.30am earliest, which means they can only leave at 10.30pm earliest, and unless things worked out really well, their lead is going to get wiped out by an equalizer, at either an airport or some Route Marker with hours of operation in the daytime.

Not very clever play in the latter phases of this leg, then.

Charla and Mirna are great. A few teams hate them, but I think apart from the way they played Charla's disability to the fullest, they've also got the necessary cunning to play this race. Sliding off to pick up a better flight on Alitalia that got them an hour ahead was a sly move, and they were patient enough to wait till everyone else slept. Takes quite a bit to hold out for things like that. I've nothing but the greatest respect for Charla as a competitor; she's carried the beef, eaten the chocolates, and now she's climbed ladders up and down the Osiris Shaft. Tough woman!

I thought the Detour had potential, but too bad the hours of operation were so limited. Maybe it's just because things didn't play according to plan, and the teams arrived so late. As it turned out, only Charla and Mirna got to do Hump and Ride, and they almost missed it. I think the carpet merchants relented only because the girls were so determined to catch up with them. Had the hours of operation been extended by a couple of hours, maybe a few more teams would have got to try it. As it was, everyone else had to do the Rock and Roll option. It's fun, yeah, watching all these people try to move concrete bricks using logs and planks, but you couldn't help feeling that a few of them really didn't like the fact they were stuck with a physically demanding task when it was supposed to be a Detour.

Kudos to Chip on this leg, especially for helping the twins out with directions and earnestly trying to bury the hatchet, but also for being kindly enough to help Brandon and Nicole midway through the Detour by fixing their literally derailed setup. He got my respect when he said, "I won't be a pushover, but I won't stop being me." Or something like that. Good and kindly, but still competitive, and the couple fully deserve to still be in the Race.

Finally, it feels really good (and a bit surprising) that the teams all got to go to Rostja (that's Giza to all of you - Rostja was the original Egyptian name of this place) and check out the great pyramids and the Sphinx. Good because the sight is absolutely amazing, and surprising because I found it hard to believe that the producers of The Amazing Race had the patience to wait so long before finally bringing the show to this Wonder of the World. I'm not sure if they have already done the Great Wall, but at least the diplomatic difficulties would be understandable; Egypt was another matter!

And oh, Bob and Joyce didn't come back into the Race. No weird twists. I'm now sure that it was CBS' editing error. Perhaps the oldies did get a free walk through Egypt (I would not know about this since it's background stuff), or perhaps they erroneously clipped in footage from another earlier leg. Whatever, it's just a dumb gaffe, and I'm sure the reality TV forums out there would have gossip about that!

gambitch [ 2:16 PM]

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

China and Japan will indeed meet in the Asian Cup final. Both had it tough in the semifinals, but now they will finally run into each other.

I'm not awfully familiar with either side (Japan is missing the likes of Nakata and Ono), so I probably won't be watching the game. What will be of interest, though, is whether the Chinese supporters will continue to do the disgraceful things it has done throughout the championships.

I'm not awfully approving of supporters booing players, but racism and partisan behaviour is comparatively mild when we look at what these Chinese supporters are doing. Booing the players when their real target is the nation itself, now that's really bringing it to a new low.

I have no stand on the issues plaguing the relationship between China and Japan. Personally, I don't really care, nor am I in any position to seriously interfere anyway. That's politics for the two governments to sort out (or ignore, or do whatever else they want to do about it). But when the people decide to take matters into their own hands and behave in a manner unbefitting sports fans, that's when I think they've crossed the line.

I know China has plenty to be proud of. I don't have a problem with that. The Chinese civilization is the only ancient civilization that is still around today and maintaining a continuous existence. India does not quite count, since the Aryans from the north and the dark Indians of the south were two different civilzations. The shame of everything that happened in the latter years of the Qing Dynasty no doubt left a deep scar, more than the Tartar invasion of 1127, the Mongol invasion that heralded the Yuan Dynasty, or the Bannerman invasion that started the Qing Dynasty. Of the great powers that colonized China, Japan's involvement left the worst scars for too many reasons to name. But that should not be reason for the Chinese to exhibit such continued hatred, even to generations of Japanese who were born well after World War II. That's just pushing too close to irrationality.

gambitch [ 9:00 PM]

It's usually not my thing to look back at what I have done and publicly brag about it. That, of course, should never stop me from having some amount of quiet pride in my achievements. Yet lately I caught myself questioning those very achievements, and wondering just why everything seems to be going wrong. It's given me a couple of sleepless nights, and definitely a few unwanted distractions even when the sun is up.

I'm talking about my days in "the profession", when I was forced to move up from mediocre anonymity and abruptly entrusted with the job of continuing a legacy and rebuilding a waning empire. It wasn't exactly the easiest job, but at that time I had only one overriding thought in my mind - bring back the glory and produce teams good enough to win trophies. Everything else was secondary. If it meant late nights and putting on weight (they say stress can lead to bigger appetites) then that was the price I would pay to get the job done.

At the end of my term (which I had cut short for several reasons), what was achieved? Well, every competition we went for, we had someone going beyond the preliminary stages. Much of it was because we had the star men and women who had the talent, but I'd like to think that a talented team without the right direction and guidance still wouldn't go very far. Look at Italy at Euro 2004 and you'll see what I mean.

Yeah, yeah, you can say I'm bragging. Whatever. We may have bagged only one trophy (which the lads were able to win again soon after my exit), but that was one of several high points in our lives. Until then, for a few years we didn't have much to show in our trophy cabinet (not that we didn't try).

When I got the job, I had on my hands the remnant tatters of an empire that recognized the need for continuity a little bit too late. In fairness, though, I wasn't left with entirely nothing. My predecessors left me with reputations to defend and a massive hunger for sustained success. My remit was to use what we had and build again from nearly nothing. I was for the most part an anonymous man in the setup until then, unspectacular and unsuccessful as a speaker, and it was not quite as if we had superstars in our midst (though in fairness to our young maestro at that time, he was a great talent waiting to be perfected).

Given these humble beginnings, and considering the fact that I had no proper grounding in the world of "the profession" in my younger days, I think all these factors redoubled my will to fashion a great side that would conquer all in the region, and make an everlasting impression in the annals of history. It'd be an extraordinary tale to tell, for sure, of how the man who knew nothing grafted his way to greatness, not for himself, but for the cause he stood for. But even if that detail were to be forgotten, at least the proud history of an excellent institution in the world of "the profession" would not end in ignominy, at least not in my hands.

So now we've got there, but it seems that things just didn't work out thereafter, after I made my exit. Why it was allowed to fall apart I do not know. For sure, though, it hurt me, even though I had, for a long time, succeeded in persuading myself that I was already out of it.

I suppose that's what happens when I devoted so much of my life building a powerhouse. A powerhouse that, I might add, was meant to go on and on, winning trophy after trophy even after my departure. I wasn't the kind that stood for success in the short term; if the system died after me then I would have failed in my task as empire-builder. No, I wanted something solid, a juggernaut that would have stood the test of time.

Which is why I was rather upset to hear the news I did recently. It doesn't bode well that all the top exponents are thinking of retiring early, or have even made up their minds about it. As the person who had to mastermind the building of an empire, (and it's not a job I volunteered for, mind you) it pains me to see it all disappear so quickly. What's worse is that the cause of such rapid disintegration is not sheer and simple ineptitude. If it were that, I could throw my hands up and just forget it. No, the cause wasn't down to ineptitude, but petty bickering that was allowed to run because of a lack of sense of purpose and mission.

If there were to be a final analysis of it all, I have no doubt that this is what separated me from my successors. I may be untalented and unpopular, but what I lacked in all these departments, I made up for with effort and determination. In a way, I didn't really have a choice - it was either that, or allowing the enterprise to die at my hands. I was, perhaps, too insane to allow that.

To this day, in spite of everything, I am hated in certain quarters among what is left of the empire. Only those who have gone through life before my tenure, as well as those who realized the extraordinary opportunities I had made an effort to create for them, might vaguely understand, and I'm glad there are still a few who appreciate what they had. Of course, there's that old saying - you only miss things when they're gone. But the converse - that you will miss things when they're gone - is not always true.

Still, what's a man to do? You can't have it all. I don't ask for much; I'm not interested in bragging about what I've done and making the world know all about me. All I ask is that the insiders understand and be grateful. They don't even have to thank me in public or give me a memorial piece of perspex. I have no need for those things. All I ask is that they finally see the light - why I did all those things I did, all those things that they hated me for. And when they do, all I ask them to do is to continue those traditions and keep the empire alive and strong.

Some friends have told me not to bother too much about these guys. After all, I'm out of it already. And I know I am. That's why I haven't chosen to openly interfere and try to right those wrongs. But something in me just keeps me concerned about all this. Maybe it's because I've invested too much in it. Maybe it's because that's what happens when this has been my biggest venture, and these people have other fish to fry and they can't be bothered about this.

I wouldn't know. Then again, how would I?

gambitch [ 3:48 PM]

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

I've had my suspicions for a little while, so I decided to pay close attention to the upcoming trailer for this week's instalment of The Amazing Race 5. I confirmed what I saw - a fleeting half-second clip showing Bob and Joyce, who were supposed to be eliminated last week.

Checking against the list of all the other teams who are supposed to still be in the Race, I noticed two teams were missing - Chip and Kim, and Colin and Christie. Now, either one of these teams had to pull out due to an extreme situation during the 12-hour rest period, or for some miraculous reason Bob and Joyce were restored to the Race, giving it 8 teams again.

That, or it was editing error on the part of CBS.

gambitch [ 1:08 PM]

Monday, August 02, 2004

Yesterday being Sunday, I spent the morning doing what I usually do on most Sunday mornings, that is, playing football. Things were pretty alright, I came very close to a bad start by making an overweighted backpass that almost became an own goal. The only thing that saved me was the far upright. Just as well, then.

I have been taking a bit of criticism for the past two weeks over the fact that I wasn't exactly the best player on the pitch. Not that I could do anything about it in a hurry - my fitness has always been on the poor end, I got out of breath quickly, and I'm not exactly the best positive illustration of good skill on or off the ball. Fortunately, some of the criticism came in the form of kindly advice. I've been kicking players a bit less often (although on all occasions I never really meant malice, and my friends know it). And on occasion I do receive a few passes, so I didn't always have to feed off opponents' errors.

The problem, I've always felt, is the fact that the street game encourages us to attack so much that we've never really made enough of a conscious effort working on our defensive game. The consequence is that, as one of the more defensive-minded players (since I can't attack to save my life), I end up having to cover the rear, a job I don't tend to do well because I'm not exactly very good.

Still, yesterday was probably one of the better days. There wasn't very much I could do about the goals conceded, but I did get plenty of encouragement to make the odd foray forward (the space was opening up for some reason). No goals, but a few good drooping lob-shots and a horrid mistimed contact. Had I aimed to hit the ball with my shin and not just let it brush past the back of my calf, I might have a goal to my name.

Over lunch, we were discussing all sorts of trivia when someone mentioned the Asian Cup games that were going on the day before. In particular, there was mention about the quarter-final involving Japan in Chongqing (I can't remember who they played, but that's not important here). It seems that Japan picked up lots of boos from the Chinese spectators at the game. Every time a Japanese player touched the ball, boos would ring around the stadium. It's not as if the Japanese players were rubbish - they were good, and they won the game on penalties - so I guess the problem had to do with the fact that, as countries, China and Japan aren't exactly good friends.

Now, we've seen all sorts of ill-tempered matches in our time. Local derbies have often been tainted by coin-throwing incidents and things like that. But the Chinese spectators booing the Japanese national team - who were just playing football - was really more than a little out of order. Apparently the Japanese fans had unfurled their national flag, which isn't strange at international tournaments. From what I read in the newspaper this morning, the Chinese responded by putting up a banner that demanded that Japan "face the facts of history" and "return the Diaoyu Islands". All this while they continued to boo the likes of Kawaguchi. They must feel really sick that Japan managed to win the shootout (and it's not even as if China was playing). But that's still no reason for politics to spill into something as simple as football.

My friends commented that the Chinese spectators had no spirit of sportsmanship. While I agree that this is true, the sad part is that we could tell this to the Chinese and they wouldn't really care. They'll definitely boo Japan again in their next game (which again isn't against China, I think). They'll continue to boo Japan again in the final if they make it there (especially if it's a China vs Japan final). They'll keep booing as a way to vent their frustrations with Japan, and see absolutely nothing wrong with it. There's nothing inherently wrong with nationalistic fervour, I believe, but for it to be vented in this way at a major regional tournament is really doing the nation's image no favours. I don't know how China will be perceived as a consequence of this tournament, and how it will affect its image at the Beijing Olympics four years later. But they could certainly have done without all this booing.

Then again, they probably don't care.

gambitch [ 7:24 AM]


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