About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

29 March 2015

Movie: American Sniper

Throughout the film, many characters ask the protagonist "why are you doing this". Chris Kyle, played by a very bulked up Bradley Cooper, never provides a satisfactory answer. American Sniper is not the stereotypical war movie, it is more like the propaganda film within Inglorious Basterds. It puts up a killing machine as a hero, but never explores why he is killing, other than the suggestion that it is to serve and to protect his fellow soldiers. 

But this portrayal leads to an equally interesting alternate. If soldiers are there just doing their masters' bidding - is it not the same as the very "savages" they are fighting? After all, the other side is probably doing the exact same thing - their movie about Mustafa - the Olympian sniper would probably be just as heroic and one sided. 

The victors often write the history; hence it is the American Sniper that is heroic and dies an untimely death. In an alternate universe, there maybe a similar  movie about Mustafa. And neither movie make great movies - just wonderful propaganda pieces.

22 March 2015

Ushaka KaSenzangakhona

The biography of the legendary Mzilikazi Khumalo, describes Ushaka KaSenzangakhona as an opera - although it doesn't really have any acting performances; and it is more akin to a cantata. The piece comprises of 4 soloists (vocal), a poet/prase singer, a large choir and a full orchestra - comprising of 4 main parts charting the life of Shaka. There is an interesting Masters thesis which I briefly skimmed through regarding the authorship of the piece, specifically on the history of the orchestration of the piece; which sheds interesting light on both the complexities of musical collaboration, and the effort in tracking the contributions of the various parties in the collaboration.
In some respect, a piece celebrating the life of a warrior king, on Human Rights Day (weekend), is strange - but at the same time, the performance of a Zulu vocal work, written in the style of western classical music, performed at a venue that was once a bastion of Apartheid art performances is also a celebration of South Africa's democracy.

Joburg Theatre's production featured the Gauteng Choristers, Sibongile Khumalo as the lead soloist, joined by Thembisile Twala (soprano), Kananelo Sehau (tenor) and Nkosinathi Emmanuel Maqoma (bass) and the bulk of the JPO as the orchestra - and it was a rousing performance. The praise singer/poetry performance by Mhlonishwa Dlamini, was the only real performer on stage brought a vibrant energy, with many in the audience shouting replies back with equal gusto; and provided an amazing emotional depth to the various acts of the piece.

The piece is really amazing - the musical score, the choral and the vocal soloists combine to perform an amazing musical performance. It's a pity that this show was only for 2 performances - this is something that should be performed and attended by more people!

20 March 2015

JPO's 1st 2015 Season, 4th Concert

It seems that the end of JPO's financial crisis is near; although the business rescue documentation continues to make grim reading. But on the strength of the final concert for the 2015 season - there is certainly hope - there was an almost capacity audience, the program and presentation was different; and there were even young members in the audience.

The evening started off with a homage to Johannesburg. WITS Professor Zaidel-Rudolph's Fanfare Festival Overture, originally written for Johannesburg's Centenary Celebration in 1986, but rescored for this performance, started the evening. Charting Johannesburg's growth, it starts of slow and slightly chaotic - but end with a flourish of percussion and African rhythms (from the Marimba and other percussion). 

Pallavi Mahidhara returned once again, this time to perform Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.1. Like her previous performances, this was once again a stellar performance, and got a very enthusiastic response from the audience. 

The highlight of the performance, and one of the highlights of the JPO performances I have attended - is Holst's The Planets - accompanied by a projection show organised via the WITS Planetarium. This is exactly the type of collaboration that is required for the JPO to draw more audiences - combine great music, with great visuals and provide more context for the performances. The projections included pictures from the Mars Rovers, and other NASA missions such as Cassini and Voyager; and provided a spectacular backdrop to the music. 

If this happens to be the last JPO concert - then the JPO ended of with a bang! The final season had variety and drew in new audiences - and new styles of performances. Hopefully, it can continue and carry on in this fashion.

12 March 2015

JPO's 1st 2015 Season, 3rd Concert

I missed the first two concerts of the season (as I was not in Johannesburg), and I was pleasantly surprised that the hall was a little bit fuller. Part of that could be due to a school group - I am not sure if they will return for other concerts. Daniel Boico returned to another stint as the conductor.

Schubert's Overture in D (In the Italian Style) started off the evening. I didn't really like the piece - I commented to M, that it sounded like a piece accompanying clowns in a circus at some points. It was neither memorable nor enthralling.

I am a big fan of Beethoven, and Czech pianist Lucas Vodracek, gave an amazing performance of Piano Concerto No 3. Vodracek posture at the piano was amusing - hunched over the keys, focused on making sure his fingers hit the notes correctly - so much so that M commented that it was as if, his body was built to play the piano. The performance was the exact opposite of the Schubert - both enthralling and memorable, and thoroughly deserved the standing ovation. And, as if to show off his virtuosity, he performed a jazz-inspired encore which showed of his amazing speed on the keyboard. The contrast with the Beethoven was jarring - but was an equally impressive performance.

After the break, the orchestra performed Mendelssohn's Symphony Number 4 - another Italian inspired piece to round of the evening. It was a solid performance - but yet again, nothing memorable.

09 March 2015

Queue for the iPhone

Over 4 months since the launch of the iPhone 6, I was surprised that there was still a line to buy iPhones at the Apple Store in Hong Kong. The system was very efficient - as you enter the line, an attendant takes the model, the number and colour, and then pick up once you get to the front of the queue; and then another attendant to pay.

In comparison, the Xiaomi store (I alsi bought a Xiaomi Redmi2) was almost empty, the Samsung stores were deserted. And this goes for other phone stores also - Apple seems to be the most dominant brand by far. Based on that, I think the spectacular sales numbers for the iPhone will continue for some time to come.

08 March 2015

Cathay Pacific's Premium Economy

I cashed in some of BA Executive miles for my flight back - but unfortunately business class was unavailable - so I had to go with Cathay Pacific's Premium Economy class. I haven't flown this class before; and I was pleasantly surprised.

The problem with modern business and first class is that they seem to have now gone overboard - not only lie flat seats, but with suites, large screen TVs, etc. Premium Economy class is effectively the business class of old (or of domestic/short haul flights) - the seats are wider, but not sofas; they lean back more, but are not beds; there is a lot of leg room, but you can still touch the seat in front of you; the food is great (in this case even featuring Haagen Dazs ice cream) and served on proper cutlery, but it is not a restaurant in the sky.

It is sort of the happy medium - I got a good night's sleep, the service was excellent, and it was a very pleasant journey. Premium Economy might actually be a class I would be willing to pay for myself.

Hong Kong (Street) Markets

It seems that you can buy almost anything on the street markets - food, clothing, electronics, lots of variety in phone cases (and associated accessories), and even gold fish and other things for aquariums. Most of these markets are concentrated around Mong Kok in Kowloon, but there are others. The market stalls seem to run from about 11am to 10pm, at least in the Kowloon markets.

I did do a lot of electronics shopping in Hong Kong, but most of the items were from the electronics shipping malls like Sim City and Golden Computer Arcade. The breadth of variety is amazing, but you do need to know what you want to be able to look for it - it's not necessarily the best place to browse!



06 March 2015

The Big Buddha

Built on top of the hill on Lantau Island, the Big Buddha is meant to be visible from afar, and at its base provide amazing views of Lantau. Unfortunately, today was a very cloudy day (it didn't start out that way, and the weather prediction was largely incorrect), and there was very poor visibility. So poor, that it was not possible to see the cable car in front, and only make out the shadows of the cable cars going in the opposite direction.

The hilltop is easiest to reach by the 5.7 Km cable car, which hints at some spectacular views on clear days. On the cloudy day such as today, it provided an eerie, horror film like atmosphere, with no land or cable visible.

The Buddha was built fairly recently (in the late 1980s IIRC), by the Po Lin Buddhist monastery located also on top of the hill. The cable car drops you off at the "village" which is basically a collection of tourist shops.

One of the things I find interesting about Chinese Buddhism is the amalgamation of Chinese and Indian aspects. This is quite well seen in the monastery itself, as well as then approach to the area involving a path guarded by the 12 Divine Generals, some of whom are also gods in Hinduism.

The big Buddha statue is a long walk up steps - and the platform on top features 6 statues of devotees, a small museum (with an amazing panel painting on the life of Buddha on the second floor) and the Buddha itself - surrounded by fog today.

The monastery is also interesting - the new Hall of 10 Thousand Buddhas puts mist rappers to shame on its bling, while there are amazing dragon carvings on the pillars outside the building.

The last part of the area is the "Path of Wisdom", where the Prajnaparamita (Perfect Wisdom) Sutra is engraved on massive logs arranged in the shape of infinity.

The Peak

The Peak is the premier tourist attraction of Hong Kong. The highest point on Hong Kong island, it offers amazing views of the island and Kowloon. There are also good hiking trails although I only did a small portion of the total set of trails.

There is an old funicular that seems to struggle up the hill. The popularity of The Peak means that queues are long - on my way back, there was a queue to join the queue to go down! There is an alien-head looking viewing tower at the top, but the Galleria shopping mall next to it offers almost similar views for free. Better still, walk in the 4km circular trail and get different angles of the skyscrapers below. The vegetation is very lush, and there are plenty of birds and squirrels to spot.

I had tried to time my visit to coincide with a brief patch of sunshine earlier this week, but I had not accounted for the queues. Nevertheless, the late afternoon trip and walk led to great views of the city in the evening, despite the fog.