Saturday, October 31, 2009

Doha Tribeca Film Festival

This weekend saw the launch of the first Doha Tribeca Film Festival. Now I really like film festivals so when tickets went on sale three weeks ago friends and I ambitiously purchased tickets to see eight movies over three days.

Now I'm still not feeling 100% but I am going back to work next Monday so I figure going to the film festival would be a good test to see how I was doing. Friday was our busiest day as we had tickets to see four movies. I wound up going to three but I think that overdid it a little -- I should have just gone to two films and then rested at home. Today I am scheduled to go to three films but I'm just going to go to the first two.

So, what did I see? And what did I think? Here's the movies I saw and the rating I gave them, based on the viewers voting cards that they gave to every attendee, five-point rating scale, with a one being "not recommended" to a five being "highly recommended".

Capitalism: a Love Story -- Michael Moore

Attendance: 100% -- full house

I have of course seen his documentaries before and I will give him credit -- whatever you think about the content at least his films are not dull. Sometimes a bit theatrical, a lot of times pulling on your heartstrings with anecdotal stories of tragedy and from this leaping to broad conclusions, occasional glossing over of facts, but his films are entertaining to watch. This one is no exception.

Rating: 4. I would recommend people see the movie as it is interesting, but do not accept what he says at face value. If you're concerned about an issue that he brought up please do additional research afterward.

Bright Star -- Jane Campion

Attendance: ~75%, surprised me that there were a number of seats available. Well, I guess this is the first year of the film festival.

Period piece set around 1818 in England, a romance between the poet Keats and the young lady who lived next door.

Man, was it boring.

Now before anyone gets all dismissive, figuring I didn't like it because men generally don't watch English period pieces, take a look at my previous blog post at the movies I watched while recovering. You see Sense and Sensibility there? The period piece with Hugh Grant? Yup, I do watch the occasional period piece, not ashamed to admit it.

Sense and Sensibility was a decent movie. Bright Star sucked.

No chemistry, most of the supporting cast had no personality, there was not much intrigue or drama. Dull. I'm not even sure why Keats would have fallen for the lady since she generally comes across as a bit of a bitch. At one point in the movie when Keats was leaving for the summer I was whispering "Run man! Run!"

Rating: 1. The lady's family had a cat and it stole every scene that it was in, what does that tell you?

Kobe Doing Work -- Spike Lee

Attendance: ~30-40%!! I definitely was not expecting such a low turnout. No idea why, the movie was at 8 p.m. so it's not like was a midnight screening.

A documentary on basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, at least I thought that's what it was going to be. Actually the film covers a Lakers game with Kobe providing a voice-over narrative. What was he thinking at the time, why did he do that move, what does he think of this player and that player etc. That's literally the movie.

It turns out that Kobe is an interesting speaker. He's didn't have the attitude I expected, he was mature and modest, but not so modest as to be annoying. Let's face it he is currently the best basketball player in the league, you know it, he knows it, and he knows you know it, so he doesn't spend time going on about how good he is. Tactics, strategy, team communication, are covered instead. After listening to Kobe for an hour and a half he seems like a down-to-earth, nice guy.

Rating: 3. While the movie was not dull per se since basketball games are usually high-energy I think I can only recommend this movie to a basketball fan. This is a fanboy movie. If basketball is not your thing you're better off watching Hoop Dreams if you want to see a basketball movie. Spike Lee may have directed but in truth pretty much anyone could have set up 6-8 cameras to film a basketball game so fans of Spike Lee movies I don't think will be that impressed.

Two more films today, I'll post my reviews after.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Been spending the week sitting at home recuperating. Laying around all day gets dull after a while. So what have I been doing with my time?

Movies I've watched:

The Big Lebowski (Dude!)
Powder Blue (last movie with Patrick Swayze, which is a shame because it was not that great)
Pan's Labyrinth
Apocalypse Now
Burn after Reading (completely surprised by what happened to Brad Pitt!)
The Lives of Others (German film, definitely see it)
Futurama -- Benders Big Score
Sense and Sensibility (and I'm not afraid to admit it)
The Green Mile
The Pursuit of Happyness
a Polysics documentary

And I also watched a number of episodes of the Chappelle Show, and a Pablo Francisco special

Maybe I should read a book instead. Oh wait, I've been doing that too:

Empires of the Word -- Nicholas Ostler
The Varieties of Scientific Experience -- Carl Sagan
The White Castle -- Orhan Pamuk
Multicultural Manners -- Norine Dresser
The Confessions of Lady Nijo -- Lady Nijo

Maybe next I'll start on a re-read of The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins, and study some Arabic as well.

Should be back at work sometime next week, which I think is a good thing because I am going a little stir crazy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Aiden!

In other news it is my nephew Aiden's birthday today! He's a cute little fella, his favourite activity is sharing all of his toys and things with everyone. He would diligently grab anything within reach and hand it to you or someone else nearby. If you then handed it back he would either give it back to you or take it to someone else to give to them.

Below is one of my favourite pictures of us, though he is a bit older now than in the picture. I have no idea who took it but it is priceless.

Don’t we look Canadian!

Anyway Aiden I hope you have a happy birthday, have Mum and Dad give you a kiss for me.

More health

Man, what a week. I was informed by the doctor not so long ago that I would need to have a minor surgical procedure done (no, not the wisdom teeth that I mentioned in my last post, something else). Last week the doctor decided that it was time to get this taken care of so I had to go visit a surgeon to schedule it. Those of you familiar with this blog may recall that earlier this year I had another surgery done and I had remarked on how fast it was for the surgery to be scheduled. This was no different -- I had the consultation on a Thursday and the surgery was scheduled for the following Tuesday. Everything went fine, I was in the hospital for about 48 hours, and now I'm resting at home and taking some medications. Plenty of people have come by or called to see how I was doing which is nice.

Next month I have surgery for the wisdom teeth. That means I'll have undergone three surgeries in a year, previously I don't recall ever having surgery in my life! I guess I'm officially getting old. *sigh*

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wisdom teeth.

I went to the dentist the other day for my usual cleaning and she decided to take an x-ray, the first one I had had since I arrived in Qatar. It showed what I already knew (though my dentist didn't), that my bottom wisdom teeth were pushing against the teeth next to them. She was surprised that I was not in pain. I think about five years ago another dentist exclaimed the same thing to me but my wisdom teeth had never bothered me. But now there was a new twist -- a cavity had formed where a wisdom tooth was pressing up against another tooth, and there was no way she would be able to get to it without a wisdom tooth being removed. That and at the rate it was pushing into the tooth it won't be too much longer before I'm in real pain. *sigh*.

So I had an appointment with the dental surgeon today. All four wisdom teeth are have to come out. Even worse it has to be under a general anaesthetic. You see one of my wisdom teeth is almost sideways and is practically resting against a nerve in my jaw. If he tries to straighten the tooth to pull it out it will press against that nerve (which I guess is bad), so he will have to cut the tooth into horizontal slices to get it out. If that's what he wants to do then a general anaesthetic sounds like a good idea to me!

Appointment is mid-November. Apparently I will have to stay overnight at the hospital then sit at home for five days with painkillers. Ugh.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Qatar H1N1 Update

While I was away on vacation most schools closed for a week due to H1N1 concerns. Not sure why exactly, maybe there were a few sick kids discovered in the schools. People might be getting a bit more nervous now, I noticed that small bottles of hand sanitiser are a lot harder to find and the newspapers have frequent updates as to when the vaccine will be available.

I've not found updated info as to the number of cases in the country but based on those older estimates by the Ministry of Health (average of 25 new cases a week) I assume the number of cases are at around 600 to 700 now.

Japan and travelling Muslims

As you know I just spent two weeks travelling through Japan with a Qatari friend. He is a devout Muslim which meant we had to make sure that he did not eat pork or anything with alcohol.

Avoiding the latter was not too difficult as Japanese cuisine does not cook with alcohol (or at least the dishes I know about). The Japanese love to drink beer or sake but it is easy to not have it if you do not want to. Pork was of more of an issue. The Japanese like to combine many things together in their food. Ramen, donburi, okonomiyaki, teppenyaki, all of these combine a lot of things together so we had to make sure there would not be pork in the dish every time we visited a restaurant. Thankfully my friend had memorised the Japanese phrase for "I do not eat pork" and no one seemed too fussed about it, perhaps because a lot of Japanese are Buddhist so maybe many are vegetarian. Good thing too since for some Japanese dishes it is difficult to tell what is in it. While pork is not as widely used in Japan as it would in other countries like China we did not have much luck at ramen restaurants, apparently pork is used in almost all of their dishes. We even had to walk out of one ramen place because they had nothing available for my friend the eat. Other restaurants were fine, with the exception of sushi places every restaurant had some pork dishes but they also had plenty of other foods available my friend could eat. Still had to be careful though, I even ordered a "burger" that I had never heard of from a Japanese McDonald's and it turned out to be pork, or at least I think it was. But in the two weeks I only recall one instance where my friend was served something that we were told was chicken but I thought was actually pork (so he did not eat the meat just to be on the safe side).

Fish was of course plentiful as it is the main Japanese meat. Fish of all types are halal (acceptable for Muslims) so a Muslim has a wide range of dining options.

Monday, October 05, 2009

I'm back

Okay made it back safe and sound!

I had a great time. Japan really is a different world from anywhere else but at the same time really good to travel through since the country is quite modern and no one hassles you.

Rather than fill the blog with tons and tons of description (it was a two-week trip so really I could go on forever about it), here are some snippets but I'll leave it to you to Google what the heck I am talking about:

-- went to Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka
-- in Japan it takes five people to help you to exchange money
-- at the airport there was an elderly gentleman whose job appeared to be to bow at everyone getting on the escalator
-- in Kyoto we stayed in a traditional ryokan (tatami mat floors, futons etc)
-- I like yukatas. I bought one.
-- saw tons of temples and the old Imperial Palace
-- vending machines are everywhere outdoors, including ones for beer or cigarettes. In North America the life expectancy of an outdoor beer or cigarette vending machine would be sundown.
-- okonomiyaki is usually topped with some kind of fish flakes that shrivel and move when the okonomiyaki is put on a hot plate so it looks like your food is topped with some living thing
-- if you go shopping for pillows the store will have a bed for you to try them out
-- no one hassles you, to the point of even ignoring you. Even Japanese standing on street corners handing out flyers/brochures usually will not give you one.
-- the bullet train system is amazing. Kyoto to Tokyo (~550 km) took around 2 1/2 hours, including stops. There were trains about every 10 minutes.
-- the Harajuku style is starting to go out of fashion. Short skirts with boots is the new thing for ladies.
-- the Japanese really go high-tech when it comes to toilets, the most elaborate one we encountered had 12 buttons and a heated seat.
-- ate at a restaurant where you are led in handcuffs to a jail cell that contains your table. Drinks are served in chemistry flasks with dry ice to give them that spooky fog.
-- natto is pretty good!
-- I discovered I was born in the Year of the Dog.
-- Toyota has this really cool centre where you can test drive vehicles, use simulators, and view some of their high tech experimental devices like robots that can play the trumpet.
-- if you go to Roppongi a black guy named Tom toting for some club, who dresses a bit like a pimp, apparently has "got what you need".
-- went to Shibuya and crossed that famous road crossing where thousands of people cross all at once
-- Super Kids Land sells the widest range of BB weapons I have ever seen.
-- I advise looking at every vending machine and trying any weird drinks it offers, it is both adventurous and entertaining. Jelly Coffee was the weirdest thing we tried.
-- a clerk at a heavy metal shop got bent out of shape because I didn't take my shoes off when using the change room
-- yet no one cares if a man reads pornographic comics on the subway, even sitting next to women.
-- there are cafes in Akhiabara where the waitresses all dress in sexy French maid outfits (cafes, as in plural)
-- everyone likes the bow and thank you for the most minor things
-- but they usually will not give up their seats for ladies or an elderly person
-- got lost at Shinjuku Station trying to find a certain Metro line and wound up at a different station, without having gone above ground
-- look at the schedules for Kabuki plays well in advance. The theatre is not open every day.
-- same with bunraku
-- same with Noh theatres
-- and the Kyoto Museum
-- and sumo wrestler stables
-- I drank a lot of Fibe-Mini
-- "Please teach the commodity wanting it with the cash register". (I have no idea what it means either.)
-- went to a traditional tea ceremony. Be sure to stop to admire the flower and calligraphy when you get in.
-- there is a (smaller) replica of the Statue of Liberty in Tokyo
-- Best Internet cafes I've ever seen. Free coffee and sodas, lounge chairs, manga library you are allowed to browse through for free, even private booths where two people can sit on a couch and use separate computers
-- Eleeno watches are cool
-- apparently having a large statue of a dog pulling down a boy's underwear is someone's idea of a great way to advertise that your business is a restaurant.
-- if a store gives you a complementary can of Final Fantasy Chaos Potion don't drink it (blah!)
-- but feel free to keep the can.
-- considering Japanese tourists are well known for taking tons of pictures wherever they go it is ironic that a lot of places in Japan have signs telling you not to take pictures there. Including a shoe repair kiosk.
-- some restaurants have instead of a menu a huge bank of buttons somewhat like a vending machine. You put the money in the machine, press what you want, then sit down and the waitress will bring it to you once the kitchen cooks it.
-- Polysics are cool!
-- the Japanese really hate wet umbrellas being brought indoors. Stands were you can lock your umbrella, machines that will wrap it in plastic, even an "umbrella dryer", are in use in most buildings.
-- 10 hours is a brutally long flight

Okay I think this sums up everything pretty well. I had a great time, everyone should check out Japan if they get the chance.