29 June 2009

Choreography Epiphany

I just had an epiphany about choreographing routines. Throughout 2 years+ of choreographing classes, I had no fixed method of creating a track. It felt more like an alchemy experiment, throwing things into a pot and hoping something good comes out. More often than not (especially in the early years), things turned out mundane and unpalatable. I can easily count up to 10, the number of tracks that I dare not teach again!

But over a quiet lunch today I concluded that most tracks (I'm referring to my own cardio/dance classes here) consist of:
  1. Movement
  2. Direction

Movement is of course, the basis of the track itself. Within it, there are many parameters to tweak, most notably:

  1. Body positioning (where are your arms, feet, body)
  2. Weight transference (how does the weight move from feet to feet?)
  3. Speed (the speed in which the movement is executed)

From these 3 simple parameters it is already easy to create tracks of varying difficulty. Easier tracks have simpler body positioning (e.g. march on the spot), while difficult tracks might have higher speed (double-time).

But I find that movement itself is pretty easy to catch, until we add Direction into the mix. This is where I see a lot of beginners trip up. Their brain can only keep track of one or the other. Either you do something on the spot, or you change direction without any complex movement. Once we add any reasonable amount of the two together, the complexity rises significantly. This can easily cause a mental overload in new members and by the time they catch up we're on to the next move. Fun for experienced members, but frustrating for the newbies.

BodyJam instructors who have witnessed the evolution of BodyJam and BodyJam+ can attest to this. More often than not, Gandalf just added a direction change (usually a turn) to the exact same movement in the Base option. A good example is the jump in the Street Jazz block (BJ49). Sometimes, one of the Movement parameters is changed instead. E.g. the double-time samba in Smooze Salsa (BJ49).

Following this relevation, I think I can apply a more scientific process to choreographing future classes. Instead of throwing random moves on the wall and praying it sticks, I should break it down into its Movement and Direction components. Then I can decide what parameters will be tweaked to make a fun, but doable track.

This also applies to how a move is introduced. I should start with the basics of Movement, preferably in a slower count. Then I can start to add Direction to that Movement. Depending on how complex I wish the track to be, the type of Direction can vary (walk instead of turn). Though, I have to be careful of breaking things down too much. It's no fun learning everything from its atomic structure - sometimes the fun is in doing the move just as it is and let the members go, "What?!? I *gotta* learn that."

I hope this blog post proves useful to budding choreographers out there! If you are a choreographer and you have something to add to this, drop a comment.

28 June 2009

Timely Advice for All Men

Spotted in urinals at the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace:

Is It Finger Licking Good....

... if it's in China?

Apparently, no. I just had dinner at KFC in Beijing and here are my 10-minute observations:
  1. The fried chicken is not the main attraction! There are about 7 types of various burgers and tortilla wraps featured heavily on the menu. Fried chicken is relegated to a corner and I had a hard time finding it initially!
  2. The fried chicken is *meh*. The skin is not crispy, and I could really feel the fatty chicken skin swimming in my oral cavity. Ugh! They got the Colonel's 11 secret spices right, but I think they amplified the amount of salt in there. And, there's only O.R., no Hot & Spicy.
  3. Their default set meal comes with a small corn salad and a glass of orange juice (more like cordial, actually).
  4. Coleslaw? What's that? Mashed potatoes are available though.
  5. Where can you find the best egg tarts in China? Why, in KFC of course! Their egg tarts (RMB5.50/pc, not cheap) are absolutely heavenly and has a creamy and egg-y taste. It's very similar to Portugese egg tarts, with a crispy crust and cardiac-arresting filling.
  6. For dinner I had a New Orleans Roast Chicken Burger. I think New Orleans should be offended.
I guess it's safe to say that Malaysia still holds the title of Best KFC in the World.

27 June 2009

Arty Farty

An in any large city, Beijing has a vibrant arts and culture scene. Plus, it has some of the most modern places to stage such events. So early this month I made a resolve to check out some shows and pretend to be all high culture.

Tickets are relatively cheap and there are many shows running throughout the year (unlike the odd musical or two every 5 years in KL). I bought mine from Piao, which is the usual tickets distributor for most shows in China. I decided I will feign appreciation of abstract dances, music written by dead men, and epic Chinese operas with the following shows:

  • Swan Lake (ballet) at the National Aquatics Centre (a.k.a. Watercube)
    • I'm looking forward to this show the most, because the stage is set around the swimming pool instead of a usual stage. With this it becomes a full-vision ballet, unrestricted by the 2 dimensions of a normal stage. (I'm not sure what that means either.)
  • Summertime - Gershwin's Works Concert at the NCPA (a.k.a. The Egg)
    • A collection of works by George Gershwin (tak tahu siapa itu), which includes an orchestra and a singing chorus. I'm only coming for this because this was the cheapest show that is held in NCPA's Concert Hall.
  • Peking Opera - The Red Cliff at the NCPA
    • You might have read the novels or watched the movies, but have you watched it in the form of a Peking Opera? I'm looking forward to this because its last run was all sold out. Plus, it is directed by Zhang Jigang (asst. chief director of the opening/closing ceremonies of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games) and performed by leading Peking Opera actors. And all for only RM40? You can't get it in Malaysia even if you paid RM400.

I will post my thoughts and reviews about each show after I watched them.

26 June 2009

Abso-freaking-lutely Hot

Last Wednesday, the temperature in Beijing touched a high of 40 degrees Celsius.

I'll give you a moment to imagine that.

Imagine standing in front of an oven and feeling the heat wave sting your face. That's how the wind felt like. So although the low humidity makes our perception of hotness lower, the sheer intensity of the sun literally burns my skin in prolonged exposures. Have I also mentioned that the sun rises before 5am and only sets after 8pm? hot Hot HOT!

On the bright side, I've got a good tan.

The End of an Era

David Carradine, Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson in the span of 1 month.

Who will be the legends of my era?

R.I.P. to the 3 of them.

25 June 2009

Yogurt Sorbet

I just learned a quick and delicious way to enjoy yogurt when I ordered this at a local fast food restaurant.
  1. Pour yogurt into an ice cube tray and let freeze. You may consider thinning the yogurt with very little milk or water, in case the yogurt is too dense to freeze.
  2. Put yogurt ice cubes into a bowl, and drizzle strawberry sauce over it. Hershey's syrup would make a more sinful substitute. For health-conscious fun-spoilers, I guess chopped fruits and nuts won't be too bad either (I'm thinking raisins, diced apples, and crushed cashews).
  3. Lick your lips (optional) and eat.

19 June 2009

Observations on Hospitality

2 things:
  1. I saw an old man struggle to climb up the bus (the step is about 1 foot off the ground). The female bus driver immediately got out of her seat to assist the elderly man.
  2. At the subway, I witnessed a little girl of around 8 or 9 get separated from her mother because the mum was rushing for the train, and the doors closed before daughter could get in. She started bawling her eyes out as the train pulled away from the station. A bystander quickly went to comfort her, and almost immediately a subway warden walked over to escort the little girl to the office.
Malaysians are known for their hospitality. I have never seen those two event play out in Malaysia before. Hmm.... I wonder indeed.

(On the other hand, I was at Ikea on Sunday and I saw a father asking his young son to pee at a corner of the restaurant because the son couldn't hold it much longer. He scolded off the Ikea staff who asked him to go to the toilet instead. So yes, the boy actually left a puddle of pee right inside Ikea while the poor staff had to mop it up afterwards. The outrageous part is - Ikea's toilet was barely 20 meters away. Major -_-" moment!)

18 June 2009

The Wait Begins

On the 1st of June, I placed an order for my most expensive shoe ever - a custom Nike iD Air Troupe Mid dance shoe. It costs RMB840 (around RM450). Believe me, I'm still trying to justify it! All logical reasoning has been thrown out the window when I keyed in my credit card details. I can only hope that it allows me to leap building in a single bound or walk on ceilings.

Anyhoo, after patiently waiting for 2+ weeks I finally received an email saying that it has been shipped out and I should receive my custom show within 2-7 days!

Commencing: Project "Nervously Pacing The Room and Gripping The Telephone Till My Hands Turn Blue". I'll definitely do an unboxing video for my next Banana in Beijing episode!


Curse You, Uniqlo

I've entered Uniqlo thrice, and I've never once left empty-handed! Curse you, affordable-yet-trendy clothing! How dare you tempt me with your last-season clearance sales of more than 50%. Don't get me started on the 100's of unique t-shirt designs in your UT range. I hate you!

Uniqlo is Japan’s leading clothing retail chain. They have branches in several other countries including Singapore (but not Malaysia).

*sigh*, like they say, hate is just another form of love, not the absence of it. I'll be visiting them again before I come back.

17 June 2009

Flexing Some Culinary Muscles

I have a very simple kitchen in my home. We don't do much cooking, so we only have a small portable stove, a medium-sized pan and pot, and basic low-quality knives. We have a small toaster oven that's perfect for toast, potatoes, reheating, but not much else!

I like to cook once in a while (main masak-masak?) so I was practically in heaven when I saw how well-equipped the apartment kitchen is. Good knives, oven, microwave, and a great selection of pots and pans allow me more freedom in cooking my dishes.

Here's what I cooked for lunch on Sunday:

First up is a cold dish heavily inspired by a similar Hors D'oeuvres we ordered at a Yunnan restaurant. It's a vegetable roll with: Italian herb grilled chicken, black mushroom, and shredded carrot. It's swimming in a diluted soya sauce base with mashed ginger.

The restaurant we went to wrapped everything with the flesh of a plant that tastes almost like cucumber. I'm not sure what it's called, but we managed to get it at the wet market. It's freakishly difficult to slice the flesh thinly! I'm amazed at how the chef could make large, thin slices while I routinely cursed the gods for making a slice that is either too thick or too short. As a result, 1 hour of hard work only yielded 17 servings.

But it tastes pretty awesome! Still, this will be the last time I attempt such a crazy dish without proper equipment to make nice vegetable slices.

The next dish would be impossible without a proper oven: Baked mashed potatoes!

After mashing the boiled potatoes, I added in the following: Italian herb mix, pepper, salt, butter, and half an egg. Scooping everything into a baking dish, I added the magical touch: Chopped garlic sprinkled over the top.

And in it goes to the 175F pre-heated oven for 45 minutes! A bit salty (I'll skip the salt next time) but otherwise the herb-y taste sets it apart from KFC.

The last dish I cooked is a simple vegetable stir-fry with french beans, carrots, and black mushrooms:
Before throwing the vegetables into the pan, I sauteed some dried shrimps until fragrant. Though the dried shrimp here is not as pungent as Malaysia's, it still added a nice kick to the dish, along with the generous amount of oyster sauce I used (oh, the MSG!).

Overall, a roaring success!

I also cooked Thai-style stewed pork ribs with mushrooms (not spicy, but sweet type) which turned out swimmingly well, getting a rare thumbs up from my housemates.

Murdering the 3 Click Rule

I don't do much web design, but I can certainly understand and relate the following articles to my work in software UI design. Some people fret over the number of clicks to access a feature, which is actually irrelevant! There are more important issues to consider.

Reading materials:
  1. Testing the Three-Click Rule
  2. Stop Counting Clicks
I'm gonna start forwarding these articles to whoever keeps insisting on vomiting all the features in the first window, in order to "improve usability". I know, if all interaction designers work together, we can kill it!

16 June 2009

75.5 kg

My weight is now around 75.5 kg. This is a number I haven't seen for many, many years. Have I gained more lean mass? Yes, but I won't be certain until I get home and use my body fat percentage gadget.

I can certainly say my belly is a bit rounder (even after framing myself in the best possible angle), and it's a bit more jiggly (oh no!). I'm mostly walking around with my stomach sucked in to prevent an unsightly bulge.

On the other hand, the endless walking I'm forced to do has firmed up my quads, and I'm also gaining strength from my weight training. The question is: what's the ratio between muscle/fat gain?

One thing is certain though: I'll need a short detox when I get home to clean out the junk in my digestive system! I can't ever remember a time in my life where I regularly and constantly consumed so much food!

15 June 2009

Banana in Beijing Episodes 2, 3, 4

Thanks to the Great Firewall of China, I have not been able to update my blog easily. So just to remind you that the latest 3 episodes of my vlog (and all future episodes) is up on my Vimeo page.

For your own sanity, I recommend viewing only 1 episode per day. The sheer boredom of some of the episodes might make your brain want to crawl out from your cranium - so you've been warned!

BTW, there will not be a fresh episode this week, and probably the next. I have nothing worthy to vlog about - and I'd rather skip a skip instead of posting something empty!

Comments are always warmly received!

05 June 2009

Pop My Cherry

For most of my life, my only experience with cherries are the ones found on cakes. I always find them funny tasting, but I guess that's expected because they are sweetened, coloured, and preserved. I also can't fathom why it has a funky after taste that turns most people away.

But today I've finally tasted freshly plucked cherries and they are a MILE away from what I've had. It tastes a lot like grapes, except it only has one big seed in the middle instead of several small ones in a grape. Also, cherries grow on tall trees, unlike short shrubs as with grapes.

If you have never tasted real, fresh cherries before, you owe that to yourself. Look for the dark maroon ones as those are truly sweet. Red cherries are still quite sour. Pop a cherry today!

04 June 2009

Pulling Some Noodles

Back in Penang discerning diners are willing to pay extra for 'la mien' (literally translated as 'pulled noodles') for their freshness and taste. For the uninitiated, la mien is basically noodles that are prepared on the spot. The chef will knead, massage, and pull huge mounds of dough and transform them into delicate strings of noodles, without all the boric acid and unsavoury chemicals found in conventional instant ramen and yellow noodles.

What is premium and rare in Penang, is common in Beijing. It's actually harder to find yellow noodles in restaurants than la mien, so those that appreciate fresh noodles will be in heaven here as they are considered common food and are quite cheap.

Too bad I'm not a big fan of la mien.

02 June 2009

I Feel It in the Air

The difference was apparent - I could feel it in the wind. What was once refreshing or sometimes even shiver-inducing, has become unbearably warm. The winds of change are blowing; summer is here!

Yesterday we experienced Beijing highest temperature since 2005, a run-for-the-shade and smack-on-some-sunscreen 38 degrees. I thought I managed to escape Malaysia's tropical heat and haze, but seems that the hot weather is catching up to me...

Makan Makan Makan

Operation: Eat is becoming a huge success over here in Beijing! I'm now around 75kg, which means I gained almost 3kg within a month! This is getting very near to my goal, so now I'm beginning Phase 2 and started regular weight training at my apartment gym.

I'm thinking this last minute business trip is becoming a huge blessing in disguise. First, my meals are paid so that can only mean one thing. I eat buffet breakfast every single morning, plus a huge lunch and hearty dinner. The gym is just a lift ride down to the basement, so there's no place for excuses like "... but it's so far....." The gym is deserted most of the time so there's no rushing for equipment and self-conscious feelings.

So far... me likey. Let's see how much muscle I can gain before I return and resume a poor diet...