Sunday, July 31, 2005

Kew Gardens featuring Dale Chihuly

Until 15th January 2006, visiting the Kew Gardens gives you a surreal experience. The Gardens, especially inside the greenhouses, are dotted with Dale Chihuly's glass works. You don't expect colourful, beautifully-shaped pieces of glass standing or sitting amid trees, bushes, plants, or flowers, do you? This is a wonderful exhibition. You must go there. If you're coming to London on holidays, don't miss this out.

Unconvinced? Then look at pictures below.

On the way from the Victoria Gate to the Palm House

Walla Wallas, on the Palm House Pond

Thames Skiff, on the Palm House Pond

Red Palm House Tower, in front of the Palm House

Inside the Palm House

Inside the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

Persian Chandelier, at the atrium space in the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Inside the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

A stream inside the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

A pond in the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

A pond inside the Temperate House

Green Grass, inside the Temperate House

Macchia, at the west entrance of the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

Ikebana, in the Temperate House

Inside the Temperate House

Inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory

A pond inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory

Inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory

Reeds, at the Princess of Wales Conservatory

Basket Sets at The Princess of Wales Conservatory

The Sun, at the north end of The Princess of Wales Conservatory. Although this is supposed to be the leading installation of this surreal exhibition, it is not as impressive to me as others...

An extra

A peacock wandering (just like pigeons!) in the Pavilion Restaurant of the Kew Gardens

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bedroom Curtain

This week was all about changing my bedroom curtain.

On Tuesday, I went to Ikea in Brent Park with Yumiko-san. (Hence the photo on 19th July). For those uninitiated, Ikea is a Swedish furniture store chain very popular in Europe. They sell pieces of furniture with minimalist design and for very reasonable prices. Some say every household in Britain has at least one piece of Ikea furniture.

Incidentally, Ikea will at last land in Japan next year. But I'm not sure if they will be successful in Japan. Minimalist design is nothing new to Japanese people. (Just remember Muji from Japan.) Plus, the popularity of Ikea in Europe seems to rely on its cheap prices at the cost of convenience and good services. (You need to assemble the pieces of Ikea furniture for yourself by reading very unhelpful instruction booklets.) Japanese consumers take good prices and good services for granted. I suspect Ikea will find it hard to penetrate into the Japanese market.

Anyway, I took this opportunity of visiting Ikea to change my bedroom curtain. Ever since I moved into my current house two years ago, my bedroom curtain, which was already there before I moved in, has been the same: a worn-out blue one. It has certainly been letting me down everytime I saw it.

I looked for one of contemporary design at Ikea store. Then I got the one shown in the above picture. Cool, isn't it?

The problem was I needed to fix a new curtain rod into the wall. The Ikea curtain was not compatible with the curtain rail in my bedroom. Which meant I needed to drill a couple of holes. But I didn't have a drill...

After coming home, I contacted a couple of my friends, none of whom had got one. So on Wednesday I went to Woolworths in the neighbourhood, finding one on sale for half a price (10 quid). So I bought it on Thursday.

Back in my bedroom, I realised that my window was wider (more than 2m) than I expected (my old curtain always hid the left edge of the window). The curtain rod that I bought at Ikea was too short!

On Friday, I went to Ikea again, all the way from East London to Northwest London (about one and a half hour trip). There is one Ikea branch in East London, but that one is in the middle of nowhere unless you have a car.

Today I began drilling my bedroom wall around midday. I realised the wall was so old that when I turned a screw into the hole I drilled, the screw simply scraped the hole further and never stopped turning...

Fortunately, a wooden bar was attached to the wall above the window. By drilling this bar, I finally managed to fix the new curtain rod into my bedroom wall by 6 pm.

Now I'm happy with my bedroom. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Economics in the view of Japanese bureaucrats

People outside Japan seem to believe that, as Japan now has the world's second biggest economy, the Japanese government relies on the wisdom of economists to manage its economy.

This is absolutely wrong.

A good example came out on an article of Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan's most-read (and a bit right-wing) newspaper today. (Special thanks to Hayashi-san for calling attention to this article.)

Three professors of economics/statistics in Japan - Takamitsu Sawa at Kyoto University, Naosumi Atoda at Keio University, and Toshihiko Igawa at Meikai University - have shown that statistically there is no correlation between the bidding prices for public works projects and the quality of such projects, counterarguing the view held by the Ministry of Construction and Transport that open bidding for public works projects is not appropriate as it deteriorates the quality of such projects.

What's "fascinating" is the comment by the Ministry official on this research result:

"The ministry holds that there certainly is a relation between bidding price ratios and evaluation scores. Quality is low when bids are low. We have no plan to further examine the data (used for the analyses)."
It's not a counter-argument at all. It's like the Ministry doesn't believe such an econometric/statistical analysis to evaluate government policies.

See? Economic policies in Japan are made by those bureaucrats who know nothing about economics.

Well, the research done by the Japanese econometricians and statisticians is itself not a good reason to believe that open bidding does not sacrifice the quality of projects: the data used in the analysis is about what happened under the system of "bidding among designated companies", not under open bidding. Presumably, the relationship between bidding prices and the quality of projects undertaken will change if open bidding is introduced. It may still be the case that what the Ministry argues is correct. Alas, there is no one in the Ministry who is exposed to econometric analysis enough to counter-argue in such a way.

Tate Modern

Went to Tate Modern to meet Cheyok, Eugene, and their friends. We watched the exhibition of Frida Cahlo, a Mexican surrealist painter. Her paintings are impressive, very unique, versatile, and beyond your imagination; but not pleasant to see.

The Turbine Hall houses an exhibition by Herzog and De Meuron, whose architectural works include Tate Modern itself. They display mock-ups of building designs that were discarded before reaching the final idea. In other words, a bunch of waste products. The curator insists that this way the exhibition shows the thought process that architects go through. But as so many mock-ups are scattered on many desks in the Hall and as little explanation is provided on which model came before which, it just confuses me. Well, confusion itself is probably the process of creativity. But it is not pleasant.

I always feel what's most fascinating about Tate Modern is not exhibitions themselves but the former power station that has turned into the contemporary art museum. Look at this (click to enlarge):

Also, the view of the Millennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral from here is magnificent. Everybody takes a picture here. I tried to take a bit different one. What do you think?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Mayor of London's statement

"... Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

"I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

"In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

"They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves.

"They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."

(Ken Livingston, upon arrival in London from Singapore, where the 2012 Olympics decision was made the day before. See the whole transcript.)

London under attack

On the day after it got the 2012 Olympics, and on the day when everyone's attention is directed at the G8 summit in Scotland, London seems to have been attacked by terrorists. A number of explosions in the public transport system were heard. (One bus blast near Russell Square, and 20 fatal casualties, is now confirmed by the Scotland Yard.)

All the tube lines are being suspended. Mobile networks are down now, for preserving phone communication for emergency services. All the buses in central London are just suspended.

I was at home, as usual, when things happened around 8:45 am. I'm physically fine, but feel depressed by this.

And, annoying Indian sales pitch calls are in operation normally. (I just got one.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Kiyo's lunchtime concert

St. Bride's Church, (Fleet Street, London, EC4)

My concert pianist friend Kiyo, with a soprano performer Natalie, held a lunchtime concert at St. Bride's Church. As seen in the above picture, the interior of the church is beautiful. Among the pieces they performed, I liked Schubert's 'Libesbotschaft' and 'Fruhlingstraum'.

After the performance, we, along with Kiyo's friends, had lunch at a pub next door. I hate having lunch at English pubs because, you know... But Club Mangia at The Punch Tavern (99 Fleet Street) is a revelation. Their lunchtime buffet (7.5 pounds, and you can eat as much as you like) is extremely excellent. See its Time Out review.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Somali cuisine

My Singaporean friend Linus loves trying obscure ethnic restaurants in London. I like to join his exploration. In the past he discovered the Ethiopian restaurant Menelik on Caledonian Road (see 14th November 2004) and the Turkish Bursa Inegol Koftecisi in Hackney (see 2nd April 2005).

Today, it's a Somali restaurant in Mile End Road: Tayo Restaurant. Everyone but us in the restaurant is Somali people, a good sign for authenticity.

When I arrived at the restaurant, Linus already had a spaghetti. Oh, yes, Italians colonised Somalia in the early 20th century. But, acoording to Linus, the taste is more of Indian. Yeah, East African coasts have a sizable population of South Asians because Muslim traders came to East Africa during the times of Islamic empires.

I don't know the name of what I ordered, something like meat and vegetable stew. It tasted like a Jamaican meal. Well, both countries have black people...

Accompanied with the stew was Somali bread, looking like Ethiopia's ingera (sour crepe). But it tasted different and good!

We noticed all Somali customers were easting bananas with the stew or other meals. Next time we should order bananas as well to have a proper Somali lunch.

The problem with such obscure ethnic restaurants is it is difficult to take girls there. Linus does take his girlfriends and enjoy seeing how they react. He's so mean. :)

Next door to the restaurant is a Somali clothes shop, where Linus got the incense and the decorated stand on which you burn incense with charcoal for the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. (Google "Ethiopian coffee ceremony, and you'll find its popularity!)

A replica Darfur hut, built by refugees from Darfur, western Sudan, in the front garden of the Museum of Childhood. Building this hut, say the Sudanese refugees, reminded them of their happy moments in Darfur.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Spanish names

By tracking the names of dictators in Latin America, I'm confused with their names a lot. Take the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua. The founder's name is Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who ruled the country since 1937. When he was assassinated in 1956, his son Luis Anastasio Somoza Debayle succeeded. In 1967, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, Luis's brother, succeeded.

How complicated! Especially, the last guy's name has no original part!

Then I found this website explaining how Spanish-speakers name their children. Finally it makes sense. Take the second-to-last name as the family name!