Friday, November 28, 2008

Riveting read on financial crisis

An article that starts like this definitely warrants attention, and this proves to be a good read.

To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue.

Continued here.

While this may not bring you any closer to understanding the mechanics behind the subprime crisis, at least you now know many of Wall Street's fat cats are as clueless as you and I.

Some interesting bits:

In the two decades since then, I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility.

and this, something about Merrill Lynch (which Singapore's sovereign fund took a stake in), sigh...

“We just shorted Merrill Lynch,” Eisman told him.

“Why?” asked Hintz.

“We have a simple thesis,” Eisman explained. “There is going to be a calamity, and whenever there is a calamity, Merrill is there.” When it came time to bankrupt Orange County with bad advice, Merrill was there. When the internet went bust, Merrill was there. Way back in the 1980s, when the first bond trader was let off his leash and lost hundreds of millions of dollars, Merrill was there to take the hit. That was Eisman’s logic—the logic of Wall Street’s pecking order. Goldman Sachs was the big kid who ran the games in this neighborhood. Merrill Lynch was the little fat kid assigned the least pleasant roles, just happy to be a part of things. The game, as Eisman saw it, was Crack the Whip. He assumed Merrill Lynch had taken its assigned place at the end of the chain.

Read the article and tell me someone won't make a movie out of this some day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jolie good reminder

Angelina Jolie, in a latest interview she did together with Clint Eastwood, talked about what she saw in Sierra Leone and how it changed her.

" was just that I really understood a different depth of what takes place in our world and I understood it so quickly, and seeing little babies with their arms cut off, and how they cut all the women’s arms off so they couldn’t hold their baby. They cut all the men’s legs off so they couldn’t work in the field. And then how many places in the world were so similar, I never wake up worried about silly things anymore and my children are healthy and I can feed them. I’m very very grateful and I feel of use to something that is more important than just getting up and going about the day like I used to. So it changed me drastically."

Reading this reminds me again of how blessed we all are. All of us living our comfortable lives, surfing the internet, reading celebrity interviews...we are all so blessed.

Hmm, year-end melancholy? Winter blues? Maybe...but what Angelina said there, in bold above, is just that kick in the head I need in my life right now. God is telling me to get a grip. Off to sayang my sleeping boys now. Nite.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dimensional WOWS!

Sean's home today. I snapped at him earlier when he begged me to play monopoly. Shoo-ed him away, monopoly will take at least an hour! He can play that with Brian another day.

He spent the morning drawing, reading something and then working out how many factors different numbers had.

For the past hour, he's been watching this show we found. There's about another hour to go. Pretty interesting show, he kept going WOW at different parts of the show. Brian's gonna like the show too. Not that they'll understand most of it, but as long as it keeps them out of my hair for a couple of hours.

We found the show when Sean asked me to search for videos on Dimensions in Youtube.

Trailer on Youtube.

The show itself.

What the heck is Fire?

Sean: Is fire a type of plasma?

Me: Why?

Sean: Because fire is very hot and it can't be a gas because you can see it and you can't see gases.

Me: You mean you can't see gases?

Sean: Yeah, except steam.

Sean: So is fire gas or plasma? What is fire?

Before we get into what fire is, isn't neon a kind of gas, and we can see neon right?


According to the answer to Question No97 here; fire is NOT plasma.
According to the discussion here, fire IS plasma...sigh...

Fire is the result of breaking bonds in carbon based molecules through the addition of heat energy. This reaction releases energy in the form of heat and light.

When Brian gets back from school, I'll get him to check the links out and see if he understands better than I do. Hopefully, he is able to explain better to his didi.

Keeping Sean home today, just because.

Universe and Time

Sean: Before the universe was created, there was no time for it to emerge from, so how did it emerge without any time?

Me: You mean without the universe, time doesn't exist?

Sean: Yes.


There's a discussion on universe and time
here, but all I got from there is no one really knows the answer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All I get (and need) is Love

Last evening, Sean saw the dinner I cooked for him, and he does what he always does when it's something he loves, he went, "I LOVE YOU MUMMY!" (other times, he goes Yucks!, and sometimes sobs saying he isn't able to eat the food).

He went on to say, "Mummy, you do ALL the work and ALL you get is Love. I think you should get more than that."

:) Ahhh, FINALLY! After ALL this time, someone verbalises appreciation for er, ALL the work I do! Makes ALL my hard work worth while...hehe...

But Sean darling, as The Beatles' song goes, All you need is if all I get is Love...that's good enough for me sweetheart, that's good enough for me...

Tokyo Day 7: Last post, finally! YAHOOOO!!!!

Gosh, this blogging on my Tokyo tour was becoming like an albatross around my neck. I so wanted to get it done but just couldn't keep the momentum going. I've had other distractions along the way.

But I'm glad I got it done, and I hope I haven't bored too many of you too much. Holidays are about memories, aren't they? My friend Li Ping's husband has something wise to say about holidays, You are paying for the creation of memories! That's why that family finds every excuse to go on holidays every other quarter! :) So, while it was stressful at times, with petty arguments about who should ask for directions, walking aimlessly, getting lost, arguing about what to eat, dealing with squabbling siblings...when we look back, we laugh about all that, it wasn't then, but it is now very funny. So the memories are all wonderful and now I have them all online!

This is Sean entertaining us while we waited at the hotel lobby for our pick-up. It's from My Fair Lady, pardon the language at the end, but it is part of the lyrics.

Without your pulling it, the tide comes in
Without your twirling it, the earth can spin
Without your pushing them, the clouds roll by
If they can do without you, ducky, so can I
I shall not feel alone without you
I can stand on my own without you
So go back in your shell
I can do bloody well
Without you...

One more time without clearing of throat, but with eyes bent on tracking the red light on my Canon ixus!

The plastic toys he's playing with at the end of the second video (the clip is cut short on some playbacks, not sure why this happens) are giveaways from his kiddy lunch at Royal Host. It's a yellow tortoise (his favourite thing in the world) and a pink spade.

Day 7 Tokyo: Last lunch in Tokyo

We got back to Hilton hotel in time for lunch. All week he acts like a clown when I wanted to take pictures, then on this last day he insists on taking a picture here, at the Shinjuku bus stop where Hilton's shuttle picks guests up and drops them off. We were here practically every day.

I had one final food recommendation to check out. In Asakusa, I had found the tempura not quite satisfying, so wanted Eddie to try this tempura restaurant recommended by my friend Noriko, it's called Tsunahachi, and one of its branches is located right at the basement floor of Hilton.

Aaah, this is more like it. The set lunches are pretty reasonable. Can't remember how much now, but really worth it.

Batter was light and taste was great, not overwhelming.

Mine came with sashimi.

Some deep-fried tempura shrimp thingy.

Only Eddie and I ate, cos the boys had had McD after breakfast at the ryokan. But after our tempura lunch, there was still time before our airport limousine bus pick-up, which was 3pm. So we hopped over to Royal Host, where the boys again enjoyed their pseudo-western lunch...yucks.

Tokyo Day 7: Exploring Enoshima

If you're holidaying in Tokyo, I'd highly recommend that you do a day trip to Enoshima. The island is quite pretty and very easily navigated. There isn't a need to stay overnight like we did, and you can combine this with a visit to Daibutsu in Kamakura. Just leave for Enoshima in the morning, and you can explore the island in a day, easily: "Enoshima, the symbol of Shonan, has a lighthouse and botanical gardens, and many other attractions including an aquarium."

A few posts ago, there was a bluish-green torii gate that greeted us once we got to Enoshima island. After that torii gate is the quaint shopping street with lots of souvenir shops and really nice restaurants, we regretted not having our lunch here. Iwamotoro ryokan is on this street.

We come to this red torii gate at the end of the shopping street, and climbing up the stairs, you can start exploring more of Enoshima. "Getting on the Enoshima "Esca" (short for escalator) is the fast track to reaching the peak of Enoshima it takes you there in 5 minutes -or you could take the more scenic route along the "holy road" up to the top." We did the walk, but only midway through.

View from the temple at the top of the stairs.

Washing your hands and even the insides of your mouth is part of the ritual before visiting the temples.

We walked through this ring 3 times in a certain loop, not sure what the significance of the loop order was.

A couple making their prayer request.

Wishing tree?

Sean thinks, "One day, I'll be doing this outside Mann's Chinese Theatre." :)

A rare sight, boys hand-in-hand exploring the island and actually getting along. Yes, it was a good day.

Enoshima island is surrounded by Sagami Bay.

This picture was taken when we had reached the other side of the island. I think this overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

If we had walked on, there is actually a cave to explore,"Enoshima Cave was created over some 6,000 years, eaten away by the ripping tide and the passing of time. Despite it's mysterious untouched atmosphere, the cave has a walking path, so negotiating the cave is easy and safe. From the path that leads outside there is a stirring view of the seascape." But we were pretty tired from the hike, and it was time to leave for Tokyo...well, not that it was really time lah, but we wanted to get to Tokyo for lunch.

Went back down, browsed around at the shopping street.

This cracker snack deep fried in sesame oil I think, is really popular.

This is flattened cuttlefish...crunchy and quite yummy.

Poor octopus/cuttlefish.

And it was time to say goodbye to Enoshima. This is Katase-Enoshima train station, modelled after a Japanese palace apparently. The boys had McD before we left for Tokyo. Eddie and I shared a really delicious spicy chicken burger.

Enoshima is less well-known than its popular big brother Kamakura, but maybe it's me, I much prefer quaint little places to commercialised touristy spots. So I liked Enoshima a lot more than Kamakura. Would definitely try to come back for a day trip if I'm ever in Tokyo, there are lots more to explore in Enoshima. This article, titled Enoshima: Kamakura's better half, says it all.

Day 7 Tokyo: Ryokan experience - Part 2

This is the view from our room in the morning. It's a bit blur with my Canon ixus (my DSLR ran out of battery the previous day!) but you can make out Mount Fuji in this picture. Not much of a snow-peak, maybe in a couple more months. On clearer days, the view should be much better.

Japanese holiday-makers going kayaking really early in the day. was coldddd!

There's an in-house museum on the ground floor of Iwamotoro ryokan, with 700-year old antiques.

I think this is a map of Enoshima island drawn long, long ago.

Time for breakfast, traditional Japanese breakfast, I like! Cos there's rice :)

Clams in my miso soup...

And oyster in my cawanmushi...I could eat traditional Japanese all my life!

After breakfast, we packed up, left our luggage with the front desk and explored Enoshima a bit. Bye bye Iwamotoro, thanks, we had a good time.

Day 6 Tokyo: Ryokan experience - Part 1

So I was the one who insisted on staying in a ryokan. Eddie did say that ryokans are more fun when it's a company function and there are loads of people around. He was kind of right. We felt a bit lost after dinner, no tv to watch, well, there was a small one but it was all Japanese shows, no internet, Brian's Nintendo DS ran out of battery and he forgot his it was quite a change of pace for us.

Anyway, back to our ryokan experience. Before dinner, we headed for the hot baths. Unlike in Hakone, there is no onsen here, just hot baths, difference being onsens hot water comes from natural hot springs (note to self: save up for ryokan plus onsen in Hakone next). There are two baths in this ryokan, the Roman bath and the cave bath. Same gender only...the baths are open 24 hours, and there is a schedule for men and women to use the different baths at different times of the day.

The Roman bath was really small. I didn't really like this one. This was the one that the boys and Eddie went to first. You need to rinse yourself thoroughly before going in. But what happened was after Eddie stripped the boys and himself, before he could do anything, Sean had jumped into the bath.

This is Sean right after his Roman bath. Looks mighty refreshed.

The cave bath was much bigger and I felt hotter. I liked this bath. The boys and Eddie went the next morning and Brian said Sean's body turned all red after a while. I saw no website saying this, but my Japanese friend Minako mentioned that the emperor himself (not sure if it's the current one) has stayed in Iwamotoro; she found this info in a Japanese website.

All refreshed after our baths, we waited for the main attraction, our dinner! And here's the spread. Little plates of traditional Japanese delicacies, Enoshima-style. Loved it.

Eddie and Brian refused to eat the snail-like dish. When you pick it out, it looks like this! Eeeyewww, you say? Delicious, I say! I ate all 3 of them, 2 courtesy of the 2 Leong chickens. Actually, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat the curled intestine-looking part but didn't carelah, just whack the whole thing, that part tasted a bit bitter, but still shiok. When I got back to Moscow, I asked Minako if I was eating it right -- she said only the pros would eat those bits! :) I guess only the pros...and gluttons like me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tokyo Day 6: Iwamotoro ryokan, Enoshima

Time to head back to our ryokan in Enoshima. We took the quaint Enoden train, "Enoden is a local train which runs between Kamakura and Fujisawa. It has 100 years of its history and loved by people of the retro appearance. It is often used in movies and Dramas." On parts of the track, the windows of the train were merely inches away from the backyard of homes.

Getting dark by the time we reached Enoshima. Yes, we had to make that 20-minute crossing over the bridge again.

Entrance to Iwamotoro Ryokan. I chose this ryokan cos it was one of the cheapest around (I mean compared to those in Hakone and Nikko; there aren't many other ryokans in Enoshima). So told Eddie not to expect anything fancy, cos other nicer ryokans may cost us double.

We paid Y15,000 per person (Sean not counted) for a night, including dinner and breakfast. So it came to Y45,000 or S$680 a night. As it is, I found this too expensive, hence, only one night, just for the ryokan experiencelah. See my name here, the other guests are locals.

A very tired me and Brian in our comfortable Yukata.

While Brian wasn't too enamoured with the yukata, Sean just loved frolicking around in it. The moment he had it on, he started acting the part.

We don't know where he learnt this from, I suspect some cartoon he saw. But he kept doing this throughout our stay.