By James Chow

Protected: Jersey Boys the Musical

Watched Jersey Boys the Musical!

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Having only attended musical theatres set in the older eras, I was not a huge fan of the relatively-modern Jersey Boys. I also didn’t know that the massive Broadway production was coming to Malaysia until just weeks before the beginning of the show.

Nonetheless, staying just five minutes away from Istana Budaya where the performance was held, I got two tickets anyway!

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The tickets were extraordinarily expensive, with the cheapest seats selling at RM283 each and these were the ones at the back corners of the upper circle. Stalls (even those at the back) go for RM500 and above. My usual MPO tickets cost approx. RM200 for a pretty good seat.

Luckily, I managed to get a 50% discount on the RM383 seats, which were more than decent!

Three days before the show, I walked from my office in Jalan Tun Razak to get my tickets from Istana Budaya. I was also fortunate enough to be able to speak to the people from the production company that brought in the musical!

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The crew’s enthusiasm was inspiring, and I was very glad to hear that they are working hard to bring in more original West End and Broadway shows to Malaysia!

I also got to know that the production was performing an edited version (without profanity) in Malaysia, which was slightly amusing. My guess is that this was a requirement by the ultra-paranoid government of Malaysia, but oh well… it’s gonna be in Istana Budaya, what was I expecting? Annoyed

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The performance was great, the music inspiring, and the cast just wonderful.

Being a newbie to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in general, I was unfamiliar to most of the songs in Jersey Boys save a handful of really popular ones like My Eyes Adored You, Beggin’, Oh what a Night, and the legendary Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.

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The opening of Ces soirées-là was bursting with energy and the awesome cast basically kept us all hooked till the very end!

This was no opera performance and you would not expect the singers to impress you with impossibly high pitches and stunning vibratos. Instead of a full orchestra, the music relied on guitars, pianos, keyboards, and drums. It was a very different type of musical than the traditional ones. But it was nonetheless pretty awesome.

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I hadn’t had an existing opinion on many of the songs so it was a privilege to evaluate them by first impression.

Except for the famous ones that I’d already known, Sherry, Dawn (Go Away) and Who Loves You left me a fantastic impression. However, in the end I found myself uncannily falling in love in Fallen Angel. The song somehow connected to me at that moment.

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I am glad that I did not miss this great production being performed in my own country. Let’s hope that our Malaysian organizers work harder to bring in more.

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By James Chow

Protected: Yogyakarta, Indonesia

It is with mixed feelings that I say, as of last week, I am single again. Will talk about that next time.

To help cope with that, I made a last-minute decision to take sudden leave from work and fly to Yogyakarta with my work buddies.

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It was a really spontaneous decision and I bought the ticket just three days before my departure. Amar and Aditya had been persuading me to go on this trip ever since the breakup. I was in much need of a getaway and we could all stay in Aditya’s house for free so… why not?

Amar departed to Yogyakarta a couple days before my arrival and Aditya made a special trip back to his hometown (he works in the Accenture office in Jakarta) just to host us!

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We had planned this trip to be a bros’ trip. From hiking an active volcano to jumping from waterfalls, Aditya had some really awesome activities planned for us!

Playing my part, I also bought some scotch whisky and Cuban cigars from the airport.

The moment I stepped out of the arrivals gate, my friends were already there waiting for me with a mini MPV and a chauffer (whom we nicknamed Ranjit after HIMYM and we have been referring to him as that throughout the trip Nyah-Nyah).

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We split our activities into three one-day adventures. Our first destination was up the legendary Mount Merapi!

Claiming lives every time it erupts, Mount Merapi is the most active volcano in Indonesia. Minor eruptions happen in regular intervals (and smoke rises from the mountaintop almost daily) but major eruptions happen once every five years or so.

The last major eruption happened in 2010 and was the largest in a century. The incident made world news as it set a blanket of ash on the cities and villages around it, severely disrupted air traffic in the region, and killed hundreds of people.

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Wikitravel places a huge travel warning on top of its Mount Merapi page and later in the page cautions “It is hard to think of more dangerous volcanoes anywhere in the world…” Cool. This is a must go.

Obviously we could not get to the top of the mountain in our MPV. We had to go to this place near the base of the mountain where we could hire a jeep to scale the rocky trails up the mountain!

Halfway to the base, we stopped by this small village in the shadows of the mountain to get some ‘rabbit satay’ – apparently a favourite here – for lunch. The food was great, but there was an abandoned amusement park next to it which was kind of creepy.

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It was next to a hillside and equipment seemed very old and rusty. This looked like a scene straight out of Silent Hill.

Just imagine… with this place so close to the base of Mt. Merapi, an average eruption would cover all these – the Ferris wheel, the abandoned rowing boats – in thick, impenetrable ash.

Now imagine you are here at night, alone… And your radio breaks down and all you hear is static… They you see, in the thick fog, someone – something – is limping towards you…Surprised smile

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Our journey up the mountain was nothing short of badass. Our jeep was super awesome and our guide looked like he was ex-army or something.

We initially thought there would be a rather nice path leading up to the mountain. We were wrong. So wrong.

There were no proper roads. Just rocks, dust, dirt and more rocks. It was unbelievably bumpy – every few seconds the jeep would hit a gap so deep or a rock so huge and we would literally be thrown off our seats as if we collided with a cow or something.

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Ah, yes… The picture above was, of course, posed. Smile

I could not have possibly navigated through that terrain without driving us all off a cliff. Our skilled driver, however, hammered through the dirt path like it was a 90-mph freeway, while we stubbornly chose to remain standing in the back seat.

It was a really awesome experience making our way up the mountain, seeing the occasional village and glorious nature unfolding around us, all the while hanging on desperately to the rail for dear life.

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Along the way there were several pit stops where we would take a break.

All around us, hot vapour that had been caused by the eruption three years ago was still pouring out of the ground when the rocks were moved!

We were assured by our guide that the vapour was not volcanic gas and was not dangerous, even up close.

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There was a sand-mining operation going on at an area and the area was particularly smoky. We got off to check out the place.

Up close, the whole place felt like a huge sauna room. Every time a tractor scoops up a pile of sand, a gigantic cloud of steam rises and engulfs us all!

I didn’t manage to take a picture that could accurately capture the sheer amount of steam around us (perhaps the first picture above is the closest) but standing there really felt like some sort of hell-level in a video game!

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In another pit-stop we saw this rock which locals call Batu Alien or the Alien Stone.

Apparently it looks like a huge face of an alien. Can you see it? I am basically sitting on its mouth.

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Of course we also took a lot of random photos while hanging out at the misty slopes of the mountain:

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It took us some three hours to get to the top.

As we headed closer and closer to the mouth of the volcano, we could not help but notice that the atmosphere became more and more eerie.

There were no more tourists, less and less villages, and soon we were the only living souls around for miles.

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And our moods turned dramatically from enthusiastic to fearful after we visited The Bunker.

You see, it was early evening and the sun was beginning to set when we reached the Bunker. It is an old underground chamber with thick reinforced doors built as a last-resort shelter for people who failed to leave the mountain in time during an eruption.

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Even before entering the bunker, we felt extremely uneasy just standing at the entrance. The doors were visibly charred by very high temperatures. The guide did not ask us to enter the bunker, but when we asked he said that we could if we wanted to.

We weren’t even sure if we wanted to go in. The dark entrance had such an uncomfortable energy radiating from it. Fighting our goosebumps, we decided to just sneak a quick peak of the inside.

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We felt genuine terror in the room. Our guide did not follow us into the chamber but told us that in 2006, two men who failed to evacuate the mountain in time, barricaded themselves in this very bunker when Mt. Merapi erupted.

Despite the bunker being purpose-built for protection from volcanic eruptions, the temperature in the chamber reached over 200 degrees Celsius – effectively burning them alive. Here’s one of the news articles on this.

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One of the victims was found near the entrance covered in sand, the other in a bathtub in the toilet – apparently having tried to escape the scorching heat by immersing in water. You can only imagine that at that temperature, the water would have boiled in a matter of seconds.

The view inside was hair-raising, with Amar kept urging us to get out. It was pitch black and we kept accidentally stepped into puddles of liquid and crunchy material. We found the toilet and bathtub in which the second victim had been boiled alive.

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We spent only a few minutes in the spine-chilling place and got out hastily. I kept having this nasty imagination that the heavy rusty door would slam shut while we were all inside and something demonic would appear.

We got out of the bunker to find that it was already dark… at 6PM! There were only the last traces of sunlight and it had started to rain lightly. Our guide told us that we were quite close to our destination near the top and that we should move quickly.

It had started raining in earnest and night had fallen when we reached our last destination. We had hoped for something cheerful that could dispel the cloud of fear that had enveloped us… only to be treated to this.

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This was a small abandoned house in a mountaintop village that had been evacuated when the 2010 eruption happened. The place was completely burned down and whatever was left was put on display.

There was a melted old television set, charred kitchen equipment, burnt clothes, and even livestock skeletons – all covered in ash.

Under the dim light and eerie environment, everything looked ghastly.

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There was a melted clock on the wall, the position at which the needle had stopped indicated the exact time of the eruption.

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Everything looked like it was taken right out of a Silent Hill movie set. We kept glancing behind to see if the driver would just take off without us and leave us stranded here for the night with restless spirits.

Perhaps this place wouldn’t be as eerie with some sunlight and perhaps some other tourists around. But that night, with only us there, this looked like some demonic inscription on the wall – “all is gone”.

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There was this room in the house which was particularly hidden and was absolutely creepy. Found in the room were some burnt ‘relics’ that were apparently of religious and cultural significance. There was a warning in the room asking for respect and prohibiting cameras.

Usually, being in such a special room on my own, I would sneak a photo shot and get out. I am not a superstitious man. But this time, I dared not.

Inscribed on the wall in that room were the harrowing words: “Merapi Tak Pernah Ingkar Janji” – Indonesian for “[Mt.] Merapi has never reneged on its promise.” I had enough. I left the room and we all agreed to get out of this nightmarish scene.

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This was as far up the mountain as the jeep could go. There were a few more kilometres to go to reach the summit and we were offered special bikes that could bring us there.

We considered the offer for a moment. It was night and pitch black, we couldn’t possibly see anything from the summit anyway. Besides, this was all turning more and more into a typical Thai horror movie plot. We even started predicting which one of us would die first.

We decided to start our descend.

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The descend was no less scary. It was raining quite heavily and the narrow dirt path in front of us was absolutely pitch black and had nothing but tall, dark trees on both sides. In the jeep, we told ghost stories and kept convincing each other that were doomed, escalating the sense of horror.

At one point, the jeep’s engine choked and died. As the driver opened the cover to remove the water trapped in the engine, we were so paranoid that we were absolutely convinced that were going to be trapped there in the woods and be eaten alive by monsters at night.

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But despite our self-scaring, our skilled driver brought us back to Ranjit safe and sound. We were so glad to be back in the safety of our comfortable back seat of our MPV. It was an amazing adventure. And the way we built and maintained the horror movie-atmosphere made it all doubly awesome!

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The next day, we went cave tubing at Gua Pindul.

Let me clarify on the outset that none of the pictures here (for cave tubing) are mine. They are retrieved online and that’s because all of the pictures taken by myself… are gone!

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Well I didn’t take many pictures to begin with. It was a wet activity and although I did snap a few pictures with my waterproof Galaxy S4, for some reason the memory card got corrupted at the end. Annoyed Ah well…

It was a very fun activity. We began by siting on rubber tubes following the flow of the river into a cave. Once inside, our guide explained to us the history and legends surrounding the cave and showed us impressive stalactite and stalagmites that were thousands of years old!

The river ran though the cave and near the end there was an area in the cave with an opening on the roof. The sunlight shining in from the top gave it a serene, almost divine view!

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We got off our tubes and swam in the river. There was also a small cliff for us to climb on and jump into the river from!

After this river we were brought to another whose current was much faster. There were also some river rapids along our route and manoeuvring over them was pretty exciting!

There was also another cliff from which I jumped into the river. This was much higher than the one in Gua Pindul, but the water right beneath it was quite deep making it quite safe (although it did hurt a bit when the water hits you on your fall). It was awesome!

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Lastly, we of course spent a day visiting the most famous temple in Indonesia – and the largest Buddhist structure in the entire world – the legendary Borobudur!

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that’s another item checked from my quest of visiting all of the Civ5 world wonders!

This temple is well over a thousand years old and commands respect and deserves great effort in researching its rich history and architecture before visiting. If you have not done your research, you should at least employ a guide who is very knowledgeable in the history, architecture and artwork in and around the structure.

As for us… well, our guide was Aditya, who knew nothing practically nothing of the architecture and art etc. and whose greatest contribution was to disguise us as Indonesians (so we don’t have to pay the exorbitant tourists’ price), and to ceaselessly photobomb my photos.

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The temple was nonetheless truly fascinating. I have seen countless great cathedrals and churches in my travels, but to be able to visit the greatest Hindu temple of all time recently, and then now the greatest Buddhist temple of all time… is really awesome!

There were lots of individual statues and rows upon rows of reliefs depicting various religious and cultural stories. Several other tour guides were busy telling their group the fascinating stories behind the ancient reliefs, but our dear guide was like “so, err… on your right you see some really old paintings… yeah, so moving on.” Smile with tongue out

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Our shallow ‘tour group’ was also more occupied with checking out for hot girls in our vicinity than understanding the thousand-year-old history the site had to offer.

Near the top level of the temple were many bell-shaped stupas, each with a sitting status of Buddha inside. Legend has it that if your arm is long enough to touch the statues inside the stupas, your wish would come true!

The top of the temple offered an amazing view of the surrounding terrain. On a clear, cloudless day, you could actually get a stunning view of the smoking Mount Merapi in the background! Unfortunately our day was a little cloudy.

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Before I close off this entry, let me just mention an interesting activity that Aditya brought us to do at night!

There was this huge square (Alun-Alun) in downtown Yogyakarta that was pretty popular with locals at night. In the middle of the dark, unlit square were two large, very old trees.

According to folklore, Aditya explained, whoever was able to walk between the trees from a distance (without bumping into the trees) while blindfolded meant he had a ‘true heart’ and will have good luck.

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Apparently this was a popular legend as there were quite a few other tourists and locals alike trying out the activity. Aditya told us that he had done that when he was a kid.

This was a test of the highest magnitude of our true-heartedness or whatever! We were not going to walk away without proving ourselves.

So one-by-one, we took off our shoes (the area between the trees was mildly flooded with mud), and got blindfolded.

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For additional difficulty, we had to do several spins while blindfolded before we started walking.

It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t terribly difficult either. You could use the surrounding sound as guidance (there were a few shops playing music in the far corner) and the terrain on the floor (grass/sand/mud/water) to have a general idea of which way to go.

In the end, it appears that I am the only one among the three to have a true heart!

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In fact, I apparently had a heart that was so bloody true that I got past the narrow passage on the very first try!

Aditya and Amar tried not once, not twice, but three times each but all ended up hitting one of the trees or ended up veering wildly off course (sometimes in the complete opposite direction). They weren’t happy with the results. Smile

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By James Chow

Protected: Buying a New House

Ever since I started working last year I have been hoping to buy a new apartment in KL close to where I work. Let me talk about my progress so far.

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After months of browsing classifieds online and attending property fairs, I was really this close to paying the deposit for a brand new studio apartment in Damansara Perdana last month!

I had been viewing quite a few properties in the Damansara Perdana area because my initial plan was to purchase a studio apartment.

Damansara Perdana is an affluent area that I had long thought of purchasing a property in. My bachelorhood and love for a small living space makes a studio apartment the perfect choice despite its lofty > RM800 p.s.f. price tag.

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I fell in love wuth this particular unit on the 28th floor of Empire Damansara (pictures above). The building was beautiful akin to a 5-star hotel, boasted a very nice view of the city, and had some really classy developments going on around it – luxury apartments, office blocks, a shopping mall, and even an upcoming theme park!

Despite it having been just completed a couple months ago, the apartment came fully furnished with brand new furniture, built-in wardrobes, a TV, refrigerator, and bathroom facilities.

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Unfortunately, in the end, I had to decline the offer cheque-in-hand due to the discovery of a piping defect. I’d rather take no risks when it comes to buying my new home.

A little disappointed, I continued my house-hunt.

A few weeks later, I was informed by an agent that she had got a really good deal in hand. I generally do not trust ‘good deals’ offered by agents but this was Wei’s good friend, so I decided to take a look at it.

It was superb!

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Located along Jalan Pahang just 10 minutes’ drive from my office, this fully-furnished, 1,126 sqf. 3-bedroom condominium unit was selling at an unbelievable RM428,000.

I did a thorough research the night before and confirmed that it was grossly undervalued. Similar but unfurnished units in the condominium were going for at least RM440,000. The furnishing and renovation must be worth at least another RM30,000.

I could hardly believe my luck! The agent explained that the owner wanted to sell the apartment in order to move into another that they had just bought. They were apparently in such a rush that they just agreed to the first selling price that the agent offered.

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The agent was Wei’s friend so I had no reason to doubt her. I also inspected the place and found no defects. The owners who were still living inside were a very friendly and nice family. Over tea, they told me about how the place had just been renovated two years ago.

There and then, I issued a cheque for 2% of the property’s value as deposit and signed the offer letter with the owner. There was nothing to wait for. I know a bloody good deal when I see one.

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As per the terms in the offer letter, the owner and I had 14 working days to work out the intricacies of the deal and draft the property sales and purchase agreement.

Unfortunately, the deal did not fall through. A few days after signing the letter, my agent informed me that another agent had offered the owner a much higher selling price. Due to this, the owner had decided to call off our deal.

I was sad, but I had known from the beginning that this was a slippery deal. On the bright side, our contract dictates that my 2% deposit had to be refunded with an additional 2% in compensation if the seller breached it. So at least I made RM8K from those few hours of work.

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I don’t blame the owner. To be fair, I would have done the same damn thing if I were him. RM428,000 was way too cheap a price for that apartment. Even with the RM8K penalty, the owner could still easily sell it for RM450,000 and make a lot more profit.

Sure enough, guess what I found online A DAY after I received my compensation:

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Another agent had put up an advertisement for the same exact unit for RM460,000! Dammit.

This reminds me of an article I had read for an assignment in my Law and Economics class back in Bristol. The article, Is Breach of Contract Immoral by Steven Shavell, explored the morality of breaching a contract in and without the presence of adequate damages. I guess, in this case, the seller’s action was moral.

Aww well… I guess I’ll have to continue searching for my new home!

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