Clarke’s Standard (replaced goodburger at Union Square)

It was with great regret that my wife and I saw that goodburger at Union Square had closed. We used to eat there frequently because the food was good, fairly quick, and it was convenient. It was somewhere between McDonald’s and Wendy’s, which was too junky, and a sit-down, pricey restaurant. Not that it wasn’t a little on the pricey side, but it filled a need we had.  I guess not enough people needed a good burger at that price, though, so one day we went there for dinner and found the place boarded up.

Interior of Clarke's Standard at Union Square
Interior of Clarke’s Standard at Union Square

About two weeks ago, we were shopping at Petco and I decided to go around the corner and see if anything had replaced goodburger yet, and we saw that Clarke’s Standard was open. A new burger joint. We decided to try the place out, hoping it would be our new goodburger. Unfortunately, this place is not going to fit the bill.

Clarke's Standard Menu
Clarke’s Standard Menu
Brooklyn Au Poivre, Honey Mustard BBQ Grilled Sandwich, French Fries, Sweet Waffle Potato Fries
Brooklyn Au Poivre, Honey Mustard BBQ Grilled Sandwich, French Fries, Sweet Waffle Potato Fries

The biggest problem we had was that the sauces used on the burgers are either made with mayo or ketchup (or something with a very similar taste to ketchup) that we didn’t care for. If you want a burger without mayo or ketchup here, you lose most of the flavor of the specialty burger. Besides that, the sauces are very runny and soak into the bun, making them mushy and sloppy. Some people may like their buns saucy and squishy, but I like my buns firm.

I had the Brooklyn Au Poivre. Besides my sauce and bun problem, I found the meat to not have any real taste to it. It seemed to be too wet and slightly undercooked on top of that. It didn’t have a grilled or “real” flavor to it. My wife said the honey mustard BBQ grilled chicken sandwich was good, but the flavor was drowned by the ketchup, which was leaking out of the bottom of the sandwich in gobs.

The only redeeming things about our meal were the French fries and sweet potato waffle fries. They were both outstanding, but they aren’t enough to bring us back for more.

Huge roach on the floor at Clarke's Standard
Huge roach on the floor at Clarke’s Standard
Huge roach on the floor at Clarke's Standard
Huge roach on the floor at Clarke’s Standard

Finding this giant roach on the floor under our table (waiting for leftovers?) after we finished eating finished killing our meal experience. Honestly, the price isn’t that much different than goodburger and the quality and variety of the sandwiches isn’t that impressive. We won’t be going back. There are plenty of other restaurants in the area. We’ll just have to walk a bit further to get to them.

Response: Donald Quataert’s “The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922”

Donald Quataert’s book, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (New Approaches to European History), is an engaging overview that challenges popular (mis)conceptions about internal dynamics of the empire in regards to inter-communal relations and the role it played internationally. Throughout the text, Quataert takes care to place the Ottoman Empire in context, something which he seems to believe has been rarely done in past historical works, resulting in inflated claims of both power and weakness, as well as claims of undue cruelty both to its own citizens and its enemies. In short, while providing a good overview of the empire, Quataert also does an effective job in leveling the playing field so that the reader is able to understand that both the perceived negative and positive actions of the empire are not unique to the Ottoman Empire, cutting through caricatures to present a balanced view of history.

Having never read anything regarding the Ottoman Empire before, the text was very instructional. I was previously under the impression that the Ottoman Empire was a primarily Middle Eastern, Muslim empire that was organized along monarchical and religious lines. The information presented about the gradual shift in power from the sultan to the viziers/pashas and then to the Jannisaries was interesting. What sort of authority did the office of sultan still hold that it was maintained for the purposes of political legitimation? Why was there never an attempt to restructure the central government? Or was the sultan a political figurehead in a similar way to modern Prime Ministers and Presidents?

I was also very interested to find out that for a large portion of the empire’s existence, the vast majority of the population resided in the European provinces, making the empire more European than Middle Eastern. The fact that the Ottoman Empire expanded so far into southeastern Europe helps to explain the modern mistrust and fear of Turkey and, as the author says, the hesitance the European Union is displaying regarding Turkey’s application for membership. It’s a hesitancy and fear that’s a legacy of the Ottoman Empire’s initial military successes, but why does Turkey bear the legacy of that fear? Is there something about Turkey that makes it different from the other former Ottoman lands? The Ottoman’s central administration was located in Turkey, but in the formation of the modern Republic of Turkey, the Ottoman legacy was almost completely abolished. Is there some fear that Turkey might use the European Union to ascend economically and politically and once again pose a political threat to the European nations?

One thing that I wish had been better addressed in the text was the legal system in the Ottoman Empire. How heavily did it rely on religious law? How much was secular law? Was there a process where the ulema approved the laws, or was religious validation not required? Was religious law widely applied or was it limited to civil courts? Also, how heavily were communal religious courts used, and how often were there appeals to Islamic courts? What did sectarian (non-Muslim) courts use as a basis for law and are any of the law books they used still existent? Or were they more informal? The particulars of the law systems is probably a subject for a separate book, but the author didn’t seem to spend too much time discussing the court system in general, and the fact that non-Muslim citizens often appealed to the Islamic courts for ‘justice’ makes it a point of interest.

Overall, Donald Quataert’s book tackles a subject that, judging by his text, has often been unfairly maligned in popular media due to old biases and fears. His attempt to overcome those misconceptions are obvious throughout the text, where he constantly makes comparisons between the Ottoman Empire’s methods or actions and those of other contemporaneous political entities. The division of the book into sections that generally cover time periods, followed by chapters that address certain aspects of Ottoman society helps the reader to place the more detailed information into the greater framework of events. The Ottoman Empire: 1700-1922 is an excellent introduction to an important period of history.

Why I Love My Kindle, And Why I Don’t

A Kindle 3 in the box.

Last year in October, I was given a Kindle 3 by my aunt in return for doing what turned out to be a LOT of yard work.  Well, a lot more than I expected anyway.  It’d been quite a few years since I’d lived anywhere that required yard work, so I wasn’t able to judge it properly.

Since then, I’ve used my Kindle fairly regularly.  Whenever I commute here in the city, I keep it with me so I can spend my time doing something constructive, instead of staring blankly at the wall like so many of my fellow commuters.  I’ve come to rely on it for entertainment, something I was reminded of today when I realized I left the house with a dead battery.  My commute is about an hour both ways, so … ya, I was bored.  There’s no cell phone signal in the subways here, so that meant I really had nothing to do but stare at the walls.

The Kindle 3 is light, very easy on the eyes, and makes reading fun again, especially since there’s so much available for free, but some recent events have caused me to see a few shortcomings.

The first problem is that there are still plenty of books being published that don’t have Kindle versions.  Even worse, some books are published and the price of the Kindle version is higher than the price of the physical book.  I understand that there are some costs that can’t be negated by simply producing a book as an e-text, but there should never be a time when an eBook costs anything near what the physical book does, since you’re cutting out the cost of the paper, printing and distribution.  It’s obscene.  An insult even.

The kicker that made me write this post, though, was a visit to Barnes & Noble at Union Square.  I’ve been going there frequently looking for particular versions of books I need for classes I’m taking at CCNY.  I don’t know what it is about physical books, but every time I go in there I find myself wanting to hold and touch them, and maybe just ‘adopt’ them all and bring them home.  The cover art is something that can’t be reproduced well on a Kindle, or any eReader.  You can’t touch it.  You just can’t appreciate it the same way.  I’m reminded of something my art history teacher said in class yesterday.  He was talking about how people go to an art museum and instead of stopping to appreciate the art, they take a picture and move on quickly.  He said that if that’s what you’re going to do, you might as well have just looked the images up on Google.  It’s not the same experience.  It’s also not the same experience as holding the book in your hands, or putting it on your shelf when you’re done with it.  I suppose that desire to collect books is something that not everyone has, but I like to see my books sitting on a shelf, so I can be reminded of how good they are and maybe pick them up and leaf through them to my favorite parts again.  Speaking of that, it’s really hard to scan through books on a Kindle, going back to re-examine material you read the a few days ago.

My conclusion is that a Kindle is still an awesome device that will encourage more people to read more often, myself included, but it has drawbacks.  I think my Kindle is best suited for ‘light’ reading.  You know, those books that you read purely for entertainment, the ones that you’re not worried about looking at again, because when you’re done with a Kindle book it gets lost in the list of available books on the device.  For those books that I consider my favorites, or anything heavier that might require thought and retrospection, the books that I would want to flip back and forth through to better understand the ideas being expressed, a physical book can’t be beat.

Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans is an exciting movie that delivered exactly what I expected: an action packed, special effects extravaganza that kept me entertained from start to finish.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it would be a mistake going into it thinking you’re going to walk away with any deep revelations about the mysteries of life, or leave with some profound new sense of well being.  That’s not what Clash of the Titans is about.  This really isn’t as serious a movie as I thought it would be.  It felt more like Scorpion King, where you’re meant to focus on the fun and action, rather than the storyline.

I really enjoyed that the movie didn’t try to be something it wasn’t.  The movie was all about action, and they kept the dialogue light, with lots of wit and humor thrown in to keep the audience engaged.  The only time the story veered from that style was at the end, when Perseus had to deal with the main antagonist, which is fitting.  It can’t all be fun and games.

I’ve always been a sword & sorcery fan and enjoyed reading about Greek mythology as a kid, so it was very cool to see the mythological characters and stories I’d read about come alive on the big screen.  I’ll definitely be adding this movie to my collection, to be re-watched when I want to see fast paced action and get a thrill.

It also didn’t hurt that the main female characters were all pretty hot:

Princess Andromeda

Io, cursed with agelessness for refusing the advances of a god.

Also, the boatman who ferries souls across the River Styx was pretty cool too.  Looking at this guy, and his boat, really makes you feel like you’re on your way to hell.

Update: We watched the 2D version, because the 3D effects reportedly suck pretty hard. The movie wasn’t filmed in 3D like Avatar was. It was done through rushed post-processing to try to capitalize on people’s excitement over 3D.

“Knowing” Review

We finally got around to watching “Knowing”, with Nicolas Cage.  Nic has done some bad movies recently, which is unfortunate since he’s such a good actor, so I wasn’t expecting a lot.  It turned out to be a lot more engaging and entertaining than I thought it would be, though.

The movie focuses around a sheet of numbers that a little girl puts into a time capsule as part of a class project.  50 years later the time capsule is dug up and the envelope with the string of numbers is handed out to Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury).  When he opens it he’s intrigued, thinking it might be a puzzle.  He mentions this to his dad, John (Nicolas Cage) and later that night John discovers that there is indeed a hidden meaning to the numbers.

The movie has some light religious undertones and some strong scientific themes and invite the viewer to consider some pretty deep questions about life.  The movie also deals with a lot of personal issues between John and his son.  Instead of detracting from the movie it adds to it.  Another thing I like about it is that the plot twists aren’t typical and it’s not going to end the way you might think.  It keeps you guessing the whole way through, right up to the end.  There’s also a lot more action that I thought there would be, and the imagery is very vivid.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the movie does a great job of building suspense and mystery concerning the numbers, what they mean, and who the “whispering people” are.  The acting is really good and so are the special effects.  The special effects are really good in fact!

The end of the movie left me with a lot of questions, but one more than others.  Why rabbits?

Worth watching!

Coraline Movie Review

Coraline isn’t going to be released in theaters in Singapore until September 17th, 2009, but I managed to get a copy early and my wife and I watched it tonight. I have to say I’m quite impressed with it. First of all, it’s visually stunning! These snapshots are a little fuzzy because I took them without pausing the video, but you’ll get the idea:

When I first saw advertisements for Coraline, the story sounded really interesting and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a kid’s movie or not, but it has a lot of deeper meanings and reminds me of classic fairy tales, where there’s always a lesson to be learned. Also in line with classic fairy tales the story has a dark, grim side to it.

Without spoiling the entire thing for a person who hasn’t seen it, the main character is named… Coraline of course! Coraline and her parents move to an old house for reasons that are never divulged. Shortly after moving in she encounters a strange young boy that lives nearby named Whirbie. The next day, he delivers a 100-year-old doll to her that mysteriously looks exactly like her. This doll will cause Coraline to open Pandora’s box (or in this case a tiny door) and send her on a wild and dangerous adventure.

Other things that I’d like to point out are that the characters in this movie are very well thought-out. They have depth and are all very entertaining. Also, I’m going to start looking for a way to get my hands on the original soundtrack. The music was spot-on and did a great job in setting the mood. Oh, and can I mention the great animation again? It really is fantastic. And it’s not just the animation quality either. The use of color and imagery will keep your eyes darting around the screen constantly.

This is a definite must see, whether you have kids or not!

Land of the Lost Review

On Sunday afternoon my wife and I went to the Golden Village theater at Tampines Mall to see Land of the Lost (2009). We weren’t really expecting much from this movie, but it looked entertaining and we weren’t disappointed.

The movie has a fairly simple plot. Don’t go into this looking for a complicated story. This is a comedy. In fact, this movie is so packed with comedy that it’ll have you laughing the whole way through! I don’t recall going more than 5 minutes without at least chuckling at something. That was actually surprising to me. Will Ferrell typically stars in movies that push a certain type of comedy that doesn’t appeal to me.

This movie was fantastic though. The jokes were well thought out and right on schedule. You’ll see everything from trans-dimensional narcotic fruits to lizard people getting it on, to a relatively intelligent tyrannosaurus. A lot of the jokes in the movie seem to have a sexual theme to them though. It’s nothing serious but you may want to think twice about bringing your kid with you, unless they’re over the age of about 12. I kinda wondered how this movie got a PG rating.

One last thing worth noting is that I have an idea that this doesn’t follow along too well with the story-line from the old TV show. I vaguely remember watching it as a kid oh-so-long ago, and I think the family there (a real family, not a thrown together crew like in this film) was actually stuck in the past and lived in a treehouse.

Over-all it was well worth the money we spent to go see it. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time!

3 Days in Kuala Lumpur: Part 5: Hotel Chinatown 2 Review

Hotel Chinatown 2 is located on Jalan Petaling in the Chinatown area of Kuala Lumpur.  It’s a little tricky to find it, because there is also a Chinatown Hotel Inn or something like that a few doors down.  Also, the only visible sign is the one high up on the building, that you can see in the above picture.  There is a sign at the street level entrance, but that entrance is hidden from the main walkway by street vendors.

This hotel is a great find, if you go into it with the right mentality.  If you’re looking for luxury, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  This place is all about price and location.  For two nights in the hotel (check-in Monday afternoon and check-out on Wednesday morning) we paid a total of about 188 ringgit.  That’s a good deal!  As for the location, the door to the hotel opens onto Jalan Petaling, which is a touristy type area in Chinatown with lots of shops where you can browse for souvenirs.  Also, it’s two blocks from the Pasar Seni train station, which we put to good use.

As for the hotel itself, the lobby area is very comfortable.  It has a few cozy couches, a TV, a book rack with a guitar on top, and a few computers for public use at 1 ringgit per 10 minutes.  There’s free wi-fi, which worked for me on my Nokia E51 in the lobby, but I couldn’t connect properly up in the actual room.  I kept getting a “no reply from gateway” error.  I don’t know what that was all about, but it didn’t really bother us too much, so I didn’t ask about it.  We just used the paid computers for a little while in the evening to keep up with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The room we booked was the “standard” room, which came with a double bed.  It was a bit cramped, honestly, and that feeling was compounded by the fact that there was no window.  At first that bothered me a bit, but then I realized that it probably had no window because it was on the back or side of the building.  That’s a good thing, because it meant we wouldn’t hear as much of the racket from the street below.  The paint was worn and scuffed, the floor was a bit dirty, and there were no toiletries provided.  The TV in the room only picked up 5 or 6 channels.  Only one of those channels was in English and it seemed to rotate between different stations.  What I mean is, if you left it on that channel, which was 12 I think, it might be National Geographic at 8pm, Animal Planet at 9pm, and then a local station at 10pm.  I thought that was kinda odd, but again, it didn’t bother us that much.  We weren’t really there to just lay around in the room watching TV.  If you do happen to be up late though, around 1 or 2 am, flip through the channels until you find a program where there’s a girl sitting behind a laptop, presenting requested music videos.  Neither the program nor the videos are in English, but it’s hilarious!  They played these crazy Indian music videos, complete with “Slumdog Millionaire” dance routines and the accompaniment of the high pitched female vocals.  Besides that, the videos are just hilarious!  I don’t think they’re meant to be, but they were to us!  Also, the music really isn’t that bad at all in most cases.

I think the best features of the room were that the water was nice and hot for showers, and the air conditioning blew nonstop and got nice and cold at night.  Even under the thick blanket it was a bit cool.  Both of these things were a nice change for me, since I’ve been living in Singapore.  Here, the air conditioning isn’t used much and the water heaters are small and I can rarely finish showering before the hot water runs out.  I think I stayed in the shower for 30 minutes each time, enjoying how hot the water was and the fact that it stayed hot.  Plus that cold air conditioning is a relief after a day out in the sun there.

Another thing the hotel has going for it is the staff.  They’re very friendly, very helpful, and very knowledgeable about the city.  They helped us find the train station and also told us how to get back to the airport for the best price (a cheap bus from the downstairs area of KL Central).  Also, the guy at the counter had a conversation with me while I enjoyed a cup of coffee and my wife was busy on one of the public computers.  Oh, and the rooms are cleaned daily.  At least, I think it was cleaned.  The bed was made at least, and nothing was missing from our bags.  That’s always a bonus.  If you do have something expensive, the place has safe deposit boxes in the lobby too.

The hotel also has some dormitory style areas that can be rented out.  I didn’t look around there too much, except for one time when I passed through it to get to a bathroom.  It looked clean and the beds were set up two to a cubicle.  There was a youngish looking girl writing a paper on her laptop at a table in the dormitory area.  I guess it must be fairly safe.  I did see a TV behind the front desk that was showing views from security cameras, so that area must be kept under surveillance to make sure nothing happens to the guests.

Overall, we were satisfied with our stay there.  If we find ourselves in Kuala Lumpur again and need to stay the night, we’ll definitely be trying for a room there again.

Here are some of the photos we took inside the hotel:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Golden Village Movie Ticket for X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Golden Village Movie Ticket for X-Men Origins: Wolverine

It had been a long time since my wife and I had gone to see a movie at the theater, but we’re both action movie and X-Men fans, so we decided that going to see Wolverine was something we just had to do!  Lucky for us, we went on a night when the theater had multiple screens showing the movie, so there were good seats, and the prices were even discounted.  Typically a ticket in Singapore costs 10 to 11 bucks, but our tickets were only 8.50.  We booked our tickets 21 hours in advance of the showing, which was a smart move because they were selling out fast.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this movie.  The third X-Men movie was sort of a let down.  It didn’t seem to follow along with the story in the comic at all.  Also, I’d scanned over a few articles  about the movie and I saw a lot of negative comments.

Luckily, we decided to find out for ourselves.  Wolverine is definitely worth seeing on the big screen!  It was packed with action and gave a lot of background history to one of my favorite characters.  I say I’m an X-Men fan, but I stopped reading comics over a decade ago.  Still, I remember being excited any time Wolverine was involved in a story.  I always wondered where he came from, and when I watched the other X-Men movies it renewed my interest in where he was from and why he did the things he did.

The first few minutes of the movie give a brief overview of Wolverine’s first hundred or so odd years.  I remember reading someone’s complaint that they felt it was unnecessary, but I think the movie would’ve been a bit confusing without it.  You’ll get a rough idea of how old Wolverine is, how his powers first developed, why he has such an aggressive personality, and what his relationship with Sabertooth really is.

Scene from X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Scene from X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The rest of the movie played out nicely and filled in a lot of the gaps about the years just prior to his meeting Rogue.  The only part that confused me a bit is why Professor X didn’t recognize Wolverine when he met him later (in the first X-Men movies).  He was present at the island and was in mental contact with Scott Summers, which means he should have been able to detect Wolverine’s presence as well.  On top of that, why didn’t any of the people present there every mention Wolverine to Professor X?  Why did no one ever make the connection?

Despite that, the movie is still fantastic.  You get backstory, action, some new characters (like Gambit) and it leaves you excited to see what they’ll come up with next.

This is a bit off-topic, but I just wanted to use this opportunity to point out that taking infants or 3 year olds into a movie theater isn’t the brightest thing to do.  Some little punk was kicking my seat, hanging off it, hanging off my shoulder, and making noise right behind my head during the majority of the movie.  I kept having to turn around in my seat and stare down his parents before they would grab the kid and sit him back down.  Then, they would apparently get caught up in the movie and there he would be, hanging off my chair or shoulder again.  If you’re going to take your kids into a theater, try to make sure the only one they’re bothering is you, or someone (not as nice as me) may lose their temper and club them like a baby seal.  I mention infants because at the start of the movie I heard a baby crying.  Wolverine isn’t a kid’s movie.

Gu Gu The Cat

My wife is a cat lover, and I’m fond of them myself. So, when my wife said that she’d heard about a movie called Gu Gu The Cat, I knew right away that we were going to see it. This was one of those times when I had to give in. Besides, it looked funny, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad.

Going to the movies here in Singapore is a very expensive outing, and will usually wind up costing about 35 bucks, including transit and a few light movie goodies, so she wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to make it. We’re getting ready for a move and our finances are tight. As sort of an answer to her prayers, her coworker won free tickets to the sneak peak showing for last night and wasn’t going to be able to attend. So, she asked my wife if she’d like the tickets and of course my wife jumped on the opportunity.

Last night we rushed out of the house at about 6pm, not sure if we were going to make it on time. The directions on the e-mail announcing the free tickets was a bit vague. It just said “GV Plaza 4.” So, she contacted a friend and asked where that was, and was told it was at Vivocity at Harbourfront. So, off we went! We managed to make fairly good time and were a bit anxious as we waited for the train to reach Harbourfront. We literally ran through the tunnel and dashed up the escalators to make it to the theater on time and sure enough, we got to the theater right at 7pm. Unfortunately… we were at the wrong theater. The sneak peak showing was at Plaza Singapura, and we were already out of time.

My wife was crushed. She really wanted to see the film. Like I said, she really loves cats! So, I consoled her by telling her that we’d set aside money and definitely catch Gu Gu at the regular opening on the 23rd. To cheer ourselves up we wandered around the mall and wound up having a pretty good time (more about that later).

Last night when we got home she started searching the internet to see if she could find a copy to watch. The film isn’t new, it just hadn’t been shown in Singapore yet. That’s nothing new. There’s a movie called Traitor that’s starting here in Singapore soon, but we saw a DVD copy from the US months ago. She found a copy on YouTube, but by then it was pretty late and she had to work today so I downloaded the files and set it up to watch tonight.

So, she was very excited and got home from work early. After we ate we got comfortable and started up the movie. For the first 15 minutes or so, it was interesting, to me at least, but after that it was painfully slow. The movie is more of a drama about life in general than about cats, and it seemed to focus more on the people in the story than on Gu Gu. Gu Gu was more there for comedic relief than anything.

Don’t get me wrong. The movie has its high points, and there’s something to be learned from it, but if you go into it thinking it’s going to be a comedy, or very cute, or happy, you’ll be let down. The movie deals with a lot of heavy themes about love, relationships and missed opportunities. It even touches on the pain and loss of death.

So, I can’t say it was a bad movie, really. It just wasn’t what I expected.

Here are a few screenshots of the movie, courtesy of AsianFanatics.net, as well as the first segment of the movie (video was removed due to terms of use violation) movie trailer that’s hosted on YouTube: