Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Music to my ears

Good music. Sometimes it's about discovering new music. Sometimes it's about discovering old music. Too seldom is it about reevaluating music you already know.

Usually you tend to hear a song and instinctively have an opinion about it. You might like it, dislike it, love it or hate it.

There are a multitude of different artist out there. Some aim at pleasing the masses and some choose to stay alternative. I've always listened to radio and been subjected to lots of radio-hits. My husband, on the other hand, has listened to a very broad spectrum of different genres, radio-hits as well as alternative music. 7 years ago he opened a door to a whole new world of music, and I was reluctant to walk through it. But now, 7 years later, I've somehow (unbeknown to me) made my way to the other side.

This became very apparent when we went on a road-trip recently. My husband has been a huge Björk fan for years. I've always found her music somewhat random. When we started dating he tried to show me the wonder that is Björk. I didn't really buy into it. In summary, he hasn't been playing too much Björk in the recent years.

But, on our road-trip my husband brought a Björk CD. One of her songs I didn't mind too much came on. I instantly recognized the song, but I was chocked to realized how much I liked it. When I came back home I listened to it again, just to make sure I actually liked it as much as I thought. And I did. I even dare to say it's one of the better ballads of all time. It's amazing (especially the chorus).

We grow constantly. We grow older, our lives change, our priorities shift, we grow new interests and preferences. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has seen a rerun of an old childhood favorite movie or series and wondered why I used to like it. Why would our taste in music be stagnant?

I leave you with one of the best ballads ever written and I challenge you to rediscover and reevaluate something, something that deserves a second chance.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Laser and the Botox

Courtesy of Groupon, I've been a customer at "The Laser and Cosmetic Center" in Los Gatos. It's not nearly as juicy as it sounds, just some heavily discounted laser hair removal. I'm lucky to be blessed with limited body hair (as many of my ethnic Chinese people), but I still don't think it's haha-funny to shave. The Groupon gave me three discounted sessions and I've just finished my last one.

I'm not going to write a detailed description about laser hair removal, even though it has been a very good and interesting experience. Maybe I'll write something about it when I've seen the final result, who knows? Instead I would like to focus on what happened at my last appointment.

The beauty technician who was going to do the procedure was not the same lady I saw during my previous visits. We said our hellos and chit chatted for a while. When we were about to get started, she took a look in my file and made a comment about me turning 30 soon (not that soon if you ask me). Then she leaned in and took a close look at my face and asked me if I've been using Botox!

Either she thought I was well preserved for my age or she thought I had an emotionless, windtunnel looking appearance. Obviously I chose to believe I'm well preserved!

A cosmetic center was the last place I thought I would get validation for my looks and a ego-boost, especially without wearing make-up under florescent lighting. If I see a Groupon for Botox, I know I won't be buying it. It's better left for those who need it!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Eurovision, a final note

It's been almost a week since the Eurovision Song contest finale, and there is a reason why I haven't written about it until now. There is nothing to write about. Well, actually there are plenty of things worth mentioning, but in the end of the day, I'm far from excited enough to put in the effort.

Ell & Nikki from Azerbaijan won the song contest. My feeling is that they won because they had an ok song, not great, but good enough to score some points from most of the countries voting. But I doubt there were passionate enthusiasts out there. All in all, I'm going to enjoy listening to the song in my car, but it's a pity they won. They didn't bring anything new to the table, they weren't that special at all. I had them as my 10th favorite song.

Sweden came in 3rd place, which was good news I guess. But since Eric Saade wasn't my favorite in the Swedish qualification competition, I'm happy about his success solely from a patriotic point of view. However, my happiness is also followed by some worry. I already think there are too many mainstream club songs in the Swedish competition and I worry we will see even more of it next year.

Unlike most of the previous years, I liked several of the songs in the finale. Unfortunately, my top 10 songs all did pretty badly. Of my favorite 10 songs only 5 actually made it to the top 10. My top 3 did horribly! I loved France, Germany and Finland, but they ended up 15th, 10th and 23rd. I also happened to really like Switzerland who ended up in last place! So, I'm not happy about the overall result, but I am very much looking forward to the arrival of my Eurovision CD.

The most memorable things I will bring with me from this year's competition was Kseniya Simonova. She competed for Ukraine. Not as a singer, songwriter or musician, but as a sand artist. She won Ukraine's X-factor and no wonder why! She is a true wonder!

As a final remark of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, I leave you with a video of Kseniya Simonova and one of her performances in X-factor.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest 2011

It's Eurovision time!!

One of the cultural highlights of the year is less than a week away. On Saturday, May 14th, all of Europe is invited to Dusseldorf and the Eurovision Song Contest! This year, 43 European countries are competing. Five countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom, Spain and Italy) have a guaranteed spot in the Grand Finale, but for the other 38 countries a fierce semifinal stands between them and their chance to victory. Ten countries from each semifinal, who receives most points, will advance to Saturday. The amount of points are dependent on jury votes as well as public votes.

The first semifinal will take place on Tuesday and the second one on Thursday. Because of the sheer amount of countries and artists, I will not provide you with a detailed introduction to them all. I will however let you know which ones I'd like to see in the finale. I will not present my list in order, since I haven't quite made up my mind yet.
You can see all of the artists and their songs on: http://www.eurovision.tv/

Semifinal One (Country/ Song title/ Artist)
Azerbaijan/Running Scared/ Ell & Nikki
Finland/ Da Da Dam/ Paradise Oskar
Hungary/ What About My Dreams?/ Kati Wolf
Malta/ One Life/ Glen Vella
Norway/ Haba Haba/ Stella Mwangi
Poland/ Jestem/ Magdalena Tul
Russia/ Get You/ Alexej Vorobjov
San Marino/ Stand by/ Senit
Serbia/ Caroban/ Nina
Switzerland/ In Love for a While

Semifinal Two
Bulgaria/ Na Inat/ Poli Genova
Cyprus/ san Aggelos S'Agapisa/ Christos Mylordos
Denmark/ New Tomorrow/ A Friend in London
Estonia/ Rockefeller Street/ Getter Jaani
F.Y.R. Macedonia/ Rusinka/ Vlatko Ilievski
Ireland/ Lipstick/ Jedward
Israel/ Ding Dong/ Dana International
Moldova/ So Lucky/ Zdob si Zdub
Sweden/ Popular/ Eric Saade
The Netherlands/ Never Alone/ 3JS

Disclaimer: This is what I want, not necessarily what I believe will be the result. Also, a lot can change once I've seen their live performance. More often than not, there is a huge discrepancy between a produced music video and a live performance.

Even if I have listed 10 countries/ songs/ artists from each semifinal, it doesn't mean I think all of them are good. Actually I only have a handful of favorites. It's is important to me that Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Denmark, Finland and Norway make it to the finale. And Sweden of course, but that's all about patriotism and not necessarily about song quality.

Equally important as which song I want to see in the finale, are the song I never want to see again. This year's worst songs are Portugal, Belarus, Belgium and Romania.

There is nothing wrong about being political, but the Portugese song is feels like a joke, like they are mocking this wonderful song competition by not taking it seriously. The song from Belarus is political as well, and it's packaged in a nice Euro-Techno package, but it's so blatantly political that's it's difficult to see beyond it.

Belgium's problem is of a different kind. They can't sing, not individually or in harmony. They are not unique in that aspect, there are quite a few artists in the competition with questionable skills. However, it poses a bigger problem when you are singing a capella. If their studio produced version sounded as horrible as it did, I don't even want to imagine the live performance.

So, why is Romania on the "worst-songs-list"? The guys are pretty, they can sing and the melody is quite comfortable. But I can't get over the text! There is cheesy and then there is Bruno Mars cheesy. I know I might be the only person on this planet who can't stand "Just the way you are", but there is a thing as too much cheese (never in food, but definitely in music). And if I pick a song as one of the worst, in this specific competition, just because it has cheesy lyrics, it say a lot about how bad it is! Make sure to listen carefully! Yuks!

This is going to be a very exciting Saturday. I have some favorites in each of the semifinals, but there are also some top contenders among the songs already qualified for the grand finale. But more about that later. I hope you'll enjoy a week full of the good, the bad and the ugly that is Eurovision!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

New York, New York

I just came back from New York. I had never been there before. I had VERY high expectations and the city didn't disappoint.

My husband and I took the Thursday red-eye flight to Newark. We arrived 8 am on Friday morning, checked in at The New York Palace on Madison Ave (50th/51st) and off we went. Instead of describing every single thing we did in NY, I'll just list the sights we saw and write very shortly about a few things worth mentioning. Also, you can see our trip in pictures:

The New York Palace
Grand Central Station
Battery Park/Statue of Liberty
Charging Bull
Wall Street
NY Stock Exchange
Federal Reserve
Ground Zero
World Financial Center
City Hall Park
Little Italy
Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Heights
Rockefeller Center
Time Square
New York Pizza
Bryant Park/New York Public Library
United Nations Headquarters
Broadway Show/The Phantom of the Opera
St Patricks Cathedral
Saks Fifth Avenue
Empire State Building
Madison Square Park
Union Square
Washington Square Park
Greenwich Village

There is one obvious point of interest we totally missed. As you can see, we never made it to Central Park. Not because we didn't want to, but my poor husband was struck by a high fever and that in combination with hotel check-out made us have to sacrifice almost an entire day. But now we have even more reasons to return to New York asap.

The New York Palace
It was a great hotel, but more than anything, the location was perfect. If you're looking to stay at a hotel that offers old New York glamour and luxury this is a very good option. This 5-star hotel is located on Madison Ave, between 50th and 51st street, across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral. It's only a block away from Saks Fifth Avenue and only a 4 min walk to Rockefeller Center. The room was very spacious and they had a great and well equipped complimentary gym. I'm usually not the one to pack gym cloths, but when something is "free" (or included), why not give it a try?

There is some debate about which Chinatown is the largest in USA, the one in San Francisco or the one in New York. After doing some research, it seems like the one in San Francisco is the larger one. Having spend quite significant amount of time in Chinatown in SF I can't help but to compare. Given that I've only been to Chinatown in New York once, the first impression is that the NY Chinatown is less commercialized and less of a tourist attraction. Chinatown in SF draws tons of tourists and one of the main roads (Grant Ave) is aimed solely towards the curious visitors. If you are in SF and want to experience the "real Chinatown" I would urge you to walk Stockton St and it's surrounding streets and make that your main focus.

The NY Chinatown has a more intimate atmosphere with many smaller roads where the SF Chinatown is focused mainly around two large streets (Grant Ave and Stockton St). One other difference is Chinese ethnicity. Just walking around I heard very little mandarin spoken in NY, where in SF it is very common. Else from that the sounds and smells are pretty much the same.

Rockefeller Center & Empire State Building
The city is famous for its city-scape and it's amazing standing on the street and looking up, but it's equally as exciting standing up high and looking down. Empire State Building is a true New York landmark. I believe most people visiting NY have the Empire State Building on their to do list. So did we. But because we lived so very close to Rockefeller Center and because we are fans of 30 Rock, we decided to do both towers. If you only have time to do one tower and you want a good view and be able to say that you have been to the Empire State Building, you should choose the Empire State Building. But if the view is the most important thing and you are in favor or shorter lines and a much more spacious observation deck, you should choose Rockefeller Center. If nothings else, you get a great view of the Empire State Building from Rockefeller Center.

New York Pizza
Where in the US do they serve the best pizza? This seems to be a much debated topic. As a Swede I've stayed away from this particular debate because I'm pretty sure nothing will taste as good as Swedish pizza. And on the few occasions I claim that to be true, I usually get laughed at, but it's only because people aren't familiar with the wonder that is Swedish pizza.

Especially people from New York seems to be particularly patriotic about their pizza, and I couldn't wait to find out what all the fuss is about. One of our New York friends gave us a very specific address and instruction on where, how and what to order. She sent us to Amadeus Pizza on 8th Ave, had us order a plain slice with some sprinkled parmesan cheese and garlic on top. We folded the slice in half and took a bite. Before taking a bite I thought to myself: "How good can this be? It's only marinara sauce and cheese" but I was wrong to doubt the pizza. It was awesome! Who knew a simple plain slice of pizza could pack so much flavor?! Best pizza I've had in US this far! But is it better than Swedish pizza..? Nah, not really.

Broadway show/The Phantom of the Opera
As a HUGE musical fan, I've wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera for ages. And where better to see it than on Broadway (and the West End)? The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running show in Broadway history. It's played at the Majestic, which is one of the largest theaters on Broadway. Even though it has been running since 1988 and performed well over 9500 times, the 1607 seats were pretty much all sold out the night we went.

Was it a good musical? Absolutely! Was is a great musical? No, not really. Was I disappointed? Yes, I was. The music was great, but rather than showing an abundance of different scores, it used the two main melodies over and over again. Maybe one reason to why I was disappointed was because I had high expectations. But then I always have high expectations when I go see a musical. If you are looking to see a big musical production, you are better off choosing one of the following: Miss Saigon, The Lion King or Les Miserable.

Greenwich Village
What a nice neighborhood! If I could afford to live in New York and finding an apartment wasn't a problem, I imagine I would be very happy living in this area. I think I liked it because it reminded me a bit of San Francisco and I do love San Francisco. And I think I love San Francisco because it reminds me of Europe, and I'm European. So much for discovering new things in life, right? This little "bohemian enclave" is a nice contrast to the mighty tall buildings of the financial and commercial Manhattan.

All in all, New York is an amazing and a fascinating city. I had mile high expectations before we sat foot in New York and now I have even higher expectations on our next trip there.

Don't forget to check out the pictures:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In memory of a dear friend

It's the strangest thing, death. One moment you are here and the next you are gone. It's so simple but so very difficult to get your head around.

I write this in memory of a very dear friend, who lost his battle against cancer today.

He is not a friend I see very often, but I've known him my entire life. Or, actually he has known me my entire life. He's known both my parents before they knew each other. Technically, he would be categorized as friends of my parents, but I've always felt like he was my friend too. I have a feeling it's something I share with a lot of people. His warmth and charisma charmed everyone he came across. But unlike others who have hundreds of friends, he had hundreds of close friends rather than acquaintances. And unlike many who live without thought and passion, he truly lived his life to the fullest and enjoyed everything it had to offer. He who knew how to live, why wasn't he given more time?

Last time I saw him was in September 2009. He and his husband came to visit me and my parents and they took us to see the Gothenburg premier of "The Producers". Because they have many friends in the theatre business, we received the royal treatment. A wonderful performance, great seats followed by a dinner with the entire cast. But the greatest reason to see them again was to celebrate that his cancer was finally in remission. We celebrated the good news and looked forward to many more occasions to meet up. They were planning a trip around the world and he told be that next time we'll meet would most likely be in San Francisco.

When we said good bye I could never have imagined that it would be forever. Maybe it was a good thing. How do you say good bye to someone forever? It's not like saying "good bye, I will probably never see you again". And what would I have said if I knew?

My heart bleeds for his family, loved ones and everybody who has ever known him. Regardless of the who, how and why, he will be missed. And he left the world a much less colorful place.