International Premier Tennis League – 18 to 20 December 2015, Singapore Indoor Stadium

I wasn't planning on posting another entry until 2016, but my weekend was so amazing, I couldn't let it pass without writing something!

Not many people are aware that I used to play tennis. My mum arranged lessons for both of us when I was a teenager and we played regularly for a number of years before I started university and didn't have the time or energy.

But I continued to watch matches on TV, even catching Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg at the Indoor Stadium about 20 years ago.

When the IPTL began in 2014, I gave it a miss because the lineup wasn't appealing.

This year, when Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were included, I still resisted.

But when Roger Federer was confirmed, I bought tickets that very day.

I'm not a sports stats type of person, so I don't keep track of scores and such. But I've been a fan of RF's for more than 5 years. My most vivid memory is from 2010 - I was sitting in my hotel room in Paris, watching the U.S. Open semi-finals live on my laptop ( believe it or not, the TV in the room didn't have the sports channel! ). It was RF vs Djokovic, and the latter eventually won. But I remember being awed by RF's skills on the court, not to mention the charisma he effortlessly exuded and how graciously he handled the loss. A truly unforgettable moment.

Since then, I've followed his career intermittently. I didn't subscribe to cable sports channels so the Internet was very helpful. And I always wondered if I would ever get the chance to see him play for real one day.

2015's been an extraordinary year for me, with many completely unexpected events and bucket list items being checked.

Roger Federer was on my bucket list. And let me tell you, the first time I saw him walk onto the court on day 1 of the Singapore leg of the IPTL tour, for a warm up session during the halfway mark break, my adrenaline level shot through the roof! I was standing at the top of the tiered section eating a slice of pizza - away from my seat and nowhere near the court - and still felt the entire stadium's atmosphere change in that split second. RF emerged unannounced but everyone instantly recognized him, and the roar of excitement that echoed through the vast arena is something I will never forget.

The rest of that evening was surreal. Mum and I returned to our seats, which were located just behind the courtside boxes, and were treated to a spectacular display of aces, smashes, drop shots and slices. RF played 3 sets - mixed then men's doubles, ending with a super-exciting men's singles with world no. 4 and fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka - and the huge crowd lapped it all up.

It all added up to approximately 80 minutes of court time. And I deeply appreciate RF's generosity! He could've easily refused to play more than 1 or 2 sets, but ended up playing 3 consecutively. And we all love him for it!

I've also become a fan of SW's, after watching him play RF on day 1, followed by 1 set on day 2 and 2 more during the finals. He currently outranks Nadal ( no. 5 ) and famously defeated Djokovic at the recent French Open ( woohoo! ). He's an excellent player, though not in the same league as RF. But I know he clawed his way up the ranks and peaked relatively late in his career ( he's already 30 years old ), so I hope he continues to do well for the next few years.

Other IPTL highlights include faves from my younger years, like Goran Ivanisevic and Marat Safin. Carlos Moya, a former world no. 1 who's now retired, also dazzled in his singles matches. And has anyone noticed he and RF look very similar, down to the wavy dark hair and penchant for bandanas? Just look at these photos and tell me I'm not imagining things.

I realize there're those who sniff at the IPTL's format - strict time limits, power points, single set matches - which can understandably affect the quality of the performances ( definitely more serving faults ). But there was an abundance of phenomenal shots and never a dull moment. I paid a large sum for my seats and it was absolutely worth every cent.

Now, I'm so inspired I've finally started subscribing to sports channels, in preparation for RF's packed schedule in the coming year. I'm too old to take up playing tennis again, but hey, you never know.

Good luck, Roger and Stan! And here's crossing our fingers that both will be back for the 2016 IPTL, together with Djokovic and Nadal! I may purchase courtside seats if THAT happens. :)

Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Now that the dust has settled ( and I finally have time after a super eventful weekend ), I need to get this off my chest!

I'm not going to tiptoe around those who haven't seen it yet, so...






Let me be clear about one thing: I was 100% prepared to love the film.

I love the Star Wars franchise ( not every single movie, but on the whole ), and couldn't be happier when J.J. Abrams was chosen to direct episode 7. Add to that the exciting cast and the promise of a new adventure and I was on cloud nine.

There've been mixed feelings from moviegoers all over the world, including friends I spoke to here. Thankfully, I'm not alone in my complaints! Not sure if I can remember all of them at this point, but here goes:

1) It's a major rehash.

A friend called this an homage, but I think they went too far. I can understand the need to be respectful of what came before, the urge to please SW fans, etc. But let's compare this to the other monster blockbuster of 2015, Jurassic World.

JW was also a rehash, but only to a certain extent. And you can't expect that many changes to a story that takes place in an enclosed area containing prehistoric creatures.

SW, on the other hand, spans galaxies. There're millions of characters out there, with countless stories to tell in an infinite number of ways. I don't feel guilty for expecting a lot more.

2) Too many holes in the plot.

a) How does Rey, a scavenger who lives in the desert, know how to pilot different types of air- and spacecraft?

b) Where did that map leading to Luke Skywalker's location come from? Why does have a piece missing?

c) How did Poe Dameron disappear in the desert after the TIE fighter crashed? How did he return to the rebellion, which is on ANOTHER PLANET?!

d) When Finn tells the rebellion which section of the First Order's Starkiller Base to attack, he has no idea if he's right ( he only uses it as an excuse to get to the base to rescue Rey ) - but it ends up working. What kind of a dumb fluke is that?! Isn't Finn being terribly irresponsible, putting the rebellion force's valuable pilots at risk?

3) Other annoying stuff.

a) The villain, Kylo Ren, is completely miscast. Never mind the fact that he dresses like Darth Vader - he doesn't even need that OTT suit for any specific reason. At least in Vader's case, it was necessary to sustain life. Ren just wears it for kicks.

b) When Ren removed his helmet the first time and I saw Adam Driver's obnoxious face, I felt like punching his lights out. Yes, it's good for moviegoers to hate the villain, but there should be fear and dread attached to that hatred. Driver just gives off a petty adolescent vibe. Exactly like Hayden Christensen in episodes 2 and 3. Are all Siths supposed to be like this?

c) And why does Ren HAVE to be another Skywalker? It's like some warped variety of nepotism.

d) How do Rey and Finn instinctively know how to wield a lightsabre? I thought years of training are required? And Finn isn't even a Jedi...!

There were only 2 things I loved in this film: BB-8 and Poe Dameron / Oscar Isaac.

Huge credit goes to the designers of this adorable little robot, which outshines R2-D2 and C3PO by light years. Everything about it - the rounded shape, the colour, the way it rolls, the cute little touches like lasers and what resembles a tiny cigarette lighter doing a thumbs-up sign - is genius.

But my absolute favourite is Isaac, whose heroic Dameron makes me swoon.

And that first scene, where Poe is dressed like an adventurer, retrieving the missing piece of the Luke Skywalker map - I SWEAR it's the perfect audition for the next Indiana Jones sequel.

Pay attention, Hollywood! It's either Isaac or Chris Pratt as Indy ( or Indy's mentee / successor ), but Isaac's much better. :)

Star Wars episode 8 has already started filming but of course, the plot is highly classified.

Anyway, there're loads of spectacular movies coming up next year, including Suicide Squad, Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War. But the one I'm REALLY excited about is Independence Day: Resurgence. It looks freaking awesome!

2015 – The Year In Review

Every December, as I look back on the past 12 months and forward to the next dozen, I keep telling myself that nothing could possibly top what I've experienced so far. And every time, I turn out to be wrong. :)

2015 has been particularly special, of course, because I turned 40 in June, and wanted it to be memorable in every possible way.

January kicked off with a bang as Michael Buble performed at the Marina Bay Sands.

In April, it was a gorgeous production of Beauty and the Beast followed by a fabulous SSO Pops concert.

Mum and I flew off to Greece in May, where we spent an exhausting but unforgettable fortnight exploring the mainland and the beautiful islands of Mykonos and Santorini. It wasn't an easy tour and I almost couldn't stand up straight at the end of it, but it was one of the most amazing trips I'd ever taken, and I have a soft spot for the Greeks, who treated us with great warmth and generosity.

2 more fantastic shows came in July - Singin' In The Rain and Disney On Classic.

August sprang a surprise when I attended a fund-raising dinner organized by Adrian and Tracie Pang's Pangdemonium company - and came face to face with Jim Rogers!

The annual F1 race came round in September, but my main interest was Maroon 5, who delivered a spectacular performance which was attended by 60,000 fans. It was hot, humid and extremely tiring ( try standing for 3-4 hours without proper ventilation ), but it was all worth it!

October brought another SSO Pops concert ( unbelievably good! ), followed by a trip to the United States, where I attended the American College of Emergency Physicians' Scientific Assembly in Boston, then hopped over to New York for a week of Broadway shows, which spilled over into November.

Broadway proved to be even more incredible than I could've imagined! It was my 4th visit to the Big Apple, and previously, I'd already seen my fair share of stars ( Daniel Radcliffe, Bernadette Peters, Bryan Cranston, James Franco ) and personal favourites ( Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Tony Shalhoub ).

This time, my cup really overflowed, with the likes of Matthew Broderick, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Kelli O'Hara, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis and Al Pacino treading the boards.

The most awesome thing that happened? Having Mr. Pacino notice me when I asked for a photo, and snapping a super cool shot of our two heads touching. It was the prize of a lifetime, and I still can't believe how great he is to his fans, compared to other less accomplished actors with attitude problems.

Another darling - Mark Strong, who was so friendly and attentive, and whose performance in A View From The Bridge blew my mind. A Tony nomination is guaranteed.

Within 3 weeks of returning to Singapore, we were off again to Sydney, this time catching Hugh Jackman's Broadway To Oz Australian tour.
After missing his Broadway stints multiple times over the years ( timing issue ), I prayed for another chance and God answered! We caught the 2 December show - I chose the date because it was originally the last one for Sydney, but they added a 4th performance shortly after - and it turned out to be a huge blessing because Russell Crowe made a special appearance. Yes, THAT Russell Crowe!
The 2 men did a Les Mis duet then Mr. C went solo with his guitar on an incredible rendition of Folsom Prison Blues. I'm telling you, I LITERALLY LOST MY MIND at that point. I kept screaming "OMG" at my mum for 10 minutes lol!
It's been confirmed that Mr. C appeared only on that night, and not on any of the other 3. My head is still reeling! :)

And thanks to a few kind souls from the Dainty Group which organized the tour, Mr. J autographed my show programme and my fan letter was confirmed as forwarded. A meet and greet would've been impossible for a nobody like me, so this is the next best thing and I thank everyone who helped!

Later this month, the International Premier Tennis League will come to Singapore, bringing Roger Federer, whom I've admired for years. Really looking forward to that!

And next April, we return to Sydney to see Josh Groban at the Opera House. Both shows sold out within days, with most of the tickets snapped up within the first few hours. The website crashed and the phone lines were jammed, so it's a miracle I managed to get seats within the first 10-15 rows, when everything else in the back was gone. Divine intervention yet again!

Also let's not forget my graduation from the Nanyang Polytechnic sonography course in August, after almost 2 years of hard work. I'm very happy about the achievement, but I don't think I want to go through something like that again. Made my hair turn white!

Last but not least, I can't wait to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day!

I don't know what else 2016 will bring, but my 40th year officially ends in June so anything can happen in 6 months! Thank you, Lord, for such a blessed year. :)

Broadway 2015 Part 1

This year marked my 4th visit to the Big Apple, and since sightseeing was no longer on my to-do list, I fully concentrated on catching shows, managing to squeeze in 3 musicals and 6 plays in 7 days.

I also made sure to be at the stage door every single time, and had the most unbelievable experiences!

Another amazing addition to my 40th birthday celebration ( I'm only 5 months into it )! Once again, I'm grateful for God's many blessings, which made so many wonderful events possible.

My first entry is about Al Pacino and the play he stars in, David Mamet's new work, China Doll.

Mr. Pacino is a Broadway veteran, having appeared on the Great White Way more than 10 times in the past 4 decades, and won 2 Tony Awards.

China Doll is his 3rd Broadway show in 5 years. And although I was in New York in 2011 and 2014, my timing was never quite right. So when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn't believe my good fortune and bought tickets!

I've known about Mr. Pacino since I was a kid, but became a huge fan when I was 17, after watching Scent Of A Woman. I fell in love with the film immediately, and jumped for joy when he finally won an Oscar - the only one in his long career - for the role. That speech his character makes at the end still makes me tear up after more than 20 years. And the tango he does with Gabrielle Anwar is a classic!

As expected, China Doll's ticket sales have been through the roof since previews began on October 21, generating more than a million dollars per week. I attended the November 5 performance, and the theatre was packed to capacity.

The play itself isn't fantastic, but I also admit to having a much stronger preference for musicals. Mamet structures this script primarily as a monologue, with Mr. Pacino delivering almost all the dialogue, which spans a whopping 2 hours. Aside from him, there's only one other character - an assistant, who stays silent 90 per cent of the time.

When the lights came on and Mr. Pacino appeared on stage, the audience erupted in applause and cheers, and I was awestruck. He turned 75 in April, but remains alert and fit. And his stage presence is nothing short of staggering. It was commanding, effortless, mind-blowing. My heart almost stopped!

( I saw Bruce Willis in Misery the day before, and sat in the 3rd or 4th row, compared to the 7th / 8th row for China Doll. Willis can't hold a candle to Mr. P in terms of charisma and acting ability. More on that in a later entry. )

There's been speculation about difficulties brewing in China Doll - Mr. Pacino not being able to remember his lines and being fed these via teleprompters, Bluetooth devices and a laptop embedded in the set; conflict between Mr. P and the director; Mr. P observed looking despondent in his dressing room.
I don't know how accurate these reports are, but his November 5 performance was great. He stammered on and off but the overall delivery was smooth and he appeared comfortable and confident.

Personally, I think Mamet's script isn't well-written. He focuses too much on an issue involving a private jet purchased by Mr. P's character ( Mickey Ross ), which went right over me ( something about a sales tax, which depends on the aircraft's tail number, etc. ). Ross is supposed to be a billionaire with a shady past, who's also under the spell of a much younger woman. We never see this woman, of course, which is why I wish Mamet could've included much more information about her. How did she and Ross meet? Why is he so enamoured of her? I would've liked to hear about these instead of boring stuff about a plane.

There were people around me who didn't come back after the intermission. That's their loss. At the end of the show, everyone gave Mr. Pacino a standing ovation. Not for the play itself, but for the man - a true Hollywood and Broadway legend.

There was a huge crowd at the stage door, and I was swallowed by a sea of tall people. My optimism was non-existent at that point, then I suddenly felt an urge to pray. I'm not kidding. I really started to pray quietly, asking for a miracle to happen so I could get closer. So here's what happened:

Huge crowds on both sides of the stage door and even across the road. Lots of security and I think a couple of police officers on hand.
I hardly saw anything 'cos everyone around me was a head taller.
After about 15 minutes, security moved 2 of the barricades and I managed to inch closer.
However, I was still 3rd row from the front, with hardly any space to take a photo of him.
5 minutes later, Mr. Pacino emerged, to loud cheers from the fans.
He flashed a big smile and came to my side first, signing playbills and other items proffered.
I couldn't see him but gently pushed my playbill through a space between the people in front of me.
He saw it and instead of just signing it while it was in my hand, he actually took it from me, scribbled his signature, then pushed it back through the same space so I could grab it!
( I thought that was really nice of him. :))
After a few minutes, he moved to the other side.
The crowd in front of me dispersed - a few people left, but others stayed.
A space at the front became available so I quickly moved forward.
( A big thank you to the other fans around me, who remained orderly throughout and never squashed me, then later moved aside so I could squeeze to the front. I think God put angels around me that night! )
While Mr. P walked around on the other side, I recorded a short video clip of him. Later, I realized I captured a fan shouting, "Hoo-ah!" at him, which amused everyone immensely, 'cos it's a famous quote from Scent Of A Woman. :)
He spent a long time signing, 'cos the crowd kept moving and like me, people from the back came to the front and new items were presented.
He was very patient and obliging, and never said no to anyone.

After about 5-10 minutes of signing, fans started asking him for photos, and he agreed.
He didn't take pics with everyone though, only a few here and there. I don't know whether he did this deliberately or if fans were too scared to ask?
After he was done with the other side, he came back to us! But he only went to each end of our group, and walked right past me twice.
He thought that was it, then stepped back to scan the crowd on my side again. He never stopped smiling, and looked really happy.
That's when I plucked up the courage to call out to him.
"Mr. Pacino!" He heard me and made eye contact immediately.
( I remember thinking OMG, Al Pacino - THE Al Pacino - is looking at me! This is surreal! )
"Can I please get a photo? Please please please?"
I was holding the playbill in my hands and waving it up and down. I vaguely recall hopping as well. I can't imagine how I appeared to him. I guess he could tell I was freaking out!
He stood there smiling at me for a split second, then came over.

I tend to blank out when I'm super-excited, but thank goodness this moment turned into a slo-mo sequence, and I actually remember everything.
He positioned himself right next to me on my left. We were separated by the barricade but other than that, our upper bodies were in direct contact.
My hands were shaking so badly! I've met many famous people but this was a clear indication that Mr. Pacino was the biggest star of them all, 'cos I'd never been this nervous before.
I couldn't focus properly and it took me a few seconds to frame the shot correctly.
I worried that Mr. P would change his mind and leave, but he never once complained, and patiently waited as I adjusted my phone.
( Why was I worried? 'Cos back in April 2014, I met Chris O'Dowd at the stage door after Of Mice And Men, and also had difficulty focusing. Not because I was nervous, but 'cos I was doing a selfie for the first time and wasn't used to the camera angle. Instead of waiting or helping me, he walked off after 1-2 seconds, never to return! He didn't leave a good impression. )

Another interesting point to note: I've seen a number of YouTube videos of Mr. P at the stage door. When he takes photos with fans, he moves their arms to help them focus. So why didn't he do the same with me hmm... I'm happy he didn't - gave me extra time with him haha. :)

After I finally got the shot, I said, "Thank you so much!" and he smiled and nodded.
He walked back to stand next to his car, then a lady behind me called his name, also asking for a photo.
He didn't hear her though, and I moved so she could go in front of me, in case he spotted her.
No luck. He threw his marker pen into the crowd ( you should've seen the major scramble behind me haha ), got into the SUV and left.

The photo I took with him was the last one for the night.
And on later review, it turns out not only were our arms and sides touching, our heads were too!

Judging from the other videos I've seen, I got really lucky that night. He usually goes round only once on each side, signing and taking photos at the same time before heading out, staying 5 minutes tops. On November 5, I think he hung around for 10-15 minutes, 'cos he kept going back and forth a few times. What're the odds! :)

Celebrities are very unpredictable creatures, but Mr. Pacino is such a sweetheart, and made my entire life with his kind gesture.
Thank you, sir! I will always be a loyal fan, and wish you and the China Doll team all the best for opening night.

Narcos – A Review

The standard of TV series increases with each passing year, and just when I thought 2015 had met its quota of small screen awesomeness, Netflix's Narcos comes along. And blows my mind.

I actually had zero prior knowledge about this show, but stumbled upon a rave review in People magazine, after which I checked and saw its whopping 9.1/10 rating.
I gave episode 1 a try and was instantly hooked. I'm currently at the halfway mark, but judging from the way things are going, I'll probably end up rating it a 9 or 10.

In fact, I think it's even better than Breaking Bad.

So what's the appeal?

Before I go further, it's important to emphasize that my taste in TV is very unpredictable, especially now that I have access to so many programmes from countless sources. That's probably how I finally discovered what I really like.

My list of favourites includes both mainstream and much less popular fare, the top 3 being Dexter, The Killing and House Of Cards. Narcos is so incredible that I foresee it hitting the #4 spot.

The show's premise is simple, following America's efforts to capture notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, during the Reagan administration.

Doesn't sound very interesting on paper, but the presentation of this content is absolutely riveting.

I read about Escobar when I was a teenager. There're vivid memories of my poring over Time magazine, which documented his bloody exploits in a number of feature articles. Narcos, however, delves deep into the story and spits everything at you at breakneck pace, and best of all, the writers assume the audience will keep up. If you fall off the cliff at some point, that's just too bad.

Believe me, the ride is definitely not an easy one. 50% of the dialogue requires subtitles; the number of Colombian characters will make your head spin ( not helped by the fact that quite a few of them look somewhat alike ); the cat-and-mouse games between Escobar, the Colombian and American governments, the DEA and the CIA make Game Of Thrones look like child's play.

And the cast! From Wagner Moura as Escobar, to Boyd Holbrook as DEA agent Steve Murphy and Pedro Pascal as CIA officer Javier Pena - these 3 amazing actors burn up the screen.

They're not your typical gorgeous male specimens ( though I consider Pascal extremely attractive ), but each exudes his own brand of charisma. The best reasons to watch this series, IMO.

Special mention goes to the show's stellar team of writers, who never waste a single word and consistently churn out high-octane dialogue. They generously sprinkle every episode with voiceovers by the lead character, i.e. Murphy, which Holbrook delivers in a relaxed, monotonous drawl. Many of these occur during violent scenes, causing me to wonder if the writers and / or directors orchestrated this to convey a sense of irony. I find it highly amusing. :)

The series itself is terrific, but I do have a favourite scene which is on par with something from Breaking Bad's first season ( i.e. episode 2, featuring a drug dealer's disabled uncle who communicates by ringing a little desk bell ). In the 3rd episode of Narcos, after Murphy's beloved cat is murdered as a warning, he and CIA partner, Pena, doggedly track down 2 immigration officers who revealed the former's identity to the drug cartel. The interrogation scene at the police station, where the suspects are sternly informed that "This is a gringo cat of the DEA!" is a classic! I have no idea how all the actors managed to keep a straight face. I couldn't stop laughing!

I can't confirm how historically accurate Narcos is, but I believe key events are correctly portrayed ( the car bombs were definitely in the Time magazine pieces ). I accept some degree of dramatization in every biopic as long as it's done tastefully and doesn't distort facts to the point of absurdity.

If you're game, start watching now.