Your Final Task:

There are seven photos here. Arrange them chronologically, the way you visited them. You will come up with a 7-letter code (ie. BDCAFGE). Use that as a password to the file you will download below (use capital letters). Good luck!


Photo A
Photo A

Photo B
Photo B

Photo C
Photo C

Photo D
Photo D

Photo E
Photo E

Photo F

Photo G
Photo G
Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roland Garros 2009

Women's Draw
Defending Champion: Ana Ivanovic

Quarter 1

Debuting as the top seed in a Slam, Lil Sis Dinara has made great strides the past couple of weeks in claycourt tuneups. She is definitely ripe for a major win, with two finals appearances in the past 12 months. However, the 'can-she-do-it?'' mentality can not be ignored. Her draw is littered with the dangerous Jie, Indian Wells winner Vika, and defending champion Ana. I'm betting once she survives these two tests, another final show is in the offing.

QF Match: Dinara vs Vika

Quarter 2

I would like to call this section the 'free-for-all' part of the draw. Venus' path to the final 8 is brutally difficult, plus we're playing on clay, which has never really been her strong point. She opens with Bethanie, then potentially takes on Sabine, followed by specialist Gisela, a resurgent Amelie, or last week's finalist, Alona. Either way, it's a grind through and through.

Nadia, also in a renaissance, while compatriot Vera looks like she has fully recovered from that ankle injury of hers. And did I mention someone named Maria Sharapova is unseeded in the draw? Two QF spots definitely up for grabs here with no clear favorites.

QF Match: Alona vs Nadia

Quarter 3

It would've been so easy to pick Jelena Jankovic here, if only her recent results were good. Her grinding and retrieving skills would have been fit for the red dirt, but her coach gave up all of those skills for muscle an power instead. She will be facing Caroline, my favorite rising player of the moment. Clean striker plus an excellent cross-corut drop volley. She's a looker too :)

The lower section of the draw features players I can't just reliably put my betting horse on. Daniela, Elena D, Marion and Francesca. Depends on breakfast, but it's hard to predict if any of these talented players will bring their A-game to Paris. I'll pick Elena (again!) just for sheer favoritism.

QF: Caroline vs Elena

Quarter 4

Serena hobbles into Paris, but don't let that stop her from trying to capture the title here - it's the only Slam she has won once (4xAO, 2xW, 3x US). She believes she's the best player on tour, and rankings don't really matter. It's a less humble Nadal-fortitude, but the right one. She doesn't play for show, but plays to win. She'll have to summon up all her magic to create a fantastic run in the City Of Lights, and her draw is far from easy. Flavia lurks in 4R, and perhaps an upset by Chinese Shuai is not too improbable.

My pick for RG 2009? Svetlana Kuznetsova. It's hard to put money on here (see reference to the rest of the Russian Squadron), but it's about time to pay respect to her excellent claycourt skills, plus she finally won a title in Stuttgart. That should count for something.

QF Match: Svetlana vs Flavia


Men's Draw
Defending Champion: Rafael Nadal

Quarter 1

The introductions should sound like this: In the red corner, undefeated in Paris, with only 5 losses on clay, stands Rafael Nadal. His quest for 5 straight wins is definitely the talk of this season. He however, was not gifted with an easy draw. He gets Ferrer and Verdasco in the quarters. Then again, this is clay, and he is Nadal. Should be an easy pass into the second week.

Lone unseeded 2008 QFinalist Gulbis has had a trashy year following, and though I will be cheering for him, I don't expect that he'll get past the second round yet again.

QF Match: Nadal vs Verdasco

Quarter 2

Murray has go to be the biggest question mark to tennis quadrumvirate this Grand Slam. Nadal and Djokovic have turned out consistent results, and Federer comes from a spirited win in Madrid. Murray, whose been the star to watch since late last year, was nowhere to be found. So, where does that place him in Paris? In a really dodgy part of the draw - he faces claycourter Chela in the opening round, then Tipsarevic in or Montanes further on. It could be the on/off Gonzalez or usually off Safin later on, or French favorite Simon. Murray shouldn't really worry about the 4R/QF, it's either he goes home early, or he makes it to the semis, where Nadal awaits.

QF Match: Cilic vs Youzhny

Quarter 3

In the light of Murray's rise to #3, and Federer's slump *at* #2, it was DJokovic who was forgotten. Lo and behold who has put up a consistent (runner-up) charge this summer. Two RUs, 1 title and 1 SF. I'mm definitely impressed on how he's built up the endurance and resistance to last that long on the dirt, plus his very close SF loss in Madrid puts him in this Slam's short list. His draw is relatively easy, and wait for the fireworks to come on the second week.

QF Match: Monaco vs Djokovic

Quarter 4

As mentioned above, what does Federer's win in Madrid do? It puts the rivalry back into full swing, it puts Roger as part of the contender's list, but it doesn't change the fact that Nadal is heads-and-shoulders above the competition. Federer better save energy for that SF clash with Djokovic, and his relatively easy draw makes tennis fans salivate for that encounter. Hopefully that winner of the duel wins the whole tournament.

Oh by the way, given Roddick's good form on clay recently, I expect him to win 2 matches on clay - something he's never done since 2001.

QF Match: Melzer vs Federer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Summer Music MMIX

No, not a typo, but if you were listening to your Grade IV math teacher, that's Roman numerals for this year. What's burning up my portable music player?

1. Skeleton Boy by Friendly Fires
2. The Festival Song by Pez
3. I Love College by Asher Roth
4. Better Off As 2 by Frankmusik
5. Lovers In Japan by Coldplay
6. The Saltwater Room by Owl City
7. Fascination by Alphabeat
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Suzhou In A Day

My Suzhou visit was a bit annoying on many fronts - the weather was ridiculously wet (and very cold at that) therefore making my walks in the park turn into galoshing through puddles. However, walking from the train station towards the city center I was offered a refuge from the rain - the SUzhou Museum. What was supposed to be a ten-minute toweling off turned into a two-hour stroll in their quaintly distinct museum.

Did I mention that the entrance was free? The beautiful museum was design by the renowned IM Pei, creator of Bank of China in HK, and that glass pyramid in front of the Louvre. What I liked about the building was it had empty little corridors that let light in, those pockets of water that characterise the city it represents, yet all in a modern IM Pei-kind of presentation.

I wasn't able to see much of Suzhou that day, but a rundown of the museum definitely made this section of the trip worthwhile.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hutong Mania and the Great Duck Quest

Something must be said of the distinctive hutongs or courtyard complexes that fill Beijing. A whole lot of them are being demolished to give way to new, more dazzling complexes.

A roaring greeting to you!

There's a whole lot of them north of the Forbidden City, just nearby HouHai Park and Drum and Bell Towers. The area has been developed to a commercial area where you can have dinner some drinks, while nestled in the hutong district. Though this may effort may sound contrived, let me point you to a more authentic hutong district that's a bit harder to find.

The hutong and my shoulder

Searching for the best Peking Duck in town may be in the famed Quanjude Restaurant south of the Arrow Tower but there were three signs that made me veer away from the store:

1. A Lonely Planet un-recommendation for being overly hyped and frantically busy
2. It's ridiculously poncy facade
3. A McDonald's delivering food to the store - through the front entrance nonetheless

We followed hutong lanes not found in the map, but eventually found Li Qun Duck Restaurant. Why we didn't hesitate entering the restaurant despite its rather homely surroundings:

Homely facade

1. Well it was homely and most probably authentic.
2. In typical asian fashion, your success is measured by the photos of important visitors hanging on your wall. I saw a former Philippine ambassador and Jet Li. I'm in!

Emergency ducks on standby


3. We were greeted by these duck drawings. Nothing says "top notch" other than having kids graffiti your neighbourhood with duck doodles.

Big duck drawing gets my approval. Thanks Abi for modeling the post-duck cholesterol high

Post duck review? It was excellent and oh-soo-hearty (dripping in fat and oil). Yaiks!