Thailand: Holiday Destination of Food, Fun & Culture

There are plenty of worthy Asian countries to visit such as Japan and Hong Kong….but who could have guessed that an Asian country such as Thailand could probably be THE ultimate tourist destination? I, Susan, shall take you on a short whirlwind trip around Thailand’s Bangkok and Pattaya….

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Whether it is day or night, Thailand is continuously bustling with tourists, motorcycles, food and shops… Even at night, it’s bursting with colourful energy. Street markets come to life and it is always ready to welcome you with the smoky smell of sizzling meat, fresh frozen fruits, desserts and instant coffee. No matter where you walk, you will always find a great bargain and the locals are always trying their best to understand you.

But it’s not just the people who are friendly – Thailand is simply tourist-friendly as a whole. Bikes and motorbikes are for hire so you can drive wherever you want in the city.  Laundry services and foreign money exchange booths can be found on every corner.

You can also go fishing, jet-boating and parachuting out on the beach as you like.  And if you’re single or looking for some company, there are plenty of bars and nightclubs that open around the clock. And wherever you go, you will see tourists from different points of the globe – Europe, America, India, China … you name it! Thailand is clearly a tourist destination as it ultimately caters for all tourists from around the world.

If you’re a tourist who is interested in religion, history and architecture in general, Thailand is perfect for you.  When you step foot into the city of Bangkok, you’ll automatically notice the harmonious mix of the old and new Thailand. The ‘old’ primarily consists of the countryside-slumbers of Thailand, along with its many ancient temples and ruins that are stretched across and intertwined with the ‘new’ Thailand (i.e. modern buildings, and shopping and business complexes etc).

Besides being deeply devoted to Buddhism, one of the most distinctive features about Thailand is that the country absolutely loves the royal family.  Wherever you go, cities are donned with portraits of the King and the Queen — even within their temples, homes and shops.

A visit to Thailand’s Grand Palace is a must as you’ll witness some of the most amazing architecture that was built for the previous and current royals of Thailand – most of them with history that dates back to the earlier Kings of the country. And yes, it’s actually the Grand Palace where the King of Thailand usually resides.
Visiting zoos and safaris also prove to be a hit amongst tourists. Dubbed as the largest zoo in South-East Asia, Thailand’s Safari World is one of Thailand’s sightseeing destinations. Plenty of shows are held every day from orang-utans to dolphins to seals. It almost feels like Africa – you can also feed giraffes, ride elephants and drive around the safari to see the glorious landscape and diversity of animals.

If you’re lucky, you should catch the Alcazar Cabaret Show in Bangkok. If you thought it would be a beauty pageant show paraded around by drag queens, then you’re absolutely wrong.

The show delivers you the full package – mesmerizingly beautiful crossgender males, highly-detailed sets and costumes, and entertainment that showcases popular songs and dances from different cultures such as Thai, Cambodian, Korean, Vietnamese, Western, Malaysian and Hindu-Indian. It’s a fantastic show that will fascinate you from start to finish, and it’s certainly something that you’ll pay to see again regardless of whether you’re a male or female.

Now heading over to Pattaya – you can take a jet boat to its infamous Coral Islands where you can walk along its popular beach resort.

You can sit back and relax on any of the hundreds of beach chairs provided for you or you can go jet-boating and wakeboarding, buy fruits, munch on sizzling squids and giant prawns or you can check out the vendors selling interesting Thai products and souvenirs.

Yes, Thailand is all about food, food and food. When it comes to Thailand, you have to spend quality time exploring its streets and go food hunting. If you have time, you must explore the local markets and these are usually tucked behind the outer streets and alleys of the cities. As you may or may not know, Thailand is known for its fresh and delicious selection of fruits. And you certainly won’t be disappointed as you can find tasty durian, sugar bananas, papaya and jackfruits etc wherever you go.

In terms of shopping centres, you should check out two of Thailand’s major shopping complexes: Siam Paragon and Central World. These are dubbed as some of the biggest shopping centres in South-East Asia, and it’s no joke. What makes their shopping centres different from Sydney’s is that they like sophistication and they definitely know how to flaunt a fun, fantastic shopping experience for locals and tourists.

If you pop into the central food court, you’ll see a fantastic maze-like display of all kinds of food. Believe it or not, it was really difficult to detach yourself from that area as you can’t help but buy a bit of everything from each food vendor.  In a matter of minutes, you’ll find yourself carrying bags of sushi, rice patties, puff pastries, kebabs, cakes and Thai sausages etc.

Speaking of food, Thailand absolutely loves the Korean and Japanese culture. Head into any shopping centre or hotel, and you’ll find a selection of authentic Korean and Japanese restaurants. And it’s not just food – they are also heavily influenced and into other Korean/Japanese things such as music, fashion, TV shows etc.

And of course, it’s impossible to leave Thailand without experiencing a Thai massage. Thai massages are literally everywhere in Bangkok and after a few hours of being taken care of, it can really help you to relax and prep you up for the next day’s set of adventures.

Overall, Thailand is a fantastic holiday destination. It’s fun, vibrant and full of life. If you’re looking for a great adventure with your mates, Thailand’s the place to be as there are plenty of food, shopping and activities for you to see and do.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Floating Markets which was a great disappointment because that is one of the ‘must-see’ hotspots in Thailand. I did however, went floating down the River of Chipari where we get to see the Old Palace, the Grand Palace and also many of the residents’ houses which is always fascinating to look at.

But what about Thailand’s negative points, you may ask? The weather over there is unbelievably warm, very muggy and polluted so if you’re not used to humid-dry conditions, then you’ll probably have a difficult time adjusting to it. Believe it or not, you can already feel the sun burning into your face once you step out of the hotel around 8 in the morning, and you pretty much have to live on cold bottled drinks throughout the day or you’ll dehydrate in no time.

What was interesting is that although Thailand is an exceptionally popular and great tourist destination, the people over there are not exactly up to scratch with their English. It was surprising to see that people in local markets actually knew basic English and that they understood tourists more than those who work in hotels. But perhaps in a few years time, things would be much different. I certainly wouldn’t mind coming back to Thailand again – especially for its food and shopping.

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Anime Reviews: Madoka Magica + Chihayafuru + Steins;Gate

In this first edition of back-to-back anime reviews for my blog, we’ll be reviewing Madoka Magica, Chihayafuru and Steins; Gate. Hope you find my thoughts unanimous with yours! [….SPOILERS AHEAD]

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica (12 episodes)

Genre: drama, magical girl, tragedy

Wiki Summary: 

In the city of Mitakihara, a schoolgirl named Madoka Kaname and her friend Sayaka Miki are approached by a ‘familiar’ named Kyubey, who offers to grant each of them one wish in return for making them a magical girl. Another magical girl, Homura Akemi, tries to prevent Madoka from making the deal whilst Kyubey urges Madoka to do as she will become the most powerful magical girl.

However, contrary to the glamorous notions one would expect, a magical girl finds herself dealing with death, isolation, loss of humanity and agony over the value of her wish, and existential crisis. Madoka, following her friends, soon sees the darker side of being a magical girl, and begins to question whether she should become one as well.

Review:

If you’re looking for an anime that is a combination of the old and new, Madoka Magica is the perfect choice as it is essentially Sailor Moon meets Cardcaptor Sakura, Mai-Hime and XXXHolic. It was difficult to stay put with the story at first – the anime kicks off very slowly with never-ending moments of  Madoka getting in the way, and Kyubey asking Madoka to become a magical girl.

It eventually picks up its pace as we begin to see that being a magical girl is not what it seems. One by one, we learn more about each girl’s background and you can’t help but feel empathetic with them – with the exception of Madoka’s character whose personality can be slightly irritating and over-the-top at times.

In terms of the story’s plot, Madoka Magica is weak, under-developed and not entirely original. It could have fleshed out more plot details and character development, but with its pacing issues and not-so- indepth characters, it was understandable as to why there were only 12 episodes. If it weren’t for the interesting characters and twists — such as their souls being encased in their very own Soul Gems, or the fact they end up being Witches if they don’t purify their Soul Gems, or the fact that Homura has time-travelled a million times to prevent Madoka from being a magical girl — then the anime wouldn’t have been that successful to such extent.

Produced by SHAFT and Aniplex, the art and animation showcases the ‘it’ factor. Throughout the anime, you will see amazing art of contemporary architecture and interior designs. The battle scenes are also impressive. Whether the magical girls are fighting amongst themselves or fighting against the witches, Madoka Magica is the epitome of what the ‘magical girl’ genre is about.

The animation at the start might disconcert some viewers as its rather artistic art for the ‘witch’ battles might be deemed as incompatible with the anime’s moe art direction. But as the series go on, the art and animation becomes very refined and polished. It doesn’t stop there as the finale of Madoka Magica boasts animation that one does not usually see in your standard anime.

Once you have seen this anime, you can see why it ignited a lot of buzz when it first came out in 2011. The anime is probably not re-watchable as a whole, but Madoka Magica‘s art and animation (in the latter parts of the anime) were definitely some of its best highlights.

Rating: 7.5/10

Chihayafuru (25 Episodes)

Genre: sport, romance

Wiki Summary:

Chihaya Ayase is a girl who has spent most of her life simply supporting her sister in her model career. This changes when she meets a boy named Arata Wataya, a talented karuta player. After playing a game with Chihaya, Arata believes that she has the potential to become a great player.

As Chihaya takes on a new dream of becoming Japan’s best female karuta player, she is soon separated from her karuta playing friends as they grow up. Now in high school, Chihaya still continues to play karuta in the hope that she will one day meet her friends again, especially Arata.

Review:

In our current world of anime that is occupied by genres such as mecha, fantasy and school dramas,  Chihayafuru is one of a kind. In essence, the anime is wonderfully simple, heart-warming,  and also remarkably entertaining to watch. Don’t judge the story as one of those ‘card games’ anime just yet.

What’s unique and refreshing about this story is that it chooses not to complicate its storytelling by putting the spotlight on romance, love triangles and/or life dramas. Instead, the majority of the story focuses on karuta and what’s amusing is that you’ll find yourself  heavily drawn to the sport.

Believe it or not, karuta is a very intense and competitive sport to watch, especially if you have never seen or heard of it before. The way karuta is beautifully animated and portrayed from the characters’ perspective clearly distinguishes itself from other ‘sports’. And before you know it, you’ll be wow-ing over the complexity and brilliance of the game.

One of the things that makes Chihayafuru delightful to watch is its strong emphasis on the characters and their individuality; and also their growth as human beings and as karuta players. Each character has a motive or a touching background story that brings them all together – with karuta, of course, being the common denominator. With such emphasis on bonds, we see relationships developing over the course of time and you’ll actually find yourself laughing and crying along with them.

Throughout the story, you will see some breathtaking, heartwarming moments between Chihaya and Arata, and with Taichi as well.  And even though Arata appears in the story from time to time, his presence is always there and you’re always hoping and expecting him to turn up. This downplayed romance surprisingly keeps the story simple and balanced. Such character moments will leave you wanting more whilst being mesmerised by karuta at the same time.

Chihayafuru is definitely a must-watch anime  for everyone. Unfortunately, it stops at Season 1 for now so hopefully the anime will get greenlight for a second season because it really deserves to.

Rating: 9/10

Steins; Gate (24 episodes)

Genre: science fiction, thriller, mystery

Wiki Summary:

Steins;Gate takes place in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. On July 28, 2010, Rintarō Okabe and his friend Mayuri Shīna was heading towards the Radio Kaikan building for a conference, where Rintarō finds a girl named Kurisu Makise lying in a pool of blood. 

As Okabe sends a text message about the incident to his friend, Itaru “Daru” Hashida, he experiences a strange phenomenon and the people around him disappear, with no-one else noticing anything had changed. After later running into Kurisu, who is strangely alive and well, and discovering the message he had sent to Itaru had arrived a week before he sent it, Okabe soon deduces that the ‘Mobile Microwave’ he and his friends had been developing is, in fact, a time machine capable of sending text messages to the past.

Review:

Steins; Gate is an anime that demands interest and patience as it challenges you to think and make deductions throughout the story. For an anime that was hailed as one of the top reviewed anime in 2011, the slow pacing of the beginning may disinterest viewers as minor events and twists took their time in revealing themselves. Perhaps it was for the best as during this period, we see  Okabe and his group hacking into SERN, and inventing and experimenting with time-travelling concepts such as ‘time-leaping’ and ”D-mails’.

Things swiftly become interesting when Episode 9 comes along as we begin to witness some interesting character developments between Okabe and Kurisu. It soon leads us to the first of many tumultuous and thrilling twists of Steins; Gate – we see SERN finally taking action to retrieve Okabe’s time machine, unfortunately resulting in Mayuri’s shocking death. This then initiates the start of a difficult road for Okabe who has to undo the effects of the previously sent D-Mails (that has caused the shifts in the timeline) in order to return to the Beta timeline where Mayuri won’t die.

As the story cleverly goes full circle by revisiting most of the earlier events, it slowly unveils background stories and hidden identities of all characters – some of which will definitely shock you.  Who could have guessed that Suzuha was from the future? And that Mr Braun the landlord was working for SERN? And of course, one of the final shocking twists of the story – in order to return to the Beta timeline, Kurisu needed to die? As each revelation continues to drop, the storytelling never fails to shock viewers as it is told in an exceptionally suspenseful and engaging manner that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

The characters in Steins; Gate are also one of the anime’s major highlights. Okabe and his friends are unique in their own ways as each character brings something forward to the table whether it is innocence, humour, geeky-pervy habits, stubbornness and tsundere qualities.

However, all eyes are on Okabe as he is very intriguing to watch. He is a self-proclaimed mad scientist who gives off the appearance of being delusional and paranoid, frequently refers to the ‘organization’ that is after him, talks to himself on his own phone, and engaging in fits of maniacal laughter every now and then. He even gets a few English scenes which is always highly entertaining to watch, making Steins; Gate very modern and groundbreaking when compared to its rivals. A big kudos to Mamoru Miyano who did a fantastic job at voicing Okabe and portraying the character so flawlessly!

In terms of the overall story, Steins; Gate‘s storytelling and time-travel concepts were well-researched and cleverly written from start to finish. However, you can’t help but yearn for the impossible as there weren’t enough interference from SERN and/or even a glimpse of the world in year 2025. Even the ending might have been disappointing for some fans as all is well in the end for everyone.

Steins; Gate is a masterpiece that only comes by once in awhile and is worthy of its critically acclaimed reviews.

Rating: 9.5/10

Journal: On track…

I was really never cut out for real-life relationships so having a consistent blog would obviously go the same way. It’s been two months since I last wrote a list of things to do. And very interestingly, it’s going really well.

No. 1: [ ] learn new things e.g. make real coffee, photography, knitting etc

I was, and will never be a fan of expresso. The only type of coffee that I have ever loved was ice-coffee — the ones by Dare or Big M that you can get at the supermarkets, and probably Gloria Jean’s iced-Mocha with lots of cream on top.  Not only did I surprise myself, but my parents were astounded to hear that I wanted to do a Barista class.
My brother and I signed up for a full-day course  learning the basics of coffee-making, latte art, and also doing an exam to get the accredited award.

Coffee-making looks like a piece of cake, but  it’s not! Since I’m not a frequent coffee drinker, I was baffled at the different types of coffee, how many shots each drink requires, the technicality of foaming the milk etc etc.

I was pretty much brain-dead after the first session since there were a lot of stuff to absorb. Latte art was the best session of the day as things were more fun and relaxing. Although I’ll probably never end up getting a Barista job,  it was an amazing learning experience. Respect for all Baristas out there!

No. 3: [ ] volunteer and/or attend anime-related events (Supanova, Smash, Animania etc) and film festivals

I have always been a fan of anime. Since I wanted to challenge myself, I decided to volunteer for SMASH! Sydney Manga and Anime Show. I was successfully chosen to be part of the Marketing team and ever since I was inducted to the team, I’ve met some of the most incredible individuals ever. Regardless of how old you are in the group, it’s pretty cool that we all have that passionate love for anime and Japan as a commonality.

In terms of my role, it’s pretty full-on and it keeps me busy on a daily basis (something that I am really grateful for). As we edge closer to July 14, things are getting even busier and I’m absolutely ecstatic for the event! Watch this space post-July 14, as I will be doing a short coverage/review of the event and probably some articles as well :)

[ ] develop my drawing/painting skills

For the last few years, it’s been my incentive to develop my portrait digital art skills and I’ve succeeded that to some degree. After ditching fan-art for quite a long time, it feels right to return to it again. I think this random motivation was triggered after recently completing my marathon of the entire Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden series.  

Since then, I’ve done two fan-arts and hopefully I’ll do more in the near future. One thing I would love to achieve this year is to create my own character since I’ve never really drawn an unknown character more than twice or so. We shall see though~

[ ] meet at least 5 famous/interesting people

I’ve definitely exceeded the quota of five famous/interesting people within two months. The most notable was meeting Mr Fordham from the Today Show and also members of the SMASH! team.

…And I think that’s all for now. Stay tuned for more updates ….

Journal: 12 Things to do in 2012

Hi there!

I don’t think I’ve ever ‘blogged’ here in the past — so perhaps that might change this year :)

It’s a bit late for this post, but like they always say, better late than never.

2012 marks the start of a new stage in my life — entering the real world. I’ve just completed uni studies, and rather than going onto Postgrad or Masters, I believe it’s time for me to leave education behind and hit the  road.

For the last three years or so, I spent a majority of my time getting experience, learning more about myself, and trying to overcome some issues.

For 2012, I want to do things beyond my character and usual patterns.  And because it’s also a year where I reach an important milestone in my life — I want to do fun, interesting things.

So here’s my list:

[ ] learn new things e.g. make real coffee, photography, knitting etc

[ ] go on a road/camping trip with some friends

[ ] volunteer and/or attend anime-related events (Supanova, Smash, Animania etc) and film festivals

[ ] develop my drawing/painting skills

[ ] have a consistent routine with my writing and blogging

[ ]  write and self-publish a family cookbook

[ ] write and/or illustrate a book

[ ] meet at least 5 famous/interesting people

[ ] drive more!

[ ] do something extreme e.g. climb the Harbour Bridge, jetboating, skydiving, parachuting etc

[ ] explore at least 10 new places

[ ] achieving plenty of goals (career-wise)

Since we’re just at the beginning of the year, and I kind of have all the time in the world right now — hopefully when I look back at the end of the year, I would have accomplished many things.

Stream of consciousness

Stream of consciousness.

You can never quite predict exactly what will appear on the canvas, and this uncertainty is what I find so compelling.

Whenever materials are transferred to a blank slate, they transform and interact with one another.

 A stick of charcoal breaks away into dust on the surface, causing slight imperfections and patterns to emerge as layers when added or removed. Oil paint is always moving and changing, depending on how much is brushed onto the canvas.

 While it could be labelled as a lack of control over the material, I like to embrace these imperfections.

It is as if the material brings forth its own creativity to the process, just like the subconscious does when it is allowed control within dreams.

Review: Cyrus rocks her Gypsy Heart in Sydney

After stopping in Brisbane and Melbourne,  it was finally Sydney’s turn to see teen pop-sensation Miley Cyrus perform live at Acer Arena (June 26-27th) as part of her Gypsy Heart tour.

Selling almost 20, 000 tickets for every Aussie show, Cyrus proves that she still has a strong fanbase of die-hard fans despite recent ‘racy’ music videos (Can’t Be Tamed and Who Owns My Heart) and the expose of shocking scandals (who can forget the salvia video?) that sent parents and kids baffling into further frenzy madness. The arena was extraordinarily packed as kids as young as six were accompanied by parents, and there were plenty of teens, young adults and even adults amongst the concert-goers as well.

As the lights began to dim, a cityscape backdrop appeared on the screen and sirens began to blast from all corners — the arena welcomed the unknown with a deafening buzzing of overzealous fans, screeching their hearts out in enthusiasm. Cyrus then finally debuts her presence on stage, kicking the show off with Can’t be Tamed‘s rebellious energetic song, Liberty Walk.

Dressed in risque, yet gorgeous diva attire (mainly legless bodysuits, diamond-studded bras and leather jackets), the former Hannah Montana star has definitely proven that she is not your typical cookie-cutter former Disney star anymore. Strutting the stage in leather boots flaunting her thighs and legs, the teen superstar began rapping and belting Liberty Walk‘s lyrics with her distinctive, powerhouse vocals.

Not wanting to waste any precious time, Cyrus soon cranked up the party by immediately jumping into everybody’s favourite and Cyrus’s patriotic 2008 hit song, Party in the USA. She then continued to rock the arena with dynamic songs Kicking and Screaming and Robot, boasting impressive vocal chords and vigourously performing with diva temperament.

And if these titles have yet to show you Cyrus’s gutsy ‘what you see is what you get’ persona, she then launched into her first batch of covers for the night — a Joan Jett medley of I love Rock n’ Roll/Cherrybomb/Bad Reputation — which got everyone in the crowd (including young kids and parents) jumping off their seat and rocking out with her.

Don’t judge Cyrus though. I Love Rock n’ Roll may have been covered countlessly over the years, including Britney Spears (2002), L.A. Guns (2010) and Alex Gaudino and Jason Rooney (2008), but Cyrus executed the song with fierce demeanor. Her Southern, edgy, nasally voice was also perfect for the two succeeding Joan Jett songs, and her revue was no different for her sequential Every Rose Has Its Thorn as she delivered the 1988 Poison song with justice — as highly praised by Poison’s Bret Michaels himself.

These were not the last of covers for the night as Cyrus also paid tributes to her other favourites such as Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit and Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, evidently demonstrating her versatile vocals not only for pop, rock and power-ballads, but country music as well. And although these songs were unknown to a majority of the audience, hushing the fans in silence and confusion–which was rather amusing — the fans nevertheless embraced the songs as they swayed their arms along with the music.

Whilst these covers may have set the blogsphere on fire, receiving unfavourable reviews by critics and music-lovers, Cyrus’s performance was not mediocre at all. She hits the notes well and captures the songs’ spirit genuinely, especially Landslide where Cyrus’s natural talent shines eminently. Regardless of whether Cyrus’s performance was to your taste or not, it definitely wouldn’t be a surprise –nor harmful– if Cyrus inspires children and teens to listen, and buy oldies from the 80s. That’s what music is all about, right?

In addition to the covers, the show’s setlist had a great balance of songs — Cyrus performed all fan-favourites including 7 Things, Fly on the Wall, and Can’t Be Tamed much to the delight of the hyperactive crowd. In between, she slowed things down with pop-ballads such as Take Me Along, Scars and Driveway and also other notable power-ballads such as StayObsessed, Forgiveness and Love.

And of course, the show inevitably closed with Cyrus’s infamous The Climb, leaving fans teary-eyed and awe-inspired.

But the fun wasn’t over yet as Cyrus returned to perform three encore songs that were distinctly fan-favourites as well:  See You Again, My Heart Beats for Love, and finally, Who Owns My Heart.

Looking back at it, it was a fun, exhilarating show. Cyrus performed every song with great vocals and energetic disposition. Gypsy Heart, however, lacks in the usual pyrotechnics, aerial theatrics, choreographies and countless costume changes that were obvious highlights in Cyrus’s previous WonderWorld and Best of Both Worlds tours. The show also lacked in interaction with the crowd, as few words of inspiration and messages about the songs were being said, ultimately sounding very rehearsed. It would have benefited Cyrus and the audience if she introduced the less-known songs, but nevertheless, the audience did a great job at keeping up with her throughout the night.

The Gypsy Heart stage was very well built, as there were two side-catwalks and platforms that led to the top and bottom. Accompanying the setup was the main big screen (behind the stage) used as the central backdrop for visuals, along with the two screens on the side for fans viewing from far distance.

In terms of backdrop visuals, clips from music videos were used, and others had modern, edgy themes and moving visual clips to aid the songs. Most notable visuals were Liberty Walk, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, 7 Things, Kicking and Screaming, Landslide, The Climb and of course, My Heart Beats for Love (which had the Aussie flag in the background).

By the end of the day, it all comes down to the music and the overall show itself.

Gypsy Heart Tour ultimately affirms Cyrus is no overrated, scandalous teen superstar that everyone treats, judges, and believes her to be. Cyrus’s approach as an artist and performer vociferates that she is no wannabe — she wants to be viewed as an equal like any other artist/performer in the entertainment industry.

For an 18-year-old, Cyrus proves she’s the real deal. She doesn’t just have an authentic, versatile vocal talent — but she’s a performer who’s committed to sing songs and do her shows her own way (professionally as well). And despite Cyrus’s efforts of attempting to shake off her squeaky-clean Hannah Montana image — if people believe that she has lost the devotion from her young fans, then they are certainly wrong. Young fans were spotted having the time of their lives and singing along loudly to almost every song, even with Hannah Montana songs being absent from setlist.

So behind the scandals and other inexcusable criticisms, it is Cyrus, her talent and music that keeps (most) die-hard fans of all ages loyal to the end. After all, after many years of being Disney’s pawn and being her own artist/performer — she, Miley Cyrus — has the potential and is expected to perpetuate for a very long time. It’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here on.

Essay: Harry Potter and its digital fandom

This research paper will investigate whether or not social media has a significant impact on popular-culture and its fandom(s), specifically focussing on Harry Potter. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is an iconic cultural phenomenon that has been spreading magic for almost a decade now. Fads are usually unexplainable and unrepeatable, but Harry Potter has proved its staying power — especially when its last novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released back in 2007.

With the final film due this July, we should reflect, and question the driving force that continues to make this popular-culture stable. Besides exploring how the physicality of the cultural phenomenon has been transformed due to media technologies, we will examine how Harry Potter and its fandom utilises social-media in order to thrive and survive as a digital fandom. After all, its success would not have been achieved without the fandom and its fans.

To read the entire essay, click [here].

Goliath: The World’s ‘Dwarfsome’ Strongman

Jeremy Hallam -- The World's Smallest Strongman

Whether it is swallowing eighteen swords in one go, or lying on a bed of sharp forks, there is nothing that freak performers love more than making people squirm. But proving that even the smallest guys have ambitions, ‘freak’ talents, and also a big heart of gold, we sat down with Jeremy Hallam (also known asGoliath) to unveil what makes him – a 127cm tall dwarf — special in the sideshow showbiz. Susan Ma reports.

Striding across the room in a macho manner with a large smirk on his face, Jeremy Hallam takes the stage as his alter ego: ‘Goliath’ the World’s Smallest Strongman. Nothing could dampen the crowd’s spirits as they welcomed the mysterious Goliath with a riveting applause. Stunned by his size, kids on the floor were also cheering him on, unaware that there’s more to Jeremy than what meets the eye….

Using his physical appearance to his advantage, Jeremy kicked his career off by strutting the runway for a modelling agency, worked as a ‘mini Santa’, and then spent most of the latter years bartending clubgoers at night. And in between these jobs, he even helps out with his Dad’s sheet-metal manufacturing family business. He’s not just the World’s Smallest Strongman – he’s quite a busy individual as well.

Goliath musters the strength to bend the metal with his head

Jeremy, being the unstoppable force he is, begun running his Melbourne-based business ‘Dwarfsome Entertainment’ in 2008, often travelling back and forth between Sydney and Melbourne to entertain at various events.

Don’t let Jeremy’s size deceive you though. Weighing in at 40 kilograms, Jeremy can bend metals as if they are elastic, and can lift full-grown humans above his head as if they were kids.

Funnily enough, the self-proclaimed ‘Goliath’ has yet to win a Guinness Worlds Record title that mirrors his talents and audacious nature. Ever since Jeremy has been recognised by the Australian public, it’s been one of his goals to perform overseas one day, and meet his fellow competitors. But until then, he’s the World’s Smallest Strongman.

“It’s true,” says Jeremy with a grin on his face, throwing the gauntlet down. “I’m yet to be proven otherwise, as I’m open to challengers.”

“Back at home, I’m always competing with my mates and brothers who are three-four times taller, and bigger than me. So if I heard of anything overseas where I could take on the strength of another small person, I’d go there. Perhaps then, I’ll finally win a title. You’ll never know.”

While the idea of ‘freak performers’ is usually associated with naturally-born oddities and talents, Jeremy still has to put in that additional few hours of hard work to maintain his fitness and reputation.

Jeremy is a real laugh behind the performing stage

“I’ve been training since I was 14-15 years old, so it’s been over ten years now,” Jeremy said. “Considering my size and all, I just figured that I should keep up with everybody else. My boys are my personal trainers, so we often train together in our own time.”

Although Jeremy’s no stranger to intolerable and ignorant comments, he surprisingly had a normal childhood. Growing up in the South-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne with his parents, and his two older brothers and a younger brother, going to school was apparently “very easy”:

“When I began school, I quickly made best friends with the tallest kid in the grade on my first day,” Jeremy said with a big laugh. “Funnily enough, we got on really well, so it was pretty cool that no-one couldn’t really mess with me.”

“People have tried to put me down with their comments so often that I pretty much know how to retaliate with great replies, making them look like idiots in the end. Of course, I have the option of beating them up. [laughs] But nah, I try to ignore haters as much as I can.”

He isn't called the World's Smallest Strongman for no reason

Now one of Australia’s top sideshow performers, Jeremy’s success could not have been achieved if it wasn’t for his friend, Chayne Hultgren.

Hultgren, famously known as Space Cowboy, was Jeremy’s first manager in the freak showbiz. After seeing photos of Jeremy weight-lifting and baring his washboard abs, Chayne knew that Jeremy was the “strongest dwarf that he had ever seen”, and immediately signed Jeremy to be part of his freakshow at the 2009 Woodford Folk Festival.

“Jeremy’s a natural when it comes to performing and acting on stage,” Chayne praised. “He’s not afraid of talking in front of a big crowd and everyone loves his cheeky whit, his charm and his feats of strength. He is a remarkable friend, and person to work with. As I always say, he’s definitely ‘dwarfsome’.”

Jeremy recently joined and performed with the ‘Psycho Sideshow’ at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, completing the circle of diverse freak acts. The five-strong troupe consists of Space Cowboy who holds Guinness World Record titles for swallowing over 17 swords, Shep Huntly (aka as The Man with the Iron Skin), Henna the Contortionist, Lady Loz the Mistress of Fire, and of course, Goliath himself.

“It was definitely an amazing experience working with Psycho Sideshow — they have been incredibly welcoming and supportive,” Jeremy said.

“Personally, shows like that makes me want to keep performing and acting. Although performing three times a day does get tiring at times, you sort of naturally feed energy off their screaming and cheering. It’s definitely worth the experience.”

Whilst freak shows have a reputation for being highly exploitive in the past, freak troupes like Psycho Sideshow and even freak performers themselves are overcoming this stereotype. Jeremy believes that their freak shows are more “positive and exhilarating” as they essentially perform freak acts that normal people can’t.

Winners: Jeremy Hallam aka Goliath stands tall and proud

“By the end of the day, everyone is different and have different talents and skills that they want to show — that’s what Psycho Sideshow is all about,” Jeremy said.

We’ve had slip-ups before such as Space Cowboy dropping his chainsaw. But the show must go on, so we usually we try to make it flawless as possible. The crowd thinks its all part of the act anyway.”

When asked about some of the best highlights of performing in front of packed houses such as the Sydney Easter Show and Fringe Festivals in Adelaide and Queensland, Jeremy simply answers that he’s enamoured with performing and acting:

“I just love performing with amazing and talented people– we might be considered ‘freaks’, but that’s who we are,” Jeremy said. “I also love meeting my fans, and performing to sell-out crowds.  I love every minute and everyday of it. I’d do it forever.”

Growing Up: Your age is just a number

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Once upon a time, getting older was actually exciting.

When you were seven years old, you wanted to ‘grow up’, wishing that you could one day become a doctor, fire-fighter, FBI agent, or even a superhero.

At sixteen, you were able to get your Learners. At 18, not only were you at uni, studying for the career of your dreams – but you were out clubbing on weekends and drinking till you drop.  And finally, you officially stepped out into the real world at the age of 21, ready to take on the world.

And before you know it, you hit that stage where you want to stop time, and stop ‘growing up’.

For many people, they worry (and complain tirelessly) about physically-aging the most e.g. white hair and getting wrinkles. For others, the aging process makes them feel mentally insecure about themselves.  

You read people’s blogs and they talk about chasing their ambitions, travelling to exquisite places and meeting interesting people – It’s impossible not to envy them. The same thing happens when you hear people’s success stories—either those that are the same age as you, or those that are perhaps younger than you. Former Disney star Miley Cyrus, for instance, hasn’t even reached adulthood, and she’s accomplished so much and is worth over a billion dollars.  

Suddenly the notion of ‘aging’ starts to really sink in. You begin to have a life crisis, analysing and comparing your life with others:

Where is my life going? Why are things not working out for me? What are my achievements? Have I actually accomplished anything? Why aren’t I in a steady relationship? Is there anything that I haven’t done yet? Is it too late?

The list goes on and on.

Because we tend to get so caught up with the ‘vital’ things in our lives (such as studying a degree to get a job, or working for money) — we always end up forgetting how to make ourselves truly happy, and how to enjoy life and fulfil our ambitions.

Here are some common-sense tips:

If you hate your job, find something you love. If you want to travel, then travel. If you want to find love, find love.

Engage in activities that are not normally in your planner.  Be a daredevil by challenging yourself in foreign things e.g. skydiving or backpacking across Europe.

You can still be a superhero by making someone happy e.g. help out a charity, or talk to someone who needs help or companionship. Even smiling or giving someone a hug counts as something.

If you didn’t have a fulfilling childhood when you were young, revive it. Who says you can’t act like a kid, or be interested in kids’ stuff in your twenties or even forties?

In terms of achieving ambitions, think of the things you’re passionate about or have always wanted to do in life. Depending on your chosen pathway –if you create realistic opportunities and options, and work passionately towards it, then the rest will fall into place.

You’re never too old to take control of your life, and do whatever you want. When things come up, don’t hesitate or say ‘no’. Say: “Why not?”  It actually makes a big difference, as every little action counts as an achievement.

Sure, wrinkles and white hair are depressing– but if you have endless arguments about being ‘too old’ or ‘too late’ to do it, how are you supposed to enjoy life?

So remember, it’s not about the number of years in a life, but it’s the life in the years that counts the most.

HMForever Review Eps 6&7: Been Here All Along & Love That Let’s Go

HMForever Review Ep6: Been Here All Along

Miley and Lily arrives home seeing the absence of Robbie Ray. However, it turns out that Hannah Montana Forever Episode 6 - Been Here All Along - hannah-montana photoRobbie Ray was hanging out with Lori (his girlfriend) *somewhere* in the house. It’s been awhile that we haven’t seen Lori (since episode 3, that is) so it was good to see that they’re still dating. Despite spending lots of time with Lori, Robbie Ray was still determined to have daddy-daughter days. Miley, being the typical teen, keeps forgetting about it and promises Robbie Ray for once and all, that she will hang out with him the next day.

While Miley hangs around with Lily at Lily’s workplace at the Pier, Lily sees the one and only Jesse approaching them. Yes, Hannah’s former guitar player, Jesse.

Here, everything suddenly clicks into place. With Jake out of Miley’s life, it is obvious that the show producers are now carving way for Jesse to return to Miley’s life. And this was foreshadowed with the alternative ending of ‘He Could Be the One’ episode (can be found on ‘Miley Says Goodbye?’ DVD) in which Miley chooses Jesse instead of Jake. It’s exactly like the alternate ending. But the catch is, Miley will now have to tell Jesse the secret since he only knows Hannah, not Miley.Click to view full size image

With the flashback playing in Miley’s mind, it’s obvious that Miley still has feelings for Jesse (despite choosing Jake over Jesse in Season 3). Jesse comes over to meet them, and asks if they have met before. Miley replies that she has seen him at the Hannah Montana concert (emphasising that she’s a massive Hannah Montana fan) – i bet Miley (Cyrus) had so much fun mocking her fans since that’s how fans actually behave in real life.

After a bit of getting-to-know-each-other session, Jesse asks Miley out. However, it becomes an issue as it conflicts with her daddy-daughter outing. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, Miley was determined to ditch the daddy-daughter outing, and asks Jackson to help her. Jackson tells her to be ‘the gut-wretching disappointment’ (just like himself) – but Miley has always been the good girl so the only way is to tell the truth.

Miley is slightly selfish and bratty at times, but I suppose trying to ditch ‘family days’ are quite common amongst adolescents. When Miley breaks the news out, Robbie Ray becomes upset that Miley always put him second-best to everything else.  Upset at each Click to view full size imageother, they both go their separate ways, as later we see Miley going on the date with Jesse.  This fall-out between them was very unexpected, as we don’t usually see Miley and Robbie fighting (except for the classic episode of Ready, Set, Go).

Whilst on her date, guilt takes over her, as Robbie’s voice soon ends up on her mind. When Miley breaks free from Robbie Ray’s voice, Jesse’s phone interrupts their date, and the call turns out to be from his Dad. Annoyed that Jesse has blown her off by taking the call and being on it for ages, Miley decides to leave Jesse and the date. When Jesse sees her leaving, Miley complains that he seemed more interested in talking to his Dad than being with Miley. In addition to that, she complains that she has blown off her afternoon with Robbie just for Jesse (but Jesse wouldn’t have known that anyway).

Jesse tries to reason with Miley that he had to take the phonecall because his father was stationed in Afghanistan. Miley bClick to view full size imageegins to feel foolish, whilst Jesse explains how difficult it is to spend time with his Dad (unlike Miley).

Miley returns home, apologising to Robbie Ray for her bad conduct as she now realises that she has taken things for granted, especially her relationship with her dad. Possibly thinking about Jesse, Miley sees a family spending time together (with a father who’s a serviceman) and decides to do something special for the families who aren’t as lucky as they are.

Click to view full size imageLater, we see ‘Hannah’ having a special concert for servicemen and servicewomen (and their families) at the set of the Pier. And for your information, there were 40 servicemen (along with their families) who were invited to be part of the tribute night.

Whilst she sings “Been Here All Along” (amazing song!), a slideshow of pics can be seen on the overhead. It’s a nice thoughtful tribute to these families, and the lyrics of ‘Been Here All Along’ not only perfectly suits the occasion, but life in general. We later see Hannah wrapping up the show with “I’m Still good” (more montages).

I have no idea why, but just seeing Hannah dancing and singing, and having fun with the kids actually made me cry. It suddenly hits me that Hannah Montana was actually going to end soon, and this might be one of the last times that we will see Hannah perform (for kids, that is). Depressing as that might sound, but it’s true.

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 Click to view full size image 

 HMForever Review Ep 7: Love that let’s Go

Miley tries to convince Lily to ride horseback, but Lily refuses to as she is scared of falling off – which is surprisingly weird since she’s much more athletic and practical than Miley (Stewart) in everything. Miley calls Lily gutless, as she really wants to share horseback-riding with Lily since it’s such an important part of her life.

Lily, however, reminds Miley of rope-climbing, and we get a flashback of Miley ditching gym class after she sees the rope. I particularly love Lily’s quote after the flashback: “The girl can sing ‘The Climb—she just can’t do it”. IT was such a great trivial thing to include in the show – as we all know, ‘The Climb’ was introduced in ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie’ (which was a spin-off of the actual Hannah Montana TV show series). So if you’re a diehard fan, then you should’ve noticed the joke.

Lily makes a deal with Miley:  she will ride horseback if Miley rope-climbs. Miley flips a coin to determine who should go first, and after a gross moment, the coin apparently landed on heads (which was Miley). Miley did indeed rope-climb, but her feet were a few inches off the ground, which didn’t really count. Nevetheless, she was still quite determined to rope-climb in order to make Lily ride Blue Jeans. After all these years, people assume that Miley Stewart has changed, but when you think about it, she hasn’t really changed at all. She’s still the same nerdy dork (with a very eccentric personality) who gets looked down upon at school and still hates gymnastics more than ever. And oh, she’s still Hannah Montana of course =)

On the other hand, Siena comes over to their house bringing a book for Jackson to read: To Kill a Mockingbird. Being the typical lazy and illiterate person he is, Jackson finds it difficult to read the book since it was all text and had no pictures. Instead, he gets distracted by wrestling comics, and soon gets punished by John Cena (guest star) in his dreams. Despite attempting to read the book again, he begins to come up with excuses in order to avoid reading it.

After pulling a few strings, Miley finally ‘rope-climbed’ and Miley begins to give Lily horse-riding lessons. Although it didn’t really last long, it was very amusing to see Lily freak out over riding horses. After getting used to Blue Jeans, Miley decides that Lily was ready to ride outside. Things unexpectedly take a bad turn when Blue Jeans suddenly loses control, throwing Lily off and she’s now landed with a broken leg. Jackson returns home with news that he had noticed Blue Jeans was limping, and after the vet analysis, it turned out that Blue Jeans was injured from a snake bite.

Although the vet assured that Blue Jeans was going to be safe from danger, Blue Jeans’ conditions became worse. Fearful that Blue Jeans’ time was coming to an end, Miley and everyone else waits nervously for the outcome. Both Miley and Robbie Ray reminisce over the good times with Blue Jeans, and we see a wonderful montage accompanied by Robbie Ray and Miley’s duet song “Love that Let’s Go”. 

Because it was such a beautiful and lengthy tribute, you believe that Blue Jeans was going to actually pass away. But hey, because it is ‘Disney’, things ended happily as Blue Jeans soon recovered and reunited with Miley.

 While it may be a blissful moment for the show, viewers are then told that the episode was a tribute to Miley Cyrus’s real Blue Jeans “Roam-Man” who passed away in 2009. For those who don’t know, Roam-Man has  appeared as ‘Blue Jeans’ for the past three seasons, including Hannah Montana: The Movie. Happy trails to you, Roam-Man =)

Moving away from the sadness, the episode ends with Siena confronting Jackson about the book. Knowing that he didn’t read it, Siena forces him to read it anyway, threatening that she won’t date him anymore if he doesn’t – talk about dominatrix.

 After overhearing Siena and Jackson’s conversation, Lily begins to taunt Miley about being a coward, and we later see Miley succeeding with her rope-climb.  If you guys didn’t notice, that girl who’s in the scene with Miley, is actually Noah, her younger sister. Great cameo indeed =)