China Diary

China Diary

Best Films of 2019


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1. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

irishmanThe Irishman is Martin Scorsese closing books on his mob quadrology, which started with Mean Streets (1973), followed by Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) and the 2013 spinoff The Wolf of Wall Street  (2013), which stuns with its’ tranquil pacing, subtle acting and a sad undertone of watching an old criminal rotting away in a retirement home, reminiscing his past life and crimes to nobody in particular. If this turns out to be also Scorsese’s last film, it’s a fine way to leave the field, saying: try topping this. We’ll never have stars like Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro again, and we’ll never get another Scorsese.

 

2. Joker (Todd Philllips)

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DC understood that in order to compete against Marvel, one has to come up with a bit of a different angle. They did it already with Christopher Nolan’s Batman, bringing a darker, grittier and harder-hitting version of their favorite superhero, and now they decided to do the same with a villain. Not to say they hadn’t tried, but Suicide Squad didn’t really work. And even more so, they tried two impossible things at the same time: to do a superhero film about mental illness and to challenge the greatness of Heath Ledger, who still is the best Joker out there. Somehow, they managed to do both, and while Joaquin Phoenix may not be better than Heath as Joker, he’s just as good.

 

3. Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker  (JJ Abrams)

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What a way to end the saga! The film, which was plagued by production problems with directors and writers going in an out of it, delivered a perfect ending for the Skywalkers! JJ Abrams managed to run the story with such precision, pacing and scale that it felt constantly fresh and new, while never forgetting its’ roots. Daisy Ridley’s Rey grows from a pretty bland character into a proper hero, and Adam Driver’s sheer charisma makes the connection between the two characters feel natural and organic. It’s a huge film and knows its’ duty: to end the 40+ years of film history with dignity.

 

 

4. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)

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Apollo 11 is a gripping documentary that keeps you on the edge of your seat, crunching the armrests, knuckles white, breathing short, shallow gasps as in to make sure your presence would in no way alter the course of the tender wheels of human history unfolding in front of your eyes. Every school should include Apollo 11 into their curriculum, for it is not only an accurate documentary of events that changed the history of our race forever but also a hugely inspiring film, too, one that pushes you to reach beyond the limits of possibility in order to achieve something great.

 

 

5. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)

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In its’ core, Booksmart is very simply Superbad but with girls. It’s also every other teen comedy ever made; two girls who’ve spent their days getting straight As and missed all the high school parties decide to have one night of fun, for the first time, before moving away to different colleges across the country. The story has been told a thousand times, and we all can imagine what happens: they get drunk for the first time, they fall in love, they go crazy. It’s not really the story that works so well, but the whole execution of the film, the unhinged love which director Olivia Wilde, an actress herself, has managed to pull out of the shining duo Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Felster, both bound to hit big stardom in the ’20s.

6. Mestari Cheng (Mika Kaurismäki)

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A charming story of a Chinese cook who comes to rural, northern Finland with his son to find a long-lost friend and ends up setting up a restaurant serving rare Chinese delicacies to the grumpy Finns who probably never even seen a foreigner in their lives, but on TV maybe. Master Cheng, as the English title is, charms with its’ beautiful cinematography, cinematic scale and awesome, strange Finnish characters, whom Cheng interacts with his own, bull-headed style. Kaurismäki manages to make the story more than its’ parts and the feel-good nature of the film makes it a lovely watch.

 

7. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Alex Gibney)

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2019 was all about fake news, and the order our world was established on – that if anything, the news are true – was shaken. This happened also in the unbeatable field of business, and The Inventor is a great dive into the world where wealth and money is everything. We have grown to believe that the business decisions made by the multi-billionaires have been established on their genial understanding of the business and the products they build, but with clear, sharp slashes, Alex Gibney’s documentary goes to destroy that belief. The Inventor both an uncovering of a fraud and a documentary of the person behind the fraud, a self-proclaimed Silicon Valley med tech goddess who sets on a mission to change the world.

 

8. Leaving Neverland (Dan Reed)

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Unearthing the old claims of Michael Jackson’s pedophilia relationships with kids who stayed at his mansion and toured with him wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard of. In Finland, we’ve had our own Michael Jackson -jokes (“väärä nappula”), as probably everywhere in the world and the fact that Wacko-Jacko, a revered musician, had this dark side was accepted as part of his myth, rather than the actual, life-destroying crime spree it actually was. While Leaving Neverland isn’t a tremendously built documentary, it fails to really build the characters of its’ subjects and tends to be scandalous and sometimes not that believable, but what it does it gives faces and history to the victims and shows the extent Jackson’s actions, and, interestingly, also challenges the families of the victims: why didn’t you do anything? We know the answer: they liked basking in Jackson’s starlight way too much to really stop what they for sure suspected was going on.

9. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)

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Now this is the right way to do a rock biopic! Pushing the envelope much further than Rocketman’s predecessor Bohemian Rhapsody did, the film goes to town with sex and drugs and rocks and rolls. Taron Egerton crashes the Oscar party with an impeccable show of force as an actor and Dexter Fletcher manages to keep the film that keeps on bouncing all over the room in some kind of leash to deliver a story that actually tells a story of Elton John‘s crazy years. Drawing connections between BoRap and Rocketman is easy, as the films are essentially the same. Where BoRap is simply better rock film because of Queen’s amazing music, Rocketman is probably a better film.

 

10. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

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The star-studded cast and crazy intriguing premise delivered Tarantino a huge hit with Once Upon A Time, and rightly so. The beautifully crafted film takes one of the big Hollywood tragedies and re-writes the history, but does so with childish dream to crush the bullies, and while we know the events didn’t go that way, it’s an alternative history take, done mostly with respect (yes, Bruce Lee‘s depiction was not fair, but hey, it’s a fantasy movie). It’s fun and powerful film that leaves you gasping for air by the time you roll out of the theatre. Might not be Tarantino’s best, but is definitely on the top five.

 

China Diary

Day 226: Heading back home


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Ah well, wrapped this leg of the production in Beijing again, and now I’m homeward bound, flying 10 kilometers over Central Russia, just passing over the town of Kodinsk. Did you know that Kodinks was established in 1977 as a settlement servicing the construction of a hydroelectric power station, with population close to 15000? I didn’t. But it’s crazy. Flying over Russia, it’s just insane. The country is so big, full of so much unknown little towns, huge cities and endless forest stretching everywhere.

I’ve started to read a really interesting book, one called One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I grabbed it on my Kindle as a recommendation for a read to understand a bit about the life in the Soviet Union, and this one is about a day in the life of one person in the gulags somewhere in the middle of the huge mother Russia. Written in a deadpan style, it’s both hilarious and scary at the same time, and very damn educative.

I finished my job in Beijing few days earlier than anticipated, and didn’t really feel like sticking around as there was nothing, really nothing for me to do there anymore. On the last day we sat down with Chris and went through all the remaining shots, solving some of the biggest issues we still had with the visual effects, and then agreed that we would continue the work online over Cinesync sessions.

I don’t know yet when I’m going back to Beijing, to be honest, but if things progress the way I suspect they might, it could be late September, early October, but let’s see what the future holds. Nevertheless, despite the massive sleeping issues I had, it actually was a pretty good trip and worth doing. Now, my next adventures take me to Japan, where we will be promoting the release of Iron Sky The Coming Race, after which we’re moving with Annika and then, well, I don’t really know yet!

Anyway, this story continues when I come back to Beijing next time, whenever that is – until then, have a wonderful summer dear readers!

China Diary

Day 225: Day off


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This.

Is.

Boring.

A day off means there’s absolutely nothing to do for me here. Since I don’t know anyone, I’m just stranded off in my hotel. Going out for some culture and recreation is out of the question, while Beijing is a huge city, once you’ve seen the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, walked the Hutongs and went to a bunch of museums, you’re pretty much done. Rest of it is just offices, residential buildings, restaurants, and shops. And there’s only so much of trouble one is willing to take in order to enjoy a dinner alone somewhere.

I did the gym, that was OK. I met with Tanya briefly, discussed future scheduling and what-not, that was fine. Went to a Japanese restaurant for an overpriced dinner, that was pretty OK, and watched a handful of The Americans shows, rattled some sables with some idiot on the Internet for a bit and eventually fell asleep for a few hours, waking up to a thumping headache. Must’ve been that one Asahi I had with the dinner…

Anyway, one more day – tomorrow – and then I’m headed back to Europe. The work will continue with The Ark online, and while I don’t know when I should be coming back, probably sometime later in the autumn.

China Diary

Day 224: So many people in the same device


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Okay, now it’s getting ridiculous; I managed to catch sleep at 11:30 am, meaning when I woke up at 3:30, I had only slept four hours and was both totally wiped out and dead tired. Nevertheless, I had to scramble myself up from the bed and head downtown to work with Tuomas, as it was his last day in Beijing.

Work was good, though. The additional footage we had shot a few weeks ago has found its’ way into the cut in a very nice way, and while it’s definitely not as well shot and lit as Mika’s material, add music, work the cut and focus on characters, it’ll go nicely. And watching Tuomas laying tracks on every emotional beat there made it look better and better every time.

We went for a cup of coffee across the street to the library café and discussed the importance of places like this, where the intelligentsia – counting us out, of course – would meet, compare thoughts and exchange information between countries and nationalities… We saw Beethoven’s notebooks, Tolkien’s writings, philosophy, Chinese literature, a Lithuanian professor prepping for a presentation… “All fit together, nice, nice, very nice… “, as the 53rd Calypso of Bokonon teaches us in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”.

I read today a sad story in the news. A Finnish clown jumper – I’m not sure if that’s the right English term, but what I mean is a person dressed up as a clown and making a show of jumping down to water while clowning about – was found dead in his apartment. He had been dead for two weeks, actually.

This guy was known for a failed attempt at clown jump, which he botched by landing sideways on the water, falling 50 meters. He didn’t die, but went to a coma for weeks. I started thinking about this person’s life, what brought him up there, making that jump. Devoting your life on something as dangerous as clown jumps just escapes my understanding, just to entertain a bunch of people. I mean yeah, he was a professional at his line of work, a really dangerous one, too, and one which is definitely not very popular. It started to scratch something in the back of my head, like a story forming, and I did get flashes of interesting scenes in my head, and this character forming in my head.

Back at the hotel I started writing down some ideas while Tuomas was doing the music. We worked for good 5-6 hours and headed to the Libanese restaurant for some skewers and hummus, which I will definitely miss here, since we don’t have proper Libanese in Helsinki that I know of. Coming back home I turned on The Americans, but found myself dozing off halfway through the show. And then, lo and behold, I slept.

PS. Since we have had some pretty good progress with Chris, I decided to head home a bit earlier – on Tuesday, to be exact. The plan was to stay until Saturday next week, but why waste production’s money for a hotel room and driving me around, when there’s nothing really here for me to do at this stage. And it makes sense, I have a chance to catch a breather before heading over to Tokyo with Annika next week’s Sunday.

 

China Diary

Day 223: Rainy day


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There are a gazillion different kind of taxis in Beijing – the regular green-and-yellow ones that run on the meter; the ex-Uber now-Didi black sedans, the unmarked ones that try to hustle you for your money, the rickshas that try to hustle you for your money and so on and so on. From what I’ve heard is that the system has gotten much better these days than it used to be – if you book a Didi or a regular taxi, it’s pretty safe – the rest of the options are a bit questionable. But one thing is clear: when it rains, there are no taxis, anywhere.

I got stuck at VHQ for about an hour trying to get a ride out of there because suddenly Beijing went all dark and rain came down the sky. The whole city turned into a  one big Blade Runnerian dream with people swarming under their umbrellas, neon lights flashing above, reflecting from the wet street surface. When I finally made it to Tuomas’ hotel, it was already quite late, and he had left for another meeting.

So I wandered around Sanlitun – it was hopeless to get a taxi home anyway – and ended up into a small café, where I had a cider (only place in China I know that serves cider!) and a coffee (not an amazing combo) and chatted a bit with a student who was interested in studying in Finland.

One thing I’m running out of is underwear and shirts. I bought 20 pair of undies when I came here so when I wear the last ones, I know I need to be heading for the airport. But shirts I’m running out of, so I picked up a few from H&M (they are everywhere) when Tuomas finally called. I wasn’t anymore really feeling like working, so we went for a burger at a big chain restaurant. It wasn’t really good, I must admit…

By the time we were done, it had cleared out a bit and anyway it was way past the rush hour, so the taxi wasn’t that much of an issue. Back home, and ready for bed after 4 hours of sleep last night…

…yeah, right. One hour of restless tossing and turning, and here I am, up and awake again. This is not very nice…

China Diary

Day 222: All bullshit, moving on…


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35 degrees of celsius during the day here in Beijing, it’s truly steaming hot out there. Luckily, I only have to step in a car, get whisked to a nice cool office and only emerge after sundown – to yet another car, then well-air-conditioned luxury hotel, and only walk the streets at night, but even then it’s way above 25 degrees.

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This is Seven. 

Funny enough, my sleeping is only getting worse. I managed to go to bed at 10am this morning, not a minute earlier. The night went past by watching The Americans and talking to Annika – we do these marathon Whatsapp calls, if VPN allows, and speak probably more than we would if we were face to face.

I hate the fact that I’m not much of a writer. I wish I was. Watching the show makes me feel like I could easily write all that, and then when I get all inspired, pull up my Final Draft, only shit comes out. I’ve never written a full script in my life – I mean, a full feature film script, shorter things for sure but I just can’t get the story flowing. I have one script that’s really written all by me, and it’s at page 13 and actually reads very well. All I need is another 100 pages and I’d have my first feature script.

But maybe I’ll make that my goal: by 40, I’ve written one full script. A bad one, mind you, but at least I’ve done the job. From the scratch to the bitter end.

Work at VHQ is getting tedious. I don’t know what else there is to do than go through the film shot by shot and explain – once more – what the shots are going to be like. Chris is also bored at it, he’s mostly on his phone going through things for the millionth time, but we kinda have to do that.

Then, off to work with Tuomas. The hotel he’s staying it is a fancy one. Altogether, working with him is an adventure. He’s a great creator when he puts his mind to it, but sometimes his mind jumps to million places and if he’s not playing ping-pong, he’s assassinating people with an umbrella or dancing around the room, and then back to work. It’s fun for few hours, but I must say I’m used to maybe more calm work, it’s sometimes hard to follow his moods and feelings. But when he works, he’s terrific.

I’ve missed the gym now two days because of my sleep schedule. 10am-3pm is not a good sleep cycle, since after that I go to work from 3:30-22:00 and coming back home the gym is already closed. I’m starting to feel like a worthless slob…

As you probably can deduct from all this: it’s pretty damn boring here. No sleep and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Oh, and it doesn’t help that everyone’s in Cannes right now. I mean, it kinda helps. I’ve been going there for the last 11 years in a row, acting all important with my projects but truth be told, it’s bullshit the whole festival, and I’m not missing it one bit. All the same people with same projects in the same street corners, cafes and bars doing talking about exactly same stuff, plus you end up losing 1000€ every time, no matter how hard you try to pinch your wallet. But really, the self-importance of everyone there… “ooh, I’m In Cannes, I have so much to do, ooh so important projects and meetings, ooh sorry gotta go are you going to the boat party today ooh i don’t know maybe i go home ooh i hate this festival blaa blaa blaa blaaa-di-daa-didaa-di-daa. Same shit, different year.

At least I’m doing something here in Beijing, instead of just soaking my brain with rose and bullshit.

China Diary

Day 221: Adventures of Roope the Robber


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These long nights are really dull, so I decided to dig into the long list of TV shows I haven’t seen, starting with The Americans. The story is quite interesting, two Russian agents living in the 80’s USA, portraying as a couple. They have kids and everything, so it’s real family life, only with murders and espionage and what have you. At least something to pass the time on.

Working today with VHQ, we sketched out a pile of shots for one of the segments of the film which has been a huge headache for us, but didn’t really come up with anything remarkably great. Well, I did come up with an awesome shot, but it was quite clear it’s way out of our budget to create, so I had to bury that one. Other ideas were not that cool after finding something you really, really love.

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After VHQ, I went to see Tuomas. There was a bit of a hiccup in getting into the room, and Tuomas was pretty furious to the staff since they hadn’t let me in the room since I didn’t have my passport with me. I was fine with it, but he was scolding the staff for a while, and the manager of the hotel later on came by and brought us some free ice cream, so it was all water under the bridge.

We worked for quite a bit, going through scenes with Tuomas composing and me explaining the deeper thoughts behind it all. It wasn’t half bad, although very fragmented work. It’s hard to keep a complete picture especially since I’m no composer, but Tuomas has a clear method in his head and he’s very creative when he’s working. Afterward, we headed out for some more of the Lebanese dinner, discussing the lyrics of Finnish music, pointing out that many Finnish songs tell the same story of giving up a life of adventure and love for a much more settled lifestyle, which then slowly grinds you down, but neither is a good choice, so all we are left with is a life that’s running before our eyes and before you know it you are – as this one song says, a ferry guard somewhere by the river, being slowly hanged by your domesticated life.

As I now approach my 4th decade on this Earth, I feel I’ve had the privilege of seeing quite a lot of the world, having lived/spent a considerable amount of time in Finland, Belgium, Germany, US, Australia, and China. I’ve been to a lot of parties, met a lot of people, loved a lot of amazing people and been quite lucky with the choice of profession I’ve had. Financially, I’ve never been nowhere near being called “rich” or even “well-to-do”, but I’ve always done OK. I’ve never felt trapped in, or locked out of the rest of the world, and for that I can be very happy about. But what’s out there to expect? Watching my son grow, maybe some times winning a recognition for the work I’ve spent my active life doing, traveling to distant places with my wife, getting old together with her, watching as the world moves on. But also, I can’t help but feel that I’ve already been around quite a bit, what’s out there, really, that I’m going to be experiencing in a completely new way? Maybe by this age, I’ve laid the groundwork on how the rest of my life will be? Or then not? Impossible to say, but I don’t feel a noose tightening around my neck, rather feel like a new door opening. Let’s see what’s coming.

And reading this back in 10 and then again 20 years from now will be probably quite a fun experience. So Timo, if you, reading this closing your 5th decade, find it in your heart, please allow me the naivety of a 30-something. I hope you are wiser now.

 

China Diary

Day 220: Who keeps company with the wolves…


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I’m getting a hang of the Chinese habits again: I’m becoming more rude in the restaurants – shouting for service is perfectly OK here. I burp – if there are gases in my body, they need to be let out. And I push my way through – if that’s where I need to go, there’s no need letting others get there first. All of this is completely fine by Chinese standards, but I must – repeat, MUST – remember to unlearn this stuff when I eventually head back to Europe.

Today was a long, frustrating and dull day, yet another spent in my hotel room waiting for the night to pass so I could get some sleep during the morning and afternoon. After eventually dragging myself out of the bed at 3pm, I headed for the gym for a quick workout, then out of the door and into the streets looking for some food. I ended up choosing a bowl of noodles in a close-by restaurant – not the one I used to frequent before, which had gone under, unfortunately, but another place.

Then there was a meeting with Max. As expected, after four days of editing, 2/3 of my suggestions were thrown out of the window, but hey, at least 1/3 stuck, so I’m OK with it. Not a bad result, I’d say. We had a long and loud discussion about some of the changes, and eventually made up and headed for the hot pot across the street. Tuomas joined us, too. He usually stays in the Sanlitun area in Beijing, so he doesn’t really have any idea about the real Beijing food, so for him, the hot-pots and what-nots are exotic and new.

But yeah, that was it. Day in, day out.

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Max, smiling over hot pot dinner

 

China Diary

Day 219: Stalinism


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I practiced some Stalinism today, as I was just about to finish the cut of the movie, but suddenly realized I hated to have this one character in the end and then begun a huge cut-erase-and-paste -stitch job, which eventually led to one character who is basically instrumentally in every shot of the last bits of the movie, being there no more, like he never existed. Let’s see if Max thinks my great idea is so great tomorrow, but I was feeling empowered walking out of the editing booth.

There was a proper gym Chinese Gym Chad at the gym today. Muscular, loud and was carrying an admirable-sized water bottle… no, a bucket with him wherever he went. Made me think of that Virgin Sip vs. Chad Quench meme. If those words say nothing to you, don’t bother clicking. He was speaking to his much smaller and weaker friends IN ALL CAPS the whole time, save the moments he was doing his set, which happened with as much huffing, puffing, groaning and existing in every corner of the room as humanely possible. Very untypical behavior for Chinese men, mind you, who are usually pretty subtle and don’t take too much personal or physical space.

Dinner was this time a local Japanese restaurant, where I enjoyed a huge bowl of noodles, some sushi, grilled fish and some rice, and the most amazing service, although nothing, not even menu, was in English. I just randomly chose four items and was positively surprised.

Heading back home, the city felt looming around me with a very special presence tonight. Got me feeling all Blade Runner, so I went back in and slapped the masterpiece-of-a-film on my TV and sunk into the retro-futuristic world of Ridley Scott for the next two hours.

Sometimes, working abroad is dull and lonely, but today, it was just perfect.

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PS. It’s 2am as I’m writing this, and I haven’t yet gone to bed, and I’m starting to feel tired now. Let’s see if this rhythm change actually turns out to happen in the end. Crossing fingers, and nighty-night y’all!

 

China Diary

Day 218: Maestro At Work


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It was 3pm when I finally dragged my ass out of the bed. Shower, dress up and head over to Sanlitun for some music work with Tuomas. We grabbed some lunch at a small cafe close by, and then went for it.

It’s always amazing to see Tuomas work. He’s super fast, really creative and unlike nobody when he’s deep in the zone. He can be blabbering on about nothing, making weird noises and sounds and jumping around the room like a madman, and then suddenly fall silent, grab the keyboard and compose the most beautiful, amazing piece of music on the fly, without moment’s hesitation.

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Maestro at work

He’s also extremely receptive for notes, but I learned to let him work as much as possible by himself, and only tuck him to right direction every now and then. The more involved a director gets, the less it becomes the musicians’ work, and while sometimes it’s necessary, most of the times it’s best to let them do their craft and just nod and smile in the corner of the room.

We worked for some good three to four hours, and then I headed back home. I went to the gym for some 5km rowing and then headed to bed, falling asleep around midnight… only to wake up at 3am again. So, it seems there’s no way of fixing the rhythm on this trip, no matter what I do. So maybe I just succumb to the fact and try to live the nocturnal lifestyle. At least I have time to catch up with my emails, blogging and stuff…