Herzog Zwei

This past week I’ve had some difficulty continuing on Adventure 2012, so I decided to play a game from my Games List as a diversion and to hopefully get me back on track. The game I chose was 1989’s Herzog Zwei on the Sega Genesis…

Six straight hours later, I finished the game using “Ludwig”, the red character. I ate breakfast, drank coffee, and then played Herzog Zwei for the rest of the day. I didn’t even use the bathroom. I did eat a small snack which JC heated up for me.

Even when I was a kid, I never played games for six hours straight, and I never played through Herzog Zwei in one sitting. I was dazed. My bottom was numb. The funny thing is, having achieved my personal requirement for crossing the game off the list, I want to beat the game again, this time with “Balsaga/Wahrsager”, the blue character.

I had a lot of fun blowing things up, commanding troops, and listening to the bassy soundtrack. I guess you could say I got lost in the game. Still, I don’t know if I’ll do the straight-through thing again. If I do, I’ll embed the video below the “Ludwig” one. 🙂

On the Road to Glenfiddich

The Glenfiddich Distillery
The Glenfiddich Distillery

October 19, 2012 (Friday) – Continuing from where we last left off, we had arrived in Aberdeen and walked to our hotel. After spending half a day touring around London the day before and then sleeping on the train, we were eager for a quick shower before proceeding to the Glenfiddich Distillery. Alas, we were too early and no rooms were yet available. We had to make do with the bathroom in the lobby. At least the full-flowing faucet was better to splash the face with than the trickling one on the train.

Having left our bags with the concierge, we next proceeded to the car rental, located inside a shopping mall on Union Street. The rental was a bit hard to find: we circled around the mall a few times, the directory had no indication of any car rental place, and there were no signs. Eventually, we checked with mall management and they called the car rental guy for us. Turns out that there was no storefront yet because it was a new branch, so they just had a guy in the parking office doing the rentals.

Once that was figured out things went smoothly from there. We signed the papers and got into an Audi A4 diesel wagon with GPS (a nice surprise, considering the fact that you don’t always know what car you’re going to get with a rental). I spent some time getting acquainted with the vehicle and getting used to being on the right. One would think that everything would just be the opposite of being on the left, but for some reason I’ve always thought that the viewing angle of the left mirror is steeper* when sitting on the right side. When driving LHD, the angle of the right mirror doesn’t seem as steep.

*This is how I judge if a mirror is “steeper”: as a passenger in LHD cars, I can look into the right mirror and see traffic behind us. As a passenger in an RHD car looking into the left mirror, I see the car itself. I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t true.

Getting Acquainted with the Audi
Getting acquainted

Getting out of the parking garage was good practice for driving RHD. The exit ramps were narrow and steep, and I told myself that as long as I kept close to the right where I could see how close I was to the curb (kerb), the left (far) side of the car would be fine. This rule-of-thumb later worked well on the road, especially in two-way traffic.

Now, we were on the streets of Aberdeen headed northwest for Dufftown. It was a nice, leisurely drive through the city and then the Scottish countryside. Like a crazed man, I kept telling JC, “We’re driving through the Scottish Highlands! We’re driving through the Scottish Highlands!” I did have some minor difficulty entering my first RHD roundabout, but since there were so many of them I quickly got the hang of it and learned how to proceed smoothly with the flow of traffic. At one point, I even drove behind an Accord Euro (the European version of the TSX):

Honda Accord Euro
Honda Accord Euro

A little over an hour later, we were at the Glenfiddich Distillery!

Next: Visiting the Glenfiddich Distillery

2009 TSX Wallpaper

2009 TSX Wallpaper

This wallpaper just appeared on my rotating desktop, a photo I took of my 2009 Acura TSX about a week after I bought my first (and only, now that I think about it) set of wheels and springs for a car. I had spent the afternoon washing and waxing the vehicle. At that point I had only just started getting into photography and the lighting in the photo reflects that. Still, I like that the car seems to “pop” in the twilight.

Mr. Firemouth

Mr. Firemouth
Thorichthys meeki

Just saw this photo in my slideshow. Mr. Firemouth (Thorichthys meeki) was an interesting little fish. At one point, he shared a tank with an oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) twice his size, and ended up bullying the oscar all the time. Later, he had a little tank of his own and ended up hiding all the time. He was most comfortable sharing a planted tank with many smaller “dither” fish. This photo was taken shortly before he was given away.

To Aberdeen, Scotland

11:00 PM, October 18, 2012 (Thursday) – After going to Buckingham Palace earlier in the day and spending the rest of the evening waiting in the lobby of our hotel in London, we made our way to Euston station to board the Caledonian Sleeper, a sleeper train that travels between London and Scotland. Our train: the 23:50 headed for Edinburgh. Because we had booked at the last minute, the only sleeper train available was the one to the Scottish capital; our plan was to transfer to an Aberdeen-bound train from there.

The first thing to take care of was our luggage. We didn’t even try to squeeze the two large suitcases into our cabin because our online research had indicated that there was a separate car for storing large items. When we got to our car and asked the steward where it was, she directed us back to one of the cars at the beginning of the platform (oops!), and we had to walk the suitcases back the way we came before placing them in the guard’s van.

Caledonian Sleeper Guard's Van
Our bags in the guard’s van

We were the only ones who had luggage in there and I wondered if other people just kept their bags in their cabin. I was a bit nervous about it, concerned that the luggage car might separate from our cabin car (the train splits off into two later on to serve different destinations), or that the bags might be stolen.

Soon after we settled in, the train departed and I got a little bit more acquainted with our cozy cabin. There was a counter that opened up on one side, revealing a sink. There were little buttons along the door to control the lights and air conditioning. On the bulkhead is a little door concealing brochures and guides, that also opens up into a tray-table. I poured myself some Laphroaig while reading the brochures.

That night, I slept badly mostly because I was worried about our luggage. I thought about my cousin. I was in a new bed in a new environment. I could feel when the train slowed down, when it sped up, could hear its creaks and squeaks as it slowly bobbed up and down on the rails. In the morning, when the train stopped and split, I could hear the mechanical clinging and clanging. Still, the noises and movement didn’t bother me so much as my own hyperactive mind did. On the contrary, the rhythmic sounds and gentle motion of the train provided a comforting, soothing contrast to the thoughts running through my head.

~7:00 AM, October 19, 2012 – At around 7:00, the steward knocks on our door to deliver our coffee and shortbread, indicating our imminent arrival in Edinburgh.

Coffee and Shortbread Aboard the Caledonian Sleeper
Coffee and shortbread just before arrival

After maybe five hours of light sleep, I had a rough time opening my eyes and then climbing down my bunk to get dressed and get ready. The coffee was hot and most definitely welcomed. I scarfed down the shortbread cookie. Shortly thereafter, we pulled into Edinburgh Waverley, and our first ride on the Caledonian Sleeper was over.

It was a cold Friday morning, and it started raining right when we stepped off the train. I quickly ran to the guard’s van and picked up our suitcases, all my earlier worry turning into relief when I finally saw that they were still there. The sharp, cold raindrops hitting my face as I rolled the suitcases towards the covered area of the platform served as a nice additional wake-up call. Wow! We were in Scotland!

With about an hour until the departure of our next train, we took advantage of the station facilities. It was at this time that I grabbed all of those distillery brochures. There was a pasty shop so I got another chance to enjoy my new favorite food for breakfast, though of course I waited until it was almost boarding time before I bought it so that I could eat it on the train. Speaking of which, it took a little longer than usual to find it because the electronic signage was down this morning (good to know that IT issues happen everywhere ;)). The station agents fell back on some good old poster paper and markers to get the job done.

When we boarded the train and found our designated seats, we found that they were occupied. Looking around at the emptiness of the train, we soon realized that seat assignments must be loosely enforced when the train is empty. So, we didn’t bother to disturb the people in our seats and found ourselves a nice 4-seater with a table in the middle, perfect for spreading out during the two-and-a-half hour trip. It turned out very well, really, a very pleasant and peaceful couple of hours, one of the best and most memorable parts of our entire adventure around the world.

Train Ticket
The man in seat 21F

The journey started off with a breakfast of steak pasty and coffee while listening to music on my phone. Soon, we crossed the Firth of Forth, and saw the Forth Road Bridge. It was like a twin of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, a marvelous sight. I took out my notebook and jotted down random thoughts as they occurred to me.

10-19-12 8:35 AM
Arrive Scotland early in the morning. It’s Friday morning. Seeing people go about their daily lives, Friday morning in the office. What’s it like to live here?

The Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Road Bridge

As we passed by various stations, I wrote down their interesting names along with my random thoughts (present-day commentary in parentheses):

Aberdour (like the whiskey? No, that’s Aberlour, this is Aberdour)
BurntIsland (actually one word, without the capitalized “I”)

Nice house in the countryside.
Lots of stone
Cold and gray
Glenrothes
(This one is a whiskey, but we passed by the town, not the distillery)
Ducks flying south (Actually, not sure if they were ducks, plus they were flying North parallel to us, not South)

Bird Flying North for Winter?
Flying North for the winter?

Scotch beef (must have seen a cow, thought of airplane scene in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown)
Ladybank (Another station)
Golfers (oh that’s right, Scotland is the birthplace of golf!)
Bunny Rabbit in field (super funny, I actually saw a bunny hopping into a hole as the train sped by)
Sheep
Horse w/ blanket
Dundee (the 4th largest city in Scotland, and yes, I did think of Crocodile Dundee)

Michael Jackson’s Beat It started playing on my playlist. I thought back to when we saw the Cirque du Soleil show just a few days ago. One of the more memorable scenes was the song’s performance by a couple of female musicians, a cellist (Tina Guo) and a guitarist (Desireé Bassett), each standing on opposite sides of the stage. They were incredibly attractive in their sexy outfits and their display of musical talent, an irresistible combination of looks and brains. I still remember the bass thumping my chest every time Ms. Guo hit the cello with her bow; Ms. Bassett’s finger work during the solo was breathtaking.

Guitar Player & Cello player badass (bass,power)
                                                          thumping chest

Broughty Ferry (a suburb of Dundee, with a dainty-sounding name)
Tyres (hard to get used to this alternative spelling of tire)
Smartphone Indispensable – GPS track-as-I-go (at that point I’d only had a smartphone for a couple of months)

Google Maps, Leuchars to Aberdeen
Leuchars to Aberdeen

Grounded boats with the tide. Ducks swimming out.
Old tires on grass
Pilgrimage to Scotland
Follow trail of whisky.
Excited about driving for 1st time in 2 months.
Power transfer
Old Walls (stone)

The battery on my phone was almost drained so I plugged it into my laptop and used its USB-charge-while-off feature. Essentially, my laptop served as a giant battery for my phone. Kind of neat, really.

With my phone continuing to work, I listened to podcasts of the BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects, thinking back to our visit to the British Museum just a week ago and seeing if I remembered any of the objects described in the program. It’s something of an experience to have the imagination fired up trying to picture an historical object while the eyes watch the Scottish countryside fly by, all while sitting inside a warm carriage with the belly full from a hearty breakfast. It’s really wonderful.

The World Flies By
The world flies by…

When we passed by Arbroath, I saw what looked like a highway rest stop with both a McDonald’s and a KFC. Seeing these, along with the earlier Forth Road Bridge that looks just like the Bay Bridge, seeing the lonely house in the countryside, seeing ducks swimming around in a shallow pool, seeing all these things reiterated to me what I had started to realize that day at Crystal Palace: that life everywhere is the same, that people everywhere are the same. Here I was, in Scotland, on the other side of the world, the northernmost place on the planet that I’ve ever ventured to, and people are taking rest stops at McDonald’s just like I did on I-5 back in California. We share more in common than we have in differences.

Within an hour of Arbroath, we pulled into Aberdeen station, eager to get to the hotel to unload and clean up. We made it!

Next: On the Road to Glenfiddich

Life in Hong Kong, Mid-September Update

This post is over a thousand words long. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I woke up this morning and stayed in bed with my eyes closed, thinking. I thought, man, it’s really nice being able to get out of bed when I want to, not having to worry about a schedule. It’s a Monday morning and most people are getting up to go to work, but not me. Being able to wake up at any time, being able to go to bed at any time, it’s priceless.

Over the past few days, we have finally come full circle from where we were almost a couple of months ago. We were waking up around 9:00 AM, then 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, and then all the way around the clock. I thought it was incredible when we started waking up at 5:00 PM, but that was nothing compared to when we started waking up at midnight.

Although I do enjoy staying up late, it does have its drawbacks. For example, eight hours of sleep from 1:00 PM to 9:00 PM is not the same as eight hours of sleep from 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM. In the beginning, things seem normal and I can get things done just as I normally would. After a while, I slow down noticeably, with the body simply feeling more tired despite 8+ hours of sleep. At the end of the day, we are diurnal creatures, and we need exposure to the sun to be healthy.

Realizing this, we allowed ourselves to keep going until we got back to normal. This past week we’ve been on the jet-lag* schedule, waking up at 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM, until finally, this morning we woke up at 8:00 AM. Wow. 8:00 AM. Time to go to work.

*Because the first night after we take the afternoon flight from SFO to HKG, we always wake up around those hours

Really? Time to Go to Work?

Well, not quite. After sending out a few resumes and receiving no responses, I had pretty much stopped looking for work, focusing instead on more personal endeavors such as updating this site and playing Starcraft. Sometimes, though, I do miss the camaraderie of being part of a team, especially after going out and being around people. Other times, I am tempted to buy a luxurious material thing that I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at buying if I had income. At times like these, I feel like working again.

It was one of those days last week. I had been out visiting Granny, seeing other people on their commutes to work, wondering what it might be like for me to do the same. On a whim, I took a look at a job website and threw up my resume.

Normally, I analyze the position and try to research as much as I can about the company before writing a customized cover letter. Since I hadn’t really been successful, this time I really did just throw up my resume. No cover letter. Basically, what you’re not supposed to do when looking for a job. It was more an expression of protest and exasperation than a real application. I wasn’t expecting a response.

The next day, I get a voicemail from the recruiter calling to discuss details. Dang. I spend hours writing cover letters and get nary a peep, and when I throw shit up to see what sticks I get a response the next day. I really wasn’t expecting it and freaked out a bit. I’ve never been good at telephone calls, so with that plus the unexpectedness it took some back and forth playing out scenarios in my mind to build up my nerves to return the call.

The recruiter and I had a nice chat and I agreed to go into the office for a face-to-face meeting in two days. Immediately after I got off the phone, though, I asked myself what the heck I was doing. Was I really ready to give up full control of my time? Had I finished all the things I wanted to finish? On some occasions I’ve spent more than 8 hours at a time writing stuff for this site. Would I really be able to continue working on my personal interests with a full time job?

I spend the evening mulling and struggling over these questions. From an external standpoint, I do not have a job, and it would be prudent to take advantage of this opportunity. Even if the job turns out to be a bad fit, I could use the opportunity as a chance to practice my social and networking skills. From an internal standpoint, my gut and conscience tell me that I’m still enjoying my time off, that I don’t need to do something I don’t want to do just to satisfy the tyranny of the “should”. I start to wonder whether to call the recruiter back and cancel.

The next morning, I spend some time at the basketball courts shooting around and running a couple of full-court games. After a couple of hours of running, I realize that I never would have been able to do it if I had to go to work afterwards. Like being on the court, I decide to trust my instincts and not try to do something I don’t really want to do. I decide to cancel with the recruiter.

Luckily for me, the recruiter was more than gracious when I explained to her my mistake. I apologized for wasting her time, and she wished me a good break and left the door open for any future opportunities. I really got away with one (or, at least, that’s what I hope!).

When I sent in my resume, it was one of those days when I woke up at 2:00 AM, so by the time I got home I was pretty tired and not thinking straight. Actually, I wasn’t thinking at all. I leaped before I looked. The recruiter would have been well within her rights to accuse me of playing games. I didn’t want to compound that initial mistake with another one (going in with no real intent to get the job) so I backed out.

Learning Through Experience

Over the past few months, I have progressed a lot in my personal development, learning about and coming to terms with how I tick, and learning how do deal with life in that context. Although I’m not proud of what I did, I’m actually kind of glad that this resume thing worked out the way it did. There are so many existing opinions, existing ideologies out there that one has a hard time picking which voice to listen to. I am finding that just listening to myself is the best course of action; making a mistake like this one, coming up with a way of rectifying it, and then being truly content with the outcome tells me that I had been right all along. If I had believed the “I’m not ready” feeling in my gut instead of worrying that it might be the wrong choice, I never would have sent out my resume and made such a mess in the first place.

We learn through experience, and making mistakes, whether it be completely flipping our sleep schedule around or learning to trust ourselves. Staying up late all the time, we realized the drawbacks to not sleeping at night. After the resume thing, I will remember to think before I do, and trust my own judgment a bit more in the future. Living in Hong Kong, we have learned that we can be happy with so very little. Withdrawing money early from my IRA, I realize it’s a lot easier after overcoming the initial mental hurdle. No one can tell you what anything is like. We have to experience and learn for ourselves whether something is good or bad.

Thank You, and Good Night

And so, that’s it for this update. In a little while, as this Monday evening winds down, I will once again lay my head down on my pillow and close my eyes, and I will think, man, it’s really nice being able to go to bed when I want to.

PlayStation Memory Card, Original Japanese Box (SCPH-1020)

Saw a photo of this in my slideshow today, the box of my first PlayStation memory card. I got it along with my first PlayStation back in 1995. Unlike their American counterparts, Japanese memory cards came with a plastic case. I remember telling this to someone at my first job (at a video game company) and they asked me why it was necessary. I suppose the extra protection would be helpful if you carried your memory cards around in your pocket.

These days, the PS3 no longer uses memory cards, but an unfortunate reality is that not all games support the transfer of saved games, so you can’t bring the game you were playing over to a friend’s house to show him how far you’ve gotten, for example. Is this another instance of DRM gone awry? I don’t know, I just know that it’s a step backwards from how it used to be.

Enjoy the photos.

London, Day 13 – Packing, Buckingham Palace

October 18, 2012 (Thursday) – effectively, this was our last day touring around London, but even then we spent most of the day staying in and packing. After hearing news of my cousin’s death the night before, we stayed up very late and were awakened early due to both the phone and TV making noise; the former was a wrong number, and the latter was a message informing us that the water would be turned off. Go figure.

After spending the early afternoon packing at a leisurely pace (previously, we had taken advantage of and registered for free late checkout, so we had until 4 PM to pack and vacate the room), we left our suitcases with the concierge and headed out to take the 73 to Buckingham Palace.

The 73 travels through Oxford Street so we got a chance to do a bus tour of this busy shopping street. Although it was October, Christmas lights and decorations were already going up. Like the day in Paris when I photographed random people going about their day, I did the same thing of Londoners from my vantage point on the upper deck of the bus.

We got off the bus at Buckingham Palace Road and made our way towards the palace, passing by the Royal Mews. Not long after, we were there.

Being at the palace, I tried to imagine what life might be like for a member of the royal family. When I read about a 15th-century monarch, to me it’s just another bit of history. To the royals, that person is actually an ancestor, a great-great-great grandfather or something. So many centuries of heritage and tradition. I wonder what they think about when they look out the window and see regular people outside.

It was another cold day so we didn’t stay too long at Buckingham. Instead, we headed over to Chinatown for a warm, family-style dinner, something we hadn’t had in a while. After that, we headed back to the hotel and hung out in the lobby (thank goodness for free wifi) until it was time to take the train to Scotland.

Next: To Aberdeen, Scotland