Japanese Freshwater Minnow (Zacco Platypus)

Japanese Zacco platypus
Zacco platypus at the Sunshine 60 Aquarium

I saw this photo of a rather exotic-looking fish in my desktop slideshow, taken at the local freshwater display at the Sunshine 60 Aquarium during our visit in September 2012. There is a metallic sheen to the fish and the iridescent flames on its side adds to its beauty. Further research online reveals that this is a Zacco platypus, a type of Cyprinid. I thought it looked like some sort of freshwater shark.

Here is another link that was helpful with identifying the fish.

What’s Important to You?

In last week’s Life in Hong Kong Update, I mentioned spraining my ankle badly while trying to teach someone a lesson on the basketball court. Nearly 3 months later, my ankle is still not fully healed and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what happened. It would seem that I was the one who needed to learn some lessons.

It was Halloween Day, and I was still feeling a little groggy and sleepy from jet lag after returning from SF. I figured some exercise would do me good so I headed over to Victoria Park for some shooting and running around. After a little while, I recognized a guy that I played with a few months back. I wasn’t sure if he recognized me, so I didn’t say anything. Eventually, I asked him if he was so-and-so to break the ice, he said he remembered me, and we chatted a bit before starting a game with some people on another court.

Mistake #1

Mistake #1 was that I got a bit too chummy with so-and-so such that once we got the game started, I played a bit friendlier than I normally would. I didn’t guard him as closely and I didn’t exploit his weaknesses on offense. I tend to do this whenever I play against people that I’ve been chatting with. It’s like I’m so happy that someone talked to me that I don’t want to ruin it by beating them (not that that’s a foregone conclusion anyway).

Mistake #2

Mistake #2 was a compound mistake: trying to turn it on after messing around, and trying to show somebody up. There was a guy on the other team who was really arrogant and cocky. The guy on my team who was guarding him wasn’t a very good defender, so the arrogant guy made a bunch of shots. At the same time, he kept calling those HK-style ticky-tack fouls that I find so annoying. The way I figured it, if you think you’re so good why do you need to call those stupid non-fouls? I wanted to knock him down a peg or two. A comeback win would do it. I started playing my guy more seriously, but by that time it was too late. As much as you’d like to think you can, you can’t always just “turn it on” in the middle of a game after not taking it seriously.

Criiiickaaack

I was flustered, angry, and frustrated and I started playing like a madman, playing overly intensely and completely opposite of how I started the game. On one play, I tried to lunge and steal an incoming pass that I had no chance of stealing, and my left foot landed on so-and-so’s. I heard and felt a “criiiickaaack” sound, as if my ankle was one of those big-suitcase zippers and it was being unzipped in one quick, downward motion. At that moment I knew it was game over. I’ve sprained that ankle many times before, but this was the first time in many years and I immediately knew this one was serious. It started swelling up immediately. I was now not only flustered, angry, and frustrated, but humiliated as well. Foolishly and pridefully, I played one more game before finally going home.

What’s important to you?

This past week I felt some impatience at how long it’s taken for my ankle to heal, and it got me thinking about this question. Trying to show up people whom I deem to be arrogant, unreasonable, willfully-ignorant, or whatever else has long been a weakness of mine. Is it really that important to show up some stranger that you will probably never, ever meet again (or even strangers you will never meet, period, like those on the internet)? If I ever have a hard time answering that question, then all I have to do is look at the costs: 3+ months of not being able to fully play basketball, consistent intermittent pain in my ankle (sometimes even when I shift around in bed) and, in the case of responding to internet trolls, spending more time at the keyboard than with things and people that really matter, like JC. I really have to ask myself: what are my priorities?

For me, when I play basketball, my priority is to play well. Winning or losing is not important. There have been times when I’ve won and felt crappy because I didn’t play up to my expectations, and there have been times when I was perfectly happy with a losing outcome because I played well. Other than basketball, in the bigger picture one of my priorities is to use my limited time wisely, spending it on things that matter to me, like my family, my health, and my interests. These are things that I consider to be important.

Our time is so limited. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We would be wise to spend it doing the things that matter to us. The next time I feel myself getting worked up, I have to try to remember what my priorities are, and whether any subsequent action or inaction on my part will be consistent with them. If not, count to ten, take a deep breath, and walk away. That’s it. It won’t be easy, but then again nobody said that anything worth having in life was easy.

Gillette Sensor Excel

Gillette Sensor Excel

I have used this razor for as long as I remember, probably over a decade. The other day I left it in the shower, JC saw it, and she told me it was time to replace it (not sure why she never said anything when it’s in its usual spot on the sink). Admittedly it’s gotten pretty nasty, but I’ve always been reluctant to replace it because of cost and lack of availability. In Hong Kong, the only place I’d ever seen it was in Jasons at Gold Coast.

A few days after, I was walking through PARKnSHOP at Provident Centre. There, hanging on an otherwise empty rack all by itself was a Gillette Sensor Excel. It was a bit strange, because the entire section was otherwise completely devoid of razors (restocking maybe?). When I saw it presented to me in such a manner, I knew it was time to replace. The price turned out to be pretty good, too: HKD$34.90.

I can’t remember if the original was ever so shiny…

When it’s gone…

Enjoy these times, Geordi.
You’re the chief engineer of a starship.
And it’s a time of your life that’ll never come again.
When it’s gone, it’s gone.

Continuing from the last HK update, I wanted to write a little bit more about my cousins and aunt. When I think of them, I see Scotty giving the bit of advice above to Geordi in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode, Relics. The context is different, but the way Scotty said “When it’s gone, it’s gone.” really resonates with me. My cousins and my aunt are gone, and I will never see them again. An entire family is gone. The permanence is difficult to accept.

My father died pretty early on in my life, but even so I have a lot of fond memories of him and I can talk about these memories with my family, and they understand. I can ask my sister if she remembers the time we did this or that, and she can nod in agreement and reminisce with me. With my cousins, I can no longer do that.

Space Megaforce
Space Megaforce

I was watching some game videos when I saw one of Space Megaforce for the Super Nintendo. My cousin NVG first introduced me to this game; it was one of the earlier SNES games we played together, and every time I play it I am reminded of him. Now, there is no longer a single person that I can mention Space Megaforce to who can understand and acknowledge that time of my life that will never come again.

In the show, Scotty boarded a shuttle at the end and flew off into space, never appearing in canonical Star Trek’s 24th century again, appearing only in non-canonical novels and the reboot. I suppose I can think of it that way for my family: my cousins, my aunt, my father, and my grandpa are all together in a shuttle somewhere, and although I’ll never see them in my “canonical” life again, I’ll be able to see them in my dreams and memories.

Sunday Roast Chicken

Sunday Roast Chicken
Sunday roast chicken with vegetables

Some notes about last night’s dinner, for future reference:

1 300g pack of cut-up free-range chicken (走地雞)
1 zucchini, sliced
2 carrots (the smaller, pre-packed ones), sliced
2 potatoes (Russet, from Oregon), sliced
8 garlic cloves, couple of them smashed, rest whole
Salt, pepper, rosemary, olive oil

Temp. set at just under 200C on the dial, probably wasn’t hot enough. Try 200C next time. Also wouldn’t hurt to rotate the pan, because chicken was fine but some vegetables slightly undercooked. Another idea would be to remove chicken, stir vegetables, then cook a few more minutes. Not sure I like the “natural” flavor of free-range chicken, either. Finally, maybe try mincing some garlic to use for marinating the chicken for better flavor.

Zillion

I had a sudden urge to play Zillion yesterday. This was one of my favorite games on the Sega Master System, and I would spend hours exploring the rooms trying to find secret passages. When I played the game yesterday, I was reminded of those long hours in my room in our old house here in Hong Kong. It’s amazing the kind of stuff you can remember when you start re-doing something that you did a long time ago.

My sister and I made up names for the symbols in the game that were used for opening doors (see the video thumbnail below). Later in life I finally realized that the symbols were just mirrored numbers (except 4, 8, and 10), but when we were kids we saw other things. So, 1 was “M”, 2 was “heart”, 4 was “basket”, 6 was “whale” (because it looked like a whale, I guess), and 5 was “whale the second” (because 6 was already and looked more like a whale). For 8, we gave it the term we used as kids for breasts (not posting it here), which I guess an 8 rotated on its side does look like. As a result, 3 became “breast the second”. 9 was “ear” and 7 was “ear the second”, and finally, 10 was “Q”. Imagine being an adult in the room and listening to these kids trying to memorize the symbols as they appeared: “breast the second-basket-whale-Q!”

When I was younger, I wanted to play the game perfectly – avoid every mine, shoot every soldier, stay in perfect health. It’s kind of funny to see that I don’t give a shit anymore, as exemplified with all the walking over exploding mines. I guess that’s what they call maturity.

It’s been many years since I last played it, but in the playthrough you can see that I still kind of know my way around, visiting every room (I still possess some anal retentive tendencies) before beating the game. I took advantage of a glitch in the game to gain invincibility, which saves some time (I can beat the game without the glitch, really, I can).

The video was recorded with Kega Fusion 3.64, encoded to Xvid (using anything else caused the audio to be out of sync), then re-encoded to MP4 with HandBrake. There was a weird issue in Kega that caused my controller inputs to slow down after logging video for a period of time. You can see this around the 32-minute mark when I tried to shoot open a tunnel, and couldn’t. Stopping and restarting the logging fixes the problem, but obviously that causes a slight skip in the video. Lastly, I joined all the different parts and did the Xvid encoding with VirtualDub.

Life in Hong Kong, 11-Month Update

~1,800 words to follow…

It’s been about 4 months since the last update. Between then and now, I’ve tried to write some more substantial posts, but other than a couple of entries on Adventure 2012 and some photos here and there, I haven’t been able to churn out anything meaty in the past few months. I’ll try to explain why, and perhaps change the trend, with this update.

At the time of the last update, it seemed like our lives were finally settling down and stabilizing. Although I didn’t know what was coming next, I did know that one of the things I had to do first was to get my sleeping schedule back to normal. The other thing I wanted to do was to finish posting about Adventure 2012; I had been in a race with myself to see if I could finish posting about each destination before its one-year anniversary, and I was winning that race, writing about our visit to the Glenfiddich Distillery with more than a couple of weeks to go. In the middle of writing that post, the unexpected happened.

September 30, 2013

It was a Monday afternoon in Hong Kong, and Sunday night in San Francisco. I had just finished some contract work for an ex-colleague of mine so I thought I’d WhatsApp with my family for a bit to unwind. It was then that I found out that my other cousin, the sister of the one who had passed away in 2012, had only a short time left to live.

Although I wasn’t as close to NLG as I was to her brother, we still all lived together in the same house when my family first moved to the U.S. It was my family, my cousins NLG and NVG, and my Aunt J. We were all pretty close during my adolescent years, even after my family moved into our own place, spending weekends, holidays, and birthdays together. As I’ve mentioned before, they taught me a lot about growing up in America. For some reason or another, once I went to college things changed and we didn’t spend much time together anymore.

Back in the Day
Back in the day… yes, I was a fat kid

Aunt J was diagnosed with and died from cancer while I was in college. I never went to see her, partly because I was busy at school, but mainly because I was afraid to see my once-strong aunt withering away. My family would go see her and relay to me her condition, and one time they told me that she understood my reasons for not seeing her. Still, if I had to do it over again, I would have gone and seen Aunt J at least once before she died.

For both Aunt J’s and NVG’s passings I was absent, and now, the last connection between these two families from opposite sides of the world that had somehow found themselves living together way back when was fading, and I was once again not present.

I wanted to be around my family and to see my cousin one last time, but the chance of her surviving the night was slim and last-minute plane tickets were not going to be cheap. We looked at our usual websites for tickets, and the ones which were available were going for ridiculous amounts like $10,000. I wondered if it was destiny that I should live with the fact that I had not said goodbye to any of them.

Back After 7 Months

Back in San Francisco after 7 months, I noted to JC while riding our cab home how strange it was that everything seemed so, normal. Returning from much shorter trips in the past, there was always a period of readjustment, of getting used to cars being on a different side of the road, getting used to seeing people of different ethnic groups. But not this time. It was as if we had never left. I sat quietly and looked out the window as the cab sped up 101.

We went upstairs and my family welcomed us home. I wanted to know whether we had made it back in time. Sadly, the answer was no. She had passed away just as we were boarding our flight. Like my father, her mother, and her brother, she left before her time. I was shocked when I was reminded of her age, because I had always thought of her as a lot older than I was; she didn’t make 40.

Despite not being able to see my cousin one final time, it was good to simply be present and be around my family for moral support. Over the next couple of weeks, we spent a lot of time with our families, cherishing the opportunity, maximizing the short time that we were there. We did the things that we had missed doing while being in Hong Kong, such as eating VH, pho, and Mexican food, going to Costco, and barbecuing. I did a lot of walking around the city, flashing back to the times when I was growing up there, noticing little differences between SF and HK like how the sidewalks were paved, how the sewer grates were shaped, how life is basically the same, yet different. At one point, I would have been content to just abandon everything in Hong Kong and stay in San Francisco.

Life Goes On
The former Army St., now known as Cesar Chavez St. Life goes on…

Of course, life goes on and on the anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, we boarded a flight back to Hong Kong. It was Saturday morning when we arrived, and everything was familiar, from the process of deboarding and going through immigration, to riding the Airport Express, to the taxi ride home. We felt none of the excitement or newness that we used to feel as visitors to Hong Kong. We don’t know when it actually happened, but we realized for the first time that we were bona fide Hong Kongers.

The Last 3 Months

That brings us to the last 3 months and why I haven’t posted much. When I was in America, I focused on being with family. Our first week back, it was trying to recover from jet lag. Our second week back, I sprained my ankle badly while trying to show up an asshat on the basketball court (talk about adding injury to insult). Then, the week after that was the 17th anniversary of my father’s death. All these things combined to put me into a state where all I wanted to do was play video games and stay up late, and that’s all I did for the first few weeks of November.

In the last week of November, I started a 2-week contract job that turned out to be an adventure in mismanagement. The first few days I showed up on time and ready to work, only to sit around and do nothing. Eventually, I realized there was a disconnect between the project manager who was based in a different country and the actual staff here in Hong Kong, and that nothing was going to happen in my remaining time there. I got myself out as soon as I could. Later, I found out from the other guy who was there that he ended up sitting around for the rest of the 2 weeks.

With the holidays and family visiting in December and early January, my time was filled with holiday shopping, gatherings, and eating. Once the Christmas holiday was over, JC resumed her new job that she started in December and I’ve become a stay-at-home husband, taking care of household cleaning, preparing meals, and performing other domestic tasks. In between, I’ve tried to play more basketball in order to work off all that holiday food (and alcohol) and to rehab my ankle. Overall, my days have been full and time has flown by (for example, I started this post on Monday, and now it’s almost Friday).

Typing on the Court
Typing this post on the basketball court…

The Future

Life in Hong Kong has opened my eyes to a lot of things. When I’m doing my chores or going through my workout routine on the basketball court, my mind is filled with observations and questions about life. Is this all there is to life? What’s the point of living? In Hong Kong, I have observed that for a lot of people, it’s all about the pursuit of dollars, and ultimately home ownership. Work hours are long but the (financial) rewards are there if you are hungry enough. My issue is that I don’t feel hungry at all.

Admittedly, our move to Hong Kong is not what I originally thought it would be. Back when I first thought about moving here, I was deep into the self-important role that I had at my previous job. I was the IT guy, making sure everything was running smoothly. I was starting a transition into operations. I knew the ins and outs of how things worked at my workplace. Yeah, I thought I was pretty important, and I thought that if I moved to Hong Kong, I would simply pick up where I left off. That was my original premise for moving to Hong Kong. I would kick ass here just like I kicked ass back home.

When we finally and actually did move to Hong Kong, things were a little different. It had been over a year since I’d had the original thought. I had spent 6 months winding down my position at work. I had done Adventure 2012. I had moved back home for a few months. I had experienced life other than work. The thing I remember most about being at work is coming home at the end of the day being dead-tired and not having the energy to do anything else. It was actually me whose ass was being kicked. By the time I moved to Hong Kong, I didn’t want to do it anymore.

I had kept a list of all the things I wanted to do when work was over. For the past year and 8 months, I’ve been doing those things. I mean, just look at the uptick in posts here beginning May 2012. I finally finished StarCraft. I’ve exercised and gotten into great shape. I have time to read books and magazines. I started seriously looking at learning languages. I don’t want to give up these things, but my money is running out.

Speaking of money, the ironic thing is that if I hadn’t done all that shit that I’m loathe to do now, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live the way I do now. That’s another thing I’ve observed in Hong Kong: pragmatism. At the end of the day, you have to eat, and nobody is going to hand you any food if you’re just sitting around reading magazines. If you have no money (which I will, soon), you have to go work and make money. Idealism, naiveté, and savings will only take you so far, and sooner or later, you’ll have to get a job like everyone else. Although I don’t want to jump back into the fray, that contract job back in November showed me that I’ve still got it. As I’ve said before, I won’t starve, but is there a way to find food other than the old 9-to-5-plus-OT? I guess we’ll find out…

Ikebukuro from Sunshine 60

Ikebukuro from the Sunshine 60 Observatory
September 23, 2012 – Ikebukuro

Guess my desktop slideshow is biased towards Tokyo 2012 right now, as another interesting photo from that trip has come up. This one is of Ikebukuro, as viewed from the Sunshine 60 Observatory at night. From 700-plus feet, the cars and buildings look like something out of SimCity.