travel

All posts tagged travel

PHOTOS:
Photos from Day 1
Photos from Day 2
Photos from Day 3

Our first vacation in a long time, Xstine and I went to New York City for the first time. Ok, actually second for me, but the first time I barely left the hotel. Part of the reason for going there was for the Naughty or Nice press event where I demoed LPSO to all sorts of different media to demonstrate that the tidal wave of casual was coming, but the other part was because Xstine and I just needed to see what all the fuss was about.

And I think I understand now. I may not want to be a New Yorker, but I envy those who had a chance to be. The Manhattan skyline is a massive, complex, unblinking slab of history and industry dropped onto the poor island like a living henge to capitalism and discovery. New York does not need to sleep to have the American Dream because every waking moment there is drowned in that hope that, ironically, was originally born from those who left the city for the endless lands of the New World.

New York is the first real city I’ve been to. Even LA and it’s sprawling sun-drenched hills filled with douchebags and wannabes have nothing on NYC, where Broadway is a nightly ration of magic accessible to everyone, not just those at Universal Studios. There, Times Square is timeless, the subways are escalators, the people are raindrops, the food venues set like parking meters down every street, all in a more genuine multi-cultural mix than anything the pretentious Cali affirmitively-activated immigrants could claim.

New Yorkers are proud. Where in San Francisco you see claims of “NY style pizza!” and “Texas BBQ!” and every other imported mimicry, in New York you’ll never see California mentioned as anything more than “Napa-style sandwich”. There is almost nothing (except BBQ) that New Yorkers don’t do bigger, better, and around every corner at every hour. Once in a while you’ll see a kindly nod to Chicago and it’s pizza too, but otherwise it’s a powerfully oblivious place. There is a lack of want there that you can’t get enough of.

One thing I came back with a newfound appreciation of was the ungodly grace of a bagel sandwich barely clamped down on a smoky fresh filet of salmon, lettuce, tomatoes, and a pancake of cream cheese… unbelievable! Time to smoke my own salmon to toast a great city!

Yesterday night we returned from a weekend spent in Toronto visiting my mom's side of the family, and my Grandma who is pretty far gone down the dehumanizing imprisonment of a body stricken by Parkinson's disease. I know she could see us, hear us, and understand who we were, all by the steady twinkling in her eyes, but the best she could manage for a greeting was one upturned corner of her mouth.

You're going to wonder what the hell Diablo 3 has to do anything with my grandma. It doesn't really. It's just this anxious feeling I get, this yearning for radical change, that renewed in me seeing what my own frail old age may be. You ever get that prickly desire to go out and do something anything that matters? Watching the old folks at the convalescence home been force spoon-fed their medicated gruel, Xstine kept gouging my ribs and saying "See! Exercise! Take care of yourself!" But that feeling wasn't new to me, as I had volunteered at these places when I was a teen.

So when I excitedly saw the gameplay trailer for Diablo 3 (see below), I knew I was set up. I happened to have been playing Titan Quest recently with Xstine, which is nothing but mindless grinding, slaying monsters, gathering loot, repeating as flea on flea on flea. It's a game that is fun because it offers no redeeming values, and you yield yourself to that like a drug. The art is fantastic, but the game is simplistic. I never actually played the first two Diablo games, but I imagine they weren't much more.

The question we ask ourselves often is "Have we wasted our lives playing things we have nothing to show for?" Unlike many of the other games I've played, Diablo-type and World of Warcraft-type games feel like they've added very little to my person and yet have debitted so much of my productive free time. How should I translate every second wasted in these games into seconds of my life I could have extended with exercise?

Then I had to listen to Blizzard, the masters of game design, ruminate like guffawing film students as they talked about their design approaches to Diablo 3. It was embarrassing. It shattered my mental picture of them to hear them say stuff like "it makes it more interesting to make the hero the center of the story." Or to point out their grand "philisophical" vision taught to make a barbarian class more barbaric. My gods. I hold those game designs to be self-evident. Hearing that kind of "enlightenment" has seriously made me consider what the personal value these games are having on my life. Now when I play, I can see my grandma's eyes through her haze, judging my expense of youth.

It took a while to put together this photojournal of our trip, but here it is, written in photos and comments:

PART 1 – Taipei

PART 2 – Tainan

I learned something very deep about the Taiwanese people during this trip, something that I always suspected in the back of my mind, but when I realized it became pervasive everywhere I looked there.

The Taiwanese are some of the most resourceful people I've met. That is not to say they are practical, logical, or expedient. That is also not to say they can't be wasteful, or excessive. No, they manage to be all of those, and yet still resourceful, with an aplomb that is sometimes both embarassing, and yet charming for ABCs like me (american born chinese).

They are able to find a use in anything, to coop the last iota of utility, intention, even style, taste, or sentiment. You will see a populace obsessed with name brand goods stack them unceremoniously on their body, judging fashion not by the gestalt but by the individual articles of clothing, no matter how gaudily they're assembled. You will see the disembodied head of a beautifully painted mannequin decorate a stack of lumber as if lipstick on the pig did the trick… and yet for them it does.

Many Taiwanese households are utterly infested with items that they insist are useful, be they pens unused in years, disintegrating beta max tapes, or some toy or bowl or cardboard box that hasn't entirely rotted away. They are magpies, they are infinitely matter-of-fact about things. They are democratic to a fault.

As I left the island, I was struck by how little vandalism I saw. Sure, there was plenty of other crime, but it seemed suspiciously lacking in vandalism. I don't think even the scoundrels can stand to see something have its value defaced for no good reason. To the Taiwanese, it simply doesn't make sense. I admire that communal sense of survivorship. And while not creative in the ways I'd boast that Americans are, they can appropriate anything to their lives without fear of disdain. For all the stress and political turmoil on the island, they can, more than almost any in the world, carve a comfortable niche for themselves in a place the Portuguese named Formosa, meaning "beautiful." And if I lived in a place so beautiful, I think I too wouldn't have a care in the world for modern pretenses.

Curiously, that beauty is literally worldwide… the antipode to Taiwan (should you cross through the center of the earth to the other side) is a little Spanish-founded city in Argentina, also called Formosa.

Being under assault by a month-long cold, working extra late to scale that Mt. Doom that is alpha, "enjoying" the three hours of commute book-ending days of overtime, and then spending the last addicted breaths of my R&R time late at nite huffing the Puzzle Quest demo, I can safely say that it hasn't been healthy nor synergistic.

We're currently working on versions of the next Tony Hawk game, and we've got just the summer left. And there is so much work left to do, it's scary. I seriously think, however, that this next Tony Hawk game will be one of the best in years. Anyways, I've decided to make my addiction more portable by switching to Planet Puzzle League, which is fantastic btw. I haven't had such intense games in years, and it was a pleasure to demolish daring players from Japan. I've only met my equal once, and we ended a 4-4 tie. My neck is killing me. Shall I compromise the productivity of my co-workers by introducing them to this wonderous game?

Evil cackle and fear of karma are battling it out in my mind's Octagon.

This weekend, I finally got a chance to get our Washington D.C. photo album up. Visiting our nation's capital on Memorial Day really helped rejuvenate my patriotism, and the trip was just the greatest vacation I've ever taken. I'll let the pictures do the talking, but one thing sums it all up: fresh Maine lobster roll.

Leaving for DC for our very first excursion to the fabled East Coast, our firm intention is to capitalize on a precious long weekend. For the flight, I am bringing along my Nintendo DS and Hotel Dusk, but the recent announcements from Nintendo have me slightly riled up, if there can be such a state.

Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Geometry Wars DS, Mario Strikers Charged, they all make me happy. But Planet Puzzle League, a revival of the puzzle perfection that was Tetris Attack, has me in throes of ecstasy. Do nerds lose their virginities to the nigh-sexual stimulation delivered upon slabs of unassailable gameplay? If so, then Tetris Attack was my first, and I remember her way too well.

A puzzle game is a funny thing. Its purpose is to stroke you until you are frustrated with mounds of unfulfilled resolutions that dance tantalizingly within reach. Yet pleasure in them is in the play, not the completion. Each time you do it, you learn to can go longer, and in time it's second nature. You gain mastery of a new, simple universe with simple rules, until you meet another player. Pitted against each other, you become addicted to unending contests of attrition.

The perfect puzzle game, which Tetris Attack is, never lets up. The split second of breath it gives you to either save yourself, or let a fuckton of bricks crush the life out of you is like trying to pants Death and escape alive. A perfect puzzle game, like Tetris Attack, doesn't give you or your opponent any cheap saves though. Each near-death experience is earned, and each earned is in turn a riposte, and each riposte can add up to a counterattack upon your nemesis' unpreparéd ego. I would say this game is the purest distillation of human power struggle and its wanton equilibrium ever made.

You know when a game is perfect when in the end a match between equally skilled players is decided not on luck, but on preserverance. This isn't the imbalanced Puzzle Fighters, the analog Wetrix, the stoic Tetris, the feminist Zuma, the arbitrary Lumines, or the shallow Bust-a-Move. This is Planet Puzzle League. Be afraid.

Believe it or not, the first thing I did when I walked in the door was check my stocks, then check for info on the new version of the Opera Wii. I was shocked to find out that, after a week of being in the spotlight of a whirlwind wedding, this blog was also Member of the Week. My reserves of gratitude were tapped again, and I gladly give thanks to this wonderful community! April, I am your love fool!

The joke, however, is on all the wedding couples who avoid April 1st. We had a day with significant cost savings, few competing couples, and a fortune-ripe day according to the chinese lunar calendar. And it was. For the first time in over a decade, all of Xstine’s family, otherwise disassembled by circumstance and affairs, flew in from all corners of their lives to meet, repair, and rebuild their bonds. Their grudges, divorce, resentments, and regrets melted away as we held what was literally a Hollywood wedding to them. We melded their asian cultures into our Americanized version, and it was beautiful and unthinkable.

For my side, I was assaulted in force by the closest friends, dearest relatives, and people I haven’t seen in over a decade. Teachers, principals, even the mayor of Cerritos were on hand to exalt their wholesome sense of extra-family. Over 220 of my parent’s circle came, and I was roasted with a taiwanese rendition of a country line dance by a middle-aged troupe choreographed by my mom, and serenaded by my dad. One must not underestimate the hydroelectric potential of an asian karaoke flood at peak enthusiasm.

I think the details of the night’s atmosphere will be better told when our dedicated photographer, a generous friend of my dad, gives us the extravagant pictures. For now, this poem I recited to Xstine during the banquet will have to do.

Love, in struggle, is defined,
not just in the vines of fate entwined.
We fought,
we taught,
we wove the bond we wrought,
for no one inherits the divine.

No, love is mortally confined
between the tenuous breadth of lines
of life,
of strife,
of fractures drawn by trials
in earth eroded over time.

So, marriage in love is beheld,
not simply a ritual tale to tell.
Betrothed?
Beloved?
These vows belie our beliefs
that love defies and dispels.

Love, by trust, is refined,
a lens of ancient sands combined.
Our acts,
our pacts,
our fossils not lost ‘neath the past,
we still see silently in our minds

that love is forgiveness applied,
a daily layer of demands denied.
Absorbed,
adored,
a force of feelings reforged,
clairvoyant for our heart’s mind’s eye.

But union is not stone nor sand,
not stem nor leaf grown in light bent by our own hands.
We strove
to grow
this seed to passioned grove,
and wield the fruit as lovers can.

The fruit of love is transitive,
a word that takes what persons give,
and shares
and bears
beneath its lush and blossoming care
the love for the soul, infinite and sensitive.

PICS & VIDS

Girls, gambling, and guns. That pretty summed up Steve’s bachelor party, which Dan organized like a champ. It was easily the best Vegas trip I’ve made, although I actually saw very little of Vegas. It is still, to me, the quintessential heart of the Americana. The excess and pregnancy, wrapped in thick curtains of cigarette smoke, bespeaks the packaged American dream. It is a romantic place, and by romantic I refer to the zeitgeist of emotions over social conformity, the classic romance. Greed, lust, gluttony, in omnigrade amnesia, artificial, yet so good. After all, Vegas is a consensual place.

I was lucky enough to meet many of Steve’s friends whom I’ve never known, and I knew kin when I saw it. They were awesome people, from whom I felt privileged to rob money from at Hold’em. In the middle of the weekend, Saturday night, we even met up with Cindy’s side, the eleven girl doppelgangers to our ten. We went to club Tao in the Venetian (where we stayed) and it was a cool joint. I’m not much for clubbing, at least not that kind of clubbing, but it was fun. The other kind of clubbing, however, was damn fun, although I wasn’t able to bring back enough stories to get Xstine jealous. She had spent the weekend oogling at her Korean soaps man.

I miss Vegas already. I especially miss the old Strip, the cheesy neon vines that draped what was popular in the 80’s. Today’s Strip, while brighter, was made of LCD displays and yuppie casino resorts with high minimum bets designed to milk your money as fast as possible. Touristy. While Vegas has always been about spectacle, it seems some of the charm and nostalgia is creeping away. One observation explains it all: slot machines were uncomfortably silent until I realized that inserting coins was archaic, and game cards with digital readouts were rendering the excitement mute.

Anyways, the trip marks an important point for Steve, and I echo Freddy’s thoughts that “I learned a lot” on this trip. To me, it was astonishing how people so various and unconscious of each other can be brought together so smoothly through one person. It’s almost fractal how these friendships begin their cycles as Steve and Cindy’s peaks and transforms. Can there be a better argument for consensual excess? Should there even be one against? Sin city has the answers, and you’ll have to lose yourself there to find out.

P.S. The deagle is FUCKING AWESOME.

We return refreshed from Thanksgiving in thankless LA with more than turkey under our belt, but a few things learned as well!

– Do not enter the Alterdimension of Wedding Preparation wantonly. Trying to balance our desire for a humble affair with my parents' desire for a sort of go-for-broke-extravaganza-cum-Chinese-cash-machine was a hopeless venture, as if taking the back-end of a No. 2 to the indelible Dorian Gray. I'll end up kowtowing to a much more showy affair… literally.

– Daniel Craig fuckin' rocks as the new James Bond. He's got equal parts soccer thug, rapier wit, and loyalist to the crown, making him the most British of the Bonds. The Bond girls this time are top notch too, the Tanqueray Ten to Brosnan & Co's Tanqueray. Pay the man some respect and go watch Layer Cake if you haven't already.

– The Wii is being marketed in a completely new way. I stood at Target watching the infomercial? trying to decide if they were selling a game console or a sonic toothbrush. The very fact that I hated the approach probably means they'll tap into a geriatric mother lode of casual gamers.

– Democrats may be a good change for Congress, but they're stopping at nothing to be a disaster on the economy. Between the populist minimum wage promises that really affect only 5% of the workforce (mostly part-time teens), the complete avoidance of the Alternative Minimum Tax law (which you'll learn about very soon if you didn't get surprised by it already), the lowering of mortgage interest rates (are they nuts?), and their simultaneous insistence on Republicans balancing tax cuts with budgets cuts while their own tax cuts are being paid by the ghost of Christmas past, we're in for trouble. But that's ok, since they get to blame it on Bush's expensive war, you know the one that made us forget about Clinton's social security scam?

E3 pics are up!

Most of the big news probably slaps you in the face at each and every game site, so I'm going to stick with impressions and hands-ons, and leave headlines out of this. Overall, this E3 was probably the best one I've been to, with less focus on graphics and more focus on gameplay overall, with the exceptions of the two you-know-whos. Booth babe quality wasn't bad even with clothing restrictions, and watching Fatal1ty bring some wannabe to the brink of tears on the The Longest Yard conversion to Quake4 had me and Xstine laughing our asses off.

So without further ado…

Microsoft Impressions:
Xbox 360 games continue to look better, and I continue to think about getting one. Games look as a they should on a $400 system. Gears of War looked phenomenal of course, but Huxley was surprisingly fun too considering the amount of lag this FPS MMO had, and I was dukin' it with a roundtable of over 30 people. And its framerate was still a SIGHT better than the Crysis engine game, which when not in that Siberia known as the 10-minute loading screen, was trying to impress us with spring-collision driven foliage bending nonsense at a blistering 4 fps. 3D benchmarks are a FAR CRY from being games, please.
Still, Lumines on XBox Live and the announcement of Windows Vista allowing PC and console gamers to meet in sweet swiss bliss gave the system the edge. In Peter Moore's own words, why buy a PS3 when yyou can get both a Wii and a 360 for the same money? As much as I hate the guy, he's right as rain.
Oh yes, Viva Piñata looks rad (see pic), and besides some framerate problems, has got real style. Good job Rare… finally…
7/10

Nintendo Impressions:
As fanatical as the gaming media has been so far about the Wii, I have a huge complaint. I never got to play the damn thing since the line of lines, the sweat-infused meta-line that wrapped itself around the vortex of Nintendo's creative navel, was so entangled that I had not the ken to locate its extradimensional entry point. Dammit Nintendo, you spoke of playing is believing, but put your new console in the furthest reaches of E3's 9th circle of hell. My heart wept for a chance to play Super Smash Bros Brawl, but my melatonin begged for just one more day of sunlight.
Still, just watching the announcers playing Wii Sonic on the big screen by just tilting the controller left and right filled me with an instinctual, pheromonal kind of parasymptomatic gravitation back to West Hall over and over. Instead, I settled for some DS games, like Magnetica (aka Zuma) and Brain Training. Why is Sudoku so damn addicting.
8/10

Sony Impressions:
Let's forget about the price for a second, and the feature trickery. Do the games look good? Well, as you can see in the photos, their setup at E3 was still running on a bunch of dev kits, but at the moment it looks good. Not $200 good, mind you, but good. Warhawk wasn't very fun, but had that impressive kind of fluidity and SFX density that reminded me of great Dreamcast rail shooters. Madden looked godawful, honestly, with horribly overdone fur/grass. Heavenly Sword looked pretty good, like a PC version of Devil May Cry, although pixilated self-shadowing and jerky animation need work.
The booth area was pretty packed, and people were cheering like mad at the Final Fantasy trailers, but the actual wait time to get into the private showings was about 5 minutes. There will definitely be a market for PS3, evidenced my the throngs of people in the Singstar booth and the Country Karaoke Revolution game. The PSP, btw, went the way of the N-Gage.

4/10

PC Impressions:
I was pleasantly surprised. Hellgate: London continues to look great, and although the avatars are ugly, the gameplay is smooth and addicting just to even watch. The Conan MMORPG was graphically beautiful, especially the horse animations, but it seems like there was stuff being killed only when I looked away. Boring.
Xstine and I are both excited about Neverwinter Nights 2, and eye-rolly about World of Warcraft's expansion and its new Dranei Alliance race. NCSoft held a pretty exciting Guild Wars: Factions tournament with Koreans slaughtering Koreans, but nothing was nearly as exciting as THIS…..


8/10

Finally, some of the coolest things we saw there were these two toys:

Xstine and I will be heading down for E3 again, so give me a call folks if you're going to be in town. We'll probably be staying at my parent's place as usual. We'll head down Wednesday night and be back up Saturday night.

I've never gone to E3 for a console launch, which is what I'm hoping this time will be. I dearly want to see the Wii and the somewhat want to see the PS3 in action. So far, current-gen X360 games have failed to impress, mainly due to poor and rushed art direction than raw horsepower, but I fully expect that to change soon. Gears of War should be there, and possibly Halo 3, giving our American Ford-Focused console a boost in mileage.

I'll be sure bring my camera to try to capture the idiocies, geniuses, and spectrum defiances that happens in Kentia Hall. Unlike when I was Taiwan, I will probably have a harder time capturing a ghost on film… the Phantom is teh bust. But one can mock hope.

The funny thing is that E3 won't be the most exciting thing of the trip. That honor goes to my intention to do 120mph down the 5 at night in our new G35 while simultaneously thinking of insurance and loan payments. In fact, someone should invent a real driving sim with those realities built into a paranoia meter on the edge of the screen, with reckless driving fueling you with adrenaline and a screaming gal in the passenger seat. Zoom zoom zoom capoeira wants to zoom.

If Guitar Hero 2 is there, however, I won't be coming back. :headbang: