vacation

All posts tagged vacation

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!

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.

In the deft hand of a chessmaster, 2007 was swapped sharply with 2006, a cumulation of the years gambols and decisions, and the two were abreast just a moment before 2007 secured its checkmate, and 2006 was whisked away to join the year-end spoils. For me, time is a game, neither linear nor predictable with its human players, but played for a finite round before we try to wash the board to start anew. Yet players remember. There was a lot to remember this year. And that makes the next game different, even as we knock off dates in the same sequence.

  • For my first dream for the Year of the Pig, I dreamt that I ate my cat, and she was very tasty. Therefore my New Year's Resolution is to NOT eat my cat, and use guilt as an excuse to post cute kitty pictures.
  • Also for the New Year, Xstine's company Emdigo released their Actionscreens on the Verizon network, and you can check out the Marvel deck here. Some of their cards are absolutely lovable, especially the holiday set.
  • Bungie warms my heart by letting our troops beta-test Halo 3 for Xmas. Halo still sucks, but at least it sucks festively. 😉
  • IGF's list of this year's finalistsfor best independent games is here, and it's time to get crackin' at it!
  • I learned how to play Mahjong. Actually I didn't, I learned that the game mechanics of Mahjong, while simplistic, belied a wealth of playing etiquette that for the Chinese culture were as important to the "play" as the rules. While the culture shock led to quite a bit of stubbornness on my part trying to wrap my head around what was essentially a game of manners and custom designed to facilitate social gestures, it did show me why the appeal of Mahjong is so strong to the asian community. Western and Japanese game design is a far cry from being able to capture the casual asian gamer market that I saw.
  • Finally, we begin the new year with 90% of our wedding logistics taken care of, a huge relief for us in return for a hectic week in L.A. I'll be expecting you all to be bringing your hot girlfriends and rich boyfriends. Right? RSVP for two, don't be shy.

On a crazy whim, we drove out towards Taizhong, but ended up giving up halfway and exploring XinZhu instead. The photos tell all.

When I stayed in XinZhu years ago, I was sequestered in the Jiao Tung university dorm rooms trying to surf Chinese MTV without running into the many barely scrambled softporn channels they came on late at night. I was disappointed that I didn't get to see the real city much. But this time we really scoured it up and down.

We hit up downtown first, which was an explosion of shops, restaurants, and street vendors, and I was on a holy quest for Green Apple Green Tea Conjac Drink. It is the most delicious beverage mankind has ever invented, with the exception of Surge soda. Xstine's mom, by then, was pretty familiar with me, and very chatty. I remember when I first met her, ceremoniously at the opening of an elevator door, her first reaction to me was a shocked "ah yo!" and then a brisk turn and disappearance off-stage. For those who don't know Mandarin, "ah yo!" translates to "oh yo!" with a Scottish accent and a startled face.

But once we were off on our merry trip, and after I had made fun of her for expecting all her daughters' boyfriends to be "tall dark and handsome" in contrast to my "short light and boyish," we were good friends. It is really strange to me, the expectations asians have for their children. On one hand, her mother is keenly aware that "tall dark and handsome" still landed her in a turbulent marriage, on the other hand, she preaches it almost automatically to her daughters. Find a handsome man. Tall. Owns a house. Doctor or lawyer. Tall. Handsome too. You have to wonder how a man so tall, handsome, rich, and perfect is going to show fidelity in marriage, no? She admits to me, true, but like Xstine's dad, what other monologue can you supply her?

What fascinates me is that asians deeply believe in fate. Their word for getting what you deserve is "huo gai," translating literally to "life-meant." In other words, your suffering was meant for all along. When you study in school, your major determines your career. Your career determines your wealth. You wealth determines happiness. Is it any surprise then that asians LOVE gambling? Your ability to win is predetermined. Your ruin is predetermined. There is no personal responsibility! All you need to do is work hard, and Old Man Heaven will reward you with a lot already chosen for your life. Sadly, a life of working hard and penny-pinching often leaves the people unprepared for a change in world paradigms, or an estate tax at the end. Women are housewives, men are wageslaves, neither can reconcile nor empathize.

I talked about this in length before, having noticed it as an immutable aspect of the Japanese culture, this concept of blind sacrifice. If there is a lesson to learn, it is that Americans have this one advantage. We are not the smartest, not the hardest working, not the best behaved. But as long as we idolize individuality and the ability to adapt, we will be what Darwin terms "fittest." It's sobering, but I think important to recognize that strength while we still have it. When Josie Wales is forgotten for the Naruto spirit, we'll be in trouble indeed.

Photo albums for DanShui and YieLiu are up, which are pictures we took when traveling with Xstine's dad. He lives in a very tasteful sky-rise apartment in DanShui, which appeared to me to be an area with a higher income or living standard in certain areas. Outside the clusterfuck of Taipei, I guess there are many places like this.

The meeting with Xstine's parents was an interesting experience. Generally speaking, I've always been very comfortable with other people's parents. I give credit to my parents, who traditionalism meant weekly formalities greeting meeting seeing every who's who's who remotely distantly related to any friends and family. While I never learned the Chinese names for the brother of an uncle of a friend's mother, I did gain an acute understanding of Chinese etiquette and the concept of "filial piety" that the Chinese term "xiaoshuen." The term is more dreaded among Chinese scions than you could imagine.

What I noticed first off the plane was that her dad gave me a more familiar handshake, a lengthy one. Our custom here leans towards a firm and brisk shake, rather than a a long grasp, so I can say that was the only facet of the meeting that threw me off. He was an experienced and worldy business man, however, and after the initial reservation grew very warm when talking about things he was proud of, and things he disliked. I was appreciative that he was so observant of way the Asian civilization had changed, customs had mutated, and while one could hardly expect him (or my parents for that matter) to be happy about Xstine and I living together without declaring marriage intent, he was very aware of it being a superior method for marriage retainment. Last week's Economist showed how the divorce rate decreased as marriages happened later and couple lived longer before making the big step. Social disapproval of this important courtship period has contributed to a society more conservative than the American society, and yet with an similar percentage of divorces.

Other than that, we talked mostly about China, Taiwan, and stocks (of which he was earned an understanding of which most of Taiwan, being mere speculative gamblers, do not have). Like my Uncle William, I've realized that worldy business men have a more balanced view to preach despite what they practice. It is a tremendous step away from the world view of my Grampa's generation, where all white men are to be feared and China will be a rising dragon to dominate the world because of its 10,000 year history, and into a more courageous light that accept there is much to learn from gaijins.

I'd like to reference Kishore Mahbubani's excellent book Can Asian's Think? that offers clarity in the debate to rectify the Eastern and Western perspectives. His argument for the East to accept responsibility for its lagging development vis a vis its Western counterparts, and not blame the West for tangible but exaggerated and irrelevant past transgressions, seems to glimmer brighter and brighter behind each successive generation. He hopes, as I do, that a day when the East embraces, not contrapositions but its idealogical differences, will a synergy between formed, for it and us, for me and them. In short, I can see where Xstine gets her lovable skepticism for anachrononisms anonymous.

Next stop on this photo tour is Taipei. I've commented as many as the photos as I could.

Taipei, the city itself at least, is very modern. Too modern in some ways. But in almost every corner of the city you will find the ubiquitous night-markets, or "yie-shi." These act not only as one of the primary forms of entertainment for people, but a functional place to get cheap goods as well. Many food carts will sell you a dinner's worth of noodles, buns, fried meats, or red-bean dessert for a measly buck or two, and you can get a satay kabob or fish balls for just $0.25. I didn't find the living costs overall to be that much different than the U.S. when adjusted for income, but snacks like these were undoubtably in their own caste of bargaindom.

Before I went, Bob warned me. There are "no hot chicks" he said, and those words gave me drive to prove him wrong. I can say that for Taipei at least, he was dead right. My theory, I later elucidated to him, was that the food there was so toxic, and the student's life preparing for their brutal exams was so stressful, and the air was so corrosive, that every girl there was obliged to wear layers of make-up capable of combatting bio-terrorism. Add to that their penchant for superficially copying the gaudy dress style of their Japanese counterparts, and you had a patentable formula for bad taste, bad fashion, bad looks. I'll post up pics of Xi Men Ding later, but where the college students were, things got a bit better, and I attribute that to college life being a relative cakewalk. Relative to high school I mean. Xstine's still has agonizing nightmares of cramming 12 hours a day for entrance exams.

But what really surprised me were the guys. Donning ambigusexually teased "Jap-rock" mullets and carrying women's coach bags to match the ever-fashionable and ever-present Verizon guy glasses, they were a force powerful enough to reinforce the emasculate male stereotype for asian dudes across the globe. Taizhong, which is a major city in central Taiwan, had much beefier guys with denim and T's, buzzcuts and attitude, and generally looked much better. Taipei, however, was damned.

But enough with criticisms. There will time for more later… hahaha… I've got to say that Taipei changed alot since I last went, eight years ago. The stores brim with service, to the point that I became uncomfortable when forced for sake of sanity to ignore greetings and hello-come-try-our-snacks' every five minutes. Every storekeeper was a veritable rainbow under the constant Formosan rain. And the people themselves, when face-to-face and not driving like assholes, are incredible friendly. Many many times did they eavesdrop on our distress and help point the way to the next attraction our confused expressions graciously accepted. American like to think we are a friendly people. I think we are too busy thinking we are, and altogether not in constant surveillance for silly lost tourists.

Most memorably, I had bowl after bowl of beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese delicacy. I plan to write a who's who book of best beef noodle soup places in Taiwan, and will be the emminent beefnoodologist of greater Pacifica. Even with the sly heat sabotaging every "gloomy" day and wrecking the crust of Axe deodorant I was swathed in, I had no fear plunging into the perils of beefy gluttony. Here, for just $3, was the soul of Taipei, and it was addicting.


First photo album for Jiou Fen is up! Comments within as well. Took me forever, what with real life and photo conversion DPing me.

I decided to recount our Taiwan trip not by daily accounts, but by theme. I've got about 6-7 memoirs to dish out, so bear with me.

Our time there was hectic, and in my semi-fluent haze I didn't manage to capture all the names of places and peoples and things that we experienced. Also, I have to apologize for the crappy camera work. We bought a new Cybershot T7 for the trip and and hadn't gotten used to it. Moreover, I found out that asians don't like being photographed, and I often had to do it secretly, quickly, and ignorantly. If you watch Taiwanese news you'll notice this strange cultural phenomenon. Any accused or accusing subject will run past the press with a towel over the head or a motorcycle helmet. So without fail, some lackey would rush over to tell me that their innocuous national treasures (read: shopping malls) could not be photographed, to which I respond with a big rude Americanized "oh dwei boooo chi." That's Mandarin for "I'm sorry, sorry that I'm a culturally obtuse snob, but I got my pics anyways, seeeeyaaaaa."

While the pictures of Jiou Fen, a tourist hamlet north of Taipei fractured with deep and exciting markets to explore in its almost catacombic alleys (save for the sliver of rain glazing the inner trail), seem mostly undistilled, don't let that fool you. The moment we left airport and entered Taipei's urbanosphere, it was like entering the atmosphere of a different planet. Humidity, pollution, and the sheer density of the residential sprawl almost lured a gravitationally warped spring to my steps. This wasn't Planet Silicon, however entrenched in a valley it was. But lucky for us, alot of the smog was washed out of the sky by the tropical mini-storms that constantly barrage the island mini-nation.

I'll save the details of the personal encounter with Xstine's parents for the next entry, but what hit us first wasn't anything about marriage or life in the States. Our first challenge was trying to survive non-stop nightly excusions out into the night-market maze that formed what one could consider the primary tourist firmament to pierce before leaving ground-zero for the other wonders of Formosa, all beginning the second we reached her mom's place. And damn did her mom walk fast.

Well, this is my last nite in the safe clutches in white america. Tomorrow we fly to Taiwan laden with expensive gifts to court Xstine's parents and talk about the scary M-word. I haven't been back to Taiwan in a long time, and it has always been my impression about Taiwan and Mainland that in some ways I loved it more than the people there did, and that lessened my love for them. I guess that only makes sense in my mind. Truthfully, I've slowly lost much of the infatuation I had with the history, land, language, culture, and traditions there, finding such irrational appreciation unreciprocated by the "real" Chinese. Instead, they love fast food and pop stars today. I hate both.

For the long plane trip there, however, the M-word will be Metroid Prime Hunters, which I picked up yesterday and had a blast with. Until my hand cramped from using the stylus to aim. And until some guy online owned me 7-0. Otherwise, the combat is intense, fast, and the characters are very interesting to use. Best of all, wi-fi runs like a greased pig. The only hiccups are the short solo missions, and the annoying friend-code player matching if you want to play anything besides vanilla deathmatch.

But the real reason I'm looking forward to this trip will be being able to travel around Taiwan with Xstine's expertise. I never got the feeling I saw much of the real Taiwan outside the tourist traps. We even got a new Cybershot T7 to document the trip, so pictures to follow!

P.S.
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