So you learn something new every day: escape games!

rooms

Karen and I were planning our trip to KL the other day when the oracle of TripAdvisor told us about Breakout, a role-playing escape game played in a physical environment. It’s in Avenue K, right across the Petronas Twin Towers (at which point we had blithely forgotten about because REAL-LIFE RPG), and apparently there are a few in Singapore as well (and that this all started in Budapest?). We hit the website and really, the only thing better than an fantastic concept is a fantastic concept that is happening RIGHT NOW. (And smacks a little of Legends of the Hidden Temple of childhood.)

Breakout is not your conventional escape game. Our outlet consists of various themed rooms with a capacity of 2 to 6 players. The rooms are carefully crafted and designed to provide players maximum mind boggling puzzles and tasks which are to be completed within 45 minutes. Each room have their very own storyline, puzzles and tasks to ensure fresh and exciting new experiences. Our objective is to provide an immersive movie-like experience and a whole new level of escapism from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur city for the young, uprising community of Malaysians seeking a new thrill in life.

Like any RPG, there are characters you can choose from that come with their own abilities and responsibilities for the puzzles: Lightbringer, Scholar, Time Bender, Oracle, LockMaster, and Merchant. Then you get your ominously-named rooms with their own storylines: The Greatest Murder of Westwood, Mr. Oswald’s Greatest Show, Chamber of Hocus, and Infinity.  And 45 minutes to solve everything and escape the room.

Consider this a public service announcement. Oh, we are so totally doing this.

Pre-orders for The Apex Book of World SF 3

Making this a quick one because I just got back from Japan –

oil noodles

+

sake

=

kids

…and have the dayjob’s work in front of me, and Karen’s staying over this weekend. 😉

Anyway, the pre-order (and deals!) page for The Apex Book of World SF 3 in print and ebook format is here, and editor Lavie Tidhar’s own announcement in his website here. Apex will be running special features and promotions in the next month, so that’s something to keep an eye on!

This Is a Bowl of Pho

This is a bowl of pho. I had one nearly everyday when I went to Vietnam this August. I had this particular bowl one morning in Hoi An. And I’m putting it up here because a bowl of pho is one of those rare dishes I give due aesthetic consideration to before wolfing it down. While most dishes elicit the thought process “Food!!! NOM!” a bowl of pho gets the much more sophisticated “Food!!! Oooh, pretty. NOM!” This is very rare, as anyone can see from my becoming visibly agitated when my food arrives and my companion insists in taking a picture of it, and then another because the first one was blurry.

This particular bowl isn’t even one of the most primped up I’ve seen; Hoi An is sort of in the middle of nowhere. The real reason I put up this picture here is because I tried the pho (specifically the “Raw Beef, Soft Tendon, Tripe, Muscle, Beef Meat Ball and Brisket Rice Noodle” variety) in the Hong Kong branch of Pho24 in TST this evening and was unsurprisingly disappointed it couldn’t match the one I had (same variety) in the same restaurant in Ho Chin Minh City. (For my entertainment though, I was seated next to an Australian mother-and-daughter who mulled over the menu and announced they couldn’t make any sense of it, so it wasn’t a total loss.) The soup wasn’t strong or oily enough and was overwhelmed by the meat and I did Unspeakable Things to the basil to compensate for it. But now that I think of it, maybe the original bowl of Pho24 I had in Vietnam grew so delicious only in that dark little corner of my brain way after I had already had it simply because I haven’t had it for a long time, much like a lot of things in life, 90’s music for instance. And now that I’ve spent so much time talking about a bowl of pho, I want another one quite soon, so I’m gonna see if I can go back there on Sunday and treat the basil a bit better.

(Yes, like most, if not all, the posts in this blog, this one is written merely for self-indulgence with no effort to be morally edifying nor educational. It’s Friday night.)

Return to Lamma Island

The bay windows in my apartment overlook a public housing estate and a major highway route in Kowloon, where there’s always some kind of traffic jam during rush hour, and, well, where there’s always some kind of traffic even at four in the morning. It took me a while to get used to the drone outside when I first moved in, to the point that I got irritated when watching TV because I had to drag the set closer to me and turn the volume all the way up, then back down when a character starts yelling, then back up again.

The good thing about an overactive imagination and a healthy dose of disregard for reality is that as reckless as they may be, they’re still on your side in some way, and there are days when I wake up from a particularly good night’s sleep and for a couple of minutes I’m in a house by the seaside, waves beating against breakers, seagulls if I’m lucky, until the surf slowly turns back into engines rumbling below the occasional chirp of a sparrow.

It’s a public holiday today in Hong Kong so I went to Lamma Island after work yesterday and settled a bit of the sea lust. I took the open deck of the ferry, plugged in to some Olivia Ong bossa nova (which I still have mixed feelings for: I like how her perennially heartbroken voice fits what she sings but when I heard in a music store how off-key she was for two consecutive songs in a concert DVD, it’s never been the same), had my sunglasses on, my straw hat resting on my knee because I didn’t want it blown away, summer sun wondering if it should start setting and deciding against it, Hong Kong Island against a clear sky until the harbor slipped away to make way for the outlying islands.

There are no cars in Lamma Island. You walk or you cycle, or if you’re the man dropping off propane, you drive a little motorized cart. I took a walk around the Yung Shue Wan village, towards the direction of the wind turbine, until hunger (well, what else could it be) made me turn back and slip into a little Turkish kebab and pizza place for a lamb burger.

I took the ferry back, Olivia Ong not quite done yet with her repertoire, and marveled as always at the solid, diamond lights of the Hong Kong skyline. I got home, picked up a book where Bill Bryson tells me how the universe started, and fell asleep to the sensation of a boat moving up and down against the waves.

(photo by Nell)

The Time I Painted Skagway

(Forgive me. I’ve been trawling some old stuff of mine.)

I used to muck around with Photoshop and the like when I was still an undegrad student (i.e. when I still had time). My family and I went to Alaska in 2005, and one of our ports was Skagway. I liked how the port area looked, so I took a picture with my cellphone, flew home, and promptly forgot about it. Until some weeks later when I got into my mucking-around routine again and used Photoshop 7 and a mouse to paint my very first (and only) digital landscape…well, painting. Click to enlarge, mes amis.

Last Minute

Right. I was typing up a post detailing a certain story idea I thought I’d never turn into an actual story because it’s in a genre I normally don’t write in, when I suddenly realized, just before hitting Publish, that it might probably be worth a try.

Sorry, folks. Here’s a few slices-of-life from my trip to India to make up for luring you in, sort of.

On the road from Jaipur and out of the Triangle:

pilgrims

On a jeep in the Bishnoi village:

shepherd

In a market in Jodhpur:

market

In between carriages on the train from Mumbai to Aurangabad:

train

And while I’m at it, my Boris Yeltsin water bottle:

bottle

Lijiang, Shangri-la, Kunming – April 2009

On the fourth month of the ninth year of the twenty-first century, I returned to the Motherland. I found the Mother sitting in the middle of the world, her back before me, chunks of ash from the cigar in her hand falling to her feet.

Piqued by the lack of a welcome, I called, “Black lungs make no one beautiful.”

She did not turn around and I wondered if she knew I was there. As I watched the puffs of smoke rise, I heard her ask, “What do you know of beauty?”

01

Glass lake from the bus to Yunshanping in Lijiang

Yak milk is...interesting

Yak milk is...interesting. It's got a bit of a punch in the end.

Yunshanping

Yunshanping

Carpets for hire in Lijiang's Old Town

Carpets for hire in Lijiang's Old Town

The occupation of the Old Town

The occupation of the Old Town

Picking up after yourself is pretty important in the Naxi religion

Picking up after yourself is pretty important to the Naxi religion

Childhood in Yunnan

Childhood in Yunnan

Arise! People who refuse to be slaves!

Arise! People who refuse to be slaves!

Bridge in the Tiger Leaping Gorge

Bridge in the Tiger Leaping Gorge

Songzanlin Lamasery in Shangri-la

Songzanlin Lamasery in Shangri-la / Zhongdian / Gyalthang

My National Geographic moment on the way to the lamasery

My National Geographic moment on the way to the lamasery

Can't be paradise without the Internet

Can't be paradise without the Internet

The Old Town in Shangri-la

The Old Town in Shangri-la

The steppes of Shangri-la

The steppes of Shangri-la

On the Diqing tarmac, on the way to Kunming

On the Diqing tarmac, on the way to Kunming

Idiosyncrasies

I have too many photographs of Prague and Budapest and you can easily see most of the castles/cathedrals/museums/theatres in the Internet.  I’m posting the ones that I found more out of the ordinary or were just too good to pass. 

PRAGUE

Sewer cap with coat of arms

Sewer cap with coat of arms

Communist Museum

Communist Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Powder Gate PM

Powder Gate in the afternoon

Boy's poem in Terezin

Boy's poem in Terezin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctor Faust production

Doctor Faust production

The Orloj (deserted!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way to Strahov

On the way to Strahov

Prague Castle at night

 

The Big Letdown (snicker)

The Big Letdown (snicker)

Graffiti

Graffiti

At Kafka's grave

At Kafka's grave

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

BUDAPEST

At Szentendre

St. Stephen's Basilica at night

St. Stephen's Basilica at night

The castle in the afternoon

The castle in the afternoon

Terror Museum

Terror Museum

Art Movie Theatre

Art Movie Theatre

Parliament

Parliament

The Farmer's Pan I ate. Kinda looks gross now, but it was delicious!

The Farmer's Pan. Kinda looks gross now, but it was delicious!

Chilis at Szentendre

Chilis at Szentendre

PRG / BUD, ’08

So, here I am again. Back in HK. It’s already my third week of working in the Hong Kong Baptist University and I haven’t caved in to the exhaustion yet. (Triumph!) It’s not bad at all. I’m a bit cautious about jumping into the conclusion that I like my job since it’s not even half the semester yet and the real paperwork has not begun, but it’s feeling good, despite the heavy workload. My colleagues are wacky and nice and I like the overall atmosphere. Of course, classes are as unpredictable as always and preparing college-level lectures take a lot of time, but I usually go home feeling satisfied about having done an honest day’s work, so that has to be good.

Where to start. The trip to Europe would be a good place. The reason I didn’t blog since coming back was because I dove straight to work the day I returned to Hong Kong (I already had a meeting that morning.)  So Prague and Budapest, ’08. What a trip. A promise made to the self, I suppose, that in exchange for two weeks of living life fully and with as much fun as possible, I would return to work (with no complaints!) for the next 2 years.

No regrets. =) That trip has worked wonders for me, has given me a much needed time-off that I felt no resentment afterward about going back to work. A recharged perspective, like one deep breath. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I missed work, but when I did get back to hunching over the desk preparing lectures, referring to textbooks, and working out a syllabus, I felt content. I was fulfilling my end of the bargain. Lord knows I never imagined I’d even be in Prague or Budapest for that matter, but life’s funny that way.

I had plenty to say about that Europe trip but now that the time has passed a bit, it just seems like one big yesteryear, although it was only really a month ago. Things are getting less vivid and I’m already starting to forget. Thankfully I had my notebook with me where I wrote random thoughts here and there (I’ll only post the short bits here) but mostly just bullet points of where I went.

Actually I haven’t really thought of that trip again until now.

Aug. 15 – Day 1

Arrived Prague. Raining. Walked around Stare Mesto deliberately without a map, best way to get acquainted with a city. Republic Square, Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, and respective important buildings.

Written 1:13 PM…Not exactly off to a brilliant start. Raining in Prague and I’ve been in and out of planes for 2 straight days with no rest in between…at least the Cedaz transport went smoothly, lugged suitcase from V Celcini to Jakubska, 11am. Lady said I couldn’t check in, so walked. Ate at a Chinese restaurant. Got back around 12:15pm, waited a bit, then lady showed me my room. The ceiling light doesn’t work. Got 3 Czech ladies coming up to fuss about it, didn’t work, last one said Pardon, Sorry, so I guess that’s that. (Eastern European women really do look v. different. Huge eyes and really big bones.) I don’t really mind but it still puts a crimp. It’s a bit dim here. I’m too tired to bring it up with the lady.

Better get myself a shower and get things sorted out. Exhausted. Also have to find place to buy water.

This was, of course, when I didn’t know that tap water in Prague is potable.

Aug. 16 – Day 2

1. Grand City Tour (raining)

– main sights (the squares and cathedrals et al)

– Hradcany (Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, changing of the guards)

2. National Museum – great decor inside, exhibits not so exciting

3. Wenceslas Square and New Town walk (with just a guidebook)

– Wenceslas Square, State Opera House, Jungomannovo Namesti, Church of Our Lady of the Snows, Narodni Trida (Lanterna Magicka, National Theatre), Slavic island, Jirasek Bridge, Fred and Ginger Building, Orthodox Church of SS Cyril and Methodius, St. Wenceslas Church, Emmaus Monastery, Charles Square (St. Ignatius Church, New Town Hall), Stavoske Theatre

Aug. 17 – Day 3 – first sunny day

1. Photos! (finally. The touristy places.)

– Church of St. James

-Old Town Square (Orloj, Church of Tyn, Jan Hus, Church of St. Nicholas)

– Republic Square (Powder Gate, Municipal Hall)

– Wenceslas Square

2. Took the subway to the Zelivskeho station, Vinohrad

– Nova Zidovske Hrbitov (New Jewish Cemetery) where I paid my respects to the grave of Franz Kafka

3. Took the subway to Vysehrad

– Church of Saints Peter and Paul

– Vysehrad Cemetery (graves of Dvorak, Smetana, Karel Capek, Jan Neruda)

– Vysehrad Park (status of Premysl and Libuse)

– battlements of the Vltava

4. Took the subway to Malostranska

– Mala Strana

– Strahov Monastery / Library

5. Took the subway to Karlovo Namesti

– attended church, Prague Christian Fellowship at Evangelicka Cirkev Metodisticka (4:30pm)

Aug. 18 – Day 4

1. Terezin Tour

– Terezin Small Fortress (where the Jews were thrown into as a holding prison before they were shipped to concentration camps during WW2. Awful place.)

– Terezin Ghetto Museum

– Terezin Ghetto Memorial (graves, crematory house and laboratory…smelled like ashes)

2. Charles Square and Bridge

3. Klementinum (it’s the library of Prague. I don’t think I was supposed to enter the main place, but I did anyway. Inside, I tried to open one of the huge, very ornate gates to the reading room and made such a hullaballoo with the door handle that I just quickly shuffled off before anyone could see me and tell me off.)

4. Jewish Quarter / Josefov

– Old-New Synagoge (oldest working synagogue in Europe. For 200+ korunas, one entry. I insisted sitting inside it for at least half an hour although I was dying to go the toilet.)

– passed by Jewish Town Hall, Jewish Ceremonial Hall, Jewish Cemetery

4. Took photos of Prague at Night

– Charles University, Rudolfihum Concert Hall, Jana Palacha Square, Hradcany, Charles Bridge (where there was this gypsy-looking lady busker playing my favorite songs on her classical guitar. Almost like in a movie.)

* bought Capek’s War With the Newts (it’s a book.)

Aug. 19 – Day 5

1. Went in Church of St. James, Church of Tyn, Church of St. Nicholas

2. Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral Tour

– St. Vitus Cathedral (remains of St. John of Nepomuk, St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas)

– Prague Castle – Old Royal Palace (Vladislav Hall, defenestration windows, Hapsburgs meeting room)

– St. George’s Basilica (tomb of St. Ludmilla)

– Golden Lane (Kafka’s house, no. 22)

3. Church of Our Lady of Victory (run by Carmelite nuns)

– the original Sto. Nino of Prague

4. Charles Bridge

* bought Meyvrink’s The Golem (it’s another book.)

Written 9:06 PM….Last night in Prague. I think going insane on Days 2 and 3 was not such a good idea; I’m exhausted. It’s only been half the trip, Budapest tomorrow, hope I have the strength left. Prague has been tiring but mighty good.

Aug. 20 – Day 6

Took the plane. Arrived Budapest. Gyongyi got me from the airport to her place, where I met her parents and where I was going to stay. The memory of that day has simply fled from my mind, I didn’t write what happened that day.

Oh right.  Gyongyi brought me around the castle district, where I spent most of the time concentrating on catching up to the latest gossip about friends rather than looking at the sights. *cough* Well, we were going back another day anyway, so there.

And the fireworks. We watched the fireworks from their balcony at night.  It was a national holiday.

Aug. 21 – Day 7

– National Museum

– National Theatre

– Ziggurat (I don’t remember it having a name. But it was like an exhibition of the works of contemporary Hungarian artists. Great concept for the building to be built like a ziggurat. It had a certain aesthetic, and rather grim, joke on the 9 Circles of Dante’s Inferno, which I’m too tired to type out at the moment.)

– Palace of Arts – Ludwig Museum

– St. Stephen’s Basilica

– Walked Chain Bridge

– Zero Kilometer Stone

Aug. 22 – Day 8

– Hero Square

– City Park

– Agricultural Museum, imitatation of fake church, Anonymus statue

– Ice-skating Rink

– Passed theme park, zoo

– Museum of Fine Arts

– Szechenyi Thermal Bath (Good grief. This deserves a post by itself, one day. I’m dissolving into laughter as I type this.)

Aug. 23 – Day 9

– Terror House

– National Opera, Art Movie Theatre, Applied Arts Theatre

– Back to Castle District (Trinity Statue, Fisherman’s Bastion, National Art Gallery, St. George Gate, Matthias Church)

– Tram to St. Gellert Hotel

– Cave Church, climbed up Mount St. Gellert, Palm Leaf Woman Statue

– Old Fort – Citadella

– St. Gellert Statue, Queen Elizabeth statue (other queen. Hungarian. Not the one you’re probably thinking of.)

Aug. 24 – Day 10

– Car trip with G’s family to Visegrad (old fort, museum exhibitions)

– summer residence of King Matthias

– Szentendre (St. Anthony Church, Marzipan Museum, Kristaly Shop)

Aug. 25 – Day 11

– Parliament (coronation jewels, ex-upper chamber)

– Passed by Museum of Ethnography

– Chair-lift to Libego

– Mount John, Elizabeth lookout

– Fairy Rock

– Dinner at Vaci Utca (Fatal / Hungarian for “wooden plate”) with G’s family. I had the Farmer’s Pan, which comprised of a blood sausage, liver sausage, an ordinary sausage, crackling (kind of like crispy pata, if you know what language I’m talking about. Except it wasn’t the pata), red cabbage, potatoes, and dumplings. YUM.

– Took photos of Budapest at night (Basilica, block of flats, Parliament, Chain Bridge, St. Anna Church, supermarket, Batthyany statue)

Aug. 26 – Day 12

– Palvolgyi Cave

– Walked on Margaret Bridge to Margaret Island

– back to the apartment, watched Miss Congeniality on VCD (yes, well, a rather anti-climactic way to end it all, but I was gonna fly to Frankfurt then a long-haul to HK the next day)

Aug. 27 – Day 13

Departed Budapest.

Written on the flight from Budapest to Frankfurt, 4PM……Right now I think what I’m feeling is withdrawal. Awful feeling to be had in such a limited space as a plane…

It goes on for a while. Like for 4 pages of the notebook.

Aug. 28

Written 1:45pm….Arrived HK. Back to reality. Bite me.

Almost

Got my tourist visa for my trip to Sydney in May.

Scheduled the seminars I want to attend in the Sydney Writers Festival. Just need the teensiest tweaking and for Casula Powerhouse to send the invites for the launch.

Plane bookings. Check.

Nearly there.