Monday, November 12, 2012

A three-movie Bond-nanza!

Friday I watched the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, and did not think much of it. The first half stretched too long by far, and the action sequences were few and uninspired. The second was saved somewhat by Javier Bardem but I still lacked satisfaction when the film ended. I liked the cinematography; it cannot be denied, the visuals are sumptuous. However the plot was, even by Bond standards, ridiculous. As such, it was hard to have much feeling for, or attachment to, any of the characters. The film shall pass from my mind without a flutter of care.

Saturday I was scheduled to see Wolf Children Ame and Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda but it was sold out by the time my friends (Andrew, Andrea, Marc and Alex) and I got to the theatre. Instead, after picking up some Portuguese baked goods and making Rice Krispies' squares, we sat down to Hosoda's Summer Wars, which I'd heard of before (from Andrew), but had little opportunity, or inclination, to see. So I was delighted to find that it was indeed an enjoyable film, aimed at teenagers perhaps, but still enjoyable. Even after its inauspicious beginning (hokey rendering of social networking, implausible beautiful-girl-hires-nerdy-virgin-for-a-week), I was pulled into the story simply due to the likability of the characters and the exquisite detail and work that went into animating them to life. The story is ludicrous, of course, but Summer Wars doesn't take itself too seriously, focusing only on being fun to watch. I'd see it again.

And today, Sunday, instead of viewing Wreck-It Ralph as was originally planned, my friend and I caught Cloud Atlas. I was intrigued by it being written by the Wachoski brothers siblings and the lukewarm reception it received. What a thing I'd seen! When the credits finally rolled, a large smile remained on my face, for I had just had a great movie experience. Not perfect perhaps (the re-use of actors for different roles was a bit jarring at first, and become something of a distracting game) but one does not aim for greatness without a stumble hither and thither. In a word, Cloud Atlas is epic. I implore you: See this movie now, while it's still in the theatres. For it is there it belongs, to be enjoyed fully, greatly, wholly. Do not watch the trailers, for they may reveal joys meant to be tasted in a particular order. This is a film that stays in the mind, with many dots to join.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trying to write something

I just can't bring myself to write much any more. It's like every voice in my head, all the ideas, each iota of thought, is stuck, unable to leave its well-worn rut. What is left, then, of the person known as Hwan? Is he there, or just a robot on repeat?

Crawford Lake in autumn
My days are what you might suppose: Work is where I can be a zombie, the cats are both a hassle and a joy, and Mary Jean keeps me afloat. I haven't gone to karate in ages, I've been playing various games to pass the time. October is nearly over and though I consume more and read more, it seems very little actually sticks.

Oh, well, I DID go hiking with some friends a couple weeks back, about an hour's drive west of the city. We also took part in a Native American dance, which was fun, in its way.

I suppose I can mention that I've started watching Community, due to the high acclaim from many friends. It took me a few shows to really dig in, and by the seventh episode (the Hallowe'en "Day of the Dead" party one) I began to see its merit. But I hate Senor Chang, both the actor and the character. His entire schtick is based on being rude and unreasonable and I find it lacks drawing power, that it's just too far over the top.

Makes me miss Party Down.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Land of Sugar

DETERRING CRIME WITH ALL CAPS
Houston, yet another city not high on my list of cities to visit. To be honest, I knew little of the place -- somewhere in Texas, right? Way down in that stomach-of-a-cow region, that hot and dusty stretch between California and Florida. So it was with little in terms of expectation that I was sent there to do some work for a client, out in Sugar Land, a suburb of Houston. Turns out that there is little to do, and not much more to see if one's free time is only in the evening and one does not have a car. Even with a taxi at hand (a rare beast), one gets the impression of tourists being second-class citizens.

I suppose I had an okay time though, and in Houston's defence I didn't get around to seeing the Space Center, the only point of interest I'd hoped (against hope) to visit. But the highways! And the lack of public transportation into the downtown! It made me appreciate the TTC all the more.

Statue of Sam Houston
I've started playing Guild Wars 2, and they have done a fine job of building a new GW universe -- the visuals are striking, the levelling doesn't feel like farming, there's plenty of skills to play with, and the world itself is huge. After many hours I've still only seen a small percentage of the world available. Haven't tried the PvP yet either. The no-monthly-fee is nothing to scoff at either.

It's an election year for the US, and man has it got me nervous. I realize that I may be overplaying my role as the old, crotchety man but is not the prospect of a pro-life supporting, homophobic, all-around backwards person in serious running for president truly frightening? How is it, with all the advances in technology, all of our knowledge, that we are still debating over such basic human rights? The land of sugar indeed!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Back in town, with cats

Indeed I've been back for a while now. The Germany trip was a whirlwind of sightseeing and getting lost and soaking up the European sun. People were generally friendly and, despite our lack of German language skills, we got along with the locals just swell.

The vacation itself began with some 12 hours of flying (Toronto to Brussels to Berlin), then a quick bus ride to the train station for a 2 hour train ride to Hanover to meet Michelle, Mary Jean's friend. It was then another 2 hour train to Oldenburg, where Michelle was studying. Add in all the wait times plus the bus/subway ride to Pearson and you have a pretty full day of traveling!

Oldenburg's a quiet town in Germany's north-east, with some tourist highlights including a castle turned museum, a stylish market and a couple idyllic parks. We took advantage of the town's location to take a day trip to the North Sea. I didn't have a chance to try the water though -- we were there to see the Seehundstation Nationalpark-Haus, or seal sanctuary! Those guys are super cute, I must say. Their resemblance to canine puppies, with the same playfulness, the same bright-eyed stare, is delightful.

Michelle housed us in her student residence, invoking memories of my university years, were that I could remember it all. I was delighted by the ubiquity of the bicycle in Germany -- while perhaps not as dominant as in Denmark, bicyclists do enjoy their own separated lane and lights, and it was a joy to experience. It was thus that Mary Jean and I got to experience Berlin, with all its museums and galleries and parks and historic buildings and confusing roadsigns -- renting a bicycle is definitely the way to go.

The food was... ok. Our best meal was a French one. Produce was excellent. Currywurst was a novelty that is pretty much as unappealing as it sounds -- hotdogs smothered in a mildly curried ketchup. The alcohol is cheap, the beer often being about the same price as a coffee, and I found the local pilsners tasty, perfectly capable of quenching a day of exploring.

The Wall proved a popular tourist attraction, but it wasn't too hard to imagine it at its most bleak. Various sections of it remain in the city, some more well preserved than others. I was barely a teen when it came down, so I've little emotional attachment to it. Rather, images of Aeon Flux come to mind, inappropriate as that may be.

How can I describe Berlin? Beautiful, soaked in history, some of it remodelled, or even, as the construction we encountered can testify, remade. Clean, but with broken bottles on its cobblestones and boarded up buildings a common occurrence. To be clear, we spent our Berlin time entirely in its downtown area, our lodging a half hour ride from the core, so perhaps a second visit would reveal differently. We lucked out with weather, in any case, so it definitely felt like a summer holiday.

Would I go back? Perhaps, in time -- I understand that we only just scratched Berlin's surface. But at the same time, there are so many other surfaces to see.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

back on that wagonne

Welcome back. It sure has been a while. Much has happened while you were away, which I'm not sure that I can sum up entirely here. But I shall try. Most notably, I have a new girlfriend, Mary Jean. Things are going well, really well.. what can I say, other than she's awesome and I'm incredibly lucky that she isn't repulsed by my hideous visage. So much of my time has been shared with her, every hour delicious, every day brighter.

The birthing of Automa Arena
Back in February, Jenning and I participated in a boardgame design contest, Board Game Jam Toronto. Though I wasn't entirely happy with how the event was run (judging process and prize allocation patently unfair), I had a lot of fun and I think we created a damn good game. We somehow managed to stamp out an interesting, straightforward, yet rich mechanic in about a day, and the process brought me back to my university days; brainstorming and talking ideas through, trimming here and adding there.

I haven't been to karate at all this year, a feat I'm not particularly proud of. It's just.. my Saturdays are precious, you know? It's true that I fritter much of my time away on games and the like, but my weekends are taken up with MJ or friends or family, or some combination of all three. And unfortunately karate suffers. For now, at least.

Mimi and Monkey
Work is much the same, a daily grind dulling the mind, an easy routine of not enough sleep and stressful mornings. I do now wear earplugs so that I may sleep uninterrupted at night -- it was stupid of me to not think of it sooner. No more grinding streetcars, or squealing cars, or cat ruckuses to wake me up in the middle of the night -- I am dumb to them all.

The cats are well. After another upsetting episode, I've decided to try to spend more time with them, and to be on top of keeping their litter box tidy. I do somewhat lament the damage to my furniture though, my new Ikea furniture no less. But they are kittens still, and it's unfair that I should ever feel resentment towards them.

On Lake Ontario
My latest and current time sink is Hero Academy, a turn-based iPhone game. It's a good blend of strategy and luck, and I am finding it extremely addictive. I generally find the time to sneak in a good hour or two of my day into it.

This first half of 2012 has really zipped by for me. A good zipping, on the whole. And hey, Mary Jean and I are travelling to Berlin in a couple weeks! A short trip, nine days of German summer.

Talk soon, ja?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A New Year

Hwan and Reg
After Maui I was back in Toronto by Thursday morning before the end of the year, the dim dark morning, returning to a cat-less apartment. My memories of sunny beaches and bright skies were not enough to shield me from the horrors, the disappointment of returning to work. Is this really what I'm doing, I wondered.

Friday night I went out drinking with Reg and some of his friends, who wanted to watch some UFC. The pints led to more pints, and by the end I found myself shooting pool and singing karaoke. So I guess 2011 still had a few kicks left in it. New Year's eve I did it all over again at Olga's place, with her friends. The Sunday following I went to my parent's house, way up in the northern reaches of Richmond Hill for belated birthday stuff (my father's); food, TV, with some gift exchange.
Mimi is well

That first week of January I took in a couple documentaries, Waking the Green Tiger and Slaughter Nick for President. The former is about China's grassroots green movement, and how it has worked to prevent some hydro dams from being built. An informative documentary, it opened my eyes to how things aren't what I'd perceived them to be in China. Really interesting stuff. The second (a preview) follows a little-known Canadian actor who travels to Serbia to try to understand why one of his short-lived television shows is so popular there. A cute story, one of those peculiar cultural features that emerges from a tumultuous time.

Saturday David and I recorded our tenth episode of The Dave and Hwan Show, and I didn't suffer a debilitating brain aneurysm in this one like I did in e9. While perhaps not our funniest episode, I found myself really enjoying it. I guess it's one of those positive things that I get a kick out of, even if I'm a bit embarrassed to show it to anyone.

Robby and Billy G
Let's see now.. oh yeah, Sunday the 8th I was back at the parent's house, this time for my birthday. And another cake. And big meal. And TV. January is just a month of eating and staying in. I do mean to wake up early and work out but it just never happens that way. I have been pushing myself, and will continue to do so, to be more active in life, and consequently to play less video games. It hurts me to think how little I've accomplished.

Oh hey, I saw William Gibson give an interview (with Robert J. Sawyer) over at the Toronto Reference Library! That was cool. I mean, I went in slightly concerned that I wouldn't be able to follow what was going on, since I wasn't that familiar with his recent work (in particular, the non-fiction he was promoting), but the discussion was easy to follow. He even talked about Neuromancer, joy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Maui and back again

I returned a couple days before New Year's day, deprived of sleep but still basking in the memories of Maui. What follows are my notes while there, and my observations that have since emerged, so please excuse the switching of tense.

Day one: Denver was an easy enough flight, and the one to LAX was just as uneventful -- had a sandwich and juice in the terminal, briefly tempted by the greasy wares of McDonald's. It's funny that the place always brings Doris to mind, due to the disgust it invoked in her.

I am glad to be offline, without the distraction, to really be unavailable to the cares of the daily grind and the holidays. It was a combination of work, life and Christmas that drove me out here, an escape from choices.

I'd forgotten how maddeningly loud it is inside the plane, a constantly surging white noise, clouding my attempts at concentration and knocking me into dozing. There's a 5 hour time difference between Hawaii and Toronto -- I wonder how I will manage.

It seems that we are not to be served a meal, which is a pity as I take a certain, perhaps peculiar, delight in prepared meals. Something about the compartmentalisation, the miniaturising, of food appeals to me.

I'd neglected to note it anywhere (I think) but on the flight to Vegas I sat beside a salesman for Josten's, the portraiture company. He was an ex-CFL player, which I thought neat.

It might be folly to recall dim memories when suffering from a lack of sleep, but I remember having a dream about a woman with deep sky blue eyes.

I brought Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World as my reading material. I am already an atheist and, I like to think, a practising skeptic, so reading the book is more for me to see how great a book it really is, rather than to have it influence my opinions or character. Though it may yet do that.

It is interesting to think of the world in 1996, the year the book was released : I was between my second and third year of university, and my mind was closed to anything outside of school, computers and women. I believe that I was working in Ottawa, for the National Research Council, a fun work term. But indeed, I was a credulous agnostic, willing to delve into the spiritual and mystical. What effect would Sagan's words have had on me then? Could I have digested and grown? Hard to say.

Back at TAM9, I had an interesting chat with the cab driver, who apparently believed in UFOs and cover-ups and the like. And since then I've anecdotally heard and read of similar accounts; drivers discussing their belief in flim-flam with a skeptical passenger. I suppose the taxi experience is a fertile ground for such a thing, being such a common activity and allowing people of different worlds to interact.

My flight to Maui was early, so I had some time before meeting up with Kendrick and Gina and their son Magnus. I was struck by the humid air, the airiness of the airport's buildings. We shared a late dinner at a nearby Tiki-themed restaurant, a chance meal as my inquiry at the airport's information desk provided no suggestions.


Due to the last-minute nature of my travel plans, I did not get an accommodation near my friends -- I was staying some 15 minutes north, near the hotel where the wedding ceremony was to take place. And as I did not rent a car, I was even more isolated -- I depended on rides, and the local bus route.

Day two: On the bus, I noted the family-focused advertising, as well as some environmental awareness ones. Apparently they have two different varieties of fire ants here(!).

Without a plan, Kendrick and I leisurely drove halfway along the road to Hana. We tried some of the local fruit, and the banana I had had an incredibly intense flavor, like a sweetened gum or cake. The road itself was quite arduous -- densely packed with tight turns and single lanes for both directions, it made for some exciting driving. But amazing, simply awesome views, we like ants on a verdant fractal cliff.

That evening we ate at another small family restaurant, plates of fresh fish and large bottles of beer. I had begun to enjoy myself, and to forget my troubles back in Toronto.

Day three: I checked out the local grocery store, with its thinly stocked shelves, dusty in places. I refrained from indulging too greatly in snacks, returning in time to get picked up by Hoi for our sailing excursion to Lanai, fair island with a sad history. The boat ride was superlative -- bright and warm, with dolphins and whales sighted over and over. On the island I participated in snuba, swimming with a tether to a canister of air on a raft, allowing one to dive fairly deeply. Just off the beach one could see coral and many varieties of fish, like swimming in a screensaver.

That night we joined up with the Seto clan for dinner, then to an early sleep.

Day four: An early rise, picked up for a trip up Haleakala, taking in the majestic views from the top, peering across the volcano and the clouds rolling about it. We were some 10,000 ft above sea level, the air brisk and chilling. How long would I hold this memory, I wondered? And in so doing a flood of others rushed in, pulling at my heart. Would these new experiences help me heal?

The ride down was done at a very leisurely pace, and I noted the marked change in temperature as we descended. On the stop for lunch one of our guides collected some chameleons that were otherwise hanging out in the trees and bushes.

With much of the day still available after Haleakala, Hoi drove us to some museum that used to be a schoolhouse and later an office for a sugarcane business. Bought some souvenirs, petted a cat. Then to Iao valley or some such, with roosters but no active waterfall. It seems that Hawaii, or at least Maui, is this natural wonder playground, cleanly paved so that we mammals can, from the luxury of a car or a railed path, can take it in without inconvenience. Not that I'm exactly well-travelled but that's how it seemed to me.


For dinner we tried the traditional fare from Aloha Mixed Plate, a restaurant in Lahaina -- pulled pork, poi, seafood salsa, macaroni salad, rice. I found most of the food to be fresh and simple, with seasoning limited to salt and pepper.

In the evening we hung out with the Lius and listened to their father's stories, drinking Black Label.

Day five: Slept in late, found out I that I'd missed all surf lessons for the day. I had thought of renting a board in Lahaina, but ended up getting a bicycle from the store adjoining my motel. It was a rather sad mountain bike with a terrible seat and barely usable gears. Rode through the ritzy area, getting a very sore ass from the seat. Explored much of the tourist area, and though I'd seen cyclists on days before I encountered naught, probably due to the rain, this being the only really rainy day of my stay.

For lunch I tried the fish taco plate from Maui Tacos, which seemed little better than fast food fare. But as with other places the fish itself was tasty.

I forget what dinner was this day! It's very likely that it was a second meal with the Setos, but I'm disappointed that I don't recall for sure.


Day six: Got out of bed around 9, broke fast, Skype'd my parents and wished them a merry Christmas. Rode the rental bike up the ranch trail I looked up on Google Maps, noting the "No Trespassers" signs. Surreptitiously then up the brown red dirt and mud trail, half-expecting a vehicle chasing me down. I made it a fair ways up, and the only activity was some field construction some distance away. The ride down was bumpy enough, and I didn't notice my missing water bottle until after I stopped to eat.

On a bicycle food choices were scarce, and so I found myself having some McDonald's, observing the other tourists and locals.

That evening the clans got together for a BBQ to which I was kindly invited, and gorged on a variety of flamed meats. The BBQ turned into a picnic of sorts as the feast was followed with frisbee and tennis.


Day seven: Surfing lessons, finally. I'd waited so long to try, it seems. The beginner's area was crowded with students, with some minor mishaps -- I can see why surfers don't want to share their secret spots. I can also see why they are so buff -- the act of swimming out to meet the waves is a great arm, shoulder and core workout! A summer of surfing, ah that would be quite the thing.

Met up with Kendrick and Gina for some shopping, so I got to check out the mall. In the food court I had a spam musubi, which I was surprised to find was really quite delicious. Surfing and spam musubi, two treasures I'd like to meet again.

Today was to be Jenning's second day of bachelor festivities (his first being some time ago in Toronto), and the day activity was a snorkeling trip to a coral garden, a blustery but otherwise fine weather for it. I think the pictures pretty much speak for themselves -- we had a blast! Indeed, there was plenty of fish to keep one's attention, and we had fun with the rented camera.

Dinner was Ruth Chris' Steakhouse, a hefty, beefy meal. Kendrick hired some hula dancers to surprise everyone, and they taught Jenning a move or two. We dragged Jenning out for drinks, but the evening was short, the bars all but empty on a Monday after Christmas.

Day eight: The wedding! After helping look after Magnus, I was put on webcam duty, a task made doubly stressful when the WiFi began to fail right as the actual vows were taking place. Oh well, it was a lovely ceremony and I am happy for them. And after all the stress of deciding whether or not to come, and the moaning over the costs, I am truly glad to have attended.

How could I not be? Maui was beautiful, and I drank deeply from its riches. I was allowed to forget my troubles for a while, a living dream, beyond the cares of daily life.

And now I'm back, attempting to carry that momentum of energy and zest forward. We shall see.