Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yearly Roundup: Best of Friday the 2013th

It's been another whirlwind roller-coaster ride of a year, with many crazy things happening this five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes. So in no particular order:

1. The Yale-NUS Experience
Oh man I love my college. I've never had this feeling of admiration and respect for an organization since - well, ever. I guess because it's still small, or I'm not privy to the secrets to make me jaded yet; either way, I find it so much more human than any other organization I've been to. Like people actually care about other people as human beings, and not just as cogs in the machine or competition that you have to eliminate. And living on campus, away from my parents, and with this inclusive and wonderful community, is just really, really great. I'm learning so many things too, so many ideas and topics I wouldn't have found out on my own. I don't think I made a wrong choice, coming to Yale-NUS. From gaming in the common lounge to hanging out in the Shiok Shack, Yale-NUS is my home now.

2. New Haven and New York
And let's not forget the incredible opportunities to travel to places around the world, including the awesome three-week orientation at Yale University. I loved every minute of it; even the boring lectures are not so boring when you're being bored in a whole other country. Living at Yale was comfortable and cosy, except when it rained in the middle of summer. But it was fun traveling around, visiting places like Mystic Seaport and the rest of New Haven.

Also: NEW YORK CITY! My first time in the Big Apple was a huge, huge blast. It has such a different culture from Singapore; it just feels more alive somehow. I watched a musical (Wicked!) freaking LIVE ON BROADWAY, which has somehow always been one of my dreams for a long time; and also watched a comedy musical play off-Broadway, which was also really fun and hilarious; wandered around Times Square at midnight; and even explored the other precincts outside Manhattan island: the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens (and touched the famous Yankee Stadium); stayed in a GORGEOUS PRESIDENTIAL SUITE thanks to one of my friends and a bit of serendipity; and watched a BRILLIANT improv comedy show TWICE. It was an incredible, incredible experience, and one I hope I will never forget.

3. Indonesia and the Ramayana
I don't think I've travelled this much in a single year before. This year also marked my first trip to Indonesia; a fun experience and one in which I got to know a lot more of my classmates a little bit better. I also learned a lot about this culturally-rich country, from one of the most amazing, friendly, and well-versed professors I've ever met. It was great just being in a different place, with different worries and different concerns and different food. I love srabi; I think it's probably my favourite food from that place. And after staying up for an entire night watching a shadow puppet play, I think I've been desensitized to how terrible wayang is. From watching a cultural epic performed in ballet to watching a drag queen perform traditional dance; from seeing how shadow puppets are carved and painted to seeing how batik is made; from munching on nasi goreng and avoiding jackfruit like the plague; this was a wonderful trip that I'm glad I chose.

4. Horse-riding in Malaysia
I TAMED A WILD BEAST AND SUBMITTED IT TO MY WILL no actually I just sat on a horse and let it lead me around a sandy arena but it was SO FUN and now I can ride a horse so in case I'm ever dropped into a desert or a jungle and have to ride a horse to escape I can totally do so without freaking out too much. Also, second trip done solely with friends (first being Japan) and it was great, great fun. (SETS IS EVIL.)

5. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City
Oh man, I haven't played many games this year but these two TAKE THE CAKE. As of this writing I've also finished the main story for Arkham City, and it is amazing how many iconic villains from the Batman mythos they managed to fit in this time. (I especially love how you interrogate Riddler henchmen to find his trophies on your map this time.) It is just one incredible, immersive, ultimate fanboy experience and it's great that I managed to chance upon that Humble Bundle sale.

6. Hosting Snapshots
Ever since I watched Neil Patrick Harris open the Tony Awards, I've always wanted to open a show with my own musical number. And this year, I got the chance to do so. And even though it wasn't as grand or surprising as NPH, I enjoyed every minute of it. I've got one taste of it, and now I'm hooked. I need the stage; it's in my blood (figuratively speaking).

7. Singapore's Landmarks
So there's almost no point going to tourist traps in your own country. But thanks to Yale-NUS and a great friend, I managed to visit both the Gardens by the Bay and the new SEA Aquarium on Sentosa. The Gardens are beautiful, filled with so much green and other colours I can't see; and it's just cool enough that you want to fall asleep there surrounded by the best in artificial nature that money can fabricate. Honestly, it's a lovely place, and I'd actually pay money for the season pass to go there and just relax and chill. And the SEA Aquarium is amazing; I've always been interested in sea creatures and marine biology - again because of all the colours I can't see - and the place is just full of thousands of fascinating and diverse creatures, like my favourites, the stripey zebrafish. And I actually poked a starfish with my finger wooooo now show me on the doll where the scary human touched you.

8. Have a Chris Tee Christmas
My family Christmas parties are always pretty boring, and I much prefer the ones I go to with my friends. I helped my mom make her delicious baked pasta for this potluck party, and it was DELICIOUS because I had to add the cheese myself and so I just showered it all on. There was so much good food, and Italian porridge, and desserts and cake and stuff, that I was stuffed. I also hung out chatting with my friends till 2am, which is great and almost impossible to do since I'm not actually in RC4. And I also drove for the first time in a year, on a night road so it was relatively easier but I do sure need the practice.

9. Legally Blonde: The Musical
The new musical I experienced this year was Legally Blonde, and despite my initial expectations it was a hilarious comedy musical with great songs and a touching story. It doesn't hurt that a lot of my friends are totally into this musical, and keep singing it with reckless abandon almost all the time.

10. Her
Well, this year I fell in love. And not some stupid girl-in-red-dress love-at-first-sight nonsense, but the honest-to-goodness, head-over-heels, I-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with-you kind of love. And although it's been a crazy crazy experience, I've done so many things I've never done before, and seen so many things I've never seen, and through all the ups and downs oh man this is sounding very euphemistic. But the truth is I love someone, and I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

The Year in Entertainment

Anime: Accel World, Baccano, My Neighbour Totoro, Attack on Titan
I watched a lot less anime this year. I think it's because I don't commute anymore; I used to watch episodes on my mobile device because it was just nice for all the travelling I made. Now since I'm not commuting because all my classes are just downstairs, I'm not watching as much new anime. But well. I've been re-watching a lot stuff because of introducing them to friends. Anyway. I thought Accel World was iinteresting; not for the storyline (and the improbability of the romantic premise) but, like Infinite Stratos, for the battle system and the mechanics. I also really like the battle character designs, and I'm watching mainly to see how many different ones there are. I really liked My Neighbour Totoro, but thanks to Sean I cannot unsee all the symbolism that laces this innocent-looking children's movie. I'm still midway through Baccano and Attack on Titan, so I will refrain from passing judgment till then.

Books: DC's Blackest Night and Brightest Day, The Long Earth and The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter; Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Besides all the books I had to read this year for classes, I reread a lot of Terry Pratchett books because the Clementi library has so many of them and it's so much closer. I did manage to get my hands on the book I've always wanted to read: Good Omens, written by two legendary authors, and it's as every bit as good, if not better, than I hoped; a brilliant and hilarious story about humanity and the importance of its place in theology. I also finished The Long Earth and am halfway through The Long War, and it's a fascinating world-building exercise based on the premise of parallel Earths void of humanity, and asks a very interesting question: what would happen to humanity today if we had a solution to scarcity? My Dean's Fellow got us all books that we'd like and swapped them around with all the people in our DF group, and I got someone's The Last Lecture, which I've watched and been mindblown by a while ago. The book doesn't have that same impact, but it does have a lot of interesting life lessons I'm slowly incorporating into my everyday. Finally, I've been working up to DC's Blackest Night crossover event for a long time, and I am still hyped about the emotional spectrum, which I think is one of Geoff Johns's greatest masterstrokes. But if Blackest Night was good, Brightest Day was fantastic. There was one point in the story where I mentioned to Karen, "If I turn the page, I find out everything." And I think that's the measure of a brilliantly-crafted story: if you keep the reader (or audience, or whatever) hanging on until turning a page becomes a life-changing event.

Movies: Man of Steel; Thor: The Dark World; Iron Man 3; Memento
I've not watched as many new movies this year as well. Man of Steel was an okay-ish Superman movie; as a hardcore fan, I hated the fact that Superman kills and Lois Lane is like an ace investigative journalist for like two minutes before becoming nothing but a damsel in distress. Thor 2 was as typical a Thor movie as the first, save for Tom Hiddleston, who is fast becoming the only iteration of Loki in the same way Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are; and the final piece of evidence for that fan theory a couple years back linking everything to the Infinity Gauntlet. Iron Man 3 was okay, not as exciting as the second movie I think. And I finally watched Nolan's mindscrew Memento, and it's an amazing thriller with a very mind-blowing ending.

TV Shows: Running Man
I realise I've never exhorted my love for Running Man here before. But I've watched a lot of this recently, starting all the way from the beginning of the series at episode 1, and I've found it so hilarious, that it doesn't matter I don't know any Korean. Yoo Jae Suk is bloody hilarious, and I think Lizzy is damn cute. Anyway I watched what has to be the best Running Man episode I've seen so far, a Christmas special where they all had "superpowers" and a battle-royale free-for-all.

Music: Legally Blonde the Musical
I don't recall much new music this year, but what I do recall is this comedic gem.

Games: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, Hearthstone, Darksiders; League of Legends
I've extolled about the Batman: Arkham games enough, I think. I got Darksiders a while back in a Humble Bundle, and it's a pretty interesting hack-and-slash platformer. Hearthstone is Blizzard's World of Warcraft TCG remake, and even though it will never capture the complexity and depth of the cardboard version I followed for a long, long time, it's pretty fun and very quick. And League of Legends has become one of my more mainstay social games, with so many people in my college playing it. I'd like to say I'm getting better, but I'd like to say a lot of things.


Well, see ya, 2013. 2014, let's see what ya got.
The Edna Man

Friday, December 20, 2013

Batman: Arkham



Okay okay here's the deal. I bought Arkham Asylum and  Arkham City a few weeks ago, and I just started playing Asylum during these holidays. And oh my gosh, it is AMAZING. For a fanboy like me, this is a dream come true. Kevin Conroy as Batman, AND Mark Hamill as Joker? Holy crap, I'll take two. (And I did.)

Gameplay is exciting and interesting, and very skill-based. It's a brilliant game which highlights Batman's detective skills, not just his combat ability. And there's so much puzzle and problem-solving; it's really an amazing game. I don't want to ramble because all this has been said and done, and I know I'm late to the party. But WOW, this was an incredible experience.

And oh man, the Joker is properly insane, perfect; but man oh man the Riddler is BRILLIANT. So few media portray a good Riddler; The Batman's was really good but this one is oh so much better.

I can't wait to play Arkham City and wet my spandex again.

The Goddam Edna Man

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Stable Vacation

In an unprecedented turn of events, my mom let me go on a trip with my friends to Malaysia for a couple of days. I was surprised as... I was, I guess.

I've never been on a road trip to Malaysia before, save for that one time when I was younger and my whole extended family on my dad's side took a whole coach up to Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days of shopping and food. This trip was much more fun: I was going with friends, that family that you choose! I was singing musical songs with Carmen and Daryl most of the car ride, while Wei Jie was clearly murdering each and every one of us in his mind, multiple times.

We stayed in this country club on the outskirts of Johor, called the Legends Golf and Country Resort. It's this sprawling compound with golf courses and horse stables and bordered by palm tree plantations. It's a pretty nice place, not in the polished wood and marble way, because this still is Malaysia; but it's grand in size and scale. We stayed in this suite in this section of the club pretty far away from the main entrance, and it was a bungalow thing with a huge common area and two gigantic bedrooms. It was really nice and comfortable, and the bathrooms were gorgeous. I wouldn't mind showering in bathrooms like that, only I wouldn't want to clean them every week.

On the way to the suite we passed by this small wood-and-wire-netting structure housing a bunch of animals. Apparently the club is home to a pretty robust natural sciences programme, and they have rabbits and chickens and even monkeys for children to come round during the holidays and learn about the animals. There's even a small farm for growing local produce. Anyway Xi Min and I were very amused at the time to see one of the signs saying Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, also labeled as the "Toddy cat", and we were laughing at the "Paradoxurus" part, because we thought it might be the scientific species of Schrödinger's cat. But upon coming home I learned that it was the scientific name of the Asian palm civet, which isn't a cat at all but a close relative (yay genetics syllabus in Scientific Inquiry!). It was funny while it lasted.

The food was pretty good. There's one small restaurant in the club, and it served really delicious helpings of nasi goreng and mee goreng, Penang char kway teow and nasi lemak. We were constantly waited on my this Indian waiter, who I presume didn't have a very good command of English (it's Malaysia, after all; he probably had better command of Bahasa), and was constantly frazzled at having to deal with a table of a dozen hyperactive and noisy teenagers and young people.

One of the main reasons we came out here in the first place was because people wanted to try horseback riding, and I too was one of these people. I have never done it before, and it was pretty fun! My mighty steed was called Jazz Malone, which is such a cool name. I called him Jazzy for short. He's a pretty easy-going horse, although he did have a tendency to start walking forward when the horse in front moved off, without waiting for me to nudge his flanks; and also to pull his bit forward to have more free rein. But it's actually pretty easy to ride a horse, if all you want to do is clop forward at a leisurely pace. Forget trotting, cantering, or galloping; that's advanced stuff, that is. Amrullah got pretty far, up to trotting I think. It seems to be pretty hard; you have to bounce to the rhythm of the horse, which means you have to grip its flanks with your thighs. Crazy stuff.

Anyway I'm pretty happy to get as much time actually spent riding the horse in that hour as I did. Because Malaysia, I'm sure there were a lot fewer safety regulations to follow; or if there were, they didn't spend time explaining to us. It was get helmet, adjust stirrups, up on horse, go. (Though of course, because Malaysia, they stopped us ten minutes before time was actually up.)

At night we went to look at the stars. There's a lot more stars in the sky there than in Singapore's sky; but not as many as I would have liked. I recognized Orion instantly, it being the only constellation I could identify. I tried looking for the Big Dipper, but couldn't spot it. There was a cluster of stars which might have been the Seven Sisters nebula, but I vaguely remembered that it wasn't visible from Earth with the naked eye; I could be wrong. I also caught a shooting star whizzing by. There was supposed to be meteor showers around the time we were there, but a couple of days after we would have had to leave. I think we spent an hour in the middle of that road, just staring up into space, at the stars, and at the vast infinity of the universe.

Hanging out with my friends was awesome fun too. We played a bunch of games, like Sets, which I cannot play to save my life, because of colourblindness (and the yellow light we were playing under didn't help). And I introduced Shadow Hunters to them as well; that was crazy fun, especially with Amanda ruining Xi Min's master plan because he didn't plan for the fact that she was a new player and wouldn't know about his multiple layers of reverse psychology. I also managed to try out a variant of Would I Lie to You, which was pretty fun, but would be better as an ice-breaker game. Oh and during a round of Guesstures, I had to act out Catholic Afternoon Carwash, which was fantastically hilarious.

Even at the end on the last day, when we were just sitting at Evangeline's void deck and munching on pizzas; that was a brilliant way to end a great trip with friends.

I'm on a horse,
The Edna Man