You Got To Take The Shot!

I was gonna start this post with “Recently, I was playing FIFA on my PS3″, but Jo, in her infinite wisdom says that AT LEAST half of you would read that line and close the browser window immediately. Also, “Recently, I was playing FIFA on my PS3″ would probably not be the best line to start my first post of 2013 with (now the first line of 2013 that I am writing in this blog has “Jo, in her infinite wisdom” in it. Go figure…).

Anyway, trust me, there is a point to this story.

So…

Recently, I was playing FIFA on my PS3.

I was using the best team in the game (Barcelona) with (arguably) the best player in this part of reality (Messi). I was playing against the AI-controlled Norwich City (yeah, I cheat, so what?) and I was dominating the game so much I was able to try to play the “beautiful game”. I passed the ball around.. OK, actually, I passed the ball to Messi every time I could and tried to razzle and dazzle my way near the goal area to take my shot. You should have seen it. It was beautiful!

Yet somehow, throughout the game, I never managed to get my shots off. I would get tackled just as I was preparing to shoot, or, more often than not, I would dribble past the touch line for a goal kick to Norwich. I was waiting for a perfect chance.. for all the factors to line up perfectly before making an attempt at goal.

Norwich, on the other hand, took pot shots whenever they could and by the end of the game, they had 15 shots at goal and 2 goals. My Barcelona, on the other hand had a 75% possession rate and ermm.. 1 goal from 1 shot at goal (I have to emphasize that it was a shot where everything fitted together – where, I swear, I could hear choirs sing and see angels dance, a moment in time when the Universe seemed magically aligned)

And the point of this whole story?

I had an epiphany watching computer-generated Messi’s dejected face on screen.

You GOT TO take the shot!

No matter the circumstances, you GOT TO take the shot.

It is true that sometimes Reality will shift to make everything fall perfectly in place for you to make your move. Most of the time, for most of us, we just gotta take the swing and hope for the best, because at the end of the day, you need to be a bit of a fool (or have Messi on your team) to wait for that perfect moment.

And sometimes that Perfect Moment never comes.

And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s Barcelona or Norwich, we all have the same 90 minutes to make our mark. And sometimes, when/if you wait too long, the game would have ended and you would have lost your chance to score forever.

See! A point! And They say video games corrupt the brain…

In that sense, 2012 was an awesome year.

I had the chance to take swing after swing after swing.

See… the key words in that sentence was “had the chance”. I did not succeed in scoring knock outs with every attempt (actually a lot of the punches were what they call in basketball – “nothing but air”), but I’ve never felt more alive. I tried, I failed, I try again. There is something liberating knowing that the world did not end just because I hit a dud.

Life goes on, the world continues spinning, fleas continue to attack dogs.

And that’s it. You brush off the dust, get up and try again. And with every try, you learn a little bit more about yourself. About what you are good at, what you are not. And perhaps, more importantly, about what you like and what you do not.

What I am saying is, Screw Yoda, the worst thing you can possibly do is not to try at all.

So, here’s hoping I get another year of trying and trying and (hopefully) succeeding in some of the tries.

The Emotional Spider Man – A Fan Boy Review

I know… this is a travel blog, but we just caught the Amazing Spiderman, and as a fan boy I HAVE to say something about it.

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I’ll be honest, I was prepared to hate the new Spiderman movie the moment I saw the first trailer. With the Spider Hoody and all the sulking in the corner of the classroom, it looked too “emo” and “Twillight”-esque for my liking.

However, it was a movie I NEEDED to watch. I just didn’t think I would be too happy watching it.

You know there are those moments when you go into something with a pre-conceived notion of how you think something would be done and then got pleasantly surprised and even wowed when you are proven wrong?

This was not one of them.

Don’t get me wrong. The Amazing Spiderman was an awesome action flick. The action sequences were fast and furious. The fight scenes were well-cherographed and ranked among some of the most impressive I’ve seen in a Spiderman movie yet.

It’s just that the story’s pretty lacklustre when compared to the Sam Raimi/Tobey McGuire version that was out just 10 years earlier. I can’t help but compare the two.

Tobey McGuire was an EXCELLENT Peter Parker. He was the geek that got super powers. I get the exhilaration he felt when he got his new abilities. He jumped for joy, he tried to impress the girl, he behaved like a jerk and he tried to find ways to make money with the powers he got. It was (as far as super hero movies go) believeable and more importantly, it was… fun!

Andrew Garfield, on the other hand… moped.

He moped on rooftops, he moped in alleyways, he moped in abandoned junkyards, he moped on his skateboard. (Yeah. Skateboard. Don’t get me started on that. Peter Parker is a science nerd, not a hipster)

I just never felt he was terribly excited at being able to “do whatever a spider can”.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this Peter Parker (and I know legions of Garfield-fans will want to lynch me for this) is… unlikeable.

Fans of Andrew Garfield will be glad to know that you’d be seeing a lot of him. Yes, of Andrew Garfield, not the CGI Spiderman. How do I know? Well, for a masked vigilante who should be concerned with people finding out about his identity, Peter Parker sure spent a lot of time running around without his mask on. It’s almost as if Marc Webb knows better than to cover up his money maker. Maybe that’s the reason why they casted Tobey McGuire in the original trilogy.

A face you’ll see more of….
Photo Courtesy of screenrant.com

The director Marc Webb (SERIOUSLY!! Jo wondered if he was chosen because of his name) probably wanted to keep the story simple. He dumbed it down so that new viewers won’t get distracted by three instalments worth of back-story or any form of story-telling for that matter, and concentrated on swooning at Garfield’s handsome mug.

I call it the Twillight effect.

I know it is important to keep the story uncomplicated, but at times, the story was so simple, the villain so predictable that the whole sordid affair felt pretty much one dimensional (Geddit? Cause we watched the show in 3D).

I know this is a fanboy gripe, but the characterization of the main cast was also slipshod, inconsistent and at times, downright horrible.

First, there’s Dr Curt Conners. The Lizard is one of the more colourful and complicated characters in Spidey’s rogue gallery. He has a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde complex that puts Jekyll and Hyde to shame. In ASM, he just behaved like a two bit thug with less than noble motivations. And don’t give me the crap that it is hard to flesh out a character in two hours. Sam Raimi did a brilliant job of it with Dr Octo Octavius in Spiderman 2 (which I consider one of the most awesome super hero movie of all time).

Guess the villain
Photo Courtesy of Screenrant.com

And then there’s Gwen Stacey. I like that they went with Peter Parker’s first crush as THE Love Interest and I Love Emma Stone, but did they really have to make her out to be such an airhead? She’s SUPPOSED to be some science hotshot, but it’s hard to believe she’s top of her class when all Andrew Garfield did to seduce her was to feed her the following lines, I quote:

“Ugh… yeah.. you know… whatever… whenever….”

I wish I was kidding. This pitiful attempt will mislead young boys into thinking that the Rain-Man-y attitude will work on random smart, hot girls (it doesn’t…. believe me, I’ve spent most of my life trying)… but then again, he did look like Andrew Garfield

I fall for SMALL talk
Photo Courtesy of screenrant.com

In comparison, Tobey McGuire had to break out the big guns:

“I said, um, Spider-man, I said, uh, the great thing about M.J. is when you look in her eyes, and she’s looking back in yours, everything feels not quite normal, because you feel stronger, and weaker at the same time. You feel excited, and at the same time, terrified. The truth is you don’t know what you feel, except you know what kind of man you want to be. It’s as if you’ve reached the unreachable, and you weren’t ready for it.”

Ok… maybe McGuire would have gotten laughed off too. But he’d have gone down swinging.

But all my complaints pale in comparison to my biggest gripe.

*Possible Spoiler Alert*

They had one chance… One BIG two hour chance for Martin Sheen, the Father of Charlie “Out of Control” Sheen AKA Captain Benjamin L. Willard AKA President Josiah ‘Jed’ Barlet to utter the immortal line that is so central to all Spiderman stories:

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibilities.”

And they BLEW it.

Seriously! The six words were never heard in the entire show.

I understand that certain creative liberties need to be taken to tell some stories. For example: Web shooters. I was perfectly OK with Sam Raimi allowing Tobey McGuire to shoot sticky substance out of his hands when he got excited instead of explaining how a high school kid “invented” web shooters. But there are some things you just don’t mess around with.

THAT line is central to the whole Spiderman mythology and you just don’t screw around with that.

*End of Spoiler Gripe*

Whining aside, there are worse ways to spend your movie money and two hours of your time. This version of Spiderman is (very apparently) gonna be around for a while, so it is definitely worth checking.

But if you are bringing your kids to watch the show, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE for the love of all that is nice and rainbowy, do not let this be his/her first exposure to the Spiderman franchise.

Let them see the Tobey McGuire, or even the Electric Company Spiderman first.

Confessions of a Blackburn Rovers Supporter

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Here we are – the last match of the English Premier League season. The fate of my team has already been determined.

We’re going down.

A season of Championship (fancy name for “not good enough”) football beckons.

I know… this is supposed to be a travel blog, but bear with me through some of my fan boy rants, and I promise you, there’s a point I am trying to make.

My love affair with the Rovers started in 1993. I’d just watched my first Premier League game and I was hooked!

Despite not having any geographical links with East Lancashire (or any parts of England for that matter), I was excited by the club that Jack Walker had built.

Jack Walker (no relation to Johnny)(I think…) was a self-made steel tycoon who decided to put his considerable financial might into the rejuvenation of his home town of Blackburn. He believed that the self confidence of the dreary industrial town could be improved greatly if they have something to cheer for. Something like the revival of the town’s once-great football club. Wouldn’t it be great if a small-town club could challenge for the country’s top honours with legendary clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal?

It sounded like a script right out of an underdog-made-good Hollywood movie, but they were still big words coming from a club that just barely avoided relegation from the Second Division.

Over the next few years, Uncle Jack put his money where his mouth was. He injected millions of his own money into the club he supported since he was a boy. He even managed to persuade ex-Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish into taking over as the club’s manager. Despite the club’s small fan base, top players and promising youngsters started joining the club. The man was playing a real life game of Championship Manager!

I wish I could say I started supporting the Rovers because of the passion of Jack Walker, but 12-year old me was actually more star struck by Kenny Dalglish and his garden-theme squad (We had a goalie called Flowers, a defender called May, a skipper called Sherwood and a star striker called Shearer)(Surely, someone else saw the connection!).

With Walker’s money, the Rovers went from strength to strength. They scraped through promotion to the newly formed Premier League via play offs, and proceeded to finish fourth and second in their first years in the new League.

On the final day of the 94/95 season, Rovers needed a win against Liverpool to secure the league title.

They lost.

In a dramatic turn of events, Manchester United failed to capitalise on Rovers’ loss, and drew at West Ham.

The fairytale was completed! Walker’s Blackburn became the second team to win the Premier League and the only provincial team to finish top since.

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It was an awesome time to be a Blackburn fan!

The next few years were not that great.

Dalglish moved up to become Director of Football. Star players were bought up by richer clubs. A series of bad performances and worse managers meant Blackburn never reached the top again. In a dismal 98/99 season, the team finished in the bottom three of the league and was relegated into the (then) Division One. It was heartbreaking to see Walker’s face as the team played their last game in the Premier League for two years. Walker never saw his beloved team play in the top flight again. He passed away from cancer in 1999.

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Uncle Jack

During this time, Blackburn slowly transformed from a team-money-bought to a team of industrious giant killers. They don’t have the most expensive players, or the most good looking starlets, but they certainly play with a lot of heart. The players would challenge for every ball and go in hard on every tackle (some would say too hard).

It was with this attitude that the team won promotion back to the Premier League. Even though they’ll hover in mid table obscurity throughout their return to the Premier League, they’ll pull off the occasional shock victory, even winning the League Cup through an impossible sequence of results.

It was a difficult time to be a Rovers fan. I had to scour obscure websites to find replays of the Division One matches. There were always taunts from fans of “big clubs” when I proudly announced my support for a team of “hooligans” and “second stringers”, but I was proud of the way the team carried themselves. Of course, the occasional upsets provided great entertainment for me when I could laugh at the “difference in quality” between Rovers and the billion-dollar branded clubs of prima donnas. It was a difficult time to be a Rovers supporter, but it was a good time as well.

Last season, Blackburn was bought over by Indian chicken tycoon, Venky’s. Their reign thus far would be marked by empty promises and their unwavering support to an ineffective manager. Under this regime, the once tight knit Rovers squad turned to shambles. Dedicated servants of the club turned mutinous: refusing to play any more matches until things changed. They were promptly sold off at ridiculously low prices.

Blackburn fans were labelled as hooligans by the national media for heckling the clueless manager who had not managed to earn the respect/love of anyone at the club.

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A round headed buffoon with a head shaped like an orange.... Ricky Gervais' words, not mine...

It was a horrible time to be a Rovers fan. It’s like watching your best friend get into an accident in slow motion and not being able to do anything about it.

I promised a “point” to all this, so here it is:

While watching a match at a friend’s place recently, I was asked: “Why are you supporting this bozo of a team?”

For the first time in almost 20 years, I couldn’t answer.

Blackburn Rovers was in shambles. We have disinterested owners, an incompetent manager and a bunch of players whose hearts do not seem to be in it anymore. We played 90 minutes of football against Tottenham without A SINGLE SHOT AT GOAL! I’m sure Spurs had an impressive defence, but my point was that even a half hearted Nazri Nasir would’ve tried a shot from midfield given half the chance!

So to my friend’s question, I could only manage a half-assed answer of “Loyalty”.

But seriously where do you draw the line between Dedication and Blind Loyalty? I have a feeling that the only reason why I check the Blackburn club page these days was out of pure habit. It was a comfortable habit I have had for the longest time – one that I carried on with even when it doesn’t make sense to do so anymore.

I realize that this applies to many parts of life too. We do anything long enough and it would become a habit. It’s more comfortable to carry on with a bad habit than to break out of it. To break out of the cycle of bad behaviour, we have to first realize it’s not something we want anymore.

And sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I’ll not be checking in on the Blackburn squad anymore. I’ll still be watching English football but I won’t be supporting any teams. I’m sure I’ll lapse and type in the url for the Blackburn fan page once in a while, but until something drastic happen, they’ll certainly not be in my “favourites”folder anymore.

Arte Et Labore!

How the Gar-inch stole the Chinese New Year

I am not a big fan of the Chinese New Year.

There, I’ve said it.

No, I’m not a bratty 14 year old ashamed of my Chinese heritage, it’s just that I get a bit miffed by the occasional “obligatory” things we need to do during the Chinese New Year.

Context : A big part of Chinese New Year is the act of “pai nian” (拜年) (literally “pai” and “nian”) where family and friends take turn to visit each other’s houses over the Chinese New Year period. It is part of the Chinese New Year tradition, but ever since I was younger, I felt that it is just a bit too obligatory for my liking. Over the years, I actually grew to be fine with it. In some ways, I even think it is necessary to be “forced” to meet up with people you normally would not have met up with (or even go out of your to avoid meeting with). The thing that bothers me about”pai nian”-ing is how it amplifies the natural dynamics in most Chinese families.

You see, an important factor of the “pai nian” process is the exchange of mandarin oranges with the host and the giving of red packets of money (ang pows) to the unmarried members of the family.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve observed that in the steady state, a lot of Chinese families maintain relationships much like the ones between US and the Soviets during the 80s. There is a bit of competition and some hidden spite, but all in all everyone maintains a cordial (sometime respectful) relationship to avoid mutually assured destruction.

The game changes during Chinese New Year. Everyone would probably have started out bringing two oranges for the exchange and passing out $8 ang pows. But one year, Relative A (US) would suddenly decide to bring along a box of new year goodies “just to share”. This will provoke Relative B (Russia) to rush to a nearby supermarket to buy a box of oranges and say it was “just lying at home”. Not wanting to be outdone, Relative A will then give out $10 ang pows the following year because it was “a good year”. To top that, Relative B will start giving out $12 ang pows, bring along two boxes of mandarin oranges and a box of New Year goodies. Before you know it, everyone starts arriving for Chinese New Year gatherings in rented mini vans because of the amount of gifts/ang pow money they are carrying.

At this point, Relative C (China) who had not been able to keep up will pretend to be disdainful of the whole situation, and at the same time, giving himself the perfect excuse to not go for any more Chinese New Year gatherings. All the while, the only ones who stand to benefit from the fallout of this conflict are the blood thirsty terrorists and conniving arms dealers sitting on the sidelines (Child A, B, C to Z).

Of course, the “pai nian” is just an aspect of the Chinese New Year. There are other components. Taken separately, some of the individual components of the Chinese New Year are irritating, but if you put them all together they are practically intolerable.

There’s the “Dong dong dong dong chiang”. I don’t think there’s any concrete study done on this matter, but my intuition tells me that if they do a profiling of known mass murderers, an uncanny number would have a history of writing Chinese New Year songs. I mean any song writer that choose to accentuate every word of his song with a cymbal crash should be classified as what they would call in technical terms, a psychopath.

As a former percussionist in a school band, I speak with good authority that drums and cymbals are a lot more enjoyable for the player than it is the audience. Believe me there’s always a strong sadistic temptation to interrupt the most inappropriate parts of the song with a cymbal crash. Most people don’t act on this temptation because they realize that there would be consequences. I know from first hand experience that a cymbal crash at the wrong moment often cause others to want to stuff a drum stick up your… Dong Chiang, if you know what I mean (when I say “others” I meant “fellow band members who are stuck rehearsing the same piece for hours”). I would like to take the time to clarify that I am not a psychopath. I just possess a seemingly inhuman non-existent sense of rhythm.

Next is the colour red. The Chinese believe that red is the colour of prosperity. The Green Lanterns believe it’s the colour of rage. I stand on the side of the immortal wisdom of DC comics. Scarlet is actually one of my favourite colours, but during Chinese New Year, I have to refrain from wearing it because no one could see you if you are wearing red during Chinese New Year. If Modern Warfare ever comes up with a Chinese New Year mod, the outfits for the players would be red. There actually is a life lesson in all this… There CAN be too much of a good thing, especially if the good thing involves primary colours… and Modern Warfare should totally come up with a Chinese New Year mod.

Finally, there’s the Chinese New Year food.

There’s nothing wrong with the Chinese New Year food.

Chinese New Year food is awesome.

Anyway, this is a bit late, but I’ll like to wish everyone here a happy Chinese New Year and may the New Year goodies not add any bulk to your Dong Chiang.

What’s a Bum gotta do?

Since I left the job, one of the most common things people ask me is,”What do I do all day?”

It’s understandable because up till now, my job was very much a part of my life. It’s an accepted norm here that we will finish college, find a job, start a family, provide for the family by working at said job till we retire… Our jobs, our careers were supposed to give our days meaning and give our lives purpose. In many ways, our jobs take up so much of our waking hours, they define who we are.

It is the same with me. After the initial high of being able to wake up at whatever time I want and playing as much of my PS3 whenever I want, things started feeling a little… hollow. (it’s true, I went on a 3 day gaming binge just because I could)

When I was working 40++ hours a week (excluding sailings), there was very little time to consider what really makes me happy. As an adult, we have so many obligations tying us down that any off time is better spent catching up on rest or with friends/family. It is so much work thinking about and getting started on new activities that most of the time, we will go with the safe options of eating, shopping, watching the movies and yes, gaming…

I have to admit, sometimes, it feels like I am not even enjoying these activities very much but I am doing them because they are supposed to be enjoyable and it’s what everyone else is doing on their off time… sort of like taking drugs to numb the pain of work

Having all the time in the world gives me the time and freedom to really think hard about these things. And the best part is I no longer have the excuses to not follow through with them. I can no longer use “no time” as an excuse not to do them.

I can experiment and do things I think I might enjoy. Things that I think I might like to do but would have deemed too much “like work” to do on my off days previously.

I write (on this blog, and some other side projects). I swim (seriously). I am considering volunteering. I do a bit of photoshop art just to amuse myself. I am trying to learn a foreign language (rather unsuccessfully) off a home study course. I am learning to trade the stock market. I cycle to the beach, lie on my hammock and read my backlog of books, comics. Most things that I put my mind to, I can do.

Of course, I game and watch TV the whole damn day if the mood pleases me too.

On a whim, I would even do things that I never thought I would before – and finding that I don’t mind (“enjoy” is too strong a word) doing them. Things like cooking! Ok, so making the most awesome sandwiches in the world is not really considered cooking, but it is a big step forward. I would never have put anything more complicated than instant noodles on a stove before because I don’t think it makes (economical and labour) sense to cook for two people. But now, I can do it because the labour and time factor of the equation has been taken out.

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Awesome-wich Redux – Open Top Buttered Toast with Melted Cheddar, fresh lettuce and cucumbers, bacon and scrambled eggs… GENEROUS dollop of mayonese

There really is no greater feeling than waking up in the morning and asking myself “What do I really want to do today?” and knowing that I can do what I want whenever I want to do it.

Everyday becomes an adventure again!

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It is a great bonus to me to be able to watch the season premiers of all the fall TV shows as they air in the US. Beside classics like How I Met Your Mother Season 7, The Big Bang Theory Season 5, The Office Season 7 and Dexter Season 6, I find myself enjoying new shows like Sarah Michelle Gellar’s *droooool* Ringer and Steven Spielberg’s Terra Nova (DINOSAURS!! GRRROOOOOOWWWWWWL). Anyone else has any other shows to recommend?