Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sky diving in Arizona

September 15, 2012. Together with my Taiwanese friend Randy we made our way on car from Sierra Vista to Eloy, Arizona. It was around a 3 hour drive, but made shorter through constant conversation, typically on what we were going to go through by the end of the day. For the both of us, it was going to be our first sky diving experience.

It starts off with registration in a small room, together with a couple of other people in our time slot. After signing our lives away on a stack of documents that declares they are not responsible for any accidents as well as us giving up our rights to sue in the event of any accident, we were ready for our training. Which actually wasn't anything much.

We paid additional money for digital stills and videos, and thus a dedicated camera man accompanied me for the jump. He was first to greet and introduced himself, and began our conversation by saying he has good news and bad news for me. Good news was that Kim, my instructor, was a lady. Bad news, he added, that she wasn't very good. You can imagine my reaction when he told me that. But of course he broke out in laughter and said he was only kidding. I managed to force a smile back.

A truck took us to the plane and the runway. I wasn't too excited nor nervous at this point in time really. But the trip up changed everything. As we rose, the buildings and cars began getting smaller and at this point I wasn't even joking around with Randy anymore. Somehow, the lack of instructions from Kim wasn't too assuring. She had only given me basic instructions back on land and I wasn't even strapped on to her yet. Till 3 minutes before we jumped out of the plane, that is. She told me to turn around, and began to strap my harness onto hers. Then we edged to the exit and this was the moment when the million dollar question popped into my head:

But there was no room for regrets. Nor hesitation. Before I knew it, Kim pushed me off and I was falling from 13,000 feet above ground level. To be honest, the feeling of free falling didn't last too long and I overcome the initial shock pretty quickly. I felt Kim tap my shoulders, which was the cue to let go of the harness, lift my chin up, and stretch my arms.

The free falling lasted about 1 full minute. I was trying my best to maintain a straight face, motivated by the camera man staring right in my face. I didn't really have the luxury of time to look around much and to enjoy the scenery nor feel the sensation of air rushing up my nostrils and mouth though. The camera man was too much a distraction.

However, I do remember the minute being extraordinary. The fear had completely left me, and I didn't even think or remember that Kim had full control over my life at that point in time. I was joking with Randy earlier that maybe they have this protocol to release the customers first in the event of an accident. That was a real question by the way. I just didn't have anyone to ask.

One funny thing was that I felt my shoes shaking because I didn't wear them too tight. I was afraid that they might fly off and that someone would see a pair of Adidas dropping from the sky.

I also remember my lips becoming very dry and I had to keep them moisturised because they were starting to crack. Breathing wasn't much of a problem. It's the air that keeps pushing against your face that makes it slightly uncomfortable. But that's not a problem when feel like you're on the top of the world. 

After Kim pulled the chute and our speed came to a refreshing halt, I finally found time to enjoy the view that the jump offered. She was nice enough to narrate everything she was doing and we also had a very enjoyable chat on the way down. She's had over 8000 jumps, though I'm not too sure in the world of sky diving how experienced that would mean.

The descent took a lot longer than the free fall but I wasn't complaining. In fact, I found it very relaxing. It was slow, and I could make out the landing zone and all the people that were running around in the facility. She also including a few spins that brought me almost parallel to the ground. It was pretty fun.

She instructed me to lift up my legs as high as possible once we were about to land, and I did as told. So in the end I landed on my butt, and we slided along on the grass patch. She should have told me to keep my mouth shut as well. I was all smiles and didn't know that I would be eating grass as all the pieces of grass came flying. Had to spit them out while releasing my harness.

For my efforts, Kim presented me with my First Jump Certificate and a commemorative T-shirt. Pretty cool stuff. It was a mere 10 minute wait for the DVDs of the photos and video (uploaded and linked via youtube below), which I thought was worth every penny.

On the whole, I thought it was a magnificent experience. I thank the opportunity that was presented to me, and otherwise I would never have gotten a chance to try this out back home or in Asia. Would I do it again? Definitely, but perhaps not with the camera man this time round. :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

New York, New York

I visited New York City a few weeks ago during one of the long weekends here. It took 2 flights to get there, around 5 hours of time from where I stayed in Arizona. And it's so different from the small little town where I live in. I already have the full album up on Facebook, so do check out the photos there. For this blogpost, I'll just briefly sum up where I visited during the weekend in NYC.

On the first night after touch down I visited Time Square, and then the top of the Empire State Building. Both were magnificent. I was speechless and both locations, and was in awe of the sheer spectacle presented to me. The bright lights as well as the crowds of people were a sight in itself. I was totally immersed in the environment and it slowly struck me that I was in the heart of NYC itself. On the top of the ESB, the view was equally mesmerising, if not more.

Next day I met up with my twitter friend Christine, who was so kind enough to give me a tour around the Manhattan and Brooklyn area. We took the subway and walked across the Brooklyn bridge, which was really awesome. I took a panoramic photo too, and more photos can be found in the album on FB. 

We also went to Toys R Us at the Time Square area, which was great. There were so many display items and sets there, including a fully operational ferris wheel inside. I was particularly impressed that they showed off actual Amazing Spider-man props, including Peter's mask, bag, and skateboard. They had a lot of other life sized displays too, not to mention a T-Rex from Jurassic Park.

We made our way to Wall Street too, where I got to take photos with the bull, iconic statues, and also a NYPD police officer and her police car.

Another important location we covered on that day was Central Park. Though, I didn't really had enough time to walk through it (it was huge). But it looked beautiful and if only I could have woke up earlier for a run inside it would have been a great experience.

The next day was spent in Chinatown, where I had my first good dim sum in quite a while. Next on the itinerary was The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The queue took over 90 minutes, due to the crowd congestion and also the security checks. But it was worth it. Although there's nothing much to see on Liberty island except for Miss Liberty herself, I spent quite a bit on the souvenir shop there :p

The last day was spent in Chinatown and Little Italy, buying souvenirs and having some good Chinese food before heading back home. There's just too many things to see, and there wasn't enough time to do the attractions justice. At least I've covered the important spots and got a feel of how life in the Big Apple feels like.

This is probably my only visit to NYC in the next couple of years, since it's so expensive to visit and it's too far away from home. I wish I could have brought my family along though. But I'm thankful that my work allows me to visit places which I would normally not have the chance to. I'll be updating the next few entries on my other trips around the US, but please don't have the impression that I'm not doing any work here. The weekdays aren't that much fun, I assure you :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Drama in Sierra Vista

I woke up to tragic news of the movie massacre where a lone gunman in a gas mask and body armor killed 12 people and injured 71 at a midnight premiere of the The Dark Knight Rises in a Denver suburb early Friday morning. It was terrible incident and my heart went to the victims and those affected. I'm currently staying in Arizona, which is a neighboring state but I did not think too much about how the incident would affect me. Little did I know what was in store for me later that day.

Work ended early since it was a Friday. I reached home around 2:30pm, and found out that I could still meet the next screening of TDKR (3:10pm) at the nearby mall, which was just 5 minutes away. I changed, grabbed my stuff and before you knew it the ticket was secured. Got myself a drink and found a good seat (theaters in the US have free seating), and I was pumped and ready for the movie.

What happened 90 minutes into the movie would stay forever etched in my memory. During the scene where Bane blew up parts of Gotham, I suddenly heard shouting from the rear of the theater, towards the left isle. He was shouting "HEY YOU! STOP MOVING!" My eyes were directed to the front of the cinema, where I then noticed a man standing in the open space, by the exit, along the left isle. He was white, tall build, and wore a backpack. All eyes in the cinema were on him at this point in time, as the light from the screen reflected off the seats and the audience, who realised what was happening instantly.

My first thoughts were "No shit.... you have got to be kidding me." The initial reaction I had was to take cover. If I took up prone position he would not be able to see me. More importantly, I figured I might not have enough reaction time to make it to the exit if he was already holding on to a weapon (remember it is legal in some states in the US to obtain guns). To make it out of the theater, I had to go across 6 or 7 seats, and make a round about turn by the right isle. It seemed like the length of a marathon race at that instant.

But before I could find a place to hide, the people on my left were already scrambling towards me. I did not really have a choice except to try and make it out towards the right side exit. The situation was chaotic, as there were people screaming and shouting, and as I made my way out people were falling and crawling out. Once out of the cinema, I turned back and saw many girls and women who were crying, and being comforted by their partners.

By this time, my heart was racing and the adrenaline was pumping. Hard. It was the first time in my life that I felt I was running for my life. Thoughts ran through my head, but the most important and obvious one was the instinct to stay alive. I circled for a while outside the ticketing booth, to see if more people made it out, but it was very confusing to see people outside totally oblivious to what was happening inside the cinema. I didn't know what to do. Should I alert them to evacuate? Should I return to the cinema? To be honest, I was really lost and the only thing I could do was to return to the hotel. After calming my nerves, I went out again and wanted to see if the police arrived, but there was nothing. Everything seemed peaceful on the outside.

Around 2 hours later, I checked the website of the local news agency and they reported the incident. I quote: "SIERRA VISTA — Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies have arrested a homeless man after he disrupted a local theater Friday, causing moviegoers to evacuate less than a day after a gunman opened fire at a Colorado theater." Needless to say, it was my most exciting day in the US thus far. For those concerned, I am not injured nor emotionally scarred, less a gash on my arm when I scratched myself against the walls of the exit corridor. I would most likely be completing the movie either today or tomorrow. I need to know the conclusion. Until the next post, take care!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Living in the USA

And so I've just spent my first week here in Arizona, USA. I'm staying in a hotel in the quiet town of Sierra Vista, and although it seems like a retirement town, there's still places to see, and people to meet. So far it's been great, except for the fact that I've yet to have my own transport and it took me quite some time to walk 3km to Walmart. The hotel I'm currently staying in has most of the basic requirements, less a kitchen. Internet access is good, and so I can FaceTime with Mabel, Rena, as well as my parents easily. Though, the 15 hour time different can be a challenge. I'm making most updates on my Facebook wall, Twitter, and Instagram, but will talk a little bit more on this blog.

The view from my hotel window. Quiet place, but I'm near the mall and the cinema, so it's not too bad. It's a really tiny mall, but at least there's free wifi and asian food. Yup, expensive asian food. But there's no groceries and for that I'll need to head to either Target or Walmart, and that's a good 3km walk.

Food wise, I'll have to say I'm starting to miss asian cuisine and the standard kopitiam items. It's hard to swallow having gigantic American meals everyday, so I'm getting more stuff to microwave as dinners this week, and hoping to shift to the next hotel where there's a kitchen, so that I can start to get more adventurous with my menus.

Entertainment wise, I think most of you already realise I'm the type to stay home and get some serious gaming done. I bought an Xbox 360 for that, since I already have a PS3 at home. The Kinect deal wasn't too bad, so I got the bundle that came with 2 games instead. So far, it's been pretty sweet. Not spending a lot of time on the games, but mostly watching movies on Netflix, which I stream from my Macbook over to the Xbox in HD. Cool stuff, and the selection of movies is pretty wide. I've been watching HK and Korean movies on it.

Most people have already commented that I'll be returning to Singapore a fat boy. Well, I'm trying to prevent that by going for my runs and gym sessions. There's a tiny room here, but it's better than nothing. The running's good, but it's hard for me to get used to the difference in altitude as my throat dries really fast and it's very easy to get breathless. More practice should do the trick though.

There's also a pool and a tiny spa area with hot water, but I've yet to try out both. Will probably find time to do that. And there's a lot of time, trust me. I've been doing some reading in the hotel lobby too. It's pretty sad staying in the hotel room the entire day, really.

There's also complimentary American breakfast in the hotel everyday, and so far I've been eating it on a daily basis. Once again, I can't get used to it and I always think about what friends back home are eating. Instagram photos don't help much guys. I'd kill for a laksa soon.

One of the reasons I'm trying to settle meals myself is due to the price. The other, is how big the servings can be outside. The teriyaki chicken and shrimp meal I got at the mall can definitely serve 2 people. It's great, but the more I eat, the more I need to run, and it's going to be an upward battle if I don't take notice of my calorie consumption.

I'm trying to buy healthy, and at the advice of friends on FB, I've bought a lot more fruits as well. It's a little hard at the moment because I'm only armed with a microwave. The selection at the super-marts are also very different from home. There's a lot less vegetables and canned food. There's also limited choices for instant ramen. Though, there's a lot of microwave-able meals and they don't really cost too much.

Another thing much cheaper than back home are the American toys and figures. The Spider-man figures costs around 50% of back home, and it's a bargain. I nearly got these stuff back in Singapore, and I'm thankful I didn't because now I can get more from the same series at a lesser price.

There are also limited editions of figures, some of which can only be found at selected stores. I think I'll be getting more of these, as well as ordering them from Amazon, which provides free shipping to US addresses. Usually I'd skip the American toys because they would be pretty expensive on Japanese websites that I frequent, but since they are such a steal here, I can't really resist the temptation.

Well, so far for the update on my 1st week. Lots more photos are on my FB album, so feel free to check them out. Until the next update, ja ne!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All character shots!

In our various vacations around the various theme parks both locally and around the world, Mabel's been leading the charge in her mission to take photos with as many characters as possible. Don't be deceived by the picture above though, I rarely get to take many photos with characters of my voice. Just a few Ultramen, Kamen Riders and Super Sentai characters, but definitely overshadowed and dwarfed by the sheer amount of Disney characters we have taken photos together with. Without further ado, here is a compilation of our photos:

For those of you on Facebook who have seen this video, you might notice that I've changed the music. That's because the original piece, Be Mine by 2NE1 is copyrighted and I had to choose another track, this time something from the itunes themes library, which makes everything simpler. Back on topic, most likely we're going to take more photos later this year, so this collection will just keep on growing! :p

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Packing up!

As many of you are already aware, we've sold our 4 room flat recently and is looking to move into a new place once we find one. In the meantime, Mabel's going to shift in with my in-laws while I'll be staying overseas for an extended period of time due to work commitments. Thus, the time has come for me to pack all my stuff into boxes and to transport it to various places for temporary storage. And for those of you who have been to my place, you'd know how much stuff I have at home.....

Well, it took me 2 whole days to clean up and to stuff all my games, books, toys, figures, manga into approximately 20 boxes. I took quite a few shots during the entire process, and compiled it into a single video for your easy viewing. Hopefully we can find a place soon and that I can have a whole room this time to put all all my collections up. In my current place, my figures had to fall-in in rows of 5 and it's not even possible to display everything. Well, wish us luck and hopefully I can post up photos of our new place soon!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

1st place for MTD301!

As part of my part time studies at UniSIM, I took a 3rd year module called Audio & Video Production this semester. The End-of-course assessment was a corporate video for UniSIM, specifically the school of Human Development & Social Services (HDSS). It was a group project, and together in a team of 4, we set off on this very taxing and time consuming project. We gave our group the name RoundeClock Studios.

The hardest part was actually getting together. All four of us work full time and in fact, 2 of the teammates work irregular shift hours. Hence, most of the discussions took place during evenings and night time after work. For the video, we were initially concerned because HDSS contradicts our mental models of a corporate video, especially for a school. Usually, we'd slap in footage of school facilities or students and make it as trendy as possible, but it was difficult for us because the HDSS deals with degree programmes relating to childcare, elderly care, counselling, and social work.

We decided to be unique and to focus on the softer, human side of education instead. As amateur film makers, we needed as much research as possible. I was inspired by 2 things which prompted our direction in making the video. First, a Japanese MV by Ikimono Gakkari called Yell, and second, the ending sequence in the movie The Strange Case of Benjamin Button. Both showed the emotional aspects of life and relationships, and we hoped to exploit on that and to, in a certain way, emulate what they portrayed.

We completed the video after shooting in 4 different locations: an elementary school, a primary school, an old folk's home, and in the HDB heartlands. In essence, we had actors and actresses hold up customised messages ala a miniature blackboard. These messages are directly related to their professional field of work, in the line of either an educator or a social worker. In between these scenes, we would include messages that prompt self reflections of the viewer, so as go generate thoughts with regards to education and our purpose in life. Sadly, I'm not able to upload the video here, but hopefully UniSIM would screen our video in campus or even on their website.

During last week's screening, we were pleased to be informed that we received 1st place for the module. It was a pleasant surprise, and we were even presented prizes, by the school's Dean no less. I gave a very short intro to the cohort before the screening, but there wasn't enough time to thank everyone. Thus, I would like to thank all who helped out, in terms of either acting, or assisted in the securing of the filming locations. Special thanks go out to Ling Wei's awesome group of friends, Kelly who helped with all the arrangements at the home, and Kristin from UniSIM who gave us her fullest support.

As a 10 credit module, I certainly had a lot of fun for this semester. Met a lot of nice people, whom I didn't have the chance nor time to get to know better. All the videos shown during the screening were great, and I believed that the only reason we got 1st was because of the different approach we took, as well as the varied locations we filmed in. All the best to everyone, and I hope to meet you guys again in upcoming semesters. :)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Birthday Celebrations at USS!

We celebrated Mabel's birthday with our first trip to Universal Studios Singapore. We've actually been here before, but it was only for dinner and all the attractions had closed by then. This time, we spent nearly a full day there, and although the place isn't really that big compared to its overseas counterparts, we still had quite a bit of sights to cover, and mascots to chase after. Mabel's mission there was to capture as many characters as she possibly could, and we were lucky enough to also catch a famous Hong Kong celebrity there as well. We didn't really cover most of the rides as Rena failed to clear the height requirements, but I did manage to go for the Transformers ride while the both of them waited. There was virtually no waiting time for single passengers and the ride was less than 5 minutes. Still, I thought it was pretty cool and the effects were great. The photos we took have been uploaded on Facebook, and the video is embedded here as well.

After this trip, Mabel's got her sights set on the other Universal Studios too. Well, never too early to start planning I guess, and she has Rena's support too. For me, I'm just glad that at least the characters aren't from Disney. :p

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Sundown Marathon 2012

And so I completed the Sundown Marathon 2012 last weekend. It was my 7th full marathon, and although I only trained up to 10km due to weather and schedule constraints, I did manage to complete it within 6 hours, at 5:52. Not my personal best by far, but I'm glad I managed to do it without suffering as badly as the last one.

My previous attempt at Standard Chartered's Singapore Marathon 2011 last year was horrible. I trained up to around 16km if I could recall, not sufficient but at least there was some prep done. What made the run miserable was the weather. I couldn't stand the humidity of squeezing through tight lanes with so many other runners, and the sun was so hot I contemplated seeking shade. I ended up walking most of the time during the last few kilometers, and it was the worst personal record for me.

Likewise, the weather also proved to be a problem for this Sundown. At the halfway mark, thunder and lightning threatened to cut short the event. The rain was so heavy it hurts upon impact. I had to look down most of the time and I was really thankful I don't wear specs anymore. What motivated me was that I didn't see anyone else stopping. All of us carried on, pushing our bodies nearer to the finishing point. I had my iPhone along and I was thinking that's the end of it. It was virtually drenched in rainwater at the end point and I dreaded switching it on. I had another previous iPhone damaged by the rain in another run and it was in a zip lock bag. Amazingly, my phone survived. Yeah it was a miracle.

Overall, I hold back my complaints against the organisers of the run. There were areas which I thought could be better managed so hopefully they'll improve next time. For me, I had a great time, compared to my last marathon. In fact, I felt pretty good and perhaps I'll try to push for more than my initial target of 10 marathons before I hang up my running shoes. Just for the record, I'm a pretty lousy runner. In fact, I finish only ahead of 40% of other male runners in my category, so I'm quite slow. Nonetheless, it's not about how fast you are or how many runs you complete. It's about not giving up, and showing others and yourself that with the correct spirit and determination, you can seek out and achieve what you strive for. My next run would most probably be overseas, so I'm hoping for a good one to make it 8! :)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Go-Busters & Akibarangers!

After last season's Kaizoku Sentai Gokaigers (海賊戦隊ゴーカイジャー), which was the 35th commemorative series that gathered past alumni and all Super Sentai characters into one single universe, it would inevitably be hard for Toei to top it with a new series. And yes, this year's Sentai series: Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters (特命戦隊ゴーバスターズ) is a clean reboot. A totally new direction, that tries to differentiate itself from last year's cult favorite. First off, the story is in a new universe (at least so far), and it tries to be realistic. At least as realistic as you can try to believe. Think of it as Sentai in a Gundam universe. There are background crew to work on the mecha, and there's bases, pilot training, etc.

The good thing is that it doesn't even try to compare itself to Gokaigers because there's simply to contest in that area. Gokaigers has the advantage of having ALL characters in the series, and Go-Busters has decided to go with the initial 3 rangers, similar to Hurricangers, Abarerangers and Gekirangers. The 4th and 5th will show up soon of course. I'm not too sure if I'm enjoying the series as much as its predecessors, but here comes the good part about 2012:

There are 2 Sentai series this year! Of course, like its name implies, it's not official although it's from the same studios and features actual suits and actors from the main series. Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger (非公認戦隊アキバレンジャー) is actually a parody series aiming at the more mature audiences, hence the late night time slot. There's hentai references, boob grabbing, etc but all in the name of good fun and nothing overboard. Sentai otakus (like yours truly) will enjoy the show the most, since it makes fun of the series and the jokes are awesome.

So far, I'll have to say I'm enjoying Akibarangers more than the official Go-Busters, probably because of the laughs. Like I mentioned earlier, it's hard for Go-Busters to fill in the void left by the Gokaigers, but together with Akibarangers they're going to make 2012 a memorable year for Super Sentai. I'll probably post about this year's cross overs and Kamen Rider series soon, so until next time, JUU MOUSOU!