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Keeping me Weird

Hi everyone!

Man, didn’t mean to drop off the face of the earth, but I had two (well, maybe one) good reasons!

First of all, once again jobless. Despite the hope I’d be asked to continue at that supermarket I did a Christmas contract for, I’ve not heard a lick of a word from them. But perhaps that is a good thing! Perhaps this is a sign from On High that I should get off my butt and submit (yet again) applications more relevant to my degree and work experience.

In the meantime, what have I been doing ever since I finished my novel?

Skyrim.

Yes, this fantasy video game has utterly swept me into its snowy world and done a damn good job of helping me forget the pain/depression of losing a stable means of income. But I would also be fooling myself. If I wanted to, I could always go back to that dishwasher stint, or head out there and perform the same old rituals of the (job) hunt.

I just chose not to. For over a month and a half, I chose to – for once – have FUN. I chose to lose myself in Skyrim. And oh, has the obsession been sweet.

God, this is a beautiful, beautiful game. Words just can’t describe it. These past few weeks, I felt like I could do anything – slay dragons, wrestle giants to the ground, and tackle most obstacles merely by poking it with a sword and castle-sized stones. No messy job hunts. To earn money, all I had to do was to raid tombs and rob the dead, or help a girl find love in a small town, or reunite ghostly lovers searching for each other on an ancient battlefield.

I could go on and on about the game, but let’s just say that Skyrim is the reason I disappeared from Facebook and much of social life, leading people to actually wonder what happened to me! In fact, I played this game so much the fingers of my right hand swelled up, requiring me to drastically realise that, okay, perhaps I should ease back on the 12-hour, bladder-tightening gaming sessions.

But in the end, when it comes to my prospects, it’s just as Paolo Roy says about unemployment: I have to figure out how to live on my own terms.

Hack and Polish

It has not all been fun and games! I have actually started the editing process for my novel. This requires me to print it all out, as having it on paper makes it much easier for me to spot the minute and structural details I should fix.

And what a whopper the novel turned out to be! At 14-font and single space, the manuscript was a murder weapon-worthy 258 pages.

With my muse dragon, Fangthorn, and Fuzzy Red Hat of Inspiration.

Now that I gave myself a month to let the novel ‘rest’, I could start rereading with a fresh mind.

Good news, at least. So far I’ve gone through three-quarters of the manuscript and it isn’t as bad as I thought it was. There are two, three chapters that need serious reworking but otherwise…it could work. I just need to get to the ending before I can get down to the serious rewriting.

PLANE HOPPING

But there is, also, another reason I’ve not bothered job hunting the past month. February is when I fly to Texas for an exciting month-long vacation I planned half a year ago. And after a whale of preparations, I am finally here!

Austin's motto, seen on a colourful row of T-shirts at the airport.

That’s right. I’m in the US of A, and so far my holiday is fantastic 😀

I’m come across a customs official who tawks ta me in dat distinctive Brooklyn accent, spotted people in Amish-like robes, and eavesdropped on Americans who chatter straight out of all those US telly programmes I grew up on back in good old Malaysia.

It’s a surreal feeling, and I must stop acting like such a tourist and stopping every five steps to take photographs! I have a feeling people will not look too kindly to me stalking them with a camera.

But hey, at least I brought my homework – the manuscript which I saved on my thumb drive and plan to edit when I get some free time at night.

And in case people are wondering: No, this vacation will be, for once happily, Skyrim-free.

Will update soon, I hope! 😀

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Filed under Books, Computer Games, Depression, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Role-Playing Game, Skyrim, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

Understanding a Little Better, or Day 26 NaNoWriMo

I should have remembered word travels fast.

The only person I’d told was the restaurant manager. But it didn’t take long for the kitchen staff to wander in my direction while I hovered somewhat uncomfortably over the too-low sink, my hands flying over dishes that hectic Saturday night. My last night there, for a while.

It started with: “Would you like this pancake?” one of the girls asked me in Mandarin, by the grilling stove. “I’m afraid it’s a little burned but it should still be good.”

I smiled. I’d love to have it. This was the same girl who’s passed me a mandarin orange and once a Hershey chocolate – both welcome little surprises in the midst of intense dishwashing.

Then one of the cooks passed by my sink and chirped, “So where are you going?”

I said I had a temporary Christmas job at this supermarket. When I told them the name, they said, “Wah! Can I still apply?”

“Any more jobs for me?”

“I should apply!” one of the newer cooks said, a lanky handsome bloke peering in on the chicken in the deep fryer.

“That place has long hours, you know!” the girl at the grilling stove agreed.

Lanky sighed, stirring the chicken. “Ahhh, all I know is cooking anyway.”

I’m used to being in my own little world when I do the dishwashing. While my mind passes the time lately by replaying Skyrim theme music over and over, I’d be conscious of the cooks bustling around the kitchen and bantering with each other in Cantonese.

During less hectic moments, more than one would always burst into song. I can never understand the words, but I could tell by the way the boys poured emotion into the soft, wistful words that it would be something about love, about finding that Someone to end their loneliness. The best Chinese ballads usually are.

Then when I had about an hour to go on my shift, one of them again wanders in on me. Alan is a longtime restaurant staffer who usually does waiter duties. When the orders come flying in however, he’s been known to step into the kitchen and whip up a mean stirfry.  He’s also cocky and cheeky, and I’ve learnt to take everything he says with a pinch of salt.

Two weeks ago, he must have seen how much I was struggling with the dishes, back when I had yet to develop a system for doing it efficiently. He’d said in English, “Aiyah, come! I help you! Very easy! Very fast!” And he proceeded to demolish the mountain of dishes while I watched…and learned.

That night when I was about to leave, Alan had said, “Hey! You owe me ten pounds! I helped you!”

“I’ll give you a foot massage later!” I’d retorted, playing along with the jest to the amusement of the kitchen staff.

But the next week I baked brownies for Alan and other restaurant people, as thanks and also to spread some goodwill among the staff. The manager – who’s worked in an Italian restaurant and baked cakes for them before – paid me the highest compliment when he said the brownies were beautiful and evenly cooked.

Alan, however, said: “Your cake, ah, not good! Not enough chocolate! Put milk in next time. You still owe me ten pound, ah, I help you!”

“He’s just joking,” the manager told me later. I nodded. It’s how Alan is. Alan, in my mind at least, exemplifies what many Cantonese are like – rough and gruff but actually possessing deep layers of kindness inside.

Last night, Alan again said, “Come, I help you!”

I didn’t really have many dishes left to wash, but I let him anyway. He did the soaping while I rinsed and put away the drying plates. And he fell to talking. Boy, could he talk, jabbering in an amusing spatter of English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay.

“My Malay not very good, let’s practise!” said the boy from Seremban, Malaysia. I wandered away to put away the dishes and came back to find him reenacting how he might order something in a typical Malaysian coffee shop. It translates to something like: “Hello, I’d like to order your roti canai, kopi ping and–what’s chicken wings again? Can you give me discount? Thank you, good bye…”

“You are very funny,” I said in English.

“I not funny, but I’m funny! You know what I mean?”

“That you’re kay poh chee?” I deadpanned. I don’t think he heard me calling him a busybody.

Then for some reason we got to talking about his time in school, which made me realise that I knew very little about him or even what age he was. He looked like a teenager but acted like a world-weary veteran of the restaurant scene.

“My Malay teacher, ah, I ask him if I can pass this test. He say, Caaaaan! I can pass with flying colours! Flying colours all red down the paper! Then when exam time came, I got 100 percent mark. You know what I do? When I pass up the papers, I put ten ringgit money there for the teacher, all pass!”

Then he started giggling and chatting with the other cooks in Cantonese, saying certain choice (and I suspect raunchy) words that made one nearby waitress – who was from China – blink and quickly tell me in English, “You don’t need to know what he said!”

Alan, back to me while he heaped in another pile of dishes, “In my school, there was one Indian girl. She, ah, the most beautiful girl in class! Everything she do, she do better than me. I get B, she get A. I get A, she get A plus! My school got a tennis team and we only need her, one!”

My leaving was with relatively little fanfare. The kitchen staff had whipped up some “really nice” dishes for supper, said the restaurant manager, which I suspected was because of me. However because I was given some extra greasy grilles to wash, I didn’t have time to sit down at the table with them. They made sure however to pack me a takeaway before I had to rush for the bus.

“Keep in touch,” the manager said to me. “Just give us a call if you want to come back.”

I nodded.

NaNoWriMo wordcount

43000 / 50000 words. 86% done!

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November.

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Food, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Skyrim, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

Not Addicted, or Day 24 NaNoWriMo

That’s right, I skipped another day.

The reason? I got the supermarket job. And then events were suddenly hurtling towards me like a car high on gremlins. I’m to be hired for the Christmas season (Ho Ho Ho) and then perhaps…perhaps we’ll see. I’ve given up on that promised Royal Mail job, and this one at least looks like it’d be more stable. One shake of the manager’s hand later and I was rushing off for my kitchen job (money is money). Came home and crashed without writing a single word.

The next day (today), I had to attend the induction session which is basically one grueling day of videos, forms, quizzes, tours, trials, briefings, you name it: Alcohol, safety, equipment, toilet, boxes, food, toilet, vests, boxes, toilet, more equipment, stairs, up, down, up, toilet again?

It felt like a whole day of that, especially since for some reason my bladder decided to shrink to the size of a walnut.

The moment I got home, I passed out, woke up, then cattle-prodded my muse into churning out the words until I hit the mark. Somewhat.

This would not be possible whatsoever if my novel was not at a point where things blow up and heads go flying, so to speak.

I can’t believe I am surviving this NaNoWriMo experiment so far. I’ve had to juggle my time, compromise, learn discipline, write like a demon and find reserves I didn’t know I had. But was it all worth it?

For me? Sure. Without this crazy adventure, this novel would be one more idea locked away in my head. Say what you will, I’m enjoying the challenge however much it is sucking my hours, brainspace and occasional sanity. I’m starting to feel it, though. Getting ragged around the edges. Numb. I don’t think I’ve even mentally celebrated getting this job yet.

And to top it all off, I lost my warmest winter hat to the bus. AGAIN. That’s the fifth damn hat in two years! I swear it’s a conspiracy of evil buses out to devour the world’s knitted wear.

Will be working tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, all night shifts. This should be…interesting.

40021 / 50000 words. 80% done!

I did a Naughty

Pssst. Don’t tell anyone. I bought the video game, Fallout: New Vegas, thanks to Steam. It was going cheap too! A one-day deal! I’ve already downloaded it and plan to peek at it a few minutes as soon as I finish this post.

Just a few minutes. After all, hey, need to reward myself right? But not too long. Must sleep a few hours, get up, write and go for first day of work…

I’m not addicted. Really.

My preciouuuusss.

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November.

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Writing Reminders to Self, or Day 18 NaNoWriMo

30039 / 50000 words. 60% done!

I’m already 30,000 words into my YA novel for NaNoWriMo, and I am starting to get a little nervous.

I still seem to be in Act One, as it were, and I haven’t even booted the hero out the door on his Grand Quest yet! Am I spending too much time (and words) on set-up? Shouldn’t there be some action and adventure right now before readers start muttering, “I’m growing old reading this!”

I had a (now laughable) image of myself nicely wrapping this short tale by the 50,001th word.

Then I relax, because I remember that:

  1. I’m writing this novel mainly for myself. NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun experiment, and by butter, I will take as much time as as I want!
  2. The Three or Five Act Structure guideline which scriptwriters and novelists are so fond of is just that – a guideline. I shouldn’t be a slave to it, although it is a useful tool to keep me on track.
  3. This post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy world I’m creating is a bit more elaborate – and convoluted – than I expected, and the setting is a key part of the plot. Hence why I’m taking a bit more time with it. At the same time, I know I must resist worldbuilder’s disease – that temptation to shove the world down the reader’s throats!
  4. The hero is stuck in a building where he is not only surrounded by allies, but antagonists who keep messing with him. As far as conflict goes, I’m fairly comfortable I’m keeping him on his toes.
  5. The novel is also a personal journey of the hero and his relationship/friendship with this other character. This relationship is tricky and needs to be explored in depth…before I tear them apart and toss the hero into the maws of the dragon 😀

So there! I am fairly satisfied everything’s on track, although I now realise there’s no way this story is finishing at the 50k mark. The only thing I need to remember is that this ‘hero’ of mine needs to change and develop by the end of the tale – he has to be different from what he was at the beginning.

Woohoo!

I got my laptop back with a new hard drive, rescued my writing notes, reinstalled all my critical programmes, and most important of all, I found that my computer has the requirements to play Skyrim. WOOHOO!

Not only that, a friend promised to give me this game if I manage to finish the first draft of my other Malaysian novel by Christmas! Oh to play a computer game again!

Yeeeeeess, I waaaaaaaaants it, my precious…

This song is gorgeous. It kept playing in my head while I was doing my kitchen job. Which, let me tell you, makes for epic dishwashing.

Still waiting on the outcome of two job interviews. Getting anxious. God, please let me have money! I was a (fairly) good person this year!

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The Game, or Day 13 NaNoWriMo

I seem to be in a short story mood this week! Actually this was for a contest of 140 words, with a deadline I didn’t realise was for midnight of a particular day. By the time I noticed, it was exactly 12.02am. Ooops. So close, and yet so far.

Anyway it was 200 words too long, and in the end I decided to edit it and have a bit of fun with the story. A tale is never wasted in my mind!

Comments welcome, including suggestions for a better title 😀

***

The Game by Chris Kouju

The signs had been there from the beginning.

Yuzor was prone to impatience – swearing, aborted quests, constant fidgeting with the controls. It had the horde on edge. They could smell death in the air.

“Get in there,” I said, when I noticed Yuzor stepping onto the final battlefield. At my command, hellhounds surrounded his avatar on all sides, jaws lunging to kill. Yuzor dispensed with them easily, but no, he’d sapped too much of his avatar’s strength. He should have held back.

Hoping the victory would bolster his spirits, I sent in the Demagorge on a cloud of black smoke. The beast bellowed until the battlefield shook.

The avatar lifted his glowing sword and charged. As he did, we prayed it would be a good fight – one worthy of holding his attention.

He died the first time, of course. This was to be expected. The horde took pride in their challenge ratings, but I had other concerns. I watched for the signs of frustration.

He died again. Respawned. Tried again, only to die with spectacular speed. Each attempt, I could sense the horde holding its collective breath.

On the tenth try, I sensed a change. He was learning – honing his power, saving it for the critical moments. He jumped back when he should, knew when to lunge and where to slash at the Demagorge. He was winning!

I began to smile.

And then the Demagorge struck a lucky blow, killing him instantly.

We all heard Yuzor scream as his avatar lay sprawled beneath yet another game screen asking if he wanted to reload his last save. In his rage, we trembled.

Minutes later, the battlefield tore apart before our very eyes. Our world devolved to white, and I was forced to watch as my horde of hellhounds and arkbeasts were sent howling to the ether.

He’d given up. I cried out, but didn’t think he heard me.

Now in this blackness I must wait, alone, for the day he installs us in his heart – and hard drive – again.

END

NaNoWriMo Report Card

22564 / 50000 words. 45% done!

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My ‘Boyfriend’, or Day 10 NaNoWriMo

Friday again, and that means it’s back to my restaurant night job, something I look forward to with utter rapture, I can tell you. Let’s see if the kitchen staff continue to give me grief.

On the plus side, I notice the restaurant people have stopped asking me whether I have a boyfriend. This was months after a ploy of mine that involved, ahem, borrowing a colleague from my temporary job, and asking (okay, begging) him to pretend to be my boyfriend.

That’s right, we had a ‘pretend’ date in the same restaurant I work. Horrible, I know, but I actually enjoyed dinner with the boy, who was charming and very sporting about the plan.

Anyway since then, the restaurant people have stopped nagging me about my relationship status, which is a relief. Before that they tried to set me up with someone, something that has already happened to me twice!

I know they mean well, but I swear, it’s like there’s something genetically ingrained in the Chinese people to find out whether you’ve been grafted by the hip to anyone yet.

Once I had a Malaysian colleague who expressed surprise that I didn’t plan to marry anytime soon. Shaking her head, she cited how the Bible said that we should “go forth and multiply”, adding that women even have a duty to bear children.

I can’t remember what I replied, but one thing I do feel strongly about:

  • I don’t need to be married for my life to be complete.
  • I don’t need to have a partner to be content or even happy – although I do admit it can get lonely around Christmas or Chinese New Year. But isn’t that what parents, siblings and friends are for?
  • I feel I am still getting to know myself. And I can barely look after myself, kitchen disasters notwithstanding. How can I be expected to care for another human being?
  • Selfish as it is, I’m enjoying my privacy and independence too much to give it all up, and yeah, people knowingly say someday I’ll meet that someone I would be willing to make the Ultimate Sacrifice for. But until then I am having too much fun!

Man, I don’t how I suddenly ended up ranting about singlehood. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Christmas is coming around, and I’m feeling a little melancholy. I know this is my ‘fault’, but at least I can feel thankful I have so many friends to take the place of where partner and children would be!

Some years ago, I decided to have a serious talk with my parents.

I asked them if it was all right I didn’t marry yet. After all, I was the only daughter in a (mostly) Chinese family, and I was already about 26 or 28. In Malaysia, much of the older generation still expects you to marry around a certain age, and there’s bound to be pressure when the next social gathering comes along and the relatives cheerfully ask you when is that big day.

But my mom said: “As long as you’re happy, we’re happy.”

I don’t know if they realise it, but my parents have given me the greatest gift of all. They’ve given me love and support, but most of all they have given me the freedom to choose how I wish to live my life.

Perhaps someday God will direct me to someone I’ll live the rest of my life with. Until then I can only humbly enjoy this gift of happiness.

Speaking of happiness…

Report Card

Arghhh! Still on massive Skyrim envy, torturing myself with every video game review I do not quite read. A friend installed the game a few hours ago, and I can only vainly listen to snippets of non-quite-but-verging-on spoilers.

Tackled more of the NaNoWriMo yesterday! And 600 more words of Malaysian Dark. I must finish my Malaysian novel! I am aiming for December to finish first draft.

10am. Must sleeeeeeep.

17330 / 50000 words. 35% done!

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My Ode to Spam, or Day 9 NaNoWriMo

Couldn’t make my word count yesterday. I was so sleepy I could only achieve some 300 words last night.

I swear, it had something to do with the fact that firstly, I slept the day before at 10.30am (my fault), only to be awakened two hours later by the gorgeous, maddening smell somewhere of frying spam.

Yes, Spam.

Malaysians also call it luncheon meat. But apparently according to my friend Alison, luncheon meat in Scotland is more luxurious, whereas spam is just “things with gristle in them”. Euw.

I have such fond memories of spam! I used to fry luncheon meat with tobasco sauce, front and back, then make a sandwich with mustard and more tobasco sauce. The fumes of cooking tobasco sauce would smack into your face like a freight train of chilli shipments. A spam sandwich is seriously awesome with butter, but luncheon meat is juicy even without. Mmmmmn.

We’ve eaten spam with anything! Chopped into cubes for fried rice, fried it with eggs… heck, some creative people have even made sushi out of it. How wonderful is that?

I would so eat that.

Inspired, I shall now compose my ode – well, more like haiku since poetry is not my thing – to SPAM.

Oh Spam how sinful

you sing, hot with buttered bread 

and cholesterol.

Grieving for Skyrim

Tomorrow, 11.11.11, Skyrim releases into the world, and I can only weep. I have literally waited months and months for this video game that would make up for Dragon Age 2 as the ultimate computer RPG.

But come tomorrow, I won’t be one of those bloodthirsty fans getting it, simply because I can’t afford it yet.

Again Skyrim joins the long list – Dragon Age 2, Fallout New Vegas, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Mass Effect 2 and Witcher 2 – of video games I am waiting patiently to play. Like a piranha waiting for that fat tourist who’s just prematurely peeled off his foot scab to dip toes into the Amazon river.

Not only is Skyrim ridiculously expensive at launch time, but I’ve told myself I will only allow myself to play the games when I’ve finished the Malaysian novel. And I’m so close! I can sense blood in the water!

Let’s see, which will I play first… Ooh, decisions, decisions.. Probably Fallout New Vegas, first, at least until the price for Skyrim drops.

Skyrimmmmm.

Right. Should get back to the writing. Ahem, carry on.

14374 / 50000 words. 29% done!

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