What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmons – A Brief Book Review

As a sci-fi fan, I love anything to do with time travel. There are not many authors that tackle the topic of time travel. And for those who do, not many tackle it well. The paradox of time travel makes it a difficult topic. It is so easy to screw it up badly as readers are smart to spot any loopholes. Amy Harmons’s What the Wind Knows is a joyful read despite areas that I wish could have been better.

The location is Ireland. The story may well serve as a historical novel. A modern Irish woman who lives in America returned to Ireland upon the death of her grandfather found herself time traveled back in time when she becomes the mother of her grandfather. There are lots of tight references in the present date and in the old date that makes the plot believable.

Has history been altered? Perhaps just a little bit. I wish the main character could have made more impact and to have more of that heroic moments as someone who is gifted to have seen the future. That perhaps is my own feedback on the story, which otherwise is a very good time travel novel.

Murakami’s Killing Commendatore – A Brief Book Review

I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami . When I spotted his latest book in our local book store BooksActually – actually it was my wife who first spotted it – I bought it in a heartbeat. I don’t collect books these days as my wife prefers a ‘minimalist’ home. But when it comes to Murakami, my wife knows that it is a sacred space of mine that needs to be left alone. For as long as Murakami keeps on writing, I shall keep on buying. At times, I collect both the English translated version as well as the Chinese translated version.

If you are new to Murakami, I would imagine how daunting it may be to pick a book to start. His classic books tend to have that rawness that can have more impact in terms of plot twists and emotion but the journey could be more irregular. That is to say, some parts could drag on and the plot could become pretty bizarre. His recent books tend to be more refined, more believable, and with a more predictable pace. Killing Commendatore belongs to the latter category.

It is a story of a male artist whose marriage is falling apart and he paints portraits to pay the bills but it is not necessarily something he is passionate about doing. Killing Commendatore is a journey of this artist rediscovering his passion and in the midst of it, rediscovers himself. Through this journey, this artist encounters different characters – real and surreal – including one that spawns from a painting. There are different threads of stories running in parallel interacting with one and other – which is typical of Murakami’s writing style.

Killing Commendatore is a fascinating read. I would recommend this book to readers who are new to Murakami as well as to those who are familiar with him.

Are You Happy At Work?

Most of us spend a vast amount of our life working. How many of us are happy at work? Are you doing it day in and day out on a job that you don’t necessarily enjoy but you need to because someone needs to pay the bill?

I have worked for decades. There are moments when I enjoy what I am doing. Majority of the time, I don’t. Looking back in all the years of working, I wish I could put more emphasis on looking for a role that makes me happy at work. Rather than focusing on job security.

Take me as an example. My last role was horrible. My career back then was stagnant. I was not learning and hence, not growing. The team was not supportive. I just did not enjoy my work at all. I left in the end. Never look back.

My current role is very challenging and demanding. Long working hours. Lots of stakeholders. But I enjoy the work. I don’t have anyone that I dislike interacting with on a daily basis (unlike my last role). The only time I feel unhappy at work is when I let myself down, when I knew I could do much better but I did not, and when I felt humiliated by my own mistakes.

But that is a good problem to have. It is not about falling. But how fast one is able to get back up.

The key to happiness at work, I believe, has got to do with the people around you. Are they cooperative? Are they supportive? Are they good people to be with?

And when you are surrounded with good people, naturally, you are happy. Bottom line is, when you are surrounded with not so good people, do yourself a favor, find another job or role and do something else. Life is short. There is no point in dwelling onto the negative vibe.

So I’ve Finally Watched Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour on Netflix

I have been a fan of Taylor Swift since her very first country album – a self-titled album released in 2006. Back in those days, there were listening stations in HMV whereby discovering music was one of my favorite pastimes. That was 13 years ago when she was 16 and I was … let’s not go there.

I have always enjoyed watching Taylor Swift live. Every word seems to be carefully crafted and rehearsed. Every dance and every move down to the very facial expression seems to be meticulously choreographed. My wife was used to find her kind of fake. I see Taylor Swift as someone who puts in lots of hard work to be the perfect performer.

She has a few concert or film recordings.

  1. CMT Crossroads: Taylor Swift and Def Leppard (2009)
  2. Journey to Fearless (2011)
  3. Speak Now World Tour – Live (2011)
  4. The 1989 World Tour Live (2015)
  5. Reputation Stadium Tour (2018)

CMT stands for Country Music Television. I have #1 on DVD. I used to like Def Leppard and I like Taylor Swift. Putting the two together – the old (or legend) and the young, the rock and back-then country – seems like a weird choice. But it works. I love the live performance. I love the interview pieces even more. Taylor Swift received her education from the road as she toured. And it was fun to watch Def Leppard giving her the advice to life.

I do not have #2 but I do have #3 on Blu-ray. She was 22 when the concert was recorded. It was an amazing performance. I struggled to recall what I have accomplished when I was 22. I was one year away from graduating for my Master degree. When I was 22, I debated the existence of alien with my friend over late night study. We had toast with butter and sugar. We would go to bed in the early morning. Our favorite place in college would be the pub. 50 pence for a pint of beer. When Taylor Swift was 22, she had held a concert!

Fast forward to the Reputation Tour, many have changed. She is no longer a young girl but a grown woman. She is no longer the country artist that was introduced to me back in HMV. She embraces different genres of music. At the age of 29, she looks healthy on stage full of energy (you know how some artists these days look really slim and unhealthy). Still the same artist that gave an amazing performance from start to finish. So I have finally watched her Reputation Tour on Netflix. And I am loving it!

Leave Diary D12 – Converting My Car in Singapore from Normal to Off-peak (And It Was Tedious!)

Ever since we have moved to near town, our driving pattern has changed. We don’t drive during the weekdays and we struggle to find reasons to drive during the weekends. It is that convenient to stay in our new apartment.

Yesterday my wife and I hiked at Mount Faber here in Singapore (and it is more like a hill). I overheard one tourist from China commenting something like, “For such a small country, why is there no traffic jam?”

The answer is pretty straightforward. Because cars in Singapore are outrageously expensive. When I bought a new car three years ago, it cost around US$100,000 (with a 10-year car license). It is a regular Japanese salon car with 5 doors and a 2-liter engine. Because we no longer have the need to drive to work, converting my car from a normal car into an off-peak car makes sense. The savings in road tax and from rebate received per year are S$503 and S$2,200 respectively. Should I need to drive during peak hours (7am to 7pm on a non-public holiday), I just need to pay S$20 per day for a day license.

To convert the car into an off-peak car turns out to be a rather tedious process. In order for the authority to tell between a normal car and an off-peak car, off-peak car displays the front and rear number plates in red versus the black color plates. In order to deter people from switching the name plates and to trick the systems – yes, we humans always succumb to temptation since the days of Adam and Eve, figuratively speaking – the authority has derived a system whereby it is almost impossible to switch the plates at will. To do so, a new industry is born. You will see why.

  1. First stop obviously is to visit the Land Transport Authority (LTA). There is only one office in the entire country that processes this sort of request. Administrative cost is S$100. Waiting time was half an hour. I have to submit a form at the counter. The staff at the counter has to call upon an officer inside the office to verify and sign-off the transaction. Very much like most of the offline government services I have seen.
  2. Then, I needed to change my car number plates from black to red. The workshop fortunately was just opposite LTA office and it did not take long to hunt for one.
  3. The cost to create and fit a set of car number plates is $130 (inclusive of a front bracket that my car did not have). Could I do it on the spot? No I could not. I needed to buy two pins from the Inspection Center behind the workshop.
  4. What are the pins for, you may ask? Well, the front pin has to be welded onto the front part of the car. The rear pin pierces through the car door at the back. Once the front pin is secured and the rear pin hole is prepared, the staff at the Inspection Center would secure the pinheads onto the car number plates. Each pinhead comes with an engraved serial number for tracking purposes! The cost to create and fit a set of car number plates is $130 (inclusive of a front bracket that my car did not have). I drove from the workshop to the Inspector Center and bought two pins for S$22.
  5. I returned to the workshop and was told that the process may take up to one hour.
  6. So we had a cold drink at a coffee shop nearby. Today was a very warm day.
  7. The workshop called and yay! We picked up the car and drove to the Inspection Center for “sealing”.
  8. The staff at the Inspection Center took a look at the front pin and has commented that it should have been welded deeper into the car. If he was to put the pinhead now, the car would look ugly as the pinhead would protrude unnecessarily.
  9. I took the car back to the workshop and expressed my ‘personal’ opinion (the staff has asked me not to mention that the comment came from the Inspection Center). The mechanic reworked the welding. It took half an hour.
  10. Finally, I drove the car with the brand new red number plates into the Inspection Center so that the staff can seal the pins with the serialized pinheads (around 1+ cm in diameter and in depth).
  11. Are we done? No! The staff at Inspection Center has to make further inspection and to create more paperwork to ensure that the number plates are secured according to the standard set out by the authority. (As a side story, I saw an Audi R8 sports car thoroughly inspected by the staffs at the Inspection Center and the driver was a young girl whom at first glance I thought she was a boy).
  12. After received the certificate that my number plates are done up to the standard, I took the car back to the workshop so that the mechanic can install the bits and pieces of plastic taken out from the door at the back (remember, a hole was drilled so as to fit the rear pin?). By the time we were home, I was exhausted from the heat and from how tedious the conversion process is. It is indeed an industry on its own.
My wife took this picture at the workshop because she was … bored.

Leave Diary D1 – A Day of Recovery and Into the Hellgate Abyss

Since I am not taking an oversea holiday during my 2-week long holiday, I thought it is a good idea to start a journal. Otherwise, two weeks would go by and I would have done … nothing.

Since last Monday, I have not been feeling well. Doctors said it was viral fever. That is to say, no antibiotic required.

I am not a fan of antibiotic. But I have to admit the last time I was sick – not too long ago – and I was given antibiotic. I had recovered within days.

The perk of being sick – if I could even say it is a perk – is that I get to sleep a lot. My work is demanding (whose isn’t in fact here in Singapore?). The hours are long. There isn’t much time to unwind. And even in the middle of the night, I would wake up stressing over something at work. Since I am not feeling well and I am on a 2-week long break, I get to sleep a lot. So much so that my head it aches.

And that feels so good.

Long story short, I woke up in the morning feeling terrible. I went to bed at night feeling fine. So it was a day of recovery, a reminiscence of that feeling of feeling hopeless when you are in a tough situation and when you get out of it, you don’t even recall the hard time.

My summoner has taken down Oculis in nightmare difficulty.

Last entry I have talked about Hellgate: London getting a release in Steam. It is a 11-year old game – one that I was used to play in between jobs. I did not get to finish the original game. Since its recent release, I have spent close to 90 hours playing it. For a game that I have paid less than S$10, it is money well spent.

This version of the game does have it issues. But by and large, it runs. And it is perhaps the best and the most complete version that this franchise has, which includes:

  • Hellgate: London – completed.
  • Stonehenge – almost completed.
  • Second Attack – completed.
  • Abyss – completed.
  • Hellgate: Tokyo – not started.

So I Asked David Brevik What He Thinks of Hellgate: London 2018 (Steam Version)

I hope this is not an out-of-season April Fool’s joke. In two days’ time, Hellgate: London will be relaunched in Steam. Or at least a form of its previous incarnations.

Hellgate: London was released back in October 2007, a game developed by the ex-Blizzard team including David Brevik. I had a lot of fond memories with the game even though it had a really rocky start.

I remember having bought the game on day one, eager to get into “London” and to witness hell breaking loose. The game was buggy back then. I have made some progress and within days (or hours?), they have to deploy a patch (was it 1.04?) that wiped off all the progress. I kept playing for quite a while. When was it? What was I doing back in October 2007?

To answer that question, I looked up World of Warcraft in Wikipedia.

The Burning Crusade was launched back in January 2007. I vividly remember introducing the game to my wife thanks to the beautiful blood elves being introduced in that expansion. That was after my wife has passed the Financial Risk Management examination. I was pretty much addicted to WoW and I would imagine playing Hellgate: London as a filler. Because by then, I might have well been leveling my “alts” in WoW. Or doing some mindless dailies.

What did I like about Hellgate: London?

In a strange way, the realism of venturing into a lifeless city (which is kind of the plot as the city was overrun by demons). There was danger everywhere (yup, lots of death). I got to control the left and right guns with the left and right mouse buttons. The big demons were scary. Their number could be overwhelming. And it was satisfying just to survive, perhaps with a few good loots as souvenirs.

They say third time is a charm. I sure hope so. The first time Hellgate: London was launched, it has failed. Then a Korean company bought that over and turned that into an MMO with microtransaction. That didn’t work well. Now, the same Korean company is reviving it into a single player game. I do not know how much of its former self still lives in this latest iteration. I will have to wait for two days and see if it is not an April Fool’s joke.

Back to the title of this entry. I am in the Discord channel of It Lurks Below, the latest game created by David Brevik. And I asked him how he feels of his game coming back to life through Steam.

And he responded as follows.

I’m pretty excited about it. I’m happy that people will be able to play it again and a new generation of gamers will get a chance to experience it, but I am not sure how it stacks up to what I made vs. the changes they made once it was made for Korea/Asia. I don’t know how grindy/mtx/etc it will be now. I’m still happy though!

Mr. Brevik has a point. Rest assured that I will report back in after I have experienced what at best would be a fragment of my fond past in two days’ time.

Mylène Farmer’s “Timeless” Concert Recording

Mylène Farmer and I have come a long way.  When I first started working as a management consultant, I was posted to Paris and worked at my client site. At times, for months. I would stay in a hotel, which contrary to what some may think, it is not really that much fun to stay for long. There is a home. And there is a hotel. The two are distinctly different.

Every morning, before having my shower, I would turn on the TV and listen to the latest music videos. Mylène Farmer was on MTV all the time! I did not know who she was but I like her music. I love her videos. Whenever I hear of her music many years from then, I feel as though I am being transported back in the late nineties, Paris, La Défense, Société Générale, champagne and cheese, and more.

And more.

And that breakup. It was Paris. La Défense. Long story short, my then-girlfriend sent me a letter informing me of a breakup. There was heartache. Sleepless nights. And there was Mylène Farmer.

Mylène Farmer and I have come a long way. I was used to listening to her music on my Sony Discman. Paris metro. Singapore MRT. Hong Kong MTR. I don’t understand the lyrics. But I am drawn to the emotion. While I was working in Paris, I even bought her music videos on LP’s (Laser Discs) knowing very well that I did not have an LP player (back then, no YouTube I think). My ex’s family had one though. But because of the breakup, I had the LP’s but I could not watch them. Years later, I bought the DVD version of the LP’s. I have no idea why I bought the DVD’s back then. They are still unwrapped, I think. That sense of owning something tangible.

Fast forward to today, there is YouTube. I did not expect to find her 2013 Timeless concert on YouTube but I have. The resolution isn’t that good and I was prepared to import a Bluray version of her concert from France to Singapore. I was hoping to find a trailer. I did not expect a full concert.

Mylène Farmer is 57 years old this year. At the time of recording, she was 52 years old. She looked young and radiance. She put up a stunning performance well connected emotionally with her music and the audience. I don’t know all the songs she sang. But I know enough to hum along. The stage was amazing. There were dancing robots as well. She arrived at the stage as though she has stepped through a time machine. And she left as though she was on a rocket leaving many fans at awe and in tears.

 

At Dimbulah I Saw A Staff Cutting Lettuce

Dimbulah serves the best coffee in Singapore. On the ground floor of my office, there is one. I often visit because, with staff discount, it seems slightly more ‘affordable’. Just under five dollars. It is still way more expensive than the Spinelli served inside my office building. Between the two, it’s a no-brainer.

Very often, there is a long queue at Dimbulah MBFC, though the queue does move pretty fast. While queuing, most browse their phones. I … I often observe what’s going on behind the counter. One at the cashier taking orders. Two making coffee. One bringing rounds of coffee to the customers at the tables. And one more behind the kitchen counter preparing food.

The other day, as I was observing the staff behind the kitchen counter preparing lettuce. She would take a fresh lettuce out from the wrapper, lay it down on a chopping board, and then take out the core. A rather large piece of core, much larger than what I would have cut out from a lettuce. She would then examine the leaves one by one and toss out the imperfect ones. Only the best leaves would make it to the plastic containers.

No wonder a bowl of salad costs so much in Dimbulah! Quality doesn’t come cheap.

While the staff was going through lettuce by lettuce, discarding cores and leaves, I couldn’t help but think – if I could collect these discarded close-to-perfect leaves from Dimbulah on a daily basis, I could have a free vegetable dish every evening. Oh yes, I would eat that. The leaves did not look old or bad to me at all. Just less than perfect. I may discard a few. But I can eat the rest.

For the cores, I was thinking of my old rabbits back in Hong Kong. Poor rabbits, rest in peace. Had they still alive, I am pretty sure they would be happy eating these large and generous pieces of discarded cores.

Season of Gfriend – What a Treat for Fans

Confession. I am a huge fan of the Korean girl band Gfriend. It took me a while to tell the girls apart, remember their names and roles, and to recognize their voices. But after many nights of watching Gfriend on YouTube, I am there. I love their story. They came from a small recording company. I don’t think they have done that well during their debut. There had been setbacks. Online comments, some were rather mean. But they kept going. Three years later, they are one of the top girl bands in Korea with a good number of hits, won a good number of awards. Hardworking does pay off, for some. And for Gfriend, I love their choreography the most.

I have been wanting to watch them in concert. Sadly there isn’t one from where I live. The next best thing would be a Bluray recording.

There ain’t many stores in Singapore that sell Bluray discs anymore. Those that do don’t carry Season of Gfriend. In my desperation, I searched online and came across Kpopmart.com. My friend Yudha from Google+ is a fan of Korean music. I wasn’t too sure about the legitimacy of Kpopmart.com – after all, plenty of online scams these days – but he reassured me that the site is legit.

Season of Gfriend (Bluray) cost me US$53.50. There are several shipment options. I went for the ‘cheapest’ express one that cost US18. The cheapest normal shipping would be $9.20 but that would take more than two months.

Two months?!

Total damage was more than S$100. The package arrived at my condo’s concierge in less than a week. It was worth it. I am so glad that my friend Yudha has nudged me into buying it. He is right. This product is selling out fast. For the fans, this is a real treat, a must-have. It is a recording of day 2 of Gfriend‘s very first concert back in January early this year. Both concerts were sold out in minutes.

Now, onto why this recording is a must-have for fans:

  • It has a good selection of their hits.
  • The recording is divided into sections or themes, each is introduced with a short video clip.
  • Great dancing. Great costumes.
  • There is a section on solo performance! I love all six of them. All of them awe me in a different way. I am much impressed by a side of them that I have not seen.
  • Some songs have a different rendition.
  • They do tease each other in prerecorded video clips – which I find entertaining.
  • English subtitles! There is a fair bit of talking. Plenty of emotion tears towards the end. I am so glad that I can understand what they say.
  • The entire concert + video clips + talking on stage lasted more than three hours!
  • The package does come with photocard and postcard too.

I wish that my favorite track Time for Moon Light was in the song selection list. But that wouldn’t be possible because the song was released in April after their first concert. I am looking forward to their second concert recording for sure. By then, they better add that into the list!