Not My First Review, But My First Published On A Magazine

During my blogging career, I have done reviews of various sorts. Like book review requests from the publishers for their online sites. Mobile phone review requests from the PR companies that work with the manufacturers. I have attended movie preview for a local media company that promotes movies and all kinds of products. Miscellaneous write-up on media events. I was used to participate actively on these media events. But nowadays, I am very much retired from that scene, quietly writing stuffs that I enjoy in my website and in Google+.

And then, once in a blue moon, the stars align. All you see is a once in a lifetime opportunity beaming at you from the heaven. It wasn’t something that was handed to me, for sure. It was through persistence with a healthy dose of initiative that got the job done. What am I talking about? Take a look at this.

Marvel Heroes Stuff Review Page 1-2

There is this online game called Marvel Heroes 2015 that I enjoy playing. I would have written a review on my website (in fact I did about a year ago). One day, I was chatting with the editor of Stuff magazine on Whatsapp. He was wondering if I still play Diablo 3 because he has received a game code from Blizzard Asia for a review. That game was fun while it lasted. All of a sudden, an idea has formed.

I have always wanted to see Marvel Heroes featured on a magazine. For some reasons beyond me, I have yet to come across one. Not in Singapore. Not in Tasmania when my wife and I were holidaying there last year. Since my buddy was going to review Diablo 3, why not Marvel Heroes as well? One thing I have learned from my blogging career is that reviewers are best to approach directly to the source. Because I was confident that I could connect the developers with the magazine’s review team, I have suggested that we could do something special that might mutually benefit both parties. Insights make good stories. And the only way to gain insights is through the source.

To cut a long story short, I was asked to write the review instead, as a freelancer. I was delighted for the opportunity of course (stars and heaven, like I have mentioned). Although I have written online reviews for so many years, this is the first time my review goes on print. There was a lot of work behind the scene. A typical game review occupies one page. Because of the insights I have gained through the game developers, I have managed to make it a two-pager. Still, I wanted to give a little extra – for both parties, for me, and for the magazine readers. Why not interview the CEO of the game company Mr. David Brevik, the man behind Diablo 1 & 2 who has revolutionized the action role-playing game genre? And so we did.

Interview with David Brevik on Marvel Heroes 2015

That has pushed the entire article to a three-pager, well exceeds my expectation. The final layout and artwork is beautiful. I see my name on Stuff magazine (local edition). Kind of surreal.

The journey has been rewarding, not without hard work. Writing for myself is easy. Writing for others is hard. I have learned so much through this process. For the entire week, I have written and rewritten the entire piece based on editor’s feedback. The end result is a lot better than my first draft. Who knows? I may write another review for a magazine in the near future.

My Niece Baby Lydia

The ward at the medical center has a similar layout to the one we have visited three years ago, when my niece Bethany was born.  Yesterday – March 30th – my mother, my wife, and I drove to the same center, as we did in 2010.  I was not rushing in, as I did before.  Partly because I had a terrible backache.  Also partly because we knew what to expect.  My sister was admitted to the medical center in a Saturday morning.  Two and a half hours later, Lydia was born.  Lydia did not take as long as Bethany did.  I read somewhere that the second one may come out relatively faster than the first one.  Who knows?  Maybe my sister is getting the hang of childbirth.  Maybe the third one may pop out even faster.

She is Lydia

My first reaction in Chinese when I saw Lydia was: She is made from the same cookie cutter!  Figuratively speaking, this means Lydia looks the same as Bethany as a toddler.  I beat everyone to the usual discussion of which part of the baby resemble to which parent.  Freshly delivered from the womb, Lydia looks the same as Bethany.  Period.  That drew a lot of debates – not unexpectedly so – between Benny the proud father, Lora my beloved sister, my mother, my wife, and soon, the in-law side of the family.  I even took out a picture of Bethany taken when she was very young.  Only time will tell if I am a genius or I am missing the details.

I am not entirely sure how my sister feels to have another girl.  To me, that is extraordinary.  Two daughters in one go.  Sure, while it is less likely I would be drinking beer with my nieces and watching Formula One on TV, I can relate to girls better.  I can’t wait to bring them out for shopping, with their daddy’s credit cards.

Cynthia was especially curious how the three-year-old Bethany would react when she first met Lydia.  I reckon Bethany must have some level of understanding that a baby once inside her mother’s tummy is now sleeping peacefully by her mother’s bed.  Bethany was calm as her parents made the introduction.  When her grandparents tried to ask her questions, Bethany quieted them with a gesture signaling them that her sister was sleeping.  I was touched by the whole scene.  So young, and she has this sense of responsibility.  We whispered to each other, not wanting to upset Bethany, which is better for Lydia I reckon.  All the while, little Bethany sat on her mother’s bed quietly looking at her sister Lydia.  Given any other days, Bethany would have been running around and making laughter.  This level discipline suddenly struck me as an exhibition of growing up.

I noticed that in the ward, everyone was looking at Lydia, smiling at her.  How would little Bethany feel now that she may no longer be the sole center of attention?  I took out my mother’s tablet and signaled Bethany to come to the far end of the room.  Her father gave his blessing and we were playing her favorite pinball game, which I have installed for this very occasion that I have anticipated.

Avid readers may have followed my observation on Bethany and our pinball game.  New to our previous encounters, Bethany now has this awareness of losing.  A ball going down the drain is no good.  Now she gets it.  She would get all tensed up when she lost, holding fists and getting frustrated.  But when she managed to hit the bell at the top of the machine, she would smile and said slowly: This is … FUN!

Normally, I praise Google’s effort in evolving the Android platform.  In the new Nexus design, there is no physical buttons on the front of the device.  Instead, the three buttons – back, menu, and running applications – have become part of the touchscreen at the bottom.  This has given me tons of headache when Bethany now keeps on hitting those virtual buttons by mistake.  The game would suddenly disappear and she would get a shock every time that happened.  I would need to tell her that it is OK and show her how to return to the game.

And that happened every 20 seconds or so.

I am thinking, would Lydia grow up to like playing pinball and racing games like her sister?  Or would she have a whole new different personality?  Just one day before Bethany was born, my sister was playing racing game on my computer.  Now I wish I had instill some video gaming excitement to Lydia days before she was born.

One Milestone Down: Participate In A Writing Competition

My sister commented last Saturday, “My brother has many milestones [that he wants to achieve]”.  OK.  I don’t have that many.  But participating in a writing competition is certainly one that is high on my list.

I wish I have studied literature, instead of engineering.  Having said that, I am not sure if I would be any good.  Or if I would hate the subject so much so that I would not want anything to do with it.  If I could write novels for a living, that would be ideal.  But I also know that such business has no place for an average writer.  Hence for now, I stick to what makes a living – writing business documents.

Every working evening, I drive from my workplace in the east to pick up Cynthia in town.  In my car, I often listen to the radio.  One evening, while listening to the radio, I chanced upon a writing competition organized by National Arts Council sponsored by Singapore Press Holding.  I checked the deadline and I have two weeks left.  There are two genre categories: Short Story and Poetry.  In the category of Short Story, there is a word limit of 5,000 while for Poetry, there is none.  Immediately, I thought of Iliad and Odyssey.  I don’t think I am good at writing poetry.  If I was to submit one today, it would look something like this.

I saw a plane today
Flying by my office window
I thought about my buddy
Who used to call me Willie

I cannot recall when
My buddy left his job
I sort of miss the days (and I sort of hated too)
When he called me Willie

We used to take a walk
After we’ve filled our stomachs
He would tell me stories
And I would tell him mine

Now that he’s not around
Well, no one calls me Willie
I saw a plane today
In it I thought I saw my buddy

Not very convincing, is it?  So I stick to the Short Story category.  5,000 words is quite doable.  Each blog entry of mine has an average word count of 1,000.  All I need to do is to write 5 entries at one go.  Hence, if you notice, I have not been productive in blogging for the last two weeks.

Since I only have two weeks to submit my story, I wanted to choose a topic I am comfortable with.  I thought about writing something similar to that “Sea Turtle” post, which is one of my favorites.  I have this idea for a long time.  Instead of sea turtle, it is snail’s turn.  But I got stuck in the research bits.  I reckon it would take ages in order to study how snails behave, how fast or rather slow they move, what they eat, and etc.

The next thing came to my mind was the Dooku series.  Avid readers may recognize this character that is by and large inspired by the things I observe at work.  I renamed the character at the last minute because Cynthia told me that Dooku is a character in Star War.  Writing the story only took a day or two.  Editing it took ages.  Need I say, I feel so relief after I have submitted my manuscript for the Golden Point Award 2011.  At the submission counter, the lady who received my entry was helpful.  She checked through my documents making sure that everything was in order.  When she looked at my application form, she gasped.  Is everything OK, I asked.  Yes, yes, she replied.  She then told me that the title of my work warmed her heart.  How I wish she is one of the judges.

After I have stopped working on my story, I took a look at the quality of work from the winners of past years.  God oh God, the quality is super high!  I am so glad that I wrote without knowing what I was up against.  Since the chance of winning this Golden Point is super slim, I would like to take this opportunity (rather than wait till the result is announced) to thank the few who agreed to provide feedback on the initial draft in such a tight timeline. It is a humbling experience and I have learned a lot out of this.  So you know who you are, thank you, thank you, and thank you.  Even if I don’t win this competition, I have a polished story that I am proud of reading again and again.

Japanese writer Murakami once wrote the following words.

“To put it in the simplest possible terms, I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden. The two processes complement each other, creating a complete landscape that I treasure.” – Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

I find writing short stories a challenge, writing blog entries a joy.  To extend his analogy, writing blog entries is like taking care of a pot of plant.  It may be tiny, but it has its charm in its rawest form.  Writing blog entries is a joy to me because most of the time, it is write-and-forget.  In writing a short story, I have to think about how the pieces flow to each other, the consistency of the overall plot.  I have to clinically vet through the words to see if improvements can be made, mistakes can be corrected.  It is spontaneity of writing a blog entry versus the meticulous crafting of a short story.  I lose quite a bit of spontaneity when I edit the story too much.  But refining the story does make the final product looks more professional.

One commented that my short story reads differently from my usual blog entries.  My short story does not have the same level of readability and lightheartedness.  It is a valid observation.  Immediately I thought of Madeleine Wickham.  The books written under the name Wickham are not as engaging and entertaining, despite the fact that they appear to have a higher artistic value.  However, the chick lit written under Sophie Kinsella – by the same author, I literally worship them.  Or perhaps I have read Wickham writing as Sophie Kinsella before she writes as Madeleine Wickham.  So I would say, the stuffs written here in this website tend to be lighter and have the elements of entertainment in mind.  When I write a short story, I am often more ambition in tackling some of the tougher topics in life and mask them under the characters of my story.  At least that is my intent.  I suspect there is a fine balance somewhere.  The next story I write, I may be nearer to the bull eye.  Who knows?  If I keep on doing it, I may hit the sweet spot some day.

I am happy to have participated in a writing competition.  And I take suggestions on what I should do next.

On My Birthday We Visited Medan Ikan Bakar at Malacca (Again)

Meda Ikan Bakar

My observation on age as such: besides the age that you can legally have s … ahem … your own driving licence and the one that grants you lots of discount everywhere you go because you are senior, age is just a number that has little significance.  Some achieve more than others at their age; some look better than others at their age; some manage to defy the gravitational pull of music-from-my-good-old-days-sounds-much-better-than-today’s-hits better than others.  As for me, I am so going to watch Lady Gaga’s concert when she comes to Singapore.

My birthday is my holiday, always.  And I woke up at nine this morning with my head still spinning after a long night of online gaming.  Our team lead of 5 – a good online friend of ours – lightly commented that we were not performing up to our usual standard.  I said the obvious, “It’s three in the morning, ha ha ha.”  Cynthia and I were more or less randomly hitting the buttons like two sleepy zombies.  Game mission accomplished nonetheless, sort of.

Processing my band’s studio jamming materials took much shorter time than anticipated.  Probably because I have already spent much time running through the recording during the week.  At about eleven-thirty, I said to Cynthia, who also took leave because I did, “Let’s have lunch at the Botanic Gardens.  Grab our passports, we may dine in Malacca.”

We love road trips.  Road trip for couples is like golf for business partners.  It is almost like having an undivided attention for each other for hours.  In fact, I think all couples should go through the road trip test amongst other ‘tests’ that I will cover in my new book “Things You Wish You Had Done Before Saying I Do”.

OK.  There’s no such book.  I am pulling your legs.  Below are some of the photos taken today.

Malacca has changed a lot, over the last decade.  It is now inscribed as a World Heritage City, though we have no clue which organization inscribes such a title.  We arrived at Malacca way before dinner time so we road-toured the city.  Now, there is a Malacca Eye by the sea (something like the Singapore Flyer), a few new malls, and we need to buy parking coupons instead of putting coins into the parking meter.  Maybe these changes have been around for years.  We seldom tour the city.  We visit Malacca to have seafood, a location outskirt of Malacca.

We always had difficulties in finding “Medan Ikan Bakar” (translates to Baked Fish Eating House I think).  Each time, we would spend an hour or two trying to find the place.  Each time, we would document the direction in exactitude only to realize in the next trip that the landscape has changed.  Malacca is not small.  And it is easy to get lost.

I can certainly say it with conviction that Nokia Map has changed the way we travel.  The maps are free, the GPS service is free.  Not only do I know exactly where I am, it knows a list of landmarks around the area too.  I don’t need to pay for and install a separate device just for this function.  It comes with the phone.  So, on my birthday, we arrived at the Baked Fish Eating House at ease.

Every morning, fishing boats arrive at the shore and unload some of the seafood to the long stretch of restaurants nearby.  I have seen the days when this area was so popular that it literally took hours to find a parking space.  In our recent visits, there seems to be an increased number of parking lots.  Also, maybe because we often avoid the weekend crowds and we prefer to dine early, we dine in leisure.

We had a sea bass (baked), six gigantic prawns (baked), some squids (sweet source), a vegetable dish, and three portions of rice.  The sea food tasted fresh and the fish was juicy.  The total bill came up to about RM 55 (which is about S$25?).  I thought it was reasonable.  Note: for my future reference, we spent RM 200+ for this brief out-of-town experience.

For those of you who have the Nokia Map installed in your phone, download the Malaysia map and punch in “Pernu Umbai”.  The search result of “Medan Ikan Bakar Pernu Umbai” should appears (186.7km from my home!).  For other map users, try this coordinates: 2° 9′ 21″ N, 102° 20′ 9″ E.  Or if you trust my direction (I have tested it on the way back and it is accurate to the one hundredth meter), click here and scroll all the way to the bottom.