Kia Kaha

It's hard to articulate what I've been thinking about over the weekend. Much has happened in New Zealand; three days later, the country still grieves for the 50 lives lost in a senseless shooting at two mosques in Christchurch. My heart aches for the loss of these innocent lives in my homeland, especially since the city is still suffering 8 years after a devastating earthquake. I'm angry, I'm shocked and I'm full of sadness, despite being 14,000kms away. Whatever belief there was of safety is gone; we are no longer innocent to violence of this magnitude. The history of the country has changed forever. The road to recovery will take a long time; mental scars may never heal.

Our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, spoke powerful words.

We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we're an enclave for extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things, because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those that share our values, a refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.

We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place currency on right now is our compassion and the support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy and secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people that did this.


From this darkness, we can see the true spirit of New Zealand. The outpouring of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters after the attack, the vigils held in the major city centers, the fundraising pages, the hakas, the placards saying "aroha" and "kia kaha" - it is these images that make me proud to call myself a Kiwi.

I spent the weekend in my friend's cottage in Muskoka. It was good to get out of the city and see the beautiful white landscapes; it's still very much winter up there, despite the temperatures in Toronto rising above 0 degrees. It was a time of self-reflection and a wake-up call on what I should be doing with my life, yet I wonder if I came away with more questions than I went in with.

The past few months have gone by faster than I expected. I felt more alone in last year's winter, but this year I had lots to look forward to and I was more equipped to handle the cold. Instead of fully hibernating for three months, there's been many things to do: I went to the Toronto Light Fest in the Distillery District, we walked around Tommy Thompson Park and learned about the wildlife (and even saw two coyotes!), we chased after some frozen waterfalls in Hamilton and Niagara, and toured a maple syrup farm. I watched the super total lunar eclipse of January 2019, despite it being negative temperatures. There was karaoke and badminton and piano as well.

There has been plenty to eat too, the UbiTO foodie group went to Filipino Kamayan Feast specialist Tinuno, and the badminton crew had three buffets in the space of two weeks. I went for dinners around Chinese New Year and had hot pot and pot luck.

There's lots to look forward to over the next few months as well. I'll be off to the US for a friend's wedding near Atlanta next month. We're planning to go to Quebec City for Canada Day, and to Peru in August. Bruce Peninsula and Tobermory are also on the cards. But by far the most exciting event will be the E3 reveal of our game, and the subsequent release sometime during the year.


A New Year

Finally back in Canada after a glorious two week summery excursion in the homeland. It's wet here, in Vancouver, and I'm told it's been snowing in Toronto. Sigh.

The end of last year was busy. We had our final work karaoke on Friday night in Koreatown. It was so epic and full of laughter and good times; there was plenty of Disney, 80s power ballads and 90s cheesy pop, and we even sang Phantom of the Opera - with Emily hitting those amazing notes sung by Christine at the end of the song. So good.

I went to the light exhibition down by Ontario Place as well. It was pretty serene walking around the island, but the art installations were pretty colourful and interesting. It's cool that even in winter when the weather is so cold, there's still some kind of incentive to go outside and see what the city has to offer.

Pokemon Go's long-awaited PVP feature dropped this month, but as expected, it was nothing more than a mind-numbing tap fest with only slightly more strategy than a game of rock-paper-scissors. The rewards can be obtained regardless of winning or losing, the cost to make your Pokemon competitive is extremely high, and there's just no incentive to take that plunge.

The flight to Vancouver and then Auckland was not too bad. I played Smash Bros for most of the time, but then ran out of battery power on my Switch heading to Auckland. It was an overnight flight, so I managed to catch some shut eye, but I also watched Ant Man 2 and Incredibles 2. I arrived in Auckland very early on Thursday morning, and I babysat my nephew for the day.

I'd been starved of decent Malaysian food for so long that my first three meals in New Zealand were Malaysian - Kampung Cafe in Glen Eden, KK in Greenlane and Little Penang in Wellington. I basically took the airport bus from Wellington Airport into town, said hello to my excolleagues at PikPok, dumped my luggage at Mana's house and went straight to Little Penang on the Terrace. Auntie Tee and Uncle Keith even recognised me while I was standing in line, it was so nice to talk to them and tell them how much I missed their food. They even gave me a free teh tarik!

PikPok has changed a lot since I'd left. The company's grown by 40 people in two years, and the kitchen now fits more than two people. It was good to see everyone and see how they were, and catch up on news in my absence. We also went for karaoke!

My two weeks was spent basically absorbing as much Kiwiana as I could. Burgerfuel, L&P, Hells Pizza, mince pies, feijoas, the accent, the sun. I even played badminton! I visited tons of my favourite places in Wellington and Auckland, and I caught up with so many people: old workmates, church friends, family, school friends, University friends. It seemed like everyone had either gotten a mortgage, a dog or a kid in the time I'd been away. Though I may not have messaged many people over the past couple of years, it was easy to slide back into conversation as if nothing had happened, and for that I'm truly thankful. Everyone was keen to hear how my travels were, and about my life and job in Toronto.

The weather was awesome. Even if it was raining in entire time, I would have still had a good time not freezing my face off. Most days it was cloudy, but the sun came through quite often, in that familiar ozone-less burny sensation. I got some great pictures of Wellington's waterfront and Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, and sent them back to some jealous Canadians.

But of course, all good things must come to an end. The flight from Vancouver to Auckland was another night flight, and I slept so much that I almost ran out of time to watch Crazy Rich Asians. I'm not looking forward to the cold months ahead, but I am looking forward to seeing all my Toronto friends again, and telling them about my adventures and how great New Zealand is.


Countdown to Christmas

It hasn't quite hit yet, but the end of the year is rapidly approaching, and that means I'll be heading home to New Zealand very soon. I'm super busy at work, trying wrap things up before going on holiday, as well as preparing to speak to a bunch of high school kids about the games industry and what it's like to work at Ubisoft.

My badminton racquet strings broke. It was really sad. I ended having to borrow a racquet from the front desk but it had no grip and I was getting increasingly frustrated and played so badly. Luckily it was easy to get to the Eaton Centre and get it fixed, but it wasn't that long ago that I had it restrung.

I went to the Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square a few weeks ago. Every year they light up the Christmas tree there and have a big fireworks display too, it was pretty awesome to watch. Though it was cold and slightly wet, there were thousands of people crammed into the square, listening to the music and enjoying the festivities, and I love that kind of busyness in a city. It makes it feel alive and vibrant.

There's tons of Christmas parties coming up and I have to do some Christmas shopping... but it really isn't long until I'm off, and it's slowly beginning to hit...!


Winter is Here

I've finally got some downtime to do some blogging - I'm sick, presumably from the plague going around the office, and as the temperatures dip below zero this week, I'm expecting sickness to be a lot more common. Winter is definitely here, and although we've had a few flurries of snow, it hasn't quite stuck on the ground. Yet. That will happen very soon.

Three months have gone by since I last blogged. I've done so much... four of us went to Vancouver for a week in August, visiting Stanley Park, doing the Grouse Grind (My time was 1hr 20mins), rocking the suspension bridge at Lynn Valley, checking out Gastown, Chinatown, Granville Island and Kitsilano Beach, as well as the delightful neighbourhood at Hastings and Main. We took a day trip to Whistler and went up the mountain, which had stunning panoramic views, even in summer. We spent a day over in Victoria on Vancouver Island, where we visited the best botanic gardens I've ever seen, the Butchart Gardens, as well as the Craigdarroch Castle. There was a piano at the castle on the top floor, and a group from Hong Kong were fooling around on it... they were trying to play a song called Tong Hua, which happens to be the only Mandarin song I know how to sing, and coincidentally play on the piano. After they vacated the piano, I played the full song, to the amazement of the group, and everyone started to sing along - it was awesome. I managed to catch up with Caleb, Mary, Campbell and Linda, the four New Zealanders who migrated there last year, and it was great seeing what they thought of Canada and their experiences settling in to a new country.

There was the disappointing Toronto Burger Festival out in Vaughan, which was a sad attempt at filling the void that Wellington on a Plate left in my stomach. I had to wash it down with the Filipino Food Festival, where I tried balut for the first time... except, I don't think it was really balut, it just looked like a boiled egg without the duck foetus.

We went camping at the Elora Gorge near Guelph, which is famous for the tubing down the river, and I went for the Dovercourt Baptist Church retreat out in Muskoka, with its picturesque lakeside views. I went hiking around some magnificent parks in Ontario, like the Rockwood Conservation Area, the Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall in Hamilton (except there was no water because it hadn't rained in a while), and Dorset Tower and Algonquin Park with its brilliant fall colours.

I had few visitors; I caught up with Graeme, who was randomly in Toronto, Linh, who I hadn't seen since University, and Delwyn and Graham from my church in Wellington. Matt also visited me on Thanksgiving weekend from Cleveland, OH, which is a short five hour drive from here. We went to Allan Gardens, Scarborough Bluffs and Evergreen Brickworks, we went to a blind dining restaurant near the Village and we went for chimney cake twice.

Last week, we went to Tew's Waterfall, Dundas Peak and Webster's Waterfall in the Spencer Gorge Conservation Area, near Hamilton. It was quite the hike, what I thought was the route to the Webster's Waterfall parking lot was actually just a dead-end, but a magnificent view of the falls up close. Dundas Peak was pretty fantastic though, there's a couple of rocks jutting out over the cliff, making for some epic pictures overlooking the blanket of yellow trees in the gorge. We continued on to Niagara for a buffet dinner at the Fallsview Hotel Casino, where I ate too much, and then down to the Niagara Parkway to watch the fireworks over the falls. We walked to Dufferin Islands to see the light displays, then called it a night. The next day, we went wine tasting at the Konzelmann Estate Winery, where we had a four wine pairing with junk food! We also got to learn about the wine making process and the advantage the winery has from being by the lake, as well as how ice wine is made and why it's so expensive. We spent the afternoon walking around Niagara on the Lake before heading back to Toronto.

There's still lots of things to do around the city, but it's definitely time to bring out my winter jackets, gloves and thermals. I'm looking forward to going home to New Zealand for two weeks (where it's SUMMER) and seeing friends and family after a long absence from the country.


Canadaversary

Tomorrow marks one year since I landed in Canada to start a new life. It's gone by pretty quickly, but I'm still thoroughly enjoying my job and the city - and especially now that it's summer, it's incredibly exciting to experience all the events and sights that Toronto has to offer. Each weekend has been filled with something to do, something to eat, something to see. I shared 100 oysters for $100 with three others, had All You Can Eat Peking Duck, tried Xinjiang and Teochew cuisines; there was dim sum, office breakfasts, birthday dinners and barbeques in the park. There was karaoke, a hike around the Niagara Falls Whirlpools, Canada Day fireworks by the beach and a road trip to the Blue Mountains, where I drove on the right side of the road for the first time. I caught up with Dionte and we walked around Graffiti Alley. The company had its General Assembly last Friday, where we partied until midnight.

Last weekend I was in Chicago catching up with Loic, Dana and Marc. I went to a baseball game, which went exactly how I thought it would, in true American fashion: the hand on the heart thing for the national anthem, the sloppy greasy food and cheap beer, the whole atmosphere of Wrigley Stadium was just like I had seen on TV or in the movies. It did rain a bit though, and it would persist throughout the time I was in Chicago. We also explored Wicker Park, the area around our AirBnB, and I even snuck in some time to do a few Zapdos raids in Millennium Park. The four of us did a escape room, then watched the fireworks off Navy Pier. Of course, I had the famous deep dish pizza from Pizzeria Uno too - I wouldn't have left the city without it!

My weekends are so packed that the weekdays need to be quiet so I can relax and chill out. But I love it. I need to maximise my time before winter comes.