True Spring

As we near the end of April, the temperatures have finally hit double digits - consistently. This weekend past marks the first day I have not had to wear my heavy winter jacket to go outside. In fact, it was so pleasant over the weekend that I walked to the Asian supermarket at the Stockyards - about 30 minutes away from my place - and treated myself with a tub of coconut taro ice cream, and pandan ice cream. At badminton yesterday, I was at Trinity Bellwoods Park just after 1pm, and with plenty of time to kill, I watched the dogs frolic in the park and eventually dozed off in the sun. Definitely a warm welcome from the frozen months of winter.

The Canadians tell me this is true spring, and what we experienced last month was False Spring 1 and Winter 2.

Last week was quite the adventure though. A massive ice storm hit the city, causing tree branches to fall on streets, widespread power outages and over 300 reported car accidents over the weekend. It somehow didn't stop me from going for a bloody Ex Raid, then to karaoke with my badminton crew, nor did it stop me from going to church and then to the shopping mall afterwards for Pokemon Go's community day. I also treated myself to my favourite mango and key lime cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, so it was a good weekend despite the snow, ice, slush and liquid water everywhere.

I went to Video Games Live as well, an orchestral concert dedicated to the legacy of video games from the past 35 years. Headed by Tommy Tallarico, we heard songs from Castlevania, Metroid, Mega Man, Uncharted, Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, Mario, Okami, Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. We had a guest conductor, Russell Brower, who was the music composer for Blizzard Entertainment, and he led the orchestra as they played music from Overwatch and World of Warcraft: Mists of Panderia. My heart lept for joy when music from Phoenix Wright was played, and I could not help but point my finger triumphantly in homage to my favourite virtual lawyer. The climax of the concert was of course the Pokemon segment, where the orchestra played themes from Pokemon Red and Blue, as well as the Team Rocket theme from the anime. But the final song was by far the greatest moment of the entire night, as Jason Paige, the original singer of the Pokemon Theme song, came onstage and performed it, with the backing of Tommy and the orchestra, and the thousands of fans singing along - I wanna be the very best!

Today, some madman was trying to commit suicide by cop by Yonge and Finch. I was at work while the incident happened, some 15km away, but I do visit that area often if I'm heading to Markham or Richmond Hill with friends. News reports say ten people have been killed, which is super grim. It's an odd sensation seeing familiar landmarks and roads on videos like that.


March

It's been seven months since I arrived in Toronto to start a new life and a new job. It's also some other 32 year anniversary for something, but I won't go into that too much. But it does mean it's spring, kinda. The days are definitely getting longer and we enjoyed double digit temperatures for a few days, but today it plummeted back to 2C and it's begun snowing.

I got horribly sick last week after work karaoke on Chinese New Year. I was visiting some family friends out in Richmond Hill, and after dinner, I began to feel terribly cold, and got muscle aches and a fever. Somehow I still dragged myself to a Chinese New Year dinner with my badminton friends, but I stayed at home for the next four days trying to recover. I got to experience the greatness of the famous Canadian healthcare system too. I'm still not at 100% but I managed to at least go for badminton and attend the Pokemon Community Day last weekend. I also got treated to an amazing seafood dinner with lots of oysters!

Canadian public holidays are really nicely spaced out over the year. In fact, there was a gap in holidays between New Years and Easter, so they made up a provincial holiday in Ontario called Family Day in February. Isn't that great?


A Year On

It's been just over a year since I left New Zealand on my amazing OE. I don't think about it as much these days, nor do I dwell on what my life was like when I was in Wellington. I guess travelling for a solid six months helped me forget about routine and responsibility, which I'm super grateful for actually.

I was in New York last week for the Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary Distant Worlds concert. Still as magical as the one I saw in Montreal 2017, but more special because Nobuo Uematsu himself, the man behind all those amazing songs, was in attendance. The crowd went wild when he appeared on stage, everyone knew how big an impact he has made to the franchise, the industry and our lives. The set list was:

  • Prelude
  • Clash on the Big Bridge (FFV)
  • Victory Theme
  • Cosmo Canyon (FFVII)
  • Not Alone (FFIX)
  • The Oath (FFVIII)
  • Flash of Steel (FFXII)
  • Searching for Friends (FFVI)
  • Fang's Theme (FFXIII)
  • Theme of Love (FFIV)
  • Apocalypsis Noctis (FFXV)
  • Liberi Fatali (FFVIII)
  • Opening Theme ~ Bombing Mission (FFVII)
  • Somnus (FFXV)
  • Heavensward (FFXIV)
  • Chocobo Medley
  • Hymn of the Fayth (FFX)
  • To Zanarkand (FFX)
  • Maria and Draco (FFVI)
  • Credits
  • Aeris's Theme (FFVII)
  • One Winged Angel (FFVII)

The FFVI opera was epic, complete with narration of the story. The build up to that final note with all three singers resonating throughout the entire hall - absolutely fantastic. Nobuo himself joined the choir for One Winged Angel, as did the audience for the SEPHIROTH!. After the concert, I got to meet the man himself, as well as Arnie Roth, the conductor. I was so nervous. I saw there was a piano in the room and I would have loved to perform Zanarkand for the man responsible for inspiring so much of my piano playing, but I would have been mortified if I had ruined the song in front of the person who wrote it. Instead, I told him about what a beautiful piece it was, and how I learned to play it before playing Final Fantasy X. I thanked him and shook hands with him, and I will forever remember that moment I got to meet the world famous Nobuo Uematsu, composer of so many Final Fantasy songs.

Apart from the concert, I wandered around the city, admiring its busyness and charm. It's been five years since I was last in the Big Apple, and apart from all the regular touristy stuff - the Rockefeller Centre and the Nintendo store, Times Square, Central Park - I also visited the World Trade Centre Observatory, which wasn't finished in 2012, as well as the Highline. I sampled some amazing New York style cheesecake from Juniors, and some delicious pastries from Lady M at Bryant Park. I got to experience Pokemon Go in New York as well! I was actually staying in New Jersey, with an old friend from New Zealand, and to be honest, the one thing you won't get in New York is a magnificent view of Manhattan's skyline - there's a park on the east side of NJ with a beautiful view of the towers and lights of Manhattan.

Returning to Toronto was tiring, as we were delayed boarding by an hour, then sat on the tarmac for another hour as we waited for Pearson Airport to give us clearance to land. Snow had thrown the flight schedules into chaos, and it was around 11.30pm when we finally arrived back in Canada.


2018

The temperature peeked above zero for the first time in a few months. Snow turned to muddy slush on the sidewalks and roads, and it wasn't painful to walk around without gloves. It hasn't been an easy road though, last Friday and Saturday hit -20C with a windchill of -30C. That was tough.

It's a new year. Almost an entire 365 days since I left New Zealand. I had a relaxing week off, staying mostly indoors to shelter from the cold, but I did go into town for karaoke, badminton and a New Year's Eve party. They shot some fireworks off at Nathan Phillips Square, and hordes of people still turned up despite the severe cold warnings. It was a great atmosphere, though my time outdoors was thankfully brief. I ended up going to bed around 5am, it was that good. Later that day, I played board games with some of the badminton crew, and got to play around with some awesome VR games, including a 3D drawing sandbox.

We're back at work too. The first week was quiet, many still away on holiday. My manager has unfortunately fallen ill with pneumonia, which sounds pretty serious, so we won't expect him back until next week. Otherwise I'm just trucking along. Console projects take time, and they're definitely not as fast paced as mobile games. It's sometimes hard to see progress when you're focused on one small portion of the game.

I'm not as homesick as I used to be. I've expanded my social circles and have people to hang out with on weekends. Most importantly, I'm busying myself, because I think too much when I don't have anything to do. Today is particularly significant because it marks 19 years since Mum passed away and I still think about her a lot. She'd probably be pretty shocked to find out where I am and what I'm doing though, but secretly proud that I did what I did.


Winter Christmas

The temperature is now consistently below zero, with snow and slush everywhere on the streets. It's strange looking at it from within my very warm apartment, because it can be sunny yet -15C outside, and quite a shock when I leave the building.

Things got pretty busy for me as the year wrapped up. I attended my first Ubisoft Christmas Party at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, where a band called the Cybertronic Spree entertained us by dressing as Transformers and playing the Pokemon Theme Song. There were circus performers and lots of food and alcohol, and such a great atmosphere to celebrate my first four months with the company.

Ubisoft gave us the Friday before Christmas off. I took the opportunity to run a few errands in the morning - even getting in some time to do some Pokemon Go raiding. I tagged along with Victor in the afternoon, and we hit a few nests around the Junction/High Park area, getting lots of Pokemon in the process. It's horrible to play in such cold temperatures, but not too bad if you have a car to go around. In the afternoon, I headed into town to check out the Christmas Market down in the Distillery District, where it was totally packed with locals and tourists alike. I got some chocolate from the famous chocolatier, SOMA, and then went to Chinatown for hot pot and some games afterwards.

On Saturday, my badminton crew had dinner and karaoke at a restaurant out in Markham. The clientele is mostly Chinese, and as a result, so was the song selection. I let it slip the only Mandarin song I knew was Tong Hua, so I had to sing it. The native speakers seemed quite impressed with my pronunciation and singing ability, despite my inability to speak Mandarin, so I'll call that a win for me.

There were two church services on Christmas Eve, both of which I played piano for. It was quite a challenge, trying to make sure everything was in order musically, but I think the worship team and choir came together quite nicely. I was surprised that it all fell into place and nothing majorly disastrous happened, because I only had a few hours of sleep the night before - I got home late from karaoke, around 1am, and I had troubles sleeping because I was so stressed about waking up early in the morning. A family took me for lunch to Swiss Chalet after the morning service, then dropped me home for a quick nap before I came back for the evening service. Afterwards, I went to a workmate's house for an amazing Christmas Eve dinner with turkey, salads, and a cold pasta dish marinated with a Japanese sweet-and-sour plum vinaigrette.

As I walked home, the snow was falling. It was serene and quiet, everything I had imagined a white winter Christmas to be. It was pretty awesome to see the Christmas lights on peoples' homes illuminate the fresh snow with all sorts of colours, and I can finally appreciate all the winter imagery that's so commonly associated with Christmas.

Another church family had invited me out to their house in Etobicoke for Christmas lunch, so that's where I spent most of my day. I managed to call my parents in Malaysia, and my sister in New Zealand as well, and got to hear from my excited nephews about what presents they got and what they got up to back home. I really do miss them, and I'm looking forward to going back to New Zealand sometime next year to see them, and all my other friends too.