Found 39 blog posts for the year: 2014

Weddings and Things

I made it to Melbourne on Boxing Day after a very early Jetstar flight with plenty of unhappy babies. Anyway, after a tiki tour of the CBD, we were taken to the Upper Plenty Conference Centre and we've been here since.

We're kinda in the middle of nowhere but it is incredibly serene and pretty. This area was ravaged by the bush fires a few years ago and it's easy to see the evidence of that devastation, but at the same time, quite inspiring to see the regrowth coming through. There are wild kangaroos around, and we saw a baby huntsman spider too. We've been playing cards and going on bush walks, but most importantly there's been heaps of preparation for Blake and Jacinta's wedding. It has been fun catching up with various KCC people - it always is!

Today has been pretty hot, but the wedding went off without a hitch and we're about to tuck into some food. Tomorrow we'll hit town for some adventures in the city!


Merry Christmas!

It's been a busy time in Auckland, catching up at various eateries with friends and family. On Monday I caught up with the Pokemon gang at Sun World, Newmarket for yum cha, and then the Auckland PikPok crew at Tae Neung Korean Barbeque for dinner. On Tuesday, I met up with Matt at My Kitchen and then went with my parents to Tatsumi in Newmarket for their Christmas Special Degustation - sooo good. Expect an emotionally charged food blog post about this in the new year.

On Wednesday I was at Reuben's playing 7 Wonders with the Babel expansion and a quiet dinner at home before heading out to Milse in Britomart for some fantastic summery desserts. The night was not over yet though, there was some Smash Bros to be had at Julia's. Yuss!

And finally today, I got to see my adorable nephews - one almost four years old and the other almost a year old. We drove out to Missions Bay for a classic Kiwi Christmas picnic; we were one of many hundreds of people enjoying the wonderful warm weather around the city. We ended the day with a turkey roast back at home.

Early flight to Melbourne tomorrow!


One with the Wind and Sky

The last week of work was a fun but hectic mess of frantic game jamming, as we pulled together to stick code, art, design and sound into an enjoyable experience that would wow our colleagues. Jimmy, Linda, Jayde, Nathan and myself were Team Four for Game Jam 2014 and unfortunately, four is also where we placed - just outside of prize money contention. Nevertheless, we produced something we were quite proud of so that's something we can take away from the week.

On Saturday, Mike, Will and Phil bundled into my car and we began our journey to Owhango, on the west side of Lake Taupo near National Park. Mike had kindly offered us the use of his holiday home for the night, so we took advantage of this and enjoyed the fireplace, pool table and spa pool. It was good to break up the road trip to Auckland, especially since we had a big day the next day...

I had been keeping close tabs on the weather for Taupo all week. The forecast had consistently said showers for Sunday, but as we drove towards Taupo, the clouds in the sky began to open up to brilliant blue and sunshine. We had one agenda in mind only: skydiving. This was an idea that began during the Great Kayaking Trip in Motueka but didn't happen because of strong winds. Two months later, this crazy idea became a reality as the four of us committed ourselves to the wind and sky, leaping out over the Great Lake Taupo with the most fantastic scenery around us. Mike, Will and Phil chose the 12,000ft jump; I opted for the 15,000ft jump. I watched them as they were forced out of the plane into the air below, becoming increasingly nervous as my time approached. My tandem master signalled and I shuffled forward to the exposed hatch, and then with no time to be scared, I was shunted out.

The few moments are completely terrifying, but once the free fall kicks in, you're much more relaxed and can start enjoying the scenery. I remember the glittering blue waters of the lake below, the greens of the forests around the area and the clouds in the distance that were covering Ruapehu. It was exhilarating but over too soon as the parachute deployed. I gasped and hyperventilated as my brain started to acknowledge just what I'd done, and as we continued our descent, I was still trying to get my head around just how lucky we were with the weather and conditions. It was absolutely fantastic and such an amazing experience.

We continued our journey to Auckland and I arrived back home around 7pm, in time for some soup kambing and sambal seafood that my parents had made for dinner. I rushed off to Massey badminton courts for a few hours of high-intensity badminton before finally hitting home and taking a well earned rest.

What an awesome start to the Christmas holidays.


Geminids

Yesterday was truly a glorious summer's day. I gathered Mana, Will and Phil up for some KFC down by Oriental Parade and then took them around various beaches - "I didn't realise Wellington had beaches" and "I've never left town" were some of the exclamations I heard while driving. I was so impressed by the weather that I convinced them to stay up late and accompany me to Owhiro Bay so that we could catch a glimpse of the Geminids Meteor Shower which peaked in intensity last night.

Insufficiently equipped with our hoodies and a picnic blanket, we set up right by the carpark heading to Red Rocks on the stony beach and within minutes of lying down, a magnificent trail of light and smoke streaked across the sky majestically. Over the next hour, we saw several more meteors streaming across the skies, each as exciting as the last, but it was the cold that stopped us from staying too long. We said goodbye to the other crazy people who had joined us and headed home, satisfied with the amazing astronomical display we'd just seen.


End of Year Shenanigans

It's that time of the year when the parties go wild and the people start gearing up towards Christmas and the end of the year. Most of us are looking forward to the holidays ahead, even among the stress of Christmas shopping and looming deadlines, and, for the PikPok crew, the competitive nature of this year's Game Jam. Several of the teams have already begun their prototyping ahead of the final week, so it's shaping up to be a tough competition indeed.

Again, despite my efforts to try and play Pokemon or failing that, work on my Game Jam game, this week was quite busy in terms of social events. We watched a horrible Ewoks spin-off movie for 80s Movie Night on Tuesday, then on Wednesday I was out at the Fringe Bar to watch Joe's improv graduation show and then stayed for another show by Wellington Improv Troupe. On Thursday, good old Bryce had come down for Kiwicon so we caught up with him at Crafters, and on Friday... it was karaoke!

Jules is turning 30 this year so she's been having a series of birthday-related events, one of which was an amazing karaoke session last Friday. We started strong, with some good classics like Final Countdown, Bohemian Rhapsody and Keep on Movin', followed by some more contemporary songs like Tay Tay's Shake It Off. But the highlight of the night was the Idina Menzel Let It Go battle between myself and one of Juliann's friends Sarah, who rose to the challenge and duetted the iconic Frozen song with me. We channelled the frozen fractals and icy blasts, crescendoing to the final note, and at the song's triumphant end - the cold never bothered me anyway - we high-fived a job well done as the entire room erupted into wild applause.

The night had not ended there, however. We finished up at KZone and headed to JJ Murphy's to see Vigz's band Zephyr playing some cool 70s and 80s covers. There was the oldest mosh pit I'd ever seen. But the environment was jovial and light-hearted, and we ended up mobbing the dance floor during Summer of 69, so there were plenty of good times to be had.

On Saturday we had the final PikPok badminton session for the year, and then it was off to the bakery for some pies, and then to LBQ with Thomas and Astrid for another MKR BBQ. Despite the weather, Ian and Sandie had set up their equipment and were making some delectable things. I chose the Hefe marinated Lamb Loin on Bruschetta with Goat's Cheese Mousse and Mint Pea Crush, which was pretty good. The goat's cheese mousse was wonderfully smooth and had such a good flavour to compliment the other ingredients. We stayed for an hour and a bit, and then headed off to the Apartment bar for the PikPok Christmas Party.

And boy was it a party.

There was Smash Bros set up on the Wii U and Giant Jenga all ready to go. We had five PikPok-themed cocktails from Oreo, Into the Dead, Flick Kick Football Legends, Robot Unicorn Attack and Rival Stars Basketball. There was much joviality and plenty of shenanigans to go round. At one point in time I was singing I'll Make a Man out of You and also Let it Go in French. At another point in time, I started the Animaniacs Nations of the World song. I was also balancing on top of a tower erected from the Giant Jenga blocks and I was also involuntarily trust falling into the loving hands of my co-workers.

We moved on to Little Penang for some food around 8pm, where I promptly declared how amazing the night was all over the table - it must have been those three shots right before I left. Thankfully Nic, Damon, Mana and James, who were with me, took care of the mess as I was ushered into the bathroom to clean myself up. I felt much better after that, and continued on to the Fork and Brewer very briefly to see Ben off, before being walked home by Polly and Vigz.

I posted a rather dire-sounding message on Facebook making seem I was in quite a bad place, so several people had texted me to ask me if I was okay, and I reassured them everything was fine, that I was just drunk and overwhelmed because it's the first time I've ever done that, and I amended the message on Facebook as soon as I could. But it's humbling to see that I can count on all these awesome friends to be there for me if I ever need them.

For that, I am truly blessed and thankful.


But I Just Want to Play Pokemon :(

My copy of Pokemon AlphaSapphire arrived on Friday, but unfortunately my weekend has been so stacked with events that I simply haven't had time to play it. On Saturday I had badminton in the morning, then I met Mana at LBQ to check out the food being served by Dai and Dal, the Laotian girl team from New Zealand's version of My Kitchen Rules. I stopped by the Southern Cross briefly to say hi to Sunni who was having her 30th Birthday, but my back started playing up so I needed to move... and ended up at Mana's for the Singstar Party. Paul texted mid-afternoon for a quick drink at the Sprig and Fern that night so I obliged too. I dragged Mana and Phil along and I met Paul's flatmate Alex there too. It was a pretty crazy Saturday and I was absolutely shattered by the time I got home.

Today has been pretty tiring too. I made it to church for the second Sunday of advent - peace - and I was out to Churton Park for the last family group gathering of the year. By the time I got home, it was 3pm and I passed out on my bed for a three hour nap. So good. I'll get a bit of chance to play Pokemon after I finish blogging...!

Last weekend was pretty crazy too. After badminton, I met Jimmy at the gym (because it was still Bring A Buddy For Free Month) for some more upper body workouts, but the highlight of Saturday was 8-player Smash Bros on the Nintendo Wii U. So awesome. I seemed to have some dominance with the Pink Powerpuff Duo, Kirby and Jigglypuff. The Wii U version feels great and looks gorgeous in 1080p. We had dinner at Little Penang and I hung out at Mana, Will and Phil's for a bit before heading home for the night since I had music at church the next day.

On Monday, I was at Campbell and Linda's for a very satisfying steamboat and Mana, Will and Phil's on Tuesday for the 80s Movie Night - this week's choice was Labyrinth. It feels like I've missed out on a lot of 80s movies, so this is a good opportunity to catch up on some of the films that have been so iconic of that era. The week before we watched Princess Bride - not particularly to Mana's liking but I appreciated the odd sense of humour which would have been far more appropriate for that time period than today.

We found out our Game Jam teams for this year and have started brainstorming ideas. GJ2014 will be in the last week of work, and will conclude what has been a pretty busy year for me at PikPok. Next year will be full of challenges too, and I'm looking forward to completing my first commercial Unity project.


Food and Gym

I've started joining the QA Team at work on their weekly Monday morning weigh-ins. My first week I weighed 70.7kg; the second week I had gained a whole 100g to be 70.8kg. Not bad for the week, considering the amount of food I'd eaten, but possibly also helped by the fact I went to the gym for the first time ever. Those gains, indeed.

Last Monday I was at Loic's house for an extravaganza of French cuisine - a very impressive home-cooked three course meal, complete with Le Rustique camembert to finish the night. C'est delicieux! Bob and Angela were down too, so on Tuesday we met for dinner at Little Penang, followed by dessert at Strawberry Fare where I got the caramel and peanut butter cheesecake. So incredibly indulgent, and far too much to eat, I couldn't bring myself to eat the last few bites of the cheesecake. We were at Duke Carvell's for lunch on Wednesday and El Matador for dinner on Thursday. Continuing on the gluttony train, I got a patisserie from Louis Sergeant shaped like a jandal on Friday, as well as celebrated the one year anniversary of Flick Kick Football Legends with a giant chocolate cake at work.

Saturday was healthy exercise day, with a record sixteen people turning up to badminton in the morning. I had made a deal with Jimmy that if he came to badminton, I'd go to the gym, so sure enough, last Saturday afternoon, I went to Habit on Willis Street with Jimmy as part of their "bring a buddy for free" month. To be honest, it wasn't too bad and I certainly got a good introduction to the weights and machines - Jimmy's pretty awesome like that, and it seems that Hadley's teachings have been well received. However, it feels like the gym really isn't for me and I doubt I will be joining one any time soon. I might go again this weekend (the last weekend to take advantage of this free offer!) but I can't see myself paying that much for a service like that. That being said, if my metabolism slows down and I start packing on the kilograms, it might be a necessity in the future.

I went and saw My Neighbor Totoro on Sunday (neko basu!) and caught up with Raewyn and Andrew at Deluxe afterwards, but otherwise it was a pretty relaxed Sunday with some great sunny weather, even if it was a bit too windy. We were at Pravda Cafe last night for Fine Dining and Kaffee Eis afterwards because the meal was so lacklustre. It looks like my social calendar is slowly filling up for the rest of the year. It's gonna be great.


Almost Summer

We had a few brilliant days of sunshine last week, so the parties were on and the barbeques were fired up. I was at Vincent's on Friday for a crazy animal-themed party, Hadley and Jimmy's on Saturday for the 80s Party III, and Thomas and Astrid's on Sunday for a barbeque and really also to play with the cats. Saturday was also the Guy Fawkes fireworks down by the waterfront - we had a pretty good view from Joe's rooftop right by New World Chaffers. It was a pretty busy weekend indeed.

There's been a spate of new food and drink establishments popping up too. I was at the Bresolin on Tuesday for a quick drink (nice place down by the motorway on Willis St, but the service had a few teething problems) and Burger Liquor on Wednesday (burger joint that took over Crazy Horse, pretty good feed), but have also heard about Five Boroughs in Mt Victoria and the Hideaway on Plimmer Steps. Would be keen to try those at some point, and if their standard meets expectation, maybe a food blog post is in order too.

I went to a new physiotherapist today (same clinic, though) who took a look at my back and told me my spine was "straighter" than normal, which meant a lot of the pressure fell at the back of my pelvis instead of more centrally. This could be causing all my problems with the leg and back pain I've been having. Some damn complex muscular and nerve system shenaningans. In any case, I opted to try dry needling, which is similar to acupuncture in that needles are inserted into trigger points to contract and release muscles, except the needles are flicked instead of having an electric current passed through them. It seems to alleviated some pain in the back and given me some mobility, but time will tell if the treatment and the assigned exercises will actually solve my problems. I've also come away with a large line of tape stretching around my back to the front.

Fun times.

The end of year is nearing and I'm looking forward to the time off, especially the trip to Melbourne over New Years. There will also be the drive up to Auckland, which may or may not involve skydiving. We shall see.


The Great Kayaking Adventure

It's been a pretty busy past couple of weeks. My copy of Super Smash Bros and Kirby Triple Deluxe arrived so I've been playing those and having a great time. I love how each franchise in Smash Bros is represented in the game, with all the care to keep the characters, art style and music true to the series that they come from. Nintendo have done a great job with the 3DS version so it will be interesting to see how the Wii U version turns out, as well as how the eight player mode will fare.

I've also started my new project at work. Still getting used to Unity but it has made prototyping rapid and easy. We've tried three concepts so far - none of them really a direction we want to continue with, so we will be exploring more avenues in the weeks to come. We'll be in pre-development until the end of the year and then start full production next year. Mark my words, we'll be the first project to have a throw-away prototype.

Anyway, over Labour Weekend, nine of us boarded the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton to kick off a five day kayaking adventure in the Abel Tasman National Park. Things were off to a shaky start though, we ended up leaving at 10pm instead of 7pm because they'd overloaded the ferry and had to turn back. When we did get on our way, we were through some 3m to 4m swells, which was pretty bad - Vigz and Will couldn't keep it in and chundered, whilst the others, myself included, moved to the back of the boat to ease the queasiness. After a rough twenty minute patch, the swells subsided and I moved back to the top deck with the Frenchmen and Matt. I find it's a matter of keeping your mind focused and being alert and aware of your surroundings so you don't get dizzy. It was quite an experience, one I was hoping we wouldn't have to go through on the way back. We reached Picton close to 1am and Vincent drove us to Motueka. The roads are dead empty but the stars are fantastic - unfortunate as we don't have time to stop and gaze. We eventually reached Motueka close to 3.30am and we all passed out for the night at the Hat Trick Backpackers.

We were up and about at 9am on Saturday, ready for a day of kayaking. We had some fantastic pies from Toad Hall, the cafe next to the kayaking company, before heading out to Marahau, the start of our journey. By the time we'd finished prepping and packing, it would have been close to noon when we finally got out onto the water. It was a grueling four hour paddle to our first campsite, the Anchorage and my leg had started playing up, but some painkillers soon solved the problem. The tents went up and the kayaks were stowed away for the night, and the first item on the list was to make dinner. The large plan I'd written up said "steak, salad, potatoes" except I had forgotten to buy steak that morning. A "mis-steak", says Matt. Hilarious. Dinner ended up being kransky sausages, haloumi, salad, boiled eggs and potatoes. We were all so hungry that it didn't really matter it was such a miscellaneous collection of ingredients. We opted for a few moments of star gazing out on the beach - fantastic night sky, no light pollution and no clouds, but unfortunately just way too tired to wait for any shooting stars!

The next day, we were up for an early start again but a far more relaxed paddle this time round. We went up to Pinnacle Island and saw some seals; we took a detour down Falls River - only accessible for kayaks at high tide - and we were so fortunate to see a baby seal frolicking in the water around us. It continued to swim under and around the kayaks, splashing water every so often, and it followed us out as we left the river. We eventually arrived at Mosquito Bay and since it's not on the Abel Tasman walkway, we had the whole campsite to ourselves. The island in the bay is accessible at low tide and we had a bit of an explore after we'd finished setting up our tents and all (I almost lost my glasses on the rocks), but the weather cooled down considerably and it was a pretty wet night. Nevertheless, it was amazingly peaceful area. Dinner was stir-fry vegetables and black bean dace on rice. Classic Asian comfort food!

Most of us emerged relatively dry the next day. I had wet feet; Will and Mana's tent had a swimming puddling right in the center. Vigz and Mike, whose tent had a hole on it, were protected by the bivouac set up they'd created. The plan for Monday was to head to Observation Beach and explore. The weather forecast for Wednesday was looking grim, so we decided we should start heading back towards Marahau in case things got really windy. Soon after we got to Observation Beach, the wind did start picking up and the waves were crashing on the beach quite violently. We set up the campsite and scoffed down some lunch, and tried to keep dry and warm. Dinner was corned beef ("pet food", the French said mockingly), beans (worst decision ever) and tortillas.

I was up early on Tuesday morning with Mana watching the sun come over the Nelson hills. The night was quite rough - the continuous crashing of waves against the beach made it difficult to sleep. After a quick breakfast, we were out on the calm water with some brilliant sun and a bit of cloud cover. We paddled past Adele Island and saw some seals, and continued back to Marahau at a leisurely pace. I remember being absolutely smitten with the serenity and beauty of where we were. We arrived just before noon at Marahau and made our way back to Motueka for a mean feed (KFC!) and then some pub time at the Sprig and Fern. We played Cards Against Humanity (I had to explain some awkward things to the Frenchies) and we retired for the night close to 11pm.

I was awake early on Wednesday morning and was in the kitchen of the backpackers when Matt walked in and challenged me to a few games of chess. I beat him all three times. That was fun. We packed all our stuff and made our way to Motueka Airport - Mana had decided it was a great idea to go skydiving and was psyching everyone up for it. Unfortunately the wind was too strong for us to go up so we ended up at Toad Hall for some final pies (highly recommend the wild goat curry pie) before splitting up - Vincent, Loic, Emilie and myself went to Nelson Lakes for a squizz, Matt, Mike, Vigz, Mana and Will took the northern route to the Queen Charlotte Sounds. It was cold and wet at the Nelson Lakes, but the fog provided a real eerie atmosphere to the area. We fed the ducks and eels and made our way to Picton to meet up with the others. On the ferry, we were playing Up and Down the River, and thankfully the boat ride was smooth so no one chucked.

It was an amazing weekend that was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Great company, heaps of adventures, awesome scenery and so much fun.


Oh Geez, It's October

I can't believe it's already October.

I've been hard at work on the site, updating its interface and structure and essentially rewriting the code from scratch. The result is something that is finally mobile-friendly and something that doesn't look like it was written by a 21 year old in 2007. Bootstrap is pretty awesome and it has made designing the site easy. Thanks to Vincent for showing me the ropes and for inspiring me to make something more contemporary and classy! In addition to this, I also have my Food Blog, which is a formalisation of all the pictures and descriptions from my Facebook page.

Work has been busy. I've been working on upskilling in Unity by making a sweet version of Final Fantasy VIII's Triple Triad game, but themed with Pokemon - aka, my two most favourite game franchises in the world. Last week, I started pre-production on my new project, which should tide us over until the end of the year. I haven't actually started a project since Dash n Drop in 2012, so I'm looking forward to all the challenges that this will hold.


NZGDC

I was up in Auckland for the New Zealand Game Developer's Conference last Friday, but thanks to some sweet organisation by our office manager, I got to stay in Auckland until Sunday night. I've had an awesome weekend, but I wish I had more time to sleep and relax - it was just completely full on and exhausting at times.

We went up on Thursday night. I managed to grab some Burger Wisconsin before rushing to the airport, and thankfully so because it would have been close to 10pm by the time we got into town and even had the chance to get food. Nevertheless, we dropped our bags at City Lodge on Vincent St and I led the team straight to Giapo, New Zealand's best ice cream. At the store, the lady at the counter enthusiastically told us all about the values of the head chef and his philosophy behind the ice cream, as well as letting us sample the many different flavours they had on offer. I love the passion when people speak about food - I share the same excited tone and expressive vocabulary. I opted for a chocolate laphroaig and peanut butter and banana ice cream. So good!

The night continued on at Vulture's Lane on Vulcan Lane, then Andrew Andrew down by the Hilton, and finally O'Hagan's Irish Pub at the Viaduct. It was 2am when we stumbled up to Kebabs on Queen for some very late night food - it was the only place open - before heading back to the backpackers.

It was an early-ish start to the day at 7.30am so we could visit Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar before the conference started. Great to catch up with Deanna and good to see business doing well, even if the landlords are threatening to hike rent by 36%. We made our way to AUT with cookies and coffee in hand just after 9.30am.

NZGDC was awesome. The keynote was from David Brevik, the lead designer on Diablo 1 and 2. Totally amazing to hear his stories on Diablo's development - it was originally supposed to be a turn-based RPG! There were heaps of great talks throughout the day, highlights being cloud gaming, boids and the tech panel featuring Alex St John, David Brevik and Chris Blackbourne. It was also good to catch up with a few ex-colleagues and meet some new people in the industry, yet a bit sad that the PikPok crew had flights back to Wellington during the afterparty! We ended up at the Bluestone Room on Durham St until around 9pm, when Lloyd, Charles and myself ventured to Daikoku Ramen for a late dinner.

On Saturday, I met up with my schoolmates at Dunk on Parnell, with a quick visit to the Chocolate Boutique as well. We had some extremely thorough discussion about politics (seeing as it was election day) as well as the regular banter about life, jobs and the good old Grammar days.

I had a quick nap back at home before meeting Mel at Orphans Kitchen, a hip-and-trendy little restaurant on Ponsonby Road. We were greeted by a man with a fine moustache (who I later learned was Josh Helm, one of the co-owners), which reminded me of the vibe you regularly get around town in Wellington. The food is an eclectic mix of ingredients that don't necessarily sound appetising individually, but provide an amazing flavour sensation when combined. Highly recommended, and a full breakdown of the meal will appear on my food blog, when I get around to it!

With room for dessert, I suggested we try our luck at Milse, a small but very fancy dessert restaurant in Britomart. We made our way down to find out that they had a 45 minute wait on a table - doesn't matter, I said! I'll wait! I found out that one of my workmates was up for the weekend and was chilling at the Green Party party watching the election results (his mother is quite involved in politics) so we went and picked him up from Beresford Square off K Road and trundled back down to the waterfront. Each of us had one dessert but the real treat was watching the entire preparation routine unfold in front of us. The meticulousness of the chefs as they prepare the desserts is outstanding - such care and pride they put into making these dishes, and what a wonderful masterpiece that comes out the other end. Again, a full review will appear on the food blog when it's done! I had a great yarn to the lady at the front of house, and again, just the way people passionately talk about food is so enjoyable and makes me so happy.

I was still keen to stay out, so we ended up at Gable's Ale House on Jervois Quay for a quick drink before heading home just after midnight. Whew! I was up again early on Sunday morning to get to KCC for the regular service, and then out for yum char at this new place in Three Kings before heading to Julia's for a spot of Smash Bros Brawl and Mario Kart 8.

In the evening, I was at my sister's house for dinner and catching up with my adorable nephews. The older one had been celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day and had donned a full pirate costume with swashbuckling sword action and his best attempt at pirate lingo (so cute), whilst the younger one was stared around, wide eyed and bursting into a huge smile every so often. Love them so much. I really do miss them and wish I could spend more time with them - they really do grow up so quickly.

Back in Wellington on Sunday night and back at work on Monday, but I was suddenly roped in to help out with a stall at a careers fair down by Mac's Brewery Function Room that night. It was really cool, but rather exhausting - I don't remember talking so much and to so many people in such a small space of time! It is quite exciting though, you get to meet heaps of different people and tell them heaps about industry and life at PikPok. Hopefully we strike it lucky and hire some good talent this summer.


Another Action Packed Weekend

I felt so tired after last weekend that I was in need of another weekend to recover. Yesterday I woke up at 6am and fell asleep again, only to dream that it was a public holiday. One can only imagine how disappointed and frustrated I was when my alarm clock went off to remind me it was a Monday. It turned out Monday wasn't too bad afterall, apart from a visit from senior Labour Party candidates - David Cunliffe, David Parker and Grant Robertson - obstructing the passageway to the kitchen and preventing me from getting tea!

The weekend started off on Friday night at Kazu. Around 20 of us had gathered to celebrate Dewi's birthday with loads of food and loads of alcohol - plates of sushi, soft shelled crab, dumpings, takoyaki, tempura came out in droves and we ate and drank and talked and laughed. Naturally the only way to end the night was a solid round of karaoke! Woohoo!

Saturday morning came too early, but I was eager to get to badminton for a full two hour session. Still getting back into the swing of things, but have definitely retained some tricks from seven months ago. My back seems to be holding up more and more, especially with a bit of help from painkillers, so hopefully I can return to being a normal person soon. After some baked goods from Aro Bake and a solid nap in the afternoon, I was off to Bryan's house for his birthday celebration, where I caught up with a few people over some drinks and pizza. Good times indeed.

I was too tired to go to church the next day, but I managed to fit in groceries and marketing, before heading to the sauna for a bit to relax my back and left leg. Then it was back to town and off to Josh and Christine's for Mooncake Festival Part Two - another celebration with meats from land, sea and air. This whole process seems to be going smoother and smoother, so maybe I should do this more often? It was a thoroughly enjoyable night with fine company and fine food.


A Spring in my Step

With Wellington on a Plate well and truly over, and with such positive feedback from several people, I have decided to formalise the 'foodie' part of my blog in a separate section. It'll function pretty similar to this one, but it'll be focused on food only. I intend to keep it pretty casual and probably only for special occasions or exceptional food experiences.

Wellington on a Plate was a blast. I had an amazing time, dining in 26 restaurants, with 36 people, had 11 meals and 21 burgers, spent $971.17 and enjoyed every minute of it. So good to share my adventures with people who truly appreciate food in all aspects, and I am well and truly blessed to have friends like that - especially the crazy ones who came down from Auckland specifically for this! The Last Supper at Arthur's was poignant, with thirteen people in attendance as well. So amazing.

I played badminton for the second time in seven months on Saturday, and survived, but just barely. My quads are pretty sore from the jumping but my back held up quite well, so I just need to soldier on with some painkillers and keep on trucking. Following that, I met up with Jord, Joe, Jen, Josh and Christine for lunch at Leuven before heading to Escape Mate. In a very similar vein to all the escape rooms that I went to in Malaysia and Singapore, Escape Mate is nestled on Johnston Street in Wellington CBD, opposite from Leuven. There's a single puzzle room inside a vault, but another room is due to open soon. It was an intense afternoon, and we got out with 1 min 48 secs to go, but managed to break a bottle used as a prop in the process.

I've been playing Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright for 3DS too, and just finished that last night. Fantastic game, great characters as always, but I felt a bit let down by the ending and really missed the ability to yell ~OBJECTION!~ into the microphone. I think the writing is much better in Phoenix Wright games - you become very attached to the characters and it's clever how particular storylines weave together and intersect at the last moment for a dramatic finish, and that was missing in PL vs PW. Nevertheless, the game has amazing production quality - absolutely loved the artwork and character modelling, and so nostalgic hearing familiar themes again, especially Investigation ~ Cornered and the Turnabout Sisters.

And finally, yesterday, I celebrated Mid Autumn Festival by cooking my annual mooncake festival dinner, with roast pork, deep fried tofu, Thai prawn salad and lettuce wrap, and of course my favourite pandan mooncake to finish the meal. Yummo!


Fooding, So Hard Right Now

Wellington on a Plate 2014 has begun!

I've organised a team of foodies for the 17 days of this amazing food festival celebrating the region's finest produce and beverages. I've got a meal planned for every day, some times two in one day! We were at the Bangalore Polo Club at lunchtime on Friday, and Le Canard on Friday evening, and Duke Carvell's today for their amazing Double Down burger.

Yesterday I went out to Kilbirnie to look at the zephyrometer that had been struck by lightning, and spent some time at the sauna for my back. I picked up some pandan mooncakes (yay!) before heading home and meeting Dale, Jordan, Rob, Jill, Nic, Ian and Joe in town for some drinks. What was supposed to be a pretty low-key event turned into some pretty exhilarating shenanigans - we tried to get tables at Plum, then Hummingbird and Monsoon Poon as a random Wellington on a Plate venture, but all three places were jam-packed so we ended up having pizzas at One Red Dog, then dessert at Strawberry Fare (I tried their newest addition to the menu - a caramel, chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake!) and finally some more drinks at the Library. Such a great night out with friends - truly blessed to have such an awesome group of people to hang out with!


Thunderbolts and Lightning

We had a sudden yet exciting hailstorm hit the city around 2.30pm today. Friends at Weta had started posting about a hailstorm hitting the Miramar Peninsula just after 2.15pm; sure enough, around five minutes later, the CBD bore the brunt of a cold snap, with hail falling in the inner city and some rather dramatic displays of thunder and lightning. We learned later that the zephyrometer - the large orange needle in Kilbirnie - had been struck by lightning and blown apart!

Speaking of the cold and storms, I was at Ants and Jo's leaving party at the ever classy Blend bar. Great to catch up with people there, but the highlight of the night was letting it go in karaoke. I was wanting to go home at midnight but couldn't resist following them to the new karaoke bar next to the Lanes bowling alley, and I was enthralled to see they had the Idina Menzel version of Let It Go there. And Let It Go I did! Amazing. Despite the late night, I was able to make it to church the next morning - just!

I had dinner with Tak and Loic at the Steer and Beer last Friday before heading to Wei's house to socialise a bit and observe some Monopoly Deal (was too stubborn to play), and saw Guardians of the Galaxy at the Gold Lounge on Sunday (could not go back to the pleb seats!) The Baking Competition pies were fantastic and the next challenge is eclairs! It's been a busy week but Wellington on a Plate starts tomorrow, and it's going to be mega.


Suddenly August

I was up in Auckland last weekend for May and Norman's wedding. Awesome to catch up with my KCC crew and even more exciting to see these two be married and to celebrate with them over a fantastic meal at the Cube on Swanson St in the city.

I got to see my two nephews - the older one is as giggly as ever, and extremely excitable, the younger one we call fei jai because of his cute chubby cheeks! They really do grow up so fast and I really wish I could see them more often. I also took my parents to this amazing restaurant called Chikos on Lincoln Road. The chef there is Filipino but trained in French cuisine and his food combines contemporary flavours of Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Japan to produce some truly delightful and inspired dishes. I was blown away by the immaculate presentation of each dish, as well as the freshness of the ingredients and the exciting, unique taste of the meal. Definitely one to visit again in the future, and for $30 per main, a very reasonably priced one at that.

This week has been pretty busy too. I went for yoga again on Monday but felt so horrible afterwards that I'm probably just going to skip the last two classes - I ended up having some shooting pains down my leg and it was so hot and humid that I felt like I was going to pass out. I've just come back from Luke's birthday celebration at the Lighthouse Cinema where we ate an Adventure Time cake and saw Princess Mononoke.

One more week until Wellington on a Plate! Organising people together for this is worse than herding cats, but I'm sure the negativity will melt away once I get some burgers in my mouth. This week's baking challenge was a vegetable cake - a cake with a vegetable as the primary ingredient. Our bakers pulled together with pumpkin, beetroot, zucchini, mushroom (ugh!), onion (ugh!!), potato and rhubarb; huge congratulations to Jules and Tim for their contributions to the challenge - next week's is pie!


Awkward Poses

I went to yoga for the first time in my life on Monday.

Then I went again today.

Both times were awful. I am unfit and inflexible, and my hamstring injury was not contributing to my general well-being. It is something I want to try and like, because I know it will be good for my joints in the future and that it will strengthen my leg to prevent injuries like that from happening. But it is a very steep hill to climb and I am having a very bad time.

I spent most of last week cleaning and packing for my big shift 20 metres away. Everything went pretty smoothly, thanks to some help from Wei and my new flatmates. Though my leg was starting to give me some serious grief, I was able to rest it often enough to persevere through the whole day and get everything shifted in. After a trip to the Southern Landfill on Sunday, it all started feeling settled again. As a bonus, Vodafone sorted the Internet out on Saturday so I was able to get that all connected with my new powerline adapters to my desktop. Home is where the Internet is.

We were at the opening night of Mexico on Dixon Street for Jill's birthday and at Dragons for yum cha on Sunday. Then on Monday was the first bake day for the Wellington on a Plate Bake Club - I'm the co-ordinator for two teams at work who are battling it out to be PikPok's top baker. Wellington on a Plate sets a series of challenges each week and it's up to our teams to go out and bake up a storm and bring in the goods on Monday (sometimes Tuesday) for judging. We award points based on appearance, flavour, texture and usage of "Wellington ingredients" and the sum of the scores for each category over all the weeks determines who is the winner and thus who will advance to the Wellington City Bake Off!

The two PikPok teams are Fondante's Inferno and Flour Power: Into the Bread, and the first challenge was slices. There was an assortment fantastic edibles - lemon meringue, honey lemon and ginger, strawberry and chocolate mascarpone, chocolate and star anise, lemon passionfruit and coconut, and almond, peanut and chocolate. Absolutely awesome job by our eight bakers and looking forward to next week's exciting installment!


Epic Karaoke

We had some epic karaoke on Friday night at New Kor. Ants, Jo, Luke, Mike and I met at 8pm for dinner there, but unfortunately the restaurant was full, so Mr Lee let us have some pre-karaoke while we waited for a table. And in the 45 minutes that we were there, we belted out some amazing numbers: Ants and Mike dueting Creed's "With Arms With Open" perfectly, in the exact same style; Luke and I hitting some sweet harmonies with Bette Midler's "The Rose"; some smooth baritone versions of "My Heart Will Go On" and "I Will Always Love You". So good.

After dinner, we were joined by Matt, Ben, Jill, Charlie, Jimmy and Thomas where the festivities continued for another two hours, hitting max crescendo with Bohemian Rhapsody as the night's epic finale. There was plenty of soju and plenty of song, and it was a fantastic night indeed.

It was an early start to the next morning however, as I played badminton for the first time in almost six months. With my leg feeling marginally tight, I was able to play on and off for the full two hours without too much strain and had a great time easing back into an activity I have been missing so much this year.

That night, I was at Jordan and Chloe's for their flat warming - a classy wine and cheese night. Another great night of fine conversation and an amazing selection of wines, cheeses and condiments, including's Nic's Cob Loaf, a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with cheese, sour cream, spring onions and bacon. The night's activities included Josh and Damon visiting the rave party downstairs, and a flurry of selfie bombs on Damon's Facebook page.

Music at Central Baptist went well this morning. I wanted to spend more time reflecting on the devastating news on MH17 - yet another tragedy for Malaysia Airlines as one of their planes was shot down over the Ukraine killing all 300 people on board - but there were plenty of other wrongs in the world to pray for. There sure is a lot of conflict these days... it's pretty depressing.


Moving On Up

I guess it's official. I'm moving house - 20 metres across the driveway of the apartment complex I'm in. I couldn't find a replacement flatmate for Matt so I decided it's probably time to find a different place to live. This place is slightly cheaper, my room is larger, I still get a carpark and because I'm essentially in the same location, it's still a 15 minute walk to work.

The past few weeks have been socially busy. We celebrated the Fourth of July at Goldings, where Jill kept asking people if they wanted to ride the mechanical horse at Dakota. We played Cards Against Humanity and Mario Kart and had KFC at Ants and Jo's on the following Sunday (it was actually an excuse for Jill to come over and play with the cat.) and we had some delicious steaks at Portlander on Wednesday.

We played Bubble Soccer at Shed 1, Queens Wharf last Saturday. Thankfully my leg had healed up enough for me to have a good run around for twenty minutes in a gigantic insulated bubble, barging into others while trying to kick a small yellow ball around the court. My team of yellow bubbles - Thomas, Sarah, Beau, Simon and Jimmy - played against the team of blue bubbles - Will, Josh, Andy, Dwayne, Neil and Vigz - for three 10 minute thirds, and we came out victorious with four goals to two. Afterwards, we enjoyed some food and beer at Mac's Brewery where Sarah, Thomas and I shared a gigantic antipasto platter of breads, dips, cheese and cured meats.

I was at Cami's house in the afternoon playing the Firefly board game with Tim and Juliann. The whole ordeal took five hours but it was a pretty fun game and would have been more enjoyable had I known what I was doing. I kinda got into a cycle of doing missions, just slowly building up my strength without knowing how strong I needed to be to go for the final goals, when Tim and Cami raced for the finish, leaving me far, far behind. Would try it again... possibly! It is a very heavy time investment.

Come Sunday however, my body would just not move. Every muscle was aching from the Bubble Soccer and I was having a bad time. Thankfully, I felt much better after heading to the sauna in the afternoon, and I'm pretty much back to normal now.

This morning, we gathered at work early for the finals of the World Cup, with Germany playing Argentina. More importantly however, were the scones, croissants and pancakes stationed conveniently around the office for us to enjoy while watching the soccer. And watch we did, there was much cheering as Mario Gotze struck a brilliant ball into the back of the Argentinian net in extra time, sealing the Germans as the Football World Cup 2014 Champions. Exciting times!


Drama

drama ˈdrɑːmə/ (noun)
1. a play for theatre, radio, or television.
2. an exciting, emotional, or unexpected event or circumstance.

This week has been dramatic for several reasons, covering both of these definitions.

Work-wise, the week has been pretty average actually, I've been looking at some bugs from our World Cup update release of Flick Kick Football Legends and had to get deep into the advertisement SDKs to figure out what was going wrong. It's tough having to trawl through other people's code, and when you find things wrong, you are often unable to do anything about it except notify the company and wait for the next update. I've learned a bit about how it all works though, but that didn't stop me from coining another quotable phrase - you can't spell sads without ads. Waw waw.

One of my friends has been directing a women-only improv show at BATS called "Taking off the Bird Suit", and I took the opportunity to see this on Tuesday, their opening night. It was filled with hilarity and awesome, with songs about exploring space and stories about witches. All proceeds from the show are being donated to Wellington Rape Crisis, so great work on this Christine and good on you for donating to such a noble cause. In addition to this, Damon's improv classes finished up with a graduation show on Thursday, so we were treated to more laughs at Wellington High School too. Good stuff!

On Friday, I caught up with Andy before he jetsetted to Melbourne, and then went to the Sprig and Fern to see another Andrew who had arrived back from Papua New Guinea, as well as several others who I hadn't seen in a while. There was a surprise guest there - Nats - who had unexpectedly turned up and announced she had been living in Wellington for work, so it was awesome catching up with all those people again, even if we didn't get to discuss all the ramifications of pre-destination.

Yesterday was Damon's Canadian-themed flatwarming party, where I tried poutine for the first time. Small world - I knew a few people from various other social circles there and had a chat to them, as well as having some good yarns with my workmates too. I was home quite late (by my standards) but managed to grab some brunch with the Fine Dining Club at Duke's on a brilliantly sunny Sunday morning.


Everything's Coming Up JLai

For the past two weeks, I've been the happiest I've been since arriving back in New Zealand. The combination of spending time with cool people, having delicious foods and a general relaxed and non-stressful work environment has improved my general enjoyment of life.

The Football World Cup is well under way, with several big names like Spain and England confirmed ejected and some dark horses like Costa Rica showing they are not to be underestimated. I'm not particularly following this closely, more just hearing results as they come. We watched the opening game Brazil vs Croatia at work, and the company treated us to a scrumptious breakfast of scones and croissants. We had a big push for an update to Flick Kick Football Legends to be out before the World Cup started, and we worked hard to meet deadlines, and the past two weeks we've purposely had it light on work to give us a break as we ramp down our efforts.

We were brunching at Spruce Goose last Saturday and played some Halo and Super Smash Bros Melee at work, I had music at Central Baptist on the Sunday and an otherwise quiet day. For Spicy Food Tuesday, we tried New Zealand's hottest pizza from Hell's Pizza - the Angry Dragon, with Dragon's Fury Sauce, Fresh Chilli, Huffman's Hotsauce and legendary Ghost Peppers (usually around one million scoville) - but was a little disappointed that it wasn't as hot as I expected.

Last night we had family group out in Island Bay and played Dixit, Fluxx and a bit of chess (which I have not played in a long time!) and a rather interesting church service this morning where we tasted the elements of passover: bitter herbs and a nut/fruit paste, unleavened bread, salted water and roast lamb (roast lamb at church! yummo!) but perhaps the most notable event in the past two weeks was the Logan Brown degustation.

We managed to get a Groupon voucher for four of us to spend at Logan Brown - a seven course meal for $75 (down from $125) and $55 for a wine match. The wine match was a very poor choice on my behalf, I ended up having a very bad time towards the end, but nevertheless I enjoyed the food during the night. Once again, the outstanding dish was the dark chocolate delice with caramel cornflakes that was exquisitely rich and dark, and brought me to tears from its pure unadulterated chocolatey goodness.

Two months until Wellington on a Plate!


Busy May Leading to a Busy June

The weekends have been socially busy while the weekdays have been focused on finishing the v1.3 International Cup update for Flick Kick Football Legends, on both iOS and Android. There's an sense of doom and gloom around work at the moment, with a few people losing hope or feeling discontent about the current state of affairs. It's tough and it certainly carries an air of unease.

A few Saturdays ago, I juggled brunch at Prefab and Charles and Megan's engagement party with Wei's Star Wars marathon birthday party, then music at Central Baptist and the latest XMen movie - XMen: Days of Future Past - on the Sunday. We went to Veni Vidi Vici for Charlie's birthday on the Monday and then we celebrated PikPok's 17th Birthday at the San Francisco Bath House on the Thursday with a quiz night and much alcohol (I think my final count was a martini, three tequila and lemonades, two tequila shots and a pickleback)

Last weekend was Queen's Birthday weekend and we started off festivities with a delightful bistro dinner at Logan Brown, courtesy of some GrabOne vouchers, followed by some after-dinner drinks at Matterhorn. Having opted for the half wine match, I was in no state to continue drinking of any sort of alcohol at Matterhorn, but the dinner itself was fantastic and nothing short of the quality that Logan Brown always delivers.

On Sunday, I was at Cami's house for board games and party games (and waffles!), including some great games of Giant Jenga, Dominion and Werewolf/Mafia. Monday was pretty relaxed, but we went for dinner at Noah's Ark before watching Maleficent (it was meh.)

Wellington on a Plate's menu and event list for 2014 has been released so you can be sure there will be some epic posts around August. Yummo!


First Week Back

It's cold. It has been tough readjusting to the New Zealand weather. Mornings are horribly chilly and I often wish the outside would be as warm as my duvet sheets. We're approaching the shortest day too, so the sun doesn't pop up over Mt Victoria until 8am and it starts getting dark at 5pm. I'm pretty much over my jetlag now though, which is good.

This past week has been busy. I needed to get up to speed with everything that had happened on my project, as well as get things in motion for the bug fixing week. I had a very good performance review as well, and apart from a few issues slightly out of my hands, the update seems ready to go out some time next week. Further testing will reveal whether we will be overtiming... hopefully not.

It's been awesome seeing people again and feeling sociable and all that sort of thing. I went for brunch at Cafe Polo yesterday, and then second brunch at Aro Bake. Then we missioned back to Miramar for dinner at Gasworks before watching the new Godzilla movie. I was at church today for the first time in four weeks and apart from that, Sunday was pretty relaxed. I've been playing Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask in between trying to find games on iOS to spend my $40 iTunes voucher from my sister.


The Last Teh Tarik

I have had an amazing three weeks here, absolutely blown away by the hospitality of my family. They have spoilt me so much, taking me around the city to see the sights and eat the best food, as well as opening up their homes for me to stay. I am well and truly blessed to have them here in Malaysia and I have thoroughly enjoyed this holiday.

The last few days have been quite relaxing. I went to Malacca to visit my auntie after returning from Singapore. I still remember the landscape around her house from many years ago, and was surprised to see the beach that used to be there had been filled in, and the newly reclaimed land had started sprouting apartments and shops. Nevertheless, the day was well spent eating some great nyonya food and catching up with family.

Yesterday was just a flurry from shopping mall to shopping mall, getting some last minute gifts for various people. I even went into an IKEA store, just to see what the fuss was about. We ended the day with a swim at the Tropicana Country Club and then some Thai food from myElephant.

Sitting here sipping my last teh tarik at KLIA, it's almost time to head to the gate. Thank you to all who made this trip so memorable, I have had a great time.

I'll be seeing you New Zealanders soon.


Singapore

Finally got a bit of downtime again to do some blogging. After returning from Penang, my sixth uncle hosted us at his house for a couple of nights, treating us to decadent delicacies from his restaurant chain. We had Kobe beef, Iberico pork ribs, salmon, Peking duck, foie gras, Kingfish head... truly amazing food, the quality unsurpassable by anything in New Zealand.

On Saturday, we went for a walk around the Forest Research Insitiute of Malaysia (FRIM) and explored their famous canopy walk. In the evening we gathered for a big Lai Family feast - Chinese rojak, Nasi Lemak, Hokkien Char, banana and sago cakes, kueh muih, tapioca cake and to top it all off, a rich chocolate cake to celebrate my auntie's birthday. Of course there was too much food, but it was awesome and fun to see everyone again.

We flew to Singapore early on Sunday, with a few dramas at the security checkpoint over the body wash and hair gel in my bag (Jetstar offered to check in my bag for free to avoid me having to throw all of those out, which was extremely fortunate. Hopefully I can do that again). I caught up with Kheng Yong and Ted and we went to Gardens by the Bay to see the last day of the tulip festival. The domes are so nice and air conditioned, if only my leg would have stopped playing up, it would have been much more enjoyable.

We had some Satay by the Bay and some stingray too before playing another Escape Room, which, after three hints, we managed to complete with a minute to go! Ted had to leave us for dinner, so the remaining four of us went to a chicken rice place on River Valley Road to eat, before heading home after a long day.

Yesterday we went to the zoo and walked around for a while in the blistering heat. The last time I went to Singapore zoo was about 14 years ago, and this time, having been to Washington DC zoo and Central Park zoo in New York, I wasn't that enthralled. The animals are all lethargic, probably from the heat, it really is quite unpleasant to walk around, and there weren't many animals that I hadn't seen before. The best enclosure was the polar bear's because it was so well air conditioned, lolololol.

That night, my cousin took us out for some famous Singaporean chilli crabs at the No Signboard Seafood Restaurant in Vivocity. The gravy was rich and spicy and tasty, it was so delicious and I had such a good time slurping the sauce up and sucking the meat out if the crab shells and licking my fingers like a savage. Between the three of us, we had a chilli crab, a white pepper crab and cereal prawns - just perfect.

Today I need to find some plastic bottles for my "airplane prohibited liquids, gels and aerosols" and I'll probably end up wandering around the shopping malls for gifts too. Then it's back to KL for a few more days only :(


Back in KL

Our last full day in Penang was pretty relaxed (which is why I had time to blog about the previous week). We picked up Kiel and Connie for lunch and went to the famous Lorong Selamat char kuay teow place, with the auntie in the red beret. Considerably more expensive than your regular meal in Malaysia but the prawns were huge and the noodles were delicious. Besides, it's still super cheap by New Zealand standards (RM11 = NZ$4!)

We also went to Khoo Kongsi, a large heritage building that is the family house of the Khoo family, and enjoyed a fondue set from Haagen Dazs before trying another exciting room from the Break the Code Escape Room place - this one we actually manage to complete in time! So happy.

We had a short walk in the Botanic Gardens before it started raining heavily, so we waited in one of the huts for the downpour to finish while Kiel remained trapped under one of the bridges. By the time the rain stopped, it was time for dinner anyway, so we had some curry mee from one of the roadside food stalls in town. Yummo. My last night in Penang was spent wandering around the night markets in Batu Feringghi - much better merchandise than Petaling Street and more variety.

Also, I hate bargaining.

Now we're back in KL and waiting for dinner and karaoke. My uncle partially owns a fancy restaurant chain so I am guaranteed a good time. Woohoo!


Penang

I've finally got a bit of down time to blog. It's been almost nonstop sightseeing and eating for the past few days.

On Friday my cousin took the four of us to Klang for some bak kut teh, then to Batu Caves for some views of the city and the giant statue out front. We were quite amused by the monkeys running around, grabbing any fruits and water bottles they could find as they clambered around the 200 steps to the entrance of the caves themselves. The caves weren't that spectacular, Waitomo Caves have more interesting features and structures, but there are some quaint temples in the deepest section of the cave. I think what disappointed me the most were the cheap touristy souvenir shops at the entrance to the cave, which made the place kind of tacky.

On Saturday, we checked into Park Royal KL and had a wander around town for a bit. I met my aunt on mum's side for an amazing Peking Duck dinner. I ate too much, but it was so goooood.

We were looking around the block for breakfast foods in Sunday when the police started cordoning off the roads in anticipation of the US Presidential Motorcade passin through. Sure enough, "the Beast" - the heavily fortified limousine with Barack Obama - passed through, accompanied with several support vehicles including caterers, bodyguards and an ambulance. Pretty exciting!

We headed to KLCC for a tour of the Petronas Twin Towers just before lunch. The views from the top were spectacular, the observation deck is pretty high up and offers a fantastic view of Kuala Lumpur. Slightly startling is the fact you can look over at the other tower, matching the first's height and aesthetic. It would be cool to see a thunderstorm from that level - especially if lightning hits the second tower - but I think the observation deck is closed during storms for safety reasons. Unfortunate!

We walked around Pavilion and Berjaya Times Square, and took a ride on the roller coaster there before heading back to Pavilion's Tokyo Street to meet Sabrina for dinner. Soft shelled crab tempura for only RM20 (NZ$7)! After dinner, we took the monorail to the Petaling Street night market for a walkabout, but my legs were starting to cramp from all the walking so it was a brief excursion. The shops there are pretty tacky and samey, so there wasn't anything that interested me anyway.

We saw Brobama again on Monday morning just before we left for the airport for our flight to Penang. I must have been so tired because I just conked out for the entire flight, only waking for the drinks and the arrival. After sorting out the hotel and rental car, we picked up Kiel and Connie and headed for some food. Unfortunately it was quite late so all the popular places that close when they run out of food were actually closed, but we found a nice place that had good assam laksa so we settled for that.

Yesterday, we managed to get the famous Air Itam assam laksa before going to the Kek Lok Si temple and Penang Hill. We also caught the uncle famous for his roadside char kuay teow stall on Jalan Siam, and had a look around the snake temple too before going for some satay. We also tried another of those escape rooms before heading down Jalan Burma to the Old Green House for some delicious prawn mee.

The itinerary for Penang seems to revolve around where the best places for food are, and it's no wonder that I am getting fat. I am thoroughly enjoying the food and experiences here, and I am looking forward to the next 11 days.

Om nom nom.


Driving in Kuala Lumpur

We had quite the driving saga today (is saga copyrighted? Can I use that word?) It turns out Malaysia roads are horribly complex and it's difficult for Google Maps to discern the correct route, especially when there are several off ramps criss-crossing over one another. For me, this meant a 7 minute trip from Bukit Jalil to Sri Petaling LRT Station turned into a 30 minute tour of the Putrajaya Highway.

We met up with Kiel and Connie eventually, and because the rain was absolutely bucketing, we decided to go to Sunway Pyramid instead of checking out Batu Caves and the Forest Institute of Malaysia. After successfully turning the 20 minute trip into an hour, AND finding a park, we wandered around the mall for a few hours, enjoying the bargains and sights on offer.

Driving is exhausting.

Apart from that though, my relatives are spoiling me sick, it's awesome to be back home (Home #3) and the food is as good as it's always been. The weather is hot and humid, but thankfully quite wet so it's cooler than usual.

It's going to be great!


Easter

Sitting in Auckland Airport waiting for the cleaners to clean the plane. It's been a great Easter, as usual, seeing family and friends before my trip to Malaysia. Just catching with people, playing 7 Wonders and digital darts, watching the Lego Movie, sharing meals and having a good yarn is incredibly satisfying and fulfilling.

As usual, plans in Malaysia have started filling up already. I've also booked flights to Singapore so that should be cool too. It seems like there isn't a lot of time but I will definitely be making the most of it and seeing as many people as I can. Also food. Eating all the food. I am looking forward to the food.

It appears the excitement of travelling has finally hit. Wheeeee!


Excitement Intensifies

The excitement of going on holiday is often stifled by things tying you to the "real world". It's been terribly busy at work, trying to plan for the three weeks I'm away as well as finish Flick Kick Football Legends v1.2 (iOS version is now out on the App Store, whee!). It hasn't particularly hit me yet, but I'm planning to do some packing this evening and hopefully that will remind me that, hey, you're going on holiday and the plane tickets are free, and you're going to have a good time seeing family and eating to your heart's content. That's plenty to be excited about. It's time away from work, I'm going to relax and enjoy the three weeks away and I'm not going to let anything spoil it.

They still haven't sorted out my domestic flights to Auckland though, but if they can't get me flights up before Easter, I'll just use my air points to buy a ticket back on Good Friday or something. It's been quite a hassle trying to correspond with MediaWorks and Malaysia Airlines over this, but I guess I've been pushing the limits and have been quite fussy over the terms and conditions of the prize.

I'll shut up now.


The Best and Worst April Fools Joke Ever

Last Tuesday on April 1st, Google pimped their Google Maps app for mobile with catchable Pokemon scattered throughout the world. I jumped on that bandwagon so fast and by the end of the day, I had successfully caught 150 of the Pokemon they'd put into this little April Fools joke. But I soon became aware of Mew's existence somewhere in the Amazon and it was another two days of searching and staring at Reddit before the elusive Number One Five One finally presented itself deep in the forests of South America.

Whee.

It's been a pretty busy weekend, starting off with a murder mystery at the Carter Observatory. Aboard the "International Space Station", we stumbled upon a grisly scene - the owner of the Solar Flare laboratory was found dead from strangulation and asphyxiation! It was a most enjoyable night, with canapes and fine wines to be had, and some interesting people to hang out with for a few hours.

Mat was down in Wellington too and we caught up with him at Ortega before going to Hashigozake for some drinks and Tiger for some karaoke. The night was still young and we ended up at Alice before finally heading home at 1am. Thanks to daylight savings though, I was able to make it to church on time, and caught up with Mat again for a gluttonous afternoon at La Bella Italia in Petone and Strawberry Fare soon after. I also met up with the Fine Dining Club at Charley Noble by the TSB Arena for a very fine dining experience indeed.

It was just a weekend of eating, basically.


Back to a Grumpy Reality

After my amazing bungy experience last Thursday, we continued a run of awesome activities around Queenstown with some horse riding up in Glenorchy, doing the Ride of the Rings route with Dart Stables. We visited various Lord of the Rings filming locations and learned about the history of the area - "Paradise", as it's known. Again, the scenery was absolutely stunning, seeing mountain, forest, river and sky around us as our horses trotted merrily through Mt Aspiring National Park.

In the afternoon, we did the Shotover Jet and went up the Queenstown Gondola and did some luging. On Saturday, we walked around the Queenstown Gardens and the peninsula by the Hilton Queenstown too, but because we had flights in the afternoon, it was a pretty casual and relaxed day. We got our last fix of Ferg Burgers and departed for the airport.

Queenstown was awesome. It was a short but incredible holiday, packed with fantastic sights and heaps of fun, adrenaline-pumping activities. The weather was amazing, and the only disappointment was the no-show of aurora. After a ninety minute flight, I was back in Wellington - perhaps the most notable aspect was being able to see Mt Taranaki from the plane as we were descending into Wellington Airport!

And even back in Wellington, I was busy - I caught up with Kiel very briefly at the Rogue and Vagabond before heading to Motel for Jen's birthday. On Sunday I was at church for an awesome sermon on hospitality, and the Chocolate Frog in Miramar for their famous Steak and Hollandaise, and finally to Evans Bay for Campbell and Linda's engagement party.

Yesterday, I received one of the best presents ever - Sarah brought back a Grumpy Cat plushie from San Francisco for me. It overlooks my desk, holding my Robot Unicorn Attack 2 Rainbow Flag (also from San Francisco) and pouring scorn on all those who come to my desk.

I also caught up with Andrew for a big meal at Ozeki before his big trip to Papua New Guinea. It was a tiring Monday but a bit of sake and some good conversations with cool people helped take my mind off things.


The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

Last Friday, I played "Let it Go" (because I really can't get enough of that song) live, at work, on a keyboard, with one of my colleagues who had had some opera training. It went down pretty well I thought, certainly the live element and atmosphere made it so special. Would probably not do that again.

I was at yum cha with Wei on Saturday and music at church on Sunday (where I played Let it Go, again, during the offering, and it totally went down well with everyone who knew the song!) On Monday we were at Crazy Horse for some amazing steaks and finally on Tuesday it was time to head to Queenstown.

I saw the GDC contingent at Wellington Airport on my way out and had a quick chat to them before scampering off to the gate. It was a fine sunny day as I left Wellington, and all was fine until the pilot announced that the winds were too strong to land in Queenstown, and instead we had to land in Invercargill and take a bus for two hours.

Whee.

It was a mildly pleasant drive, apart from the lady and two babies behind me, but it was around 2pm when I finally reached Queenstown Airport and met up with my auntie and cousin. We spent the rest of the day wandering around town, getting some Ferg Burgers and Movenpick and checking out the lake. We had a pretty big day the next day...

We took a day trip to Milford Sound as part of this Jucy Cruise company. After a long wait for the coach to arrive, we went on our way to Te Anau, then Milford via some spectacular sights and fantastic scenery along the way. The cruise itself was amazing, just being able to appreciate the beauty of the Sounds as you're floating by. We were on the foredeck as the captain pulled right up against a waterfall - exhilarating! The gush of cold spray and the force of the water soon dissipated as the sun blazed down on the boat. It's true - every picture you take is a postcard picture. It was 9pm when we finally got back to Queenstown, but what a day.

While yesterday was more laid back and scenic, today was more adrenaline pumping, as I took my first bungy jump at the original bungy at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge. It was a bit windy and chilly as I stood on the edge of the platform, nervous as hell as I gawked at my surroundings. I didn't have my glasses on so it was kinda good that I couldn't focus on exactly how far down it was. The guys manning the equipment there were awesome though, I spoke to them about my job and tried to sell Robot Unicorn Attack 2 to them. Eventually I waddled my way to the edge and they counted down...but I hesitated when he reached zero! I took a deep breath and gracefully fell forward, arms wide open like a majestic eagle.

The jump is over so quickly. You don't really have the time to process what's going on. As I lay on the catchment boat, I replayed the last minute in my head and tried to remember what had just happened. It was awesome though, the slight free fall you get and the adrenaline rush of it all - I'd probably do it again. My bravery spurred my cousin on to go or her first bungy jump, so congrats to her as well for having the guts!

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the wine and cheese of the Gibbston Valley before heading up to Wanaka. We went to Puzzling World and conquered the maze, had a walk by the lake and finally headed back to Queenstown for some dinner.

It's been a long day but tomorrow will be even longer!


Busy Month

The month has been busy so far, with several social occasions peppering my week and plenty at work to keep me occupied. We had a sumptuous feast at Tiger, all you can eat ribs at Gasworks and a small but delightful dinner at my previous project manager's house. There's been nightmarketing and bubble tea and just general indulgence with food.

I went to the Power Plant display at the Botanic Gardens last Saturday, as part of the New Zealand Festival. It was a show of light and sound within the flora of the gardens. Ex-tropical cyclone Lusi was bearing down on the city and it caused a few showers during the night, but this only added to the mystery and eeriness.

On Sunday, the whole church was away at the annual church camp, so I took the opportunity to hold my own service - just jamming around on the piano with Wei and Andrew with no interruptions. Possibly the best church service I've been to! I've finally gotten my playing of "Let it Go" from Disney's Frozen to an acceptable level, and posted a video of me playing it on Facebook. Lots of great feedback and comments, thanks to all who listened! Still looking to finesse various parts of the piece to add volume and depth to the emotion and richness of the song. So good.


What a Weekend

The weekend started out with a few drinks and pizza at the Sprig and Fern, and some healthy discussion on mildly controversial and polarising religious opinions. Following that, we headed back to the Greenhouse for some delicious black forest cake to celebrate a non-descript March holiday which happened to coincide with World Civil Defense Day. I had my suspicions but I was still pleasantly surprised and a little embarrassed with the attention, but the night was thoroughly enjoyable.

On Saturday, we had the PikPok Family Day Barbeque at the Mt Victoria Bowls Club. Though the day was a bit windy, the sun was glorious and the atmosphere chilled and relaxed. Charlie had found out about the aforementioned non-descript March holiday and had brought in some candles to stick in the cupcakes, it was very sweet. Thanks to a sign she had written, people well-wished me as the day progressed, again very touched by the sentiments but a little embarrassed with the attention, teehee. It was awesome to spend the day with cool people doing cool things, just out in the sun chit-chatting and playing bowls.

We ended up at the Gryphon Theatre at 8pm to catch the final night of the Fringe at the Gryphon, with three improv shows: Brooks and Brown in Literally Anything, Sketchual Healing and Here's a Thing. Mind-blowingly funny, absolutely amazing performances by all involved and just damn entertaining, capping off what was a brilliant day.

I've been house-sitting at Charles's place too, with his two kittens Hugs and Kisses. Adorable but so mischievous! They like following me around the house and they're extremely playful. I left the pantry open and they snuck in to have a look around; they got stuck in one of the large drawers in the kitchen as well. They'd go into my room and I'd try to carry them out, but since there's two, I'd get rid of one only to have the other sneak in, and repeat. Still, heaps of fun to play with, and I think they liked the attention too.

I've also been following Twitch Plays Pokemon, a social experiment giving 60,000 people the chance to control a Gameboy Emulator playing Pokemon Red. After 16 days, they've finally beaten the Elite Four and Champion but spawned several memes and a joke religion - Lord Helix the Omastar, Bird Jesus the Pidgeot, Flareon the False Prophet, so on and so forth. Highlight of the Elite Four battles would be level 36 Venomoth (nickname ATV, or All Terrain Venomoth) versus Lance's level 62 Dragonite. Due to some questionable AI programming, Dragonite kept using Barrier and Agility as they were "Psychic" attacks super-effective against Venomoth, and Venomoth had managed to Disable Hyper Beam and Poisonpowder Dragonite. Totally epic, and absolutely fascinating to watch the whole game unfold at the hands of thousands of people like that. A new adventure begins in just over two hours - what could it be!?

Today I was at church for the final in the series of "Things I Wish Jesus Never Said", and then out to Lyall Bay for Ekim Burgers with Jimmy and Charlie. After a solid afternoon nap, I was at Laundry with Jono, Andrew and Wei for dinner, then Fidel's for dessert.

My weekend has been super busy but full of amazing friends and fun times. Thanks guys, you rock.


Programming's Hard

Day one of the PikPok Developer Conference has just gone by. My talk on Dynamic Programming was well received and the programming competition had a few glitches here and there, but on the whole, not too much trouble.

I think it was a pretty big gamble pushing to run a programming competition at work. There is a lot of preparation involved, a lot of uncertainty. Not only did I have to organise all the questions and answers (one answer was wrong ;_;), I had to fight hard to convince all the programmers to enter! Har har. I think most people had a good time, and if they didn't, I think at least they would have learned how programming competitions work, and been made aware of the pressures and challenges you face when having to work in those conditions - I guess it's just an extension (or in parallel?) to how we'd do it in a day-to-day situation.

Quite a few people were tripped up on how to read from standard in - who does that anyway? Luckily for the Python programmers, they had it easy in that respect. We had a lot of problems with presentation errors - too much whitespace, too many newlines, those kinds of pedantic tidbits that don't really matter in the big picture. They are there to test people's ability to follow instructions rather than test their programming ability, which I might look into changing for future installations. Perhaps I can provide some basic reading/writing code so that people only have to implement the body of a method instead of deal with input/output problems? Is there a way I could do that for all programming languages that we support? Could we integrate that into DOMjudge somehow? All questions that I'll need to think about!

Because I split the group up into random teams of two, it was also interesting to see how people tackled pair programming. The dynamic between colleagues is always fascinating to observe, especially if there is conflict or strong opinions! I say that with a bit of schadenfreude, but this may be of use to my boss.

I would like to see more of these in the future, and hopefully my boss will approve (and mandate?!) these competitions to be run on a regular basis. I'd say today was a success.


Year of the Horse

I spent Chinese New Year up in Auckland. I guess I'm a stickler for tradition, Chinese New Year should be spent with family and it was good to see my parents, my sister and brother in law, and especially my two nephews. One day I hope to spend CNY back in Malaysia - I almost had a chance to do that this time round but Malaysia Airlines wouldn't have any of that.

Eight at the Langham Hotel had a promotion during January where all diners whose birthdays were in January dined for free! So I treated dad to the famous buffet lunch there and it was awesome. There was plenty of fresh oysters and some different things from when I went over New Years with Jordan, and some festive delights in celebration of the Chinese New Year too! Not surprisingly, the majority of the diners there were Asian. The amazing lunch caused me to have a three hour food coma, but I regretted nothing.

Saturday was our family Chinese New Year dinner. Though "reunion dinner" is supposed to happen on New Year's Eve, rules are a bit more relaxed these days to allow for working families and those who have to travel long distances to get home. Nevertheless, the spirit of the dinner was honoured, with plenty of dishes, each symbolic in their own right: chicken, duck, prawns, fish and vegetables made for a scrumptious feast, even if it was a bit chaotic preparing it.

On Sunday I went to church, followed by our regular lunch at Masala, and then I met a few of the old gang at Cornwall Park for a late barbeque picnic for Jacinta. So wonderful to feel the sunshine (and no wind), and great to catch up with people - even if I'd only seen them a month ago. It's been six years since I left Auckland, but I still enjoy the friendships I've made with these people despite the distance. I also got to play badminton on Monday night with them - so good.

I managed to get a login for the computers at Uni so I could work on a presentation about Dynamic Programming for the PikPok Developer Conference next week. I took the chance to wander around the city campus, admiring the new buildings and appreciating the old ones. I was astonished to find the entrance to the CompSci department completely different - they've removed the time tunnel and replaced it with a large hallway where the Science Student Center sits, as well as a time wall depicting various important historical events. Info Commons hadn't changed much (Munchy Mart is still there <3) and I was able to finish most of the Powerpoint presentation in the three days I was at Uni. I also caught up with Bobby and Raymond on Tuesday at Elliot Stables, and Graeme and Tom on Wednesday at Tony's.

Such a pleasant and relaxed few days. I should do that more often.


Um. What?

I went out to Lyall Bay this afternoon to teach Mitchell how to drive. The area is full of learner drivers because the roads are relatively quiet and most importantly (in Wellington), it's flat. We stopped by the side of Onepu Road and swapped seats, just as a torrent of rain hit the area.

As we were about to leave, a very confused and worried woman beckoned me to wind the window down, and as I did, she frantically bleated "Help!! Please help me!! I need $10!!!!" She's a little out of it, and has a bad stutter, and it's clear she has a problem but whether it's a cash problem specifically, I am unsure. Anyway, I am a bit apprehensive, and I tell her that I don't have cash but we can drive to the dairy down the road to get some for her. Again she repeats, "Please!! I need $10!! It's life or death... I can pay you back $20 tomorrow...." and again I tell her we'll go to the dairy to get money. She asks to hop in the car and Mitchell and I quickly tell her she can't. Then she asks for Listerine ("It's $7!! I need Listerine!!!!") and I say to her again we'll meet her at the dairy. She starts walking away and Mitchell hits the central locking on the car and we wind up the windows and call the cops.

We drove round the block a few times and we spotted a police car driving away from the dairy where she had been waiting. Hopefully she'll be alright - but boy, what a strange encounter.

We've had a few birthdays this week; on Wednesday night we tried to go to Gasworks in Miramar for Jono's birthday, but they were totally full and Jono hadn't booked, so we ended up at Lonestar instead. We would have been indulging in the all-you-can-eat $20 ribs at Gasworks, so we substituted that with the famous Lonestar Hoisin and Mandarin Ribs (Large Stack). Greedy as ever, I also got the Jack Daniels and Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding for dessert. Yummo.

I was at Sprig and Fern for a few drinks with Paul for his birthday, where we had some lively conversation about iTunes and choices, and Wei and I also taught the guys how to play Mahjong. Yesterday after badminton, I was at Strawberry Fare for lunch to catch up with Jono and Karlyn, back from their overseas travels, and also Jono's recent birthday. After that, I saw Frozen (would recommend!) and then met some workmates for dinner at Pan de Muerto, before heading back to Joe's place to play Machine of Death.

Looking forward to Chinese New Year next week - Year of the Horse 2014!


2014

Home (in Wellington) at last. The weather sucks.

Firstly, Happy New Year! I drove up with three friends on New Year's Eve to Northland, stopping by Wellsford, Ruakaka and Whangerei before settling in Kerikeri at a motel. Before midnight, we drove to Paihia to join all the partygoers for the amazing fireworks display over Russell. Great atmosphere and awesome way to welcome in 2014! The next day, we hit Mangonui for the Fish and Chips, Te Puki for the giant sand dunes and Cape Reinga for the stunning views before driving back to Kaitaia for the night. The final day we drove to Kai Iwi Lakes for a swim in the warm relaxing water, before returning to Auckland via SH16 as SH1 was totally blocked from Wellsford to Warkworth.

I've also been strawberry picking, saw Anchorman 2, held my new nephew, went to Eight at the Langham and got some milk tea. Holiday has been great and it's almost time to go back to work. Whee >_>