Thursday December 26, 2019
It’s been a busy time. Summer flew by so quickly, and in came autumn with its exceptionally beautiful colours. We went hiking around Muskoka, Ranney Gorge, Peel Forest, Hamilton and Niagara, and the reds, oranges and yellows were truly outstanding this year.
We got our first snowfall in November, and since then, a few major storms have hit but now on Christmas Day, the weather is sitting around 0C and most of the snow from last week has melted. Work has been busy leading up to the end of the year, especially since head office pushed the release of the game to next fiscal, but this past week was very quiet in the office. All the Christmas parties are done. I made a pavlova for the first time, to rave reviews, and presented it at the church’s Round the World banquet. I nailed the piano accompaniment for the Christmas service. I cooked a Chinese meal for the young adults, which seemed to go over well. Everything is pretty much done and dusted for the year, and now I’m at Pearson Airport, on my way to New Orleans.
What a year it’s been! I look back at my camera roll with fond memories of Peru and Machu Picchu, as well as travels to Atlanta, Chicago, Quebec City and Montreal. I’ve had some great food and some not so great food. We had our big E3 reveal, to much excitement and praise. 2020 will be a big year for Ubisoft Toronto and I’m glad I’ll be around for it.
Tuesday September 3, 2019
We spent a short morning in Cusco, trying to see some of the city before our flight to Lima. We took a taxi to town and split up. I ended up going to the market to grab some food while the others wandered around the main square. There may have been some Pokemon related activities as well. As we met back at the Plaza de Armas, there were hundreds of people congregating for a parade of some sort. Tons of kids were dressed up in various costumes - almost like Halloween - there was a Disney group, a superhero group, a cowboy/western group and more. None of the group had any idea what was going on, but it was interesting to watch nonetheless.
In Lima, we took a taxi to the central square and had lunch at Bembos, a burger joint. The group really wanted ice cream as well, so we tried to get some from KFC, but it wasn't very good (and Nancy ended up dropping her ice cream anyway). From the central square, we walked to Chinatown via some various museums that Alfia wanted to see. Chinatown was kinda depressing and dirty, so we didn't stay too long. The group was fascinated by this bakery selling mooncakes and roast pork.
We took another taxi to the tourist area, Miraflores. We spent some time walking around Larcomar, the open air shopping mall overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and we left to walk to a nearby restaurant for some seafood. As we were walking, we began to realise it wasn't accessible by foot, so we ended up just taking a taxi. The food was good, perhaps a bit too sour on the cerviche, and some of the dishes were sold out (we were there pretty late), but it was a nice place to have our last meal in Peru.
On reflection, Peru was an awesome experience. No photo accurately captures the majesty of the Andes and Machu Picchu as you look down from the mountain top that you've just walked up. The food was excellent. I didn't expect to speak as much Spanish as I did, and even I surprised myself with how much I was able to communicate. Google Translate definitely helped a lot, but I picked up a lot of words just by walking around as well. It's a pity we didn't have longer, because there were some really nice places to visit in and around Cusco, like the Rainbow Mountain. Maybe we can visit again in the future, and perhaps stop by Bolivia and Argentina?
Sunday September 1, 2019
We continued through the rainforest, admiring the flora and fauna. Our guide pointed various plants important to the Incans, like ones used for medicine as well as ones used for colouring clothes. There were some forest fires on the other side of the river, and it was pretty sad to see the smoke filling the air like that.
We got to try some of the locally farmed food - the maracuya is a sweet passionfruit, as well as some deliciously creamy avocado. We got shown how coffee was harvested, prepared, roasted and ground as well.
Our final stretch for our third day was along the train track between Hidroelectrica and Aguas Caliente. The path follows the river that circles around Machu Picchu. We arrived just before dusk and settled in for our last day of the trek.
It was another early morning to take the bus to Machu Picchu. We decided not to walk up because it would have been dark, and we wanted to save our strength for going up the mountain. We got an explanation of Inca history from our tour guide and we said our goodbyes as we started our hike up the mountain stairs. It was tough, basically just rocky steps the entire way but after 75 minutes, we reached the summit. What an amazing view of the citadel from above. You could even see Salkantay Mountain beyond the ridge near us. We spent half an hour admiring the view and taking pictures before descending and walking around the ruins.
The ruins are fascinating in their own way. You can tell that there were houses and terraces for farming crops, and the Condor Temple was pretty neat as well. We saw a chinchilla dozing off in the sun, and of course the llamas grazing in the main field.
We were exhausted after the mountain ascent and walking around the ruins so we took the bus back down to Aguas Caliente and had lunch (and purple corn ice cream!) before taking a train and van back to Cusco.
Friday August 30, 2019
By far this was the hardest hike I’ve ever done in my life. We started early, climbing the gruelling path towards the Salkantay Pass. We ascended over 800m over the course of 3.5 hours, constantly out of breath from the altitude. It was cold and foggy to begin with, but it heated up quickly once the sun broke through the rim of the neighbouring mountains.
Finally, just past 10am, we reached the highest point of our trek, the Salkantay Pass at 4630m above sea level. In front of us was the peak of Salkantay Mountain at over 6km above sea level, covered in white snow and pale blue glaciers. We admired the scenery and took lots of photos, and heard two avalanches from the mountain.
Our guide told us about Incan mythology and the meaning of various symbols, like the Andean Cross. He talked about the importance of three - three worlds: above, represented by the condor, the land, represented by the puma, and below, represented by the snake. They signify the life cycle of living things. The number two is important as well, as everything must be in balance, very much like the concept of yin and yang. He also talked about various medicinal herbs that the Andean doctors use, as well as how important coca leaves are to their culture.
We began our descent over the next 6 hours, with a break for lunch. The terrain turned from barren rockiness to lush greenery of the Amazon Rainforest. Sure enough, it began to rain as we reached the campsite, just before sunset.
It’s another early day tomorrow!
Thursday August 29, 2019
We arrived in Cusco around 3.30pm and checked into our Airbnb. We met the final two members of our group in town for dinner - roast guinea pig and alpaca steak! - before heading for our Machu Picchu hike briefing.
Unfortunately we didn’t really have time to walk around and explore the city. The main plaza does look quite pretty and there’s lots of really cool buildings and monuments. We had to hot tail it home to pack for the hike and head to bed for a 4am start.
We were picked up from our Airbnb and driven to Mollepata for a simple omelette breakfast. Then we drove to the start of the trail and began our ascent. It was tough, the altitude sickness was definitely still there but we took it slow and steady. We could see in the distance the snow capped Humantay Mountain, and our base camp in the foot of the valley. After the initial uphill, we were on mostly flat terrain and it was much easier to walk. We learned about the local flora and Andean medicine, as well as some customs.
We arrived at the camp in time for lunch, then we began our hike to the Humantay Lake, a glacial lake with stunning colours. Again, it was truly an uphill battle but we took it slow and were rewarded with a view of the mountain, its glaciers and the lake below.
It began to hail on the way down, which turned to rain and a brief thunderstorm, but it disappeared quickly. We warmed a bit and had food, and now it’s time to go to bed for an early start and our longest and hardest hike tomorrow - through the Salkantay Pass!
Wednesday August 28, 2019
I began to feel a little short of breath on the bus and had a minor headache as we were coming into Puno. The elevation is 3800m above sea level, and this makes Lake Titicaca the highest lake in the world. It was definitely more noticeable at the Mirador el Condor lookout point above the city; even a small flight of stairs made me feel so tired and dizzy. You could say the view was...breathtaking.
We were driven to a boat ramp where our Airbnb owner, Carlos, met us with his boat. He took us around the Uros Floating Islands, showing us how people have adapted to life on top of the water. The islands are constructed of reeds and are surprisingly sturdy. There’s lots of really cool reed statues around, almost like each island has its own guardian.
We settled in for dinner and then some stargazing, but most of us were cold and tired so we went to bed early. I had troubles sleeping because of the altitude sickness, but I felt better in the morning than I did the night before. I was up to see the sunrise and then back on the boat towards the bus terminal to go to Cusco.
Tuesday August 27, 2019
Our first full day in Peru has been awesome. Arequipa is a beautiful but small city at around 2000m elevation. The landscape is very much like a desert, but in the city, there’s still quite a bit of greenery around. It’s cold at night but the day is even hotter than Toronto at the moment.
We flew to Montreal first and then to Lima. Our flights were slightly delayed but nothing too serious - a friend of mine on an earlier flight to Peru had her plane cancelled because of mechanical problems! As usual, I managed to doze off for a decent amount of time. We arrived just after midnight at Jorge Chavez Airport and had to wait a few hours before our domestic flight from Lima to Arequipa.
We took a taxi from the airport to our Airbnb and after resting a bit and sorting out our luggage, we went to a nearby market, Mercado San Camilo. I love these kinds of places, it’s full of amazing produce and you really get to see the kind of foods that locals eat. It was great to see an abundance of potatoes and quinoa, two foods that originated in Peru. Fruit selection is pretty standard - mangoes, star fruit, apples, pears, strawberries - but we got to have some cherimoya which I’ve had before, but my friends hadn’t. We got some delicious stuffed peppers, chicken and pork from a lovely lady who was very patient with our lack of Spanish.
We left the market and went to the central square, the Plaza de Armas. It was bustling with activity, lots of tourists and locals who had gathered for some sporting event. We walked on to the Santa Catalina monastery but didn’t go in, and continued to Mundo Alpaca, an alpaca and llama farm where we got to feed these adorable animals and see some of the traditional weaving techniques.
We spent some time getting some groceries and a SIM card for definitely not Pokémon related activities before heading up the hill to the Yanahuara Plaza, which has an amazing lookout over the city. We had a late lunch at a boujie restaurant where we sampled plenty of Peruvian dishes like cerviche, alpaca and adobo.
We also managed to get sample some queso helato, which is the famous Arequipeno ice cream. It’s delicious and creamy, with a hint of cinnamon, and on a hot day, super refreshing.
We went home early since none of us really got a good sleep the night before, and I was up early to meet up with Ants and Jo, who were coincidentally arriving from Cusco. So good to see them after all these years, and in Peru, of all places, even if our meeting was short!
Language has definitely been a struggle here, but my rudimentary Spanish has been enough to pull us through. It’s good that French and Spanish are so similar, so I can understand recognise some words like fresa (strawberry) and ovino (sheep), as well as how to count.
I’m now on the bus to Puno, and we’re circling around some mountains that are 6000m above sea level. The terrain is fascinating, and we’ve spotted some wild alpacas!
Tuesday April 23, 2019
The weather has finally been warming up. I can leave my heavy winter jackets at home and walk out with a hoodie - today I even wore shorts. The grass is regaining its full green hue and the trees are beginning to grow their leaves back, and in a few weeks time, we'll start getting some cherry blossoms in High Park.
I spent Easter in Atlanta for a friend's wedding. When they first sent the invitation out, it said "Athens" and I thought to myself what an awesome holiday it would be to go to Greece, especially since I missed that part of Europe in 2017. But no, it was actually Athens, Georgia, which is about an hour and a half outside of Atlanta. The more I researched the sights and sounds (and food) of Atlanta, the more excited I got about going. I booked accommodation, I sorted out a rental car to drive to Athens, and I planned a basic itinerary.
I remember the plane coming into Atlanta. Everything was so green. The trees looked so lush and vibrant, and outside of the city centre it looked like a forest. I found it really pretty. After checking into my AirBnB, I walked around downtown; it was sunny and 25C. Centennial Park was unfortunately closed because of a 4/20 Festival, but there were plenty of other things to see. I had dinner at Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint, where the food was kinda average, but the entertainment was fantastic.
Overnight, a massive thunderstorm hit the city, waking up me and shaking the house. I got an amazing slow-mo capture of one lightning strike over downtown. Another hit so close to my AirBnB that it sounded like an explosion. All this brought heavy rain on Friday morning, so I ended up taking a Lyft to the World of Coca Cola instead of walking there. It was interesting to see all the old Coca Cola memorabilia and advertising from so long ago, as well as learn about how it started and how far they've come. I got to try lots of different drinks from around the world, and I spotted an L&P bottle among the collection of global products, but I was a little bit over the propaganda. As I left, the rain had cleared, so I had lunch at the nearby Waffle House (at the suggestion of my American friends) and walked an hour to Piedmont Park. I walked around the greenery for a bit, catching the regional Pokemon Carnivine (I swear the whole trip wasn't just for Carnivine) but as it rolled around to 3pm, it started to rain again, so I sought shelter from underneath a bridge. When the rain stopped, I continued my explorations to the south, following the beltline trail to the Ponce City Market.
Ponce City Market is a massive food hall, with cuisines from India, South Africa, Japan and China, as well as local flavours. I had a honey and lavender gelato from Honeysuckle Gelato, then for some reason the police showed up and we were told to evacuate the building. It didn't last long though, so I was back inside trying to decide what to have for dinner. I settled on trying some catfish, with a Vietnamese inspired salad, that was really light and refreshing, and I finished it off with a key lime tart and a cashew fudge donut for breakfast on Saturday.
I was up early to get to the airport on Saturday so I could collect my rental car. I was pretty excited about this, it's been a while since I've driven and my first time driving alone on the right side of the road, but I was confident and had no problems. My first stop was to the northern parts of the city for lunch at this Malaysian restaurant that had piqued my interest. I ordered yong tao foo curry laksa, and it was, put simply, absolutely delicious. Afterwards, I drove to Stone Mountain, a massive...stone mountain... to the east of Atlanta, and hiked up for some fantastic views of the city. Just like I had seen on the way in, the whole area was covered in green trees of every shade. The clouds began to darken and the rain that had been far off had begun to creep closer, but thankfully it was only passing, and it wasn't too heavy. I made my way down the mountain and started the hour-long drive to Athens.
I arrived in good time, and after scrubbing up, I drove to the wedding venue. It was cold and a little bit rainy, and for some reason, it never occurred to me that it was going to be an outdoor wedding. I joked to the groom's brother that neither of them were good at choosing the weather for their weddings (his had torrential rain in Auckland). But despite the chilly wind, the rain held out mostly and my friends were married successfully. I didn't really know many people at the wedding, apart from the groom's family, but it was good to see the people I knew and catch up with them. The reception was really nice too, and I was quite impressed by the display of seven cakes at the end, each of them a particular aspect of their heritage, their place of belonging and their home. From Colombia, there was a tres leche (three milk) cake and a negra torta (wine-soaked cake with fruit and nut), from Malaysia there was a pandan cake, from the US there was a ridiculously sweet Georgian pecan pie and a New York cheesecake, and from New Zealand, there was a lamington cake and a pavlova.
It was relatively early to bed and early to rise the next morning as I had to drive back to Atlanta airport and catch my flight. For some reason, it had not crossed my mind that I needed to apply for a visa waiver to get back into Canada, especially since I had just renewed my passport, so there was mild panic as I hurriedly filled out an electronic application for it. Thankfully it was approved within minutes.
The coming few weeks will be busy as we finish everything for E3, and I'm desperate to get back to work to help the team out. I'm also looking forward to the Avengers: Endgame movie, and of course, summer!
Monday March 18, 2019
It's hard to articulate what I've been thinking about over the weekend. Much has happened in New Zealand; three days later, the country still grieves for the 50 lives lost in a senseless shooting at two mosques in Christchurch. My heart aches for the loss of these innocent lives in my homeland, especially since the city is still suffering 8 years after a devastating earthquake. I'm angry, I'm shocked and I'm full of sadness, despite being 14,000kms away. Whatever belief there was of safety is gone; we are no longer innocent to violence of this magnitude. The history of the country has changed forever. The road to recovery will take a long time; mental scars may never heal.
Our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, spoke powerful words.
We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we're an enclave for extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things, because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those that share our values, a refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.
We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place currency on right now is our compassion and the support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy and secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people that did this.
From this darkness, we can see the true spirit of New Zealand. The outpouring of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters after the attack, the vigils held in the major city centers, the fundraising pages, the hakas, the placards saying "aroha" and "kia kaha" - it is these images that make me proud to call myself a Kiwi.
I spent the weekend in my friend's cottage in Muskoka. It was good to get out of the city and see the beautiful white landscapes; it's still very much winter up there, despite the temperatures in Toronto rising above 0 degrees. It was a time of self-reflection and a wake-up call on what I should be doing with my life, yet I wonder if I came away with more questions than I went in with.
The past few months have gone by faster than I expected. I felt more alone in last year's winter, but this year I had lots to look forward to and I was more equipped to handle the cold. Instead of fully hibernating for three months, there's been many things to do: I went to the Toronto Light Fest in the Distillery District, we walked around Tommy Thompson Park and learned about the wildlife (and even saw two coyotes!), we chased after some frozen waterfalls in Hamilton and Niagara, and toured a maple syrup farm. I watched the super total lunar eclipse of January 2019, despite it being negative temperatures. There was karaoke and badminton and piano as well.
There has been plenty to eat too, the UbiTO foodie group went to Filipino Kamayan Feast specialist Tinuno, and the badminton crew had three buffets in the space of two weeks. I went for dinners around Chinese New Year and had hot pot and pot luck.
There's lots to look forward to over the next few months as well. I'll be off to the US for a friend's wedding near Atlanta next month. We're planning to go to Quebec City for Canada Day, and to Peru in August. Bruce Peninsula and Tobermory are also on the cards. But by far the most exciting event will be the E3 reveal of our game, and the subsequent release sometime during the year.
Friday January 4, 2019
Finally back in Canada after a glorious two week summery excursion in the homeland. It's wet here, in Vancouver, and I'm told it's been snowing in Toronto. Sigh.
The end of last year was busy. We had our final work karaoke on Friday night in Koreatown. It was so epic and full of laughter and good times; there was plenty of Disney, 80s power ballads and 90s cheesy pop, and we even sang Phantom of the Opera - with Emily hitting those amazing notes sung by Christine at the end of the song. So good.
I went to the light exhibition down by Ontario Place as well. It was pretty serene walking around the island, but the art installations were pretty colourful and interesting. It's cool that even in winter when the weather is so cold, there's still some kind of incentive to go outside and see what the city has to offer.
Pokemon Go's long-awaited PVP feature dropped this month, but as expected, it was nothing more than a mind-numbing tap fest with only slightly more strategy than a game of rock-paper-scissors. The rewards can be obtained regardless of winning or losing, the cost to make your Pokemon competitive is extremely high, and there's just no incentive to take that plunge.
The flight to Vancouver and then Auckland was not too bad. I played Smash Bros for most of the time, but then ran out of battery power on my Switch heading to Auckland. It was an overnight flight, so I managed to catch some shut eye, but I also watched Ant Man 2 and Incredibles 2. I arrived in Auckland very early on Thursday morning, and I babysat my nephew for the day.
I'd been starved of decent Malaysian food for so long that my first three meals in New Zealand were Malaysian - Kampung Cafe in Glen Eden, KK in Greenlane and Little Penang in Wellington. I basically took the airport bus from Wellington Airport into town, said hello to my excolleagues at PikPok, dumped my luggage at Mana's house and went straight to Little Penang on the Terrace. Auntie Tee and Uncle Keith even recognised me while I was standing in line, it was so nice to talk to them and tell them how much I missed their food. They even gave me a free teh tarik!
PikPok has changed a lot since I'd left. The company's grown by 40 people in two years, and the kitchen now fits more than two people. It was good to see everyone and see how they were, and catch up on news in my absence. We also went for karaoke!
My two weeks was spent basically absorbing as much Kiwiana as I could. Burgerfuel, L&P, Hells Pizza, mince pies, feijoas, the accent, the sun. I even played badminton! I visited tons of my favourite places in Wellington and Auckland, and I caught up with so many people: old workmates, church friends, family, school friends, University friends. It seemed like everyone had either gotten a mortgage, a dog or a kid in the time I'd been away. Though I may not have messaged many people over the past couple of years, it was easy to slide back into conversation as if nothing had happened, and for that I'm truly thankful. Everyone was keen to hear how my travels were, and about my life and job in Toronto.
The weather was awesome. Even if it was raining in entire time, I would have still had a good time not freezing my face off. Most days it was cloudy, but the sun came through quite often, in that familiar ozone-less burny sensation. I got some great pictures of Wellington's waterfront and Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, and sent them back to some jealous Canadians.
But of course, all good things must come to an end. The flight from Vancouver to Auckland was another night flight, and I slept so much that I almost ran out of time to watch Crazy Rich Asians. I'm not looking forward to the cold months ahead, but I am looking forward to seeing all my Toronto friends again, and telling them about my adventures and how great New Zealand is.