The horse I rode in on

Wednesday 3:39PM - Three days later I’m back on the same train I came in on. It was a very short trip, but I had enough time to get a sense for the culture here and even get mildly comfortable wandering around Akasaka, the neighborhood where I was staying. I’m not sure if I bought a ticket or not, I swiped my PASMO card, the all-purpose magic public transit pass they have here. Hopefully I won’t get kicked off before my stop, the last stop, Narita Airport. OK, the official looking man did ask for a ticket, of which I had none. Had to pay some sort of penalty and go to the poor people’s car. The defeat was tempered by a couple of attractive locals giggling and smiling at me. Everything since then has gone smoothly, turned in my PASMO card, and exchanged my Yen for Hong Kong Dollars. I had over $20 US in change. Check in was a breeze and I passed through security without any hiccups. Did I mention my flight was delayed 2 hours? I don’t really mind having the extra time to write and relax with my gate just a few seconds away.

The past three days rushed by, thankfully my not sleeping the night before flying over technique got me on a pretty good schedule. Sunday afternoon I made my way from the train station to a bookstore where Brandon met me a few minutes later. We headed back the way I came and hopped on a subway to Akasaka, and made our way to Brandon’s apartment. He place was small, but nicely appointed with a variety of futuristic features, like an entire control panel dedicated to controlling the air and water temperature in the small space containing the shower and bath. It was full of witty comments like “The water will begin flowing now” right before the water began flowing. I took one of those awesome, post traveling, showers where clean feels better than usual, and we headed out for dinner. Sushi seemed like an easy choice, and we caught up over cold beers and sashimi. We strolled around Brandon’s neighborhood a bit longer after dinner, and I attempted to get my bearing for the next day.

By 10pm I could barely keep my head up, we set up my very Japanese seeming floor mat / bed and I tapped out. The mat was just thick enough to feel snuggly, but it’s defining characteristic was the hardness of the floor beneath it. Luckily for me, I love sleeping on hard surfaces. I used to nap on the bath mat while the shower warmed up early mornings before school. Delicious. I woke early to more sun than I expected. The apartment was on the lower level, but a generous walled patio allowed plenty of light to stream in. Brandon dressed from work and soon I was alone in a new city with nothing planned.

First thing I needed to do was get my sim card phone setup, I poked around online and found what seemed like the best bet for getting that done. I wandered my way to the subway and headed for Mejujingumae – another area of the city named for the giant shrine located there. Getting out of the subway, all I saw were shrines of consumerism, including an H&M building that looked a hell of a lot like the New Museum in NY. Throngs of excited shoppers lined up outside, like young baby boomers expecting to see Elvis waving at them. The cell phone store was closed when I got there, so I had an hour to kill. I walked until I found a Starbucks. I’ll confess it: when I’m in another country, Starbucks makes me happy. The familiarity of it I guess, the near guarantee of seeing another westerner working on a laptop. An hour later, frapachinoed out, I made my way to the cell phone store only to find that ‘no, you must buy a new phone, I can help you with that’ – clearly not worth it. Defeated I made my way back to Akasaka. Near Brandon’s I stopped into a little restaurant and ate a delicious bowl of salty oily soba noodles with boiled pork, seaweed, and some mystery veg. I slurped it up, along with a beer and headed home to use the internet; all in all, a good meal for $7. Back at Brandon’s, I found out my meeting (the whole reason for my being here in Tokyo) would be taking place that night at 6pm. With four hours to kill, I took to the patio and did some exercises, feeling even more like a ninja than I normally do when doing pushups and squat thrusts. I followed ninja time up with another satisfying shower. Must have been the talking temperature lady: “The water will begin flowing now.”

I make it to the building where my meeting will take place. 10 floors, none of them labeled with English names. I do what any normal person would do. I get in the elevator and hit every button. I peak out at each floor looking for something familiar. Finally, after a number of embarrassing interactions with confused, bow prone, office workers, I make it to the office and have my secret meeting. Turns out the people I was meeting with were just about as clueless as I was as to why we were meeting. Thankfully, they perceived me to be somewhat important, and there nervousness shone through and through, which I sort of enjoyed. It’s not everyday I get to make a bunch of middle-aged Japanese executives sweat it out.

Ah, the blinds at the airport just opened. Looks like it’s going to be a clear night. More recounting of the trip to come...



Narrita Express, Car 8, Seat 3D, 3:00PM

Unbelievable that only 20 hours ago I was sitting in the back of a Philly cab, burning a red light onto 676w. The train I was rushing to make wouldn’t make it Philly for another 2 hours, delays caused by something blocking the track. Plan B: return cushy Amtrak ticket and take SEPTA to Trenton, where my father was going to meet me, and drive to Newark Intl. Did I mention I only slept an hour last night, on the couch in fact, my bed occupied by two old friends. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share a bed with the ladies, but I figured if I went without sleep, my 11am flight would feel more like an 11pm flight, launching me seamlessly into the antipodal time zone I was heading for.

I did my best to not let the stress of possibly missing my flight combined with the lack of sleep (read: patience) ruin the morning. I almost felt like I was being tested, a half blind, confused, (homeless?), man asked me to read from the printed R5 schedule when the next train would be coming. Side note: passing by rice patties right now. I tried to deflect the request by telling him to check the monitors, once his lack of vision was made clear though, I begrudgingly (I’m not sure why) took the 30 seconds to read him the times. I certainly could have been more accommodating. On the platform a college student looking guy came and gave me a sob story about losing his ticket and having to spend the night in the station. The fact he was holding a script with tips like “Keep it simple,” clued me into the fact he must be new to the con circuit. Someone should have written “Don’t hold this script in plain sight of your target”, or maybe it was intentional, I give him a dollar to ease my karma – hopefully the blind man made his train.

A cart full of “AROMATIC TRAIN COFFEE” passes down the aisle. Pushed by what can only be described as the quintessential young Japanese woman performing a boring service job with an unflinchingly earnest and polite presence. The smell of coffee still lingers a few minutes later; the label did not lie.

Upon landing at Narrita, it was made clear that due to the current epidemic, health officers would be boarding the plane to take temperatures and in a general way assess the overall health of our lot. Hazmat suits, masks, goggles, the works. I did my best not to sneeze. After the captain explained we were able to avoid having out temperatures taken one-by-one, because he had vouched for us, explaining to the authorities we were all healthy. Good to know that despite their usual presence as friendly, though disembodied voices, captains of modern aircraft can still spot a plague carrying passenger from 30 aisles away. Talk about Chiba City flues.

We’re passing by what I assume is a sort of suburbs outside of Tokyo proper. The small, tightly backed homes, sporting subtly eastern architectural features, are strung together with a web of electrical lines, antennae, and satellite dishes. The network looks like a make shift restraint, ensuring no one home can wander off too far.

The couple on the plane was friendly, Yale grads now working in finance, taking a week vacation in Japan. I counted 4 blackberries, 2 iPhones, and 1 dumb phone between them. They slept most of the time, though I think I caught a glimpse of her hands heading for his nether regions. Just goes to show that an Ivy Leauge education, and six figures a year doesn’t cure one of those baser airplane instincts.

We’re approaching Tokyo.


Syndication Station

Yawn... It's 11am here. I know that doesn't sound early, but Rich and I were out at the bar visiting mel last night, and then returned home to watch the film of DOOM, which, as a player of the recent edition of the game, I appreciated. Anyway, we didn't get to sleep until late, so 11 feels a bit early. I'm only up because I was supposed to have a conference call (oooh fancy) with Scot (the guy who produced my film As Real as Your Life and Max (a director/producer who has since partnered up with Scot). I can't go into too much detail because of confidentiality rules, but it's a good opportunity to share happy news so I'll tell you what I can.

A few weeks ago Scot and Max were pitching various ideas for TV shows (mostly video game related stuff) to a friend of Max's who used to be a president of television as one of the big studios. From what I've heard, it sounds like he wasn't biting - so just to see how he'd like it Scot showed him the teaser and then the trailer for As Real as Your Life. Somehow just from the clips this guy was excited enough to ask if I would be willing to work on developing a scripted TV show which would deal with some of the issues of the film, such as the effect of video games on the mind and how virtual experiences of individuals effect the collective consciousness. Pretty cool eh? I hadn't thought about TV as a medium for expressing much more than entertainment, but I'm hoping the show (if it happens) might actually make some sort of statement. For better or for worse, the guy also wants me to star in it - so I either need to break it to him gently that I'm not much of an actor, or quietly sneak into some acting classes in the meantime.

Anyway the conference call was moved to tomorrow, so I'm going back to bed. Just thought I'd share the good news. I'll keep you posted.



D-Day and she's out till 6


We're coming up on 2am here in the Kong. Rich and I had a pretty fun day at work, being the dorks that we are we stayed late playing a World War II video game. To make things worse we wore headsets so we could talk to each other and yell things like "Give me some cover" and "Flank em to the right". All in all a good time, we killed many Nazis.

After work we picked up dinner in central and headed over the Buddha Lounge, mel's new home on Friday and Saturday nights. After a few false starts, she's finally bartending for real mixing up b-52s and Kamikazes quite rapidly (notice I'm keeping with a WWII theme). The bar was busy, packed with what appeared to be western exchange students downing tequila shots- the brief exposure was enough to cure me of my desire to head back to college life. The bar is really nice, good music, and a pretty casual lounge feel. I think it suits mel, or more mel suits the bar. Rich and I had a few drinks so and continued to discuss how best to make millions of dollars while also focusing on spiritual activism and the environment. A while later we moseyed on home, had some ice cream and watched another a tv show about a magician convincing middle management types to rob armored cars - very interesting...

The point I'm trying to get to, which I feel the free strawberry daiquiri might be slowing my approach to, is that it's not almost 2:00 am and mel still won't be home for another 4 hours.

here we are a few weeks ago with some friendly westerners, as well as Megan from Penn. check out that dude's 'I'm a sexy model' face. Not Rich, the guy on the left...

Our weekends have become a bit rough for this reason. Mel get's home around dawn on Saturday and Sunday, and then sleeps for most of the time I'm awake. We then see each other at the bar, but usually I have to competing with the exchange students and Asian business men for a chance to talk with her, given that they are paying customers and I am but a significant other. Alas, this is the downside to dating a bar tender. At least we get free drinks. And luckily the bars in Philly close at 2, so by this time she'd already be heading home. I guess I'm off to sleep...so: cheers, lechiam, salute, na zdravi (that's czech), bonzai, etc, etc...



The Making of Fish-Beings

If you're just coming back to reading this post after the long hiatus, make sure to check the previous post - it's the real 'Welcome back Blogger' posting.

So this is a two part post. Firstly, over the past few months I've been working with a woman here on developing a film she'd had in the works for a while. Her name is Tanya, she's a Canadian yoga teacher, and the film she's making, entitled "The Making of Being" is about shifts in the global collective consciousness. She's better at explaining it than I am, so if you like check out the website The Making of Being (i made the site :) and for those of you in the film making trade or the investing trade get in touch with me or Tanya if you're interested in getting involved. I think the film has a lot of potential - that's why I've agreed to edit it (eeek! another film project).

We actually spent last weekend filming for the movie at the Evolution Yoga Conference, here in Hong Kong. Tanya used to work for the big (sometimes a little too corporate) Yoga studio that was running the event so we got all access press passes which was great (Rich came along for the experience). The conference was actually really cool, got to rub elbows with the royalty of the Yoga world filmed some good interviews one with Seane Corn (YouthAids) she does a lot of philanthropic work, in a very pragmatic way, I think she'll be an important part of the documentary. We got to go to some classes, did repeated sun salutations in unison, and even tried laughing yoga. That was particularly bizzare. Basically a large group of people forces themselves to laugh, goes through goofy exercises, all in the hopes of actually laughing. Laughing of course has lots of therapeutic benefits - unfortunately, as a camera man in a group of crazed yoga students all experiencing fits of self induced laughter the process was pretty frightening.

The conference concluded with a closing ceremony led by the 5 biggest of the big names that were there at the conference. As what I'm going to say next could be read as inflammatory, I'm not going to use their names. Instead I've photoshoped together images of whom I would cast if I were to film a re-enactment of the closeing ceremony.
If you're familiar with the Yoga world, feel free post guesses as to who this mystery panel was. I'll give some hints. From left to right: An aging rocker, tatooed and pierced, now indistinguishable between a state of veganism and heroin withdrawal, played by Iggy. Next, his life partner, the leader of the group, on the verge of outgrowing her youthfulness. In the middle, a certain wester Buddhist master played by Filch from Harry Potter, and his consort a Lamma, played by Lady Galadrial. Lastly, on the right, a chanting Sun Goddess.

We were all expecting the closing ceremony to focus on Yoga, as it was a Yoga conference. Surprisingly Angelica Huston began the session by playing a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) video. One of the classic holocaust on your plate pieces where they show graphic images of farmers dropping cinder blocks on a pig's head. Pretty disturbing, and definitly a shock given the context.

She then invited her other 'enlightened beings' up on stage to comment. Iggy, Huston, Filch, Galadrial, and the Sun Goddess all had rather poignant stories about why to be vegitarian. About 3/4s through it started to feel like they were reaching. The spiritual argument for why not to eat meat isn't nearly as strong as the environmental one (Meat production is the number 1 cause of global warming, and with all the grain used to feed animals, the entire world could be well fed). The idea that when you drink milk you are drinking the pain of the animal the milk came from is a little harder for me to swallow (so to speak).

The highlight of the ceremony was when a local friend of ours asked the panel to clarify whether it was "OK" or "Less Bad" to eat fish. The panel quickly clarified that the 'nation of fish-beings' needs to be left alone. Moreover, science has shown that fish are especially sensitive. One of the panelists offered up evidence from a 'scientific' study which showed that theoretically 'if a fish -being had hands', and if with those theoretical hands the fish-being clutched a doorknob, it would be able to 'feel' all the other beings who had ever touched that doorknob. WHO KNEW?! I, personally, had no idea that fish beings (that is if they had hands) would have psycho-temporal powers actived though tactile stimulation. AMAZING.

The closing ceremony aside, the rest of the conference was actually very enlightening. I'm going to be dragging everyone on to the mat when i get back home.

peace from the Mish-Being

Return of the Ping...Pong

Wow. It's been too long hasn't it? I know it has. I don't really have an excuse for the lack of posts - with all the positive feedback I got from writing you think my bloguctivity would have increased, not vanished. It think my rate of bloggin' tells a sad but telling truth: even in the most novel and unknown place, we as humans (or maybe it's just me and mel) adapt quickly and after a month or two your in a routine, and the little things which felt like big triumphs and adventures a few weeks ago now are just cell phones, bills to pay, dishes to wash, etc...It certainly is all relative.

Remember when my XBOX blew up? Not the XBOX itself, but the big plastic brick which feeds it power. I'm sure some of you remember how upset I was, what a drama it was, when the first power supply committed electroshock suicide. Well, about a week ago, it did it again. It made the same horrible popping sound, and farted that same unmistakable smell of burnt circuitry. Did I panic? No. I shrugged with a pissed sort of disillusionment. I contemplated going back and buying another $50 (US) Chinese knock off which would likely bite the dust in another 4 months. With only 2 weeks left here I decided I could go without video games at home. Ironically enough, there was an extra XBOX power supply at work. Rich brought it home a few nights ago. Now things are back to normal. No drama, no good story, but back to slaying dragons and killing terrorists...

Life hasn't been totally flat though - so at least I'll have something to write about here for the next few weeks. The important thing is we're still in Hong Kong, and with two weeks left here I've decided to make the most of it. Last night, mel and I were discussing the funk I've gotten into in terms of getting work done. A lot of the projects (well all of the actually) I've worked on here have sort of fallen though. I do them, and then nothing, no reward, no feedback, no next step. Just a bunch of work, and then null. This repetition has really taken the zest out of doing anything other than table tennis (ping pong to you Yankees) and playing guitar. I've actually gotten better at both, I can play a little bit of a handful of songs including the super sad theme song from Brokeback Mountain (sooo sad); and while I STILL can't beat Rich at table tennis, I think I stand a good chance against some of my former opponents (namely my father, Mark Jasper, and Gabe).

Nonetheless I didn't come here to play video games, table tennis, and guitar. I came here to work, and the string of reward-less projects has left me a little drained. Sadly, even my own projects (like my screenplay, senior thesis, etc) aren't holding my attention these days. So it's time for some change. I've got one more design write up to do for MERECL, and then I'm done. I'm going to hunker down and finish a draft of my screenplay, and try to stop thinking about the reward of work, and just try to enjoy the work itself again. That's something I've almost forgotten how to do since getting here.

This reform of course includes writing this blog again - despite my perception that life is a little mundane here - a lot has happened!

Mel is now a real live bartender.

I took a trip home, and um...pretended to graduate.

I had a chance to help make a film.

We captured many brilliant pictures of Richard making a fool of himself...

I got to hang out with some of the world's leading yoga teachers, and hear all about the plight of the 'fish-beings'.

My future as a television star is looking brighter ...

Mel and I spent a day doing the most grueling physical labor we had ever experienced (all in the name of the environment).

Our plant (the one I got Mel for her birthday) finally officially kicked the bucket, I threw it out last night, we hummed taps. Well I hummed taps. Rich didn't know what taps was, and mel wasn't in a humming mood.

I will be writing about all of these things, and more, over the next 2 weeks. I hope some of you are still reading. My apologies again for the lack of posts - metaphysical shit happens.



God bless you Gilbert Strang

For the past few months I've been enrolled in a Linear Algebra class here, just to get a little bit of academic credit while here. It's been an uphill battle. The class, while it's taught in English might as well be in Cantonese. Every time a student asks a question both the Prof. and student quickly revert to their native tung. The class isn't terribly difficult but teaching yourself a semester's worth of math with out a text book (what math class doesn't have a text book?) can be a challenge.

The my first midterm did not go so well. I have class on Thursday nights, so the Thursday night of the week of the midterm I went to the vaguely described test location and waited. And waited. No one came. I was panicked - the worst part of it was that my Prof. the genius did not specify a room for the exam, he simply told us what wing of the school it would be in. This made it necessary to peek my head into about 25 classrooms trying to discern whether my algebra exam was taking place in any one of them. I was usually greeted with awkward stares or giggles, which didn't help my mood. Eventually I gave up. Only after online at home did I find out the exam was scheduled for not Thursday, but Saturday. Who knew.

When Saturday did roll around my cab driver, thanks to my lack of Cantonese) decided to take me to Hong Kong station rather than Hung Hom station - during rush hour. I then had to convince another cabby to take me across town in heavy traffic so I could get to my exam. I finally did make, though I was a hour hour late for a 90 minute exam, and had neglected to bring a calculator. I had assumed when my Prof. mumbled something about calculators the previous week he was saying they were not allowed. Apparently not, every other student was armed with a TI-83 or better.

A few weeks later when we got the exams back the stresses of exam day and my lack of calculator had their toll. I did manage to pass. Thanks to my fellow classmates, the average for the exam was a 48. I scooted in with a 39. Not so good. I'd have to do a lot better on the second midterm if I was going to get a C or better in the class.

I'm guessing not many of you know Gilbert Strang, unless you're a math major at MIT the chances are 1 in 6 billion. Gil is a Prof. at MIT and he wrote the text book on linear algebra. He is a great man, especially because he loves linear algebra so very much. Unfortunately, he has almost nothing in common with my Linear Algebra Prof here at Hong Kong Polytechnic. My Prof. here was kind enough to refer us to a website where one can find video recordings of Prof. Strang's linear algebra class in its entirety. Despite the setbacks of low res web video, these recorded class sessions proved to be extremely valuable. IThe day before the second midterm was like that scene in Matrix where Neo gets all the programs loaded into his brain - after nearly 8 hours straight of MIT linear algebra, I closed my laptop, rubbed my eyes, and said to myself 'I know Linear Algebra'. I wish Gil had been here to respond with 'Show me'. He wasn't here, I'm guessing he lives in Cambridge, but the following day when I took the exam he was with me in spirit. I haven't gotten the results back yet but I'm pretty sure I did alright.

What was most amazing about this whole thing is that normally in every math class I've been in (in the past 4 years) as soon as the Prof. starts talking I'm asleep. It's like a self defense mechanism against learning math. Some how these videos kept my attention. The idea that it might have been the very fact that it WAS a video that kept me awake says a lot about my dependency on screens eh? I think it had more to do with just what a good teacher Prof. Strang is. Not only did I stay awake but I was actually looking forward to the 'next episode'. It'd be great if more skilled teachers could be captured and distributed this way, I think it'd be a real service both to students and to the names of the universities they work for.

That' all for now. Thanks again Gil.


A little taste of the empire...

We've been doing most of our food shopping at 'Wellcome', the local super market which is just around the corner. You may recal their large selection of 'western bread'. So far we've been fairing really well using what we can find there. It's actually a very big store and totally dominates the smaller food and produce vendors, but let's just say they've got a lot more ramen than barilla - and as we tend to eat a lot of Italian food, the choice between two cheeses (Australian cheddar, and American cheddar) has been a bit of a drag. Plus their section of western cuisine is limited to Philadelphia Cream Cheese (in stick form) which despite being yummy isn't all that useful in general cooking.

Just a few stops away on the subway from where we live is Central. The heart of the island metropolis, Central is where the vestiges of colonialism can best be seen, mostly in the high proportion of whities wandering the streets. Every time we walk through the mall which towers above the Central MTR stop (the IFC) we've been tempted to make a stop at 'City Super'. 'City Super' is probably the most posh, western, and well stocked grocery store in the city.

Yesterday we finally caved and made a trip there to check it out and pick up a "few things". The experience was in many ways bittersweet. I imagine my feelings were similar to those of a Englishman arriving in Hong Kong by boat in 1902, at first feeling as though I was somewhere totally foreign, and then sitting down to have high tea. Super City was my high tea. Even by my inflated standards it was an impressive store - slack jawed, I wandered through it passing through a enormous array of cheeses, fresh pasta, imported produce and herbs (basil, sage, chives), fish without heads... there were also a number of items that I had not yet seen this side of Europe yet such as rootbeer, and Annie's, and turkey pepperoni.

We wound up getting a bit more than 'a few things', but I think it was worth stocking up, the trip back with groceries was a bit grueling. The total cost was about 4 times what we spend on groceries, though I would have paid just to stand in the store and inhale.

Here's what we got:
-Fresh Baked Bread (Still warm)
-Tomatoes on the vine
-Spreadable Philly Cream Cheese
-String beans
-Turkey Pepperoni
-4 Mug Rootbeers
-Olivio Spread (just like at home)
-Garlic Chicken Sausage
-Chicken Apple Sausage
-Horizon Yogurt
-Fresh Tagliatelle
-Fresh Ravioli (two types)
-Real maple syrup
-Red onions (impossible to find here)
-Honey Nut Cheerios
-Grana Padana Parmesan
-Alfredo Sauce
-Tortilla Chips


The things we leave behind...

We've been here 3 months, now. Enough time to make some lasting friendships, embark on a few wild adventures, and surely leave a lasting impression on at least a handful of locals... 3 of whom work at the hair salon just down the street. Last weekend, Misha woke up and decided he no longer enjoyed his lovely long locks. Upon hearing that Richard disdained his own medium length locks, both boys agreed it was a good day for a haircut. Luckily, there are no less than 15 hair cutteries in our local vicinity. So to spice things up, they chose the one not next door, but the one next to the one next door the aptly named "Vogue Salon".

It dosen't take Vidal Sasoon to tell you that white people hair is different than Asian people hair, so it came as no surprise that the staff of the Vogue Salon began to scramble frantically as soon as we all walked in the door. One gweilo would have been hard enough to trim...but 3! Luckily for them I was not in a hair cutting mood. Rich and Misha were soon ushered off to be shampooed as the staff of the salon drew straws to determine who would have the honor of messing up a rich white guys haircut. We found out afterwards that the manager himself cut Rich's hair, which actually came out pretty good. He looked a little like a choirboy, not quite like the picture of the chiseled model he had brought as a guide. Mish, however, was not so trusting. He went with the only cut he knew they couldn't mess up, even if they gave him the new guy. Upon announcing that he wanted "5mm" his stylist yelled out "skinhead?" to which all the other stylists responded "skinhead! skinhead!" in hushed exuberance. It wasn't clear whether they were relieved by his choice or just surprised that anyone would cut off so much perfectly good hair (most guys here have long hair and carry purses)(no joke)(I mean that's cool, I like a nice man-purse every once in a while).

20 Seconds later Mish was all but bald. 5mm it was. Thankfully his head was not nearly as misshapen as he had expected. It actually looked...OK. Sort of like a slightly tougher choirboy.

All in all the whole venture was pretty successful. The cuts were only $10 US each which even here is a steal. Both boys were pretty happy and I think rather like Mish's new look so much that perhaps... someday... I might go with the 5mm too.

Professional Jazz Musician     -     Professional Tennis Player


Caveman Development

I'm not sure what to say about this. Your guess at what the 'Caveman Developing Department' is for is as good as mine. I guess it just goes to show that HK is a place for anyone, even Homo Habili to get ahead in life.

Adrift in Macau

Speaking of being in town it's crazy that we're half way through our stay here. Last week we took a short (5 hour) trip to Macau (a neighboring special administrative region of the good old People's Republic of China). Like HK it used to be a colony, though it was under Portuguese rule rather than British - today it's a massive gambling hot spot. I was told the Casinos there make more money than those in Vegas. It's probably because Vegas is sort of a place you'd take your family - Macau is not. It is the best place around for baccarat, booze, and brothels. I guess that's why they do so much business. To get there we took a high speed ferry, which was actually pretty classy. I guess I was expecting the place to be a bit more like rustic Portugal (whatever that is like) and less like a cross breed of Hong Kong and Las Vegas. My opinion might be a bit biased as we only saw Macau at night - we had meant to leave around noon but didn't make it to the boat until 4ish. By the time we got there the sun was setting and we were getting hungry.

For the first time since we got here we used out lonely planet 'Hong Kong & Macau' guide book. We picked out an area that looked like it'd be good for restaurants and set out on a long walk past the casinos to get there.

We eventually found an Italian place that the book recommended, we probably should have had Portuguese food, but the Italian turned out to be the best we'd had since we got here so I think it was the right choice. And Portugal is sorta close to Italy..right?

I'm going to go grab some breakfast - I have the day off for Easter, so I guess I'll go eat some eggs.


Back in the HKSAR

Wow. It's been a month since I got back to HK after TED...Our lack of blog posts is pretty despicable especially given my former promise to write every day. All I can do now is promise once again to keep up with the writing during the next two months. First a little recap. The night I got back from the states Rich was kind enough to prepare (not bake - we don't have an oven) a cake in my honor. You might remember Rich's cake making skills from the post about Mel's birthday - while that cake was delicious, it was really just a practice run for this recent culinary masterpiece. Notice the precise 'arrow cut' technique used to divide the cake. It might seem self serving to put a picture on the blog which includes "WE LOVE MISCHA", but I'm writing about this cake becuase it was so amazing, not because I am so amazing. Here we are eating the cake:
I'm not sure why I'm making such an odd face, but mel was lucky enough to capture it on film - er... I mean solid state memory - Look how happy Rich is that his video game partner is back in town.

I know that was short, there are a few more posts coming tomorrow - we have a 4 day weekend for Easter so there will be plenty of time to write. For now Mel needs to get to sleep, she has a beauty school class to teach tomorrow.



The roof is not on fire...

Despite how hot mel is, the roof is not on fire. Nice hundred dollar bill you stripper.

A few days ago, (well before I went on my trip to the states, so more like 13 days ago) Mel lead a small expedition (just me and her) up to the 34th floor and beyond. Weeks earlier when Chinese new year happened, Rich and I had gone across town to get a better view of the fireworks (more on this outing in a later post) -- Mel decided to stay home, and in doing so inadvertently found out that the roof of our building is not so hard to access. We decided it was worth going back to see the view during the day. We took the elevator up to the top floor and from there ascended a few more flights of stairs until we came to a door which lead to the lower roof. Each of the four apartments on the top floor has their own little piece of the lower roof which is very simple to get to (just walk through the door). However, as there was a ladder attached to the side of the building we had to assume there was an upper roof which would be slightly harder to reach. Luckily we managed to climb our way over the apparatus intended to prevent just that, and made it to the upper roof unscathed. Here are some pictures of the event.
Here is a veiw of the Kowloon side of the city. Note the never ending array of high-rise apartments...

Here's a cool shot of the construction site, which is RIGHT NEXT TO OUR APARTMENT. Luckily we've adapted to block out the constant sound of jack hammers.

Getting down from the roof, was as hard, if not possibly harder than getting up there. Luckily, once again, we faced the peril with strong hearts and made it down in one piece. Well, two pieces if you count Mel and I separately.

Little Miss Bravery.

Note the harrowing 35 story drop.

My turn...


Sword swallowing, cat burning, and billionaires: TED2007

About ten days ago I set off from Hong Kong on a trip to California, a trip which ends tomorrow when I board a plane back to the far east. The purpose of my trip, well the main purpose of the trip was to attend the 2007 TED conference. Along with that, I also got to see my family, eat larger portions, and have a job interview. The meat of the trip was definitely TED. For those of you who don't know, which is most everyone, TED is a conference held every year in Monterey California where the best (and richest) minds in Technology, Entertainment, and Design, all pay $6,000 for 4 days of free food and non stop all star lectures given on the most interesting subjects. I happened to sneak my way in after As Real As Your Life (my film about video game addiction) was screened last year during a talk given by game developer David Perry. The guys who runs the conference, Chris Anderson, liked the film so much he extended a free pass for me to come the following year.

Behold, Swedish statistician Hans Rolling swallowing a bayonet.

Having experienced the conference I can understand why people pay so much to get in. I guess anytime you get to hear Paul Simon, Bill Clinton, and Will Wright all talk on the same stage that's pretty special. And as the title of this posts implies, the talks did include a famous Swedish statistician swallowing a bayonet, a man who talked about how cool it used to be to hold public kitten burnings, as well as more than a few billionaires. You should go to www.TED.com and look at everyone who spoke, if there is someone you're into let me know and I'll report back on them in particular.
Behold the 'Simulcast', the lounge where you watch the show from if you can't find a seat.

As I'll probably be putting up more posts about TED, for now I figure I'll just brag about all my celebrity encounters. First though, it's important to note that just about everyone at TED is either the CEO/Founder of a company or chairman of this, or President of that - I didn't meet one person who wasn't in charge of something. That said, here are a few:

Meg Ryan (master of the fake orgasm): talked to her about my film and why she should let her kids plays video games.
Matt Groening (Simpsons etc): sat next to him a few times, talked to him about how annoying lines are.
Jeff Skoll (founder of Ebay): Just told him about some stuff that's happening in Hong Kong.
Will Wright (Sim City, The Sims, Spore): Talked about games, he gave me Iraqi money.
Sergey and Larry (the google guys): I actually managed to pee at a urinal between them.
Jeff Bezos (founder Amazon): hung out with his family actually, really nice and surprisingly normal...
Daryl Hanna (Splash!): She fell on me at a party, sort of exciting.
Thomas Dobly (Music Pioneer): Told him how much I enjoyed his "synthesizer medley" (look that one up on youTube).
DJ BT: Just hung out, watched him work, checked out his setup.
Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona): Listened to her vent about 'creepyness factor' at major events like TED.
JJ Abhrams (creator of LOST): Talked about screen writing, grandfathers, etc.

Admitably, not all of these interactions were particularly deep, although it was cool seeing how down to earth most 'famous' people are. In addition to these brushes with stardom, I also made a few real friends and hung out with a lot of other really notable people who I appreciated even more because I hadn't heard of them.

Oh boy, it's getting late, and I have a plane to wake up for. Goodnight for now, I got to get back to sorting out all the stuff the TED people gave me. Each attendee got a suitcase full of gifts, pretty crazy if you ask me. However, as I don't mind gifts I'm not going to complain. At least I get $1,000 off my next Lexus.
The room with all the gift bags, looks like a communist airport.



A bit belated, but much deserved, I wanted to thank everyone who extended their happy birthday wishes to me a few weeks back. Thanks for the phone calls (especially grandma!), facebook gifts (?!), and emails, it was so nice to hear from everyone when staying so far away... Special props to Bainbridge for their phone marathon, it was nice to talk to everyone all at once... made me invision a big happy family back at home.

As for what took place here, after tutoring all day I stumbled into our apt around 9pm, upon which I immediately heard the kitchen door slam shut and a jubilant, grinning Misha run out saying "Hello!" (silence, eyes cast towards suspicious kitchen door window) ... "What?" Turns out Rich was making me a cake. While this sounds totally normal- birthday comes, roommates back a double-deckered, 1/2 brownie 1/2 yellow cake, you know, the usual- the key detail here is we dont have an oven. Nor a microwave. Nor funfetti frosting. We've got 2 gas burners, a sink, and a big window. While I pondered over the mechanics of Rich's considerate caking endeavor, Misha distracted me with the large newspaper figurine hovering in the corner of our apartment. "Lady said to water it 2 times a week." Low and behold the newspaper figurine was actually a large, bonsai-ed, flowering plant that was just sprouting its first bright magenta bud. Piled below the bonsaid beauty were more newspaper gifties, including 2 art books, yoga pants (compliments of Mrs. Highland's speedy transglobal carepackaging skills), 10 boxes of our beloved Annie's Mac and Cheese (see aforementioned parenthetical), and a nice bottle of Remy Martin VSOP. To top everything off, after a delicious Italian feast from the local Poppy's, Rich presented his culinary masterpiece:


festival holiday pictures

With the Chinese New Year only a few days behind us, remains of the festivities are still abound. Throughout the city brightly colored decorations still hang, and will probably continue to do so for weeks to come - much like a Christmas tree still out at Easter. One common site, very popular among the natives, are prefab kodak moments; mostly found in malls, these elaborate tableaux provide the perfect backdrop on which to capture a festive moment. In our travels this past weekend, we were lucky enough to find this lovely Hello Kitty Wedding themed scene. We just so happened to have the camera and I managed to snap this lovely shot of Mel. And...here is a close up.
Yep. That's our Mel - really soaking in the holiday cheer. I took a few other shots, but THIS one really captures the feeling of the moment, and the true inner beauty of the Hello Kitty line of products. Well, that's all for now - more on the new year in tomorrow's post. Just wait till you hear about the fireworks!

On western bread...

Behold, the western bread section at the grocer.

A few weeks back someone asked for a little more information about the aforementioned "WESTERN BREAD". Basically, here is how it works. Anything here, which is not a bun or a dumpling is at risk of being labeled 'western bread'. This applies not only to individual starch based items like doughnuts, muffins, actual bread, cookies, crackers, and croissants; but to more complex food items as well, like sandwiches, and pizzas. Hope that helps. I guess, in a way this is equivilent to us calling any food from China, be it dim sum, or Peking duck, "CHINESE FOOD".


The Garden of Eden...

As promised here is the post about the local garden of Eden. A few days ago while on our way out though the apartment lobby one of the guards (all of which are very friendly) stopped us and began to wave his arms and speak broken English excitedly. You should note that the guard that stopped had up until this point been the least interactive and certainly the most subdued of the motley security staff, so his actions came as a double surprise. He escorted us back into the elevator, and pushed the "P" button. The "P" floor had been a bit of a mystery. It's one floor up form the lobby, just below the real first floor. I assumed it stood for parking, but we were yet to see anyone exit on this floor, let alone a way for vehicles to get in or out of the building. As the doors opened we were bathed in daylight, the guard opened a glass door and led us out onto a little patio. While we were only a single story above the street, there was a quiet energy about the place. It was a sort of roof top garden, with a playground for kids and a lot for nice places to read. The buildings tower up all around the small platform, shading it from the sun, almost enormous metal trees. The true beauty of this veritable garden of Eden was yet to be revealed however. As i turned a the corner, the meaning of the guards gestures became clear. He had been miming hitting a ball with a paddle, for standing before me was a table tennis (ping pong) table, just sitting there waiting to be used. No longer would I have to trek to the park and pay for a single hour of ping pong fun, I could play all day long. It was a great moment.
Since then we have been playing everyday. It's a lot of fun, though we have to be careful not to hit the ball off the roof, or into a pricker bush. This is definitely the best New Years gift I could have received.

Death Wish

Just another little Hong Kong oddity. Mel took this picture a few weeks ago, but I think it's worth posting. It seems as though that here in HK you can have your propane delivered to your home - not so strange in itself, but think for a moment about the person who has to drive a truck loaded with highly flammable compressed liquid - get into an accident and you wind up as a special effect for Jerry Brockheimer. It seems as though, the propane delivery company ran out of trucks, because we saw this parked on the sidewalk:

Yeah, that's 6 tanks on one bike. INSANE. Not only must that thing be impossible to balance, but it had a fixed gear. Whoever volunteered for this job is just asking for a closed casket. Nick - if you're reading this, I hope you're impressed. Mel and I agreed this makes you ammo case look like a wicker basket. No offense.

More backlog.

Just another cool picture taken while on the bus.



Hello again! Long time no poste. It's been more than a couple of weeks since we've updated the blog, and we're now prepared to make up for it. Well, not exactly now. It's 2:36am, and we've just finished yet another episode of LOST ... OH did I forget to mention, Rich downloaded the first and second season and we're 16 hours in. I won't deny it, it's a pretty good show, and nothing is better than watching all of it back to back. No more pesky cliff hangers. Anyway, I've been saying over and over again to Mel that I'd update the blog, so as tired as I am, here is your update. It's only two days till Chinese New Year so we're going to have plenty of time to fill you in on everything that's happened. Here is a preview of posts to come:

1. Mel is now the proud owner of a small flowering tree.
2. I found Nirvana - It's between the 1st and 2nd floor in our apartment building.
3. Wii. That's all I'll say.
4. Inflatable Hammer - another one liner.
5. Richard is now our official "Svab (Shwab) Tamer" / "In House Baker"

That's the best I can do at a LOST type cliff hanger.

Lastly, and I can tell you about this now, I had a virtual make over. New website, new soon to be business cards... So I figured I'll let you have a look. The new site is at the same location www.MichaelHighland.com , it's conceptual... let me know if it makes any sense. And, as I'm not going to the printer until Wednesday, here's a proof of my soon to be card. Mom, let me know if I spelled anything wrong. That goes for the website too.

Yeah. Freelance Badass. You read it right. That's the card I'm giving to Bill Clinton/Paul Simon/Kareem Abdul Jabbar when I meet him at TED. Go team.


Zombies, Chanting and Absinthe

So, this weekend was pretty fun. Seeing as how I'm pretty tuckered out, I'm going to keep this as terse as possible.

1) Mel was bitten on the leg by a Zombie. Luckily it looks as though she probably won't scar. Thank goodness.

2) We took part in a "Kirtan", a sort chanting ritual which the Yoga folks here host every now and then. It was neat, for one hour we sat with our eyes closed, sang, and clapped our way closer to enlightenment. I was partially in charge of video taping the event so I had a little trouble fully getting my Kirtan on (as they say), but overall it was a worthwhile experience. The best part was that we saw our Yoga teacher Franck - who turned out to be a student of our friend Tanya (who's also working at MERECL) - such a small Yoga world.

3) We went out Saturday night and got reacquainted with the night scene here. Again our yoga connections came in handy as we wound up at a bar/club owned by a guy who's married to a yoga teacher, who is friends with a different yoga teacher, who turned out to be our yoga teacher's teacher. Anyway, this place is the only establishment with a license to sell Absinthe. Mel and I split a glass, and, for two people who don't like licorice, we got most of the way through it. I drank most of it but didn't hallucinate. Our friends said you have to have at least 3 - I however decided I wasn't going to shell out for another two rounds of liquid licorice. Ah well, at least I did cut my ear off and give it to Mel... Get it? Like Van Gogh? Nevermind...

4) Found out two great things today: Firstly, Pizza Hut totally delivers to our door - we had a thin crust with Pepperoni, not the best pizza in the world, but a step up from the stuff at the grocery store that's all labeled "WESTERN BREAD" (I'm like, this isn't bread! It's a muffin). Secondly, the store literally two doors down which I thought sold movies is actually a video rental place (Shwing!) - I opened an account and we watched Gladiator tonight. It was better than I remembered. I'm so glad we live on Wang On Road.

Ok that's it, Wang On Garth!



For a good time call...

Our US phone line is finally up and running. We're using this service called vonage, basically when you call us it forwards the call though the Internet to our little vonage box, which then sends the call to our phone which then rings. By "rings", I mean plays the theme to Final Fantasy VII at 120dB. I'll try to put a recording up on here, it's pretty amazing. Marvin actually called last night not knowing we were in Hong Kong, he was pleasantly surprised. If you'd like to be pleasantly surprised, try calling (609) 945-1722. But remember! we're 13 hours ahead of east coast time - so the best time to call us is at our night time, which is probably your morning. Anyway- figure it out -- and drop us a line. I have to warn you though, despite having what must be one of the largest antennae arrays in the cordless phone industry the reception can be unfortunately a bit spotty.



Popular show, 'negative stereotypes'!

Things this week are going fine so far, I'm helping to film a bunch of super healthy yoga teachers talk about what they would do if they knew they had a year left to live (the irony). I spent the day at home with mel watching a documentary called "THE POWER OF MYTH", it's basically Joseph Cambell getting interviewed for 6 hours straight. It's pretty interesting, places myth and storytelling at the heart of higher human experience / enlightenment as the heroes journey, etc etc. We stopped after 3 hours, all the talk about the hero's journey made me want to play video games (as most things do).

So I guess this post isn't so much about Hong Kong...Franky just informed me a few minutes ago that my roommates and friends: Nick, David, and Alex made it on to the cover of the Daily Pennsylvanian (Penn's Newspaper) along with the rest of our living room. Here's the picture:
Seeing the living room with those guys in it makes me miss home even more. It's funny, and sort of sad, knowing that life is continuing as usual back in the apartment where I was living just a month ago. Everything looks the same, the street sign, orange couch, the fake eames chair, the naked photos of that girl whose name I'm not going to put here, nick's crazy converse. Even though I'm having a great time here, there is a part of me that would have really liked to spend this last term with everyone back at Penn. I really do miss everyone a lot, I know mel does too. She's actually been mulling over the idea of going back early for a job she really wants. I guess we'll see what happens...However, for me, having sent my visa application in yesterday - I can't help but feel like I've really committed to staying for the next 6 months. I don't think all the cool stuff that's happening here for me (making video games, eating lots of rice, and taking table tennis lessons) could ever replace everyone and everything back home. So don't worry I'm not here to stay. It's funny, when I'm at home I'm pretty cynical about America, and everything it stands for. But over here, my perspective is different, I think my table tennis coach Eric put it the best when he said: "America? It's Great!". Simple as that.

So if you're reading this, you're great too, and I miss you. I guess the moral of the story is that no matter where you go in life, chances are you'll probably be a little sad that your not somewhere else entirely.


ps: I edited one of the photos in the previous post, so scroll down and check it out.


happy bamboo

For many exciting reasons we've decided to pick up the hard core sport of yoga. Our process began this morning with our very first hatha vinyasa 'basic' class, located in a beautiful studio 33 stories above the bustling streets of Shueng Wan (pictures coming soon). The class itself turned out to be a perfect fit- challenging but managable, and encouraged us to return soon. Misha's yoga pants, however, weren't exactly what he'd term 'the perfect fit', as he discovered about 30 seconds in to Warrior 1 pose. His super short nylon swim trunks just weren't cutting it, or were cutting it, if you catch my drift. Alas, this prompted a hunt for a new yoga outfit. We combed the mall, stopped into a few athletic-paraphenelia shops, and nearly settled on a $400 ($50 USD) pair of Puma pants. The yoga-outfit spirit wasn't with him, however, so the search continued on until nightfall, whereupon we came across a store that sold tons of women's athletic pants for only $39 ($5 USD). 2 hrs later, the tranformation was complete: Misha-the-YogaMaster was happy bambooing all over the apartment.

"Fancy" Italian

Last night we went on an expedition to find a book store at one of the many local malls. Things went as they usually do, having not eaten all day we wandered the mall for hours looking for something to eat, finally we gave up and went to the really fancy Italian place on the top floor. By the time we had finished our meal, the mall was closed, so we went back again today and got the books. I just wanted to take a moment to comment on our meal. The food was actually some of the best Italian we've had since we got here, buffalo mozzarella is hard to find here, and this place had really yummy fresh stuff. The decor was nice, their wine selection seemed impressive enough...Only one thing bothered me about this overall very classy establishment. While mel had a view of the fine winery, the majority of my range of vision was occupied by the giant 10 foot projector screen hanging in the middle of the dining area. Restaurateurs here seem to think the more screens the better when it comes to interior design. We ate dinner at an Indian place last week which was screening soap operas set in feudal Japan. Anyway, this Italian place, which shall go unnamed, had one of the largest screens I've seen indoors, and I really must say their choice in programming made the investment in the screen completely worthwhile. WWF. World Wrestling Federation -- literally large sweaty under clad men hitting each other (and the refs) with chairs. It complemented the San Pellegrino quite nicely.


Let the topspin begin...

The past few days have been pretty interesting. Things at MERECL have started to pick up a bit, and I've been keeping busy working on writing the abstract for a soon to be paper on religion and video games. To start my background research I made a monk avatar on Second Life, and have spent a few hours now wandering the virtual hot spots looking for advice on digital enlightenment. I had hoped to find temples, churches, and other places of virtual worship; However, to my dismay (and to my avatar's as well) all the hot spots were nude beaches, strip clubs, or casinos. I even wound up at a sex club where someone invited me to 'Strap on a **** and join in the action.' I explained I was celibate, and he seemed to understand. The patrons of these establishments advised me that 'This is enlightenment'. Perhaps they're right, but for now I'm going to keep on looking, so there is surely more on the wandering monk to come.

In other news, I have found a Table Tennis coach. His name is Eric, and he's a very compact, slightly serious, though mostly friendly man. I've included a picture of him here. My first lesson is Tuesday at 9am, and I'm very much looking forward to it. I'm not sure what a Table Tennis lesson consists of, but I'm sure I'll be pretty bad at it. At $30 (US) an hour I better get something out of it. There is actually a Table Tennis Cup coming up at the place where I go to work. If coach thinks I'm up to it I might have to join up. I guess we will see.



IKEA wonderland aka Apt. photos

Richard, our roommate finally moved in a day ago, and before he did we sorta cleaned up the apartment. The only thing that was left was putting up a curtain rod to hang a curtain to give Rich a little more privacy. Unfortunately the walls of our apartment are made of cement coated in very flaky plaster. Getting any sort of curtain rod attachment into them was a real challenge. But after borrowing a drill, buying a cement drill bit, and taking advantage of Rich's stature (he's got to be at least 6'2") the curtain was finally up. This event marked the completion of our apt, and so I took some pictures. Here they are.

Our bedroom, complete with furniture names:
The living room:
check out the bottom of wine on the table, it's Mel's, and it cost $9 (US). Take a look at Rich's beautiful curtain. You can't see where the curtain rod attaches, but there are big gaping holes there where we messed up a number of times with the drilling. The xbox, is thankfully still working. Rich and I played our first game of Table Tennis on it last night. He showed pretty good potential, hopefully he'll turn out to be a good virtual partner. We also watched our first movie in the apartment two nights ago. A Hong Kong film named "Infernal Affair". AND GUESS WHAT, The Departed is a total remake of it, a brilliant remake, but still a remake. I had no idea. The film was actually better than the departed in a few ways, but like most Hong Kong action movies there was a lot of long melodramatic sequences with the cheesiest music. Anyway, here's the kitchen:

Nothing fancy but it works. It actually has the best view in the whole place. At night you can see all of the other side of Hong Kong lit up real pretty.

Ok we're off to the grocery store. As you can see the kitchen is a bit empty.