Friday, September 26, 2014

Braving the Big Black

Though I prefer cooperative games with my friends, sometimes I don't have much choice but to take a solo flight. With my work schedule a bit more uncertain compared to the rest of the regular nine-to-fivers in my gaming crew, I do have a few games set aside to play on my own.

One based on what's surely the biggest scifi television series ever to be cancelled after one sad, desperately-missed meagre debut season. Firefly of course.

For the sadly uninitiated, Firefly is a short-lived yet much-loved series about a space western drama in the future when China and America rule the roost following the adventures of a motley renegade crew on the ship Serenity; all covering the various characters you'd probably find traipsing around the space frontier from the likes of a heroic cowboy captain to an elegant witty Companion, from the brash lawless mercenary to the urbane young surgeon. All seemingly flat cookie-cutter tropes for a typical Western till you've caught more than one thrilling episode!

Unfortunately they only made thirteen episodes to cherish - which is thankfully more than enough to inspire a board game for the show.

Just a standard pick-up and deliver game across the known Verse with our cunningly crafted little Firefly-class ships. Mine's a sweet lil cocoa number called Yun Qi 运气; sure doesn't seem like much but with an enhanced graviton accelerator for a drive core, the crew manages to finish the deliveries damned fast no matter how far. Which helps matters a bit since my crew tends to stay on the straight and narrow, picking up jobs only from the more legal side of the Verse with very few instances of misbehavin'.

A pity since we do have a fully equipped medical bay - and the stoically sexy Dr Simon Tam -on the ship ready to deal with emergencies.

Yes, we know you're real smart and all - but I'd still prefer ya nekkid on my bed. 

And if jobs are slim pickins along the way, there's no fear as I have a ship full of licensed Companions on board as well, all ready to service respectable clients on the more hospitable planets. Not to mention the occasional disgruntled crew member but let's keep that on the down low, shall we? Of course, those who don't exactly follow the series wouldn't find it hilarious to have an entire ship of nubile Companions - and the oh-so-proper Simon Tam - traverse the Verse together.

Well who knows the good doctor could pick up a few skills along the way.

Flying Yun Qi alone at home definitely inspired me to make crew cards of my own to supplement the one at hand. After all there's a real need to increase the Asian influence in the game. Perhaps a more fun-loving doctor / companion of Chinese descent? Someone who looks like Godfrey Gao? Endless possibilities I tell ya.

For those who still can't get enough of Firefly goodness, there's even an online strategic role-playing game coming up soon!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Confounding Challenge of Charming Calvin

Calvin : This time I shall do it!
Paul : Sounds ominous. 
Calvin : I shall read the books listed on the Big Read!
Paul : A lil heavy don't you think? Why not try something easier first?
Calvin : Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, then Catch-22 by Joseph Heller!
Paul : Yeah, I don't think you should do that. 
Calvin : Have to read it! Then I can say that I have done it. 
Paul : You want to do that, you should read War and Peace. 

After scarcely managing to complete his adamant resolution to read five books the year before, Charming Calvin has decided to scale another unsurpassable mountain! This time the daunting challenge before him is to finish as many books as he can on his own ambitious list, that counts several heavy classics such as the ones mentioned above to a few easier reads such as Persuasion by Jane Austen and Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott. Both amongst my favourites!

As an avid bibliophile, I guess everyone would reasonably expect me to sing endless praise of such laudable high-brow literature - especially since quite a number generally get on the must-read lists - but they would be erroneous in that particular assumption. Yes, most of these books might be held up as wonderful literary works worthy of any great library centrepiece, and quite deserving they are too, but generally very few would merit a second, or even a third look.

As a fledgling reader back in lower secondary, I marched steadily through the deepest trenches of all the required classics from Austen to Shakespeare, from Dickens to Poe. Not forgetting the works of the foreign writers such as Tolstoy which included the dreadfully intimidating War and Peace. At the end of a miserable week of endlessly battling the Bezukhovs, Rostovs and Bolkonskys, I almost put up the flag of surrender myself, refusing to even be curious about what happens to these troubled Russians. Really, Tolstoy? I plodded through the foolish Anna Karenina hoping to dropkick her onto the train tracks only to find myself being tortured with bickering Russian aristocrats again?

Not even the charming Vronsky could keep me that interested in the affairs of Anna Karenina

Important works of literature, yes - but would you honestly read it again for pleasure? Perhaps the occasional Dickens or Austen but really, would you seriously pick up Catch-22 for a reread on the fly? Some literary works are great for pertinent discussion but not so great for a weekend read!

Reason my personal list always has books such as the endlessly engaging novels by the little-known yet well-loved author Georgette Heyer - most whom I've read probably a dozen times from cover to cover. Wonderful reads on those chilly rainy evenings, goes really well with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket. Wherever I go, you can be sure I have several copies of her novels littered all over the house, these days I even have them on e-publications.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Off On Scampering Feet

Which is no small feat, I tell ya. When you stand barely yea high - only a couple of inches tall! - just a simple stroll across a crowded kitchen turns into a dangerous battlefield of rapacious roaches and rabid rats. Not to mention the occasional roving feline.

But that's what happens when you've been turned - rather unwillingly - into a brave band of mighty mice by the confused antics of a muddle-headed magician who obviously didn't know better! All in a chapter's work for the Mice and Mystics.

Gotta admit my group of friends didn't expect to love this narrative game quite as much, since how much could we possibly get out of a bunch of rodents running about searching for cheese? As it turns out, that's only a tiny part of the entire saga if the adventure's played well enough.

What? You want to turn us into mice?! Are you crazy high on something, sorcerer?

And it all starts with a brave prince finding his ailing father ensnared in the beguiling wiles of a scheming witch named Vanestra. Tossed into the dungeon with the rest of his loyal compatriots, they could find no other way to escape than to turn into hardy - and obviously minuscule mice. Armed with their trusty weapons - and whatever sharp kitchen utensils they can find, they brave their way through the suddenly gargantuan palace to unravel the evil plot of Vanestra.

Now doesn't that just sound like an epic in the making? Of course when it comes to my group of players, we tend to casually meander away from our main mission. Guess I do play to type since I usually gravitate to healer type of characters.

Paul : Man, my monk is obviously quite blind. Whenever he searches, he comes up with nothing.
Kat : Isn't your character female?
Paul : Ah that's what they think! Teddy was a foundling brought up in the Convent of St Luke and the Mother Superior hid his gender from everyone - since the note that came with his cradle claimed that there were some who wanted him dead - by dressing him up as one of the nuns. Along with the note came the Mace of Malice which grows stronger with blood spilled, one of the heirlooms from his wicked family. But I guess he doesn't know that yet. 
Kat : Wow, that's complex. 
Paul : And he's gay. 
Kat : No wonder Teddy's trying to hit on my sexy yet commitment-phobic Filch the Thief. Blame it on a lifetime on the run after being shunted from one crappy orphanage to the next. 
Sam : Both of you are gonna get stabbed by elite monster rats. Get back to the game!

Clearly the character Sober Sam plays doesn't have much of a background detailing his whims and ambitions - but we're always glad to make one up for him!

Gameplay certainly reminds me of a new fave, the beautifully sketched and compiled graphic novels by David Petersen which is the Mouse Guards.

If you haven't read it, you must.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Malevolent Medical Monsters

Think it's common knowledge these days that ingenuous house officers practically outnumber the ailing patients in our hospitals. In fact, some of my senior colleagues have taken to shutting the windows tight lest the overflowing number of house officers threaten to tip out of them.

As they are wont to do - whether due to suicides or other reasons unknown.

After all medicine is a course infamous for having an improbably high attrition rate, quite a few possibly due to the startlingly high rate of suicides for physicians. Though I am pretty sure that the working environment has mellowed some due to my more tolerant peers - no longer do we have the dark days of demonic surgeons tearing up the scribbled notes of a lowly intern in front of everyone followed by a vicious profanity-spiced diatribe - but still we have some of the more gentle souls who are trampled along the way.

Patient : Hey, where's my regular doc?
Doctor : Oh, he's long gone.
Patient : He left this hospital?
Doctor : I would say he did. He stepped off the tenth floor of this hospital.
Patient : OMG.
Doctor : Eh, it happens. 

One of whom I met just the other day. It didn't take me long to suss out why Meek Martin was suddenly voluntarily taking up an entirely different course. After all no one does repeated postings during their housemanship in different hospitals unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Paul : So you quit? 
Martin : Yes. 
Paul : Horrible times during your housemanship? 
Martin : Yes. 
Paul : Had someone tear your notes and make you rewrite them? Berate and call you names in front of everyone? Force you to take more oncalls?  
Martin : No. They just weren't nice to me. 
Paul : That's all!?

Ooh were they mean ole doctors?

Unsurprisingly our locally graduated house officers, used to our far more taxing environs, tend to last longer with the rigorous taskmasters here. 'Cruel to be kind' seems to be their motto here - definitely not what those abroad would be used to. Acclimatized to the more genteel, benign lecturers abroad, the house officers who return here find themselves exposed to the sweltering jeremiads of the heated tropics - certainly enough to have even the strongest wilt.

Anything you see dished out by the fierce Miranda Bailey in Grey's Anatomy is almost negligible compared to some of our malevolent dragons here. Unfortunately weakness is something they tolerate only in their patients. Amongst their colleagues in the medical fraternity, it's almost an anathema.

What monsters they be, you'll say! Back then as a houseman seeing that horrible surgeon tear up the notes of my colleague, I thought pretty much the same.

But along the way I met up with one of those monsters we had and realized that he had done it truly out of kindness. Yes, I was almost apoplectic in shock myself. Though I don't agree with his abhorrent Machiavellian methods, I think his ideas are relatively sound.

The Monster : It's a stressful job. If I hadn't done so, they would have continued for the next few years and burned out eventually. Better they leave sooner than later. 

Which is exactly what Martin did.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Another Suitcase in Another Hall

At that very moment, betrayal was all she could think about. Staying out till past midnight with that other.... though she shouldn't have thought in such degrading terms about someone of her own gender, damned cheap floozy was all she could say!

What could he have been thinking? Not her that was for sure; otherwise he wouldn't have spent the entire night talking only to that girl while spinning pitiful lies about a tedious work dinner that dragged on just a little too late.

Which was why she had her suitcase out in the hallway all packed at 2 in the morning despite his persistent pleas to stay.

Quick substitute of the gender and it could have been miserable old me more than a decade ago. Deny it all you may but seriously, time really does heal all wounds - since now I can actually look back and have a chagrined laugh over it. Has it really been that long? Was I ever that brash?

And how the hell did I successfully stuff all my rubbish bric-a-bracs into one tiny suitcase in less than ten minutes! What a magnificent feat! It's a wonder my ISO didn't reward me with a standing ovation - but I guess with my hair practically aflame with fury, he probably daren't come any closer.

Of course it doesn't seem like a laughing matter to my new friend - the much younger Cotton Candy - as she commiserated with us over the cellphone, while undoubtedly sitting cross-legged on top of her packed suitcase with plane tickets ready to flee in her pocket. Disconnected from the rest of her friends and family across the Big Puddle, I could only imagine how vulnerable and alone Candy must have felt. Finding herself left alone in the tower while her supposed Prince traipses off for a midnight outing wasn't the happy ending she'd imagined.

Can we talk? 

Thanks to the benefit of hindsight - and of course my ISO, I knew exactly what to say to calm her down. These days, the Disney magic of mass media advertising would have you imagine that relationships are born of syrupy ballads, blazing fireworks and sparkling champagne which, though wonderful to think of, is generally patently untrue.

What makes a relationship last is plain hard work. And lots, and lots of compromise.

It's of Prince Florian finally coming to terms with the curious fact that Snow White comes with seven grumpy dwarves that he can never get rid of. It's Belle finally realizing that there are days when even her usually docile husband falls into beastly PMS rages - she probably hides in the great library. It's the Prince knowing that his palace maids would have to deal with an infestation of plague-bearing rodents - especially with his wife Cinderella communing with them daily. It's our valiant Prince Eric who comes to realize that even the hundreds of rooms in the castle might not be enough for his hoarder wife Ariel who seems to be picking up nonsensical thingamajigs all over the place - maybe just toss them back into the sea when she's not looking?

If they all took off the minute things got bad, there wouldn't be much of a happy ending for these fairy tales.

And they certainly would never make any good decisions at 2 in the morning.  

Monday, September 08, 2014

All About the Bonsai

Perhaps it all started when I was but a child dreaming up fantastic little tales of heroism and bravery in the small plot of land in front of my house. Under the forgiving shade of the blooming guava tree, I dug out simple country paths and lanes for the rudimentary twig houses I built. Dried guava leaves and torn palm fronds were woven into makeshift thatch roofs for the miniature figures that peopled the hopeful village at the crossroads. For everything else, there was always tape and paper around.

After all despite my large, clumsy hands, I've always been great at paper crafts.

So it's obvious that the miniature world has always held a fascination for me, what with designing DIY wooden houses to crafting mini paper lanterns and ... yes, even to keeping bonsai trees. But with my green thumb always in doubt, the paralyzing fear of maintaining those terrifyingly fragile zen gardens always kept me away. Didn't want to subject the poor bonsai tree to my dubious arboriculture skills lest I be deemed the local bonsai murderer.

However that certainly never stopped me from admiring those perfectly manicured and pruned miniature trees, occasionally even decorated with tiny temple shrines or the lonely wandering figurine.

Wow, that's one ginormous bonsai tree. 

So when I saw a friendly neighbour offering some of his potted bonsai trees for sale online, I just couldn't help myself. Not knowing how much to offer in exchange, I just came up with a particularly low price since I wanted a really, really tiny plant to start with. Several inches high perhaps?

Neighbour : Got a lot ah. What type? How much you want?
Paul : Just one should do. Something small for the office. 
Neighbour : Sure got one! How much you want?
Paul : Maybe about a hundred or so? 
Neighbour : Definitely. You wait here, I get for you. 
Paul : A small one yeah?
Neighbour : Small, small yeah. 

I assume he understood what I meant. Well that teaches me not to overestimate the skills of locals in determining size and length - and to severely underestimate the general price of items in the future. Turns out his version of small wasn't the dainty size of my palm as I had expected - but closer to the size of an overfed toddler.

Paul : OMG. 
Neighbour : You like ka? I got more. 
Paul : That's quite enough, I think. Didn't expect it to be this big!
Neighbour : You pay more, I give you more lo! 

Well perhaps the sole figurine would be seriously dwarfed by my alarmingly large bonsai tree - even with me immediately attacking it with pruning shears - but that wouldn't stop me from starting a little village beneath the shade! Maybe a small family of retired geishas setting up a ramen shop!

Oh the possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Cupcakes for the Moon

The Mid-Autumn Festival came just a tad earlier this year, or at least the party did. To coincide with my mother coming by for one of her irregular visits, the annual Mid-Autumn party in Netherfield had to be brought forward a week or so.

One day if I do finally retire, I just might offer myself as a volunteer party planner! Soirees at Netherfield have become such a routine that it took less than half a day to plan the menu with the new caterers and to order up the expected dishes for the guests. Twenty seemed like a good enough number, not too many that it would overwhelm yet not too few to seem almost deserted. Decorations were easy enough when I finally decided on a pink lantern theme. With my penchant for papercrafts, it took me a few days to assemble enough paper lanterns to bedeck the entire living room, with plenty left to spare for the other rooms.

Then came the hard part.

Paul : You're the patissier?
Patissier : Oh yes. 

With everyone I know fearing for their expanding waists - and subsequently eschewing the traditional cholesterol-laden mooncakes, I figured having smaller-sized cupcakes would be quite the sweet treat. Anyway having pretty pastel-coloured fondant decoration on the cupcakes would be an easier match for the theme of the party. Minutes was all it took for me to decide on the menu for the dinner table but trying to decide on what to place on the cupcakes certainly took some brainstorming.

Paul : Yes, I want cupcakes. 
Patissier : I should hope so! I don't do mooncakes!
Paul : Maybe a moon on top? 
Patissier : That's all? Quite sad, no? 
Paul : Maybe the moon goddess? 
Patissier : Anything else?
Paul : I guess the rabbit pounding the mortar and pestle?
Patissier : That takes care of two, what about the rest? 
Paul : A lantern maybe? 
Patissier : Three cupcakes. 
Paul : So I have to think of the other twenty as well?
Patissier : I only bake 'em. 

Having the cupcakes resemble the traditional mooncakes except smaller would be impractical since they already have them in a myriad of shapes and sizes.

So what designs to make out of fondant? With other festivals, we seem to have a rich plethora of vivid images to draw upon; from garland-bedecked trees and white-bearded philanthropists for Christmas to scarlet banners and booming firecrackers for Chinese New Year. But when it comes to the Mid-Autumn Festival, I could barely come up with anything - well except for the moon goddess, the rabbit and the lantern.

Thoughts that would plague me for the day... would a ceramic teapot made out of fondant look out of place on the cupcake?

Of course getting cupcakes for the party didn't stop me from getting double-egg yolk lotus paste mooncakes only for myself. After all I'm still very much a traditionalist.