June 21, 2015: Field Trip to British Hills

My English school went on a field trip to British Hills, which is a replica of a British village with lots of medieval, Tudor, etc. architecture, situated in the mountains of Fukushima. We learned how to bake shortbread, had lunch in a Cambridge University dining hall-style dining hall, had a tour of the manor house, and then used the gym. I will write up the whole thing when I wake up—for now, I am too tired.

1.

British Hills: Shakespeare

2.

British Hills: Lion and Scenery

3.

British Hills: Union Jack

4.

British Hills: The Lion Up Close

5.

British Hills: Green Field

6.

British Hills: Shortbread: Flour and Sugar in a Bowl

7.

British Hills: Shortbread: Cutting Butter

8.

British Hills: Shortbread: Ball of Dough

9.

British Hills: Shortbread: Dough Rolled into a Long Piece of Dough

10.

British Hills: Shortbread: The Dough Cut into Six Small "Coins"

11.

British Hills: Shortbread: In the Oven, Part I

12.

British Hills: Shortbread: In the Oven, Part II

13.

British Hills: Finished Shortbread

14.

British Hills: The Cambridge-Style Dining Hall

15.

British Hills: The Meal at the Dining Hall

16.

British Hills: Manor House: King's Room

17.

British Hills: Meiji Era English Textbook: Cover

18.

British Hills: Meiji Era English Textbook: Title Page

19.

British Hills: Meiji Era English Textbook: ABCs

20.

British Hills: Meiji Era English Textbook: Heaven and Earth

21.

British Hills: Meiji Era English Textbook: Sun and Moon

22.

British Hills: Meiji Era English Textbook: Phonics

23.

British Hills: Meiji Era English Textbook: Replica

24.

British Hills: Manor House: Stained Glass Window

25.

British Hills: Manor House and Chandeliers

June 19, 2015: My 9th Anniversary of Moving Back to Asia—I Have Now Spent HALF My Life Here

On June 19, 2006, I arrived in Incheon International Airport, took a bus to Seoul, got directions from a Burger King (where I was given free French fries, and employees carried my bags), and got onto the subway. Then I arrived at Windroad Guesthouse where Mr. Park, the owner, was watching the World Cup on TV while sitting on the yellow linoleum floor. June 18/19 was when I officially "moved out" of my parents' house. Now, nine years later, I am not too far away—in Japan. Combined with the five years I spent as a kid in Korea and Hong Kong, that makes 14 years, a very significant number. Why is this significant? Because I am 28 years old—therefore, I have spent half of my life in Asia, now, and the number of years I have lived in Asia (14) is equal to the number of years I have lived in America (14).

Me, Eric Chung, and Frances

As for other news, on Sunday, I went to Tokyo and hung out with Eric Chung, my friend from Hong Kong International School (HKIS)'s middle school, and his girlfriend Frances. Eric and I used to ride the bus together. We ate at a place with many misspellings on the menu, like repeatedly referring to "meat" as "meet," "bacom," etc. Eric is a game and game level designer for Muse, now, and has worked on a game called Guns of Icarus Online that has airship-to-airship combat. Then we went to an izakaya. Someone else also came with me, but she probably prefers to remain nameless and cropped out of the photo. I stayed with that person in a tatami room at the Ace Inn, then headed to Utsunomiya the next afternoon.

I have dropped CMIS 330, Software Engineering Principles and Techniques because the course is so incredibly poorly designed. This will postpone my graduation by one semester, which is a tragedy, but this will probably not delay anything else (I plan to still be working for Windmill English Center either way whether I finish the bachelor's degree in December or May). At least I can look forward to a more leisurely college career with only one course at a time. Anyhow, for the reasons stated in this paragraph and the first one, I see today as the start of a new era—the start of my 15th year in Asia.

June 1, 2015: Gaming News (Lunar: Silver Star Harmony Finished, Yōkai Watch [possibly the next big fad in America circa 2016] Started)

Today, I started the game "Yōkai Watch" (literally "Ghost Watch"). This is a pun in both Japanese and English—the main character uses a special wrist watch he got out of a capsule machine to "watch" for ghosts. It is extremely popular in Japan right now, especially among elementary school kids, and is scheduled for a 2016 release; it will probably be a huge fad in America, too, if they can just change a few things that are humorous to me, but that Americans might find offensive (more on that in a little bit). I thought it would make a good next game to beat—not only will it be fun and improve my Japanese, it will also allow me to relate better to my English Land 2 and Macmillan English 1 & 2 classes, which are filled with elementary school students who have probably mostly played Yōkai Watch, watched the anime, etc.

Yōkai Watch Image 6

See the red cat in the upper-left-hand corner? That is Jiba-nyan, the most well-known of the Yōkai Watch characters. His image is all over Japan. Without ever having played the game, anyone who has lived in Japan during the last year or so has probably seen him. Jiba-nyan's story is that he was once the pet cat of an adolescent girl named Emi (he has forgotten his original name, so Jiba-nyan was a nickname that other ghosts came up with after he died). One day, Jiba-nyan was hit by a truck and killed. When he became a ghost, he saw Emi standing over his dead body. Instead of crying or something like that, she just said "uncool" and walked away, which Jiba-nyan described as "like getting hit by a truck all over again." Jiba-nyan became angry and repeatedly tries to "attack" trucks that go through a specific intersection in Sakura Town, resulting in the occasional car or truck having to stop suddenly. However, he is unable to "defeat" a truck, so he just keeps trying over and over again. His goal is to become strong enough to defeat a truck. So what exactly does Jiba-nyan mean? Well, "nyan is the sound that cats make, like "meow" in English. "Jiba" comes from jibakurei (地縛霊), which means "location-bound ghost" (the intersection where he was hit). So "Jiba-nyan" literally means "Location-Bound-Ghost-Meow." I doubt they will translate it that way into English. :-)

I have enjoyed the game so far. The gameplay is similar to Pokémon, which I enjoyed and beat back in 1999 when I was 12 years old. Given the massive media hype about this game in Japan, and that I have enjoyed my first walk through Sakura Town, the first dungeon, and two boss battles, I think it could be successful abroad, as well, but these things could detract from its success:

  • It mentions death all the time. Some American parents (foolishly, in my opinion) try to shield their kids from any reference to death. These references cannot be removed, obviously, because the entire game (including the title) is about ghosts, which necessitates frequent mentions of death. Unlike in other games where, when published in America by Nintendo of America, "died" or "dead" have been changed to "fell down" or "Swoon," this game has too many death/ghost references for that to be realistically possible, and that will hurt sales to the target demographic.
  • Yōkai Watch Image 7

    This—the game has an Augmented Reality feature that lets you scan your home with the Nintendo 3DS camera, take pictures of people, and find out which ghosts are possessing them. That, right there, is enough to piss off the religious fundamentalists, but take a look at the ghost that is possessing me: Kuiijii (くいい爺). This literally means "Eating Grandfather" and the description is "No matter how much he eats, it's not enough! Prepare to gain 10 kilograms!"

    Now, I laughed out loud when I read that. The game had figured out from my picture that I was a little bit overweight (about 3 kilograms overweight, to be precise). However, Americans might react differently. I doubt many parents would be thrilled with a game calling their obese kids fat. And the "fat acceptance movement" would not appreciate it much, either. I am betting this will be struck from the North American release.

Basically, this game plays like Pokémon—catch monsters after fighting them in battle. Pokémon had 150 monsters that could be caught in the game; this game has 225, so 50% more, but the idea is the same—only instead of the monsters being animals, like in Pokémon, they are now yōkai (ghosts).

Yōkai Watch Image 1 Yōkai Watch Image 3

In the above images, Jiba-nyan receives the picture of Emi (his uncaring owner who exclaimed "not cool" when finding his dead body), which was stolen from him by Gureru-rin. Despite her terrible remark, Jiba-nyan still loves her; will they reconcile later in the game?

Yōkai Watch Image 2

Whisper (the ghost who was sealed in a Shintō shrine for 190 years until the main character freed him by finding him with the watch from the capsule machine) makes a pun about the monsters the main character just defeated, that were holding Emi's picture. "But they strayed from the right path long ago, didn't they..." The verb for "to stray from the right path" is gureru and the enemies were called "Gureru-rin."

Yōkai Watch Image 4 Yōkai Watch Image 5

The ghosts cause trouble all over town. For example, the main character's parents were arguing over who should cook dinner, as the result of a Rank D ghost called "Don'yori-nu" which was sitting invisibly in the kitchen and possessing one or both of them. I defeated this ghost. In the scenes afterward: "Charles: Yes! It looks like you have returned to the two people that you were before, and it's really good!" and "Dad: All right! Dad's going to make dinner today~!"

Now, for some news about a retro game I beat—Lunar (a remake of the original Lunar: The Silver Star called "Lunar: Silver Star Harmony" on PSP/PS Vita). I have been playing various remakes of Lunar: The Silver Star since 1999, but had never finished any of them. Early Friday morning, I finally succeeded—I defeated Ghaleon (with Alex at Level 50) and beat the game. Below are two maps I made for the final two dungeons (the Grindery and the Magic City of Althena)—the final dungeon had over 50 screens (though I did not map anything out from Xenobia onward because they were so linear)!

The Grindery The Magic City of Althena, the Final Dungeon

For reference, here is Xenobia (a sorceress, the second-to-final boss, Ghaleon's girlfriend—lucky bastard):

Xenobia

May 26, 2015: I Have an Engineer Visa!

For the first time ever, I am now permitted to work with technology, in Asia. I got my visa extension today, and this time, "Engineer" was tacked on to my previous "Specialist in Humanities/International Services" visa. This means that legally-speaking and as far as the Japanese government is concerned, there is now nothing standing between me and programming computers, building websites, designing spaceships, and working on The Death Ray.

My Old Gaijin Card And My New Gaijin Card

The bottom one is my new gaijin card. I will stay with my current employer "Windmill English Centre" for the duration of my current contract—but it is nice to know that I have finally removed all legal barriers to being a computer programmer in Asia.

Closeup of the old gaijin card:

Specialist in Humanities/International Services

Closeup of the new gaijin card:

Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/Int'l Services

May 13, 2015: A in Introduction to XML, and a New Era

I got 100% on my final project (a five-MP3 podcast accessible from iTunes using RSS, an XML-based language) and my final discussion board post. My final course grade is 95.78%. I continue to maintain a 4.0 GPA at UMUC (University of Maryland University College).

With my Associate of Science in Information Technology finished (at Northern Virginia Community College, or NOVA), with a 3.80 GPA (precisely enough for Summa Cum Laude Latin honors) and Introduction to XML finished, this leaves just four courses remaining towards my Bachelor of Science in Computer & Information Science degree (from UMUC). I expect these to be done by the end of the year.

Tomorrow marks two events: the end of my first month working at WEC, and the return of my boss from the UK/Panama. That is all.

May 11, 2015: Applied Calculus I Final Exam Results

I took my Applied Calculus I Final Exam today at the Center for Advanced Studies in Yotsuya-chō in Tokyo this morning. I got 95%.

I got 85.17% in the course (probably a B, unless Professor Dariush Izadi curves up—always a possibility). I consider this a major victory—my Associate of Science in Information Technology (AS in IT) from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is now finished.

My test/quiz average in this course was actually >92%. However, I did not submit the online homework, which resulted in an 8% grade penalty. I did not realize until partway through the course that I needed to submit that homework (there was some confusion at the beginning of the course [stemming from the fact that none of the 69 steps mention the online homework] not only with me, but with other students, which resulted in an e-mail getting sent out eventually by the professor), and even if I had, I would probably not have had time to do it—my offline homework alone filled 175 notebook pages.

Still, a B in calculus is good as far as I am concerned. I have defeated one of my demons—to take and pass a calculus course with at least a B. Now my life can begin to return to normal—calculus will no longer be sucking up almost all my free time.

May 8, 2015: I Now Have the Internet in Aizu-Wakamatsu

First, the image on the left is a picture I took out the window of one of the tatami rooms in my new apartment in Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture. The image on the right is my new bedroom, also a tatami room (washitsu).

View from My Aizu-Wakamatsu Apartment My Bedroom in the Aizu-Wakamatsu Apartment

On April 12, I arrived in Aizu-Wakamatsu (after having visited Aizu-Wakamatsu once in March to look around the city, the school, and to sign a contract). On April 14, I started training for my new job in Aizu-Wakamatsu. My official move-in date was April 28 (the same day we went to the immigration office in Kōriyama and applied for my extension—they gave me a temporary extension for two months, and I should receive the full extension soon [probably one year, but three years if I am exceptionally lucky]). April 30 was my last official day at LeoPalace Sannosawa in Utsunomiya. On May 1, I actually set foot in the apartment in Aizu-Wakamatsu for the first time (I had been staying at a minshuku until then). By May 2, all of my boxes that I had sent myself had been delivered. Finally, today, May 8, the shōji (sliding paper doors), which had been utterly destroyed by the previous tenant's young children, were replaced, and I also got the Internet.

I am preparing for the Applied Calculus I final exam on Monday morning, and my XML final project, also due Monday (nice timing), so I am extremely busy and cannot make a long update with many photos. That will come later.

The main impetus to make any update at all is this:

  • I got the Internet today.
  • However, my new Internet in Aizu-Wakamatsu is a different type of Internet from back when I lived in Utsunomiya. In Utsunomiya, I had broadband with unlimited data transfer. In Aizu-Wakamatsu, due to the fact that I often travel, I thought it would be better to get 4G-based wireless Internet so that I could use the Internet on the train, outdoors, etc. It is also only ¥3,000 per month.
  • Of course, this mobility comes with a price. The new Internet is not as fast as the old Internet, but is still fast enough for me. However, the major limitation is that I only get 2GB of data transfer per month!
  • I should try to be conserving bandwidth usage to 50MB per day, so my page using >30MB for one page is outrageous.
  • Therefore, I decided to create a new blog page with low bandwidth consumption in mind. While I am at it, I also decided to make it fully XHTML 1.0 Strict-validated and have it use CSS, and to make my code more readable and more professional.
  • This new page is the result—everything is <130KB total, and everything is validated by W3.

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