June 19, 2018: 17th Asiaversary

I've been living in Asia for 17 years as of today. I'm 31, so that's about 54% of my life.

I don't know the exact dates for the five years when I was a kid. I don't know what specific date I moved to South Korea in 1988. I don't know what specific date it was when my family moved to Hong Kong in 1998. I don't know the end dates, either. However, one date sticks very clearly in my mind: June 19, 2006. That's when I arrived in Seoul for my second stint there. I timed it so I'd arrive about a week before Yonsei University Korean Language Institute classes started on 6/25/2006 (which was, coincidentally, the one-year anniversary of graduating from Robinson Secondary School—yes, I took nearly a year off—I say "nearly" because due to the time difference, I started studying at YSKLI a matter of hours less than 365 days after graduating from RHS). That was 12 years ago. 12 + 5 = 17

This is a personal "holiday" for me—more significant than many "real" holidays. The past 12 years have been a mixture of wheat and tares.

The wheat: I finished two associate's degrees and two bachelor's degrees, became "advanced" or "intermediate" in Korean and Japanese, respectively (although I doubt those labels), have spent eight years teaching English and building a potential career in TEFL, and bought (and own outright) a condo in Tokyo.

The tares: Asia doesn't give a shit if I've lived here 17 years or not. I'm still on one-year Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services extensions. Any guy or gal who had never set foot in Asia before could easily find a job at Interac or whatever and be on the same Status of Residence and the same Period of Stay as me within a few months—they might even get three years instead of one year. That's extremely frustrating. It's a real slap in the face from Japanese immigration. I realize they don't care about my prior time in Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, but what about my 7+ years in Japan?

I don't know if there's anything to celebrate. I'm playing a long game here—until I've lived in Japan for about 10 years (the amount of time it takes to get permanent residence and qualify for the Japanese National (old age) Pension, I'll probably have little to show my for time in East Asia.

June 17, 2018: Container Garden

I've been working on a container garden on the balcony of my condo since April. I started most of the plants in yogurt containers and didn't re-pot them until relatively late, so I think that's why most of them are still so small.

My Container Garden: Basil (Center)
Basil: It looks like two plants, but if you look closely, there's another tiny seedling on the left where a previous basil plant died (a minority of my plants die during re-potting) and I decided to try planting another seed. I'm growing these so I can make my own basil oil, like what comes with the margherita pizzas at Don Quijote supermarket. I consider these the most successful plants so far— they are growing lots of foliage, which is what basil is supposed to do.

My Container Garden: Left Side
This is the left side of the garden. In the left planter (into which I have put 28 liters of soil), there are two goya (bitter melon) plants. In the left planter are my four tomato plants. And yes, I know that the goyas and the tomatoes will all eventually need some kind of support, and I've read something about how I should cut runners from certain kinds of plants, so that's another thing on my to-do list, as is fertilizer.

My Container Garden: Right Side
Here's the right side of my garden. Here, in the huge 40-liter pot, I have a persimmon seedling. I got two persimmon seeds out of a persimmon that fell outside my neighbor's fence last year. I forgot about the persimmon and it began to rot in my fridge. Rather than throwing it away, I dug out the seeds; both germinated. The one that did better is in the 40-liter pot.

The one that isn't doing so well is in the yogurt container to the right of the 40-liter pot. Basically it never managed to shed its seed coat. After weeks of waiting, I tried to remove the seed coat without damaging the leaves it hopefully contained. However, the seed coat was so hard, I couldn't break it open, and I accidentally decapitated the plant. Will it survive? I doubt it, but the stem is still very green and clearly photosynthesizing, and a bump has appeared on the stem (perhaps it's trying to create new leaves and they'll come bursting out of the bump any day). We'll see.

On the right are my Korean yellow melons (참외, chamoe, pronounced "cham-we" with a short 'e'), which I waited way too long to re-pot. They're turning yellow, perhaps from lack of nutrients. We'll see if they survive. If they don't, it's cool, because I'm worried they'll crossbreed with the goyas. Finally, on the right, there are the eggplants.

Except for the goyas, everything is either in a planter bought from a popular ¥100 shop, or in a styrofoam crate gotten for free from Ecos (the local supermarket), with holes punched in the bottom.

The thing with the piece of cardboard over it with the Takara Shōchū logo on it is a small compost bin, where I throw my food scraps (no meat). I didn't think it was composting correctly, but today, I rotated the compost for the first time (after the bin got rained on heavily), and I realized that actually, composting was taking place very efficiently and I just hadn't been seeing it because I was only looking at the freshest top layer.

I also tried growing shiitake mushrooms using a Don Quijote grow kit, but it failed spectacularly. At first, it looked like the mushrooms were about to pop out of the log, but then the mold overtook the mushrooms.

May 5, 2018: The Week in Review: Runes, Electronics Shopping Spree, etc.

My PC is back on the Internet! Yahoo! Yes, that's right, my PC had been offline since April, because all of my telecommunications these days are through an iPhone (including tethering my Intel Core i7 to my iPhone), and my iPhone's battery died permanently. I had been using an iPhone 5 since May 1, 2016, for my Internet and, since May 1, 2017, had gotten all my Internet at home by tethering through that. The iPhone 5 still technically works, except that it has to be connected to a wall charger (not a USB port), or it powers off instantly, and connecting to it with Wi-Fi is extremely unreliable, so basically, my PC was offline from late April until 5/4. I continued to update the offline version of this website, but the online version didn't get synced until a little while ago (so you can go back and read my post on Akalabeth: World of Doom, if you want). Anyhow, I'm really glad to have a shiny new (used) iPhone 6 64 GB, which cost ¥19,224 from Geo Amusement Developer (which was cheaper than the other place I looked, HardOff).

Yesterday, I finished memorizing the Elder Futhark. What is the Elder Futhark? Well, it's the system of 24 runes used by ancient Proto-Germanic and Old Norse speakers to write their languages. Why would I learn such an archaic writing system?

The answer: to explore my Germanic heritage and enhance my teaching: as a native English-speaking English teacher of mostly German/Norwegian ethnicity who was born in the Netherlands, these runes are a key to understanding my Germanic heritage—English, German, the Scandinavian languages, and Dutch were all at one time or another written in runes. Studying not only how to read and write them, but also each letter's meaning is a very enlightening experience, as I will explain later in this post.

Anki Runes 4 Anki Runes 5
Here is an example of the Anki system I created so I could memorize the Elder Futhark and maintain it over the long term (not just forget it in a day or two). My tablet has no runic support, so I hand-drew each of the 24 runes and scanned them in, then added them to 24 cards in the Runes_1, Runes_2, and Runes_3 tags in the Miscellaneous Anki deck. To make the cards more visually appealing, I drew three runestones, which you can see at the top of each card—a runestone in the forest, a runestone in front of a hill, and a runestone in the tundra. This makes the cards less boring to look at. Then, to enhance the educational experience, I added not only the sound and appearance of each rune to the card, but the name in Proto-Germanic or Old Norse, and in cases with an animal or plant or something mythical (gods, giants, etc.), a picture, following each picture's licensing requirements (if there is no one cited, it means it's public domain). That helped me to better understand who "Tyr" or "Ing" were, or what the "aurochs" is (because they went extinct in the 1600s—by the way, it's basically a gigantic cow that used to roam wild in Europe, Asia, and Africa before being hunted to extinction).

By the way, I also learned the Greek letters more or less the same way last month. Lately, I've been trying to learn various what I like to call "micro-skills." What I mean is, most of the things I traditionally think of as "skills" (such as Japanese or information technology) take hundreds of hours to even reach a "beginner" level, and thousands of hours to master them (and not everybody even can master them). Micro-skills, on the other hand, typically take less than 100 hours to learn. I'm getting bored from the macro-skills and yearning for things that, knowledge-wise, are "get-rich-quick," so I've been working on easy things like the Greek and runic alphabets, lately, and will probably continue to learn more of these easy-to-learn micro-skills.

From a linguistics perspective, it was highly enlightening because of the close resemblance of many proto-Germanic/Old Norse words to modern English. For example, the rune "mannaz" means "man" in modern English, and the rune "nauþiz," means "need"—like English, it starts with an 'n' and contains a sound similar to a 'd' (the þ is pronounced /ð/, similar to a 'd' and indistinguishable to some individuals) and like German ("brauchen"), it has an "au."

It is difficult to write modern English words in the Elder Futhark because of the controversy of whether to write them phonetically, or whether to write them preserving the English spelling conventions. For example, if I want to write "computer," should I write the runes for "komputer" (close to the modern English spelling), or should I write "kompjuter" (pronounced "kompyuter") because that's actually closer to the Modern English pronunciation even though it violates the spelling conventions?

However, it is generally quite easy to write Japanese in the Elder Futhark, so for both of the English lessons that I taught on 5/4, I dazzled my students by writing their names in runes! It is necessary to take a few liberties like simplifying chi/tsu to ti/tu, but that simplification is sometimes done in Nihonshiki Romanization using the Roman alphabet, as well.

Now, this post is probably long-winded and boring and congratulations to anyone who has gotten this far, but let me just say—after researching them intensively over the past couple of days, I've realized that I'm one of the more "normal" rune learners out there! I actually came across a YouTube video by this guy who talked about how he made his own rune stones for magic purposes, with his own blood!

Anki Runes 1 Anki Runes 2 Anki Runes 3

As for other news, while at Geo Amusement Developer, I saw a PlayStation 3 for the incredibly low price of only ¥3,568. They told me it was because the USB port was busted. Well, I took it home, and I discovered, their diagnostics were incorrect—the USB port is fine. It's the controller that's busted. So I just hooked up an original PSOne Dual Shock controller using a USB adapter and was using my PS3 in no time!

I managed to link it to the PlayStation Network account I had back in Taiwan, ~8 years ago, the same one I used to get and beat Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy II, Ape Escape, Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, and Aquanaut's Holiday: Memories of Summer 1996. I had previously tried to link my PSP systems to that account, but it had failed—so this time, I lied when I set up the system and input "Taiwan" instead of "Japan" and it worked. I was able to download all my old games from Taiwan! Even my FF13 achievements (37%) were still there, and my Ape Escape icon for my PSN account!

Last piece of news: I discovered this place called "Eol-jjang" in downtown Hachiōji that only sets up shop a few days a month. They sell various Korean goods. They also offer cooking classes, and the best part is that they offer ¥500 Korean "nandemo kaiwa" ("conversation [about] anything") classes! That's an unbelievably cheap way to maintain my Korean that has gotten rusty because I haven't lived in Korea in over eight years. I already went to one, and it was nice—just sitting and chatting with the shopkeeper—really nice lady. If she's only making ¥1,000 per hour, how can this be worthwhile for her? I mean, that's just barely more than minimum wage here. I think the answer is that she's already sitting at the shop anyway, often without customers for long stretches of time—so she might as well be making an extra ¥500 per half hour while she's doing it, right?

And that's the end of my long-winded post. Congratulations if you got this far! I don't really write for other people so much as just myself, so I'm not really that concerned with making particularly entertaining posts.

April 22, 2018: Akalabeth: World of Doom Beaten

Today, I beat Akalabeth: World of Doom, an ancient CRPG (computer role-playing game) from 1979. I played it mainly for historical purposes to see how Dungeon & Dragons and CRPGs and then Japanese console RPGs like Dragon Quest were linked, but I discovered that it was actually kind of fun. It was programmed by Richard Garriott (who calls himself "Lord British") when he was still in high school, on his school's computer(s) and then at home on his Apple II that his parents bought him. His boss at his part-time job encouraged him to sell the game, so he had his mom illustrate the instruction manual, and they packaged the game in Ziploc bags. Eventually, a publisher picked up the game and he made approximately $150,000 off of it. He reckoned that he spent about 100 hours creating the game, so this was a pretty good return. At the time, Akalabeth was not called "Ultima," but later, it was retroactively named "Ultima 0," which places it in one of the most famous RPG series ever, the inspiration for Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. By the way, I agree with it being called "Ultima 0," and do not think this is just convenient backdating, because the game is extremely similar to Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (which I played all the way through in middle school, back in Hong Kong).

Here are some screenshots. They are: fighting the final boss (Balrog, on Level 9), traversing the overworld to Lord British's castle (Britannia, where a MIDI for "Rule Britannia" is played), and finally, the ending: reporting to Lord British after defeating the Balrog:

Fighting a Balrog in the Dungeon Overworld, West of Britannia Akalabeth Ending

I played with the seed value 31. In order to avoid getting lost in the dungeon and getting pummeled by enemies, or getting lost on the overworld and running out of food, I drew several maps. Download the high-resolution versions here. Here are the low-resolution versions:

Akalabeth Overworld Map Levels 1-5 of Akalabeth Seed Value 31 Levels 6-9 of Akalabeth Seed Value 31

The game is available for free (legally) from Good Old Games. Just Google search that. There are three different versions: Linux, Mac, and Windows. They are all basically just the same DOS port running in DOSBox for each platform. I really wanted to use the Windows version so I could install it in DOSBox in my DOS folder (basically, my neo-Windows 3.1 virtual PC where I do most of my retro-gaming these days), but the Windows version would not install properly on Wine, so instead, I installed the Linux version, and just copied the necessary files into my DOS folder.

I played a very easy version of the game: a difficulty level of 1 and getting lucky with the Magic Amulet so I turned into a powerful Lizard Man. It would have been much harder if I had played on the original Apple II with no saving, on a higher difficulty level, and without using the Magic Amulet. Do I think I could beat it on higher settings? Of course, but that would be a waste of time, because I was mainly just enjoying the game for historical purposes. Things might be different if I actually lived in 1979/1980 when the game was still new and there were not so many CRPGs worth playing, yet.

One of my life goals is to write a walkthrough for a game that does not have a walkthrough in English, yet. Akalabeth already has several walkthroughs, but it has crossed my mind that maybe I should write a walkthrough about it just to get some practice at writing walkthroughs before I write a walkthrough for an obscure Japanese or Korean game.

At some point, I would like to try the original Dungeons & Dragons for historical purposes, as well, and see how similar that is to Akalabeth and Ultima I. I do not want to become a D&D fan, it's just about understanding the history of the RPGs I now enjoy.

April 7, 2018: I Beat Final Fantasy Adventure (FFA)

Tonight, I beat Final Fantasy Adventure (FFA), a Game Boy game, for the first time. I've been playing this game on and off for over 19 years.

In FFA, you control a character who aspires to become a "gemma knight," a protector of the "gemma buds" of the Mana Tree. In an amazing coincidence, my company here in Tokyo hired an accountant named Ms. Gemma this year.

Disclaimer: This post is going to be extremely long-winded and boring to most people except me, and maybe a few of my close friends from back in the day at Hong Kong International School (HKIS). You don't have to read anything that you don't want to, so don't complain to me about that. This website barely generates any ad revenue, so basically it's just for me, so I write whatever kind of drivel I feel like writing. :-)

Legal and technical note: I own the original FFA cartridge. It's in my closet; it was one of a few games I brought with me from America to Korea on June 18/19, 2006. However, I played the game using an emulator on my PC (the Intel Core i7 I built in 2013) because I hate how volatile on-cartridge battery-backed RAM saves are. I prefer to have the save file as a file on my computer that can be backed up. I used NO$GMB on DOSBox because I couldn't find any good emulators that run on Linux natively. How about that, playing all the way through a game on an emulator-within-an-emulator? :-) Anyhow, it's not illegal and it's not piracy, because I own the original game cartridge.

Ending 1 Ending 2
The Ending
I chose Char for my main character's name, for obvious reasons. No, Jane is not named after my aunt, nor my classmate from university. I just picked it because it's the first name for "Jane Doe."

The Three Final Boss Fights Including Cutscenes
Cutscene 1Final Boss 1Final Boss 2Cutscene 2Final Boss 3
Julius, Bad Mana, and the Bad Mana Tree

Interestingly, the Excalibur Sword, despite supposedly being a requirement for a gemma knight to defeat the bad guys, is actually not necessary at all. I used only the Blood Sword in all three of the final fights. I needed to use many Elixirs to heal myself and Cure spells when those ran out, but I got through it. Ironically, many ordinary enemies in this game can't be damaged with the Blood Sword—I guess the final boss is weaker than they are?

Glitches
Glitch 1 Glitch 2
In the final dungeon, the protagonist can walk up to the point where he's hovering in the air. Is that a game glitch, or an emulation glitch? The emulator seems extremely good, so I think the latter (this game is known to be buggy, for example warping the character around the world is a glitch that happens even on Game Boy hardware). The second glitch has the main character appear above the leaves in the primeval forest even when he's supposed to be standing on the ground.

The 19+-Year Saga of FFA and Me, and the Future

I first got it for my original Game Boy for my birthday on October 24, 1998, when I was a 6th grader at HKIS. I asked for it because I didn't have any Final Fantasy games, and I really wanted one. My friends were really into Final Fantasy games back then. I was not really into them yet, but I had just beaten Zelda: Link's Awakening over the summer just after arriving in Hong Kong, before starting 6th grade, and I thought that FFA, with its Zelda-like gameplay, would ease me into the Final Fantasy series. The concept of choosing attacks, spells, etc. from a menu seemed too alien to me, so FFA looked appealing with its Zelda-like action RPG-style gameplay.

Well, as fate would have it, on the same 12th birthday on which I received FFA, I got Final Fantasy VII, and guess which one I spent most of my time playing. FFA is a good game and all, but FF7 was generally just better—and my friends either played it too, or at least had played it recently, so there was a social rather than solitary element, which could not be said about FFA. I stopped and restarted FFA numerous times over the years. Although I finished FF7 in 7th grade (1999-2000, at HKIS), I didn't complete FFA until tonight.

What was my impetus to finally finish it? Well, the answer is that on October 5 of last year, I bought a Super Famicom Classic Mini from Geo Amusement Developer, and one of the bundled games is Secret of Mana (SoM), which is actually the sequel to FFA. SoM is a well-renowned game that I definitely plan to play through in my lifetime; I first played it in 1999 at a friend's home, and my first girlfriend, back in high school loved it and beat it on an emulator on her Pentium 3. Last I checked, which was a couple of years ago, that ex-girlfriend had become a stripper near Las Vegas, but I digress. Anyhow, I figured "I should play through SoM while it's still topical" (so within one year of the release of the Super Famicom Classic Mini), "and in order to understand the background of SoM, I should play through FFA first."

The original plan was to take my five-day New Year's vacation from my job to play through it. According to HowLongToBeat.com, it takes 14 hours to play it as a "Completionist," so I figured that if I played, ah, maybe about five hours a day, or maybe a little bit more, I could beat it. Well, as always, the HowLongToBeat.com estimate was too low (I think lots of people just submit an absurdly low time to brag—that's what "hardcore" gamers are like). Note to self: always double the HowLongToBeat.com time and use that as a guide for how long it'll take me to beat it, because I'm a mere mortal.

Well, it ended up taking much longer than that to beat. I signed up for the Kanji Kentei on January 5, at which point I barely played at all.

Had I played it the same way I used to play games in the past, I probably would've stopped and never finished it, but this time, I had two new strategies that helped me get back to it and finish it. First of all, there's the sort of "deadline" of October 5, 2018 to finish SoM while it's still on people's minds (because until then, the Super Famicom Classic Mini is still in its first year), which in turn motivated me to finish FFA. Second of all, I was very careful to log the major parts of the game, especially the plot, in a text file, so that if I went, say, a month without playing it, I could just read the text file and remember what I had to do next and the story. This worked extremely well and I plan to do it this way again in the future.

Which game will I work on, next? I'm not 100% sure, but I have a pretty good idea. To keep things fresh, I should probably play through a game that is dissimilar to FFA, i.e. not an RPG, in color, and not 8-bit. I think Kirby Superstar fits this bill. Beating all the included mini-games in that one has been on my gaming backlog since the summer of 1997 when I first played it on my cousin's Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) at Sandbridge Beach. After that, then what?

I'm not really sure, yet. I'll have to think about it.

More Screenshots of my Playthrough of FFA

Save/Load Menu, Stats, Equipment, and Inventory, from Left to Right

Menu 1 Menu 2 Menu 3 Menu 4
I pretty much played a "Completionist" game. I got all the best armor and the best inventory (which involved killing many ninjas, which in turn often required entering a room, killing one of two ninjas, then re-entering the room to get another ninja to spawn), except that my Key was at 2 and not 4. I didn't go for Level 99, settling for Level 65 instead, which is still pretty high. I had 65,535 Gold Points, the maximum a 16-bit integer allows, which is clearly what they used for the Gold Points variable in the game. This game doesn't have enough stuff to buy.

March 9, 2018: Hello Again, Readers, I Have Come After a Long Absence to Brag, Again: Kanji Kentei 3-kyū and Three Other Important Things Since Last Friday

My Kanji Kentei 3-kyū Certificate
My Kanji Kentei 3-kyū Certificate

Long time no blog. I've decided to be more active from now on with updating this blog. I made almost zero updates in 2017, and I really felt like something was missing from my life. Over the past week (well, technically slightly more than a week because it's Friday night, now), four major things have happened:

  1. Last Friday, after a two-day ordeal, I finished filing my tax return at the Tachikawa Tax Office, and although the process felt like it caused several new gray hairs and wrinkles to appear on my head and face, respectively, the good news is that I will get over ¥371,000 back—that's over $3,400 at the current exchange rate. This was not a surprise—I knew I had been overpaying, but it's still nice to have confirmation that that money will indeed return to me.

  2. On Saturday, I handed a signed contract to my boss, which he had already signed. I will work there for at least one more year (maybe more, depending on various factors), from April 1, 2018-March 31, 2019.

  3. Yesterday was my 7th Japanniversary. I arrived in Japan at approximately 11:55 AM on March 7, 2011. Basically, I am now less than three years away from being able to apply for permanent residency, out of the ten continous years required.

  4. Today, I got the certificate in the mail that says that I passed Kanji Kentei 3-kyū. It's a test of 1,607 kanji, or all the kanji taught through the end of junior high school.

    At the test center, the girls behind and in front of me were 14 years old (I could see their birthdates on their answer sheets before the exam started) and the woman to my right was 19, so although I was still over a decade older than them, it wasn't as embarrassing as taking 7-kyū back in 2011, in which I found myself in a room full of elementary school children. Pretty much everyone there was at least a teenager. The pass rate was only 46.8% and almost all the examinees were Japanese, I believe—as far as I know, I was the only non-Japanese in the room—everyone else had black hair and East Asian features, so I suppose a Chinese or Korean could have slipped in there, for example, but as far as I know, all of them were Japanese.

    Now, my kanji is as good as a Japanese freshman in high school! :-) There are actually Japanese people out there who finished junior high school (the highest level of compulsory education in Japan) and opted not to go to high school (which is not required), who have the same kanji level as me. Yes, I'm kind of proud, because it took me less than seven years to achieve what a typical Japanese person takes 15 years to achieve (although it is only fair to note that I have lived in East Asia for over 16 years, so I guess I'm right about where I should be). Should I take the pre-2-kyū next? I passed the 3-kyū with 155/200 (a 15-point margin—the pass mark is 140/200), so it's not inconceivable that with lots of study, I could pass Kanji Kentei Pre-2-kyū, as well. Pre-2 is acceptable even for Japanese adults, so it would be a major, major victory. This one was still a major victory, though, but with only one "major."

    Online Pass Notification
    This notification says I passed the test. I got the notification at 10:00 AM on 2/26. The test date was 2/4.

    Paper Score Report
    This is the paper score report that came in the mail on 3/9. It has my score on it.

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