Sunday, December 28, 2003

Southern California and Las Vegas trip report

As my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang are visiting from Taiwan, Dad decided to take all of us on a road trip down south. The trip was one week long; our party left on the 23rd and just got back about an hour ago. The places we visited included Anaheim, Las Vegas and several national parks; while my parents and I had been to most of them before, that didn't make our vacation any less exciting. You can read more about it in my report below. :-)

Day 1

Before starting out, my parents first had to pick up an SUV at the local car rental agency. I imagine it'd be rather hard to fit the five of us and all of our luggage into a sedan. They took the SUV back to our house, and it was time for a long drive to Anaheim. There weren't many attractions along the way other than the big Casa de Fruta store in Hollister. The store had lots of snacks that looked delicious, and I bought a bag of potato chips to share with everyone. Yum!

The five of us had dinner at a restaurant in Bakersfield later in the evening. I was somewhat worried at first because Bakersfield was one of the sites of the recent flu outbreak and that somebody had died there as a result, but much to our relief, none of us got sick or anything.

Our group arrived in Anaheim a couple of hours later. All of us were pretty tired at this point, so we called it a day after checking into the hotel.

Day 2

It goes without saying that no trip to Southern California is complete without a visit to Disneyland. But as my parents and I had been there before, I wanted to go somewhere new. Therefore, the three of us decided on a side trip to Joshua Tree National Park after dropping Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang off at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Joshua Tree National Park was much farther than we had anticipated. As its name suggests, the main feature of the park were the strange-looking Joshua trees; the desert was full of them as far as the eye could see. The place wasn't very interesting otherwise - and it was also extremely windy - so we didn't spend too much time there before turning back.

The rain began as soon as we left the park. It was actually pouring so hard that the road become completely wet within minutes. To complicate matters, all the cars were driving very fast; my mother couldn't catch up to them even at over 80 mph. I couldn't help but worry about our safety during the entire drive; this was certainly the scariest part of the trip. The three of us eventually arrived back in Anaheim safe and sound after a harrowing two hours. Come to think of it, I would rather have gone to Disneyland instead.

Speaking of which, my parents still needed to pick up Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang. The three of us made our way to the Happiest Parking Lot on Earth and took my aunts back to our hotel for the night.

Day 3

The morning began with some good news: Dad checked my e-mail and found out I had been accepted into SJSU. The decisions generally don't come until don't come until March or April, so this was like an early Christmas present. At the very least, it meant my college education was guaranteed.

Continuing on, our main stop of the day was Universal Studios Hollywood. I had been here with my parents before as well, but we felt it would be too mean to leave my aunts on their own again. The attractions had mostly remained the same, although there were some new ones as well.

Our theme park experience began with a little mishap at the Mummy Returns: Chamber of Doom attraction. I was reliving my childhood fantasy of being a badass action hero by pretending to knock out what I thought were prop monsters popping out of the walls. Unbeknownst to me, they were real cast members, one of whom I almost punched squarely in the face. Needless to say, he wasn't too pleased about it. Oops!

The five of us later went on the famous Studio Tour that took visitors to various film sets. The tour had not changed much from when my parents and I went to Universal Studios Hollywood a little less than eight years ago, but that didn't make it any less exciting. Our group also checked out many other attractions; the Terminator show and the Back to the Future ride were among my favorites. The only downside was that some of the lines were very long.

While my parents and I generally prefers national parks over amusement parks, we still had a great time at Universal Studios Hollywood. I'd say it was actually the best part of the trip.

Day 4

It was then time to head to Las Vegas. The drive to Sin City wasn't quite as long as the one to Anaheim, but we still arrived fairly late because of the traffic. Nevertheless, there was more than enough time to take my aunts on a tour of the Strip. Our hotel for the night was Stratosphere Las Vegas.

Day 5

Our party explored Las Vegas for a bit more before heading to Barstow, with the first stop along the way being Pahrump. One cool thing about this town is that it had several large fireworks stores. I visited the Phantom Fireworks storeroom, and it was hard to believe how much stuff there was. We didn't buy any fireworks as the nearest place to legally light them was on the other side of Las Vegas, but it was nonetheless a memorable experience.

I purchased some more potato chips at one of the convenience stores to share while my parents bought some prune juice at Walgreens to treat Wei-Jen's constipation. For those who don't know, prune juice is a great natural remedy when one is unable to answer nature's call. This was something we had been looking for since the start of the trip, and it was a relief (no pun intended) when we finally found some.

Our next destination was Death Valley National Park. I wanted to visit Ubehebe Crater, something we didn't get to do during our trip to the Southwest in 2000. Unfortunately, the crater was still too far this time, and we decided it wasn't worth the extra drive. I certainly hope we'll be able to go there on a future trip.

Wei-Jen started feeling ill as we were leaving Death Valley later in the evening. Dad was afraid she had altitude sickness, but it soon became clear that she had to go to the bathroom really badly. The laxative properties of the prune juice were apparently starting to take effect. Let's just say we had to make several "emergency stops" in Death Valley in the middle of the night. *whistles innocently*

Other than that, our party arrived at our hotel in Barstow without any problems.

Day 6

Our day began with another long drive, this time to Sequoia National Park. Most of the park was covered by snow, so we didn't get to do much other than stop for pictures. That said, the natural scenery was still quite enjoyable. The bad news was that I slipped on the ice and hurt my butt outside one of the visitor centers. Shit happens.

Dad wanted to visit the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park, but the road between the parks was closed for the winter. It was also getting late, so we decided to head to our hotel in Oakhurst. This was actually the same hotel my parents and I stayed at on our trip to Yosemite in February.

Day 7

Our final major stop of the trip was Yosemite National Park. Like Sequoia, Yosemite was also mostly covered by snow. On the other hand, the five of us had a nice brunch in one of the picnic areas. It was also pretty fun to visit Yosemite Village and the stores there.

Mom noticed some wolves trudging through the snow at one point. This was a rare sight, so we stopped for pictures. But as soon as my aunts rolled down the window for a better look, I started freaking out because I was afraid the animals would jump in and attack us. However, the wolves didn't even bat an eye as they passed our car. Perhaps I'm too paranoid. In any case, I felt like an asshole for yelling at my aunts like that.

One of our family traditions to eat at the Kowloon seafood restaurant in San Mateo whenever we came back from the mountains. But things weren't the same as they used to be: the restaurant had been renamed, all the menus have changed and everything was more expensive in general. The five of us still decided to eat here, but the food turned out to be mediocre. It seems the restaurant had changed owners, and that the new ones just didn't have the same expertise. We figured this would be the last time we would eat at Kowloon. It was sad to see such a great tradition come to an end.

Conclusions

Even though most of the places we visited weren't new to us, the trip was still had a lot of fun. The fact that we had company made it even more so. It's not very often that we get to travel with other people. Speaking of which, the best part of the trip was Universal Studios; my parents and I don't frequently go to theme parks, so this was pretty nice for a change.

Our original itinerary included Grand Canyon National Park. However, my aunts were opposed to the idea as they felt bad about us having to spend so much more money on the trip. It was ultimately decided that we would skip Grand Canyon, especially considering that my parents and I had been there before. This did shorten our trip by about two days, but it also reduced the cost by several hundred dollars. I certainly appreciate my aunts being so considerate.

All in all, everyone greatly enjoyed this vacation. I look forward to taking Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang on other trips in the future.

Currently playing: The Incredible Machine 3

Friday, December 19, 2003

my last Christmas break of high school

Today was the last day of classes. It's hard to believe I only have one more semester left of high school. In any case, Christmas break is going to be awesome!

One thing to note is that the LAHS community recently voted to move the finals to the week before the break. This was something I've always supported; the idea that we had to study during the holidays never stuck well with me. Thank goodness for common sense. The change also means students now have less time to prepare for the exams, but I guess we can't have our cake and eat it too.

Currently playing: The Incredible Machine

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

a little choir party

So the LAHS choir classes had a get-together during lunch today. It's apparently a tradition of the LAHS choral department to have an after-party following a major concert. Mr. Shaull put on some Christmas music, and some people even got up to dance. There was also no shortage of food. It's certainly a great way to celebrate a successful event.

The gathering was fairly short because of the school's schedule, but it was still lots of fun. In my opinion, it almost makes up for the recent holiday dance I had to miss out on. :-)

The finals are starting tomorrow for us seniors, so I guess I better get back to studying. Wish me luck!

Currently listening to: "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin

Saturday, December 13, 2003

my first choral performance!

I just got back from my first choral performance. The concert took place at the Los Altos United Methodist Church. The event was part of the Chorale curriculum, but it involved the entire LAHS choral department. It was overall a very enjoyable experience.

The LAHS choral department consists of five choirs: Chorale, Varsity Men's Glee, Girls 21, Concert Choir and the Main Street Singers. There's also Choral Union, which is all the choirs combined. Each of the choirs sang various Christmas songs, after which Choral Union assembled for Joseph Haydn's Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo.

Chorale is the least advanced choir, so we didn't have to spend too much time on stage before joining with the other choirs for Haydn's mass. I was very nervous at first, but it wasn't long before I started feeling comfortable. But then again, it's not like I had to sing solo or anything. Haha.

Because my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang are visiting from Taiwan, my mother invited them to the concert as well. It made me very proud that they would come. Dad couldn't attend as he's currently on another business trip, but I'm sure he was there in spirit. I would certainly have asked Mom to record the concert for him, except neither of us remembered where we put our old mini camcorder.

The tickets for the concert were $7 per person, and all of the proceeds go to the LAHS choral department. The downside is that we singers don't get a cut of the profits. But the money isn't such a big deal; everyone had a great time performing, and that's pretty rewarding in itself. :-)

Currently listening to singing: "Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow"

Friday, December 12, 2003

had to miss out on another dance :-(

The week ended on a sour note as I had to miss out on the "Holiday in the Sun" dance tonight. I had been looking forward to it for several months, so this was rather disappointing. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

The reason I didn't attend this one was because of the recent flu outbreak. Mom advised me not to go as germs spread easily in crowded places. She had a good point; it just wasn't worth the risk of getting sick as my health is far more important than a school dance. The change of plans didn't come as a complete surprise because I was prepared for the possibility this time; after all, my mother has always taught to expect the unexpected. But I'm not going to lie: having to miss out on a dance sucks no matter how you look at it.

The sad thing is that the back-to-school dance in August might be the last dance I'll ever attend at LAHS. While there are three more this school year - winter formal, Sadies and prom - I'm not planning to attend those because the formal ones are much more expensive, not to mention that it'd be weird to go to them without a date. Mom assures me there will also be dances in college, but I guess I'll know for sure when the time comes.

On the bright side, I don't have a bunch of homework that would take up my entire weekend this time. The other good news is that my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang are coming to visit us from Taiwan tomorrow, and Dad plans to take all of us on a road trip to the Southwest U.S. during Christmas vacation. So at least there's something to look forward to. :-)

In other news...

I'll be performing in a choral concert for the first time tomorrow night. I'm somewhat nervous about it, but also very excited at the same time. Wish me luck!

Currently playing: Chasm: The Rift

Sunday, November 16, 2003

college applications

Like most other teenagers, I hope to go to college after high school. Therefore, I've been rather busy with college applications over the past few weeks. I'm glad I'm almost done with them!

I'd say writing the essay is probably the hardest bit. For the most part, the same one could be used for multiple applications with minor changes. But it all adds up when you're applying to over a dozen schools, not to mention the fees involved.

Then there's the rejection letters. The decisions generally don't come until March or April, which means I have several months to prepare for them. After all, I don't think too many people look forward to being rejected. :P

Friday, October 10, 2003

so I'm legal now...

It's hard to believe how fast time goes, but I just turned 18. In other words, I'm now legally an adult. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop listening to my parents - after all, they can now kick me out of the house anytime. :P

As for celebrations, my family went to Pizz'a Chicago for dinner last weekend. I hadn't eaten there in several years, but I must say that their pizzas are really good.

In other news...

I didn't feel like making a separate post about it, but I reached 1,200 skill total in RuneScape two days ago. You can see the screenshot here. Speaking of RuneScape milestones, I've changed my goal to level 99 firemaking because fishing was getting too boring. At my current rate, I should reach 99 firemaking sometime next spring!

Currently playing: RuneScape

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

accidentally let my RuneScape membership renew itself...

As school has started for me, I decided to cancel my RuneScape membership so I could focus more on my classes. But when I logged in to my account yesterday after school, I noticed I had already been charged for another month. I immediately requested a refund because the new billing cycle hasn't started yet, but Jagex told me this wasn't possible.

This was pretty cheap of them in my opinion. The RuneScape website never made it clear when the automatic payments would occur, so I had always assumed it was the last day of the billing period. At least this didn't happen when I canceled my membership just before it expired last year. Shame on you, Jagex.

I know $5 isn't a big deal, but companies should really make their billing policies clear, especially when it comes to automatic renewals. On the bright side, I get to enjoy another month of the members-only content. :P

Currently reading: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Friday, August 29, 2003

my last back-to-school dance at LAHS

I just got back from the back-to-school dance. All I have to say is that it totally rocked!

The dance actually wasn't that much different from the other ones I've been to, but the fact that this would be my last back-to-school dance at LAHS made it an especially memorable experience. I'd definitely like to thank the administration and the student body for putting on such an awesome event. Only three and a half months until the holiday dance in December. :-)

Currently listening to: "Angel of Mine" by Monica
Release date: November 17, 1998

Monday, August 25, 2003

first day of my last year of high school

So school just started for me. Am I really a senior already? It's hard to believe the last three years of high school have gone by so quickly. In any case, it feels great to be one of the "elite" students on campus!

Because my parents had trouble booking a return flight during our recent trip to East Asia, I was a little worried we'd be stuck there and that I'd miss the first few days of school as a result. Things fortunately didn't turn out that way, and I actually had about a week to prepare for my classes.

Speaking of which, I'm taking Chorale this year to satisfy the performing arts requirement. I was rather reluctant to take it at first because singing in public isn't my thing, but it doesn't seem to be anywhere as scary as I had made it out to be. Chorale actually turned out to be quite fun, especially with all those cute girls in the soprano section. No wonder my mother has always told me not to judge things before trying them.

In other news...

I recently beat Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition for the first time without cheats. The boss for the fourth episode ("The Birth") was one tough bitch, but I managed to kick her ass after numerous saves and reloads. Go me.

Currently listening to: Duke Nukem II soundtrack - "Dukin' it Out" by Bobby Prince

Saturday, August 16, 2003

East Asia trip report

I just got back from East Asia with my mother. Because Dad had to go there for a long business trip and was afraid we'd miss our annual summer vacation, he told us to meet in Japan so that we could travel with him while he worked. It was an quite a long trip as Mom and I spent about eight days each in Japan and China. The journey was rather exhausting because of its length but was also loads of fun. Below is the trip report, although it's quite long!

Days 1 and 2

Dad had asked us to meet him in Japan just two days before, so we only had a short time to prepare for the trip. Despite that, the two of us managed to get everything in order and not forget anything. It was then time for a long and tedious flight to Tokyo.

The good news was that the plane ride wasn't as boring as I had expected. The in-flight entertainment had several movies on different channels, meaning that we could pick what we wanted to watch. I saw four movies on the plane, namely X2, Shanghai Knights, Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I'm an action nut, so I enjoyed X2 and Shanghai Knights the most. I don't like animated films as much as live-action ones, but Treasure Planet and Atlantis weren't too bad either.

Mom and I were somewhat nervous when we landed in Tokyo because this was only our second time in Japan and neither of us knew much Japanese at all, but we were able to meet up with Dad without problems. The three of us then went to Akihabara after some rest. This was one of the places that made our first trip to Japan so much fun.

We passed a pachinko parlor at one point, and Dad wanted to show me what it was like inside. However, one had to be 18 or older to enter, and I was just two months shy of the age requirement. The guy at the door only asked how old I was and didn't check IDs or anything, but I'm not really the type of person to lie about my age. This wasn't that big of a deal as I already knew what pachinko was like thanks to Shadow Warrior. You could say being a gamer has its advantages.

In any case, it was time to head back to the airport to board our flight to Fukuoka. As we arrived there, I couldn't help but notice how much the name sounded like "fuck you, OK?" I'm sure it's long been the butt of foreigners' jokes.

All of us were tired from the traveling, so we didn't do much in the evening besides relaxing in our hotel room. On the other hand, my parents let me renew my RuneScape membership. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Day 3

The main stop of the day was Mt. Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan. The tour bus took us to the crater of Mt. Naka, the most active vent. It was somewhat hard to see the crater because the smoke was so dense that it often obscured the view. The noxious gases were also irritating to my lungs, so we didn't spend much time outside other than to take pictures.

Before heading back on the bus, my parents and I went to check out the gift shop at the cable car station. There were some cookies with a picture of Mt. Aso on them that looked really good, but I couldn't bring myself to pony up the cash. Japanese souvenirs aren't exactly cheap after all.

Day 4

About an hour south of Fukuoka was Kumamoto. One of the city's biggest attractions was the famous Kumamoto Castle, one of the three major castles in Japan. Although I'm not a big fan of historical sites, it was pretty cool to take pictures with the people dressed up as samurai warriors outside the entrance.

The three of us spent the afternoon at a local mineral spa. I had my reservations at first because the water appeared somewhat dark and uninviting, but it turned out to be fairly clean. Every once in a while, someone would check to make sure we hadn't passed out from the heat. I'm sure they didn't want to get sued in case something happened to us.

Dad's colleague Naoki invited us and another one of their business partners to dinner at an upscale teppanyaki restaurant in the evening. The food was insanely expensive, costing between ¥9,600 to ¥12,000 per person. Mom felt it was wrong to let Naoki spend so much money on us as this was supposed to be a business affair, so she and I agreed to share a plate. One reason the meal cost so much was because it included the famed Kobe beef. The steak looked unappetizing at first because of the blood, but it turned out to be rather delicious.

Day 5

Nagasaki was our next stop. This was the second city that the U.S. nuked at the end of World War II. On the subject of which, our main stop of the day was the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum in the morning. The most notable feature was the stone monument that marks the spot above which "Fat Man" detonated. The exhibits inside mostly focused on the victims and survivors of the bombing, and there was a strong anti-nuclear weapon theme. We also visited the nearby Nagasaki Peace Park to see the numerous memorials that were erected for those who perished.

It was then time for lunch, so we bought some sandwiches at the museum's café. Unlike at most other museums, the food here wasn't expensive at all. The sandwiches turned out to be quite good, so we ordered seconds.

The three of us went to find out what downtown Nagasaki had to offer after lunch. Dad started getting hungry again, so we had some champon noodles as an afternoon snack at one of the eateries. Mom said it was the best thing she ate on the trip.

Day 6

Our journey took us back to Fukuoka. It didn't have as many attractions as the other cities we visited, although we did enjoy an afternoon stroll along the harbor. Other than that, my family spent most of the evening packing up as we had to catch an early flight to Shanghai the next day.

One thing I noticed about Fukuoka is that a lot of women would congregate on the street corners in the evening. Some of them were actually rather attractive. The strange thing is that they just stood there as if they were waiting for something - or someone. I couldn't help but wonder if they were hookers. Come to think of it, they most likely were, so it's probably a good thing I didn't try to chat them up. *shrugs*

Day 7

Our trip to China began with a big mishap: the taxi driver took us to the wrong airport, and we were worried that we'd miss our flight as a result. The chauffeur was obviously very nervous as well, but he eventually managed to find the correct airport.

Because our flight was early in the morning, the airport was virtually empty when we got there. The whole situation was kind of creepy - it was reminiscent of the Langoliers miniseries, based on Stephen King's novella of the same name. But at least our plane didn't get sucked into some strange interdimensional rift full of deadly creatures. :P

The plane landed in Shanghai a short time later. One reason why some people like to travel to China is that everything there is dirt cheap. There were so many amazing deals, and my parents and I had a great time checking out the street markets. This was undoubtedly the best part of the trip.

The deals were too good to pass up, so we bought what was ostensibly a Chinese edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for Windows for just ¥5 at one of the stands. The copy turned out to be a bootleg, which explains the low price. Other than that, the game still worked fine. It wouldn't install on my laptop because the hardware was too old, but I was able to play it on Dad's without issues.

Shanghai also has an active nightlife; the streets were teeming with people in the evening. But the thing that caught my attention the most were all those hot Asian chicks making out with their boyfriends. Lucky dudes.

Day 8

The three of us had so much fun shopping in the street markets that we decided to do it again. This time, my parents bought a suitcase to carry all of our stuff. It was originally ¥120 - an already low price - but Dad managed to talk it down to ¥80 with his 1337 haggling skills. What a steal!

But while checking out our new suitcase, I noticed the combination lock was fake. Talk about being made in China - no wonder the lady was willing to let it go for such a low price. The suitcase nevertheless did its job: it held together for the rest of the trip.

The day ended at my great-uncle Bao-Chuan's house, our home for the night. Bao-Chuan and his wife generously made us a nice home-cooked dinner. Their hospitality was truly remarkable.

Day 9

The morning had a somber beginning: our first stop was an old cemetery where we and Bao-Chuan paid our respects to my late great-grandparents on my paternal grandfather's side. After everything was said and done, Bao-Chuan took us and my aunt Susan to downtown Shanghai. The weather was fairly warm, so we treated them to some sorbet at a café in an upscale shopping plaza. Susan didn't eat hers because she couldn't handle frozen foods very well, so I gladly took care of that. :-)

Day 10

Next on our list of destinations was Suzhou. The place was similar to Venice in the sense that it had many canals in place of roads. One of the highlights of the city was the Classical Gardens. We only had time to visit one of them - Lingering Garden - but it was an absolutely lovely place. I definitely wish we had the time to visit the other gardens as well.

The reason we were short on time was that we had to catch another flight, this one to Beijing. Unlike Shanghai, the part of Beijing we visited had a more historical feel and lacked the numerous street markets. I liked Shanghai better, but that's just me.

Day 11

Dad was in meetings for the entire morning and afternoon, so Mom and I couldn't really go anywhere. Furthermore, he needed his computer for the meetings, and mine was too old to connect to the hotel's Internet. At first I thought it was going to suck as I couldn't play RuneScape or even browse the web, but it wasn't all that bad because I had a bunch of games that didn't require an Internet connection. Speaking of which, I managed to complete Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II for the first time without cheats. W00t!

Day 12

The day was much like the previous one: Dad had to go to more meetings where he needed his laptop. I couldn't get Internet access until he returned, so I was again stuck with the games I had on my computer. This time, I beat Doom II: Hell on Earth without cheat codes. The final boss was rather tough, but I was eventually able to kick its ass.

Day 13

It goes without saying that no trip to China is complete without a visit to the Great Wall, so that was our next destination. The three of us took the cable car to the top of the wall, and it was hard to believe how big the whole thing really was. From what I've heard, the structure is almost 4,000 miles long. This was extremely impressive, especially considering it was built over two millennia ago. Talk about extreme engineering!

But the Great Wall was not without its costs: according to some historians, several hundred thousand workers may have died from exhaustion during its construction. The Great Wall is sometimes known as the "longest cemetery on Earth" as a result. It definitely makes me glad we have labor laws these days.

Day 14

Our adventure brought us to the Forbidden City. One of Beijing's most famous landmarks, the Forbidden City once served as the emperor's home for almost five centuries. While not exactly as impressive as the Great Wall in my opinion, the palace was nonetheless an amazing place. The whole complex has 980 buildings, but most of them are being renovated and only a handful are currently open to the public. I would love to see the palace in its full glory someday.

Day 15

We explored downtown Beijing for a bit before Dad took us to the scenic Beihai Park in the afternoon. The park has a large lake that covers more than half of its area, and an island at the center. There is a pagoda on the island, as well as several other temples. We didn't visit all of them due to time constraints, although we did enjoy strolling around the lake. Some areas of the lake were completely covered with lily pads, making it especially beautiful. The light fog made the view even better. Beihai Park was truly an incredible place.

Day 16

It was finally time to head home after a long trip. Due to the SARS outbreak in Southeast Asia, there was a quarantine to prevent potential carriers of the virus from leaving. As luck would have it, I happen to have caught a cold a few days earlier and had a mild fever as a result. The inspectors had thermal imaging equipment and noticed my elevated temperature, which they kept questioning me and my parents about. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but they eventually let us pass. Phew!

The three of us then boarded our flight to Tokyo. There was a showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on the plane, but we only got to see about half of it because the entire movie was longer than the flight itself. I guess I'll have to look for it at my local library soon.

All of us were completely exhausted from going so many places, so we didn't do anything else for the rest of the day other than get some rest.

Day 17

Dad has to stay in Japan for a couple more days due to business reasons. He dropped me and Mom off at Narita International Airport, and the two of us were on our own again. Due to an error on the company secretary's part, Mom and I had to fly back to Fukuoka and then to San Francisco; there was no direct flight from NRT to SFO - at least not without spending hundreds of dollars in cancellation fees.

Unlike our outbound flight, this one didn't have any good movies aside from The Ninth Gate. On the other hand, the in-flight entertainment system had lots of free games. They were all SNES classics, with Street Fighter II being my favorite time killer. The controller sucked compared to real SNES hardware, but it was better than nothing. The 12-hour flight was finally over, and Mom and I were home at long last.

Conclusions

At over two weeks, this was one of our longest vacations ever. I actually started feeling homesick several days ago, something that usually doesn't happen when my family travels. Because we couldn't book any flights until several days ago, I was afraid we'd be stuck in Asia and that I'd miss the first few days of class as a result. Much to our relief, this was not the case, although it's going to take some time for the jet lag to wear off.

The trip was a lot of fun despite being so exhausting. I loved shopping in Shanghai because everything there was so cheap; that was by far the highlight of our trip. Getting used to the regular prices back in the U.S. certainly isn't going to be easy. Shanghai wasn't my only favorite place; Nagasaki and Beihai Park were also among those that made the trip so special. The memories from this vacation will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

School starts in a little over a week for me, so I should probably begin preparing for my classes soon. That said, I'm a little sleepy from the jet lag right now, so I'm going to go get some rest first. Peace.

Currently playing: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Historical note: Pictures from the trip are available here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

finished my summer internship

Today was the last day of my summer internship at Arcadia Design Systems, Inc. This was my first non-volunteer job, so it was nice to get paid in the summer.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks were rather dull and unproductive. The company has significantly downsized over the last couple of years, and it was rare to see anyone in the office. There wasn't much I could do as there was nobody to assign me work or teach me new things, so I mostly played RuneScape whenever I wasn't studying MATLAB. Of course, this probably isn't something I'd get away with when I have a regular job in the future. *whistles innocently*

With that out of the way, it's time to enjoy the rest of summer. Speaking of which, my mother and I will be heading to Japan tomorrow to join Dad on his business trip. Sweet!

In other news...

On the subject of internships, I also recently received an offer for one at ACMA, the company that designed the student information system at LAHS. They were apparently impressed that I was able to help find all those vulnerabilities in their software. I regrettably could not take up the offer because my family will be in East Asia for the rest of the summer, but I'm still extremely grateful that ACMA would consider me.

Currently watching: Jackie Chan Adventures

Monday, July 7, 2003

1,100 skill total in RuneScape

I just hit 1,100 skill total in RuneScape a few moments ago. W00t!

As my parents recently let me become a member again, I decided to take a break from fishing to work on the members-only skills. The addition of the agility skill certainly allowed me to reach this milestone a lot faster.

You can view the screenshot here. I love how the gnome trainer congratulates me on completing a lap just as I level up; this was purely coincidental, but the timing was perfect. :D

Currently playing: RuneScape

Monday, June 23, 2003

summer internship

This was the first day of my summer internship at Arcadia Design Systems, Inc. As an alternative to summer school, my parents had arranged for me to work at my father's company as they felt it would increase my chances of getting into a good college. The day began with Dad's colleague Jeff showing me how to create and run simple simulations in MATLAB. Jeff says MATLAB is a powerful programming language, but it's all Greek to me right now. Hopefully it'll become less confusing as I get more practice with it.

To be honest, I wasn't that interested in the internship as it was my parents who pressured me into accepting the offer. But I guess it's better than doing nothing and wasting the entire summer, not to mentioned that I'll be getting a bit of income. :P

Currently watching: X-Men: Evolution

Friday, June 13, 2003

done with 11th grade

The spring 2003 semester was long and tough, so I'm glad it's finally over. I didn't take any AP classes, but that didn't make things any easier because Physics Honors and Trigonometry alone were quite challenging. It wasn't all that bad because the teachers for both classes were absolutely wonderful, but the finals were nonetheless extremely difficult. I just hope I didn't bomb them. *fingers crossed*

In any case, it's nice to be able to catch a breath and start enjoying my well-earned summer vacation. :-)

Currently playing: Space Quest: Chapter I – The Sarien Encounter

Saturday, May 24, 2003

the party that almost wasn't

Mom and I had a big party for the Memorial Day weekend. The two of us did all of the work as Dad is on yet another business trip right now, but I'm sure he was with us in spirit. Several of our relatives showed up, and it was certainly lots of fun. The gathering was actually almost canceled, so I'm glad things worked out in the end.

For some reason, my maternal grandfather had become extremely upset earlier in the day. I'm not sure what set him off, but he was madder than a wet hen. All of our guests were relatives and close friends of my grandparents, so Mom and I were afraid they'd no longer be in the mood to come. Had this been the case, all the effort my mother put into preparing the food would have been wasted, not to mention that the entire evening would be ruined.

Much to our relief, Grandpa cheered up shortly before the party began, and everyone had a great time. Old people can be so fickle. Seriously.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

RuneScape account hacked :-(

The thrill of getting level 99 cooking in RuneScape was short-lived as my account got hacked.

The first sign of trouble was that my character was in an unfamiliar area. I checked my bank to find that most of my valuables were gone. The hacker took 33 Hallowe'en masks, 52 Santa hats, my combat equipment, all of my gold and a bunch of other stuff. I know it's only a game, but this still pisses me off.

Of note is that an online virus scan picked up a Trojan on my computer. I suspect that's how they got my password. Though I'm pretty careful with what I download from the Internet, I've heard some malicious websites can install viruses through browser vulnerabilities. On the other hand, this was probably partly my fault because my password was simple.

It's also possible that the hacker decided to specifically target me. The fact that I'm somewhat well-known could have been the reason. But considering that Jagex doesn't return items, none of this really matters. Oh well, better start earning my stuff again...

Update: A bit of good news: my friend Sandman2002 gave me a green mask to help me get started again. There are no words to express my gratitude. Thanks, dude!

Currently listening to: "Sandstorm" by Darude

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

level 99 cooking in RuneScape

I've finally reached 99 cooking in RuneScape after eight months of non-stop grinding. You can see the screenshot here. I still can't believe I actually achieved this goal. W00t!

Of course, this monumental task would have been much harder without the help of friends. I'd like to thank Vera02 and Jeboy for swapping their raw lobsters for mt cooked. I also owe my gratitude to Cbkmy for letting me cook his swordfish. The same goes for everyone else who sold me supplies. There are too many people to name, but you know who you are!

In my opinion, the biggest problem with RuneScape is that there is too much grinding. Doing the same thing over and over again gets boring really fast. I'd probably be among the top 10 cooks right now if I really tried. That said, being the 36th person to reach 99 cooking certainly gives me bragging rights. :-)

In other news...

On a related note, good luck to fellow RuneScape player Thehate on his own goal of 99 cooking!

Currently playing: RuneScape

Monday, February 17, 2003

Yosemite trip report + rest of winter break

Happy Presidents Day!

Winter break is off to a great start as I just got back from Yosemite National Park with my parents. Because I was sick during Christmas break and couldn't go anywhere, Dad decided to take us on to Yosemite over the long weekend. This was nice as we hadn't been to Yosemite in ages.

Day 1

The first stop was our family friend Tiffany's house in Fresno. Mom wanted to visit her because Tiffany often brings her daughter over to study Buddhism. There wasn't much to do at their house, but Duke Nukem II kept me busy while the adults talked.

The three of us arrived in Oakhurst about an hour later. Our hotel was nice and quite comfortable. Other than that, the evening was uneventful aside from dinner at Burger King and a stop at Kragen Auto Parts for snow chains.

Day 2

The air in Yosemite was very fresh and made our stay very worthwhile. The fantastic views were the best part of the trip. I also enjoyed visiting Yosemite Village and checking out the Village Store. Our final stop of the day was Curry Village. This was our first time staying in the cabins!

Day 3

We had to leave fairly early because Dad has to catch flight to Japan tonight. Though we considered stopping in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, there just wasn't enough time. However, I'm not going to complain because a short trip is better than no vacation at all.

Speaking of which, there was a funny moment: my mother and I were packing up when we were greeted by an awful stench. It seems someone in a nearby cabin just took a really big shit. The smell was so bad that we couldn't stay outside for more than a few seconds. The whole thing was gross but hilarious in hindsight. Mom and I had a good laugh about it on the way home.

February 24 update: I'm now back in school as winter break as ended. I didn't feel like making a separate post as the rest of the break was uneventful.

Currently playing: Duke Nukem II

Historical note: Pictures from the trip are available here.

Monday, January 6, 2003

a crappy Christmas break

So the spring semester has started. To tell you the truth, the break was awful because I was sick the whole time. I'm actually still not feeling well and can barely talk because of laryngitis. :-(

The other thing is that we mostly stayed home due to our current financial situation. Though we went hiking in Stevens Creek County Park three days ago, that's pretty much all we did. Other than that, I had to spend most of the time studying for the finals. Fuck that shit.

All that having been said, there were some high points. One of our family friends gave me a tray of dried fruit from Casa de Fruta. It was nice to share it with my parents. I also got to play RuneScape during study breaks. If everything goes well, I should reach level 90 cooking in a few days. :-)

Currently playing: RuneScape

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

an unhappy new year

I hope everyone had a great new year because mine sucked. The worst part is that I caught a bad cold just after the break started. I'm actually still very sick at the moment. The fact that finals are coming up doesn't help the issue.

2002 in review

The last few months have been rough. For a start, the workload was heavy - which isn't unexpected for 11th graders. It doesn't help that my father decided to start an argument with me over my studying habits. Mrs. Schiffman kicked me out of Spanish III two weeks later. I then had a crappy weekend before getting this nasty cold - what a shitty way to end the year.

Despite all the bad things, 2002 had its highlights. Our trip to Hawaii was probably the best part of the year. I really enjoyed visiting the Southwest U.S. as well. All that having been said, here's to hoping 2003 will be better. :-)

Currently watching: True Lies