Monday, February 28, 2005

Dallas, Texas. For no apparent reason, the theme song of Dallas started playing in my head when we flew by a cluster of highrises. The land looks fantastic from the air. A part of me wish I owned some land here. Then I'll go horse-riding in the morning, chop some wood in the afternoon and go home to make more babies with the wife when night falls. A large area of land needs a lot of farmhands, eh.

Anyway, here I am again in the Admiral's Lounge of the airport in Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas. I think that's how the location is like. I'm not very sure if Dallas is in Fort Worth or Fort Worth is in Dallas or if Dallas or Texas is just nearby while I'm in Texas or Dallas. Maybe it's a little like Tokyo, Narita. I'm pretty sure Tokyo is not really near Narita, but the location's known as Tokyo, Narita. I could be wrong, of course.

Well, the jetlag's starting to set in. I woke up at 3.30am to wash up and do the final packing. With all the chocolates and stuff inside, I couldn't close the luggage bag. Now there is much anxiety regarding my luggage bag. I keep thinking it'll burst open and spill the contents of my bag all over the airport runway. What a horrifying thought. To calm myself, I'm listening to big band music now and pretty soon I'll go have myself a good cup of tea and a good shit. Stuff like that is good for the soul.

The bad thing about American Airlines lounges is the lack of food. All they serve is coffee, tea, hot water, cold water and an assortment of peanuts and pretzels. The MAS lounge serves food. Real proper food like fried rice, seafood chowder and spaghetti with the delicious white sauce. And free beer. Now the three of us are feeling peckish. The omelette they served us on the flight from Fort Lauderdale to Dallas was good, yes, but it would be nice to have something other than pretzels and peanuts to munch on while waiting for the next flight.

Speaking of the next flight... sigh. Approximately thirteen long hours. I think I bagged myself a window seat, but I'll probably spend most of my time watching the inflight movies, sleeping or playing my Nintendo DS ( yes, I got myself one during my trip ). Take-off and landing would be nice though. I remember the first time I touched down in America. It was this very airport, in fact, and from my first class ( a most fortunate upgrade ) window seat, I saw the grass and the flowers along the runway. Ah, flower of Texas. Wasn't a yellow rose though. That was quite the experience, the semi-excited "wow I'm finally in America after countless years of yearning and not so many years of bitching" feeling which was kinda suppressed by the jetlag and the drunk Japanese bastard next to me. But, I will probably never forget those flowers. That was the first time in a long time I looked flowers and went "hmm... pretty".

Now we're relaxing in the relaxation lounge. They hand out Bose headsets here, but because each one of these babies is about USD299, they hold on to your credit card while you use the headsets. I don't know how secure that is, so after using the headsets for fifteen minutes, I returned it to the front desk and used my own earplugs instead. Sure, it doesn't have noise reduction capabilities, but at least I won't have to worry about my corporate credit card disappearing. Actually, no one else seems to be using the headsets. That might be a tip of some kind.

These past few days, my other two colleagues have been saying that China and Japan hold much temptation for the single male Malaysian traveller. Apparently the girls over there throw themselves at us males. I'm not sure how true that is, but due to my upbringing, I think America is the country which holds the most temptations for me. Of course, American women never throw themselves at Asian men, so the place which should have the most temptations for me has in actual fact no temptation at all. Womenwise, that is. I do admit that's a little sad. But maybe I just haven't been tested. I mean, the US of A hasn't thrown much at me this trip. There were the South Carolina girls, but they're only fun because we're strange to them. "Do you eat cats? Don't touch the walls or you'll die!". Heh, crazy little girls. There's Natalie Mamysheva, with authentic Russian accent too, but she's not American, and we kinda unfairly gave her the extra chocolates we had so that we didn't have to cart so many chocolates home. There's Heather the TGIF waitress, which everyone agreed smelled good. And that's it. Like, come on! I'm sure the United States of America could have done much better volumewise. I'm in freaking Florida, for God's sake. Miami, yeah. The bleeding Sunshine State of America. And you know what were the two places which held the most temptations for me? Bloody Borders and Barnes & Noble. I swear to God that if it weren't for the girl in question, I'm turning asexual.

Oh well. It's been a trip with ups and downs. In America, I managed to feel alienated because I mixed with Malaysians. They were all speaking Mandarin, so I always ended up looking at the architecture of the places we were in. I'm getting to be quite an architecture connoisseur. I think there's some kind of irony there somewhere. Due to my colleagues' inability to auto-absorb American food and also because we three were stingy bastards, we ended up cooking most of the time. We also ate in a lot of Chinese restaurants, so this American trip really didn't have a very American feel to it. I don't know if that's a good thing. I really wanted to find out if I could miss Malaysia, but with the very family atmosphere we had every other night eating dinner together, I fear we brought a lot of Penang along with us to Florida. A lot. Heck, I don't sit down and eat with my family like how I eat with these guys. You know how you try not to let people get close to you because in the end they like to betray you and break your heart and basically tear your soul apart in a very non-physical way? Well, after two months with these two, I can't help but start to like them a bit. Camaderie born of eating a lot of meals together is very hard to push away. Of course, things will probably change once we return to Penang, cause we've all solemnly agreed to reset ourselves to how we were before the American trip. It's sad but as Neo so succintly puts it at the end of Matrix Revolutions, it's inevitable.

One of the nicer things about this trip is the friends I've made. I've met people working in the same building as I do in Penang whom I would never have met otherwise. But go to Key West with them, go to Universal Studios with them, have a few meals with them and you realize that maybe that faceless engineer in the hall isn't so faceless after all. Two months away from home and I actually made a couple of friends. So if I had rejected this trip, I wouldn't have known those people. I wouldn't have my Nintendo DS ( and that itself was really an odd incident ). I wouldn't have been to Key West, the Kennedy Space Center or Universal Studios, Florida. I wouldn't have finally gained the confidence to just leap into a strange car and start driving it like a madman. I wouldn't be pining every night. I wouldn't be so fat. I wouldn't be worried sick that my luggage would pop open. I wouldn't be filled with a lot of indecisions and doubts. There's usually a core change after one of these long trips. Hong Kong 2003 had one, although that swiftly died. America 2004 had one, which was slowly suppressed by months of painful work. But I realized that that aspect does resurface at the oddest of times. So I guess the change was incorporated. But this trip? I'm not sure if there's one. I know the other two have changed somewhat until they need a reset hehe. But I feel unchanged. I still feel like the same person who boarded the plane for Plantation, Florida so long ago.

Oh wait. Yeah. There're now the doubts, the lack of focus, the lack of motivation. I think I'm feeling kinda lost. There's this sneaky feeling at the back of my mind that maybe I'm just missing Florida. That finally, maybe, the idea that I could actually fit in here has crossed my mind. This won't be too different from how I felt about Springfield, Missouri. Oh well. I'll have to wait and see. After all, truth takes time.
Ah, the night before the flight. Tomorrow, at 4.30am, I'll be leaving the hotel for the Fort Lauderdale airport, from where I will take a flight to Fort Worth, Texas. The long 13 hour flight from Narita, Japan will commence from Texas. After a night in Japan, I'll take the slightly shorter flight back to Kuala Lumpur. After about an hour's transit, I'll finally take the flight home to Penang.

It's going to be a long way home. Right now though, there's a whole lot of mixed feelings about going home. There's the girl in question, family, roti canai and the business of losing a lot of excess weight ( about 10+ kgs ). On the other hand, there's the comfortable life, American television, no housework, no excess issues and no traffic jams. Maybe I've just gotten too lazy. The good life has a way of doing that to you.

I've nearly packed all my bags. Tomorrow morning, at about 4am, the chocolates go in. I keep my room as hot and as humid as possible, so I can't pack them into my bags yet. Due to the amount of stuff I'm bringing back for people, I'm finding it impossible to fit everything into my luggage bag. After spending the better part of two days squeezing everything inside, I'm beginning to feel homicidal. We went to the mall to pick up some straps for the luggage bag, but the shops were closed. They close early on Sunday nights. Apparently, that's not only a Mid-West thing. I'm just hoping my bag doesn't pop open halfway.

So it's goodbye to Plantation, Florida. Perhaps it's a good thing they're shipping us back now. One month would have been too short. Two months, like now, and we're missing the place already. Three months or more, we might no longer want to go home. We would have gone native by then. Heck, I'm watching Bad Boys now, and the Miami scenes are starting to look kinda familiar.

Oh well. Homeward bound in a couple of hours.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

It's called forgetting.

5th February 2005
We went to the Kennedy Space Center to see the long rockets and the space shuttles. It would have been more fun if I were more interested in space. Unfortunately, my passion for space flight was severely dampened when I found out that space was not as advertised on Star Wars. "What? No Death Star? What the hell do people do out in space? Walk on the moon?" It's tragic how dreams can come to a sudden and halting stop sometimes. Quite recently, my interest in the stars were awokened by Lovecraft's Mythos stories, but that's no longer about flying off into space and engaging Tie Fighters. These days, it's more about watching for when the stars are right.

So, Kennedy Space Center. Very low babe-factor. Cold and chilly too. We spent most of the time there bundled up in our jackets. I guess it was educational in a way. They had exhibits all over, like the robot exhibit where they gave the poor Hubble telescope a low male voice ( figures - only guys would ever need a telescope that powerful ). There were bragging rights to be had. I can now say that I've been around the building where they build and assemble rockets and space shuttles. I can also say I've stood only a few miles away from where they launch rockets into space. Minor bragging rights, unless you're a space geek.

The most fun I had there was in the Mars flight simulator, where they packed us into a dark mock-up of a shuttle, played a 3D movie of the flight we were supposed to be in and shook the fake shuttle a lot. A LOT. I damn near puked.

19th February 2005
Universal Studios, Orlando. Home to infinitely long queues. We spent an average of half an hour waiting in line, depending on the ride we wanted to get on. I can safely say we sat on everything worth sitting on except for the MiB Alien Attack ride, cause one of my colleagues got really queasy. I blame the Revenge of the Mummy ride, although it was pretty ho-hum to me. The Mummy ride was the only truly fun ride in the whole place, unfortunately. ET had exactly one spectacular moment, which is when the ride we were on took us over a mockup of a city. Since I had ET in the basket in front of me, I could make believe that I was really cycling over a city. Tear in the eye moment, if I weren't so jaded.

We made friends in Universal too. While waiting in line for the Mummy ride, a bunch of young girls from South Carolina started telling us "goku" and "shan-ke". My queasy colleague entertained them while the rest of us chatted with them a bit. They didn't know where Malaysia was, but they knew where Thailand was. They asked me if we ate cats. And one of them, the one who liked to scream a lot, kept telling me not to touch the walls or I would die. Her friend was not as loud, but she did tell us a story about how there was a hospital in China named after some ancestor of hers, some Wilkinson guy. The scary thing is, there's such a person on the Internet. Or maybe it's just delusions of grandeur. Heck, my family tree - the imaginary one - has a lot of weird people in it too.

There was some Mardi Gras celebration in Universal that night. After snapping some pics with some skimpily-clad ladies on stilts, we took off for dinner cause it was a bloody four hour drive back to our hotel. We stopped by the super huge Nike shop where my queasy colleague bought a pair of shoes, and then we all headed back home in our Ford Expedition. Oh yeah. The elephant.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

This morning, I worked my ass off. Till the skin peeled. It was bad. It was hectic. It was stressful. For some reason, one class couldn't find the other class. So for lunch, a large part of our team - about 13 of us - went to Dave & Buster's for a delightful meal. Tortilla soup, Classic D&B 1/2 ribs, unlimited Coke and a couple of really scrumptious cakes. Even the whipped cream on the cake was thick and actually tasty. Can you imagine that? Tasty cream? Phew.

After about two and a half hours of lunch ( the service was pretty slow ), our manager gave us each a debit card with 110 points. The rest of the afternoon was spent in arcade bliss. The Australian Kristian and I finished L.A. Machineguns - Rage of the Machines. We did 8-player Daytona cause there were so many of us. After so many years of never touching an arcade machine, I finally spent the whole afternoon catching up. The fun came to an end at around four something.

So we went back, and after all that arcade action, I finally got around to solving that silly bug. The class finally found the other class.

And so endeth the tale of our teambuilding activity. Man, that was kickass. Makes me wonder why we never do such fun stuff in Penang.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

MARDI GRAS.

Not the one in New Orleans, but the one at the Miami Bayside. At 6pm, which is when the sun starts setting over here, we left Residence Inns and headed south to Miami. Hit a relatively minor traffic jam when we reached the Bayside, and then we paid US10 to park our car in the multi-storey parking lot. That's a lot of money for parking.

After parking in our very expensive US10 lot, we went for dinner at the foodcourt. And then we adjourned to the area at the Bayside where they were having the concert. The place was filled with A LOT of African-Americans and Jamaicans and Latin Americans and okay, I'm not very sure who else were there, but their asses sure ain't white. Therefore my colleagues, who have yet to grasp the idea of black appreciation, didn't really like the event. Idiots.

We squirmed our way to the middle of the concert area. There was a lot of body-rubbing, and I saw guys grabbing girls' asses as they walked by. The temptation was there of course, but I try not to get myself killed. For some reason, the girls here have perky asses. Really perky. They walk by you, your macho instincts scream to pinch or squeeze or grab those luscious buns. And when they start bending over, you stop wondering why there are so many unmarried mothers in America. Good Lord, I *am* the earthly incarnation of the god of self-denial.

Anyway. I inhaled a whole lot of smoke. Cigars, cigarettes, possibly some weed too. The traffic to the center of the concert area was really heavy. We had to squeeze around, shove, push, get pushed, get pushed, get pushed, push back, get flattened, elbow others and basically be pretty violent just to move a step. Was it fun? Pretty much. I like standing out like a sore thumb in the middle of a crowd. A quartet of Asians in a predominantly black crowd. Damnit, I should have attended Martin Luther King's birthday festival.

After we got to the middle area, we stood there for awhile to watch the concert. They mostly sang reggae songs. Not sure if it was in Spanish or some South American language or Jamaican. But it was pretty fun. They got two girls to go up to dance, and man did they know how to shake their booties around. While watching the concert, a mini parade of people with musical instruments cut a swath through the crowd, resulting in more pushing around. Much fun. I think this is the first time I've attended such a concert. Usually it's violins and cellos and a piano. This time there're people rapping in Spanish(?) on stage with girls shaking their booties everywhere. A Caucasian girl was shaking her booty pretty well in front of us. Booty-shaking on stage. Booty-shaking in front of us. So what were we missing out here?

The boobie flashing. Yes, no one flashed their boobs. You know what? They didn't even have to flash at us. They could have flashed at other people and we would have been happy too. But did they flash? No. They didn't. I guess it's partly because everyone was watching the concert, dancing with the parade or just hanging around with their friends. Also, it was very cold there. Yes, everything was very nice and warm and fragrant ( weed? ) in the concert area cause there were so many bodies pressed closely together. But once we reached the outskirts of the crowd, the chilly wind hit us and we started turning into human iceblocks. I'm thinking that the cold would harden nipples, thus making them more photogenic, but I think the girls there don't see it that way.

I would have loved to stay at the concert until ended ( it was warm there, yeah ), but my colleagues weren't really into listening to reggae songs they didn't understand and inhaling sweet smoke ( from weed? ). So we went back to the Bayfront area and walked around a bit. I've been there twice in the day, but nothing beats the Bayfront at night. Such beautiful lights, reflected on the water. Arturo Fuerte was playing Spanish dance numbers with two pretty girls dancing along. I think it's salsa. The Simoniac would know for sure, but he's humping elephants in India. The wind was chilly, but it was nice. The small cruise ships left with people partying on the upper decks. A couple got on the gondola ride while another couple looked on, considering the ride. And we saw more girls with slim stomachs and perky butts. Yes, the macho instincts threatened to take over, but like Angel, I am on the road to redemption. And the road to redemption is one hell of a bitch. I wonder how I would be now if I decided to emulate Austin Powers instead. Probably a whole lot more fun than Mr. I Can't Do Anything Fun Tonight Cause I Have To Count My Past Sins Then Alphabetize Them.

So, that was Mardi Gras in Miami. I did enjoy myself in that special very reserved way I have of enjoying things. "You should stop internalizing fun," my shrink tells me. And she's probably right. Of course, without boobie flashing, Mardi Gras isn't really Mardi Gras. I should really go to the one in New Orleans, Louisiana if I can. Not only is that the bona fide Mardi Gras, it's also where Gabriel Knight started off in. It's where we can do that voodoo we do.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Today I found a mecca of sorts at Tate's Comics. Lucky me, it was near to where I was residing in Plantation. Right after work, we went to Publix to get some chicken for dinner. Then I dropped my colleagues off at the hotel and made my way to the shop. I wandered around the store in a daze, looking at all the action figures. I didn't know they had so many Buffy / Angel action figures! And Ghostbusters figures! And a whole lot more. And the graphic novels were just... wow. Stunning. So many GNs, so little money. After about an hour wandering around the place and pretty much oohing and aahing at everything, I asked the salesgirl at the counter if she had plush Cthulhu toys, and then she pointed me to the gaming store.

"Fifty paces away," said the guy who was minding the store with the girl. After playing around with a bendy skeleton, I took a walk and there it was. Filled with people gaming away. LOADED with gaming stuff. I can probably get the entire D20 Modern run there. And the whole D20 3.5 run. And the whole new World of Darkness run. And a lot of whole runs. AND, I finally got... Cthulhu plush! Well, just baby Cthulhu and baby Nyarlethotep, but I'm happy :D. The bigger plush Cthulhu was too expensive.

And they even had Grave Robbers from Outer Space. And the salesguys at the gaming store, just like the salesgirl in the toy/comic store, were very nice. Heck, first time I felt at home in America.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Happy Chinese New Year!

Belated, granted, but it's only the second day. Yesterday was busy. CNY in the States. First we negotiated a free holiday because there's no CNY holiday in the US. And then the party started. The party being hanging out with a colleague of ours who migrated to the Plantation facility to work. First we woke up at 10am. Then we went to our colleague's house. Then we had vegetarian steamboat. Then we went shopping awhile - Circuit City, then Sawgrass Mills cause another colleague wanted to exchange his winter clothing. From leather featish guy to Urban Legend jacket. And then it was off to the Everglades National Park. They had nice airboats there. Our US colleague said there were alligators around, but we didn't see any. We did see a whole bunch of peacocks running around though. Turned out the park area was also a hangout for choppers, so there were a couple of bikers hanging around drinking cold beer too. Then we dropped our colleague off, went back to the hotel, then went to this place called King's Palace where they had a dragon dance and lion dance. Thought I saw Michelle Branch there, but her nose was a little bit too big. And after the performance by Florida Kungfu, we went back to our US colleague's place to eat steamboat. Non-vegetarian this time.

And on the second day, we started working again. Work work work. At least there's no conference call tonight. So I get to watch Sugar & Spice. That Marley Shelton is as hot as always, probably as hot as she was when she was in Valentine with David Boreanaz *scream*. Cheerleader movie, yeah. I think *I* am the target audience.