Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Force Unleashed & 8 Things

I came upon The Force Unleashed, what will be a new Star Wars game a la Jedi Knights series. Damn, it looks amazing! Note the effects on environment, and the AI responses (a stormtrooper grasping for his weapon, clinging to a pipe, etc.). There's no release date for it yet. It will be set a few years after Episode III, the idea being that Vader has a secret apprentice (approved and supported by Lucas, oddly enough). If you get wow'd by technical stuff, check out the trailer for the two engines that they're using, one for environment manipulation and realism (Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) engine) and the other for governing how the AIs move and respond (euphoria engine). Info on them and how they work in The Force Unleashed can be read here.

Something I spotted on George R.R. Martin's blog: 8 things most people don't know/wouldn't suspect about me. I thought it was kind of cool, so let's give it a shot:

1) My favourite movie is The Secret Garden (1993 version with Maggie Smith). I can only defend myself by saying it's one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen.

2) I still maintain a healthy paranoia about something that I'd written (270 or so printed pages) that went missing in the summer of '98... and was followed-up two months later by letter and phone call from a literary agent in Atlanta, Georgia. Those pages are still out there, somewhere. I only worry that I'm going to see that hunk of shit on a shelf somewhere. Thankfully it was shit, so that's not likely.

3) I have to drink a lot of water. I had a dehydration/heat-exhaustion incident in Phase II (army training), and since then I've had to be careful, hydration-wise, when out in hot and humid weather.

4) I want two big, extraordinarily-intelligent mastiffs and I want to name them Odin and Freyja. I have no clue why. I got it into my head one day a few years ago, and for some reason I can't get rid of the idea.

5) I've downloaded a lot of really cheesy songs such as "My Sharona", "Mad World" and "Head Over Heals" because they remind me of KTV events in Tangshan. I'm still searching for a song by Cai Yi Lin (Jolin Tsai) because it's stuck in my head. I even went so far as to send feedback to Apple/iTunes...

6) I love grocery shopping. I hate paying for groceries, however. It always seems exorbitant.

7) I have a hard time finishing anything. Hell, sometimes I have a hard time starting. The idea of succeeding frightens me, for some [very] odd reason.

8) Up until a few years ago, I'd played and beaten every Final Fantasy game released in North America - on Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Gameboy, and the PC. Lost track of the games that have only been released on PlayStation since I don't have one of those. Thanks to a Japanese friend of mine in grade 4, I'd even beaten Final Fantasy Adventure II in Japanese (then beat FFA II in English when it came out a year+ later). Thanks, Fumio!

Those are my 8. What are yours?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Havin' a Wii Bit O' Fun

I now understand how some physiotherapists are using the Nintendo Wii - that console is awesome! James H. had just bought one, and I went over for some BBQ burgers, beer and Wii. We chatted for a while outside on his deck, ate, then went Wii'ing. (image taken from Penny-Arcade comic, all rights are theirs, blah blah blah)

I suppose I should explain a bit. The main controller looks like a very very simple TV remote. No cords, either. You can then attach the nunchukas piece to the bottom of it if you want a controller in each hand. We just used single controllers each. The whole system is based around real-time movement, not just up/down/side but also forward and backward (in the case of playing Wii Pool and Boxing). Jimmy and I played Tennis for a while, laughing our asses off at our goofs, and getting way too into it. Nick jumped in for a bit when we started playing Bowling.

Then... the Idea. Nick: "What if we move the TV and Wii into the kitchen window so we can play from the back deck?" That met with unanimous approval, and it was done. It worked great. We played Golf for about 3 hours or more, then went back to Tennis for a bit, then James and I tried out a few other games, and took a look at Paper Mario. That game was nuts. You could go from 2-D to 3-D, though the storyline junk was more than a tad innane.

By 11:30, we were gettin' hungry (and had gone through about 20 bottles of beer), so we ordered in some food and carried on... until quarter after two in the morning.

In other news, been quite busy socially these past few weeks. Angie was up on Saturday for Suzi and Jamie's turducken feast (which was amazing). Then we went to Vankleek Hill with Adam to check out the May Show on Sunday, which didn't work. By the time we finished visiting with Michael and Tommy, Adam's old neighbours, the stalls and everything on Main Street were being put away. So we trundled down across the railroad tracks to Beau's All Natural Brewing Company grand opening. Saw some old faces: Steve-O (co-owner) and Jamie Kaufman (Ottawa sales rep). Good beer, fun tour, and a good chance to see what high-school folks have been up to. I also bought a 1/2 gallon of beer. Hey, 2 litres of good beer for $15? Giddy-up! Had a great and relaxing few days with Angie.

I came back from VKH on Tuesday, and had my first Black Company D&D game with Spencer and Tyler that afternoon/evening. All went pretty well, I think. "Will they escape from Roses? Will they be able to reconcile their diamentrically opposed views? Will Tyler stop rolling 1s? Find out!" Next game is next Friday. Wednesday was quiet day, and Thursday I got together with Roger, Scott and Kelly. That was fantastic, and makes me wonder why we'd never done it before. It's certainly something we'll have to do more regularly, at any rate. Yesterday I was obviously over at Jimmy's playing Wii and drinking beer, today I'm house-sitting for Suzi & Jamie, and tomorrow Aaron and I are meeting up with Gaston and Pat for a beer and geek-speek (ie, we'll be talking about computer games, reminiscing about DAoC, and arguing about future MMOs).

Next week... I start work. Yay for income! I've been getting a tad restless lately, though I've gotten quite a bit of writing done. Not as much as I'd like, but that's par for the course. I finished reading "The White Rose" by Glen Cook (the third book in the first trilogy), and need to try to find "Shadow Games" at a used bookstore. All the other books (there are 10 total) are in print... except for freakin' "Shadow Games", which is the first novel in the second related trilogy. How stupid is that?

Okay, I've rambled enough.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Geek Moot

(Caution: much geekiness lies within this post.)

And on the first day, God said "Let geeks muster upon the soil of the Royal Oak." And he saw it, and it was Good.

Tonight I met up with two guys - Tyler and Spencer - I had emailed re: a poster they had put up in Fandom II. My gaming itch has not in the slightest been sated by the PbP game, I'm sorry to say. It's been great so far, but is nothing like a real table-top game. The interaction and shootin'-the-shit is half the enjoyment, as are the in-game screw-ups, such as: dying... twice! (Pascal: "What do you mean dead? Like -3?" Me: "Ummm... like -24 'dead'. As in 'crispy and unidentifiably dead'." Pascal: "Ooooohhhhhhh..."), setting loose a one-of-a-kind evil (Todd: "That's a tarrasque isn't it..." John: "Maybe?" Lisa: "We just let loose a TARRASQUE?!"), being turned to stone by a medusa (Me: "I have +18 Fort save... only issue is if I roll a 1-----" John: "Did you just roll a 1 ?!?!" Me: "...... at least now maybe someone can break this cursed [stone] shield off my damn arm." John: "This should be good...") etc. ad nauseum. Not to mention rancid smoked-meat-flavoured watermelon, eh, Pascal and Geoff? ;-)

Tyler and Spencer were great. I've had such amazing luck over the last decade in terms of meeting gamers. Only a few problem people (*cough* halfling couple *cough* - the Kingston crew knows who I'm talkin' 'bouts) have ever emerged. Most have been fantastic and become very good friends: Pascal, Adrian, Steve, Geoff, Fiona, Linda, John, Todd, Lisa, and Sacha.

Tonight, I had to sit there and assume a calm, patient, sagacious DM face: nodding with a barely restrained smile as the enthusiasm swelled over the two hours we talked. It was so hard to curb my own avidity. Hilarious to watch everything die momentarily as the waitress wandered over to see if we wanted anything. "Nope, we're good." "So yeah... okay, I'll work on an ex-commander kind of veteran fighter... Say, how are we doing attributes? Roll or points-based?" lol It made me want to dance around and clap, it was so classic. Just like meeting John, Todd and Don back in 2003 when we met up at Patty Boland's. Chatter chatter chatter... someone approaches... go silent as conspirators... wait... safely resume geeky banter.

What amuses me is that most of this care taken not to expose our geeky roots is silly. Nowadays, a lot of people hear about pen-and-paper gaming and want to know what it's about. 10 years ago gaming and especially D&D came with a huge stigma, thus was something to be hidden and lied about. Now the reaction is typically "Hey yeah! I've heard of that. What is it exactly? Can I watch a game?"

Anyway, it looks like the chips are in play, and we're off to the races. (or something) Spencer and Tyler left tonight with solid ideas for PC concepts, and gave me great ideas for a campaign start. It was quite collaborative, which I want. We talked about gaming styles, really getting into what we wanted and relating funny/sad anecdotes from our early gaming years, positive and negative both. Then we got into specifics, mostly to do with changes in Black Company versus generic D&D 3.5 edition stuff. The end result: what they want from a game is exactly what I want to put into a game, so it's a go.

On a side note, I'm so lucky Angie not only tolerates my geekiness but thinks better of me for it. I try to imagine what things would be like if she was disdainful of it. Well, it'd be an ugly situation, I guess, because as Steve says "I'm a gamer. That's just the way it is. I'll always be a gamer." And to think it all started (for me) with the Heroes' Quest board game 16 years ago.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tai Ji Trek III: The Search for Chen

It looks like most places in Ottawa teach Yang style, or if I'm lucky, Sun style. No one teaches Chen that I've found. That's odd since anyone who's studied Chinese tai ji quan ought to know it, and teach Chen style first since it's considered the fundamental style. I've even sent emails to people in the Canadian Taijiquan Federation. Surprisingly, I received a response, but not one that really helped:

I have practiced Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan but I am not teaching it. I represent officially the Yang Family in Canada and my training in Chen Style was mainly to understand how other families practice Tai Chi Chuan.

I had friends that were teaching Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan in the Ottawa Area, but I have lost contact more than 10 years ago.


(What I don't get is why people westernize the spelling of pinyin; ie, ji quan = chi chuan. Pinyin is meant to be westernized Chinese already. Kind of silly, and makes web searches and such difficult because you have to cover both bases.)

I might have to do as Adam suggested and post something on Craigslist or what-have-you. I also need to find someone to teach me putonghua so I can advance that. Perhaps I could be lucky and find both at the same time, in the same person. Or I might just have to suck it up and do Yang or Sun style. Meh. I really do not want to learn Yang style.

Yesterday I got my EI stuff sorted, though not to my satisfaction. Apparently - even though I have 29 weeks left that I've paid into - I can only collect another 5 weeks. Something about having had to collect those 29 weeks during the 52 weeks since I opened my claim. So... essentially, the money I put in for insurance is being stolen. It's not a tax, it's insurance - it's my money. And now that I need to be insured I can't claim? Fucking ridiculous if you ask me. The thing that really bugs me is that if I had been dishonest and claimed while in China (easily done), I'd have what I was "owed". But as I was honest and stopped claiming after my contract started, I got screwed upon my return to native soil. There's a lesson in there somewhere. And the government wonders why there's fraud...

I did a lot of wandering. I was trying to find the Tai Ji Studio on Bank Street. I thought it was 107, it's actually 195... so I never found it. I'll go in next week on Thursday. It looks alright, to be honest, but I don't want to get side-tracked from Chinese wushu tai ji quan and slip into Western "tai chi". I guess we all have to make sacrifices...

Anyhoo. I saw Adrienne and chatted with her for a bit, and later on hooked up with Adam at the Oak for a pint and some pub foods. Got to hear people shrieking at televisions as the Senators scored against the What's-Its-Place Whoevers. Came back and watched Alien 3 with Aaron and August. The special edition/director's cut makes it a whole new movie, and a lot better than the theatrical release. Wonder if David Fincher is doing something in the near future. I hope so. He's a kick-ass director.

Busy few days coming up, but I'll write more later.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Home Again

Well, I'm back. 11 hours from Beijing to Vancouver, 4.5 more to Ottawa. The flight from Beijing seemed fast, which surprised me. I was expecting it to be torturous. I managed to sleep in small doses. Customs in Vancouver was fast and easy, just as Beijing had been. Oh, the security check people in Beijing tried to confiscate my deoderant. I took it out of the officer's hand and shook my head at him, laughing. He was too surprised to do anything, and I embarrassed him in front of his co-workers. So I got away with it and he acted like he meant for me to have it. An American standing next to me stared at me as if I'd sprouted wings. They don't take my nail clippers, my folded scissors... but they try to take my deoderant? I don't think so. That was the sole issue I had.

Arrived at 23:30 on Friday and rushed through the Ottawa airport. Of course, I arrived at a gate the farthest removed from the arrivals area. However, I moved pretty quickly through it and found Angie, my mom and Suzi there, waiting for me. Obviously it was a very happy return, and that's all I'll say.

Angie and I got together with Jamie, Suzi, the kids and Aaron on Saturday morning, and gave out the few gifts I brought back. It felt fantastic to walk down the streets of Ottawa again, down old familiar routes, and to see them all again. It was surreal. Jamie said it best when he said he was surprised that it had been almost 10 months - now that I was back it seemed much less. Very true. I felt the exact same way. Very hard to describe how it seemed on Saturday, and even how it seemed now to be back. A part of me has this odd fear that if I sleep too deeply, I'll wake up to find myself back in Tangshan. The experience feels sometimes to have been so amazing and out of the norm, especially for me, that I've made it up.

I am having issues adapting back. It's just small things. At times I feel disjointed, or I look around and have lost a point of reference. Continuity is that point of reference. Things are mostly the same, but disconnected by a 9-month space of time. One thing that got me was the silence. On Saturday, as Angie and I were walking to Suzi and Jamie's, I think at most I saw a dozen people at any one time. You'd have to be way out in the sticks to only see a dozen people in China. Everything was/is just so quiet, so calm and settled. People held doors open, said "Oh, sorry!" if they stepped on your feet, smiled, nodded their heads in greeting, waved you to go ahead in traffic. All these things... I wasn't walking past people staring or glaring at me, nudging their friends and pointing at me, hearing people hawk and spit, shouting into cellphones, trying to rip me off because I'm not Asian, etc. All these things were startling - things I'd forgotten or had taken for granted.

I've had a fantastic time being back, suffice it to say. Do I miss China? Not yet. My mind has been completely occupied with joy at being back together with Angie, and seeing my friends and family again, including my cat.

On Saturday afternoon after lunch with Suzi, Jamie, Aaron and the kids, Angie and I did some walking. I bought a new belt (having eviscerated my old one - Angie said I should have kept it as a souvenir it was so busted up) and I exposed her to my geekdom with a jaunt into Fandom II. She tolerated my geekiness wonderfully, and persevered through my perusing with great patience. Following that, I got to see where she'll be living come September and we walked over the Canal using the new pedestrian bridge. Walking along the Canal really gave me a solid "I'm back" feeling, yet at the same time, it didn't feel like the same city I knew. I just looked around and thought "damn, how did I not notice how beautiful this city is?!". I saw things with new eyes, or so it felt. It was so relaxing to just walk along the water - warm sun, cool breeze - and feel completely unhurried. We went to Chapters, and I bought a book, one I'd been pining for since I'd gone to China.

That evening, Angie and I got dressed up and headed to the Market to have a date at the Keg. The place was packed, however, and there was a 60-minute wait. We shared a smile and headed out. We wandered past a few more places, and they had lines, too. However, Patty Boland's was reliable as it's always been. It was not exactly what we were looking for, but what we really wanted was to spend an evening together over a good meal and a glass or two of wine in a place without plastic chairs or florescent lighting. It was a done deal. I'm personally very partial to Patty Boland's and I fully credit Roxanne with having introduced me to the place waaaay back when. It's been a favourite of mine ever since.

Stepping out of Patty Boland's, we ran into Graham M, a friend from my old workplace. Graham and I both just stopped and looked at each other for a good second or two before either of our brains clicked. We chatted for a few minutes, and told me that he had just parted company with Kelly who had gone into Touche. Angie and I went in and I got to surprise the hell out of Kelso, whose birthday it was! Andrew was obviously there, but so was Andrea. They got to meet Angie, and she and Kelly chatted while I talked to Andrew and his friend. While we only planned to stay to say hi, we were there for an hour or so. It was great.

After that, we hit the Highlander to stop in and say hi to a friend of Angie's whose birthday it also was. We had a drink there as well, and talked for a bit. We got back to where we were staying around midnight, and just passed out. Woke up, re-packed, and went for breakfast at the Elgin Street Diner with Adam. We wandered in the Rideau Centre afterwards. (I finally found an English-subtitled copy of "Infernal Affairs" with Leung Chow-Wei - ironically I couldn't find an English subtitled version of it in China. Infernal Affairs 2 and 3? Yes. The original? No. Now I have it. I also ordered two copies of Blues Brothers.) Outside HMV, I ran into yet another former co-worker, one I'd kept running into all over downtown Ottawa for the past three years. I can never remember his name, though. Then we hung out with Adam's roommate and sat out on his back deck for a while, just shooting the breeze and enjoying the weather.

Anyway... it's been incredible. I'm at my parents' place now, just taking it easy, watching The Fugitive on a massive screen, resisting going to sleep. Pele did not take to me right away. She needed some time to remember me, and get used to me. However, after a few hours, she was whoring herself on me like old times, purring like a an old junker (which she is, I guess) and extending and retracting her claws on my chest in contentment. I'm going to have to take her back after I get settled since my dad is not her biggest fan, to say the least. I just worry how she'll be after yet another move.

Well, I guess it's time to watch the rest of this here movie, then get some sleep. It's good to be back.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Last Night

Well, this is it: last night in China. Feels weird, yet... not. I haven't processed it, I don't think, and I don't think I will until about a week from now.

I was thinking of trying to stay up, and then sleep on the plane... but I don't think I can do it. My best bet is to go to sleep and wake up early. Otherwise I could wake up late tomorrow, and that would be ruinous as I need to somewhat re-organize my junk and leave by 11:30 to get to the airport for 12:30 or so, check in, and read the Count of Monte Cristo while I wait. I'm still unsure of my luggage weights, and that has me somewhat concerned, which is another reason for being early. Guess I'll see what happens tomorrow when the stuff is weighed when I go to check it.

I hit the Great Wall today at Mutianyu. I had wanted to go on the Secret Great Wall tour, but no go. Mutianyu ended up being a good spot. I didn't see tonnes of it, having only had 2.5 hours to wander. However, I'm happy that I was able to enjoy both the restored sections, as well as the unrestored areas (which I wasn't supposed to be on). I thoroughly enjoyed the unrestored, completely people-devoid areas. They just had a greater impact on me, for reasons I can't pinpoint. Something about trees and grass having taken over what is supposedly one of the largest human-work projects in history just struck me as meaningful. Seeing the other portions was just... well... it was a wall. It wasn't all that great. I think it's better in Chinese "Chang Cheng" - long wall. Long it most certainly is. Great? Well... yeah, I guess. But it's hard to feel that. It was like seeing the Forbidden City. Yeah, okay, it's cool to see the imperial home and seat of the old empire, but it's just not there anymore. It's empty. That's how the Great Wall felt. Empty, yet full of people huffing and puffing as they struggled up those bastardly steps.

The abandoned portions, however, were far more... hmmmm... emotionally profound? It was easier to get a sense of its former greatness. And I'll be honest: I feel it's only formerly great. While it is still amazing, a big part of why it's great is the grandeur of its creation, which was a horrific undertaking when it began 1800 years ago. Seeing those sections "gone to seed" in a very literal sense gave me a feeling of its time, and gave it a more haunted and lost atmosphere. It was also more peaceful, as if it was resting. The restored sections were... well, restored. Meh. And crawling with people bitching about the stairs and pushing for good picture opp spots. I couldn't care less. I just wanted my own experience of it, which I had, in the company of an equally motivated woman from L.A.

The fact that it had a freakin' tobaggan slide down was... well, like dressing the Guanyin statue in Chengde up as Ronald McDonald. I walked up... and walked down. All this cable-car and slide business is silly. Yeah, I have no doubt it's fun, but it's like dancing on the bones of hundreds of thousands of workers who were little better than slaves. "I can't be assed to work for so little as to even get to the top under my own steam." is what is says to me. People just don't work for things anymore. If they can pay a bit extra and enjoy an easy ride, rock-'n'-roll! I say booo to that. I understand not everyone is in good enough shape, but seeing my entire tour group (7 others) take the cable-car up and tobaggan down... it sort of made me sad. Not sure I can explain it, to be honest.

Maybe I'm just being a prick but it made me feel as I felt on Wudang Shan. I climbed and climbed, slowly approaching the summit, enjoying the scenary and quiet around me. No one else about. What do I see at the summit? Hundreds if not thousands of tourists who took a 10-minute cable-car up so they could throw coins on a roof and snap some pictures. I suppose people want the end-game score and don't care about playing. What the fuck's the point of that?

Anyhoo... overall, it was a remarkable trip, and I didn't have to put up with anyone around me except Lucienne, who was good company. Got some nice pictures, more or less. I despise my camera, however. It's such a junker. It's so horribly light-sensitive that if it wasn't for iPhoto's Enhance feature, many of my shots would be been shite. While pictures aren't important compared to remembering the experience itself, I still would like to be able to share this with my friends and family. It seems as though all my attempts to capture "the moment"s fall short of reality. A camera is supposed to capture what you see. Mine seems to just taunt me.

At 19:30, I met up with Andrew, Lili and Wendy (DoS from Qinhuangdao EF) and we had coffee, then went for supper at a place called Bellegio (I think). The food was fantastic, though I felt bad for poor Lili. Andrew and Wendy talked shop for 3 hours, and I have to admit I did also at times, though I tried to talk to Lili about whatever and joke around with her. It's no fun to be with a group of folks who have the same common pre-occupation (or occupation) if they aren't making the conversation accessible. Aw well.

Went for supper with Ema last night. Well, went for a drink, I guess. I had supper. We hit Hou Hai, and as per a blog post sometime in the past, I took more pictures, but they came out just as shit as the one when I was there with Jon. Anyway, the evening was nice, though the conversation seemed slightly hesistant or at least not very fluid. Such is life.

Tomorrow... I find it hard to think about tomorrow. (woops... TODAY!) May the 4th be with you! (and with me, since I will have a very very long May 4th due to time-zones) I just want to be landing in Ottawa, to feel that anticipation of waiting for the plane to halt and everyone to stand up. I'll be racing up the gate and through the terminal. Just need to get to that point. It's only 35 hours away. Alrighty... see a bunch of you folks back in Canada!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Zai jian Tangshan, nihao Beijing

Well... it's done. I'm officially out of Tangshan. It's a bittersweet sensation. I had something of a panic attack yesterday morning as I stood my luggage up, ready to go. Like butterflies-swarming-my-chest vertigo. As I was saying to Angie, I'm happy to be leaving and at the same time I feel as if I ought to feel bad about going. However, I can't have both. Not until I create my Chinada machine, anyway. Wooops! I've said too much...

I didn't hook up with the girls on Sunday night, as they got back late from Qinhuangdao. We had lunch instead Monday. It was a great time. I gave them silk hand-bags I bought in Suzhou, and they did something really sweet for me: they put into a glass brick the picture of me flexing with all the assistants. It was fantastic! (too bad it weighs more than my head)

As the picture above shows, they let their hair down and had some beer with me. Lots of toasts, with a few sad and pensive awkward silences after some of them. Food was excellent, as per usual at Feng Huang Yuan, though the service was rather shit. There was a wedding downstairs, so we all got to talking about dating and relationships and marriage (a lot of comparing Canada vs China), with lots of funny anecdotes told. At the end, there were no tears, thankfully, but leaving was tough.

I had a chance to give Lily the card for Xiang Guo Yuan, my tai ji quan master. Oh, I guess I didn't say anything about visiting them. I went on... Saturday night. No one was doing tai ji quan outside, but Song laoshi was inside with a few others. I spoke to him, told him it was my last day (well, as per the plan at that time), gave him the baguo necklaces I'd bought on Wudang Shan. They have my email address, and I have theirs. Anyway, I spoke with Song laoshi outside, and asked if he and Xiang laoshi still wanted to learn English. I said that Lily was an excellent teacher, and was Chinese (they had some concerns initially when they had approached me about it re: learning without any first-language being used). So I hope she calls them and gets work with them. I think she'd have fun with that. And it was no exaggeration. She is a great teacher.

Anyway, so everyone went their separate ways back home. Seriously. Everyone took a different cardinal direction. I walked with Betty a ways and saw her off at her bus. It was a bit of a lonely walk home, I have to say. Things just felt so... finished.

Getting back, I finally saw Alistair. We hung out a bit, then went for beers with Jeff (Aussie teacher who has my HF-S, HF-1A and EF 5 classes), Ethan (the new marketing manager - no English), and Jessie and Angie. I spent a chunk of time translating for Jeff and Ethan, which was neat. I always forget how much Chinese I know, or rather how far I can flex the Chinese that I know. 27 beers later, we headed home.

Finished packing yesterday morning, and arrived with no issues in Beijing around 15:00. I'm in at Lili's "office" (again I say WOW). Wireless, coffee, enclosed shower (!!!)... I think I'm set. Alistair is going to come in today, I think, possibly with Norhaine, and we'll hit the Great Wall tomorrow.

Went out for Thai food last night with Lili, and had a few drinks. That was Lili's drink (left)! Zany. Today, the plan is to hit Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven), wander some hutongs near Qian Men Dajie, book the Great Wall tour, and this evening meet up with Ema for supper. If Alistair makes it in, then it'll be the three (or four, with Norhaine) of us. No idea about that, though. Haven't heard back from him as to what his plan is. I'll meet him at 17:00 anyway at the spot we pre-planned.

Okay, I should head off. Time to do a bit of the tourist thing, and sort out some last-minute details and such. So today's a busy-ish day, as tomorrow will be. Aw well... I'd wanted some quiet time, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Will have more pictures to upload tonight, hopefully from Tian Tan as well as from supper/drinks.