Sunday, August 11, 2013

Videogames are only expensive if you're impatient...just like most things.

Everything has a premium, right? That's what full retail price is, to me. With the exception of titles with awesome preorder bonuses, or Final Fantasy games that I just HAVE to HAVE, I haven't paid full price for a video game in a long time. My friends call me cheap, but last time I checked, spending more money for the same product isn't a good idea. It's like buying winter clothes in the spring! Well, except usually it's more like 6 weeks before the game hits that first $20 drizzop, even if temporarily.

The thing that gets me is when non-gamers, and even, disappointingly, gamers say is that it's an expensive hobby. Yes, it's true that new games retail at $65, after tax, in the US. $80 in Japan! Economics in your face: I hope most players would agree that the average spinning disc has an ~8 hour single-player campaign. That works out to a little over $8/hour of entertainment, frustration and euphoria for you! Don't worry, you'll get yelled at by your significant other anyway! Forget about games with sick replay value like the FPS games where you can spend a couple hours a week blowing holes in people! I got Modern Warfare at $40, and put 200 hours into it, and didn't buy any DLC. That's 20cents an hour. Last summer, I went paintballing with some students for $40/hour and walked away bleeding did they!

How much does a 2-hour movie cost, again? What about a night of drinking? Casino? Even a restaurant? What about fitness (Everdeen) clubs? Most hobbies and entertainment cost money, and gaming isn't that high on the list. I complained about the subscription fees to MMORPGs, but then realized I was spending 20hrs/week in one world that was addictive, and that fee helped keep it dynamic and running fast enough. See what I did with the 'Fitness Everdeen'?

Let's revisit that entertainment budget, because you've also got to buy the system and controllers and stuff. It's true that you need $250-300 to get started, but this is where some Mr Miyagi (played by Pat Morita!) patience comes in.

Last year, I bought a Playstation 3 off of Craigslist, with 21 games, for $180. I turned around and sold most of the games for $50. I bought a Wii in perfect condition, with 2 controllers, 5 games (that weren't sports games!) and a few other peripherals for $80. A little legwork, and I saved bucco bucks! You might have to tell your mom that you're buying something cool like samurai sword, but you'll be laughing your way to the bank to invest those greenbacks.

Through Craigslist, eBay (decreasingly, these days), and Gamestop (not that great of a tradeoff, actually, 10% on a bad day), you can save anywhere from 50-80%. I know there is a tendancy not to trust used products or internet transactions, but it's also 2013, last time I checked my XMB notice board. eBay bought Paypal a few years back, and even before that, there are LAYERS of protection for the buyer. Now it's even better. Sure, it takes 30 days to get your cash back if you get ripped off, but you do get it back in the extremely rare chance it happens.

Yeah, there's the Craigslist killer, but with all the random shootings these days, I don't really see how you're any safer in a Best Buy, wasting your money on those lame buyer points. Those work out to about 2% cash back, which is generally a lot lower than the amount of interest you're paying for that credit card. You do get to see an occasional attractive customer service clerk, but is that really blowing your wad? *straight face didn't last* often has $48 preorders (no tax in WA, usually free 3-day shipping), but the only drawback is that you have to wait 2-3 days for the item. If you can do that, you save 27% (compared to Gamestop's 16%). Every 4 games you buy like this, you get another one! If that shit works for Victoria's Secret, then it damn sure works for me. I don't know how the two are related, but now I'm thinking about titties.

...But my point is that if you can wait, you can save. Besides, how many crappy launches have we had where the first day was waiting for the devs to release patches?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My last job's exit survey

Are there any other comments about your experience working at ----------------?

Out of my 4 years in the company, I had good and bad days, but there was only 1 or 2 days when I really didn't want to come into work. I generally loved my job, and it's definitely about the connections I made there. I was glad to see, just as I was leaving in September, that the company started to roll out some benefits and adjustments. I suppose "better late than never" should be said, but I think some of the higher ups need to visit the schools and spend a day with a few teachers and get some empathy. You'd be amazed how far a little non-financial gratitude goes. Try to make some copies, use the toilet, and watch a teacher struggle showing a video clip that perfectly adds to their lesson, and you'll quickly understand that a few benefits is only the tip of the iceberg of what THESE schools really need.

Describe what you liked LEAST about working at -------------------------:

The state of the facilities and lack of benefits were a constant reminder that every ESL teacher has to be internally motivated. If the company really valued teachers, we would have gotten the obvious. Students saw cruddy classroom conditions and malfunctioning equipment, after paying hefty tuitions. 50% of our campus (one building) didn't have wifi until I personally installed a router. This just sends a terrible message about --- to both employees and customers.

Describe what you liked BEST about working at --------------------:

The ESL environment and freedom with it. I will miss the fact that I can assign real world tasks, like interviewing university students and writing reviews of restaurants, bars and cafes. I'll miss the age group, and diversity of nationalities. I miss having a pool of really talented teachers that I can draw and develop ideas with during those tense breaks. Working abroad, I am surrounded by teachers whose teaching methods have little in common. Students simply repeat and use lots of books and almost never speak. At ---------------, we used a completely different approach.

What does your new job/company offer that ------------------ did not offer?

I spent over 30 hours a week at --------, and often worked through lunch. Here is full-time, but I bring home an extra 30% after taxes and benefits. Transportation reimbursement, healthcare, 20 personal days off per year, in addition to holidays, modern classroom equipment and facilities, my own desk. Teacher's room is well-lit and the copiers are dependable. Each teacher is given their own laptop with wireless internet and every classroom has a tv to connect the PCs.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Building L-EGO-s

Ground zero. At my last workplace, there was a significant chunk of time where I was...the man. No way around it. Students enjoyed my class, I enjoyed students, everything was gravy. At this new workplace, however, I get to start over.

This kind of "reset button" is my new favorite part about my profession, in that every time I travel, I get to rebuild myself. Going back to my last workplace, I had become bored of who I was, and had too many not-so-proud moments. I eventually got trapped in being myself and felt like any drastic change simply wouldn't be taken seriously. 'That's not Mark,' people would say, and then I'd lose my drive. Well, luckily this chance for change is inherent in that of a traveling language seller.

What makes this different is that all of my previous 6 years have had an element of temporariness. Either I was going within a few months, or they were going. There was always that comfortable limit of time, and light at the tunnel for any student-teacher-co-worker relationship. That just might be over, and I have mixed feelings. I might be permanently part of the team, locked in with students for not just one year, but their whole experience in middle and/or high school. It's going to be such a huge mutual investment that will probably mark my life significantly.

My experienced of being entrenched into my previous character in the workplace definitely gave me a little empathy for celebrities. My little local world where students knew about me and wanted to take my classes was a giant ego booster, but there was that frustrated chunk of me that wanted students to get a chance to know me firsthand. These thoughts get triggered every once in a while when you read about the latest pop icon tragedy; people who, for one reason or another, just couldn't handle the attention. Yeah, let's ridicule Britney Spears for trying to block the insane amount of responsibility heaped on her. Remember the nation holding her hostage for her choice of dress? Tell me how many 24-year-olds have their lives figured out. Ever laugh at Lindsay Lohan's rapid aging? Disappointed in the abrupt end of the Chappelle show?

I'm lucky in that my students, friends, family and co-workers always supported me after my least-favorite moments. I had a drop of that fame, and peoples' expectations can push you into a corner, and kudos to those who can handle it.

So, I am 3 days into working at the new school, and I have the chance to build my new ego and reputation. Here we go!

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Here with an hour of free time before the plane boards. these 16 days back have been amazingly quick. If I had done EVERYTHING I wanted, I would have been pretty exhausted by now. At this point, I don't really have enough energy to feel guilty about the missed opportunities for dinners, lunches and coffee with friends and colleagues. Also, with bags checked, no more worries about what I forgot to pack or'll all be good. One thing Rachel has helped me with is self-forgiveness. As long as it isn't exercised too much, it's very valuable in stress management (and probably living longer).

But it still sucks that I wasn't able to see everyone. I DID get to call my folks, Mom, Frederick, J and Ashley all sound good, and I'm glad they're together. Over Skype, my brother sounds almost exactly like me. I always thought his voice was more musical, but with enough strain, it flattened out just like mine. It makes sense: he's been keeping his daughter's sleep schedule for the last month.

Final restaurant count in my 2 weeks: 2x Snappy Dragon, 2x Cedars, Din Tai Fung, Papa John's, Dominoes, Saffron Grill, Taco Bell, and a 1.5-lb gain.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top experiences of 2012 (in no strict order):

While some things have always powered me through, like chats with the family, repeated listenings to Gorillaz, BT and M83, good coffee and drinking nights with friends, there are some experiences that really stand out this year. I'm sure there were more, but I want to get this up before 1/1 is over!

(July, December) Playing Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. All of the signature Zelda-isms: Mute hero, cinematic shots, great score, instrument, animals, and a buttload of quests. My end game time was 50hours, and I still had a few things left. You know, they could add a hard mode where you hold the wand in your left hand (Link used to be a leftie before the Wii).

The answer in Twilight Princess was to mirror the entire mode, but the challenge would be that you're a leftie fighting mostly right-handed enemies. That's a different strategy...they'd really only need to change Link's handedness back to the original.

But I digress. The game was filled with classic moments like retrieving the Master Sword and finding the Triforce pieces, but my favorite sequence was this:
Learning your first harp song

(December) Coming back to see friends after 3 months. A close friend told me that with real friends, regardless of time, you pick up where you left off, chiding and talking like you just saw the person. It was nice to run off to Japan and experience so much difference, and come back and hug everyone. It's true that I had business to take care of in Seattle, as I transition my life to overseas. However, any financial and stress cost of logistics is worth being with my own. Apologies to Bruce and Candice for the lack of photographic presence! You can see Candice's red hair in the bridge photo.

 [Lake 22]

[Chloe's Birthday@Din Tai Fung]

(December) Re-experiencing Kyoto after 10 years.

[Every 20 minutes, you'd think they'd be cheaper than $120/way]
This was actually a lot of awesome rolled into one: I took the bullet train,

 got to stay in a really nice hotel, and went with my awesome friend, Ran. 
[What's crackin', monkey-monks?]

 In my 11 years of overseas travels, most of it has been alone. There are tons of benefits: moving at my own pace, being as frugal as I want, and the communication challenge. Most of that time, though, I felt like the experience was discounted without sharing it with someone, and I don't mean sending a photo. It's all about the look on someone's face, and the 'Remember that one time...'s.

[Kinkakuji - yes, it's like the Empire State Building in that you've seen it 100000 times]
[Kiyomizudera - after praying to the god of business and fiscal matters]

 Shopping was great, the food was awesome, and our lunch [yakisoba and okonomiyaki] was a lot more flavorful than its Kanto equivalent.

Movies: (August) AVENGERS! I missed out on this movie for a few weeks, and finally saw this movie with Chloe, Sam and Jaaron. That movie was really well done, had tons of WOW moments, great comedy, looked sweet, and I thought it was really sweet that Jaaron and Sam saved another viewing for me.

(July) The Dark Knight Rises midnight showing. Say what you want to say about the movie (lord knows I've heard it all), but you just can't beat that rising tension with fellow nerds when the lights jam off, and you hear the IMAX emcee say some cheap nerdy quip. This year, they even had some trivia about stuff in the Batman universe and gave out comics! I came late and ended up alone at the back of the line until about 30 minutes til, and we were all together, excitedly chatting about whatever came to mind. We got to experience that movie purely, without the baggage of the unfortunate shooting that happened the same night.

[Nature rocks!]
(February). San Francisco and Yosemite. During Aki's last week in the US, her mom came, and the 3 of us went to California. The first destination was Yosemite - a 5-hour drive from SFO. 

 [Half-Dome, I taught a lesson on this!]

After the day at Yosemite, we drove back to San Francisco to have clam chowder, see the bridge, Ben and Jerry's and make a hurried photo attempt at Lombardi Street, which we never saw.

[Cross-cultural drinking!]
(April). Return to Japan A - Chiba.
Aki and her family hosted me in the province east of Tokyo. For 2.5 weeks, I ate great food, saw famous Japanese sights, and got frightened by trembles of earthquakes.

[Sensouji, on a hella rainy day after some awesome kibidango]

[Tokyo/Tsukiji - The hella famous fish market, having some fresh-ass seafood]


(September). Tokyo Game Show 2012. I'd read about it for more than 10 years, and happen to come to Japan just in time. My friend Wei-Ming is 100% responsible because I never would have looked. Either way, after a few subway transfers and a 20 minute walk to Makuhari Messe, I took this picture:

[Ohh yeah, there are videogames at TGS...]

(April) Radiohead concert. Elizabeth and I went into a warm Key Arena, after some bad security decisions. We were all stopped at one of 4 door entrances to give our tickets to be given a receipt, and sent a quarter turn around Key Arena to get bracelets. With the bracelets, you can enter the arena. You know, instead of having the ticket scanner do BOTH JOBS. Anyway, once you entered, you couldn't exit for security / preventing smoking of any kind protocols. Alas, I forgot my camera that night! Alas....earwax!

(December 11th) Becoming an uncle! J and Ash had a baby. I haven't met Ella Taylor Strong, yet, but she looks cute enough.

(September) Japan B The long-awaited return to Japan. 20 years of videogaming, 8 years of Japanese study, 2 years in university training to become certified, and 6 years of teaching experience later, I've finally made a professional appearance in Chiba. May's trip had a lot to do with me choosing Chiba, and I couldn't be happier with the experience. I taught university students conversational English, and got to meet some incredible people, Japanese and non-!
[Left-to-right: Me, Eda, Raul, Martyn, Kim, Lori, and Wei-Ming. A fine set of teachers, indeed! ]
[My students at a nomikai-gathering]

[Ramen - my new favorite food]

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...