The past two weeks…

27 Oct

The past two weeks have been intense. I flew from California to New Hampshire, enjoyed the beautiful fall colours, and then flew back; endured a painfully difficult Japanese History midterm; got to see John Williams in concert; lost my cell phone; played unreleased games at a video game exposition; got a front-row seat and VIP access at the Video Games Live concert; and endured two more midterms whilst running on virtually no sleep. It’s been a roller coaster ride.

Allow me to start at the beginning. Two weeks ago, I took a red eye flight from LA to Manchester, changing planes in Cincinnati. Fortunately, all went well and there were no delays or missed connections. When the plane began to descend into Manchester, I noticed that most of the trees were still green, but there were patches of brilliant reds and oranges, the likes of which I hadn’t seen for nearly three years.

It was good to be home again in the fall. It was always my favourite season, even as a kid, and it felt so good to breathe in the cool, fresh autumn air. I recently came across this photo on TrekEarth, taken in Massachusetts, which just sums up so much about my childhood nostalgia. And of course, not having seen true fall colours for so long, the beauty of it overwhelmed me and once again made me appreciate my home. It is arguably one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the world. When I asked my French friend Virginie what she thought of fall in New England, she responded, “Je n’ai jamais rien vu de plus beau.”

Unfortunately, when I arrived on Friday, it rained all day long, but I did enjoy spending the time at home with my family (especially Angel). We did go for a drive later in the day, and along the way I was able to snap this photo of two moose:

On Saturday, we got up bright and early to go for a little trip. It was a perfect fall day – clear, bright blue sky, with a cool, crisp breeze. We drove to Squam Lake and hiked up Mount Rattlesnake before any other hikers showed up – it was just us and the tranquil woods, with sunshine sneaking into the forest and illuminating the multi-coloured leaves. We enjoyed the view from the summit before descending and heading over to Sandwich. All of the white houses provide a nice contrast to the trees…

While the foliage was still nearing peak in the Lakes Region, it was close to its full glory further north in the White Mountains. We drove through Tamworth, catching a breathtaking view of Mt. Chocorua and Chocura Lake, before heading to North Conway and Cathedral Ledge. When we arrived, we discovered something unusual – a wedding. It seemed like an odd location, but in reality, I couldn’t think of a more beautiful backdrop to a marriage:

Afterwards, we took the scenic drive along Bear Notch Rd. and the Kancamagus, which offered amazing views over the Pemigewassett Wilderness. I also recorded a short video as we drove along the road. This simple but wonderful display of nature was worth the trip alone, but of course, the photos never do it justice:

On Sunday, we stayed in Bristol. We went for a hike up to Inspiration Point, overlooking the town, and brought Angel along with us. She seemed tremendously happy, and although I worry sometimes now about her physical abilities, she didn’t have any problems with the hike. At the summit, the wind was blowing, carrying a lot of feelings back to me from my younger years. A father and son also met us up there, and as we all looked over Bristol – the place that I was so eager to get out of two years ago – I realized that the town does have a deep place in my heart. Fall probably makes me more nostalgic than any other season. We finished our Sunday drive by going along some of the old hillside roads in town, admiring still the beauty of autumn in New Hampshire:

To see all of my photos from fall in New Hampshire, click here (Part I) and here (Part II).

Needless to say, I would have much rather stayed in New Hampshire than return to a hot, wildfire-ridden California, but unfortunately I had some midterms to attend to. My Japanese History midterm was essentially a trainwreck — I didn’t have time to answer two questions that were worth 23 points together, and I was pretty uncertain about the rest of the exam. How can one possibly be expected to identify and provide a complete historical context for a 2-sentence excerpt taken out of a 200+ page course reader? It’s feasible, but my teacher’s expectations are far from realistic.

Fortunately, everyone else in the class seemed to feel similarly about the exam, although I still think I’m at a disadvantage as a non-history major. Granted, I’ve gotten A’s on both papers so far, but I have no idea how much they’re worth with respect to my final grade. As for my other midterms: well, I got an A in Italian, but the results haven’t come in yet for French and the Broadway musical class. I suspect I did reasonably well on the latter, but I have no idea how my French teacher grades. I’m not too confident in my essays, though… I’m just glad that midterms are over so I can start sleeping again.

I did receive a much-needed respite from my exams when I was able to attend the John Williams concert on campus. Not having a ticket of my own, I was forced into the standby line (about 12th in line) and was at the mercy of those who didn’t show up – and fortunately, it seemed like a lot of people didn’t. I had to sit in the top balcony, but whatever. It was absolutely amazing, not only because of the music, but because it was one of my major idols, right on stage.

Some of the highlights included E.T., Schindler’s List, The Imperial March, Yoda’s Theme, and the Star Wars Main Theme concert suite (including Princess Leia’s Theme), as well as the Raiders’ March during the encore. The Star Wars music of course had the most impact on me, and I obviously wasn’t the only Star Wars fan there – when John mentioned the series, it got a lot of cheering. There was a kid in front of me wearing a “Star Wars Forever” T-shirt. John joked that he was always happy to let people listen to his music “without the distraction of the film” (and all the sound effects, spaceships, etc.), and that he still can’t get the order of the Star Wars films straight. Haha, he’s so awesome.

He also related a funny anecdote about when Steven Spielberg first asked him to write the music for Schindler’s List. After Spielberg showed him the film footage, John was so moved that he had to ask for a few minutes to collect himself. When he went back to see Spielberg, he said, “Steven, you need someone better to write the music for this film.” To which Spielberg replied, “I know, John, but they’re all dead.”

Nothing compares to hearing JW himself conducting the Imperial March – pure sweetness. There was such an endless supply of applause after the encore that he had to return to the stage 4 or 5 times to accept it. It was incredible. Of course, keeping with the “roller coaster” nature of these past two weeks, the event did not go seamlessly — as I was leaving the auditorium, I realized that I’d misplaced my cell phone. I’m nearly 100% positive that I lost it while sitting at my seat, but despite numerous attempts to find it (by myself and the staff), no success. If you’ve ever given me your phone number, you might have to resend it sometime soon.

The following day was my big video game bonanza downtown: the E for All expo and the Video Games Live concert. Although E for All (or “E4” as the VGL host referred to it) was not as big as E3 used to be, it was still an incredible experience – the kind that I’ve been dreaming of for years. It probably would have been significantly more fun if I’d convinced someone else to go with me, but it was pretty cool anyway. I was pretty overwhelmed by all the exhibits, though, so I spent most of my time just wandering around and looking at things. I didn’t have nearly enough time to try out all the games, and it was kind of a pain to wait in line for a game (especially Super Mario Galaxy).

The longest lines were for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which had a huge setup, including a big screen and bleacher seats for 4-player matches commented on by Nintendo’s “booth babes” (who were also handing out lots of light-up Wiimote keychains). The Brawl area looked something like this:

The demo didn’t have all of the characters supposed to be in the final version, but it was pretty awesome to see Sonic finally battling it out with Nintendo characters. However, when I played the demo myself against another gamer, I failed miserably, primarily thanks to the controls. I first played with the classic controller, which wasn’t bad, but a bit… “restrictive”-feeling, I guess. Even worse was playing with the sideways Wiimote setup. When I get the game (provided it isn’t delayed indefinitely…grr), I’ll stick with the GameCube controller, methinks.

The Wii Zapper, however, was pretty cool. I tried out Ghost Squad, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. The arcade-style action makes for some fun co-op shooting. I also wandered around the other booths… Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed was therapeutically fun, and I tried out a couple of other games, but Nintendo was really the highlight of the show. Although at one point I was asked to talk about Mario on X-Play (the G4 TV show), but for some reason I chickened out and said no. Oh well.

I also saw Martin Leung, the famous “video game pianist” there, who was also at the VGL concert later.

As I was waiting in line outside the brand-new Nokia Theatre, I met a Korean guy named Eddy who works for a company that’s trying to get the VGL concert produced in Korea again. Apparently, two of his friends hadn’t shown up for the concert, so he had two extra front-row tickets and VIP passes, which he gave to me. I was a little flabbergasted at first, but I’m happy that I accepted them, because my seat was amazing (I was sitting next to the conductor’s wife). He thought that the VIP passes allowed us to go backstage, but unfortunately we were stopped by a security guard (although I did see Martin Leung again). We did get to go the VIP lounge, however — although I didn’t recognize anyone there. I might have recognized them after the show, however.

A sample of some of the people who showed up:

On the far left on stage is the creator of Dance Dance Revolution. I was actually standing right next to him outside the theatre without even realizing who he was. To the right is a kid who was called on stage to play Frogger, but he didn’t get to thanks to some technical difficulties. To the right of him, you can make out the head of the creator of Castlevania, who was wearing a black fedora and carrying a whip, haha. Next to him is the creator of Silent Hill. In the middle of the stage is the host of the show (also composer for the Earthworm Jim games), talking with actor Zack Ward; to his right is the other Frogger contestant, dressed as Snake (with a fairly convincing voice as well); next to him is none other than the Soup Nazi himself, who gave an incredible “No soup for you!” to a cheering audience; on the far right is the orchestra conductor (and composer for Myst III & IV). Also, the creator of Pong/Atari showed up, as well as several different game composers.

It was a major geekfest.

It was pretty funny…I actually felt like I was “among my people” with all the video game fans there. Every time a new theme was played, fans of the game/music would cheer — and there was a lot of cheering. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, you can watch a clip of Martin Leung playing a Final Fantasy medley at a past VGL concert (which he also performed at the one I attended, with the same crowd reactions):

Nobuo Uematsu is a god. Whenever his name was brought up, there was tons of cheering, rivalled only by that for Koji Kondo. The Zelda theme orchestral arrangement just gave me goosebumps… my second life is in Hyrule…

So beautiful, although they didn’t begin to do justice to Zelda music. Only one theme? What the heck? I was also a bit disappointed with the Sonic medley, which didn’t include a lot of my favourites, especially from Sonic 2. Stay tuned, because in the not-too-distant future, I hope to dedicate an entire post to video game music. 🙂

There was also a good performance of Halo music, as well as great arrangements of music from Civilization IV and the new Conan game, and the fan favourites of One-Winged Angel and Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy. You can find most of these on youtube, although nothing compares to seeing the concert in person. If you have the chance, I’d highly recommend it.

Another highlight of the show were the cosplayers on stage. It was pretty cool, but also kind of cheesy at times. During the Zelda portion, the girl dressed as Link (lol) accidentally slashed Zelda with her “sword” while striking a pose. During the FFVII segment, Sephiroth’s sword split in half. All in all, though, the concert was great fun.

To see all of my photos from E for All and VGL, click here.

I didn’t have a chance to eat before going to the theatre, so I had to buy a sandwich when I got there. Whilst looking at the concessions menu, I decided to order the “turkey ciabatta with chips”, although I thought it was odd that they served French fries at the theatre. It wasn’t until the person at the counter asked me if I wanted barbecue or jalapeno chips that I’d realized my error in comprehension. Those six months in the UK had a bigger impact on me than I’d realized, apparently.

After leaving the theatre, I barely missed the bus so I had to wait a little while. I assumed I wouldn’t have to wait for more than half an hour, but it ended up being a full hour. I waited from 11pm to midnight for the bus in downtown Los Angeles. Pssh. What a crazy couple of weeks.

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