July 2012

After a crazy couple of weeks of flying home from Manila, then to Tampa for a wedding, then to San Francisco to see about some job opportunities, then back to Tampa, it was time for a little fun. So that Saturday, we went to the Giraffe Ranch Farm, located a few miles away from Dade City.

In addition to giraffes, the Giraffe Ranch Farm has a number of other animals who feel at home in areas similar to African grasslands. One such animal is the camel, and they offer camel rides.

It turns out that camels, when treated well, absolutely love humans. The camels at the ranch love greeting visitors and almost beg to be petted.

The ranch offers a couple of camel rides: a ten-minute ride, where you do a quick tour of their large “front yard”, or a much longer ride, where you take the grand tour of the ranch on camelback. Since that’s considerably pricier and the sun was blazing that day, we opted for the ten-minute ride, preferring to do the tour in their covered open-air bus.

Here we are, about to start our camel ride.

Here’s Anitra after the ride, petting the camel she rode. His name is “Doofus”.

They make it simple to hop on a camel for a ride: you climb a set of stairs onto a raised platform, which makes it easy to board them.

After the camel ride, we were given a short presentation about the animals on the ranch. They passed around a number of bones and horns from the various types of animals there, and I couldn’t resist playing with them.

I think I found this year’s Halloween costume idea.

For a little extra money, you can go inside the lemur cage and feed them grapes. There was no way that we’d pass up this opportunity.

The lemurs are more than happy to hobnob with humans. They’re a lot like the way they’re depicted in the Madagascar films, minus the I Like to Move IT musical number and Sasha Baron Cohen’s fake South Asian accent.

You can feed them either by holding out a grape, which they’ll take with their teeny hands, or pop it in their mouth. They’re pretty gentle either way.

Here’s a lemur taking a grape from my hand.

One of them decided to get a closer look at my leg…

…while another preferred Anitra’s.

There’s a matriarchal social order to lemur society, and it showed in the way they lined up to be fed.

We were told not to choose which lemur to feed, but rather to let them work it out. It seemed to work out pretty well, and even the babies got to have some grapes.

While posing for pictures with the lemurs in the background, a few of them got pretty friendly…

…and a couple of them even climbed on me. They didn’t have claws like cats; their hands feel more like those of a tiny baby human’s.

Here we are, looking contemplative.

And here were are, best of buds, having a grand ol’ time.

Next: More scenes from the Giraffe Ranch!

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Meanwhile, in Russia…

by Joey deVilla on July 28, 2012

“One of them’s a horse. The other’s a dog. Together, they fight crime. In Russia.”

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Tuesday, July 3rd and Wednesday, July 4th: Fly from Manila to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Toronto.

Thursday, July 5th: A day to get re-adjusted to Eastern Daylight Time and do laundry, because…

Friday, July 6th: Hop on another plane, this one bound for Tampa. Thankfully, my NEXUS card means I clear customs in seconds and all those miles I racked with Air Canada means I get to chill out and get some breakfast in the lounge.

I land around noon and meet Anitra, take her out for lunch and then take a quick nap before I watch the wedding rehearsal (she was a bridesmaid) and attend the rehearsal dinner.

Saturday, July 7th: The wedding! Anitra’s a beautiful bridesmaid, and I’m doing my best not to look too jet-laggy.

Uh-oh — she caught the bouquet.

Luckily, I went to Crazy Go Nuts University, where you learn that most important of coping techniques, pictured above.

Sunday, July 8th: One day of downtime…

Monday, July 9th: …and then it’s off to another plane, this time bound for San Francisco, the destination of my secret (well, not anymore) side trip. That’s three time zones in a week: UTC+8, UTC-4, and now UTC-7.

Tuesday, July 10: Dressed up nicely to met with one or more prospective employers.

Wednesday, July 11th: Lunch with more prospective employers.

Thursday, July 12th: More dressing up nicely for more prospective employers, this time in “The City”.

I stayed with my cousins, who lent me a car to get into town. I have got to get me one of these.

I took this after another lunch with a different set of prospective employers.

That night, I had a lovely dinner — shabu-shabu — with some Toronto friends who’ve recently moved out west, namely Tom Purves, Michele Perras and Adam Schwabe. Great seeing you guys!

Friday, July 13th: A 6:00 a.m. flight back to Tampa. I wasn’t thrilled about the departure time…

…but luck was with me. Not only did I get put in an emergency exit row (extra legroom), but I got the row all to myself! I arrived in Tampa in the late afternoon to take Anitra out to dinner. The next day…

Saturday, July 14th: …well, that’s another blog post.

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From My “Dungeons and Dragons” Days

by Joey deVilla on July 27, 2012

In honour of Gary Gygax Day, a small selection of some of my favourite entries from the books on creatures in Dungeons and Dragons…

"Beholder" entry from the original Adavnced Dungeons and Dragons "Monster Manual"

Creepy.

"Drow (Dark Elf)" entry from the original Adavnced Dungeons and Dragons "Fiend Folio"

The Drow were amazing adversaries to pit against players, and they were featured in the latter half of an epic six-and-a-half module series (I really didn’t like the seventh) that started with:

Against the Giants! A tough series; a good number of characters took a pasting in this one. The adventure continued with the Drow in these modules:

Descent into the Depths of the Earth (or Oerth, if you wanted to be true to the World of Greyhawk naming), which was followed by:

Vault of the Drow! Sadly, the series concludes with its weakest module, Queen of the Demonweb Pits. You’d think that an adventure that took place in one of the 666 layers of the dimension known as The Abyss to take on Lolth, the demon queen of spiders worshipped by the Drow, would be amazing, but it’s a sorry, sloppy mess.

"Orc" entry from the original Adavnced Dungeons and Dragons "Monster Manual"

Ah, orcs. One of the creatures that Gygax lifted pretty much directly from Tolkien.

"Succubus" entry from the original Adavnced Dungeons and Dragons "Monster Manual"

And finally, the succubus. Hey, I was a teenage boy!

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One last blast of random photos from my trip to the Philippines before I move on…

Accommodations

View of the front of the Glorietta 4 mall and the Ascott Here’s a view of The Ascott, the hotel-like apartment where my family and I stayed while in Manila. This is one of a chain of such “serviced apartments”, and it’s located in Makati, the financial and shopping district of Manila. As such, it’s smack-dab in the middle of an area that’s packed with hotels and shopping, and the Ascott itself is packed with locals and travellers in all sorts of clothing, from shorts and sandals to suits and ties to black tie and evening gowns to thawbs, hijabs and chadors — just about everything except for Bermuda business attire, and I suppose I should consider myself fortunate (it’s the socks that get me). There were 7 of us, so we were in the 3-bedroom  deluxe unit, which is actually 4 bedrooms if you factor in the small but comfy maid’s room by the kitchen); its floor plan is pictured above (here are the floor plans for all the rooms). The place has a 4.3 out of 5 rating on its page at Hotels.com, and I’ve seen them offer the 2-bedroom deluxe for CAD$211 a night — and yes, the 2-bedroom actually has 3 if you use the maid’s room.

The Arcade

I spent a fair bit of my vacation hanging out with my 10- and 9-year-old nephews, which means spending some time at an arcade. It’s nice to see that they like doing what I liked to do at their age.

4-player arcade game called "Crazy Birds", which appears to infringe on the Angry Birds trademark and graphics

Pictured above is Crazy Birds, a shooter game chock full of what I’m sure are unlicensed Angry Birds images and sounds. It’s proof positive of the adage “Copyright violation is your best entertainment value”. Here’s a video of the game in action:

If the glimpses of Filipino soap operas that I caught are indication, an arcade is a perfectly legitimate place for a date, and the karaoke booths at the back are a perfectly good way to get to know your date a little better:

Shops Filled with Nothing But Cute

Cute purses and knapsacks shaped like teddy bear heads

This is Asia, and nobody does cutesy stuff the way they do.

Cute teddy bear-shaped piggy banks

Muji

Storefront of the Muji shop

Take Ikea, mash it up with The Gap and do it all through a Japanese lens, and you have Muji.

Interior of Muji

Here’s a view of the left side of the Muji shop in Makati.

Dinner set at Muji

Here’s their dinner set…

Roll-up shoes at Muji

…their shoe/slipper thingy, which rolls up into a convenient little ball that won’t eat up all the storage space in your tiny japanese apartment…

Clocks at Muji

…clockapalooza…

Pants sizes at Muji

…and their womens jeans, which max out at US size 30. Apparently Muji does not like big butts — relative to the Japanese phenotype — and it does not lie.

 The Tiangge (Flea Market) at Greenhills

Greenhills Shopping Center is part conventional shopping center with typical shops and restaurants and part tiangge (chong-GEH) or flea market with its stalls. The flea market is by far the more interesting part. I snapped a lot of photos here, many of which appear below.

Shoes! Shoes! Shoes! After all, it is the home of Imelda Marcos.

You can’t escape internet memes such as ragefaces, even this far away from North America.

And yeah, Manny Pacquiao is a big hero over here. His face is on ads everywhere, too — he endorses everything!

This is what I came for — something pretty for Anitra.

Wow, are there a lot of pearl stalls here.

A. Lot.

Photo op!

If you love pearls, you really should come here.

Food

If there are two things we love in the Philippines, it’s cell phones and chicken.

If you want to eat in the true traditional Philippine style, you don’t eat off a plate; you eat off a banana leaf. Places like The Banana Leaf (the restaurant where I ate the meal pictured above) let you do just that.

For my last meal in Manila, I got taken to a relatively new buffet place near the Mall of Asia called Vikings. The place and its selection are huge.

This is the sushi bar, located on one end of the restaurant. The other end is the dim sum bar. Awesome.

Here’s a sampling of the dessert bar. Note the three fountains. The center one is chocolate, the one on the left is strawberry and the one on the right is ube (a sweet local purple yam).

How fresh was the sashimi? Carve-it-out-of-the-fish fresh.

All in all, a wonderful trip! The day after my big farewell dinner, I boarded my flight back home, and a day after that, I was on my way to Tampa.

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It’s Gary Gygax Day!

by Joey deVilla on July 27, 2012

Today, July 27th, is the birthday of E. Gary Gygax, the father of Dungeons and Dragons. I misspent a good number of teenage afternoons as a DM or shopping at the old Mr. Gameway’s Ark on Yonge Street just south of Bloor, and it’s all thanks to him.

I got my start when someone gave me the Basic Dungeons and Dragons set (the 1981 edition), which was simple enough to get you started:

It featured a set of dice (not all that hot, but okay enough for newbies) and the introductory module, The Keep on the Borderlands, written by Gygax himself:

There are still little details from this module that are still etched into my brain, such as the fact that “bree-YARK” is Kobold for “Hey, rube!” (And I’m not the only one.)

I graduated to AD&D, and this was my ever-present companion:

Can’t…resist…reposting…this excerpt:

Ah, the Random Harlot Encounter Table. Good times.

Gary reached 0 HP four years ago. His influence still abounds today — you may even feel his presence at the upcoming Fan Expo taking place here in Accordion City in a few weeks. Let’s raise 1d20 ounces of our favourite beverage, and salute Gary!

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Seriously, guys: it sometimes doesn’t feel as satisfying as upper body day, but the “chicken legs” look will never be “in”, and it’s not healthy, either.

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