Monday, 31 March 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

26th March 2008

The lift ascended as I was still suffering from the fatigue of the staying up to reformatting and resusitate the PC from the fabled and much-feared "Blue Screen of Death" the night before. Still visibly distraught with the loss of the entire collection of photos that I had not backed up, I routinely tapped the card at the office entrance, and stepped into the office.

Instead of the usual cold, silence that filled the office, my colleagues were all huddled together and discussing something in mummers and whispers as I entered the office.

"Hey Jeremy, you're finally here. Go read your email." Viknash told me as he saw me at the doorway, with everyone else in the group focusing their attention on me as if to scrutinize my already-too-weary countenance. Sensing something ominous in the mailbox, I turned on my PC and waited in suspense as it started up.

"What could it be I?" I wondered to myself. "Another one of the Boss' crazy ideas that I might have to go into a long rebuttal over email again?" I thought to myself, as I opened my mailbox and waited for the mails to roll in.

I scrolled through the usual headings of worksheets before coming to a mail that was titled "Company Announcement." "Should be this one," I thought to myself as I rather sleepily clicked on the heading, and read the contents of the mail.

I was almost literally slapped out of my sleepy stupor when I came to the end of the mail, utterly jolted out of my disposition. Unable to believe what I jhad ust read, I decided to read the mail again, this time digesting EVERY single word as I read it.

But with each processed word, my breath only grew shorter and my heart only grew heavier; the shocking reality of the situation creeping in slowly and surely with each word. Coming to the end of the mail a second time, I reclined into my chair without a single word and without a single thought in my head.

When I finally managed to start formulating words again, I turned around and asked Henry, "Is all this for real?"

"Yeah, it feels like a very very bad dream," he said, with an awkward and forced smile on his face, visibly unable to properly channel his emotions as well. "The whole thing just feels so.... unreal."

Indeed it did, as questions started to fill my mind; the biggest of it being "Why...."
"Why now? "
"Why after all this effort?"
"Why after coming so close?"

Desperately, I went into the mailbox and double-checked the date of the mail, hoping to find a punchline or a hint that this was an April Fool's joke played in advance; yet Denial did not have the kindness to even humour me.

Janelle came into the office, more frantic and jumpy than her normal self; scurrying around the office and asking everyone, "How? How?" It was obvious that she too was blind-sided in the process of reaching this decision, alongside the rest of us. Afterall, who wouldn't be?

Considering the day before we were all just talking about the future of the company in an extended 2 hour meeting -- ways to extend the IP, possible plans if we were unable to get the manpower up to steam, the potential of being signed, business development ideas -- and the next day, an announcement of the company closing down was rained down upon us like a blue bolt of lighting.

As we continued to deliberate about the unfounded explanations for the reasons of closing down, the Boss came in looking surprising upbeat. "Is everyone here? Let's have a meeting to discuss the announcement," he said.

We gathered in the pantry, possibly for one of the last few times, as the discussion opened with a statement from the Boss. "I know everyone is shocked with the announcement, but let's face the facts: the current business model is DEAD. There is no possible way, with our current business model, that we are going to be able to ship the game by 2009. And its better to realize that now that later in the production. I mean, it was VERY difficult for me, after all the game is my baby..."

Indeed, it was his baby; but at the same time, it was everyone else's as well, especially mine, as I was the main creative force that drove the direction of the design and the gameplay. Spending countless hours on the daily commute analysing the potential pitfalls, standing under the running water in the shower generating new ideas, having numerous talks with my brother on the feasibility of the ideas; all in the name of the desire to produce a great, if not an "at least 7.0 game."

He continued to speak at length about the other reasons as to why he made the decision that he made... "I know that the move is a radical one. But many times, you look back at the situation later and you'll be glad that you made actually made such a radical move."

"Yes. Some times, when a computer has a lot of problems, the best way to fix it is to reformat the entire computer," Henry added, as I looked at him as if he were a fucking retard.

"Yes. Good analogy," the Boss said in acknowledgement.

"Why now?" I asked the Boss, finally being able to consolidate all the running thoughts in my mind into two words. "I mean, do you really feel that this is the worse period of time for the company? Considering that we have gotten so far, developed a demo that publishers like and are this close to actually signing with them?" I asked.

And this quickly turned into a 2-way discussion as with each answer he gave, I questioned further, until a point in time when a fellow colleague told me, "Forget it, Jeremy. It won't make a difference," that I felt that I had just hit a brick wall and utterly stopped short in my inquisitive tracks.

"So, in the next 30 days, let's try to discuss some ways in which we can actually relaunch the company. If we can find a solution that is able to generate revenue, one that is able to restore the confidence in the shareholders, then the money will roll in and there will be a possible company relaunch. I would like to to add that everyone here has the possibility of being hired under the new company, as long as it makes sense to the new business model of the company," the Boss said.

"Let's all try not to be too depressed about the entire situation," he said, with a grin on his face, masking the deep sorrow that pierced through his dark brown eyes. He was probably as distraught about the entire situation as the rest of us, but forced himself to play the visionary leader that he tried to be for one last time.

Many people took off after the meeting, seeing no point staying if they were unable to work for the rest of the day. I arrived at my exceptionally late noon timing, but was told that I could leave around 5 if I wanted to.

I spent the rest of the hours mulling deeply over the shock, thinking of all the potential lost in the flash of an executive decision. I started organizing the material that we had worked on in the past 7 months for accountability and for portfolio purposes, but felt something pulling at my heartstrings as I dragged each file into the folder.

I always knew that the entire industry was a high-risk one, especially in the local scene. But I was always under the assumption that the Boss had too much pride to worry about the cost as to which he would have to go to in order to be able to ship the game. But obviously, this was merely an optimistic assumption on my part. But still, even if the company were to close her doors, I expected to have had to at least go down fighting, and would have had been able to anticipate it at least, rather than getting emotionally assassinated with a clean slice to the jugular.

As I switched off the lights before leaving the office, I instinctively turned to look at my desk, and I saw something... I saw myself, or at least, an image of myself. An image of the night before, as I bent over the desk, sketching out a design idea under my own shadows all alone in the warmly lit office, particulary proud of the award-winning design I was able to formulate and hoping to put a close to the design of that particular room before I called it a day.

The image slowly fizzled out into blinding specks of dust as the lights dimmed and greyed while the entire imagery grew too blurry to distinguish. And there I was, standing all alone in an empty office, with the shadows overhanging on the walls of the office as a result of the setting sunlight that streamed in, staring straight at an empty chair and a surprisingly organized desk.

I took a disappointing sigh of resignation as I turned my back towards my table, pulling the heavy glass door and stepped out of the office.

...The Dream was Over.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Town Restaurant: 6 Rounds About Town

14th March 2008

"Why did you turn in here?" she asked, as I turned into the carpark.

"Because I need to park," I answered naturally. It was only moments later that she realised that she had been tricked. But the expression she wore on her face as we were making our way into the grand halls of the Fullerton was hardly that of anger or disappointment.

"I have a reservation under the name of Mr. Jeremy Kang," I told the receptionist.

"Sir, it was at 7pm," she replied in hidden exasperation.

"Well actually, the guy who took my call didn't exactly ask me for a time, so I just assumed that I could walk in at anytime." I replied not the least bit sheepishly.

"This way, please," she said in resignation as she showed us to our seats.

We made our way to a little sofa seat by the corner and took a garner at the decor to absorb the ambiance. Somewhat different from the romantic orange-yellow lighting that we had been accustomed to after the last few romantic dinners, the Town Restaurant was a brightly lit affair with most of the customer base clustered in groups more so than couples.

Peering out of the window gave us a tinted view of the Lovers' Bridge that spanned across the Singapore River, while a wall of water fountains laid the view for the window at the far end; giving the restaurant and classy yet casual and comfortable setting.

All Ready to Go

But my attention quickly shifted to the circular black-marble tables laid out nicely in the middle of the restaurant. "Let's go see what they have darling," I said, as I took her hand in mine.

Ambient and Appetizing

All waiting to greet the glamorous couple were all manner of sea creatures and all their sweet-tooth-satisfying friends. All manner of salads, side-dishes, seafood and sweets, prepared in a range of internationally different styles, wetted our appetites and more than did justice to the "Seafood Buffet" label.

Fully aware of our limited stomach-capacity versus the almost unlimited choices before us, we decided to take things systematically and make variety the order of the day, as we picked of dishes from the "Cold Dish" section to start as our appetizers.

I expectedly picked a platter full of all manner of salmon while she picked a plateful of poultry salad. It was a light affair on both sides, as we sampled the dishes off each others' platters. Of note were the Duck Salad and of course, the different variations of the smoked salmon, but of course, that is coming from an avid salmon fan, such as yours truly. The crab salad was a little bitter for my taste, but the spoonful of Salmon Tartar was a delight to the senses.

"Happy 6 months darling," I said, as I raised the Salmon Shot glass in partial jest.

"Happy 6 months," she replied. As we brought our glasses together and downed the bits of Salmon soaked in what tasted a little like Orange Juice.

Indeed, this was how we started out in our first month, a light, non-committal affair, that was meant to be light-hearted and fun, as I remember telling the captain at Al Dante, "Give me a moment while I go fetch my girlfriend," with doubts lingering in my head after uttering the very last word in that sentence...

We made our second round about the marbled-circle and took a platter full of fresh seafood off the ice bed, stacking our plates with all manner of oysters, lobsters, prawns and other shellfish.

I personally relished the shellfish served plain, such as the oysters and prawns, so that I could savour the sublime taste of freshness of each dish more apparently; whereas she, as usual, preferred the dishes drenched in the flavours of a thick sauce, especially the mussels.

"Mmmm, I love the taste of lobster, its like eating a super-sized prawn," I told her as I took the first bite after finally digging it out of its shell.

Indeed, such was the case in our second month, when we finally decided to come out of our emotional shells and commit to the more official terms of a "relationship" after 2 months of skirting around the issue. I remember asking her, "So do you wanna be my official girlfriend," moments before taking a huge bite into the smoked ribs at the Black Angus. Only to have her answer at the end of the night...

"So what are you gonna take next?" she asked.

"The hot dishes," I replied, picking off 1 portion out of almost every dish in the semi-circle that lined the central marble table.

While the Tortellini was a little too starchy for both our tastes (and a waste of space compared to all the rest of the more prized dishes), the Japanese Croquette left an impression with its nicely complimenting sour plum sauce, while the Grilled Cod tantalized with its smooth texture and piping hot temperature. But it was a good change of pace (and taste) to savour some food that warmed up the taste buds after 2 rounds of cold dishes.

Indeed, it was in the 3rd month that the Flames of Romance were lit, as I remember the look in her eyes and the smile on her face while the trio serenaded a love song at the Top of the M. And such is the warmth of memories such as these when they are recollected...

Cool and Contemplative

"You want some fried pork, Sir?" The chef at the counter asked as I peered over, trying to figure out what was being served.

"Sure, why not?" I said, as I carried on to pick off more dishes as she turned on the gas.

Round 4 was a decided change of style, as I selectively picked off a more Asian spread, consisting of Tempura Prawns, Chee Cheong Fun and of course, the said Teppanyaki Pork. Fried to a delicate texture and soaked in a brown sauce, the Pork ousted the Tempura spread to become the star of the round. Well, guess sometimes, it sure pays being late for the show, as there is just something about the dishes that are cooked and served to you on the spot that standout from the rest of the buffet fare; and in this case, the pork stayed true to this belief.

Indeed, there are times when being "late" also prove to be far more valuable that "never"; as I remember during our 4th month, we already missed the celebration date by almost a good 2 weeks, and I remember insisting on taking her out for dinner despite her repeatedly saying "it's ok, we don't have to celebrate." I'm glad we did, as even though we missed the actual date, the more important thing was that the significance of the occasion was cemented into the thresholds of time...

"You know, I'm almost full." she said, with a bloated and exasperated look on her face.

"Actually, me too." I said. "Think I'll go one more round before we go for dessert." Returning with a platter of Sashimi after having said that, while she returned with a bowl of Tom Yam Soup.

The Tom Yam Soup was suitably watered-down to cater to the less-seasoned tastebuds of the foreign patrons who might be interested to savour a bit of Thai cuisine, but yet, might not be able to fully withstand its normal potency.

Humble on Hesitant

I grabbed a piece of Salmon Sashimi with my chopsticks and put it to her mouth.

"C'mon, try it." I said, as she reluctantly opened her mouth to chew on the fresh, orange piece of Raw Salmon.

"See, its not THAT bad right?" I asked, as she continued chewing, before finally nodding slightly.

"Wanna try the rest of it?" I asked, pointing at the different manner of raw tuna, raw squid and raw yellowtail.

"No, I only dare to eat the squid. The rest of it still looks too gross to me, especially the red one." she replied with wry lips.

"You're such an idiot, not knowing how to appreciate such extravagant food," I said, stuffing a huge juicy piece of Chutoro into my mouth.

Indeed, Extravagance had always been the order in this relationship, and the single-most extravagant act had to be Valentine's dinner at Morton's of Chicago. Despite single-handedly burning an almost 6-foot-deep hole in my already too shallow pocket; after it is all said and done, I still strongly reckon that the extravagance was well-worth it, all in the name of Experience and Memories...

"I think I'm done," I said. As I finished the last piece of Sashimi.

"Let's go take the dessert," she said excitedly. She had always been this way, always looking at the desserts long before the start of the meal proper.

"Why do you always look at the desserts before even looking at the food?" I asked.

"Well, because the desserts are very pretty, and it makes them look really yummy," she replied idiotically, while I wondered about the irony of me being called "shallow."

We picked off all manner of cakes and pastry, and came back with 2 platters full of diabetes-inducing sin. The Chocolate Mousse, the Creme Brulee, the Pecan Pie, the Banana Crumble, the Mango-Chocolate Mousse, the Oreo-Chocolate Mousse and the Green Tea cake were more than enough to satisfy a month's worth of sweet-tooth callings; but it was the Cheesecake with its smooth texture and hard biscuit crust that really made the perfect finish to a night's delight to the tastebuds.

"Crap, I'm like SUPER full. I think I can't even stand up." I said.

"Me too. Feel damn full after I drank that last glass of water," she said, as she took the camera and started scrolling through the photos.

After laughing at some of the more amusing shots, she suddenly turned the camera off while we were still halfway into browsing through the pics we took.

"Why did you turn the camera off?" I asked her.

"Cos looking at the food now makes me so full that I feel like puking," she replied.

Filled to the Brim

Indeed, 6 months in and the sweetness still spills over.

Monday, 10 March 2008

7-Year (B)Itch

29th February 2008

"Hello, hello," she said repeatedly, with a smile brightly lighting up her face as she took her seat at the other end of the table.

"Oh, Hi Stella. So how's the wedding? Saw the pics on your Facebook...." Her words slowly faded into the background, as my subconscious took over, and I started scrutinizing the changes on her countenance.

"Oh, Pamela, how have you been? What are you doing now?" she asked eagerly as I continued to sip my Lime Frozen Daiquiri. Time hasn't been particularly kind to her; while still largely recognizable in an instant, closer scrutiny only brought to my attention the changes in the details, particularly the loss of the youthfulness that was locked into my memories. Then again, it is hardly surprising considering it has been a good 7 years or so since I (or any of us, for that matter) last saw her.

She moved down one row of the table and turned to her other side, in shock, unable to recognize the face that was before her. "Deyao?! Wow, I can hardly recognize you, you've changed so much," she uttered.

"Then do you recognize him?" Jason asked, pointing in my direction.

I looked down at the table as I continued to sip my drink.

"Of course, that's the asshole, Jer. Of course I recognize him," she replied. And that was the beginning of the busy laughter-filled conversation that filled the empty halls of the Shanghai Bar on a Friday night.

We spoke of the present, as she wanted to know the gist of our lives; where we worked, what we did, what we were into, who we were seeing, and all the other needless details that only mattered because of the timeless friendship that we shared.

"So what do you do at work then? Just play games?" she asked me.

"Well, partially, but I prefer to call it Game Research," I replied with a slight grin on my face. "But I do a lot of other things too. I'm like an everything-man in the company."

"Oh really? Like what?" she asked skeptically.

"Well, I do presentations, documentation, creative work, and technical implementation; basically everything that sprouts from Design upwards."

"That doesn't sound that hard. You don't need to program or anything." she replied typically.

"Hah. That's where you're wrong. I needed the programming to understand the process and the logic that goes behind the development. Like the limitations for instance." I answered, eager to prove my point.

"Hah. Like what?" she asked, equally eager to disprove my point.

"Like fluids simulation...." as I went on a continuous rant of my knowledge to silence her while baffling the rest of the bystanders.

She was always this questioning, and some things never change.

We spoke of the future. With talk about career advancement, job prospects and (very scarily) marriage; roughly where were we all intending to be and what we hope to achieve in the next 1 or 2 years.

"Its just scary, to know all of you gals are getting married soon," I said.

"Why? What's wrong with people wanting to get married?" she replied.

"Well, for me, its like marriage is not even in the most remote recesses of my mind at the moment. There are so many other things I want to do. But I guess I understand, I mean for us guys, we still have quite a long ways to go; after all men are like wine, and we only get more refined with age. Well, for you gals, I guess most gals at 25 are already starting to realize that they are starting to go *ahem* over-the-hill, so its only natural that most gals at 25 already want to consider marriage," I explained dogmatically.

"My ass, man. Who the hell told you that?" she vehemently rebutted as she slammed down her beer mug. ""Men may be like wine, but women are like... like grass. We are evergreen."

She was always this argumentative, and some things never change.

Most importantly, we spoke of the past. And indeed, nostalgia ran thick as we collectively dabbled in our childhood memories. The catchphrase of the night had to be "Do you remember....", as we used this primer to recount the nitty-gritty details that littered our childhood days; from recounting the bad habits of the teachers that taught us, to our collective attempt in trying to recollect the faces and the personalities of the ex-classmates buried in the deep recesses of our memories.

We laughed about the acts of mischief we got ourselves into: pranks we played on the *ahem* less popular classmates (that were obviously not at the table), and even the rivalries and arguments between the few of us at the table. But the peak of the nostalgia had to be collectively piecing together our sitting arrangement back in Primary 5 for our entire column, filling in the blanks of the spaces in between us with the pieces scattered throughout our collective memory.

Indeed, Primary School was a memorable time; a simple and happy time, where we meant every sound of laughter and every tear we cried much more than we do now. We were far less political, with far lesser agendas, and far more sincerity. The only reason we clicked the way we did was simply because we wanted to; nothing more, nothing less. And while time and tide has pushed all of us in different directions in the Sea of Life, it is good to know that there are some bonds that at least thread on despite the turbulent torrents of Time.

As the clock struck 2, we were tired from laughing and consciously aware of our outstanding presence amidst the empty bar. We made our way out of the bar as she said her farewells; farewells that would at least last another year till she next returns to the island.

"Bye, Roder. It was nice seeing you." she said.

"Bye Jason, thanks for organizing this gathering. Take care of yourself," as she bid farewell to each individual.

Then it came to me.

"Bye, Jer. Stop being such an asshole."

Yep, indeed. Some things never change.