Thursday, 23 October 2008

Niagara Falls: Hell and Highwater

13th July 2008

The queue towards the elevator snaked all the way to the back, and my companions and I were almost at the tail-end of it; but it didn't bother us one bit, as the sights around us captivated our souls in amazement.

Canadian shores laid opposite us with the connecting Rainbow Bridge standing proudly on our left, suspended over the calm, green waters of the river below. A scene of soothing tranquility as the cars cruised across the bridge almost in tandem to the white foams of the river flowing by.

Pot of Gold

The scene on the other side was one of stark contrast; the distant roars of the 2 different falls rang in the background. Clouds of mist that rose towards the sky from the bottom of the cascades only served as proof of the might of the cascading waters. Little blue people scrambled about the foot of the falls, hoping to get a bit more upclose and personal with the Maiden of the Mist, while equally tiny onlookers viewed the rear of the falls from a safe distance from an overlooking park.

Perfect Picture

When we first set our eyes upon the panoramic-view of the falls from our vantage point, my friends and I stood there utterly speechless; mostly out of amazement at the beauty of the way the different elements of man and nature came together to form a perfect picture. As we looked down at the Maiden of the Mist and the Veil of the Bride American Falls, with the main horseshoe falls setting the misty backdrop in a distance, we knew that our 8-hour trip was utterly justified, and almost pitied the people who opted out of joining us to get a first-hand experience with the Natural Wonder.

We were almost-subconsciously pushed to the entrance of the elevator, ready to make the long descent to meet the ladies face to face. It's a queer thing how the falls have such feminine monikers like "Maiden of the Mist" and the "Veil of the Bride." The elevator doors closed as I felt the pressure in my ears increasing. What we were about to see would surely provide a brand new perspective of the falls relative to the morning's visit.

The morning re-visit to the park that we were at for the night scene of the falls met with the same dastardly fate as the night before. Grey clouds looming overhead hinted that we wouldn't be seeing any rainbows in the daylight.

The day-time view of the Falls was less threatening than what we had witnessed the night before. While the mighty torrents of the river still rushed down the stream with the same thunderous gushes, the increased visibility made the green waters project less of a sense of fear and mystery than in the dark.

Cliff over the Falls


Not lost in translation however, was the great mist that rose from the impact of the cascades. Standing near the railings, I could feel the refreshing vapours of the Mist gently caressing my cheeks. So lost was I in the moment that I didn't really notice the raindrops that were falling on the dispersing crowd.... again.

A slight jerk followed by a chime indicated that we had reached the bottom of our descent, as we stepped out into the daylight, we heard the angry roars of the American Falls coming from our left. But the immediate priority was to join the ever-increasing queue for the Maiden of the Mist boat ride.

Down the queue, we were handed large, oversized, one-size-fits-all raincoats. Surely a primer to the wrath of the falls that we were about to face. Looking ridiculously undersized for our attire, we climbed to the upper deck of the boat to try to get the best view possible for our $200 bucks worth.

Never has the Raincoat looked THIS Sexy

"Welcome to the Maid of the Mist boat ride, ladies and gentlemen," the captain's voice came over the speakers as the boat started to make her way upstream against the peaceful, emerald-green waves. But we were far too busy pushing through the crowd to really pay attention to what he was saying.

I pushed through the crowed and manoeuvred as close to the side of the boat as I could. Just as I emerged from the chaos, I stood rooted to the ground in wonder at the view that I was getting of the Maid of the Mist.

Cascading Waters

Love on the Rocks

Almost perfect streaks of white-water rushed off the cliff at the top, hitting a bed of rocks on the way down, emitting clouds of mist that rose towards the sky, while the white-waters continued to snake and meander their way down into the river below. The sight was one of that was awe-inspiring and yet, oddly soothing in a zen-like fashion at the same time.

The boat continue to sail further upstream, approaching the main Horseshoe Falls as our gaze remained fixated on the beautiful sight of the American Falls. It was only when the blue and yellow people grew much smaller and the trademark thunderous roars of the Horseshoe Falls grew louder that I shifted my focus.

Welcome to Niagara Falls

Impending Doom

As if heading for impending doom, the boat cautiously sailed into the grasp of the threatening horseshoe so often portrayed in media forms. While not as towering as often depicted, there was no doubt about the velocity of the waters that earned the Niagara Falls its moniker of "Thunder Waters." The walls of the world's widest waterfall stretched in an almost perfect semi-circular fashion as water rushed off the cliffs from all sides, causing us to be buried in a large collective cloud of mist.

Music started playing through the boat's speakers as we sailed further into the treacherous jaws of the horseshoe; perfectly constructed walls of water surrounding us on every side. The captain paused briefly as the music quietened, the boat's engine slowed as the boat continued to drift into the Eye of the Storm.
Just as the boat drifted into the centre of the horseshoe, the Captain's voice came over the speaker...

"Ladies and gentlemen.... this is Niagara Falls."

The music dramatically climaxed into a crescendo as the mist rushed at us from every direction, engulfing us with a vengeance; as if Mother Nature was trying to assimilate us into the collective mist that spewed from her foreboding jaws. The calm was nowhere to be found in this Eye of the Storm for certain, as we were drenched thoroughly through our raincoats, having me drip from cap to toe... and yet, I loved every drop of it.

The boat turned tail to retreat and escape from the threatening clutches of the horseshoe, as I stood at the corner of the boat in an attempt to capture my close encounter with Mother Nature's fury. As if to put me in my place, she unleashed her fury in the form of an overhead wave that slapped me across the body as I held my ground in defiance.

Highwater Hell


I gritted through the fury of the tides until the ship pulled far enough away from the jaws of doom, finally earning a breather as we enjoyed the round-trip scenery of the American Falls once again. Yellow and blue people continued to scale the winding staircases under the foot of the two American Falls, as I knew that I would be one of those little people the moment the ship docked.

Calm after the StormLooking OutHot and CoolSurvivors 3


As we stood at the foot of the hills, we saw a string of blue meandering up the staircases at the foot of the falls in search of a little upclose and personal time with the Maiden of the Mist. With some sort of slightly masochistic adventurous streak, my friends and I sought to get another round of lashing from Mother Nature.

Up the MaidenWindy

Double Point

Jer and Will went up the Hill to fetch a Mouthful of Water

We ascended with caution, up the slippery steps and enduring the periodic sprays of rage that the Maiden of the Mist rained upon us, with the sprays getting stronger as we ascended higher and higher. We saw people turn back halfway into the pilgrimage with squeals and screams due to the increasingly menacing sprays, but we chugged on towards the very top of the stairs, and awaiting us there was nothing more than an open wooden platform and a potful of pride.

Probably angry with our persistence, the Maiden of the Mist rained her fury upon my friends and I, beckoning us to turn around and head back. Even though her anger was relatively less menacing than her bigger counterpart, it was still enough to drench us through our raincoats for one last time, temporarily destroying my camera in the process as we attempted to squeeze out our last few memories.

Mist on MaidGritPourHazy Three

Extent of Damage

As I sat in the 8-hour bus ride back to Boston, shivering from the cold air-con blasting away and through my soaked t-shirt onto my skin, with water still dripping off the hood of my cap, madly fiddling with my vapour-filled camera, and moving my toes to feel the water squishing about in my shoes and my socks; logically, I knew that I should been feeling cold and miserable. Yet almost unexplainably, I couldn't help my smile to myself in satisfaction as my eyes grew heavier and heavier...

Misty Back

Legend of the Falls

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Virtual Insanity

A man dressed in green and red ran across the ground, jumping over some unknown manner of beast that was shaped like a... mushroom? Jumping over a pitfall and avoiding certain death just for that LITTLE bit longer. The man jumped, hitting his head hard against a brick ceiling, as a mushroom appeared out of nowhere with a sound effect that would become instantly distinguishable even 20 years later.

The year was 1988, as I set eyes, for the first time, on what would later become a household name, Super Mario Bros. My uncle continued to try to manoeuvre Mario around the level with utmost finesse. But inevitably, he plunged to his death eventually. Letting out a hearty laugh at his clumsiness, he looked around and asked, "Want to try it?" He then prompted me to wrest the controller from his hands.

Eager to experience the Virtual Insanity that I had just witness first-hand, I rose to the challenge and grabbed the controller. The soon-to-be familiar music as my anticipation grew. The green and red pixels lit up the screen as I grasped the controller my tightly than I needed to. I walked forward to the approaching mushroom-shaped Goomba, and tried to jump, raising the controller instinctively as if it were motion-sensitive, but still landing right in front of it and seeing Mario rise and fall off the screen in his dying animation.

That was my first experience with Video games, a miserable attempt; but even though it was miserable, it was intrinsically fun for the 3 seconds that it lasted. But little did I know then, that a 3-second experience, would be the jump start to a now-in-it's-twentieth-year hobby, a Passion, more so than anything else.

The rest of the night went by with my cousins and I taking turns to get used to the controls of Mario, jumping and waving our hands like crazed-kids and shouting at the stop of our lungs with each close call we made.

A week later, with much nagging and persistence, my dad finally succumbed and we brought home our very first Video game Console, the NES, and of course, with Mario. In fact, for a long time, it was the only game that we had, but back then, we didn't care, my brother and I (I more so than my brother) could play for hours on end, dying and restarting over and over again.

The situation remained relatively the same throughout our entire childhood, only getting less than 5 new games every year, we were content with playing our games over and over again, often alternating between the limited choices that we had.

Times were simpler back then, we were perfectly fine with going through the story of Shining Force for the 7th time, there was no Internet, so we played the games over and over again to explore every nook and cranny in the game, and self-discovered every secret the game had to offer.

Difficulty was brutal, with many games not having a Save feature; meant that we had to start from the first level each time we played, and soon mastered the earlier levels of a game with machine-like precision.

20-years is a long time, and now, the gaming scene has totally changed, along with the rest of the world. While it has become a lot more of a "cool, mainstream" hobby with the passing of the Playstation generation, it was also attracted a fair amount of charlatans who claim to be "hardcore gamers" when they know nothing beyond the bounds of the franchises made famous by the Playstation, or have no clue of any Final Fantasy before part VII.

Of course, the pacing of consumption of games has increased tremendously over the years as well, and I am guilty of this touch-and-go pattern of consumption as well, especially after having a bit more power over my finances as the years went by.

What started with 1 game on one console, has now grown into an empire of 559 games spread across 16 consoles in the last 20 years, with an estimated worth of... $16,837.70 (I'm assuming USD), and that is not including the bootleg crap that I bought and the NES games that I lost along the years. [My Collection]

The only thing slightly more scary than that amount that I've actually spent on this Passion and the monstrous collection that I've built up, is the amount of my life I've actually burned away on this said Passion.

An article on the Gamasutra talks about How to Hire Good Game Designers, and one of the listed requisites is that game designers are generally either making games with their spare time, or simply playing them. What it doesn't mention though, is the context of relativity of the word "spare time."

So I guess, with 20 years of "spare time", inclusive of school and all the rest of the irrelevant educational crap that consumed the better half of the better half of my life, one would be able to have played a buckload of games; 583 to be exact, in my case, more than 70% of which I can say I finished, and a good chunk of them being of the soul-sucking RPG genre. [Games Played]

"Passion" has always been a very strong word, one that is used too flippantly these days. Too many charlatans lay claim to the word "passion" even though it might only be a passing phase for them, regardless of the activity.

But in my case, 20-years, 16 consoles, 559 games bought, and 583 games played later, I think that I can safely lay claim to the word "Passion" when it comes to gaming. After all, for a commitment-phobic like me, if I can commit to something for 20 years, it would more than probably mean something, right?

The red plumber runs up to the all-too-familiar Goomba, as I tilt the analog stick forward and hit the A button. My estimation of the landing of the jump in 3-D was a little off, as the Goomba approaches me from the back. I shake the motion-sensitive Wii-mote (how ironic) to make Mario spin, knocking the Goomba away. I tilt my head from upside-down to right-side-up as I see Mario restore his naturally bearings; a natural reaction to the mind-boggling gravity effects in Super Mario Galaxy. I finish the stage to an all-new chime of accomplishment.

With a smile of amazement on my face, my eyes gaze through the Virtual Insanity on screen, as I wonder, what the next 20 years would be like.