Con Report: 2015 Shanghai Comic Con


The man on the mic does his best to work the crowd: “Something something something, something something Avengers something.” Then riotous applause and rapturous “Aahs.” This is what it is like sometimes when you visit a comic convention in Shanghai. If I knew better Chinese, I’d try for a more direct translation; as it is I can only report “something something,” just a snapshot of one of my experiences during my brief time visiting the 2015 Shanghai Comic Con.

Billed as the “first ever official Shanghai Comic Con,” SHCC was brought to you by the folks of ReedPOP (New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con) and who seem to be branching out for international venues, including Vienna and upcoming shows in Paris and Hyderabad and Delhi. There was no way I was going to miss this, despite a very busy weekend with some other commitments. As a regular attender to San Diego’s Comic Con and a Marvel junkie (I prefer the more specific term Jarvis-Head) it was just a given.

Part of the excitement comes from not knowing exactly what to expect. Superheroes are just as big of business in China as anywhere, and both Marvel and DC movies are met with equal aplomb. While not officially released through state media, most tech savvy young people are up to date on the latest episodes of The Flash, and this was also the same weekend as Avengers 2: Age of Ultron enjoyed its China release. Fevers were high, and this was exotic new territory. Anything could happen! (Even this really boring promo poster!)

And yet I was still running late on Saturday morning. I finally managed to get my act together and traverse the town to arrive by taxi at 11:30ish. Knowing the floor opened at 11am, and that presale tickets were long ago sold out, I was fearing for the worst, flashing back to San Diego, of course. Seeing the number of cars backed up along the entrance made me want to hop out of the taxi a block early, but no, it was just a red light up ahead. I got dropped off right in front of the gated queue!

But this wasn’t right. The only signs (bilingual, thankfully) indicated it was for presale/Internet sales. I asked the white guy hanging around in front but he had no clue either, and was waiting for his friend anyway. Okay, then, better try my bilingual skills on the attendant in front of the barricades.

He escorted me through the queue to a small tent where I bought my tickets directly and exited straight into the turnstile. I jumped all those suckers paying for presale! What followed was an X-ray and metal detector that’s a shade more intense than your average rock concert but typical for what you’d find at every subway entrance here, and I was inside a very spacious, and new, convention center in the western part of the city.

I had time to walk the vendor floor, which took up the entire first level. (Well, maybe 90%. There’s not *that* many vendors.) The emphasis here was on merchandise and hero-related products. Some entertainment options were there, such as a film school with live movie-makeup demos and Chinese TV branding, but most were toys and figures and apparel. There was one very popular booth for a League of Legends-style multi-player, and an X-Box One/Kinect demo with gleeful players flinging their arms in order to be Fruit Ninjas.

I wanted to be on time to see some of the guests, one of the firsts being David Finch, and made my way up to the third level for the conference rooms. I estimate over 300 people came to see Mr. Finch, making it standing room only. Via an interpreter of course, Finch talked about his own work and asked for fledging artists in the audience, giving some advice and encouragement. Something about initiative and self-discipline. I wonder how certain aspects of his talk meshed with the clash of cultures, but it wasn’t merely locals; there were significant numbers of expats in the audience. During the Q&A, the audience came up with only a few softball questions, like if he uses reference material, who’s his favorite writers, and so on, but there were a few pretty good ones, too, often with surprising results. Asked how does it feel to both write and draw your story, Finch said he prefers a close relationship with a writer rather than do both, and he got applause after the answer was interpreted. What did that mean, exactly? At one point, a questioner took the mic and went for so long the audience started booing, hissing until he wrapped it up. I’d like to have seen that happen at some previous panels I’ve attended, I assure you.

The real weirdness was from being in a situation I was so familiar with from before, attending a convention panel, and yet to have it so completely re-contexted, having it be in Shanghai. Certain things I take for granted, like suffering through weird questions, waiting for the presentation to begin etc., came crashing into other things I take for granted, like theater etiquette culture-clash. Surreal.

Continuing to wander the levels, I noticed a few more bugs that surprised me for a big event like this. There were technically only two food stalls, plus a coffee stall and a juice stall, and only two banks of restrooms on each level. On one end of the hall, the escalators was out of commission, and on the other side, one bank was out of commission at least twice. In/out privileges were regulated, and the exit was at the rear of the hall, separate from the entrance entirely.

The second level had more space, this one for meet and greets/artist alleys. The main stage separated the seating area (about 500 seats, VIP only) from the rest of the crowd, even though the seats were never filled close to 50%, even with the headliners. I caught the interview with Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin/Oswald from the Gotham TV series) which was almost entirely softball questions, but both Taylor and the crowd were enjoying themselves enormously. Anytime the crowd recognized a name, even “Flash” or “Avengers,” they would holler in delight.

Overall, though, there was so much space on this level it was almost creepy. Echoes that made it difficult to hear the microphone, one line stretching for an hour to visit one table while others have no one. The official meet-and-greets with autographs demanded a special queue, and official price. Taking a photo with a celebrity could cost you over $125 US, and autographs started around $50.

The real stars, though, were the cosplayers. Whole flows of traffic would be disrupted once someone agreed to pause for pictures, and it would not be strange to see more than a dozen photographers becoming paparazzi for several minutes or more, or as long as the cosplayer would put up with it. Multiply that excitement exponentially whenever two related characters happened to cross paths.

I’ve also lived in Japan, and as expert as that place is with cosplay, I saw so many here that could give the best of Tokyo a run for their money. Part of it might be the lack of precedent— I doubt many people would let a Green Arrow in, one that has an actual bow and real arrows, but there was some real attention to detail, including a girl dressed as Captain America in padded armor like the movies and a large shield that was near perfect, and a Winter Soldier who could have stepped out of the movie reel. There were even characters I wouldn’t have expected, like a Lady Deadpool and a female Loki.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend the whole day there, and had to end up leaving long before I could see the Gail Simone panel, which was at the top of my list.

Ah, well. You never know when I’ll end up in New York or San Diego again. Or maybe people will want to return to Shanghai. Judging from the response last weekend, we all will be waiting with open arms, and ready cameras.


The Difference Between Sayonara and Zaijian…

I’ll always remember my first.
My first time I lived overseas.
Japan was exotic, unfathomable,
That beguiling charm of mysterious.
And me?
She let me be with her.
Everyone else is jealous. How did *I* get to land her?
After all, it’s TOKYO.
After five years, you start to realize
The honeymoon is over.
I can live with it. I think,
Maybe it’s just me?
I’m starting to see the blemishes;
They’re flaws I can’t begin to ignore.
But somehow it’s presumptuous of me to point them out?
Maybe it is just me.

She doesn’t care.
I tried to make her like me.
Her high-maintenance highness.
Her love of the new even if it’s unnecessary
Her love of the tradition when it’s necessary
(but not necessarily convenient or even right)
My ダーリン, it’s you, not me.

Finally, it’s time.
I leave with nothing,
Closing the door on nothing but walls floor and ceiling.

Taiwan will have me.
She’s open, and gives knowing hugs
Vivacious with a laid-back energy, always smiling
She’s not the first on the dance card
Everyone else only knows her from years ago
That one time when she made toys or something
They don’t see what I see
That there’s lots of rain (LOTS of rain) but
It makes for nature (LOTS of nature)
And good-natured neighbors, with lots of flaws.
Hey, we all have flaws, so let’s put our best face on
(even when it’s not necessary nor convenient.)
She’ll just let me be me.

She doesn’t judge.
Or maybe she judges, but with a mutual understanding that any such judgement doesn’t really mean anything.
She’d love it if I stayed, but there’s no real chemistry.
She knows. (It happens a lot, I think.)
All those little things are fine but they’re starting to add up.
I don’t see this really going anywhere.
I guess I needed a rebound country.
My 很朋友, it’s me, not you.

The time has come.
I want to take so much with me.

Shanghai has invited me over.
Looks like the start of a new relationship.
Maybe after a couple of these
I’ll finally know what I’m doing?
Finally find someone to settle down with?
What if THAT is not me, after all?

Let’s just start with “Ni Hao”
And see where it goes.

Game Chef 2014 – Update & Big News


I am truly honored to be named a finalist in the Game Chef 2014 competition.

Since I am currently undergoing yet another life-change (hey, if I didn’t like them, I’d stop doing them, right?) and all the stress that such change-ness brings, it was very humbling and encouraging to be considered. The competition looks very tough, but I am very happy to have gotten this far.

Please check out the other nominations HERE.

Looking back, I realize there are quite a few errors that popped up all over the place in my submitted draft, and I’m not sure the mechanics for the story-telling are really firing on all cylinders like they should be. This is definitely version 1.0 and needs some tweaking (and playtesting!) so for that reason I’m doubly appreciative of all my reviewers and genuinely thankful.

Regardless of the outcome, I will be taking a second look at the draft and making updates where appropriate. In the meantime, here’s the original post with a link to the draft for the 1.0 version.

Thanks again!

Easter, Lost in Translation

It can be difficult at times to communicate aspects of your life to another culture (and, to be fair, it’s vice versa!) We take for granted certain assumptions about our language, beliefs, and other things that are so deeply ingrained that we assume everyone else assumes the way. Of course, I’m talking about how In-N-Out is the best hamburger joint in the world. Also? Easter.

Here’s David Sedaris’ essay “Jesus Shaves” about his experiences being an expat in France.



Travel Tips: The Number One Mindset You Must Be In When You Travel

from: Google Images Time Life Archive; Long Island, NY, US (1939) Photographer: David E. Scherman

from: Google Images Time Life Archive; Long Island, NY, US (1939) Photographer: David E. Scherman

Before I tell you my secret that will help you stop worrying and enjoy the travel experience, I have to ask: How do you travel?

Are you like, say, Herman and Wanda? The ones who have a list of things on his agenda, and they angrily hush the youngest of the family because no, it’s not time to eat yet, and yes, they still have to go through the free museum tour and, besides, the restaurants outside the museum are too expensive anyway?

Or maybe you’re like, perhaps, a Chason and Abby? Holding each other tight, they pose for a two-person selfie while trying to get the museum facade in the frame at the same time? They’re holding the ice cream they bought from the cart a few feet away, not because they were hungry, but it’s hot and that gelato looked really good, didn’t it?

The truth is that we’re all somewhere in the middle, right? But regardless of where you are in the spectrum, there is one thing I guarantee you will ALL fall victim of. It’s unavoidable. It happens whenever you travel, but if you can get your head around it, and accept it, you will be able to find joy in any travel situation.

The thing is, EVERYONE will have to pay a Stupid Tax.

A Stupid Tax is, obviously, any extra money that you will have to pay because you are stupid. And you must humble yourself– you WILL be doing stupid things when you travel. You are not smart about that area, because you just traveled there. There is no way you can be 100% smart about the area, and any percentage you fall short will be your Stupid Tax.

You tipped the taxi driver too much? 5% Stupid Tax.

Didn’t realize you had to pay for bread at the table? 3% Stupid Tax.

You tried bargaining in the market, and still feel like you paid too much? Heck, that could be upwards of 25-30% Stupid Tax.

Chason and Abby (remember them?) paid extra for the gelato at the cart when they could have walked a bit more and found a convenience store, if they really wanted the ice cream at all. It’s all just Stupid Tax, automatically added to your bill.

There are non-monetary ways the Stupid Tax will affect you, too. If you fail to take the direct line with Bus 310 and instead take Bus 278 with transfers to 51 and 32, that could be a problem with some extra Stupid Tax fare, but it might be felt more acutely because of the tax on your time and patience. Herman and Wanda, above, are finding their Stupid Tax in the form of frustration and family tension.

So, if Stupid Tax is unavoidable, how can you have a pleasant travel experience?

The key is to develop this mindset: Do your best to avoid unnecessary Stupid Tax, but be ready to accept it when it comes.

Look at those examples I listed above. These are not bad things, necessarily. Tipping, bread, any sort of bargain at the market, ice cream…

If you are too much like Chason and Abby, then you’ll end up losing a lot more money than you’d prepared, and that will actually end up limiting your options. But if you try to overcompensate, you are too much like Herman and Wanda, and then you’ll end up being paranoid and miss out on opportunities when they come.

For my own example, in my recent trip to Sydney, I researched the kinds of public transport options I would need ahead of time. I was sure that what I would need would be a MyMulti One ticket. On arrival, I asked the subway attendant about the options, and confirmed my decision. After all, I reasoned, I would not be using the ferries very much, and that was what made the difference between a MyMulti 1 and 2. However, as the week went on, I did find myself using the ferries more than I had planned, and so I would have saved money with a MyMulti 2 in the first place. The difference wasn’t terribly significant, but it was definitely a Stupid Tax that I could have spend on something else. I could either stress about it and regret that I didn’t do my homework good enough, or I could accept the loss of a bit of money as “Stupid Tax happens” and continue to enjoy my trip.

I definitely recommend the latter option.

Once upon a Thailand

Koh Lio Liang, Thailand

Koh Lio Liang, Thailand

On a small island somewhere inside the Burma Sea, “freedom” can mean many things, but it always comes with a catch.

You are free to take whatever you want from the bar, a thatch-roofed counter of questionable stability and obvious weathering, as long as you marked your name down on the crumbled paper on the clipboard. You can climb the cliff face, karst formations that box in the island on all but one side, as long as it wasn’t in the vine-covered areas where the plants likely hid deadly snakes. And you could swim wherever you wanted along the coast, as long as it wasn’t at night, when pirates might be monitoring the scattered crumbs of nearby islands. Such pirates tend to shoot first and ask questions never, taking no chances that you might be a rival searching for the infamously lucrative bird nests that make expensive soup ingredients throughout Asia.

Four years ago, I had taken a week’s vacation to Thailand, taking advantage of a spring break to get my PADI scuba diver license. The process would take four days at least, but I wasn’t interested in the hyper-touristy areas of Koh Samui or Koh Phi Phi. I’m sure others enjoyed the freedom of scuba practice in the morning and nightclubs and drinks into early the next morning (even with the catch of early-morning dives with hangovers.) No, I was looking for a true getaway.

Surely, there would be places truly off the beaten track. What if I sought out some kind of national park, some kind of reserve area where lodging would be available. Thanks to a bit of Google-fu, eventually, I found it– Koh Lao Liang, a place so remote that it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry, just a subtitle under the one for Mu Ko Phetra National Park. It was a place so small that you had to take two ferries to get there — a large one full of hardy partiers on their way to Koh Phi Phi and then a second one, transferring in the middle of the ocean into one of the native long-tail boats to take the remainder of the journey.

I was greeted by Paul, a lanky dreadlocked Australian, and several Thai attendants. Paul was the manager (for lack of a better term) of the resort (for lack of a better term), for what amounted to the 200 square foot stretch of beach cloistered by the high karst cliffs. He was the one who pointed out the bar and is policy and showed me the “rooms” on the other side of the beachhead. They were little more than deluxe-sized tents with zippable interiors to create anterooms or walls and electricity to power the fans inside. The dining hall? A series of tables under a tall canopy.

The guests were outnumbered by the Thai serving as support staff. In total, there was a German couple, fleeing the coldness of the mother country, a regular practice for these elderly retirees; a Japanese family of four, traveling from Osaka; and even two families of wealthy Thai nationals. There was one other single traveler, one who happened to be from San Diego, about as much as a neighbor as this Los Angelese guy could get. I was the only one to be undergoing the PADI course, which means the other couple on the island was my instructor, Ellen, and her significant other.

And with the very brief tour of the island over in all of two minutes, I was free to enjoy the rest of my time on Lao Liang. However, it quickly became apparent how much of a blessing and a curse it would be for me to be stranded on a deserted island. Apparently, I don’t relax well. After several minutes of laying in the sun, or several minutes of snorkeling in the shallow reefs, or several minutes of trying to free climb the lower section of cliffs, I would be at a loss of how the rest of my day should be fulfilled. Thank goodness for the requirements of PADI– there are actually tests involved! Apparently, I handle hammocks under a panoply of palm fronds much better when I can study texts and watch DVD training videos.

The true test of freedom came at the end of the week. I had learned much more than just the PADI skills– I also learned how it important formality and social hierarchy is for Thai people. All boats must display the yellow colors of the current regime, nearly as important as displaying the national flag itself, or risk symbolically criticizing the king. Pointing the feet to the head of anyone could be the biggest disrespect of all, and complaining is a big cultural taboo, since saving face is so important. I also learned that, however much freedom you may enjoy living on a remote island, it could be quite illusionary after all.

Koh Lio Liang

Koh Lao Liang, as a resort, existed because of a relationship between both private investors and the Thai government, a relationship that, because of that whole face-saving aspect of culture, had to be delicately maintained. Most recently, that had taken the form of a giant sign that now marred the view of an unspoiled beach. It was a necessary evil according to the government representatives, who determined such a sign was important to inform everyone that a siren would sound in order to inform everyone about an approaching tsunami, at which point everyone should move to higher ground.

At the end of my week’s stay, an official-looking long-tailed boat landed forcefully onto the beach in the afternoon. This one took the display of colors very seriously, perhaps trying to prove the strength of their political commitment by increased numbers of streamers and cloth and flags. The entourage included one very official-looking leader, despite his relatively lower height, and an entourage of a dozen others who formed a shell of importance around him.

It was difficult to get a clear report from Paul, from Ellen, or from anyone, really. Were they here to check on the tsunami sign? To search for illegal activity? To make sure that the resort was running efficiently? The only thing that was clear was that things were being kept purposefully vague. Ultimately, the official asked Paul to return with him to the mainland to review some paperwork. Obviously, Paul agreed. He left my instructor, her boyfriend, and myself, standing on the beach as the official’s boat roared its unmuffled motor out into the ocean.

Would he be back, I asked, by tomorrow? After all, I needed to leave at that point, and I was looking forward to Paul’s help to coordinate my connection to the ferry that would be crossing our paths on its way back from Koh Phi Phi somewhere to our west. No problem, they assured me, as Ellen and her friend would be needing to return as well. Paul left in the resplendent long-tail boat, a parade of one, the roar of its outboard motor following after it into the distance.

I tried to enjoy the remainder of the time on my last day, which was a bit more difficult in that the demographics of the island had changed a few times in the course of the week, and the only tourists left were a different Thai family and another Japanese single traveler. Ellen helped arrange one of the Thai staff to give me a massage on the beach, but since I don’t like to be touched as well as the fact that a traditional Thai massage uses a lot of brute strength and pointy elbows, was not as calming as it was supposed to be. Her boyfriend offered to share a toke from some weed he had kept in stash, making his earlier nervousness with the officials a bit more understandable, but I wasn’t interested in mind-altering substances at this point of uncertainty. Dinner came, but there was still no word. After dusk truly fell, we learned via cell phone that Paul could not satisfy the Thai police questions and needed to return to the island to get more paperwork. However, since this would be after business hours, Paul would be held in a holding cell on the mainland and would return tomorrow.

“So,” I asked, “for all intents and purposes, right this moment I am stranded off the coast of Thailand?” Well, came the answer, *technically.*

They didn’t seem as concerned as I. But this may be since they lived in Thailand, making this event have the same weight as a traffic jam on the way back from visiting the folks might have for someone in California. Or encountering (surprise, surprise) a line at the DMV.

I kept receiving assurances that all would be well, that this is just a show of force by officials who have nothing better to do than to rattle some sabers. It was a constant performance of face and they tended to be as aggressive as they could get away with. Still, they would laugh and admit that “anything’s possible!” and share stories of other “farang” who ran afoul of Thai officials. I admit to being caught between two emotions myself. On one hand, how cool would it be to miss a flight back to work because I was stuck on a tropical island? On the other hand, how boring would that be? It was a whole “blessing and curse” thing. How much freedom can you get before it’s no longer a good thing?

The next day came, sure enough. Early in the morning, almost immediately after breakfast, the familiar roar of a long-tail boat came in with the tides. Paul was aboard, along with the boat driver and a conspicuous absence of government officials. Paul was all smiles, the kind that appeared hesitant due to the clouds behind his eyes, and told us he was let go from the holding cell since it was simply a matter of getting some visa papers which were left in his residence (for lack of a better term) on the island. He was returning immediately to the mainland, with the help of the driver, his boss and one of the private investors to the resort. With only the staff and the few guests remaining behind, all the farang got onto the boat to return to their respective lives. The investor helped the SCUBA instructors unload their equipment, then personally drove me to the airport in a bumpy, speed limit-defying rush through the jungly suburbs.

I suppose the better story would be if I actually did get to become stranded on a tropical island, and looking back I’m sure there’s even a “real” story somewhere behind these details. Maybe I was too young, too world-unwise, to see more in those vague answers I was given. That’s the problem with freedom. When you have it, you don’t wonder why it exists, nor do you wonder as to what is happening behind the scenes to allow it to exist.

In scuba diving itself, there is a freedom in swimming, a range of movement unbound by gravity and a glimpse into a strange alien world. But that freedom is tempered by the unspoken and necessary reliance on your air supply, your gear, your buddy, and even the countless years of countless people enjoying and studying the hobby. That’s not really what you think about, as awesome and overwhelming as it is, because you get caught up in the beauty and strangeness of the moment. True freedom, then, for me is when I don’t have to think about the whys, the whos, and the hows.

Freedom is a “haikyu moment,” a snapshot of poetry you experience as you swing in a hammock on the beach of Koh Lao Liang, closing your eyes against the setting sun. If you can find those kinds of moments, you can really be free indeed, and they’re always worth the cost.