Sandy's Ramblings

Friday, April 11, 2008

Change of scenery

It's been a while since I wrote anything on here and it's also been a while since I was in contact with most of you. For those who don't already know, I am in Nottinham (been here about 10 days now) in the UK working for a company called Monumental Games and really enjoying it. We're working on a MMOG called Football Superstars which is due out in the northern hemisphere summer.

Let me explain.

Gabi and I were in Sao Paulo, looking for work and honestly finding nothing of much interest. Gabi found an interesting job but the pay was terrible, and I found a couple of companies that looked interesting but also terrible pay and bureaucratic issues - always delays, delays. It started driving us mad, having a positive interview and then being told "We'd love to hire you, but it's going to be take several weeks (months) before we can do anything. Oh, and we can only pay you 2500 reais (about R10,000 in a country roughly 50% more expensive that SA)."

So, I decided to apply for some jobs in the UK to see what came of it and managed to organise a couple of interviews. I flew across around mid-March and ended up getting a job here in Nottingham. I flew back to Brazil to tie up loose ends and whatnot, and then flew back here on 2 April to start work on the 7th. I must say that the quality of the work here is really high, much more so than anything I have encountered before and so I'm going to learn loads - and I truly believe that I'd have struggled to find work of this nature in Brazil and also in South Africa. Those countries just do not have a games industry of the same scale and similarly do not have people with 20+ years of game development behind them running the shows.

Gabi is still in Brazil waiting for her UK visa to come through. It's a crap process (I could go on about it for ages but won't) and finally her application went in yesterday so it will hopefully be ready within a month. Hopefully. So in the meantime I am staying on my own in our apartment here, furnished with a bed and a table with 4 chairs. I also bought a kettle and a toaster so I'm rocking along. The kitchen is furnished with fridge, stove, oven, washing machine and dishwasher though, so I am in good shape.

So yeah, just to let you all know where I am and why, and that there's a spare bedroom in the house (currently empty, but that'll change) and you are all welcome anytime. You just know you want to find out all about Robin Hood...

Anyways, I'd best get back to work.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Breaking the Silence

Apologies for being so silent so long, but I've been both busy and lazy. Bits and bobs here are coming to a head - my police clearance finally arrived from SA and so I can start applying to become a Brazilian. For those who have never acquired a South African police clearance before - beware that it takes about 2 months to get and simply states 'Blah blah no record of anything blah.' Could someone let me know why this is such a complex process for them? Surely a quick pop of my ID number into their database have brought that information up instantly? Anyways, it's here and let's hope it's not expired.

Becoming a Brazilian is a fairly simple process but sadly requires me to provide a complete copy of my passport. A complete copy, I'm told, means a photocopy of EVERY SINGLE page there is in there, blank or otherwise. That's about 34 pages. I have 2 passports, so that's 64 pages or so. I think I'll take a book to the copy shop. One upshot of this process is that once it begins, I cannot leave the country until it's complete which is about 6 months. So I'll be a political hostage in a sense. I don't think anyone'd strongarm me at the airport but it'd probably just cause the process to abort which would mean having to get a new police clearance. So no.

Otherwise mostly just killing time here in Brasilia. The weather's generally hot (35ish) and super dry, although the rain is starting up now and serious rains last Friday coupled with hard, dry ground was a perfect recipe for floods, which we had in abundance.

We went off to Cordoba, Argentina's second city, for the last 4 or 5 days and I ate way too much meat. There's not much to see and do in the city proper so we (Gabi, Gabi's mom and I) rented a car and did some 600 kilometres of missions around the place. It's on the outskirts of the Argentinian great lakes and the opportunities there for camping and trekking are fantastic.

Our flights to and from Cordoba were a nightmare - to see my tormentor. We left Brasilia at about 8pm on Friday and flew to Porto Alegre (near the Argentina border in the south-east of Brazil) and got there just after 11pm - over an hour late due to delays and so we were scheduled to miss our connecting flight. But no worries - our connecting flight was also the connecting flight for several other flights that we scheduled to have arrived by 11pm as well, but one of them decided to break ranks and only arrive at about 2am. So instead of leaving Porto Alegre at 11.30pm or so, we ended up leaving at 2.50am and arriving in Cordoba at 5am instead of the planned 1.30am or so. Since we got to the airport in Cordoba so late, after baggage collection and immigration etc it was after 6am and we were knackered and unfortunately so was the taxi driver - he fell asleep several times on the drive to the hotel, and at one point began accelerating towards the rear of a car stopped in front of us. Lots of screaming and shouting from us woke him up, for a few minutes, and we managed to get to the hotel in one piece, albeit a little adrenalin-charged.

The flight back, although rather uneventful, was horrific - we had to be at the airport in Cordoba by 3am to catch our flight at 4am which went to Porto Alegre again where we waited an hour or so (most of which was spent queuing to check in again) and then had a stopover at Curitiba on the way back to Brasilia, finally getting in at about 12.30. I am going to write a strongly worded letter to Gol airlines here and let them have it - hoping to get a free flight...

Here are some photos of Cordoba and surrounds...

Go figure - it reads 'Do not forget them - they are not negotiable', talking about the Falklands

Big cathedral in the centre of town

Main plaza

One of the many lakes nearby

Another one

Che Guevara's house - lived here for a bit to improve his asthma

Friday, August 03, 2007

African Travels

After a long hiatus, I thought I'd post something on here - although not much. Since about 20 June or so, I've been travelling through southern Africa with Gabi and two friends of mine from Korea, Nick and Anna. We borrowed my mom's car and starting in Cape Town, worked our way along the southern and eastern coasts of South Africa, trying to outrun the storm that was chasing us, and then went via Swaziland to Mozambique, then to Malawi and now we're in Zambia.

Lots has happened and lots to tell, but I don't have the time now. Nick and Anna had to return home to England to see the families before going back to Korea, so they left us about 5 weeks into the trip. Gabi and I are planning to go to Victoria Falls in the next couple of days before heading into Botswana and then Namibia before going back to Cape Town, sometime in early September I reckon.

Anyways, will (maybe) post more soon - I will at some point, it just might not be too soon.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Last friday my sister passed away after having been really sick for years. To those of you who knew this won't come as too much of a surprise, but when it happens it is always tough. She passed away quietly in her sleep in her bed at home, what better way?

If you'd like to come, the funeral is going to be on Friday 9 March at 10.30am at St James Church in Kenilworth. Best to drop an e-mail though for details because that church is huge and you might get lost.

I'm still in China but tomorrow Gabi and I are flying back to Cape Town, arriving at 7.20am on Wednesday morning. I'm not sure what contact number I'll have there (probably the same as before), but e-mail is always a good option. I'll be in touch with the Capetonians among you when I can.

When you left us you took with you a piece of my heart.
As your name suggests, you were nothing
but happiness and you will live on
forever in my heart and memory.
Enjoy your newfound and much awaited
perfection my beautiful sister.

I love you,
your brother,

See you soon.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Leaping Pandas

Before I start, my apologies to those of you with dodgy internet connections for the number of photos in here. I've made them small so hopefully you'll be ok, but I know South African internet all too well.

I'm going to cram two things into one here, purely for lack of effort. About 10 days ago we (Gabi and I, and our Israeli friend Lihi) were in Lijiang and went on a hike to a place known, rather romantically and ridiculously, as Tiger Leaping Gorge. The name apparently comes from an old legend of local hunters out after said tiger and failing to catch it because it leapt across the gorge - a highly unlikely feat considering that this is one of the deepest gorges in the world, but anyway. Legends are not supposed to make sense.

We initially planned on a 2-night, 3-day hike but found the walking much easier than expected (except for one place known variably as the 24 Bends, 26 Bends and 28 Bends, depending on which map you use) and got to our destination comfortably within 2 days. We also completely miscalculated the amount of money to take with us and so we actually couldn't afford to spend the second night there, so we hot-tailed it back to Lijiang on the second afternoon/evening. Apart from the slightly earlier-than-planned return, it was a beautiful walk complete with waterfalls, goats and magnificent views. My biggest complaint about it is the intense competition by the various guest houses along the way to cover the trail-side rocks with advertising graffiti. Oh, and some random old woman who has claimed a rock at one point of the trail where she demands 8 yuan (about R7.50) for you to stand on the rock and take a photo - is she not aware that you're walking 25-odd kilometres through stunning scenery and are most likely not going to pay top dollar for yet another photo? Each to their own.

Gabi and I at the start of the trail

The backdrop for the walk


The beautiful advertising graffiti competition

Lihi and I

Gabi and Lihi

Ferdinand Magellan?

My attempt at a vertical panorama to show the height, doesn't quite do it

The end of the road

Anyways, days passed and, as mentioned in a previous post here, we got to Chengdu. Chengdu lies in Sichuan province which is home to 85% of the remaining wild panda population (the other 15% lies scattered in 2 neighbouring provinces) and is consequently home also to some major panda research and breeding centres - one of the very few things the Chinese government seems to be doing right in terms of environment.

We spent the morning at one of these research centres where they rear and breed giant and normal pandas, as well as the so-called 'red panda' which I personally think is not a panda but rather an oversized badger or fox, see the photos that follow. I was amused by the blatant contradiction in the park of one of their signs on the way in that badly misquotes a quote that I'm going to badly paraphrase - 'People that pet animals love them, but people that let animals live their natural lives love them even more'. Can't remember who said it, but it is pretty self-explanatory. Towards the back of the park where the red "pandas" are kept the staff keep bugging you to pay 50 kuai (R45 or so) to have a photo taken of you holding a baby panda or a red "panda". Surely by way of their sign about it being better not to pet animals they should not be offering this service?!

Pandas are awesome creatures to watch, and I must admit that I am now extremely impressed by Tekken's rendering of the panda character - the model they have and its movement is super-realistic, including the sitting posture he uses. We were luckily at the park at the morning feeding and watching these chaps eat is grand. They sit on their arse or lie on their backs and strip the leaves and bark from the bamboo before munching through it at great speed. Apparently they can eat up to about 50kg of it a day, only actually ingesting around 10 to 20kg. Good thing bamboo grows so fast.

Pandas are also crazily endangered and according to signs in the park there are either 1000 or 1590 pandas left in the wild. They also claim that world-wide there are only 184 pandas in captivity, of which either 42 or 48 are in this park (depends which sign you believe). That's not many pandas no matter where you come from. The two main reasons for their scarcity these days are that the Chinese are expanding and land grabbing like only they can do, and also the panda is very fussy about which bamboo it will eat. They eat only 23 or 29 or etc (here we go again) of the 50 or 55 or etc (....) species of bamboo found in the region and so they are extremely limited in their ability to move around and change habitat. Add to that that the give birth to 1 or 2 cubs every few years (they kill the second apparently, preferring to look after only 1) and are prized for their skins (and meat in places), and you have a problem. Clearly the panda is an animal evolved not to coexist with humans. Ok, enough biology lessons about them, here are some poorly shot photographs (we got up at 7am).

Red "pandas" up a tree

Red "panda" - how is this a panda????

Pandas either fighting or playing

Me on a bamboo-lined path

Pandas having breakfast

Having a seat while eating

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why not to travel by bus unless you must...

I am a smoker. Recently, however, I am on a campaign to cut down quite dramatically and so far so good... I was smoking roughly a pack a day and last week I decided to try to smoke a maximum of 10 day for a week, then 8 a day for a week etc. The 10-a-day week went well (some days I smoked only 8 or 9) and yesterday was my first 8-a-day day. I had 6. Anyways, this is relevant.

I've now travelled on many a Chinese bus. Generally speaking, if the trip is 4 hours or less you're onto a winner. Sadly, China is big and short bus trips rare. The other day we were in Lijiang and needed to get to where we are now, Chengdu. The only option (due to the mountains getting in the way) was to bus to a small industrial town called Panzhihua and then hopefully catch a train to Chengdu. To our great dismay, it is the tail-end of the Chinese New Year week-long holiday, and everyone is trying to get home.

We arrived after almost 8 hours on the bus in Panzhihua quite grossed out. The trip was very winding and up and down the mountains (200km took almost 8 hours...) and someone vomited half-way into the trip. The smell was pervasive and stuck for the rest of the trip. Apart from that though, the trip was good and the scenery quite spectacular.

We got to Panzhihua and we on local bus 64 to the train station when we met an Israeli couple who had arrived (doing the same thing as us) a few hours earlier and reported to us the sad news that the first available train ticket to Chengdu was 4 March, about a week's wait. The only accommodation we could find was the Panzhihua hotel which is somewhat beyond our usual budget we decided to spend one night and then, by hook or by crook, get the hell out.

The next morning we got up early, had a sterling breakfast in the hotel (one plus side, although salted duck eggs are not nearly as good as they sound) and motored off to the bus station to see what tickets we could get. We got one for 1pm and were thrilled. Short lived.

At 12.30, having returned to the hotel, checked out and returned again to the bus station, we waited eagerly for 1 o'clock to come our way. The bus station waiting is fairly jacked up, although filthy, and they have nice electronic signs above each door showing which bus goes where and when. Not one mentioned ours. We kept bugging the luggage check guy about it and he kept responding mutely to us with a hand motion that seemed to indicate "Wait here", with increasing annoyance. So we waited. At about 12.58pm a kind soul, looking stressed, came running up to us and asked if we were going to Chengdu. "Yes" was our obvious response, and he shepherded us to our bus which was marked with a different destination on the front (but did mention two of the main places we'd be passing through). Somehow all the other passengers had managed to divine their way to this bus, but either way we got there. 20 minutes late, the bus departed. I must mention that the seats were pretty comfy.

It was a typical bus with a television, about 40 seats and windows that you can't open. We got going and immediately all the men on the bus light up cigarettes. This never stopped for all of the 18 hours it took to get to Chengdu. It's really fun, despite being a smoker myself (I never smoked on the bus, gloat gloat), to be breathing in second-hand smoke in a confined bus. Add to that that the guy behind us kept using our seats as a means to stand up and every now and then would whack us accidentally on the head in doing so. There was a small window at the far back of the bus on either side which could open, and an old man who looked like a monk was sitting at one a few rows behind us and seemed to have this habit, or a tic, or perhaps he was sick, of churning up a big phlegm-ball and spitting it out the window, every 2 or 3 minutes, the WHOLE WAY. I don't know how he managed this - I was impressed by his stamina and his ability to produce so much moisture in his mouth. Of course, in true Chinese style, this churn and spit skill is not a silent one, it is in fact unbelievably loud. Great fun to listen to while you're fanning smoke out of your face.

On the plus side, no-one vomited on the trip. On the down side, they used the television to show us hour upon hour of Chinese karaoke at full volume. I'm starting to recognise, and despise, many of their songs. We did have about 2 hours of peace at one point when they switched off the TV - perhaps it broke? After a dinner break, we got back on and were treated to a movie that was actually not dubbed into Chinese called 'The Marine'... anyone seen it? If you haven't, don't. It is the worst film I can remember seeing.

Gabi and I took some stomach nausea pills which had the handy side-effect of extreme drowsiness (our reason for taking them) and so, at around 1am, we sort of slept through the rest until we arrived at 7.30 or so this morning in Chengdu.

So, don't take a Chinese bus unless you must.

Of the Chinese toilet...

Hmmm. This is a topic I've been avoiding almost as much as I try to avoid Chinese toilets. But, as with the toilets themselves, it cannot be avoided forever.

Firstly, there is a big distinction in China between a toilet and a "western" toilet. A "western" toilet is quite simply a toilet as we know it - a ceramic seat-like thing with (when you're lucky) a seat and a flushing mechanism. The provision of toilet paper is almost entirely unheard of. When you find one of these toilets, you sit down and push with all your might because it is a luxury that is hard to pass up.

Chinese toilets come in a variety of flavours. The most common of the lot is a simple ceramic-lined hole in the floor which, oddly enough, has a flushing mechanism - it is not a long drop. Did you know the Chinese invented the flushing toilet? Hard to believe. Anyway, the ceramic hole is, in my opinion, backwards. You do your business on the ceramic ledge near the water pipe and then you flush. If you're lucky, most of the goodness actually flushes away but generally only 50% to 80% actually does, leaving a treat for the next customer. Also, since it is a hole in the floor, you need to squat over it. I cannot squat, I am simply not supple enough - but if you watch the Chinese people they are masters at this. They choose a squat position as a standard waiting pose while I prefer a chair. They squat with both feet firmly planted flat on the ground and so for them it is actually comfortable and they can sit like that for ages with no problem. I have about 20 seconds before my legs start giving way. Interestingly though, apparently it is better for you to crap in a squat position than seated on the throne.

Moving on. The next Chinese toilet reminds me of some old Roman toilets I saw a few years ago in some ruins in Turkey. It is basically a gutter running around the room at a slight incline. You pick your spot and go for it (no privacy here, no doors, just dividing walls). Naturally, the flushing mechanism here is not nearly strong enough (if at all existent) and so there are plenty of faeces for you to examine at your leisure (or take photos of, in my case, don't ask). These rooms generally don't smell so good.

My favourite toilet of all though is the one you find at stops along bus routes - the ones which are really more like long drops that are never cleaned.

I close with a photo.

Enjoy your lunch.