Hong Kong Day 0 - Arriving and Eating

30 September 2009

I’ve just arrived in Hong Kong for my first ever holiday in Asia. I’m here with my girlfriend Rachel and my friends Nick and Will. Will speaks Cantonese and has family over here, which is going to make things a bit easier.

I’m going to try blogging daily, or almost daily anyway. Here’s day zero’s adventures…

We took off from Heathrow at 9pm on Monday 28th for our 12-hour overnight flight with Air New Zealand to Hong Kong, scheduled to land at 4pm local time.

Air New Zealand were very cheap but they provide a good service - the food was rather good and the in-flight entertainment system is impressive. A huge selection of films, TV, music - even audiobooks, all on-demand. It’s only slightly let down by the rather clunky and unresponsive interface. Also picture quality wasn’t overwhelming - it was prone to stuttering after being paused, and there was obviously an analogue connection to the screens as you could make out moving lines on them, just like an old VCR. But nevertheless it’s interesting to see how far these systems have come since the only other time I’ve ever flown long-haul, back in 2002 with BA. In the future we’ll have all the world’s movies available to be streamed direct to the plane over the Internet I suppose, and we’ll be Twittering from the headrests, but for now a choice of 78 films really ought to be enough for anybody.

At around 10.30pm we were served the evening meal, which for us economy cattle consisted of a slightly bizarre chickpea & pineapple salad, followed by a choice of either lamb curry (very nice indeed) or some chicken (tried a bit, seemed a bit bland). Then some chocolate cheesecake and some cheese & crackers - all very civilised. The red wine tasted a bit rough to me -I wondered if it was something to do with the altitude, or the air pressure, but it probably really was just cheap shite.

I like Air New Zealand’s obvious equal opportunities policy for hiring cabin crew. Not for them a team solely of blonde women and camp men - one of them was a guy in his mid-fifties who reminded me of Igor from Count Duckula. “Would sir care for a glass of blood?” He didn’t really say that of course. But it might explain why the red wine tasted funny.

Inevitably we ended up sitting behind the kind of old people who instantly recline their seat just because they can, thinking “ooh, luxury!” and causing a domino ripple of reclining seats behind them as people are forced to move back to continue to enjoy the film at a distance of greater than three inches. I hate reclining seats in planes. I’m perfectly comfortable sitting at a normal sitting angle - and since you can’t recline the seat so far that you’re actually lying down, why bother at all? The only reason I can think of is to be deliberately annoying and inconsiderate to the person behind you. That must be it.

On the in-flight system I watched State of Play, then an episode of the Simpsons. Then I attempted to have a bit of a nap and failed miserably, so I watched How to Lose Friends and Alienate people. Not really much of a romantic comedy fan myself, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have bothered if I’d known, but it was a perfectly fine way to pass the time which is the entire point really.

Most other people on the plane seemed to have no trouble sleeping, but I wasn’t tired at all. I was getting hungry for my breakfast. Air New Zealand were clearly still operating on UK time, but I’d already put my phone clock forward 7 hours to HK time. So as far as I was concerned, it was 1pm, time for some food, and all the people around me were just making their inevitable jetlag worse. I wasn’t too concerned that I hadn’t slept. The flight landed at 4pm HK time so that meant I only needed to stay awake for another 6 hours or so, then I could fall into a normal sleeping pattern. Whereas the people around me would surely have confused body clocks for days. Ha!

Breakfast finally came at 2pm HK time - scrambled egg, sausage and tomato (one small cherry tomato anyway), plus fruit and yogurt. Not too shabby but I could probably have eaten three portions.

We landed on time and were picked up by a driver kindly provided for the evening by Will’s aunt.

There appear to be no small buildings in Hong Kong. Everything is about 20 storeys high, even the rougher residential blocks. It’s not like London where you have the odd tower block standing alone - every building is like that. Our hostel is in one such building, a slightly ramshackle street in the sky on Kowloon, which is a part of Hong Kong on the mainland opposite Hong Kong island. It’s pretty pokey to the say the least. Our room is barely bigger than the double bed, lit by one fluorescent tube with no natural light. Will and Nick have a window in their room but it looks out onto a shaft between buildings, where natural light does come in at the top but is absorbed by the various air conditioning units of about 12 storeys of residents before it gets to our level.

The room’s facilities include an en-suite bathroom, or more accurately wet room, or even more accurately a cupboard with a toilet and a sink and a shower attachment. There is also the essential air conditioning, and a TV although there is only one English-speaking channel.

After a quick shower our driver took us on a bit of a tour of Kowloon. We went to Victoria Harbour to see the light show that takes place on the buildings of Hong Kong island daily at 8pm. It’s called “the Symphony of Light” and is set to some of the most awful cheesey muzak I’ve ever heard. The light show is massively underwhelming. It consists of some lights flashing on and off and the occasional not-particularly-bright laser beam.

It was time for food and our driver took us to the kind of place local people go. The staff seemed concerned that a bunch of silly Westerners might not know how to use chopsticks properly. The food was delicious although I’ve no idea what any of it was called. There was a dish which possibly had beef in it, something which might have been octopus, something resembling some kind of long-shelled clam. And pigeon, which they wondered whether sissy white people would eat even though I’ve had it London on several occasions. It was especially good, tastier than duck I’d say, although the fact that it was served with the face on was slightly disturbing.

We had a walk around the trashy Temple Street Market, where you could buy lots of fake products including the famous “iPhone mini”. There were a few stalls around the corner selling horoscopes and dildos. Not both on the same stall though. That would just be weird.

We went to some kind of ice cream parlour that sold ice cream without the cream - huge piles of flavoured soft ice that seemed to melt away to nothing in your mouth so it didn’t fill you up.

It was about 11pm by this point and we were all knackered. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and was pleased that my body clock seemed to have adjusted itself already.

I woke up this morning at about 9am which felt right, even though it was only 2am in the UK. I wonder if all those people who actually managed to sleep on the plane feel so clever now.

(Below should be some iPhone camera pics - I’ll upload some decents photos from my camera when I get back home)

Off to Hong Kong next week!

22 September 2009

I’m off to Hong Kong next Monday (28th September). I’m not particularly well-travelled - apart from a holiday in Mauritius seven years ago, I’ve never even left Europe, so it’s a pretty exciting trip.

With hopefully plenty of wi-fi to go round, I should be able to update my blog and Twitter while I’m over there. In the interests of preparation, this is blog post is basically just a test of two things - one, can I upload a picture successfully through the WordPress iPhone app, and two, does TwitterFeed pick up the post and put a link on Twitter (and hence Facebook) properly. After all, I’d hate for anyone to miss out on any of my ramblings. Hmm, this “web 2.0” stuff is really all about self-indulgence, isn’t it?

In fact, test one has failed spectacularly already. I’d typed this post into the WordPress app on my iPhone, which then promptly lost it. What a sack of unreliable, buggy crap. Data loss is completely inexcusable in any application, even if it is free. From now on I’ll know to type blog posts into the Notes app first, then paste it across.

So if all goes to plan you should see a photo below. It’s a slightly unreal photo of my back garden, created using lots of individual photos which were then stitched together using the AutoStitch app, available on the iTunes app store. It’s pretty nifty. And if all doesn’t go to plan, presumably all you’ll see below is a blank space. After my earlier experience I haven’t got massively high hopes…

Big Chill 2009

16 August 2009


I recently returned from a pleasant weekend at The Big Chill festival in Herefordshire. We had the best weather I’ve ever experienced at a festival - pretty much no rain whatsoever. The crowd were friendly and the music and comedy was excellent. But is slumming it at a festival for a long weekend of portaloos and sleep deprivation really worth the hassle? Have I grown out of festivals now, at the grand old age of 27? Read on to find out.

Thursday 6th August

Me and Rachel left London at 11.30am for a long drive up the M4 via a torrential rainstorm - mercifully it turned out to be the only rain we had all weekend. Rachel’s H-reg Nissan Micra is a seasoned festival veteran - indeed in the picture below, in the top right, you can see that we’ve still not quite managed to remove the car parking sticker from Glastonbury 2007 (here’s my blog from the time).


The directions to the site on the car park ticket are nice and clear, and the festival is well signposted. We arrived at about 4pm, having not experienced any particularly bad traffic.


We parked up in the blue car park and were immediately surrounded by ticket touts and some kind of hippy beggar. It seemed that the Big Chill was living up to its name as far as their approach to security was concerned, which was a little worrying. But apart from those people, and a few conspicuous drug dealers wandering around the main site, it felt like a very safe festival and we didn’t have any problems.

We pitched our tent and later met up with my brother Matt and his friend, who is also called Matt. They were camping only a few yards from us as it turned out, in the blue camping area near the edge of the hill.

We went to explore the main arena. Unlike Glastonbury, the arena is separate to the camping areas, so you need to show your wristband, and you’re not allowed to take alcohol in. It is 24 hours though, unlike some other festivals I’ve been to where you had to queue up to get in in the morning.

There was not much happening entertainment-wise on Thursday evening, though the various food stalls were open. We checked out Mr. Scruff’s tea tent, where you could get a pot of tea served in a proper china tea set - very civilised for a festival, if slightly risky, hence the refundable deposit. For all the talk of being tea experts, it was a bit of a disappointment that they were only generous enough to stretch to one teabag for a pot for four people. If I’d wanted a cup of muddy water there was plenty available in the nearby lake.


As well as the tea tent, there were various stalls open where you could buy stupid hats:


There was a bit of a zombie theme to this year’s festival - people dressed up as zombies had been able to skip the queue for wristbands and there were some impressive costumes on display. The zombie brides were my favourite. There had been some kind of record-breaking mass zombie filming earlier in the day, and this impressive wicker zombie towered over the site:


Other visual spectacles available on Thursday, and throughout the weekend, included a post-apocalyptic drive-in cinema, full of abandoned cars which people could sit on or in. They were heavily graffiti’d by the end of the festival, possibly officially. Anyway I was quite impressed with these smoking lamp things around the edge of the drive-in:


There was a good selection of food available, and that night I had a tasty falafel. The drink selection was not great though - the only beer available was Amstel, so when I got sick of that (after one pint) I had a pear cider. Alas unlike Glastonbury there was no Brother’s pear cider so I had to make do with Kopparberg which is a bit sickly in comparison.

It gave me a splitting headache so we went back to the tent. The boys in the tent next door were ready to large it up and party hard, so I was thankful for earplugs and settled down for the first of three nights of uncomfortable and fractured sleep. I was beginning to wonder why I’d thought this would be a good idea.

Friday 7th August

Overnight the tent got very cold, only to rapidly turn into an oven at the first glimmer of sunrise. With a hangover it’s possible to lie there for quite a while, procrastinating, somehow not being bothered to open the tent as your entire body begins to evaporate. Eventually you give in and unzip the front, the paltry breeze only offering a small amount of relief. So then you play the procrastinating game with yourself again, until you finally summon the energy to get up and escape your sweltering canvas hell.

After a cursory clean with some wet wipes and a change of clothes, we went to get a cup of tea and a BLT from a converted Routemaster number 19 bus in our campsite. Just what the doctor ordered - it was a shame that they were so disorganised though, as the queues got quite long and for the rest of the weekend we couldn’t be bothered to go back.

The festival got underway properly and we saw a couple of acts on the Castle stage. The Leisure Society gave us a lovely chilled out beginning to the festival. They did a great cover of Cars by Gary Numan (there’s a YouTube video of them performing this elsewhere here). Then we saw James Yuill who somehow manages to be a singer-songwriter crossed with Aphex Twin.

We got some lemonade and sat in the shade for a bit. Some ducks waddled past - I don’t think I’ve ever seen ducks at a festival before. The scene looked very tranquil - but it would only be tranquil for the deaf. Even though we were quite some distance from the stages and bars, it felt like we could hear all of them at once from our position on the hill.


We got some decent fish and chips from the Seacow stall, then we went to spend the entire evening in the Big Chill Nights comedy tent. Ben Norris was compere, introducing acts Andy Askins (like a male Sarah Millican with bitter and twisted songs about his wife), Josie Long, Rob Deering, Alex Horne (none of his usual PowerPoint here, but he did have some technology on hand to help with his Justin Timerblake style human b-b-b-b-beatbox) and Wendy Wason (young bitter Scottish single mum with nicely sick material). Then the tent packed for Tim Minchin, and although his show was largely familiar to me from the show I saw on E4 a month or so ago, it was still hugely enjoyable. It was the first time I’ve seen his superb song “Taboo” all about the language of prejudice (YouTube link) - in my view the chorus should be made law! Lots of people left when Tim Minchin had finished, but more fool them as they should have stuck around for Robin Ince, who was excellent.

We then went to see Chris Cunningham’s AV set. Cunningham made his name directing videos for Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, so one could reasonably expect freaky visuals set to a soundtrack that was hardly easy listening. But it all seemed a bit too predictable to me - yeah, there’s some disturbing images on the screen, and yeah, this is a particularly harsh remix of something Aphex Twin shat out in his sleep about 10 years ago, but that was basically it. The music and visuals weren’t pleasant but they didn’t make up for it by being interesting either. Chris Cunningham was probably blowing the minds of stoned hippies who had wandered to the wrong field, but I found it just a bit dull.

We watched Basement Jaxx on the main stage for a few minutes, though I don’t really know their stuff and it didn’t grab me. So we wandered back to the tent, past some very conspicuous drug dealers who were dealing right next to the police compound. I was beginning to wonder whether I was just getting a bit old for this - the highlights of the day had been comedy, and that’s much better suited to venues that have walls, solid floors and chairs.

Saturday 8th August

We spent most of the day sat in shade, listening to Craig Charles DJing on a nearby stage - a mix of funk, though somehow less irritating than his 6Music show. It’s often worth buying a copy of the Guardian at festivals for the freebies - today’s came came with some tasty free fudge (as well as moistened toilet tissue, presumably in case your guts reacted badly to the fudge). A very pleasant afternoon spent spotting clouds:


…and drinking Zubrowka vodka cocktails:


We then went back to the comedy tent to see Sean Hughes, who is still most famous for his stint as team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and frankly you can tell why. He’s perfectly competent but sadly that’s all - maybe I have been spoiled by having seen so many excellent comedians in the last few years, but it seems Sean Hughes hasn’t really moved on to make himself stand out as anything other than somebody who was famous in the 90’s.

We had a tasty burger, then caught a bit of Four Tet DJing, while about a hundred lanterns took off from behind the main stage. We went back to the comedy tent to see the always excellent Mitch Benn, and then to the main stage for the entire point of the festival (for me) - the newly reformed Orbital.

Orbital played an absolute blinder of a set - probably their best performance of the eight that I’ve seen over the years. There was only a smattering of material from their later albums - they mostly concentrated on their earlier tracks, including a brilliantly updated version of Halcyon, where they took their usual Belinda Carlisle sample and just ran away with it to turn it into an immensely silly cheese-fest. My only complaint would be that they finished so suddenly - I’m used to an encore to tell me when a gig is about to end, but it seemed that they were on stage one minute and had disappeared the next, leaving the crowd hungry for more. Fortunately I shall indeed get more as I’ll be seeing them twice in Brixton in September - and I can’t wait.


Afterwards we briefly checked out the comedy tent which was hosting a late-night circus. There was a  guy with a robotic horse, which was an impressively strange contraption, but ultimately not actually entertaining enough to make us want to stick around for longer than five minutes.

Sunday 9th August

After another night on a slowly deflating airbed, freezing only to boil a couple of hours later, we’d made the decision to leave on Sunday night instead of Monday, so we packed up and took our stuff to the car, and resolved to stay sober.

The main event during the day was more comedy - big names in a bigger tent. Unfortunately it was a tent without sides, right next to the Amstel bar which, although empty, was pumping out music at an absurd volume. So if you were on the outskirts of the comedy tent, you had no hope of actually hearing anything. We sat around for Russell Howard for a few minutes, but decided that it was completely pointless.

So we went back to the shady spot in which we’d spent most of Saturday, and ate some Goan fish curry. We then returned to the comedy tent for Dylan Moran, and thankfully managed to set up our camping chairs well within the confines of the tent. It was an amazing set even though we couldn’t see him, and the boom-boom-boom noise from boom-boom the bars was boom-thud-boom distracting. Sort it out Big Chill!

We then spent yet more time resting in the shade, as the sun began to get lower. As you can see, most of the grass was still there, even at the end of the festival - I think that’s the first time this has happened in the five or so festivals I’ve been to:


We then went to the Words in Motion tent for Brian Appleton, a character from the same man who brought us John Shuttleworth. Pretty silly stuff, though again, without wishing to sound like an old man, I have to complain about the noise from the surrounding bars and stages, as it made it quite difficult to hear at times - even though it wasn’t a very big tent.

Fortunately I was able to hear John Hegley a lot better. Brilliant poetry as usual - funny, poignant, mundane, ridiculous all at once.

We caught a small amount of headline act David Byrne, who was being about as strange as you would expect. Some fireworks went off which signalled that we should return to the wicker zombie, which was now looking like this:


The face and arms were already gone, leaving a burning tower structure which we saw collapse - impressive stuff.

Then we made our escape via coffee, hot chocolate and empty motorways. We arrived back home in London at 2.45am, which was excellent timing. The shower and the bed had never seemed so luxurious.


The after-effects of a festival fade at different rates. As soon as we got back, the rooms in the house seemed massive, as we’d got used to having a tiny tent as home. The toilet seemed especially cavernous - you could actually move! It had space for a sink with soap and everything! That effect fades within a couple of hours.

One effect that for me takes a long time to wear off is what I call “phantom wristband”. As I’m writing this a week later, I still get the occasional sensation that I’m still wearing the festival wristband, even though I ripped it off as soon as I got to the car on Sunday night. I recall that it took about two months after Glastonbury 2007 for that effect to go away. I wonder if anyone knows why it occurs, and why I seem to “suffer” from it more than other people?

Any bad memories of the festival have faded faster than my phantom wristband, anyway. Not that there were very many bad things at all - sleeping is uncomfortable and loud, the tap water tastes incredibly chlorinated, the constant whooshing sound of teenagers with their nitrous oxide cannisters is tedious - certainly it’s a much shorter (and pettier) list than the list of bad things at, say, V Festival or T in the Park.

The Big Chill is one of the nicest festivals I’ve been to. It has a great atmosphere and attracts a nice bunch of people - I don’t think I encountered anyone who I could reasonably call a complete and utter twat, which definitely hasn’t been the case for me at other festivals.

So, if you’ve ever been to a festival and were disappointed and wondered what all the fuss was about, I recommend you try it, because it’s a world away from Reading or V. And compared to the king of British festivals, Glastonbury, there’s as good a range of food (if not drink), and the people are just as friendly, although there’s less in the way of freaky and weird stuff. So perhaps a bit less of the character of Glasto, but it’s much more manageable because of the smaller site - and it’s cleaner and less crowded.

As for me though, I think I’m pretty much done with festivals. I would happily return to the Big Chill, but only for a compelling reason - there has to be something truly spectacular on the line-up for me to make it worth the hassle.

And now that Orbital have reformed, what spectacular line-up could drag me away from my comfortable house for a summer weekend in a field? Well, I can think of quite a few other bands who would swing it for me, so perhaps my festival days aren’t over yet.

OMFG penis flu!!!1

26 May 2009

Here’s a joke I’ve seen doing the rounds:

Don't know if this is just a sick coincidence but.... 2007 - Chinese year of the Chicken - Bird Flu Pandemic devastates parts of Asia 2008 - Chinese year of the Horse - Equine Influenza decimates Australian racing 2009 - Chinese year of the Pig - Swine Flu Pandemic kills pigs/humans around the globe. It gets worse.... Next year... 2010 - Chinese year of the Cock -what could possibly go wrong?

And in a briefer Twitter version:

2007 - year of chicken (bird flu). 2008 - year of horse (equine flu). 2009 - year of pig (swine flu) - shit - 2010 is year of the cock.

This fails as a joke on so many levels, it might actually be funny after all, but only as a hilarious example of how not to construct a joke:

  • The years are wrong. 2007 was pig, 2008 rat, 2009 ox, 2010 tiger. And equine flu hit Australia in 2007.
  • You don't even need to look up the years anyway, as obviously a chicken and a cock are the same frickin' animal (rooster, incidentally, which was 2005)
  • The punchline asks us to imagine a scenario where genitals catch influenza, which doesn't make much sense.

When I point out the failure of this joke, I get comments like “it’s supposed to be a joke - why let facts get in the way?”. Well, a good joke shouldn’t have glaring errors in it - if the audience’s response to a joke is “huh? Is that right? That doesn’t quite sound correct to me” then you’ve fucked it up.

Three men walk into a bar - an Englishman, an Irish woman, a Scotsman, a young Welsh girl and pigeon. The barman says, "is this some kind of poorly constructed joke?"

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Quest 4.1 Beta is now available for testing

26 April 2009

This weekend’s second Quest release is the test version of our next upgrade, Quest 4.1 Beta.

I’ve already blogged about this release here, and you can now download it for testing:

Please note this version is intended for testing only - we strong recommend you keep backup copies of any game you’re working on. We also recommend you install to a separate folder so you can keep your existing Quest installation.

Also please note that the documentation has not yet been updated.

Below is an overview of what’s new. For further details, you can check the VERSIONS.TXT and VERSIONS-QDK.TXT files the folder where you installed Quest.

Quest Packager (part of Quest Pro only)

This is a new product that lets you create a setup EXE file for your game, so your users can install it just like any Windows application. No longer do you need to tell people to download Quest separately - you can just send them an EXE file that will install your game for you. This opens up the possibility of submitting your game to software download sites, greatly increasing the number of people you can reach!


- Lockable exits

  • Exits are implemented as objects, so you can check their status using the Object Debugger.
  • You can now do “for each exit in game/<room>” to iterate through all exit objects.
  • You can now specify a script when using “create exit”.
  • You can now destroy directional exits e.g. “destroy exit <room1; northeast>”
  • QSG files no longer save redundant property and action information, so saving and loading games is now much more efficient.
  • For ASL 410 and later, the “visited” property for a room is now set only after the description for the room is printed, so you can print a different description if the player has visited the room before.
  • New error “defaultwait” lets you specify default prompt for the “wait” command.
  • Can now use “for each room in game” to get a list of rooms in the game.

The following bugs have been fixed:

  • objects overriding actions specified by more than one type wouldn’t override correctly.
  • objects and rooms created via the “create” command didn’t pick up the “default” and “defaultroom” types. This has been fixed only for ASL 410 and later to preserve backwards compatibility.


QDK has had major internal changes, and has a cleaner look.

  • New toolbars
  • Word-processor style text editor is now used for editing room descriptions, text blocks, and “print a message” scripts.
  • Procedures, functions, timers, object types, status variables, synonyms, menus and resources are now accessed via the tree instead of the menus.
  • “Back” and “Forward” buttons on the toolbar
  • New exit editor for rooms combines the old “Compass” and “Go to” tabs, and allows for editing lockable exits.

Because QDK now uses some .NET 2.0 SP1 components, QDK no longer runs on Windows 98 or earlier. Windows 2000 or later is required to run QDK.

Other changes

As reported earlier, QuestNet Server is no longer part of Quest 4.1.


As this is a beta release, please be aware that you will almost certainly encounter bugs. Please do report any you find - please email me at [email protected]. As we have done with previous betas, I will be awarding the people who submit the most helpful bug reports with free Amazon vouchers. So please get testing and let me know your feedback!

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