It was 25 years ago this week that I first went to China, which makes it that much more interesting that it coincides with me moving there now.
Back in the summer of 1993, I was two years into a Mathematics Specialization university degree, and I was dealing with the fact that I did not want to continue to study mathematics. At the same time, I didn’t know what I wanted to study, and so I decided to take a year to try out a variety of classes, to try and find some new direction. That summer was when I first watched the film The Last Emperor (which led to an obsession with the films of Zhang Yimou) and it’s what inspired me to take a history class on Chinese communism.
The result? I took another history class in the following semester (related to Japanese history), and then a year later declared a Major in History at that university, which was in my hometown. After I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1996 (with a Minor in Mathematics, since I had enough credits — although I was actually missing 1 credit, and so had to take another math class during my final semester, which was hell). I then decided to go to Montreal to enroll in an East-Asian Studies program, focusing on China, which is what led to my first opportunity to visit that country.
There was a summer study abroad program between two universities in Montreal (Université de Montréal, where I was studying, and McGill University), and Nankai University in the city of Tianjin, China. It was a 10-week summer program where you would go to Tianjin and follow Chinese language classes every morning, with the credits recognized at home.
Then, a funny thing happened.
I met my wife on the very first day I was in Tianjin. I didn’t even know she was Japanese at the time (before speaking to her). It took a few weeks before we started dating, but that led to one of the biggest decisions in my life: at the end of the 10-week program, as everyone flew back to Canada, I didn’t. I enrolled at the university to continue my Chinese studies. It also meant that I had to renew my visa, which needed to be done outside the country, which led to my first visit to Japan.
In the summer of 1997, in July, I decided to take a boat to Japan, where I would arrive in the city of Kobe, which is where my wife was from (and she had returned there during the summer). It was a two-day boat ride (which turned into a three-day boat ride on the way back, as we got caught in a tsunami), and that resulted in a fantastic two-week visit to Kobe and Tokyo (where I went to the Chinese embassy to change my visa).
The rest, as they say, is history. I later moved to Tokyo in May of 1998, and lived there for a two-year stint, before returning to Canada for a year, and then going back for close to 15 years (until 2015).
So early May is always quite nostalgic for me, as it marks these big turning points in my life, and although we landed in Shanghai on March 28, our quarantine period and city-wide lockdown means that we’re still in a hotel, waiting to get started on our new life here. In early May.
(Being in China in 1997 also meant that I had the opportunity to be in Beijing near Tiananmen Square as the official handover of Hong Kong took place, but that’s a story for another post.)
We landed in Shanghai on Monday, March 28, and as I write this it’s Sunday, April 17, and so the last day of our mandated three-week quarantine period.
As I had described in my previous post, our first two weeks were to be spent in a government-selected hotel. Once that was done, we moved to a hotel booked by the studio, where we would do our third week of isolation (although a bit less strict in that we could at least leave our hotel room to access areas of the hotel).
Of course, the major event that has happened in parallel to this is the city-wide lockdown in Shanghai, which began on the day we landed. That means that even though our quarantine will be over tomorrow, we won’t really be able to do much as most of the city is still currently in lockdown. There are areas that have been slightly opened, depending on whether there are any positive cases in that area, but for the most part the city is closed to regular life. Since it appears that there are no positive cases in our area, we are hoping that from tomorrow we’ll at least be able to go outside and get a bit of air — something we’ve only been able to do once in our three weeks here, and that was yesterday, as we needed to take part in the mass PCR testing that takes place regularly across the city.
So what’s next for us? Normally the end of our quarantine period would have meant that we could finally start visiting apartments, but that’s not going to be possible until the lockdown ends. That does mean that we will be in our current hotel for the foreseeable future. Depending on what you read or the rumors you hear, things might start getting back to normal in May, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
On the bright side, life is pretty comfortable in our current hotel. Our room is quite spacious and includes a kitchen area (it’s a “service apartment” type room) with breakfast is included every morning, and there’s a system in a place to buy meal boxes every day (a random assortment of Chinese food, like we were getting in our initial quarantine hotel), so we’re not dealing with the issues many are in the city of lack of access to food supplies. There’s also a gym that we can use, and so that has been keeping us active.
So there you have it, three weeks in Shanghai, but I still haven’t been able to see anything in the city. Certainly not the way a person would imagine moving to a new city.
It took much longer than we had initially expected, but here I am, sitting in a hotel room in Shanghai.
How long did it take? I accepted the offer for my role at the Ubisoft studio in Shanghai back in May of last year, and I imagine my first contact with the studio was in March. So that means pretty much one year.
When I accepted the role, the plan was for me to start working for the studio remotely from July, and then hopefully a move could happen towards the end of summer, or around September. Unfortunately, it was only in September that immigration applications resumed, and the process was indeed a long one — we finally got the government papers we needed at the end of January, and then got our visas in February, and immediately booked our flight for March.
The weeks leading up to our departure date were pretty hectic, as I went to my hometown for a quick visit with my parents, and then a week before departure we needed to start self-isolating at home, and undergo a first PCR test 7 days prior to the flight, and then again 2 days before the flight (both a PCR and blood test). Getting the results the next day, if negative, would allow us to apply for a Health Digital Certificate (in the form of a QR code) so that we could actually board our flight the next day. Yes, it was as stressful as it sounds, as I don’t think anyone likes to leave unknowns that close to a scheduled departure time.
But thankfully there were no issues, and our flight from Montreal, with a transfer in Toronto, to Shanghai went off without a hitch. From takeoff in Montreal to landing in Shanghai it was just about 22 hours of travel (and because of the different time zones, we left Saturday night and arrived on Monday morning).
The arrival in Shanghai was, as expected, not your typical arrival due to the strict COVID measures taken by the government. We had to wait 30 minutes in the plane while paper work and passenger lists were verified, and were then led through a long walk in the airport, having another QR code (with health declarations) to show, another PCR test to undergo, and then waiting for a bus that would take us to a government selected hotel where we are to quarantine for two weeks. Everyone we encountered was in full hazmat gear, and that includes the staff at the hotel.
We never thought it would be an easy experience, but we had properly prepared mentally for it, and it went down pretty much as we expected. We’re thankful to be here, in a room that’s quite comfortable, and being served meals at the door that are not bad at all, while we check our temperature twice daily. Once we’re done with the two weeks here, we’ll still need to self-isolate for an extra week at another hotel, and then we’ll be able to go out and actually start looking for an apartment.
Oh, and did I mention that we arrive here while Shanghai is under the biggest surge in COVID cases since the start of the pandemic, and so various areas of the city are in full lockdown mode. So being quarantined in a hotel with meals served for the next couple of weeks isn’t bad at all.
All that said, we are indeed happy that this new era of our lives is finally started, and I can’t wait to finally get to spend some time at the studio to meet my colleagues in person.
In April of last year I wanted to watch Zhang Yimou’s Shadow, one of his newer films that I hadn’t seen et, and at the time I decided that I would start by doing a massive re-watch of his work. During my university years, when I made a switch to studying History, and then veered into Asian Studies, his films had a very strong influence on me. It had been ages since I had revisited his films, and there were a few (more recent ones) that I had missed as well. It took me longer than expected, as I took a long break at some point, but today I finally capped this movie marathon of 17 films with Shadow. The ones I didn’t get to watch I just wasn’t able to find ways to watch them — there are a couple of older (lesser known) ones, as well as a few films from the last decade, including three films he has released since Shadow, which came out in 2018. I hope to be able to watch these as well at some point. But for now, you can read my mini reviews that I posted on Letterboxed via the links below — I also shared them all in this Twitter thread.
I’m sharing this later than usual, but yes, this year again (following 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020) I’ve compiled a comprehensive and highly subjective list of my favorite media, this time for the year 2021 — that means I limit it to media that was released in 2021, which of course means that there are things that simply don’t make the list because I haven’t yet had a chance to take them in. For every category I start with an alphabetical top 5, followed by honorable mentions. Here we go.
Favorite Games This year, I again remove the separate mobile games section, since I really didn’t find myself playing a lot of them — if I did any gaming on my phone, it was doing remote play with my Xbox Series S and playing with my Backbone One controller (which I absolutely love). And why is Assassin’s Creed Valhalla there? I really became obsessed with the game in December of 2021 (playing over 100 hours), and since that includes the DLC that was released during the year, I feel it’s warranted to include it.
Art of Rally (Xbox Series S)
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Xbox Series S)
Far Cry 6 (Xbox Series S)
Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series S)
The Gunk (Xbox Series S)
Honorable Mentions: Genesis Noir (Xbox Series S), Hextech Mayhem (Nintendo Switch), It Takes Two (Xbox Series S), Psychonauts 2 (Xbox Series S), Riders Republic (Xbox Series S), Ruined King (Nintendo Switch), Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (Nintendo Switch), The Artful Escape (Xbox Series S), The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo Switch), Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Xbox Series S)
Favorite Movies I feel like my top 5 this year is pretty strong, as the latest Bond film was terrific, I think The French Dispatch is the best Wes Anderson film so far, and I think The Summit of the Gods is one of the best films I’ve ever watched. If you want to see most of what I watched over the year along with my ratings and reviews, you can check me on Letterboxd (although I only started using it in May). I’ve also continued to do my year-based movie marathons, so I include top 5s for both 1981 and 1991.
No Time to Die
The French Dispatch
The Harder They Fall
The Sparks Brothers
The Summit of the Gods
Honorable Mentions: Evangelion 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, Dune, Jolt, The Green Knight, The Story of Film: A New Generation, The Suicide Squad, Titane
Favorite Movies of 1981
Escape from New York
For Your Eyes Only
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Decline of Western Civilization
The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2)
Favorite Movies of 1991
Raise the Red Lantern
The Last Boy Scout
The Silence of the Lambs
Favorite TV Yet another great year for TV, and I have a feeling I’ve probably forgotten to include things I really enjoyed. I continue to be a huge fan of AEW wrestling, so those two weekly shows continue to be my favorite thing to watch, but directly behind would be The Beatles’ Get Back documentary, which absolutely mesmerized me. I don’t include it here because it doesn’t seem to fit as a “series,” but my other obsession is F1 racing, and I watched every single race of the 2021 season live.
AEW Dynamite/AEW Rampage
Dexter: New Blood
The Beatles: Get Back
The Book of Boba Fett
Honorable Mentions: City of Ghosts, Cobra Kai, Foundation, Hawkeye, Heels, Loki, Only Murders in the Building, PEN15, Servant, Star Wars: Visions, Ted Lasso, The Last Pirate Kingdom, The Wheel of Time, WandaVision, We Are Lady Parts, What We Do in the Shadows, Yellowjackets
Favorite Web Series As with last year, my web video content (all from YouTube) is heavily wrestling-related, along with the Formula 1 channel (that I love for the pre-race First Practice and Qualifying highlights), and the excellent Power On, a 6-part documentary about Xbox.
Favorite Music This is certainly the category where I had the hardest time narrowing it down to a top 5 albums for the year — it could easily have been a top 10. But yes, there’s a lot of music that I enjoyed this year, and my honorable mentions list could easily have been longer, but I tried to keep it down to the stuff I feel like I listened to the most.
Asakusa Light (Soichi Terada)
Cold Brew (Sam Mehran)
Escapades (Gaspard Auge & Justice)
First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings (Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers)
Paradigmes (La Femme)
Honorable Mentions: Another Side of John Coltrane (John Coltrane), Attention (Smaller Hearts), Blood (Juliana Hatfield), Bodies of Water (Moontype), Cheater (Pom Poko), Chering Is Caring (Cher Strauberry), Clang Clang Ho (Cub Scout Bowling Pins), Cozy (Chelmico), Death of a Cheerleader (Pom Pom Squad), Domani (Chip Tanaka), Doomin’ Sun (Bachelor, Jay Som & Palehound), Earth Man Blues (Guided By Voices), Future Past (Duran Duran), Get Up Sequences Part One (The Go! Team), Heaven Beats Iowa (Cub Scout Bowling Pins), It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be The. It Is Them! (Guided By Voices), Marriage (Deap Vally), Palladium (April March & Olivia Jean), Pizzicato Five On Demand (Pizzicato Five), Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea – Demos (PJ Harvey), Take the Cake (Packs), Texis (Sleigh Bells), Van Weezer (Weezer), Wink (Chai)
Favorite Podcasts This is probably the category that stays the most consistent year in, year out, as I tend to listen to the same podcasts, just dropping or adding 1 or 2 each year.
All Songs Considered
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Honorable Mentions: Japan by River Cruise, Talk is Jericho
Favorite Comics Looking at my list, it’s not hugely different from what I had included last year. I also feel like I’m slowly drifting away from monthly series, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point I start reading more via trades. As with every year, I do find a lot of interesting non-superhero things (original graphic novels) to read via year-end “best of” lists, so they never get included here because I read them the following year.
The Human Target
Usagi Yojimbo (regular series and color reprints)
Honorable Mentions: BRZRKR, Geiger, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Infinite Frontier, James Bond (Agent of Spectre and Himeros), Strange Adventures
Favorite Magazines I still read a lot of magazines, pretty much all of them digitally via Apple News+, with the two print exceptions being Monocle (which continues to be my favorite title, along with all of its special spinoff publications) and Orange Crush (an indie magazine about pro wrestling).
After trying to get back into reading books regularly in 2019 by giving myself goals, I’m so happy that for 2021 I was able to reach my goal of reading 20 books. In 2019 I was overly ambitions and had set a goal of 24, only reading 11, and then it got better in 2020 with a goal of 18 and reaching 16. But more than just reaching that goal, what I’m especially happy about is that I feel like reading books as finally turned into a routine, not something I’m doing to accomplish a goal. I used to be a big reader when I was a kid, and then for some reason lost that habit. The other thing I started doing this year was that instead of mostly alternating between fiction and non-fiction, I tended to have both on the go at the same time, as sometimes I was just in the mood to read fiction. And you’ll probably notice that when it comes to fiction, I’m big into murder mysteries.
So what’s the goal for 2022? Instead of putting extra pressure and risk losing that comfortable habit I’m starting to form, I’m going to stick with a goal of 20, which I of course hope to reach again. I log all of my reading in Goodreads, so below is a list of everything I read in alphabetical order, with links to my short reviews.
As I’ve been doing for the past three years (2018, 2019, 2020), I devoted October to a lot of horror watching. The main change this year is that I’ve decided to focus only on films, whereas in past years I’d also include TV series (that said, I still watched some horror-related shows, like Midnight Mass and Brand New Cherry Flavor). The final number is lower than previous years, and I blame video games for that, especially the 30+ hours I spent playing Far Cry 6. So below you’ll find the full list of the 23 films I watched, with links to the mini reviews I wrote up on the Letterboxd website. It was good fun, and I’m sure I’ll be doing it again next year.
This is not to say that I left PechaKucha completely behind after I left Tokyo and the organization back in 2015. I’m still a strong proponent of the format, and have regularly encouraged its use at Ubisoft, within various contexts (team meetings, casual Friday sessions, as part of lightning talk sessions, on a regular internal stream I host — I even presented the format to the Shanghai studio recently in a sharing session), but I never got to do anything within the organization during my time in Montreal. I did reach out to the long-standing organizer early on, and met up with him, but nothing ever ended up happening (and the series in Montreal remains dormant).
But as we started looking forward to the new adventure we’re about to embark on in terms of living in a new city, I liked the idea of getting involved in a PechaKucha Night series again — in good part to quickly start immersing myself inside the local creative scene — and so I reached out to the organizing team in Shanghai to offer my help. The series there has been dormant since the start of the pandemic, but there’s now some early talks about when the next event could happen (sometime in early 2022), and I’m happy to be brainstorming that with them currently.
So even though I’m not quite sure what role I’m going to be able to play overall in the production of the events, I’m looking forward to getting my feet wet again, and to get those fun feels I had when I was running the PechaKucha Night series in Tokyo for all those years — and that I’ve been feeling quite nostalgic for of late.
I sure was, and I still am, but since accepting my new role at Ubisoft Shanghai back in May (and then starting to work for the studio at the start of July), we finally (hopefully) have more of an idea of when that’s going to happen.
Indeed, ever since the start of summer, we have been without news on when we would be able to apply for visas (for both my wife and I) to make the move. When I accepted the role, the thought was that things were going to start re-opening towards the end of summer, but then the world didn’t suddenly start getting better as many of us thought. Enter the delta (and more).
That meant that things were getting trickier and trickier for us here in Montreal. Apartment leases here are for 1 year, and you are unable to break them, and so are responsible for that rent until it’s over (you can try and sublease, but that can be challenging as well). My latest lease was over at the end of May, and I of course didn’t want to renew for another year, and so managed to negotiate with my apartment building administration to stay a few more months (until we could move). That was great for the summer, but I was recently informed that this was no longer possible, and would have to now commit for a longer period. What to do?
Luckily, 2 weeks later we got news that China was re-opening the visa process — as well as the news that China would now recognize WHO-approved vaccines — and so we’re up and running again in terms of the application process. Before that, we were even floating the idea of moving to Japan for a while (as a call to the Japanese embassy had revealed that I am currently able to apply for a spouse visa), to then move to China when things would open up again. It would at least have put me in the same timezone, making it easier to connect with my colleagues.
So when are we moving? It’s still not a given, and there are multiple parts to the process that are estimated to take at least 2-3 months. This means that if everything goes well, we could look at a move towards the end of the year — January being the most likely.
This is all incredible news for us, because it finally gives us a tentative timeline on when we might finally be able to make this move happen.
It certainly took a while (most of this year), but my latest year-based movie marathon (previously 1967, 1968, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1990) is now done. 1981 was certainly an interesting year, and there was a lot more I wanted to watch than in 1980 — in the end I capped it at the 24 films you see listed below, but there were still a few more on my list, but I just felt like it was time to move on. The other thing that happened this year was that I stopped doing my mini write-ups on this blog, and instead started doing them on the Letterboxd site — so all of the films listed below link to those reviews, which have the bonus that I give them a star-rating as well. So if you’re curious to see what I thought of all these films, I invite you to click through the titles, and you can also follow me on Letterboxd for all of the movie reviews I share there (since I started using the site, I now review every film I watch, not just the ones that are part of my movie marathons). And in terms of marathons, what’s next? Well, that would be 1991, which I will kick off soon.