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Personal

1997

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.

One of the earliest photos I have of my wife and I, taken at Nankai University in Tianjin.

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.)

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Personal

3 Weeks Later

Proof that we are indeed in Shanghai (photo taken while we went outside for PCR testing).

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.

Taking part in our first city-wide PCR testing.

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.

Our current hotel.

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.

Another proof that we are in Shanghai.
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Art Personal

In Shanghai

Art for “The Shanghairen” art project by Ye Yuan.

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.

The two images in the post are from a collection of 80 covers created for “The Shanghairen” art project, inspired by other homages to New Yorker covers like “The Tokyoiter” and “The Parisianer” — and there’s “Le Montrealer” as well, of which I spotted an exhibition at the airport in Montreal.

Art for “The Shanghairen” art project by Xin Yin.

Categories
Events Personal

PechaKucha

I’m happy to say that I’m getting in the PechaKucha swing of things again, getting involved with the PechaKucha Night series in Shanghai in the lead-up to our move there.

The scene at one of the PechaKucha Nights I used to produce at the SuperDeluxe event space in Tokyo.

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.

Me behind the console, making sure the presentations are running smoothly at one of our PechaKucha Nights in Tokyo.

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.

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Personal

To Move or Not to Move

Weren’t you supposed to move to Shanghai?

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.

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Personal

To Shanghai

I’m moving to Shanghai.

Well that’s something. After six years here in Montreal, we’ve (my wife and I) decided to embark on a new adventure, and one that involves a return to Asia. It’s not a return to Japan, that I think many would have expected, but rather a return to China, which is how I started my Asia adventure in the first place.

May has turned out to be a defining month in my life — on top of the fact that it’s my birth month. It was in May 1997 that I first went to China, to the city of Tianjin for what was supposed to be a 10-week study program (an exchange program between my university in Montreal and Nankai University), and saw me changing my plans and remaining there until the end of the year. It was in May 1998 that I moved to Tokyo, which would become my home for over 15 years. It was then in May 2015 that I moved to Montreal to embark on a new journey working in the games industry (first at Eidos/Square Enix, then at Ubisoft).

And now, in 2021, it’s in May that I’ve accepted an offer to take on a new role at the Ubisoft Shanghai studio — I’ll start this new role in the summer, with the move happening when our visas our sorted, which we expect will be towards the end of summer, maybe September. After two years working in esports, this will also mark my return to game production — my new role, Production Services Manager, is a transverse role within the studio, working closely with all of the production services teams that support all of the production teams at the studio.

Why this move? After six years in Montreal, we felt like it was time to move on and experience something new. I’m incredibly thankful for the time I was able to spend at both Eidos Montreal and Ubisoft Montreal to “level up” this new career in games I embarked on not that long ago, but at the same time it hasn’t been as productive a time for my wife, in good part due to language issues, but we’ve had other challenges to deal with in our time here, and so we decided it was time for a new adventure in another city.

Why China? As I mentioned earlier, my first stop in Asia was in fact in China, as part of the East-Asian Studies program I was enrolled in at my university, which focused on the Chinese language and culture — and my time at Nankai University in Tianjin was spent studying Mandarin. It’s also where I met my wife, who was also studying Mandarin at the same university — and who, unlike me, continued to use it as part of her studies in the years following our move to Japan. So even though I have never been to Shanghai, I am excited at the prospect of rebuilding my Mandarin skills, and for my wife it means a chance to explore new opportunities in a language and setting that she knows very well. I’m also thankful to work in an expansive global company like Ubisoft, that let me find an opportunity like this, and that allows me to continue to build on the years of experience and contacts I’ve accumulated over my five years here.

So there it is, 2021 is turning out to be a big year for me, as I was hoping it would — it’s maybe a good sign that we’re in the Year of the Ox, which is my Chinese Zodiac.

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Books Film Meta

Letterboxd & Goodreads

I’ve decided to change the way I track all of the movies I watch — which I share here mostly in the form of my various movie marathons — and my book reading as well.

For books, I actually did start using Goodreads to track my book reading in 2019 when I decided to increase the number of books I read each year, but it was only at the end of the year that I bothered writing mini-reviews in posts here (2019, 2020). I’ve now copied over all of those mini-reviews to my Goodreads log, and written a few for what I’ve read so far this year (I’ve read 6 of my planned 20). So if you’re curious to follow what I’m reading and my thoughts on those books, I invite you to follow me on Goodreads.

As for the movie stuff, as mentioned, I’ve been writing mini-reviews for the movies that I watch as part of my movie marathons over in the “Debaser” section of this site, which I then sum up in round-up posts for each. In terms of all of the other movies I watch, I usually just write quick thoughts that I share on Twitter — like this thread when I recently started re-watching Wong Kar-wai movies, as well as the films of Zhang Yimou, and Tintin films. I started thinking there might be a better way to share and then track all of this, and remembered Letterboxd (I’ve had an account for years, but never used it). So I’ve gone and added most of my movie watching so far this year there, creating entries for all of the 1981 movies I’ve watched so far, and the other things I’m watching. My intention is to still create round-up posts here when I finish a marathon, like I’ve done in the past. So if you’d like to follow all of my movie viewing — which now include adding a star rating — I invite you to follow me on Letterboxd.

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Meta On Something

On Something

I’ve been itching of late to start a new writing project on this ol’ site of mine. In recent years there was when I started blogging about Japan again, for a few months — I stopped because it was starting to bum me out to be writing about all these things that I couldn’t experience myself anymore. I think the last one was the shortlived “Game Boy” column I wrote in 2018.

I’ve always enjoyed launching projects throughout the years. I’d often kick off the year with a post on January 1 listing a few new things I was going to try. In the early years many were tied to the “Tokyo Boy” monicker I used a lot, and so you’d get stuff like TB.Grafico for a photolog, TB. Musica for music, TB.Movel when I was moblogging (wow, remember moblogging?) — I guess I had some sort of Portuguese fetish. There are also plenty of things I’d do at Cafe Pause in Tokyo — gallery shows, week-long events, and of course PauseTalk. I think the one I was saddest about ending was my online magazine, SNOW Magazine, although the favicon I use for this site is the logo that my friend Luis Mendo designed for that project.

So what next? I’ve been wanting to do more writing here, but need to find the right theme or structure to do it, an I think I’ve hit on it. Inspired by the monthly design column I wrote for The Japan Times for over a decade that was called “On Design,” which eventually inspired them to launch other columns using that nomenclature, I thought I’d write short posts about various topics I’m interested in, and so you’ll get On Games, On Comics, On Japan, On Wrestling, hell, “on” pretty much anything I feel like writing about. I’m note sure yet on the frequency (I want there to be a regular pulse though) and I’ll experiment a bit at first with the format, but you’ll be able to find them all under this category.

Oh, and what’s the name of the “project”? (I’m still calling it a “project” because I’m not sure what else to call it, as “column” doesn’t feel right.) I started writing this post still not having an idea what I wanted to call it (the umbrella title), and just typed “On Something” as the title in the meantime, and you know what, I like it.

So there you go, here’s the start of something new.

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Personal

PauseTalk, Five Years Later

It just hit me today that five years ago this month I held what I then called the “final” edition of PauseTalk (Vol. 85) in Tokyo — here’s the post I wrote to mark that end. That event took place on March 2, 2015, and a few weeks later (on March 31) I would be leaving the city I called home for over 15 years.

Hey, do you miss running PauseTalk?

Of course I do. Not only was it a fantastic way for me to meet so many creative people over the years, it also made for a very fun and inspirational monthly outing. Imagine hanging out at a nice cafe, enjoying a few drinks, and chatting with an interesting bunch of people — how could I not miss it?

So then why, you may ask, have I never done something similar here in Montreal? There are definitely a bunch of different factors that make me feel like it wouldn’t really work here like it did in Tokyo. I’d say at the top of the list is that, because it was mostly attended by foreigners, it acted as a sort of support group for creatives based in or passing through Tokyo. But there’s also a more personal reason. For me, the events were a way to connect around and celebrate a city that inspired me and that I loved so much. I loved chatting about what was happening in Tokyo — on the cultural front — and to hear opinions from others, either as fellow residents, or through the fresh eyes of visitors. That passion for a city is just not something I feel I have here, and so organizing a PauseTalk makes no sense to me.

So, we’re never going to see another PauseTalk event?

As I wrote in that farewell post, I know better than to ever firmly close the door on anything. I was happy to “press pause” on the series when I left, as I still think it was the right thing to do — and the thing I was hoping would happen, to see others take up the mantle through creative/culture event series of their own, did in fact happen. Last year I did have the thought that on my next return to the city I would have liked to organize an edition, but that return (which happened in November of last year, as part of a business trip to attend our Rainbow Six Siege Pro League Finals) was a bit too short to be able to do something. But as Connery ended up doing in 1983, it’s usually best to never say never.

Oh, and there is a reason that I’ve kept the PauseTalk web domain alive all these years.

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Personal

4 Years at Ubi

I mentioned it on the day of on Twitter/Facebook, but this past weekend — specifically February 15 — marked my 4th anniversary of working at Ubisoft here in Montreal. I’ve written in the past about how I ended up here, so what I’ll say now is that I’m just as happy working here as I was when I started. And what better way to mark this anniversary than at the Six Invitational, the culmination of all of Rainbow Six Siege‘s competitive programs — and even better the fact that it was an electrifying event.

The view from above at this past weekend’s Six Invitational event in Montreal.

I think the best part of my “life at Ubi” has been the opportunities I’ve been given to explore so many aspects of this industry I love so much, through the shifting roles I’ve had — from Production Coordination to Project Manager to Senior Manager, from the For Honor production team to company-wide online/live operations teams to esports. Everything I’ve experienced on all of these projects and teams has given me insights that has always translated into the next project/team I’ve embarked on, and that’s what career growth is all about.

The most important part of all this though is of course all of the amazing colleagues and teams I’ve been able to collaborate with over these four years — big hugs all around.