Thursday, October 23, 2014

At the End of Everything #2

Join the world’s best free dating site. I laughed when I first saw the first line that greeted me on the dating website that Lucas asked me to join. I told him how ridiculous it sounded, and how people who claim that they are the best are not usually so.

“Come on, stop being a whiny kid and just try it,” came his curt reply.

Aside from the cheesy tagline, the site looked slick to me and I did promise Lucas to at least use it for a couple of weeks. Two other drop down boxes hung directly below the tagline, asking me to state why I was there. One let me chose my gender, the other the gender that I am looking for.

“I am a male… looking for a female,” I clicked the options, and pressed enter.

Before I knew it, I was looking at an empty profile of myself, along with the username that I had chosen. A pop up on the right encouraged me to fill my profile in, saying something along the line of a filled in profile would have a higher chance of getting a match. There were a few different sections for me to describe myself, ranging from a self-summary to personal interests, as well as other interesting sections that asked me to define the perfect Friday night and who do I want to message me. Of course, there was the picture section as well, placed right on top of the profile, where I could upload up to five different pictures of myself.

Seems like looks is still the most important factor after all, I thought.

I didn’t have any idea of what to put in to my profile yet, so I wandered to the section where the site displayed the potential matches that were available to me. As the page loaded and coughed out the results, I found myself staring at rows upon rows of different girls, their photos smiling back at me. Their screen name, age and location were displayed below the photo, and up above the results I could customize the different search options that I wanted. It was like Google, only that I was now searching for potential mates. No wonder Lucas was so hyped up about it.

I clicked on the picture of a fairly decent looking girl, whom had a face closely resembling a Korean superstar. Might as well start now, I guess. I was then brought to her profile page, with two other photos of herself. Both of them were selfies too, one with her back facing a river and the other of her lying on a bed, winking towards the camera. Just like her main picture, she looked pretty in both the pictures, with her fair skin, sharp chin and a pair of mesmerizing eyes. My heart gave an excited squeal in response.

Under her self-summary however, there was only a one liner introduction of herself. “Just a simple girl,” was all it had to say. Looking at her pictures on the other hand, made my heart race. My mouse hovered to the button that read “Message Her”, and lingered there for a moment. It was funny how the prospect of sending a virtual message to a girl suddenly made me nervous. I clicked on it, and an empty text box popped up next to her pictures.

As I thought about what message to send to her, my mind started to wander off by itself. It began to imagine how she would later turn out to be the one that I was waiting for, my soulmate all along. Hollywood like scenarios began to pop up in my mind, as I pictured us holding hands together, walking along a stretch of white sandy beach whilst the sun set behind us. I could hear the cries of all our cute children, three of them, calling us “Papa” and “Mama” happily. How great that love story would turn out to be.

Hastily, I typed out a message, saying “Hi” and “Nice to meet you” on the white text box. I even added in a little smiley at the end of it, just to appear friendly. And then I clicked send, wondering how she would reply. I was eager for it.

But the reply never came.

(to be continued...)


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

At The End of Everything #1

"How could you do this?"

She was standing there, her face red, sobbing hysterically.

"Why?!" she screamed again. Her eyes. They were full of hurt and confusion. I turned my head away, unable to look at them.

I could see her body trembling from the corner of my eyes. I didn't know what to do. She had every right to be angry, after all. And I have not the faintest idea on how to answer her. How does one answer in a situation like this anyway? I have already told her what I wanted, and she already knew why. There was really nothing to explain anymore. So I held my silence, and told myself that everything will be over after this. Just endure, I told myself.

"Tell me why!" In our time together, I have never heard her scream like this before. Still no answer from me. She ran towards me, pushed me towards the wall. Screamed again. Then she started to hit me on the chest, her hands pounding me repeatedly. I continued to stand there, still silent, looking away. I don't have to answer you, I thought. I don't need to. We're over. That was all on my mind. That was all that mattered. My fists were clenched by then, as anger began to build up in me. Why was she doing this, when she already knew that I would no longer change my mind?

I kept repeating to myself to be patient. If this is what it takes to end it, then let it be.

And then the slap came.

Her palm landed squarely on my left chin, It caught me off guard on how fast and powerful it was. The force from it send me stumbling a few steps. I could feel all the hurt, anger and disappointment channeled through her hands. It was something that I did not anticipate. The suddenness shocked me. A part of my body cried out that I should no longer tolerate this outburst of hers.

"Enough!" I yelled. "Which part of breaking up do you not understand?" The room fell silent. She was still standing there, her eyes wide in disbelief. The air was heavy with emotion, punctuated by her attempts to control her sobs. I glared at her, my chest rising up and down steadily. I was visibly angry. Annoyed. She continued to look at me, tears still flowing freely from her eyes.

"You're no longer the same," she whispered softly. She took a few steps back, slowly inching away from me. I could feel our distance slowly growing further with each step that she took, the memories that we built over eight years of our relationship slowly crumbling away. But I didn't cared back then. All I cared for during that moment was the end. The end of our relationship, so I could start another one. I was utterly convinced that I no longer love her back then, That I was no longer happy.

Standing there in the room, with the stinging sensation on my face, all I could feel was anger. And contempt. For someone who loved me for eight years. I thought of the happiness that awaited me once this was all over.

She slowly picked up her bag and jacket, letting out a whimper every now and then. As she headed for the door, she turned her slightly towards me, perhaps hoping that I would say something. But my resolve was firm, so I kept my silence. Sensing that I was not going to change my mind, she quietly opened the door.

"Goodbye," she said, and left. I could never forget her face when she said that. Wet from all the tears, and reeked of disappointment. And that was how it all ended.


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

At the End of Everything #Prologue


I stared at Lucas, trying to determine whether he was serious. He was flashing that cheeky grin of his, which usually happens when he has a crazy idea in his head. We were sitting in a busy cafe at Haji Lane, popular for its Spanish themed restaurants and unique cafes. The night sky hung above us, the moon barely visible behind some clouds.

"Why not? It's been like five months since you last broke up, and she already has a new boyfriend. You, on the other hand, is still too busy moping to move on with life." I glanced at our table, my attention caught momentarily by the puddle of water forming beneath our beer bottles. I find myself unable to disagree with Lucas.

The 'she' that he was mentioning was none other than my ex girlfriend, Elaine. We have been dating since we were both 19, back when we were still naive university students. We were planning to settle down eventually, but because of a stupid mistake I made, our plans came not to be. An eight year relationship, ruined over some misguided passion and lust. 

A few months after the breakup, she was already with someone new. It was not surprising, considering how popular she has been. Guys used to line up just for her, metaphorically speaking, of course. She got together with her hometown friend, who has been chasing her for like forever. Me, on the other hand, ended up in a worse position that I had initially hoped. It turns out that if a girl can cheat on her boyfriend for you, she can cheat on you too with another guy.

"I don't know man." I picked up the half empty bottle in front of me and took a sip of the remaining beer inside, considering what Lucas had said. Online dating? To meet new people? How could it not be a joke? Lucas knew how badly I viewed online dating. To me, the relationships from there seemed to lack the value of face to face interactions, and I doubted the sincerity and the durability of such relationships. Prejudiced, I know, but I cannot just seem to wrap idea of forming a relationship so quickly without first going through the traditional friendship.

Sensing my uncertainty, Lucas tried to reassure me. "Look I am only trying to help. You have been stuck in this self-pity shell for far too long. You complain about not having the chance to meet someone else, and yet everyday without fail you lock yourself at home like a hermit. So I'm merely suggesting the easiest way for you to meet new people."

In a way, Lucas does have a point. When you have already spent eight years with the same person, life would inevitably feel different when that person is no longer there. It was like a void suddenly opening up in the middle of your existence, and you are left wondering on how to live life as a single individual again. In my case, life became a dull routine of work and computer gaming, repeating itself in a monotonous cycle day after day. And it was Lucas who heard the most complaints.

"I... suppose I can." I looked at the people passing by us, wondering if I really could.

"That's good to hear. You should always be unafraid to try out new things, I tried it out and it worked great for me. Besides, what's the worst that can happen? Cheers man." Lucas raised his bottle to me, giving that grin of his again. 

I looked at Lucas, who always seemed to be cheerful. Sometimes it is hard not to admire his childlike optimism, though he may get outrageous ideas along the way. I reluctantly raised my bottle to his, forcing out a smile. "Cheers."

Perhaps Lucas was right. What could go wrong anyway?


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NaNoWriMo Year Two


So I've decided to try out NaNoWriMo again this year. It will be the second time for me this time, after churning out a error filled zombie apocalypse story last year. Of course I don't foresee this year is gonna be any easier, with all the pure word vomit sessions that I had last year, but instead of just writing any garbage, my goal this year would be to actually send the manuscript to publishers. Yes, my aim this year would be to publish a novel (depending on whether the publisher accepts the story, that is, but at least I want to send it in).

Of course, the entire process would be tough and demanding. With 1666.7 words that one needs to write in a day, the entire process literally forces you to become a social recluse for a whole month. But I've told myself that I am going to do it, no matter how tough it takes this time. I even made two promises to myself, and they are 1.) I will post at least an update, no matter how long or short once per day and 2.) I would read each post at least once to check for error before posting it (because I don't wanna go through proof reading of an entire novel in one go)

And if you're someone who interested in something like this too, I'm looking for a writing buddy! Because it will be easier to write when you have someone pushing you forward. But I am going to cheat a little by starting to write the story from tomorrow onwards and if you're interested to join, do let me know!

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Dota All Hero Challenge #Day33: Am I there yet?

There have been ups, there have been downs. Mostly downs. When you're so close to winning a game, only to have it crumbled before your eyes over a silly mistake. Teammates whom from the start you know will only be a burden. Heroes whom you know makes you a burden to the team. Still, slowly but surely, you chip away at the number of remaining heroes. One game at a time. And now, I am finally past the middle mark. Who knew DOTA had so many heroes in it?

One thing that I realized that when I told myself that I am going to complete the challenge is that how I completely underestimated the commitment required by the challenge. Even if you win one game for each hero, which is near impossible, it would still take 108 games to clear every single hero. And that's 54 hours gone if you assume that each game takes half an hour. But given how the average games completion is 216 games, that's already 108 hours there. Almost 5 days there. That long.

And now that I have started working, time is no longer a excess commodity, and the second thing that I quickly realized that telling yourself that you would complete a challenge like this is gonna make your life miserable, because when you have only two hours per night for yourself, it is SUPER hard to have enough time to clear this thing. And because I suddenly find myself in an obsession over this, other aspects of my life like blogging has taken a beating. But I just cannot stop D: 

I have you Valve.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Which God Do You Believe In?

God. Some of us believe in him, some of us don't. But for those of us who do, God can come in many shapes and forms too. Some of us believes that there are many of Him. Or Her. Some believe that there's just one God, almighty and omnipotent. Some believe that we can be Gods too, if we try.

Some claims that they believe in the same God, and thus organizes themselves into groups. Some of these groups in turn believe that their God is the real God, while all other Gods are fake. And out of these groups some believe that their "real" God needs to be the only known God in the world, and no other God should be allowed to be believed. And that's where the conflict arises. When my God is not your God. And you believe that your God is telling you to change my God.

But is there such thing as a universal God. Maybe there is. A God(s) who indeed created the world, or at least played a part in creating it. A God(s) who sits beyond of our realm of understanding. But can we really claim to know this God, as how some people do? Those who proclaim with fervor that their God wants a certain thing, and demands people to follow their God? The people who claim that they know exactly what God wants? Or in any case, can we truly understand God? Can the God you believe in be exactly the same as the God that I believe in?

To be honest, I don't think it can. I don't think that no matter what we proclaim, none of our God is the same, on the contrary. Everyone's God is different, I believe, even though we may know our God through the same name, even read from the same holy book. Perhaps our Gods may share the same similarities, perhaps even more than someone who knows their God by a different name, but at the end of the day, both of our Gods are still different.

It's no different than knowing a friend. Say John, Mike and Sally are friends. Best friends in fact. They grew up together, played together. And one day, out of the blue, you decided to ask John and Mike what do they think of Sally. Or rather what do they know of Sally. John, being the optimistic and cheerful guy that he is, thinks that Sally is a cheerful and bubbly girl, as she often smiles. Mike, on the other hand, thinks that Sally can be fake sometimes, because she smiles way to often. It's the same action, by the same person, but yet both John and Mike interpreted it differently.

The way Sally treated both of them could have affected how they viewed Sally too. Sally hung out with John more often, while she mostly met Mike briefly. The things they discussed were different too. Mike complained often, while John listened mostly. It's not only the person's personality that affected how they viewed Sally, but rather their experience with Sally too. Each of them have different experiences with Sally, different expectations, and even though they were all friends, they have differing viewpoints on Sally.

If we can't even agree on how our friend is, what more can we try to claim that our God's are the same?

The problem about religion is this: That it forces us all to believe in the same Sally. That Sally in fact encompasses a certain number of traits. Like she would get angry if we dress in a certain type of way, watched certain type of shows or used certain type of words. But more often than not its not always printed out in black and white. How Sally is may differ in each situation, depending on the context. More often than not, religion forces us to accept a certain thinking of Sally is because it wants to control the way we think. Sometimes, it becomes an issue of power.

Where am I trying to go with this article? I don't know. I am just trying to say that because each of us is different, and because each of our life experience varies, the God we come to believe (if we do), varies as well. And people who forces their God upon you, claiming that their God is the real God, is in fact not really reflecting THE real God, but rather their own personal God. Personal God. I like this term.

Perhaps God is a manifestation of our ideals, our world views. That how we see God depends on how we see the world too. Perhaps God does exists, but no longer in a way that we believe God to be.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Welcome to Laddaland, Sentosa Spooktacular 2014

Our surroundings fell mysteriously darker as we stepped out from the corridor, into yet another room. Our eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness that surrounded us, to make sense of the new environment. As we took a step forward, something large caught our attention. It stood at the corner of the room, and from the shadows cast unto the wall, we could guess that the object was a piano. A figure was sitting on the bench, its figure moving skillfully along the keys. 

However, like all the other beings that we met in this house, we could see dry blood caked below its eyes. Its clothes were torn, its skin wrinkled. The figure ignored us as we made our way past, continuing to produce ominous music from its fingers. Just when we thought there were no other surprises in the room, a face soaked in blood burst forth from the middle of the piano, shrieking at the top of her voice, its fingers reaching for us. Caught off guard, there was nothing that we could do, except to scream in terror.

Luckily for us, it was not any real haunted house that we were trapped in, but rather one of the three haunted houses that make up this year's Sentosa Spooktacular. The ghost that gave us the fright of our lives was none other than the many scare actors that you can find around the annual Halloween festival at Fort Siloso, Sentosa. Laughing it off, we let the scare actor return to its position, ready to scare other unwary visitors, before venturing to explore the rest of the house.

It was the second time I am returning to Sentosa's Spooktacular, and I was looking forward to the whole experience of exploring different themed haunted houses again, while the whole time stifling the urge to scream every time I think I see something moving from the corner of my eyes.

meet my two new friends, dead student and dead butcher

Partnering with one of Thai's leading movie studios, GTH for the second time round, this year's Spooktacular borrowed its theme from Laddaland, the 2011 Thai horror box office hit. The entire Fort Siloso was transformed into a haunted village, where you find yourself walking along routes of abandoned houses, hanging corpses, cobwebs and the dead. I personally find that there was a lot more effort put into the decorations and props this year, because the entire scenery really brings out the creep in you. It made me feel as if I was playing Silent Hill itself.

just walking around makes you feel as if you're trapped in a horror film!

look, my new house!

Of course, the main attractions would be the haunted trails, the place where you need to walk through pathways that hides a number of ghosts looking to jump out to scare you. There were only three haunted trails this year though, down from the five the had last year. While the number of haunted trails went down, they expanded on the length of the haunted trails themselves and added much more complexity to each trail itself, and I think each trail offered a more immersive experience this year.

Two of the three trails were themed according to two separate Thai horror movie, the first being the Swimmer and the second Alone. The third trail, Countdown, on the other hand was more focused on effects and lighting, in which you are required to walk through the trail while wearing 3D glasses, which gives you a surreal feeling through the trail.

part of the trail for countdown, the 3D trail

My personal favorite was the trail based on the movie, Alone. The story tells about a woman who is haunted by her dead twin sister, and it takes place primarily in the house where they grew up together. The trail was a recreation of the house in the movie, where you have to walk through the drainage system, the bedrooms and right through the garden of the house. Staying true to the name of the movie, visitors to the trail could only walk in groups of three at most, which added to the terrifying feel of the trail. There were parts where the whole room was covered in darkness, and being the only two people in it, it was quite difficult not to feel scared.

one of the rooms in Alone. don't be deceived though, because this photo was taken with flash 

The other two paths, Countdown and Swimmers were special in their own way too. Countdown was quite fun to explore as the path attempted to distort your senses, making you wander through oddly shaped rooms painted with neon lights while wearing 3D glasses. There was not much of a scare factor for this path however, because the path is mostly bright and you could see most of the things around you. If you don't count skulls hanging from the wall as scary, that is.

one of the odd rooms that make your senses go "What?"

The Swimmers on the other hand, was another haunted trail that based its theme of a movie where someone died in a swimming pool, so naturally the path resembled a cross between a school and a swimming pool. There were quite a few interesting layouts along the way, like one where you need to walk below water and another were you need to squeeze yourself through part of the human intestines. The scare factor was only so-so, but the path itself was quite gory. And there was a cute ghost with very big head. Take note not to touch them though.

le big headed ghost

In summary, I found this year's Sentosa Spooktacular to be a fresh new experience as compared to last year's trail. The trails were much more elaborate and better themed, and the decorations around the place was also very well made. Laddaland was indeed a wonderful experience, with all the different haunted houses it had to offer as well as the creepy atmosphere.

My only complaint was the reduced number of paths they had this year and although each of it was more complex and longer, there's a risk that the queue may be super long given that everyone would be concentrated on these paths. Might want to consider the Fast Pass if you hate queuing. But I suppose the queue won't be as bad as USS Halloween Horror Nights though. Still it was a fun experience! Should definitely try it out if you're a fan of Thai horror movies.

photo with me fellow explorer at the end of the night!

For more information, check out the Sentosa Spooktacular website ( and Facebook page (, where fear-enthusiasts can join in the journey of what lurks in Laddaland. Tickets can be purchased from the Spooktacular website (, or from Sentosa ticketing counters.

Haunted trails image credits: Sentosa Spooktacular

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

This guy decided to make fun of click bait article titles in his Facebook status, what happened next was simply unbelievably hilarious.

Number 10 made me rolled on the floor laughing.

Take a scroll down your Facebook wall today and you'll be sure to find tons of links with click bait titles. Titles that describe an event and immediately follow up with a sentence such as " won't believe what happened next" or "...what took place after broke my heart". Some of us may have gotten tired of such click bait links already, thinking that we don't need other people to shove what they think down our brain, and this guy managed to sum the click bait phenomena perfectly through his Facebook status.

It's even funnier to see how his friends joined in the fun as well.

Don't you agree that click bait titles have overstayed their welcome?

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Life as a Hufflepuff

"Mum, can I not go to Hogwarts please?"

That was the first question that I asked my mum six years ago, when she found out that I have received the Hogwarts acceptance letter. I could still remember the look of horror on her face, as if I had just uttered the stupidest sentence imaginable. While my neighbors were overjoyed at receiving the letter, I could only anticipate in fear the future that awaited me at Hogwarts.

Unlike me, however, my mum was not entirely happy with my question.

"What do you mean 'can you not go to Hogwarts?' Do you know how hard it is to get into Hogwarts? One of the top wizarding schools in the world? Where do you want to go then, huh? The Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts? Or that god knows what Merge School of Under-Water Spellage? What you're gonna do after school then? Try to sell your talents on the streets Diagon Alley? Or live the rest of your life trying to catch a fish? You’re going to Hogwarts, young man, if that’s the last thing I will do,” she exclaimed, and that was the end of our discussion.

It was never easy talking to my mum. I understand that she's concerned about my future, but sometimes I wished that she would consider my feelings as well. Or least ask me why I didn’t wanted to go to Hogwarts. My dad, on the other hand, knew better. Lowering his copy of the Daily Prophet and looking through his glasses, he gave me a concerned look and asked, "Is it because you're afraid that you'll end up in Hufflepuff?"

Straight on the point. I nodded reluctantly, my eyes afraid to meet his.

My dad gave a long deep sigh, as if he has been dreading this moment for the longest time since. It would not be surprising though, considering how our family has been Hufflepuffs for generations and how that fact alone always gets us ridiculed by others through snide comments or in my case, blatant teasing by others.

Sissy, weak, little badger, huffy puffy and yellow mustard were among the few colourful words that I had to endure while growing up in the small village of ours. Coming from generations of Hufflepuff seemed to make you a natural target of bullying when you’re growing up. My father knew of this, of course, since he was the one that I normally confided in whenever I got picked on. And he would always urge me to patient, to not give in to my emotions just because others got better of theirs. But deep down inside, I guessed he knew that I hated the fact that my roots were strongly intertwined with the house of Hufflepuff.

"Son... being a Hufflepuff is not as bad as your friend painted it to be. What’s important is what you choose to believe in," he began, before launching into one of one of his many long speeches. My mind lost him at the believing part, as it usually did. Despite my love and respect of him, no amount of talk would get me to change my mind. In my heart, the house of Hufflepuff was already the worst house of all. And to be sorted into the house of Hufflepuff was akin to a curse laid upon you. That was my belief.

But no matter how much I protested, I still found myself sitting on a carriage of the Hogwarts Express, trapped among boisterous enthusiastic first years who were excited about which house will they be sorted into. For people like me, who hails from a family that were rooted for generations in a same house, the question rarely arose. It’s the same with my father’s friend’s family, whom I heard all of them has been in Gryffindor for generations. I could only mull the inevitability of the fate that awaited me as the train raced along tracks.

True enough, as I sat on the chair that day, my head hidden under the Sorting Hat, the name that was shouted out was none other than Hufflepuff. It was not as if that I did not try though. For the whole duration that I was sitting on the chair, only one thought raced through my mind.

“Not Hufflepuff, please, not Hufflepuff please,” I kept whispering to myself. The Sorting Hat seemed to have heard my thoughts too, as it proceeded to comment about my thoughts.

“Why not Hufflepuff eh? I think you would make a fine Hufflepuff,” it claimed, before shouting out that name at the top of its lungs, if it had any. And that was how my life as part of the yellow badgers began.

Life as a Hufflepuff was never easy. First year especially. It was hellish. The first advice that we got from our seniors was to never walk alone. As a Hufflepuff freshman, you are a giant bullseye for bullies. Gryffindors who wanted to show their bravado, Ravenclaws who were eager to display their wits and the Slytherins who enjoyed picking on others will all swoop down on lonely Hufflepuffs, as we were considered to be the weakest among the four. This idea is so entrenched in the school that even some of the Hufflepuffs too believed that.

There was this one time when a freshman girl from our house had the unfortunate experience of getting herself separated from the rest of us. We were climbing the grand staircase, heading to our next class, when one of the stairs decided to move all of a sudden, leaving her behind after we have all crossed. We immediately went back for her. And when we found her, four second years had already surrounded her. That was how fast us Hufflepuffs get picked upon.

Two of them were from Gryffindor, the other two were from Slytherin. They were arguing about who found the girl first, and who had the right to bully the girl. The girl, on the other hand, was sobbing in the middle of all four of them, unsure of what to do.

When I tried to move forward to help the girl, a friend of mind pulled me back. It was his words that stung me the most that day.

“What are you trying to do?” he asked rather anxiously, in a whisper, perhaps not wanting the four second years there to hear us. I told him matter of factly that I was going to rescue the girl, and immediately a cloud of dread formed over his face.

“But we are Hufflepuffs, we are not supposed to get into fights like this,” he tried to reason. I almost wanted to punch him for saying that. But thankfully, a few prefects who were walking nearby saw what was happening, and managed to prevent the situation from getting any worse. They deducted the points of the four second years for roaming the halls without permission, and then escorted the rest of us first years back to our class.

In a way, my first year in Hogwarts had turned out to be everything as I feared. The fear of wandering the hallways alone. The endless, torturous experience of being labelled as a “puffie”.

I too, became that friend of mine eventually. I was too afraid to fight back, choosing to endure the torment rather than stand my ground. My bed and the library became my refuge, as I isolated myself from the rest of the school. I hated every part of school, my house even more. My life in Hogwarts during that period was reduced to a mere routine of attending class, eating, bathing and then spending the rest of the day either on my bed or in the library.

It was not surprising that eventually every waking hour became a torture. I had almost no friends, as I lost myself in my own cage of self-pity. I grew jealous of the Gryffindors for not caring what others thought of them, the Ravenclaws for their wits to make the best out of any situation and the Slytherins for their cunning ability to just survive. There was not a day where I did not hate the name of Hufflepuff. In fact, I blamed everything on Hufflepuff. The hatred engulfed me.

My story may have remained the same until graduation, had it not been for my parents’ trip. During the winter break in my second year, they decided to pay a visit to our relatives in France, leaving me alone in school. I had pleaded to follow, but according to them it was an “official” business, and kids like me should stay out of it.

I remembered being as bored as a Flobberworm, hating my fate even more. Spending a whole winter in Hufflepuff’s common room was certainly not how I envisioned spending my winter that year. So when a few seniors suggested a “study trip” to the Muggle world, I immediately said yes. Labelled as the weird guy in my year, they were surprised that I agreed, but nevertheless were happy to finally bring me out.

We went to London, staying over at one of the senior houses, whose parents were Muggles themselves. The senior, with his sister, brought us to many places that the Muggles enjoyed going to. I rarely ventured into the Muggle world, so the whole experience itself was eye-opening to me. It was the first time that I tried out the Muggle transportation network, which felt totally strange and weird.

There was the museum, the cafes and the palace, in which the Queen resided. We were told that the Queen was well aware of the existence of the Ministry of Magic as well as the wizarding community, a secret that has been passed on for generations along the monarchical line. I remember my father saying something about that, but I have never quite believed him. But out of all the places that we visited, one stood out from the rest of it. The Brent Cross Shopping Center. Something like Diagon Alley, my senior said, where all shops are housed into one giant building.

As the rest decided to visit the more interesting places, such a shops which sold Muggle clothes or theatres that conjured moving pictures onto a big screen, I wandered off into a bookstore. Another senior followed me, a Quidditch player if I am not mistaken. She said she was always fascinated with the Muggle sports called football, in which she explained that while not as exciting as Quidditch, was still exciting. While she wandered off to find her books, I explored the numerous shelves of books on my own too.

The bookstore was huge, bigger than any bookstore that I have seen before. I guessed perhaps Muggles did not have the compacting spell to shrink down the space. There were books about almost everything, every topic. Some even had words that I have never seen before. Engineering, computers, science. Books with complicated diagrams and non-moving pictures. I was utterly fascinated.

As I ventured deeper into the store, one book caught my attention. Prodded against the display shelf, with the shape of a mind on its cover. Written neatly inside the shape of the mind was the words ‘Social Psychology: How we react in everyday situations’. I was curious. The introduction asked its readers if they ever wondered how their own thinking shaped the world around them, and how others affect our own life. The authors promised that by the end of the book, we would have a better idea of how people function, and how our everyday thoughts have the possibility to affect our lives.

When I stood at the checkout counter together with the senior from Quidditch, a book where eleven guys stood in two rows on the cover in her hands, the book about social psychology was in mine too.

“What’s psychology, by the way?” she asked, when she saw my book. I told her that I had no idea, but speculated that it might be related to how we think in our daily lives.

She gave an uninterested “Uh-huh,” before turning her attention back to her surroundings. We stood there in silence, waiting for our turn. I tapped my feet, looked around, feeling uneasy over the silence. I took a peek at the senior, her brown hair running down just past her shoulders. Her complexion was fair and smooth, and it was a known fact that guys adored her, even those who were not from Hufflepuff. She was adored for her beauty, as well as her skills in Quidditch. And yet I don’t know her name.

“So, what’s your name anyway?” I finally blurted out. I tried to sound casual, but inside of me, my heart was thumping away. When was the last time when I actually hung out so close to a girl anyway, I wondered?

“Shirley,” came the answer, as she turned and looked at me. “What’s yours?” she asked in return, before giving me a friendly smile. The cutest smile that I’ve ever seen. One that made my knees weak.

Back at Hogwarts, the snow had already fell. Almost everything was blanketed in white. Only a few students remained, most of them back back for the Christmas celebrations. With only the fireplace and a warm mug of hot chocolate to accompany me, I brought out the book and flipped to its first page.

I was still amazed by the book, of the fact that Muggles actually devoted their time and energy to study how normal people think. It’s a far cry from what we had in Hogwarts, which on certain occasions bored me to death. Who really needs Study of Ancient Runes anyway? And I was naturally curious. Do Muggles really think differently than Wizards and Witches, or are we really just the same? In the comfort of the common room that winter, I lost myself in the book.

And it turned out that the book would be the turning point in my life as a Hufflepuff.

The book taught me a lot of things. I was surprised at how Muggles are in a way so good at understanding how humans work. I learned about many new concepts, terms that sounded alien to us wizards and witches. Self-fulling prophecy, stereotypes, reciprocal determinism and self-efficacy. Complicated words, for someone who has never read about anything Muggle related before. I had to re-read some chapters several times. It was tough.

But eventually I reached the end of the book, the week after Christmas. I felt a strange sense of fulfilment after the book, and something stirred inside me. The book said a lot of things, but its main message was essentially what my father has been saying all along. That we are who we choose to believe in. We are who we think we are. What house we belong too doesn’t matter.

As the term break came to an end, I decided to adopt a new perspective in life. You see, when it comes to being a Hufflepuff, there’s generally two different types of Hufflepuff that you can find. I used to be in the first type. The ones who lament the fate that we were sorted into the weakest house out of the four. The ones who submit themselves to the general “stereotype” of the Hufflepuff. Weak, timid and unable to fit in. The ones who gave up the moment they were sorted into Hufflepuff. Me.

Wallowing in my self-pity, I had chosen to not see the second face of the Hufflepuff. The reason why Hufflepuff was one of the four founding houses. Those who are loyal, patient, just and dedicated. The ones who instead of being cowed down by what others throw at them, rises stronger than the rest. It is without question that the Hufflepuffs, despite what others may view us, remains as one of the most bonded houses of all. The seniors took good care of the juniors. Whenever one of us got sick or injured, people volunteered willingly for care duties.

We believed that no one gets left behind. It was the reason why we went back to look for the girl so many years ago. Hufflepuffs believed in fairness for all. The prefects themselves who saved us that night were from Hufflepuff too, as I later came to realize. If all Hufflepuffs were as weak as they said, the prefects would have walked away straight. But they still came to investigate, and still helped us, not knowing that we came from the same house then.

It’s amazing how reading a single book can changed a person so much. Needless to say, reading Muggle books became one of my favorite pastime. The bookstore at Brent Cross became my new favourite hangout.

Of course, despite what I chose to believe, Hogwarts was still the same. Hufflepuffs was still the favorite bullying target for the other houses. But instead of just whining about the situation and blaming Hufflepuff for the torment that we have to endure regularly, I chose instead to focus on the good. The silver lining. I started to appreciate more the meals that we have together as a house, and the regular outings and activities that the seniors organized during the weekends.

Even the regular visits by Professor Sprout to our common room was no longer viewed as an intrusion into our privacy by a lonely professor. It now was a visit by a professor who cared about her student’s wellbeing. A professor who cared to brew us potions when we were busy studying for exams. What changed was merely how I interpreted the action. I realized that my dad has indeed been right all along. That the world is what we choose to believe in.

As the third year rolled in, I began to step out more from the shell that I had imposed on myself. I started to go out more, enjoy myself more. I began to enjoy classes more as well, in addition to signing up for various clubs around the school. The Defense against the Dark Arts Interest Group was one, the Theatre Club was another.

I began to get myself more involved in school acitvities, at one point even volunteering to help Professor Sprout with her weekly class preparations. Who knew taking care of plants was so much work, especially with those pesky mandrakes? And as I was helping several first year students with their Flying lessons, the then Hufflepuff Captain, Shirley Green, walked up to me and offered me a place as a seeker in the Quidditch team. And she was that same senior who stood together with me during my first visit to Brent Cross.

“Never knew you could fly so well for someone who reads about brains,” she commented, before telling me that her team needed a seeker and asked me to try out for it.

Somehow it was amazing to see how a simple change in perspective affected everything around me. From the opportunities that presented itself to the way others treated me. People started to talk to me more often, commenting that I was no longer as sulky as I used to. Even my dad noticed the change in me.

“Something’s different about you,” he said one morning during one summer break. He eyed me through his glasses and frowned, deep in thought. I stood there awkwardly, wondering what he had to say.

“You’ve got a girlfriend back in school, am I right?” was his guess. He gave me a wink after that, before going back to his copy of the Daily Prophet.

Perhaps the most unforgettable moment of my Hogwarts years, since reading the book two years ago, was the first Hufflepuff Quidditch team meeting that took place in my fourth year. I could still remember the details of that meeting. Seated together in an empty classroom, all of us waited eagerly for our then captain’s plans for the year. Practice schedule, new addition to the team and what not. The sun shone through the open windows, while a slight breeze carried the voices of the noisy students below us.

My thoughts drifted to the numerous possibilities that awaited me this year, to the upcoming OWLS, but they were cut short by Shirley’s voice as she trotted into the classroom.

“I have announcement to make,” she said, as she put her books on the table. Her tone was serious though there was still a hint of smile on her face. We wondered what announcement it could be, as Shirley was usually the cheerful type, her occasionally serious bout limited to only Quidditch trainings. Her sentence lingered in the silence of the room as we waited for her announcement.

“I have decided to no longer be the captain this year,” she finally said, to some gasp and murmur in the classroom. Why not, I could feel all of us wanted to ask. She was only sixth year, the age where most Quidditch Captains are. Sensing our curiousity and reaction, she calmly told us that she has decided to quit the captain duties and to focus on other more important concerns at the time being. She assured us that she’ll still be playing Quidditch, just that she will no longer be captaining it.

The next question, naturally, was who to replace her. Before anyone could ask the question however, Shirley’s finger was already pointing at me.

“Him. He would be the new captain.” And to my surprise, my teammates me cheered to the news, even though I thought that there were more experienced players on the team than me.

In my fifth year, Professor Sprout nominated me to be the house prefect. Fair, loyal and kind. Those were the reasons given for the nomination. I was honoured and humbled by the professor’s faith in me. Looking at how far I have gone since my first year, I cannot help but to feel amazed. I continued to visit the bookstore at Brent Cross, soaking up the Muggle culture that it offered. I was happy, in a way.

Sadly, most the changes that I’ve seen were mostly within or around me. While I may have changed in outlook, Hogwarts certainly has not. I still see first years grimacing whenever the Sorting Hat shouted Hufflepuff. We were still known as the weak house, with very few being proud of the fact that they were sorted into Hufflepuff. The stigma still persisted. The crisis that plagued our school each year, from the opening of the Chamber of Secrets to the Azkaban escape did little to help, with some accusing us of being cowards.

“I hate being sorted into this house,” I remembered one first year saying, after the sorting ceremony one year. I was the prefect in charge of leading them to the common room. He was frowning, his arms folded across his chest. Most of his classmates in line seemed to agree with him, nodding their heads. I looked at his face, and was reminded of myself so many years ago, when I asked my mum about not coming to Hogwarts.

I knelt down, and brought my eyes to his level.

“Listen, I know that what a lot of you are thinking,” I began. I could feel the eyes of all the first years staring at me. I gulped. But somehow I felt that I needed to say it. So I opened my mouth and let the words come naturally.

“Look, I’m sure you have many ideas about being in Hufflepuff, not many of them good ones. I used to be like one of you, hating the fact that you are sorted in what you think is the weakest house in Hogwarts. But I tell you this. Anyone could love Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and even Slytherin. But loving Hufflepuff takes a lot insight and perspective. It takes character. It takes wisdom.”

I looked at each of the first years after the sentence. By now some the second years and third years were also here, listening in. There were seniors from other houses watching as well. I took another deep breath before continuing, acutely aware of the impact my little speech here would have. I wondered if I have made a right choice in voicing out my thoughts in a crowded area. But still, I continued.

“Being a Hufflepuff is not about being weak. It’s about finding strength in being weak. We may be viewed and labelled as the house of the least, the last, the weakest, but it is through this stereotype that has made us stronger. It is the pressure from the other houses that make Hufflepuff the most bonded house in the whole of Hogwarts, a house where we look out for each other and help each other. It is through the unfairness that we face that we believe in justice for all, and it is through the trials that we stay true and loyal to each other. Yes, Hufflepuffians may be weak alone, but it is through numbers that we find our strength. Need I remind you that Hufflepuff produced the least amount of Death Eaters during the reign of Voldermort?”

Gasps. Nervous whispers. Wide eyed stares. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that name. But over the course of the years, despite all the barrages of negative traits thrown at us, this simple fact was often overlooked. The hall was quiet now, with most of the students either back at their rooms, or crowding around me. I looked around again, this time registering more familiar faces. Professor Dumbledore and Professor Sprout was here too, looking from a nearby staircase. My heart gave a nervous jump.

“Being a Hufflepuff is not a sign of weakness. In fact, you all should be proud. Because only the best, the most patient and the toughest can survive here.”

“Tell you what,” I continued, an idea forming in my mind, “A year. Give me a year to prove to you that a Hufflepuff can be a good champion for Hogwarts as any of the houses.” After that small speech of mine, the first years looked much more at ease as the rest of us made way back to the common room. Inside my heart however, I could feel a slow fire burning up. Perhaps this could be the conclusive end to the journey that I was looking for.

A year.

As I clutched the paper containing my name, I was reminded of the promise that I made. The feeling of walking into the room was unlike any other. The anxiety that I felt dwarfed even the biggest Quidditch match that I have ever played. My close friends watched me as I took a step past the magical barrier. Taking one deep breath, I told myself that this is what I have always wanted to do. To show the world once and for all that Hufflepuffs are not weak. That we could carry the title of Hogwarts champion as well as the other houses.

I stole one last glance at Shirley, who was standing outside of the circle with my friends. She gave me that smile of hers, that smile that assured me that everything will be okay in the end. Or at least if everything fails, she will still be there for me. I smiled back to her, before turning my attention back to the burning goblet before me. It gave an eerie glow of blue, its flames licking the side of the cup.

“Here goes nothing,” I said to myself, and threw the paper into it. Somehow the my father and the Sorting Hat was right after all, as the flame rose above the goblet, signifying that it has received my name. This match will be for the Hufflepuffs too, I thought to myself.

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Dota All Hero Challenge #Day24: Just a little DC and no recorded stats

A friend once told me that the SEA region is looked down upon by the Dota 2 realm, which includes the developers and sponsors. I never believed that friend, until the ginormous lag spikes and mass disconnects and server instability that has been going on for the past few days. I don't know if the other regions are experiencing the same thing as us here in the SEA servers but when you consistently face connection problems in more than half the game you play, something is definitely wrong. 

In my experience, while attempting to clear my Spirit Breaker and Dark Seer challenge, more than half the games I played had mass disconnects that resulted in no stats being recorded. Especially frustrating when your team has been winning like mad. And I don't know if the two things are linked, bur somehow replays are unavailable for the SEA players too that I asked too.

I don't know if Steam is going to do anything about this, because they have been awfully silent on it (a search on Google only turned up some random forums), but at least I'm almost at the halfway point, so I guess I got this going for me, which is nice. 

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