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lost by anjan58, on Flickr
photo © 2008 Anjan Chatterjee, Flickr

You know, those big audacious goals that you have shared years ago. You should consider executing on it,” said Renyi in a friendly and matter-of-fact tone. I let out a nervous chuckle — deep down I know there a small tingle of unease, this comment has hit on a nerve. In a quiet coffee house we’re in where everyone seems to mind their own businesses, we were having our mastermind group session where our pact is committed to check-in on everyone else’s progress in life and making sure that we all achieve our own personal goals and dreams.

Looking back, 2013 may prove to be one of those transitional years that I have experienced so far. I think it’s a year that I’m spending most of my time reaping and enjoying the fruits that I’ve sowed, and am grateful for everything that has come my way so far. At the same time, there’s always that lingering thought in me that constantly questions “What’s coming up next?”, “Is there something bigger that I should be doing?”, “Am I living to the best of my potential?”, etc.

I’m probably getting a bit ahead of myself here — as I’d need to fill in a lot of gaps of the highlights of my life in 2013 before I go through my introspection piece. Well, even I need some context of what has happened before I can do my yearly review proper.

Highlights for 2013 (TL;DR Version)

Key Events of 2013 — The Longer Stories

World Domination Summit 2013

World Domination Summit 2013 - The World Float by Joshua Seaman, on Flickr
photo © 2013 Joshua Seaman, Flickr

Let’s start with the biggest event in my life — that I travel across the globe alone to the United States of America. Travelling alone is one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my life and one that scares me a lot as I planned and executed it. Before the trip, all the trips and holidays that I have been to had always been organized and taken care off by other people, mostly by my family members or friends, depending whom I travelling with. At first I’m nervous as I’m planning this trip, the whole process of obtaining my US visa to making bookings for my trip. And I’m glad that Yongjue, who happens to go to WDS as well, have helped me a lot and gave me the reassurance that everything’s going to be OK.

And the moment I land at Portland, Oregon, I’m taken in with the place almost instantly. The people are warm, friendly, down-to-earth and helpful, the city is laid back while brimming with a very artistic vibe, very convenient to get around… there’s so many things to like about the place.

And World Domination Summit? I’m enjoy every minute of it and getting to mingle around with like-minded people, I feel right at home with my own tribe of like-minded people. The talks are inspiring, enjoying all the outdoor activities and meetups with fellow participants. It’s all about the people :). Not only that, I finally get to meet Pamela Slim of the Escape from Cubicle Nation fame and it’s unbelievable of the number of times I bumped into her and being able to chat up like a long-lost friend.

At the same time, well, as a novice traveller, I have no clue what to do when I’m in a foreign place, so most of my time is kind of spent exploring the city and there are times when I feel as if the trip fell a bit flat (only have myself to blame here :p). And I have yet to follow up with everyone that I have met there. But having this very first experience is crucial in learning more about myself on what I like in life. And looking forward to be there again next year.

The New-Found Boardgaming Hobby

International Tabletop Day @ Meeples 2013
photo © 2013 Log Cheng, Meeples

It all started with me stumbling upon Shut Up and Sit Down. I can’t remember how I found out about them (Penny Arcade, perhaps?), but I still remembered being entertained by their British humour that I ended up watching all their episodes. I have followed them for two months and decided to buy my first game, I stumbled upon The Dice Tower as I’m researching for more reviews to supplement my decision to buy my very first card game (Dominion), I was slowly being ushered into this new hobby of mine.

Buying games is the easier part of the equation, finding people to enjoy the same hobby as I do is the real challenge. After all, unlike computer games that you can either play solo or rely on the Internet multi-player function, you need to meet fellow players in person to get the excitement of playing the game. I was struggling to get games out to the table until in March, Meeples Cafe hosts International Tabletop Day. That’s when I met Adrian Chew and his friends — and after that meetup, I ended up playing a few more games with Adrian after the meetup and get to know him as a friend. The chain of events snowballs into us forming our own regular gaming group on the day when we are doing a farewell dinner for Adrian as he flew off to Australia and to pursue a better career opportunity there.

And I couldn’t be more grateful of what had happened that one friendly connector would bring several loose group of friends and formed a bigger group who shares the same enjoyment in board games. We have been meeting almost on a weekly basis these days during most months and am sure it’ll last for many months to come as the camaraderie become stronger. And am glad that by participating in other meetups, I get to meet with other groups and the cross pollination of different groups is a inviting change. So right now, I’m already part of three different gaming groups and am glad that there’s a social activity that I enjoyed partaking in.

As an aside, it’s funny to think that almost all my social circle and friends of mine hinges on one linchpin within that group. Well apart from the friends I made through hosting the mastermind groups — but that hinged on the credibility and trust I have built up over at Webcamp KL. So… probably that’s just the most effective way that I make friends through? Part of me sort of wished that I’m more socially assertive and make friends on my own.

Community Involvement and The Major Shifts

LvlUp.KL
LvlUp.KL

After talking about being part of three board gaming groups, which in by itself small communities that I’m a part of, what about the existing ones that I’m apart of? Well, as it turns out, there are significant changes that happened in the communities that I’m a part of. Some of them have changed focus, a few made the decision to continue operating small, some of them go on hiatus. The only two groups that I’m active right now would be Python User Group Malaysia, which is held once every two months or so, and the other being Webcamp KL, which will be becoming Lvl.Up KL.

Lvl.Up KL marks quite a change in direction in focus while maintaining the schedule and format of Webcamp KL. As far as I can disclose and with the caveat being that everything is subject to change based on how Wu Han wants to run it, Lvl.Up KL will be more focused and go into deeper dives on specific topics or themes — with the aim to level up the skills and knowledge in KL, be it technical, creative or entrepreneurial. So instead of a buffet of various topics in Webcamp KL, Lvl.Up KL would be delivering value by bringing in experts and participants who are interested in that theme/topic/interest to mingle with each other. Hopefully, gone were the days when you can skip one Webcamp KL, or having to mingle in an ambiguous and diverse crowd, and you would feel at home instantly knowing that you are in a crowd of fellow peers. Am excited with the change and I’ve been helping out for the past three years and my resolve of fostering a community that people would feel at home will never change :).

As for the mastermind groups that I’m apart of, there are some group fatigue going on — so I ended up culling the existing groups and started a brand new one by bringing in the active members from both groups. And based on the lessons, am starting to implement more structure into how things are being organized — from the meeting format (am using the WIFLE, aka What I Feel Like Expressing, format) to rules in terms of schedules and attendance. Am looking forward to this new revamp as I observed that my life is vastly enriched when I’m having these sessions with a close group of friends and the constructive feedback have accelerated my progress in life. Hopefully with this habit picking up again, I’ll be ready for the challenges ahead.

Come to think about it, I’m starting to transition from joining more targeted groups (e.g. special interest groups in tech and business) to enjoying a group with diverse backgrounds (notably my board gaming group and mastermind groups). There’s something about diversity that appeals to me as it broaden up my social circle and getting some unique and interesting viewpoints that I have not thought about.

Being In-and-Out of Love

Imperfect Harmonies (?) by Inu Lolen, on Flickr
photo © 2010 Inu Lolen, Flickr

So here we are, leaving the juiciest part last. This is the part where I’d relapse to who I’m back into my college and university days. Well, after all I don’t even have a good track record in dating and romance in general. So bear with me (or wag your tails if you are the gossipy types).

Ever since last year, I’m indeed getting more proactive in dating people — it is quite a challenge for an introvert who lacks experience in handling social situations who loses out in the looks department. In the end, it is a combination between a numbers game, slowly piecing together the puzzle of what I want in a romantic partner (as opposed to my own logical ideals of what he should be), learing the wooing skills and dealing with the self-esteem issues. Waltzing around from date to date, stepping onto toes and handling differences in expectations along the way.

That said, I did end up being attached with someone… albeit for a short period of two months. The short glossing-over-the-details version of it is that we started off with a lot of passion, but as time passes by, hardships in our careers have slowly separate us until we reached a point where we would never talk at all. As much as I’m lucky and grateful to have met this ex of mine, I’m also starting to realize my own needs and expectations when I’m in a relationship — that I needed a lot more love and attention than I would have expected myself to need. Looking back, I think that why I hung on with the person who had a crush on me last year that I had rejected him multiple times — that deep down in my subconscious, he fulfilled my emotional needs and showered me with loving attention that I crave for.

Coming back to my current ex, well, I broke up with him with a text saying that I can’t carry on. The last straw being that it’s his second time that he stopped messaging me for two weeks and the heartache of not able to see or talk to him for that period of time is too much for me to bear without a strong emotional foundation being built before hand. That said, this is just my side of the story — I wished I would know the actual reason why he closed me off and am pretty sure he has valid reason. But… it’s an answer that I’d never get for now.

At this point in time, there’s no turning back now — I found out that I’m just human and have a need for companionship in life, therefore the search has to go on. At the time of writing, I’m surprised that I have developed a strong infatuation towards someone, but am not sure how it’ll pan out and it’s testing my patience at times. Well, as far as 2014 goes, anything could happen — I may turn out to be lucky or having to hunt all over again. Am just hoping for the best and that I won’t be moping about my singlehood in my next yearly review.

The Struggle, The Question and The Uncertain

White-crowned sparrow hatching by Erin Eve, on Flickr
photo © 2013 Erin Eve, Flickr

Of course, 2013 is not all a bed of roses — but surprisingly it’s not about my own woes and struggles, but rather the pains, trials and tribulations of the close friends. Seeing close friends having cope with serious illness, an ailing family member or going through emotional hard times redefines what does it mean to be being an adult and the responsibilities of taking care of myself but also the life and well-being of others around me. Am counting my blessings that life has been good for me — I haven’t put through some serious life hardships and my family has nothing less of being awesome. But putting myself in the shoes of the hardships that the people around me go through keep me grounded and think about life, at the same time learning how to deal, comfort, advise and support these people in need. And knowing that life is uncertain and I may be faced with situations where I have to put the need of others ahead of mine and making personal sacrifices. That sooner or later, I’ll be dependent upon by others.

I’m also going through a phase where I’m shrouded by uncertainty — mainly on my career and the general direction I’m going through in life. As of right now, I’d say that I’m content with the life that I’ve built for myself up until this point. And it is because of that, that I’m finding myself yearning again — that I’m starting to noticing the voids, feeling that there are still missing pieces in my life. That I’m still not living the life that I truly wanted and not reaching the full potential that I can be.

As I am typing this, it does feel like the post harkens back to my earlier self a decade before, one who have a future ahead of him and yet feeling the fears and doubts of an uncertain path. Did I find myself relapsing into a cycle? I wonder what would successful me a decade after would have advise now me? It’s something certain that I’d have to explore as I move ahead this year.

Right now the only big adventure item on my list is the extended US trip that I’m embarking this year. This time round I’ll be attending not only World Domination Summit again but also Dice Tower Convention. I’m deciding whether would I want to visit San Francisco while I’m there; yet this unplanned third leg of the trip does pushes my comfort zone a little bit too far than I can chew. I’m planning to think it through when I’m feeling less stressed out about it.

I do have another travel plan that I have in mind right now, that is to travel to Taiwan and Japan. Right now am aiming it to happen in spring 2015, but am totally up for changes. Moving forward, I’m trying to set myself up so that I’ll be able to travel more around the world from now onwards — and this whole travel resolution both scares and excite me at the same time and would call that as my big hairy audacious goal in my own life.

On the career side of things, right now I’m also considering the crazy idea of going on a year-long sabbatical. It’s been close to eight years I have been in the workforce and I think I may be hitting my own limits and wearing myself out. This is the second scariest thought that I’m entertaining at the moment. My thoughts about it right now is that it’s not going to be me just crashing and doing practically nothing (which I’m more prone of doing so), but rather to delve into the passion projects that I’ve put on hold using my current coding skills. I have two projects that I have in mind at the moment: one is to build a market unproven software-as-a-service that helps in community building for meetup organizers; and secondly to start a tutorial video or blog series that gives you the full monty of the whole process of developing a web app from scratch, which may cover not only the development aspects of it but also the other skills such as setting up tools for Internet marketing (despite my zero knowledge on marketing skills).

Just the thought of these two big passion projects are weighing down on me and I know there’s a ton of adjustments that need to be made. The main “perceived hassle” is to readjust my budget, rewire all my spending habits and submitting a bunch of forms to cancel all the charity deductions that I have been making all this while. That and crossing my psychological barriers, toughening up and sprint way past my comfort zone.

… All this is scaring the shit out of me and I don’t know how am I supposed to pull it off. Which we now come to the final section…

Wrapping Up: Three Guiding Themes for 2014

Fly into the bokeh by San Diego Shooter, on Flickr
photo © 2009 Nathan Rupert, Flickr

I’m right now facing my own Walter Mitty moment — and this is the hardest yearly review I have written to date, as you would be able to tell from the section above. Yet with such Goliath in front of me and the trembles that shivers down my every bone, marrow and down to my nerve endings, I still maintain the same optimism as I have carried myself up to this day.

It’s going to be the most ambitious resolution to date which may either bring light to my cowardice in years to come, forever tormented in ridicule of a weak man not following through his resolves; or I may rise up to the challenge and set foot on uncharted waters, venturing and brave through the vast unknowns. It is, to me, one of the greatest crossroads that I have to face in life. The outcome of what path I will choose will be reflected in my yearly review in twelve months’ time.

With that in mind, in the hopes of keeping my spirits high and setting up a benchmark for myself, I hereby declare the three guiding themes to my venture into the new year.

  • Aspiration
  • Breaking free (carried forward from 2013’s theme)
  • Exploration

May 2014 be a great year ahead for me.

Posted on
Welcome to Kin Tick Orchard Village
Welcome to Kin Tick Orchard Village

As monsoon season looms around the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, it’s just the best time to stay indoors and lay comatose in front of a screen and passively consume what’s showing in front of you. … Or does it have to be so?

On November 30, about 30 of us leave our dusty cities and worries behind and drove up to Kin Tick Orchard Village — a resort with several stone house surrounded by a vast canvas of mountains and greens with a shallow creek that goes between the car park where all our cars are to be left behind and the resort itself. Temporary escape from the urban life. Check.

And what’s were we all have in common? We all share our love for board games and we were there to indulge in our hobbies and play games to our hearts content — enjoying the fresh air, beautiful scenery and most importantly the company of new friends we just knew. There’s no lack of other activities to keep us refreshed in between games — hiking up a hill, lounge outdoors and take in the gorgeous scenery or just sing your heart out on their karaoke machine. So many things to do, so many activities, laughter and stories to share and there’s never a dull moment while we were there :).

Game Report and Review

Let the games begin!
Let the games begin!

Of course the main highlight of the day is of course, games! Tons of board games! :D During the retreat, all of us are part of a tournament that spans over five games: one to seed the teams, four more to gain dominance, reach for the crown and declare victorious — ultimately winning a really cool prize. Each table are seated in fours and the moment the games start there’s always the excitement of exploring a brand new game that we haven’t played before, looking forward for a great time while the competitive spirit brews within our subconscious aiming for the prize.

Ultimately I didn’t win anything, but I’m here to share my first impression of all the games that I’ve play during the retreat itself — let me just walk you through my whole experience in being part of a tournament and let’s enjoy the ride together.

Overture: Gotta Go!

Mixing up the Gotta Go! cards
Mixing up the Gotta Go! cards

Game 0 is the seeding round where all participants are playing short party or dexterity games to determine where players are seated.

In Gotta Go!, we are all a scheming bunch of friends sharing the same buffet meal but all of us wanting to slither our way out as soon as possible to get away with not paying the meal — leaving the slowest reacting player to deal with a nasty bill, hang his/her head to shame and curse on all the friends of questionable character (well, while not being self-aware about the fact). In this game, the objective is to frantically flip over cards, starting from your own face down pile of cards and then to the central pool, to collect a buffet of unique types of food and drinks and swiping away the “Gotta Go!” card before everyone does and when the time is right — if you manage to find it in the first place.

What make this game a total laughter fest is in the scoring — You’ll be scored based on the number of cards that you manage to collect. But beware, all the food and drinks on the cards must be unique and there must not be any duplicates of any item or you’ll get zero points for the round. And as much as speed is the key, you also have to be really sharp in determining what card to keep in your collection. Easily said than done, of course, as the flurry of madness and hands that goes around the table hunting down cards like vultures scavenging for scraps, someone would inadvertently would make the careless mistake when the time runs out as the Gotta Go! cards get picked out one by one, dwindling in numbers and you’ll panic knowing that you may lose that very last card to the player next to you if you acted slow.

It is quite a light and involved filler game and best enjoyed in large numbers (up to 10, in fact), the novelty factor may wear off pretty fast if you feast too much on this buffet of action.

Game #1: Africana

Partial view of the Africana board
Partial view of the Africana board

Kicking things off is a game about travelling around Africa, taking part in expeditions and trying to be the first to reach various destinations. And along the way you can also look through the Book of Adventures to get a pick up adventures to embark on in order to recruit helpers to help you in your expeditions or collect artefacts that are located there.

This is one of the game that is often compared to Ticket To Ride and I personally consider it to be Ticket To Ride Plus. Instead of hidden personal objectives in Ticket to Ride, you have a common set of expedition which all players can plan for and compete against. And anyone is always rewarded with cards or coins by moving to the starting location of an expedition and declare commitment to complete it — and only the first person reaching the destination would claim victories points and coins for completing the expedition. And as your movement action, you can play as many movement cards as you want gives you the exhilaration of being rewarded for careful planning and achieving multiple expedition and adventures in one turn.

In the end, points are mostly awarded by the amount of expedition that you have completed and sets of artefacts that you have collected, which you can score points either by collecting them in multiples of a single type, or sets of artefacts of different types. The whole “who gets there first” to claim the expedition card makes every single turn a very engaging experience as you bite your nails hoping that someone else didn’t claim the card you wanted before you execute your perfect card combo in your hands. And while the competition can be strong, you are already rewarded the moment you commit to a expedition and the game constantly presents you with great options as you navigate through Africa. I love the game and it’s a game that is fun to both beginners and advanced players.

Game #2: Byzantio

World domination by deceit in Byzantio
World domination by deceit in Byzantio

Byzantio is a hidden objective area control game of which you control your faction and making sure you control the support of the cities that would help you to ascend the imperial throne. At the beginning of the game, each of the players will be jotting down seven cities, each from different provinces, as their secret objectives of the cities that the player would vow to control. Cities are being assigned to reducing amount of points, which gives the player some indication of their own priorities. The map will be seeded with a Pretender to the Throne on fixed locations of the board.

The game would proceed in 31 rounds, and every player are granted six different actions with an equal limit of each action being available in the game in aiding the player to wrestle control over cities: campaign, muster, negotiate, advance, bribe and expel. And by hook and eventually by crook, players would have to cross paths, negotiate and take cities through force. And at the same time trying to conceal their actions so not to reveal what the cities of their top-most priority are. Throughout the course of the game, there will be events that would affect the lands of Byzantio — mostly to wreck havoc over cities, killing your own men or losing control over cities.

At the end of turn 31, players will be scored for every city that they controlled the cities that they have written down as their objectives. Every player is given one chance to guess the top priority city of other players — and bonus points will be awarded to every correct guess.

During the game, it does fell a bit flat with group as it took us a while how the game really works and it doesn’t help that the names of the cities are hard to remember. I have to say that it is one of those games that I may find it more enjoyable on future plays as I have now know the rules better. I have to admit that the experience I had with the game is quite severely dampened by a couple of rules mistakes in the game, some of them due to my speed reading and bad interpretation of the rules, which is as follows:

  • The game comes with two sides of the board and I made the mistake of using the Nekken set-up rules (i.e. the other side of the board) of asking everyone to jot down five cities instead of seven.
  • We didn’t know about the rule of requiring players to jot down only one objective city for every province, hence some of the cities does get a bit clumped together as our objectives.
  • In the event of actions that required a dice roll (i.e. failed negotiation, bribe and expel action), we misinterpreted the whole modifier rule in the event of either player has a pretender in the city. In the actual written rules, the successful rolls are written with the modifiers being applied to it (i.e. 4-8/5-8), instead we interpreted the rules as if the modifiers have not been applied (i.e. 3-8/6-8). This really causes some overpowered situation of having the Pretender in the city and discourage players from actively taking over cities guarded by Pretenders and bringing their Pretenders along and crush the opponents.

Would highly recommend that the unofficial note sheet from BoardGameGeek is to be used for the game, which uses a scaled down version of the map to jot down priorities.

Game #3: Upon A Salty Ocean

Upon A Salty Ocean -- A well-docked port, ships ready to sail
Upon A Salty Ocean — A well-docked port, ships ready to sail

We ended the first day of our tournament with a economic game — and we shall set sail to the sea, haul some fish home to be sold and participate in… carry trades for salt? What to expect when you are trying to build a shipping empire after all.

In the game, each player has the chance of taking one of the four actions: City action to buy saline or building, Navigation action to travel to the ocean or back, Harbor action to build a ship or move goods to the ship, or Market action to buy or sell from the market. However, any action taken by one player would be made expensive for subsequent activation of that said action.

Now, coming back to the salt carry trade joke I did just now, one interesting portion of the game is that the victory point track also doubles as a means of tracking the amount of money that you have. On top of that, you are allowed to overdraw yourself into debt and you’ll be charged interest for it. It may sound like a bad idea on the outset, but in fact exploiting the debt facilities is a very valid strategy of winning the game by exploiting known arbitrage opportunities. Think salt trade is boring? Think again.

Being an economic game, it’s all about understanding all the actions and building benefits and figuring out how to weave them perfectly to form your money making engine, while making sure that you react to every single move your competitors are doing. The whole game is a constant tug of war between planning ahead and making adjustments to react and counter any sneaky advances.

This has to be one of the greatest surprises in this retreat that what appears to be so dry and complicated from a glance of the board and components can be so engaging and involved. Throughout the whole game, the game grips me into actually taking note of what other people are doing in the game and constantly be frustrated of executing one action too late as actions becomes more expensive in the game. There’s never a time where I think I can just rest my laurels and focus on what I’m doing only.

If there’s one big caveat, it would be that first time players the sheer number of buildings and actions can be quite overwhelming and it does confuse us all as to how the abilities of each building relate to one another at first glance. Once everyone understands the game, it is one of the best gaming experiences I have and I highly recommend that you check this gem out.

Intermission: Coup

Coup -- Hope that's not a nervous smile
Coup — Hope that’s not a nervous smile

It’s after 8 and after a sumptuous dinner and belting songs with new found friends with karaoke, it’s back to some games again. All of us feel burnt-out by the long strategy game fest, so why not indulge in some lighter games instead?

And so we started of with the latest coolness — The Resistance: Coup. Coup is a game of bluffing and deception, you’ll have two officials in front of you of which you have influence to, and you need to make sure that you are the last player standing by removing all influences from other players. There are five types of officials in the game and each of them have their own power: Duke can take three coins and block foreign aid, Assassin can remove one influence/official of another player after paying three coins, Contessa blocks assasination attempts, Captain takes two coins from another player and blocks coins from being stolen from them and the Ambassador to swap out your officials.

It is also possible to gain coins via an Income action (get 1 coin) or a Foreign Aid action (get two coin), or just launch an unblockable avalanche of a Coup which forces one player to lose one influence by paying up the seven coins. So choosing what action to take on your turn is really critical. But there’s a twist! All influence cards in front of you is laid face down, and when you choose to take a character action on your turn, you can totally bluff your way into taking the character’s action — even if you don’t have the corresponding character.

So within the three rounds of games, all 6 of us are trying our best to keep poker face, happily declare that we are Dukes and grab three coins from the table — only to find out that half of the table is claiming to be Dukes and we have nary a clue who’s bluffing. Super fast-paced, simple to teach rules and one game that keeps the table thrash talking during the game even with new friends (which is one of the issues that I encountered with The Resistance). Solid game and I like it :).

Intermission: Bang! The Dice Game

Ah~ Bang — the game that some love it, some hate it and some thread really carefully. The original card game is well known for its fun-filled crazy chaos while bullets get shots around unless you happen to be one of those players who gets eliminated way too early and have to endure the long dragged out game. And now we have the dice game version of it — seems to be one of those resurging trends these days, you know, the whole let’s turn an existing property into a dice game trend.

If you haven’t played Bang before, at the start the game, every player will be dealt a hidden identity and a character card — after that, the player who has the sheriff identity card will have to reveal himself and the game starts. Objective of the game? Players who are outlaws wants the sheriff dead, the sheriff and his unknown deputy wants the outlaws dead and the renegade wants to be the last person standing and deal the finishing blow of the game on the sheriff. Each player will be a character, which will dictate the HP and the special ability of the player.

On every turn, every player will have the opportunity to roll five dice up to three dice, Yahtzee style, to form combinations in order to achieve the effects that he/she wanted. Getting a bullseye with 1 or 2 on it will allow you to shoot your neighbours up to the range dictated by the number on the dice, a beer mug will heal you one HP, arrows would cause you to take arrow wounds that could potentially reduce your HP later in the game as you are being ambushed by natives (though the good news is that you can reroll them). Being able to get three Gattling gears would trigger a carnage of dealing 1HP damage to every single player and taking away all arrows off you. And finally the dreaded dynamite symbols which you aren’t able to reroll them and if you are unfortunate enough to roll three of them, you’ll have to end you turn and you’ll have to take one wound (curses!).

This is one really face-paced, easy-to-teach game that really brings a riot to the group. There is player elimination in the game, but even as a passive participant, seeing all the accusations and player interaction and the reaction of other players on every dice rolls are just too entertaining to watch and be a part of.

The best way to explain how great the game was is to describe how one of our game ended. In that game, the last outlaw of the game is being gunned down and what we have thought to be the outlaw all along turns out to be a renegade all along — and the sheriff is so badly wounded down to 2 HP while the renegade is almost at full health. This proceeds to a really tense shootout between the two, but in a twist of fate, the table has turned and the sheriff had quite a few lucky rolls that levels the playing field. Our table has gathered quite an audience at this point and the cheering goes on. As the renegade makes his final roll, an arrow is rolled and… the game ends with a draw as both the sheriff and renegade are both being shot down by natives. And everyone just burst in laughter in the hilarity of all this and that what makes a party game truly magical.

Game #4: Compounded

After a full night’s rest, we are then up to the last game of the tournament (well, though more like we are forced to end the tournament with this game as we ran out of time). So we ended the game with Kickstarter game from Dice Hate Me games, Compounded.

In Compounded, we are chemist trying to build chemical compounds and trying to be the top chemist either by getting the most atomic points or the fastest to build up his/her workbench. On every turn, each player would draw elements out of the bag and this would determine what chemical compounds you can complete. Each time, there’ll be 16 compound cards that will be laid on the table which you are allowed to build — each of them having their own victory points, upgrades to your workbench, events and special bonus that will be rewarded for completing that compound.

The interesting part of the game is that after the elements has been drawn, each player will have the opportunity to lay claim and focus to “study” on a particular compound that is on the table. And that card will be locked down to that player and no other player can claim the rewards upon its completion. And following that you are allowed to place a limited amount of elements from your workbench to the compounds on the table, hopefully you can complete them in your turn.

As you claim rewards, you also receive upgrades to your work bench to allow you to draw more elements from the bag every turn, have more focus study tokens to be placed on the compound table, increasing the number of elements you can place on the compounds or increase your element storage space.

The game is fairly easy to teach and grasp, game play-wise it is quite similar to Settlers of Catan where resource management and player negotiation is key in winning. The key of winning in the game is negotiation and asking for help, as you’ll always find yourself not having the elements that you need, enough research capacity to place elements in one turn, or both. In order for players to progress quickly, it’s more likely you wanted to strike partnership with other players to help you in completing your research — there are even a special Grant rewards which allows a player to grant a workbench upgrade to other players, further encouraging player interaction.

However, in my personal opinion, apart from the whole nerdy appeal of doing chemistry in a game and solid mechanics, I personally find it pretty dry and it can be pretty tough if a player doesn’t have an advantage in negotiation, which can be quite critical if you consider the breakdown of the chemical components you can draw per turn. But it’s really more like a “not my kind of game” kind of thing than anything, and I’d say it’s a step up from base Settlers of Catan and the advance variants in Compounded seems like one that I’d want to try in the future.

Encore: Concordia

Once the prize giving ceremony is finished and the event is officially announced to have ended, I’ve to admit that at that time I’m slightly disappointed by the fact that I don’t get to play any big Essen releases of the year, as it seemed that only the top tiered tables get to play them. But luckily Ken Yen came along and ask do we want to stay back a while longer to play Concordia.

Concordia is a peaceful strategy game of economic development in Roman times. With all players starting from the centre of the board with one land colonist and a sea colonist, all of us would sprawl around the map trying to discover new land and colonise it. Each player will start off with the same seven personality cards — and these cards would actually dictate what actions we can take by playing the card. So essentially this game is all about hand management, on every turn, each player will get to choose one of the cards from their hand and execute its effect. Action will range from moving your colonist to build new settlements, collecting resources from your settlements, buying new personality cards to add in your hand, trading in the market etc.

The strategic component in the game being that once you use up a card, the action cannot be taken unless you play a Tribune card later in your turn, which allows you to recover all your used personality cards but at the same time you’ll generate income based on the number of cards that you have played previously. So planning ahead and knowing how to chain your action combos before the other players snag at whatever that you are eyeing on (which happens frustratingly more often than you think, in a good, competitive way).

Now, this is one of those games that seems deceptively simple to teach yet players won’t be able to really notice the consequences of their decisions and you’d have lots of “OK, what am I supposed to do again?” moments. This is because Concordia is a victory point salad game where every single thing in the game will contribute to your final VP score. And what makes the competition even more biting is that these personality cards also acts as victory points multipliers for a particular scoring aspect of the game, from the value of goods you stored in your storehouse, every house you have laid down, each province you occupy, number of colonists you have, etc. And until this reality sinks in your brain, everything would seem really abstract and you just don’t know how well you do in the game until the game ends.

I can’t express how much I adore this game — once all the players knows what goes on in the game and the brains starts ticking, one amazing race would have begun. The whole hand-management aspect is brilliant as you decide on what to want to do next and, more importantly, what card to purchase into your hand to make it as powerful an engine as you can make it to be. It’s a constant battle of managing resource and timing, I would find myself always watching what other players are doing — trying to figure out ways to counter, exploit and most of the time patching up all the blunders that I have done the previous turn. The competitive tension is always be there because until the end of the game, you can only guesstimate what the dominant focus and strategy the other players are on to.

And wow, what a great way to close out my BGC Retreat experience.

Conclusion: The Obligatory Summary

Enjoying the view while we played
Enjoying the view while we played

What a wonderful 24 hours that I’ve spent at Kin Tick, just to wrap up, here’s my collection of lists and rankings about the retreat:

  • Overall impression of the event: Great friendly people, the super accommodating, patient and hard-working crew, ability to enjoy more than just board games (read: we have a karaoke session)
  • Minor gripe: Only gripe that I have is that all the games that is like the Essen hotness are (almost) all reserved on the top-tiered tables during the tournament — which is pretty disappointing from my point-of-view that I didn’t get a chance to play at least one of them
  • Favourite games played during the retreat: Concordia, Upon A Salty Ocean, Bang The Dice Game
  • Games that got into my wishlist after the retreat: Concordia, Africana, Bang! The Dice Game
  • Main suprise: Not expecting myself to like Upon A Salty Ocean that much after the game

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Seedling by _sjg_, on Flickr
photo © 2011 _sjg, Flickr

My journey in Mindvalley is definitely an interesting one. When I first joined the company, I’ve been working on CustomerHugs — which is a web service for users to collect reviews and testimonials from Facebook users.

Unfortunately it is a service that didn’t caught on and was now being in hibernation mode and isn’t actively being supported at the moment1. So in October last year, I was being assigned to my second solo project.

The Second Act

The original idea is to come up with a supplementary API service that complements with UrbanAirship‘s in-app purchase service — to be more specific about it, I’m assigned to come up with an API service that would provide just enough tools to create a more flexible in-app purchase store front for mobile apps, while leaving the content delivery and transaction tracking to UrbanAirship.

It was supposed to be a small project — fixing a small pain point and move on to any future project that would come my way in two months. Little did I know is that as months goes by, this small project have become a full stack solution in handling in-app purchases for iOS (and we ended up not using UrbanAirship at all — which they discontinued the in-app purchase service later this year).

Ever since it is live on February with the launch of Omvana, it has been a very treacherous and rewarding adventure. Having to race against time to learn as much as I could, slaying all the mysterious bugs that plagues the service as well as dealing with the stress of receiving an SMS saying that the server is overloaded and cannot handle all the traffic we are getting.

CPU usage chart - before and after panic period
CPU usage chart - before and after panic period

The part about receiving SMSes proves to be quite a stress tumour, in fact. It started off pretty benign — the downtime would probably just last about three minutes and everything would work like magic again after that. As we start to gain traction and our marketing efforts for Omvana becoming more successful over time, the downtimes would occur several times in a day with each downtime lasts for at least 15-20 minutes.

I’m really fortunate that I’m able to work with Gareth Davies — who helped immensely in switching our monolithic setup to a horizontally-scalable setup (read: running across several servers). And ever since early August, all the stressful SMS that lasted for months has finally stopped.

Looking back now, here are the full list of things that I’ve learned so far during my development life in Mindvalley:

  • Learned Django, its internals and a growing number of useful libraries
  • REST API design and best practices
  • Improved my tool set and development environment for Python
  • Unit testing, gone are the days of cowboy programming
  • Dealing with database migrations and all the incompatibilities and nuances (and figured that I don’t like MySQL as much as I used to and prefering PostgreSQL)
  • Managing project time lines and feature priorities (proves to be even more important because I’m managing myself as a solo developer)
  • Planning for horizontal scaling and infrastructure changes (though Gareth most of the heavylifting in terms of actually configuring stuff)
  • Performance tuning and monitoring
  • Using asynchronous task queues and getting bit by all the pitfalls that comes with it

Granted, as the project continues to grow, the bugs are starting to become gnarled and harder to slay and there’s WAAAAY more improvements that needs to be included. This shows how much more I can learn from this project and I’m more than happy to grow together with it. :)

Contributing Back

Having gone through an intense year of development, I’m now much more comfortable to share the knowledge that I’ve learned so far. Granted that I still have a lot of learn and I’m nowhere from attaining guru status. But the least I can contribute back is to share my learnings from a novice’s perspective and hopefully it’d help someone :).

I really look up to LincolnLoop and would think of them as my role model in this journey.

In fact, to start things off, I have given a talk titled “REST API 101” at Webcamp KL — which serves as a primer to REST API. And this month I’ll be doing another talk at Webcamp KL on my experience in horizontally scaling my API web service.

And in terms of open source contributions, I’ve just recently push a fork to django-tastypie-extendedmodelresource — a convenience library to create nested resources using Django-Tastypie (e.g. creating API endpoints that looks like /api/v1/authors/cslewis/books/).

Other than that, am really looking forward to all the things I’ll be able to learn in months to come! :)


  1. For the record it’s still working and you can still sign up for a new account, but paying for zero support is something I won’t vouch for. :p 

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Saturate
photo © 2009 Owen’s, Flickr

Oh wait, it’s been more than six months since the last My Pastel Coloured Rainbow post? Wow… seems like the blogging habit is starting to wear off from me. For one I’m starting to spend time away from the computer, go out and explore new activities. And when I have something to blog about, they are short snippets of thoughts that I ended up posting on Twitter and Facebook instead of writing short posts that I used to label them as “impromptu posts”. We’ll get to the meats and potatoes of what has happened in the year 2012 in a second.

At the same time, I acknowledge the fact that the long hiatus is necessary for me to get out from my usual routine and gain fresh perspective in life. Without interaction with a broader community, I believe that I’m limited to a smaller mental sandbox to work with and not knowing what actions could potentially affect other people’s lives. Taking positive action to make the world a better place (clichéd as it sounds) would never be possible without community involvement (well, at least communities that I associate with).

To me, this is what 2012 means to me — and having “network” as my operating keyword and theme sets the perfect tone to what I’ve acomplished for 2012. With that in mind, let’s get on to the highlights of 2012.

Highlights for 2012 (TL;DR Version)

  1. Two mastermind groups that I hosted have passed their first year mark
  2. Helped out and seen the growth of Webcamp KL, Educamp KL and MyCocoaHeads
  3. Started OpenCoffeeClub KL — a monthly casual hangout for entrepreneurs
  4. Delivered six talks in public, covering both technical and non-technical topics
  5. Edited and posted inspiring talks from Educamp KL to Youtube
  6. Being a featured contributor of $100 Change Programme by Nathalie Sisson
  7. Transitioned into my job in Mindvalley and started two new projects there - Customer Hugs and a backend server that would power in-app purchases for future Mindvalley mobile apps.
  8. Becoming more public about my sexuality
  9. Have not one but several group of close friends to hang out with (read: am having a social life that I never had in the past… I feel a bit sorry for myself by typing this out ^_^||… just a little)
  10. Hit a significant financial milestone in life as several investments are starting to mature and gain stable returns
  11. Had a small dash of romance in life - brief yet am grateful

The Juicy, Meaty Details

Highlight #1: The Booming Meetup Scene in KL

Full-house at Webcamp KL February 2012
photo © 2012 Danny Foo

Webcamp KL started February with a bang as we couldn’t even fit the 170+ attendees in the Hall of Awesomeness at Mindvalley — it’s a breathtaking testament of a growing community in Malaysia. And throughout the whole year, Wu Han is still the charismatic and diligent organizer and host, Mindvalley being gracious to allow us to use the hall for events and MediaSaya continues to generously livestream the event and post Youtube videos of the talks.

And 2012 is the year of tech meetups, people are stepping up to spawn more meetups and communities — looking back, we now have one meetup group for almost every popular programming language or technology (Python, Node.js, UX, MongoDB, AWS etc.) and even other popular groups like Incitement, Social Innovation Camp, etc. And I have kickstarted OpenCoffeeClub KL as a casual hangout for entrepreneurs (which is now run by Inbaraj from Pixaworks).

With such an explosive development of communities, I believe we are just at the beginning of making something big — that our collective forces, common understanding and desire to grow would see many collaborations among previously disconnected individuals and bringing positive change to the world. As much we would only see the impact these communities create in more than five years time, am excited about the opportunities it brings.

And yes, am starting to push myself out of my comfort zone by doing more talks as well. All of these talks are a labour of love which I find myself spending weeks to prepare the materials and I’m enjoying every minute of making them. Looking forward to do more of them in 2013!

  1. Webcamp KL - Introvert’s Guide To Starting Your Tribe (Youtube video)
  2. MyCocoaHeads Penang - The Big Bang Theory: Nine Steps to Building Your Meetup Empire
  3. OpenCoffeeClub KL and Webcamp KL - Facebook Application Development (Youtube video)
  4. Python User Group Malaysia - Adding WebSockets to Your Web Application with Tornadio (Lighting talk)
  5. Python User Group Malaysia - The Messy Business of Webscraping
  6. Educamp KL - Growing Up and Soaking Up: Tales from an Accidental Learner (Youtube video)

Highlight #2: My New Job at Mindvalley

So in February 2012 I started work as an application developer in Mindvalley. I’d admit that it is a path of least resistance for me back then and also it makes the logistics of preparing for meetups easy for me.

I have to say it’s quite an experience to be there — with great people from different countries working at one place. It’s a workplace full of positive energy and with some of the smartest people from the business side of things. Though I’m still having a couple of snags of trying to fit in and being too self-aware about the fact. Well, for one it’s quite hard for a party-shy introvert to not feel overwhelmed and scared by all the wild parties everyone else seemed to enjoy.

Other than that, am enjoying my work — in fact that it’s the first time that I’m being able to develop a full application on my own, with almost full control over how it is being developed as I’m the sole developer for these projects (though technically speaking I’d say that I force my hand on them as I’m the sole developer for the project). Two projects that I have developed and delivered would be Customer Hugs — a review application for Facebook Pages and a backend server that would power in-app purchases for future Mindvalley mobile apps.

Highlight #3: Forging New Friendships

The HAPPY Crew
photo © 2012 The HAPPY Crew

There is one major side effect in being an active participant in meetups — having more friends. With the two mastermind groups, every week is an inspiring week seeing everyone in the group do something and grow in the process, and the weekly discussions often gives me fresh perspective and ideas to work on.

Then there’s the MyCocoaHeads Penang road trip filled with mouth-watering Penang food, music, stories and laughter — and how a road trip gives an opportunity to know people on a more personal level, compared to the measly five minutes you get to interact with them during monthly meetups. Looking forward to the next time we’re going to plan another one.

What is the least expected is what started as a group chat of six people planning a karaoke outing ended up becoming close friends. We ended up hanging out more for karaoke sessions, music performances and even going on for a road trip together. I now call the group The HAPPY Crew and go figure the gay-to-straight people ratio of the group ;p. A lot of cross pollination of different circle of friends are happening almost every single outing we had, so it’s almost like we are having an extended family. The decision to be honest and open about my sexuality wouldn’t have been possible without such loving support I received from the group for the past six months.

Highlight #4: Being Loved

This is the hardest for me to write and confront at the moment, knowing how recent this had been. To summarize the whole situation, there’s a small dash of romance in this life which unfortunately didn’t hold up in the end.

It’s a tale of a lover who had a strong crush that is not reciprocated — making his best effort to care and pour affections to win him over. As time goes by, the beloved slowly warms up to him and moved by all the affections that is being showered on him. Months goes by, the beloved caves in and decided to give it a shot, but unfortunately the resolve is short-lived as events unfolded onto the persistent lover that strongly reminded the beloved why he rejected the lover in the first place.

And so, it stalled and they didn’t get to be together… at least that’s the development of the story till now.

Being on the receiving end of affections, this whole situation brings up a lot of new emotions and more questions for me to answer when it comes to what I wanted in a relationship. Questions like “should reciprocation should be equal for a relationship to work?”, “How to deal with incompatibilities in sexual needs and views?”, “How much one could settle for when it comes to lifestyle decisions and differences?”.. much of which I’ve pondered but reality and my subconscious reactions doesn’t quite match up to my logical ideals.

So what I got myself into is a bit of a mess: knowing that I miss him yet I don’t like him strongly enough to overlook his flaws and my logical reasons not wanting to be with him.

Well, that’s something that I would need to sort out — after all, I have unknowingly committed to the decision of wanting a romantic and lifelong partner since the coming-out post is written.

Things to Look Forward to in 2013

Expansive
photo © 2012 dirty black chucks, Flickr

As I was writing this, I’m in the middle of packing up my stuff in preparation to move in with my sister’s place — which marks a series of life changes that am looking forward to for the year.

One of the planned activity that I’m looking forward the most would be the upcoming World Domination Summit 2013 right after Independence Day (5 July). Main reason I’m looking forward and ecstatic about it? I finally get to meet Pamela Slim in person! This plan came about early last year when she introduce a whole group of South East Asian readers in a Twitter conversation and the idea of having the group going to World Domination Summit sounds like an awesome idea for an adventure. A year later, I booked tickets for WDS2013 without hesitation… and am glad that I’ll be going together with a fellow Malaysian, Yongjue whom I knew through the $100 Change Programme.

On the other hand, I decided to ratchet down my community effort this year — though more accurately I will not be commiting my energies beyond the core meetup groups that I’ve volunteered for since the last year (which would be Webcamp KL, Educamp KL, MyCocoaHeads, Python User Group Malaysia and two WCKL mastermind groups). And having worked out my schedule, am feeling pretty satisfied with this configuration as it allows me sufficient personal time with the feeling of overcommitting myself. After all, I need some time for romantic pursuits :p (more on that later). That being said, I’m starting yet another bi-weekly meetup called the “Unofficial Webcamp KL Tabletop Gamers”, which is a bi-weekly board-gamer meetup — which gave me the perfect excuse to indulge in my new-found hobby.

Speaking of romantic pursuits, I’m indeed making it a priority at this stage in life right now. Having focused and built a solid foundation in life for the past eight years, I don’t think it’s something that I should be leaving to chance. After all, I believe what got me into a continuous cycle of falling for straight guys (well, straight colleagues, to be exact) can be attributed to my lack of community participation in the past. Either that, or I’m just rationalizing my desperation after reaching my big 3-O’s.

Last but not least, the one part in life that I’m the most comfortable in and yet being totally uncomfortable thinking deeply about — my career path. I’m at the stage where I’m having my wavering doubts and wondering whether is it time for me to consider my options. After all, my medium term goal is to own a lifestyle business and I’m starting to feel the calling of making this happen. At the same time, I’d be honest that I’d much rather have a smooth transition towards achieving the goal instead of a drastic leap. How would my plans turn out this year? We’ll see what I’ll be doing this year.

Wrapping up: Three Guiding Keywords/Themes for 2013

Archery World Cup
photo © 2010 IntelGuy, Flickr

Following last year’s tradition, instead of setting goals I’m going for the three words framework used by Chris Brogan. I was first exposed to that concept by Jonathan Field’s post “Oh The Places You Will Go”. I find this to be a more holistic approach and doesn’t feel constrained by it.

  1. Laser-focus: This keyword is carried forward from last year and further amplified, and I would want to narrow the definition down further (see what I did there? :)). Acknowledging the fact that now the tribe is expanding and possibilities is starting to expand rapidly, I will not be able to tend to every single possible growth path that comes my way. It’s a time when I have to strategize, identify the activities that brings the greatest impact and stay focused. It’s a year of hunkering down and put forth effort towards actions that pushes the boundaries further and create greater impact.
  2. Breaking free: This relates to me in two ways — the obvious one being the medium-term goal towards building my own lifestyle business; and second thing being on self-imposed restraints. The first one is a scary one after eight years working a cubicle, the second one is one is a test of will to break away from my negative habits, limiting thoughts, beliefs and conditioning. However, after achieving my original financial goals and sowed the seeds of inner strength, there’s no better time to test my limits and shoot for the stars.
  3. Mastery: This keyword relates to my professional skills — in particular, I’m setting my intentions to hone in and learn to become the best Python programmer in the region. To this day, I still love my job as a coder and knowing that technical skills is still one of my greatest strengths I have in my arsenal, I believe it’s my duty to express and bring forth change primarily through this skill. Hence I’d need to dedicate my energies in mastering the art.

The best way to wrap this up is this powerful sentence from my 2011 review — which I still think is the modus operandi of my life:

The ultimate prize I’m now pursuing is career that I enjoy and excel in, build a community of friends and to be engaged with a lifelong romantic partner to share my joys with.

With that, Seh Hui signing out, DFTBA (Don’t forget to be awesome)!

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Rainbow
photo © 2010 m-a-s-h-i-m-a-r-o, Flickr

For context and getting the pink elephant out of the room: I am gay, albeit a closeted one in real life — hence the rainbow reference in the title. And this is about a new pledge for myself to take the necessary steps to come out from the closet and manning up should anything bad comes my way.

My Not-So-Little Lie — “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Up till now, I have been adopting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about the fact — probably to a point that I actively avoid being spotted on gaydars and completely evading the customary girlfriend question. With all the candour I could muster: I still manifest a very strong fear deep down of the potential negative consequences: biggest of which being me being alienated or disowned by my family — that or me needing to running away from having a decision being forced onto me.

And such a pessimistic outlook got me into forcing myself to be fiercely independent and be very motivated in my own career as a means to mitigate such a possibility. At least in my mind, so long as I can be financial independent from my family, at least I got more control over my own life.

The only escape I had till now has been my blog which I’ve divulged about my thoughts about my struggles to come to terms with my sexuality and grieving over the string of unfruitful crushes towards straight men. And even that I’ve ended up censoring my words and speaking in codes over time.

The Slow Death Inside

Time to upholding my pledge to end self-censoring.

After more than a decade staying in the closet and avoiding from being identified as a gay individual had some really dire consequences — the fact that I got really good at avoiding such attention means that zero romantic encounters with potential gay partners and getting myself tangled in the whole recurring pattern of falling for straight guys.

As a result, low self esteem kicks in all the time and I getting comfortable with my learned helplessness. “Lay low and don’t attract any unwanted attention,” I’d mumble to myself while I know that it’s just a matter of time that I’d have to come out to the people closest to me and own up the negative consequences that may come my way.

Deep down, I’m still fearful. And yes, I’m killing myself slowly in that way — always with the dark cloud looming over my head: guilt, desperation, loneliness, discontent, split, conflicted…

I think it’s until I got really involved in communities that it just became clear to me that I can no longer stay in such a protective shell. That in order for this vicious cycle to end, I’ve to break out from my own mental prison. After all, I don’t think I’ll ever seek out my own happiness in remaining in my own cocoon where no other gay guys exists.

Something has to be done.

Baby Steps

So for the past month while I’m off from blogging, I am really fortunate to have a group of close gay friends whom I hang out a lot with. I’m slowly getting back in the scene and enjoying some night life occasionally. I’ve drawn a very clear line to not visit any gay bath houses or spa places — well, those places scares me shitless and I’m totally not into casual sex.

I’m starting to coming out to some of my friends — most of them who are just high school friends or new people that I’ve met through the meet ups I organized. So far people have either been very supportive or nonchalant about it.

And yes, I’m actively seeking out a potential life partner — though I’m really having a tough time with that due to the my shy and introverted demeanour and my extremely low esteem is really taking a serious toll in social situations. Am still learning to cope with such shortcomings and getting over my perception of myself being socially awkward.

Or maybe I should start to ask my friends to find me a bear? :p

And with that, this is my first step going way beyond my comfort zone.