Comforting Mini-Puzzler in iOs ‘GrowRecovery’

grow recovery progess

I’ve been a bit busy and haven’t written too much here (and another eyeroll at another class is probably on the way), but I recently wrote about playing Grow Recovery for (The) Absolute.

Grow Recovery, though, adds a little narrative to the Grow game formula, showing an exhausted little figure in need of comfort and healing. It’s a simple human outline, but the task of looking after him is surprisingly moving. Each of the items available will make him feel better in a different way, Give him a blanket, and he’ll wrap himself up. Give him a friend, and the friend will help heal him. I think the animation at the beginning of the game is meant to show that the little grow guy is exhausted, but it’s easy to see all kinds of self-care and recovery in this tiny charming game.

The blanket levels up into a pillow and a bed, while the friend levels up into a family. Add food and the friend will cook a nourishing meal. (I was not entirely pleased by the little pink figure cooking a meal for the little blue figure, but since I express my affection through cooking food for people I love, well, that’s a bit of gender stereotyping I can accept.) All the interactions make an adorable self-care mini-sim for your phone.

from (The)Absolute Mag

Kitchen Chinese

kitchen chineseJust finished reading Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah. I was pretty much hooked as soon as the protagonist explains she only knows food words in Chinese. Hey, me too!

This turned out to be an awesome story about Beijing expat life, with so many of the tiny details right. Going to Jenny Lu’s for essential home comforts. Eating Beijing duck. Ordering without a menu because all homestyle places have the same dishes.  Wait, there was some non-food-related stuff too… The part where the Westerner speaks perfectly good Chinese, and the nervous waitress confirms it with the Chinese-looking person at the table.  An angry, hard-drinking Australian expat with a well-hidden heart of gold (ahem). Working in China and how much is guanxi, not qualifications.

A lot of really wonderful novels set in China present a skewed sense of learning the language. I’m not talking about the ones where the foreigner just picks up Mandarin by osmosis (ugh), but usually for a narrative to work, the character’s language skills progress in simple tiers, from random sounds to what John Pasden calls “Fine, it’s a language” to Horrible Spoken Chinese to Not That Great and onwards to Fluency. Kitchen Chinese really showed the terrible frustration in needing a particular word in a normal second-language day, or in getting the tones just slightly wrong and saying something completely different.  Of course, as a waiguoren, even when I screw up the basics, most Chinese people can’t stop telling me how great my Mandarin is (pretty sure that’s Chinese for You Tried!), while the ABC protag of Kitchen Chinese gets just the opposite reaction. Beijingren keep telling her to study more, while other Americans condescending tell her that her English is good.

Most of the story is set in Beijing, but there’s a segment set in Shanghai that reminded me so strongly of Adeline Yen Mah’s Chinese Cinderella, and, if I’m honest, of my recent trip to Shanghai when I walked around the French Concession thinking of the family in that book. It was a nice sidetrack, but didn’t fully mesh with the Beijing expat adventures in the rest of novel, and I was a bit confused. Anyway, at the end of the book, I saw that Ann Mah, the author of Kitchen Chinese, is the daughter of Adeline Yen Mah, the author of Chinese Cinderella, which made everything make sense.

Anyway, you should read it, if you like food and Beijing.

Attack with PBR and Vinyl Records in Indie Game “Hipster Zombies”


Hipster Zombies, available on iOS and Android from indie devs Sharkbomb Studios, is yet another game inviting players to battle oncoming hordes of zombies. But these are hipsterzombies, and in addition to brains, they want old records, black plastic glasses, retro bicycles and cans of PBR!

Players stand behind a makeshift barricade and try to defend their neighborhood (Is it Williamsburg? Greenpoint? Probably is.) from oncoming zombie waves by throwing hipster gear at the zombies. Mechanics are classic and the controls are simple—you’ll move side-to-side with your left hand, while choosing what to throw with your right. The game is free but monetizes on players’ in-app purchases of hipster gear like vinyl records and PBR cans, much like Brooklyn does.

Enjoy the simple game and hipster jokes as you deploy your zombie-fighting powers of irony to battle the undead!

Halloween reprint, from my story Attack with PBR and Vinyl Records in Indie Game “Hipster Zombies” on (the) Absolute

Homework Memories

yangzhou nightI wrote, in Yangzhou, about how annoying my online class is, but I don’t think I wrote about actually doing the work. One evening in Yangzhou, I was trying to finish my homework so I could go out with my friends. Everyone was meeting at a bar by the water, in fact, most of the crew was already there, and I was hoping to finish my work in time to join them. I remember sitting my room, and texting updates to my friend Rob, who lived upstairs from me, so we could share a cab downtown to meet our friends.

Finishing my homework so I could go out with my friends is not exactly how I expected to spend my thirties, and I’m not sure I expected to do it in China, either, but I plowed through my math problems and met up with Rob. We had a great chat, and an easy ride over, and met up with friends for drinks and laughs by the gorgeous canal. Some parts of Yangzhou are how I imagine ancient China, the hanging willows and curved bridges and arched roofs, and everything now is all outlined in colored neon lights, reflecting in the water. I think about that a lot back in the US.

Anyway, I’m finishing up this class at home now, and every time I open my math lab account, I think of that evening.

App Review: Save More With Clink


clink promo imageClink is an upcoming app for saving money, and for increasing your savings.

Users will choose a percentage of checks from dining out, and put that money into savings, but instead of just a regular savings account, it’s in a portfolio, hopefully turning into more money. A lot of general PF advice on sites like LifeHacker focuses on making small savings, on making saving a habit, and putting your savings where you can’t see them and be tempted. (I have a similar system that rounds up debit card purchases and puts the change into my savings account, although Clink goes further and puts those automatic savings to work.)

I had a chance to look at the beta version of the app, mostly to check out the UI. (Look, I like being an early adopter and trying new apps, but of course I couldn’t connect my bank account to a beta project.) Clink’s users will be able to automatically push money into savings. By setting the percentage, they’ll be able increase or decrease the amount saved, and of course users can add to their Clink account.

Right now, the Clink app is a landing page where would-be users can sign up to be notified when the app launches. Naturally, you can move up the waiting list by socially inviting friends to join. The app is scheduled for release in December, and will be available on iOs.


This post is shared with you in partnership with the developers of Clink.

Bad Airport Day

shanghai new york ticketI’d been thinking that I just need one bad China day to make it easier to go home. But I haven’t had one, Yangzhou was wonderful, minus that whole flooded bathroom thing, and my Shanghai girlcation has been filled with writing in beautiful coffeeshops down picturesque alleys and talking walks around a strange and beautiful city. I spent my last evening in Shanghai reading on my porch, and that was lovely, and I was just feeling so sad to leave my amazing Chinese summer.

On my last day, I woke up covered in mosquito bites, and the drizzle made the sprint across the courtyard to the bathroom much less fun. I gathered my things, and I got into a taxi, in the rain. After we drove for a while, the cabbie turned around, and help up one finger, and then two fingers, and then looked at me expectantly for an answer. I asked if we were still going to the airport. He held up the fingers again. I didn’t really get it…  but fortunately for me, the cabbie got on the phone with his friend about a minute later, and started talking about the idiot foreigner who doesn’t even know which terminal she’s going to, even though he made it as easy as possible for her. So I figured out what the one and two were for that way. When we talk about learning Mandarin, we often talk about learning styles, people who learn well from conversation, people who learn written characters best, people who memorize HSK wordlists, and so forth. Overhearing other people calling me stupid is my least favorite way to learn.

Harold got a little phone charger/extra battery in a pile of TicketMaster swag a few months ago, and I brought it with me to Yangzhou, where it saved me several times from dead phone disaster. But when I changed planes in Beijing for my international flight, it appeared on the luggage X-ray unrecognized technology, so I found myself trying to explain what a harmless promo it is and why it’s not a security threat or am explosive or anything. Then I realized there weren’t too many situations in which arguing with Chinese customs over my unauthorized technology would work out well for me. So it was confiscated and I got on the plane.

Despite having flown through the Beijing airport literally a dozen times now, I forgot that there’s almost no food after security. Which is just as annoying the twelfth time as the first time.

This flight also included an American adoption group heading home with their new daughters. I loved seeing all those parents, completely in love with their adorable new daughters. And so many cute little babies! Of course, that means there was at least one little cutie screaming, sobbing or whimpering for the duration of the flight. I don’t think I really have a maternal instinct, but the physical horror of hearing babies cry for hour after exhausted hour… I wonder if there is something chemical in it, some kind of female hormone that makes it impossible to detach, relax, and fall sleep when there is a little one so upset nearby. Poor babies.

I rarely feel my age, and by that I mean that I’m excited and excitable, that I still see myself as a young adult, and also that I lack the maturity and responsibility one might expect to have by 30. But when I stay up all night, I’m reminded of my real age. I felt awful when I landed, because sleep is a thing, and when I don’t get it, I am cranky and old, and then I was in Newark, where they let me through customs with no trouble and then wouldn’t let me back through security because my ticket was in Chinese. So there’s that.

Actually, I’m pretty sure this is a bad airport day, not a bad China day.


Notes From Shanghai

jinganI haven’t written as much as I expected to write About China, because I’ve been experiencing a reverse Dunning-Kruger on this trip. I’m realizing more and more the immensity of what I don’t yet understand about China, and so whenever I start to write travel commentary, I couch it with all these qualifiers, and I sometimes despair of making enough sense of China to write anything that friends at home could enjoy and understand.

But, Shanghai.

in China, simple things often turn out unexpectedly complicated for me. Like measure words, that toothpaste that turned out to be tea flavored, not mint,  the time I ordered an entire chicken, er and liang, and all the other times I’ve been pretty sure that Mandarin is just screwing with me.

But, exploring Shanghai, with the tree-lined avenues of fashionable shops, and the bikes down small alleys, and massive chrome buildings, and the speed of a real city, with endless cafes of wonderful coffee, is exactly like I imagined.

This Is Our Destiny

translationI had a hard time getting Marcus’ latest book here in Yangzhou. Hahaha! Can you believe that’s a sentence I just wrote? Such subversive poems are banned in Middle Kingdom, I guess.  What I really want to do is take this back to when Marcus was working at Parking Services, and tell him this will be our destiny. But of course that’s not a thing, you can’t go back in time and tell someone working their awful job and hating every minute, you’re going to make it. You’re really going to do it. Someday I will be reading your book, and it’s going to be beautiful. 

The introduction to his work begins: What are we to do with anger? What are we to do with love? What are we to do with one another, given all that happens and has happened between us? And, seriously, what are we to do with it all? And isn’t that basically what good poetry forces us to question?

This is an amazing collection, and you should read it. Maybe not alone in China, since a foreign woman crying over her Kindle attracts a certain amount of attention.


In A Different Time

yangzhou nightAnother late summer evening in Yangzhou, and Ian and I have landed at Ronnie’s bar again. I could write an epic on the expat bar in Yangzhou, how I’ve come in with different friends or met up with different friends, sat at the bar for a private talk or sat out back for a chat with everyone who turns up. Some nights are sipping beers and talking about literature and writing, some nights are shots, love and existence. It’s been a great summer with these guys.

On this particular day, I’ve spent the afternoon in Starbucks working on my latest freelance project, naming dwarves and elves for a new game. I could also write an epic on how much I want to turn my fun and awesome freelance work into a legitimate adult job, but I’ll skip it. I’m excited to do the work, and excited to tell my Yangzhou friends that I can’t hang out today because I am making a dwarven genealogy.

I tend to only really notice good things and good times in retrospect, but writing dwarven backstories in a Chinese coffeeshop is a recognizable highlight. That’s a real thing I did, you guys.

Anyway, a couple of beers later, Ian admits he named his childhood cat out of The Silmarillion.

“So, there’s a lasting significance in the names of dwarves and elves, huh?” I ask. “Good to know.”

“Do you read fantasy?” he asks, possibly to distract me from giggling and calling him a secret nerd.

“I liked Tolkien, but I could have done with a few more women in it. Actually, I feel that way about most fantasy novels.”

“It was a different time,” he says.

“Yeah, women hadn’t been invented yet.”

Snark aside, it was another perfect day in Yangzhou.

More Similar Than You Know

Shortly before I started dating my now-husband, I was seeing a writer in Los Angeles. He’s a really great guy, handsome, funny, talented…  Uh. Yeah.  This is relevant! I’m going somewhere with this!

The other day, one of my students told me I look exactly like a certain actress. I wasn’t too interested, because the Chinese can be pretty bad with laowei faces, usually when I’m compared to another person, it just means we are both brunettes. I’m routinely mistaken for Sydney, the other white woman teaching in Yangzhou, even though I’m more than 10 years older than she is, but sometimes she wears glasses, so… I guess? This is also relevant. Stay with me.

Anyway, my students discussed my Hollywood twin in Chinese, and all agreed that I look EXACTLY like her, and that I just had to see her photo. One of the kids looked it up on her phone, and then passed me the phone to show me the photo of the actress my Los Angeles boyfriend is now dating.


Seeing Measure Words in Bamboo

wenchanggeThe other day, I went to eat with a coworker at the secret upstairs noodle shop. Some expat friends are friends of convenience, the other English speakers in a foreign country, and after so many rounds of Hello, I am an American and Yes, I can use chopsticks, it’s always good to have an honest, fullspeed chat with other waiguoren on this crazy adventure. But I got so insanely lucky meeting the other Lone Wolves, I legitimately like James, Rob, Ben and Ian so much.  I could write an entire essay on meeting the right people at the right time, but the simple version is that I’d be friends with you guys at home! Anyway, Ben and I went up to the secret noodle shop, and had a really wonderful conversation involving Mary Beard and women in games, Roman customs and internet security. This Yangzhou summer is a really amazing adventure.

Then I tried to order us tea, but got bowls of hot water, and coworker Ben tried to pour vinegar sauce from the teapot into it. Chinese life is a work in progress.

 *   *   *

After an unsuccessful hike to find a garden on my day off, I went up to Dongguan to recharge myself with air conditioning and wifi, and I bumped into people I knew! It was very exciting, since I know about 10 people in Yangzhou, and I think 7 of them were teaching that day.

We ended up sitting in the upstairs of iCaffe, looking out through carved wooden shutters and swapping China stories. In air conditioning. Did I mention the air conditioning? Mostly we traded stories of China adventures, and the weird addiction we all share for Chinese life. I’ve met some long-term expats here in Yangzhou, and a few guys who’ve left, had a proper job at home for a few years, and then the siren song of China brings them back.There’s an ease and simplicity of an English teaching job,  where all of your basic needs, like an apartment, utilities, and so forth are handed to you, but any of your personal needs (English books, cheese, Twitter, coffee) are rare treasures. By the way, if someone ever says “What’s the grossest thing you’ve even seen in China?” and your stories of cocoon barbecue don’t get much of a reaction, don’t ask him what his grossest experience was. (Meg, why do you do these things?!?!?)

Then I said goodbye and walked up to 个园, Ge Garden. The character 个 is a measure word, so I sort of translated this in my head to a garden, even though that’s not really how that works. I discovered today that the name 个 has nothing to do with counting, actually, the garden is full of bamboo and someone thought that this bamboo looked like the character 个. Which is rubbish because there is already a character for bamboo, 竹, which already looks like bamboo. Because that’s how pictograms work. I have not been so pissed off at Mandarin since I discovered the character for circle looks like 圈.

But the garden. Ge garden looks like dream China. I made it in the late afternoon, and just watched the sunlight slanting over the bamboo forests. I went up the rockeries and looked in the orchid house, but then I sat in a pavilion, surrounded by the bamboo, and it was so peaceful.  You don’t get a lot of peace in China, it’s much more constant fireworks, screeching ebikes, those electric megaphones and endless carhorns, but this pavilion felt like ancient, imaginary China. It was a perfect place to write in a journal and feel the incredible peace of being exactly where I am supposed to be.

Book Review: Tapped


Tapped by AJ Maguire tells the story of a family of veteran space smugglers, who pick up three passengers with even more to hide.

This story has a lot of the themes and characters we all loved in Firefly. Space drama has been done before, and done well, so let’s talk about what makes Tapped great. And by that I mean, let’s talk about Jo and Seach, ok? Space veterans with a scrappy, beloved ship is one of my favorite scifi premises, and this is a particularly good version.

First, Jo is the captain, not the medic / sidekick / psychic finder of the plot / princess. Even though scifi novels are full of the badass lady warrior, we don’t get a lot of badass lady warriors who also really love their kid. Seach and Jo have a realistic romance, where they work together, and they like and respect each other, and eventually, they also want to get naked together. I’ve been thinking about using a star system for book reviews, but I can’t because sometimes I’d find things like this acerbic and maternal space veteran, and would have to give Jo 73 stars out of 5.

To be honest, I didn’t go into this with really high hopes. After covering the Writers of the Future scifi anthology, I’ve been inundated with scifi eARCs and requests to review, but recently most of those have ended with me awkwardly telling the author or the PR rep that I couldn’t make it through the novel and wouldn’t be posting about it. I only accepted this one because I’ve worked with this rep before, but I am really, really glad I found Tapped.

I received an eARC of this book to review. All opinions are my own, of course.


Essential Chinese: Fruit Infusions

essential chinese fruit infusionMy room doesn’t have a refrigerator or a watercooler, which is pretty rough in such a hot summer.  My school has both, so I fill my water bottle there with drinking water and slices of orange or lemon, and stick it in the fridge to become cold. (It’s totally fine to carry a 4-inch pocket knife into a school here, just bring your own napkins as well.) I bought a second water bottle, so there’s always one in my hand and one in the fridge. Otherwise the bodega guys take one look at the red-faced and sweaty foreigner, and triple the price of water.

Today I bought a lemon from a small shop, and the shopkeeper really didn’t want to sell it to me, telling me it isn’t tasty and isn’t a snack, and offering to sell me an orange instead. My Chinese skills are at a weird state where I could understand the gist of his warnings, but couldn’t tell him I wanted to chop it up and put it in my water bottle for flavor. When I tried to describe it, and said water bottle, he pointed to the cooler so I could buy one.

This poor guy really did his best to explain that lemons aren’t for biting into, and he’s probably going to go home tonight and tell his wife about the foreign lady who would not be dissuaded from her weird eating habits.



One of The Lesser Known Pokemon

meowthIn China, I feel so brilliant and successful when I do daily things like catch the bus to the mall. I planned to settle down with an ludicrously expensive frappuccino, and do my math homework in the Living Mall’s Starbucks. This is one of the wonderful things about expat life — making my way to the coffeeshop feels like such an accomplishment! Ordering my drink feels like such an accomplishment!

Well, the Starbucks was packed, in that particular Chinese way that’s less of a line out the door, and more of complete chaos.  Also, in Yangzhou a Starbucks is a place to take rambunctious children, and while my babysquee has been intensifying with my thirties, it’s not really conductive to studying. So I went next door to Meowth Coffee, figuring they would have wifi, A/C and an available table, which would possibly evolve into an even stronger Pokemon later.

I ordered a vanilla latte at the counter, and the cashier handed me my change, and a small purple stuffed bear. That’s… not at all what I think I said. I have some trouble with vanilla and cilantro (香菜 and 香草, pronounced almost exactly alike) but so far no one has served me vanilla soup or cilantro ice cream.  But this is it, more than two years speaking Chinese every day, and I think I’ve just asked for a vanilla latte but really I’ve accidentally purchased a purple teddy bear. I stare with confusion for a little while, because, come on, ordering the food I like is definitely my strongest area of Chinese. Also I got the correct change for a vanilla latte. So there’s that.

purple bear

Anyway, turns out that Meowth uses cute stuffed animals instead of table numbers as markers for semi-table service. So I just wanted you all to know that I am so awesome I can do my homework without accidentally buying any teddy bears. Expat life is wonderful.