Adventure Aboard the Chen Xing- Chapter 25

I sat down next to the Old Boy inside the booth. Estella sat down next to me and started playing with her ring. 

The bartender swung by a moment later, setting a beer in front of Scorsby. She then looked questioningly at us. 

“Scotch whiskey,” I ordered. 

“I’ll have a pina colada, extra ice.” Estella said, “And a double cheese burger, med rare. Oh and a water.” 

The bartender nodded and wandered off. 

Scorsby took a slow sip of his beer, closing his eyes as he did so, then set it down. “Now that hits the spot.”

“Long day?” Estella asked, leaning back and idly helping herself to a nearby bowl of peanuts.

He nodded and chuckled. “You could say that. Too much work for this old man.” He sighed and took another sip. “Running around is young man’s work. Retirement is starting to look nice these days.”

Estella nodded, crunching noisily on a peanut. 

I slugged my arm across the old boy’s shoulder camaderie-like, “You old boy sure got more juice than that. Retirement will bore the teeth out of you.”

He chuckled. “Eh, you’re probably right.” He took another drink, this time nearly finishing off the mug. “So, what about you and your crew? What have you been up to? Last time you came by, it sounded like you had a lot going on”

“We always have, that’s how it goes in this business.” 

The bartender came back with the drinks, plus a second beer for Scorsby. She left with a quick, “the burger will be out in a few minutes.” Scorsby nodded and grinned, finished his first beer, and took up the second. “Isn’t that the truth.”

“You know that Jessica gal you brought to the scene last time? How did you come to know her? Just curious, you know.” I figured it’s a natural enough opening. 

A silence before he said, “She helped me out a few times. She’s quite the surgeon, miracle worker. Too bad about what happened.”


He stared into his beer, lost in thought. “Yeah. She killed someone, you know. It’s got to be rough, measuring your worth by the lives you save, and knowing that one death on your conscience will never be paid for.”

“Hmmm…” I said by way of comment. 

“I mean, it was self-defense. Don’t take what I’m saying the wrong way. Any one of us would have done the same.”

“What happened?” Estella prompted him. 

He took a drink. “I don’t think I’m near drunk enough to get into that one. How about we talk about something a little less depressing for now. Remember that arsonist you were looking for a few years ago? The one with the fire power who thought he was possessed?” Off he went into other stuff. I nudged Estella.

Estella smiled, tapping her ring. “Yeah, he was a little unhinged, thought that fire was burning inside him and he needed to lure it out with bigger blazes.”

Scorsby laughed. “Oh, yeah, I’d forgotten about the case with the fertilizer thief! That was the stinkiest case I think I’ve ever seen. But you had that one solved a lot fast than I could have.” He finished off his fourth beer and wiped his mouth. “Be right back,” he sauntered off towards the restroom. 

“He’s claming up on Jessica. Where we go from here?” I asked Estella. 

She pondered the question a long moment, “I think we start by buying him a round of something harder, maybe that scotch you’re drinking, have them leave the bottle, then keep topping him off as we talk, maybe work back to it by talking about vigilante justice? Jess said he was blackmailing her, he must feel its a way to make her pay for a her alleged crime, so we just talk about seeing justice done even when it’s morally gray, we could use that sleaze ball we brought back to the bar you shot as a nice example, maybe get him to open up more.”

The bartender wandered over and put another beer down. “More scotch?” she asked me. 

“Two more.” I told her. 

Estella watered down her own drink and topped it off with more ice after the bartender left. 

Scorsby came back right when the bartender brought over the new drinks. He sat down, took a swig of his beer, then saw the extra drink. “This for me?”

“Thought you might like to try a new flavour, it’s quite good, what they got here.” I told him. 

He smiled, took a sip. Smiled again. “Where were we?”

“Talking about old bounties,” Estella grinned. “We recently had a tricky contract to deal with some trouble makers that were sabotaging some locals farm equipment on this back water village.” She gestured to me to continue the tale.

“There was this baldy, you wouldn’t know by his looks, but he’s slippery as they came. No guts but gonna pull a trick on you whenever he sees the barest chance. Finally shot him in the leg.”

He looked serious. “He have a partner? Another bald guy. One fat, one skinny?”

“You actually know them?”

“Yeah, I know them. Been on my ‘todo’ list for awhile tracking them down. But I’ve always had other stuff come up. You give me the details, I could get you a split on the bounty money”

Estella grinned broadly. “That sounds pretty nice!”

“So they were pulling all that sabotage? I heard that was going on.”

“Yeah, it was to cover up a smuggling ring.”

“Really? Smuggling?” He shook his head, finished off the whiskey. “Well, that makes sense with those two, but I can’t see how sabotage would help at all with hiding smuggling. You sure that’s what it was about?”

“Well, it was to cover up this abandoned factory on the outskirt of town. That’s where they drop off deliveries.”

“But wouldn’t that make them more noticeable? I mean, would you have caught on to the smuggling if they hadn’t been sabotaging stuff all over?”

“Well, we got onto the factory cos they kidnapped one of our crew and we tracked her down there.”

Scorsby shook his head. “Bad mistake on their part. Your crewmember alright?”

“Yeah, we got there in time.”

“That’s good. You know, we’ve got to look after our own.” He looked particularly somber as he said that. 

“Crew is like family.” Estella raised her glass in a toast. 

“Anyway, you can strike off both off your list. I shot the fat one before an angry mob could cut him up via farm machinery for causing a local to die in this way and the other two gals got the other one..”

“You know, we do some bad things in this business, for all the right reasons” He said it quietly, almost mumbled it, as if he had said his thoughts aloud. 

“You gotta do what you do.” I nodded. 

“It’s funny you mentioned the doc earlier. Been on my mind since you brought it up, though I try not to think too much about it.” He finished off what was probably his 6th beer and wiped his mouth. 

I leaned forwards, waiting to hear his next words.

“She’s a good doctor. Great at saving others. But not so much herself.” Not what I was waiting for, but I guessed that was just the preamble. 

“She got in some trouble, and this was before I knew her. Caught the attention of some very bad people.” Now I felt like we were getting somewhere. 

“There was a video… well, she killed someone. Self defense, but it was how she did it that got all that attention going. And I came across it, saw some bad things were about to happen to her. And I… well, I did something I’m not proud of.”

Estella had turned the ring partly the other way but nodded at him to continue. 

“I didn’t have a lot of options… and I couldn’t allow her to be used the way they were going to use her.”

“How she did it… what did she do exactly?” I probed the Old Boy. 

“Did it? You mean murder someone?”

“Murder?! You said it was self defence before.” 

“It was… remarkable. I guess maybe her power works both ways? Because she took a life with a touch. And the look on her face… it was terrifying.  Well, she went well past self defense. I like to tell myself that’s what it was, but in fact it was nearly cold-blooded murder.”

“That kind of power, no way was she going to be able to practice again. She’d like end up… well, I’m not drunk enough to talk about that either. So I did what I could. Pulled some strings, put her out of view of some very dangerous people, and kept her out of the spotlight. And gave her chances to make up for what she did.”

The Old boy shook his head and wrapped up the talk. “I think maybe I’d prefer going back to the office and putting my head back into my sisyphean tasks than thinking more about this. I appreciate the drinks, but maybe next time we can pick some more pleasant topics.”

“Would those dangerous people by chance be a certain corporation?” Estella asked hesitantly.

He shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I think I need to go.” He got up, a little unsteadily, and started heading for the door. 

“Looks like we are all done here.” I said to Estella. 

Re-reading Books: Memories are always wrong?

Anyone who has followed up for a while should know that I’m whimsical when it comes to reading (well, writing also but less so in recent years given my focus on novel writing). So from last year to this year, I’ve revisited two fantasy works I knew I had definitely read before. I think I might have alluded to this in prior Book Discovery posts, even. 

Anyway, on both occasions I was definitely wrong about what I remembered. On the first instance, I remembered one scene/chapter to be absolutely goosebump inducing but after I finished reading the scene it was completely mild, so much that I wondered if I had mixed it up with another book that I was reading around the same time (I was reading books back to back during high school/undergrad study in uni). On the second occasion recently, nothing I remembered about the Lyonesse series turned out to be true. I thought it was about a character whisked from historical England or nearby to the fictional Lyonesse but there was no whisking at all- all the characters were from Lyonesse and the surrounding lands. I thought the book started slowly until a famous wharf scene when the character was whisked away and obviously since there is no whisking, there is no wharf scene. The only thing I had gotten right was that the book started slowly. But I mean, the book was written in the 80s or something. Back then, not every book had a break-neck pace nor do people deem that it’s a necessary thing. 

Feel free to share experiences where you remembered books perfectly or imperfectly wrong in comments below. 

2 week NZ itinerary without a car in 2023- Week 1

Since I freshly came back from New Zealand I thought I would deviate from the norm and do a post on my recent trip. I mean, I’ve been benefiting from the shared online itineraries so I might as well contribute one of my own. Plus, this one includes recommendations on gelato. Who can resist that? (Caveat: don’t get your hopes too high though, we didn’t get to try as many as we would have liked. Too much time taken with day tours. On the other hand, you would get a lot of details on the 3 meals of the day.)

All quoted prices are in New Zealand dollars unless stated otherwise. 

Day 0: Melbourne > Auckland 

This is essentially just us catching a direct flight from Melbourne to Auckland and arriving at 5am the next day. So I called this day 0. 

Day 1: Auckland Explorer bus tour

I mostly dozed off amidst the audio guide on board the Explorer bus. Mum and me got off at stop 8- Bastion Point and tried to get to Mission Bay except that we gave up too early, thinking it was the wrong way since we had to go down a set of stairs and cross the street. When we asked a local, that turned out to be the shortest way/only way (should have trusted the sign but we lacked confidence). So we gave up and just took the Explorer bus back to Sky City. 

We did yumcha for lunch at Huami next door. I should have caught on that it was not the Cantonese style yumcha that we are used to do since the name of the restaurant is based on the Mandarin pinyin. We ordered 5 things and 4 of them were either too salty or had other problems. Only one dish was exactly right according to our taste. Still, I already booked to have dinner there on day 3. 

We had dinner at Tony’s Original Steakhouse and Seafood restaurant that night. They do a seafood platter at $55.5 that is more than ample for two like us with a small appetite. In fact, we left a whole fried blue cod and fries untouched but we had eaten most of the other seafood. Highly recommended. 

Accommodation: Skycity Hotel  (4 stars, 3 nights stay) 

It was on special on the day I booked it but the original price might be slightly pricey. I was actually specifically looking for it given the stuff I heard about Super Shuttles and how if your flight was delayed you would miss your booked shuttle ride to the hotel. So, as I was looking for a replacement for Super Shuttles, I found the SkyDrive bus which only goes between the Auckland airport and the Sky Tower basically. I didn’t end up taking the SkyDrive bus in Auckland ever though as my reservation came with a free taxi ride from Auckland airport to SkyCity Hotel. Anyway, I would recommend the hotel- it’s a good modern hotel with a spacious room. The queen size bed is a little shorter than standard issue in Australia but since we are 1.5m or shorter that’s okay for us. Staff is eager to help when you ask directions and ask them to book taxis for you (there is actually a taxi stop right outside the hotel with two taxis there 24/7 but out of caution the concierge booked a 5am taxi for us for our flight to Queenstown). And when I was wrongly deducted for room service lunch from the deposit (I didn’t check the receipt carefully because our booked taxi to the airport arrived early and I was rushing off) and emailed the hotel about it, reply and the rectification of this error was very prompt. 

Day 2: Auckland Hobbiton, Rotorua and Waimoto caves tour 

Hobbiton was a disappointment- just a big bus loading you in and then walking around taking pics of hobbit holes that look the same except for colour of doors while following a guide- although I think I’ve always known this at the back of my mind. I only went because I’m a loyal LOTR fan and I thought Mum would be interested in taking pics of the colourful hobbit holes. 

Rotorua (I think I had picked a photo of Rotorua from free stock at the top, we didn’t see that particular view though on that day) was kind of just a filler on this tour- we were only taken to the region where we could see white steam rising off the gutter and behind a hospital and then a park where we could see mud bubbling and a massive wave of white steam rising off Lake Rotorua. But this is understandable since the distance covered is just huge. We were picked up from hotel at 6:25am and our guide/driver was kind enough to drop us all off back at our hotels as opposed to Auckland CBD as it was written down on Viator because we ended up coming back at 7:30pm instead of 6:30pm so it was pitch dark already. Then again, I wasn’t sure if we could stand longer at Rotorua given the sulfurous smell. Mum especially has a sensitive nose and she just wanted to run away. 

Waimoto Glowworm Caves was really the highlight of this day for me. The 30 hour walk around the cave was nothing special since I had been to a similar cave in China already but the talk through of the stalactites and stalagmites were much better with an actual guide telling you and shining a torch at the stone formations- in China, you had to listen to an audio guide instead which I found tedious (and the device resembles a walkman but since I’ve never used a walkman before I didn’t know how to put the damn thing on and the staff was impatient with me because he expected that as part of the younger generation I would be able to put it on myself.) Then the boat trip was definitely worth gold. It was like entering another world, with the glow worms seeming like constellations above your heads and everything so quiet that you could hear the sound of the water dripping down from the roof of the cave. 

Food-wise, the tour included a buffet lunch at Te Puia. The food available were reasonable- Mum had some Chinese fried noodles and cold prawns and vanilla ice-cream for dessert. I had cold prawns and 2 slices of ham that were too salty. I didn’t like any of the hot food available so I didn’t have dessert in case too much cold food ingested causes diarrhoea (I had that before). For breakfast and dinner, we made do with a packet of 4 large croissants that we picked up from Countdown supermarket (aka Safeway/Woolworths) the day before. $4.6 in total for two meals for two (but applicable only for those with smaller than usual appetite). 

Day 3: Auckland half-day scenic tour

To be honest, we actually regretted booking this tour in some ways. We did get a nice Auckland panoramic photo out of this tour but it’s much more tiring than I thought it would be when I booked it. This is one of the three tours I booked with GetYourGuide instead of Viator (and the only one we actually went to, more on that later) and I much prefer Viator. The description of each tour is just crystal clear on Viator whereas GetYourGuide often contains confusing or too sparse descriptions and doesn’t provide as easy correspondence with the activity provider. 

One of the things we didn’t expect was that there would be so much going through the timbers used in houses constructed in different eras and in general just cruising by suburbs, so much that Mum commented the guide/driver was like a real estate agent. The other thing was that when I got into contact with the activity provider to ask about whether we had to hike on the visit to the 2 extinct volcanoes covered by the tour I was assured that one would be a flat walk and the other would only be a 5 minute gentle hike. However, on the day our guide/driver winged things a lot (from the perspective of the sparse tour description set out) and we eventually did a little hike and then crawled under a tunnel to see a gunning chamber even on the flat volcano visit. And the so-called gentle hike was already quite steep at the start so we just asked to stay in the car since we had to catch a very early flight to Queenstown the next day. Also, it’s like 15 minutes as opposed to 5 minutes. 

We had a pancake breakfast at Denny’s which was just a street over from SkyCity but I was disappointed- the pancakes were too big and thick which essentially made them flavourless. Since it was an afternoon tour, we decided we couldn’t really go out for lunch that day and just had room service- 6 pieces of tempura prawn and 2 juices (we were offered $40 credit for not using cleaning service throughout our stay so we used it up for lunch). For dinner, we had crayfish and a pot of fried eggplants (one of Mum’s favourite dishes) at Huami and that blew out our budget for this meal to thrice what I had estimated because… I was completely amazed that Mum forgot to ask what the seasonal price for crayfish was for that day before she ordered! And she had worked as a cashier in the food industry for over 10 years in Hong Kong! Moral of the story: always ask for the seasonal price before ordering! I made sure I did that afterwards, for oysters. Also, since that day I learnt that seafood was produced in the South Island, not the North Island. Ah well, you can’t research them all. Anyway, the crayfish was quite tasty and certainly better than the Australian lobster we had in Melbourne. It was cooked from alive crayfish, unlike the frozen lobster we sampled only once in Melbourne. And thankfully, it wasn’t too salty- we asked to have it wok-fried with ginger and spring onions, which also coincide with the usual request for its preparation. 

The other overall pity with our Auckland stay was that we had no time to search out ice cream/gelato. I did suss out that Miann at Britomart was a candidate but had no time to go (I passed over Giapo which doesn’t sell single scoops and it’s a bit awkward for Mum and me- we can’t each eat a separate 2 scoop cone and we both like the waffle cone so sharing one is tricky as well). Related to that, Mum actually made the lament that we should have canceled this tour and just went around the CBD searching for gelato. Ah well. 

Day 4: Queenstown to Arrowtown return trip 

We took an early morning flight from Auckland to Queenstown and instead of taking the SkyDrive bus like I planned originally and have to lug luggage ourselves, Mum decided she preferred to take a taxi so we took the booked cab that concierge arranged for us which actually arrived early by half an hour. Funny thing was that New Zealand Airways actually didn’t open that early and we had to wait until we could properly check in. We landed in Queenstown around 9am. We took the line 1 Fernhill bus from airport to hotel and as soon as we stowed away our luggage at the hotel, we went to catch the line 2 bus to Arrowtown.

Now, just let me deviate a bit and talk about the Beecard which you use to catch public buses in Queenstown. Going by research from a blog, I was actually looking for what I assumed was a news agency within the airport to get a Beecard but actually you can just get one from the bus driver. And I assumed that the $5 fee to get the actual card doesn’t go towards the actual credit for travel which turned out to be wrong and we were left with $9 surplus after we topped up $10. Also, something you might not be used to is that you get a single Beecard to share for two people and you have to tap off twice or so I was told to pay for two people instead of one (in practice, I think I tried to tap off twice but it didn’t work. And I have no idea why we are left with a $9 surplus instead of $8 since each trip is $2 each. We didn’t tap off on this particular day because there was just a crowd getting off at Arrowtown and Mum just copied other people when she saw no one tapping off. Maybe that screwed up the fare calculation). 

If you wanted to shoot pics of red maple trees then actually you wanted to head towards where you can see an unobscured view of the mountain ranges because otherwise you get more yellow trees except for some odd red ones in the entrance car park. 

We originally planned to do the Lake Hayes Walkway but we were dressed wrong for that- we brought along two fluffy jackets that we didn’t put away with the luggage and imagine carrying that around as we did a 3 hr return trip! We did the practical thing and gave up after we asked for directions at the Lakes District Museum. 

When it came lunch time in Arrowtown, we were both not hungry and ended up getting 2 cones at Chocolate Patagonia instead. Mum had the coffee and cream and I had the hazelnut. We were both satisfied with the flavour we ordered. The cone was the most crispy we had ever tasted and the thickest too, so it was really crunchy.

We had dinner at 7:30pm at Finz Seafood&Grill back in Queenstown along Steamer Wharf just across from our hotel. We had oysters to share for starters. Compared to our Tasmanian oysters, NZ oysters seemed to be bigger and thicker, with a different taste. The seasonal price was $43 half a dozen that night. For mains, Mum had the handmade spaghetti with prawns, clams and baby octopus whereas I had the tuna loin with soba noodles. As is the Chinese wont, we shared the mains around and I preferred the soba noodle which was thinner and more smooth compared to the spaghetti. I actually didn’t know the tuna would be partially raw when I ordered (it obviously didn’t advertise that on the menu). But compared to raw meat, I could accept less than well cooked fish and the tuna was very tender. Also, NZ seemed to have very sweet prawns compared to Australia. Mum liked her spaghetti very much. 

Accommodation: Crowne Plaza Queenstown (4 stars, 4 nights stay) 

On a per night basis, this is actually slightly cheaper than SkyCity Hotel at the discounted rate but not as good value for money. Firstly, the room is smaller but that’s no big issue. What I found problematic was that it has really poor sound penetration, made worse because it seems to be converted from some kind of shared accommodation where each room has two interconnecting rooms to each of the neighbouring rooms (which I assumed were sealed but Mum actually asked me whether people could break in from the other sides). It also didn’t help that we had one particular annoying neighbour who would bang the interconnecting door whenever we talked a little loud at around 9-10pm. And it’s not as if that’s our fault that a 4 star hotel has such poor sound-proofing. 

So why the 4 stars? The only answer I could come up with is that it’s conveniently located in the CBD with a bus stop right in front to the airport and has balconies with a lake side view. But personally I don’t think that makes up entirely for the noise problem. Nevertheless, the staff is really friendly and withstands me going into reception twice a day to ask directions during my stay and even one night after we checked out of the hotel and had to get to an ATM urgently to take out cash for Super Shuttle rides etc. Concierge also helped out when I had a freak out moment with one of my tours just the next day. 

Actually, for those with a more tight budget, I would suggest staying at Frankton (a suburb as opposed to the CBD) or Arrowtown if you knew you were definitely going there and didn’t mainly travel in NZ via day tours like I did (because then hotel pickup is not likely offered or going to the meeting place might be tricky, especially for early pickup times). 

Day 5: Queenstown Skippers Canyon tour 

Pickup from hotel was 8:15am and we went over to Mrs Ferg on Beach Street (since our hotel was on Beach Street) to have a croissant breakfast. Very tasty after heating. Then when it came pick up time, we had a freak out moment since we went outside on the clock (it was cold outside) and found that there was no van waiting for us and the hotel clock outside said 8:20am. Quickly I rushed back into the hotel and told reception of this issue and I was handed over to the concierge who rang the tour company for me. 

Staff who picked up on the tour company was impatient with the concierge (this was a landline so I could only hear the concierge but I deduced from what I could hear on the hotel site) and also with me when the concierge passed over the phone to me. I was told that I was supposed to reconfirm but on the confirmation email I got sent and printed out before I boarded my flight to NZ, I never read anything about the need to reconfirm. There was no further contact from the tour company until the day before the tour and it was just the same email as the original confirmation email. The concierge even read the tour printout I showed him and came to the same conclusion as me. At any rate, because I already paid in advance, a van was sent out within 5 minutes to pick us up. So, overall, satisfying conclusion to the issue. 

Now, originally I planned for a one-day visit to Twizel on this day. But then I realised that the whole point of the trip was to visit Lake Ruataniwha and there was only less than 2 hours for us to get to the lake before we have to rush back to the bus stop to catch the ride back to Queenstown. I timed our morning 1 big lap around the house and found that our speed was 37 minutes for a little over 2km meaning that we won’t ever make the lake in between the same-day bus rides. That ruled out the Twizel trip and boy, was I glad that I did that and picked up Skippers Canyon instead. Despite the choppy start to the day, the tour was just great. By happy accident, we had a whole van to just me and Mum. 

By the way, this is the only tour that you couldn’t do yourself if you’ve got a rental car. The road to Skippers Canyon is a public road which means that pedestrians and mountain bikers can access it as well as those with a 4WD car but it is closed to rental cars due to insurance reasons. It is a very dangerous road going up with no railing for some parts and very steep corners that come out of nowhere. The road is also likely closed off in winter for safety reasons. 

For those who like history, Skippers Canyon is full of history to do with a gold rush originating in Arthur’s Point. And the views along the way are stunning- there are strange rock formations as well as views from being up high. I personally suffer from a mild fear of heights but I feel safe enough in a car. The only instance when it flared was when I came out to take a photo near two rock formations. (Well, there was a mini instance when I was looking down on the big vista down below at one point where I could see Arrowtown and the airport. I was fine for about 10-15 minutes and then I felt a big weak in the legs.)

We skipped lunch for that day because the tour included a morning tea. We each had a choc chip cookie and was sated. In the afternoon, we set out for the Frankton trail. At first, I was intending to catch a bus to the Frankton golf course and then walk to Frankton beach 10 minutes away but reception showed me it’s much simpler to just start from the hotel and then navigate to Queenstown gardens to start on the trail. So that’s what we did. We actually detoured to the Marine Parade a little along the way since that’s just along the shores of Lake Wakatipu but we pretty much followed the directions set out by reception to get to Queenstown gardens. We dallied a little within the gardens to take pics of red trees and when we found the start of the trail we decided we had enough walking already and had no need to embark on the actual trail. We almost got lost over which way to exit the Gardens but was pointed the right direction by a local. 

I reserved a table at Jervois Steakhouse for dinner because Mum asked me to (even though she’s like almost a vegetarian and has a thing against big chunks of meat but she just saw recommendations on blogs and decided she wanted to try a steak). It was a very popular place- we had to wait downstairs for our table in the bar when we arrived half an hour early but it was warm inside so that was okay. The waitress did a detailed explanation on the seasonal price for oysters and what dishes on the menu were not available etc before I even ordered. We ended up not ordering steak at all (because the smallest was still over 200g and I figured that we could only ever handle 100g which is like a non-existent size for a steak) but rather seafood- half a dozen oysters for starters again for $40, a prawn entree that ended up being very close to how we cook prawns the Chinese way and the most tender salmon we’ve ever had (I figured it’s probably the most tender part of the salmon). So that was a great meal just like the dinner the day before. 

Day 6: Queenstown to Wanaka return trip 

Not exactly a tour but I paid in advance for a Queenstown to Wanaka return trip with Ritchies transport and it was $120 for one adult and a senior inclusive of GST (it’s cheaper to book online like I did). It’s really more like a bus service except that you ride in a small van and it runs 4 services daily to and from Wanaka. I booked the earliest service to Wanaka and the latest back. That meant we arrived in Wanaka at 10:30am. 

The main goal of the day was basically to walk around Lake Wanaka until we got to the Wanaka tree and that’s actually a while- we kept thinking we would turn the corner around the lake and the corner kept being ahead of us. But I think we eventually got there just before 2pm, with plenty of stops along the way for photos. 

We then had a belated lunch at Lake view Seafood, a Chinese restaurant, as we didn’t like any of the cafes and I missed the Cow. We walked past an ice-cream place en route but didn’t feel like it instead of lunch this time. We ordered a wanton soup (containing 3 not that tasty but very filling wantons), a beef rice noodles and a veggie dish that came up to $70. Mum remembered the food as being terrible whereas I remembered it being average, not that great. 

We were going to have dinner at either Lakeside Palace or Cody’s (both Chinese restaurants) but since it was dark we ended up going to the Mandarin Restaurant which was closer to our hotel. We had Peking duck, salt and pepper prawns, a vegetable dish and rice. Originally I had wanted to try scampi sushimi so that we were not always have oysters for starters. But I was quite tired that day and just didn’t feel like cold food at all. The Peking duck was okay except they didn’t heat the wrapping for us (initially Mum wasn’t going to order rice, thinking we would get by with the wrappings, luckily I persisted). The salt and pepper prawns were large but clearly not as good as the other prawns we had (although it wasn’t too salty as I thought it would be, prawn still tasted slightly sweet, just not as fresh as those prepared in Western restaurants) and then again, usually Chinese food cooked via salt and pepper is a signal that the key ingredient is not that fresh or is frozen in the first place. The cost of the meal was actually slightly larger than either Finz or Jervois at around $120- this meal cost us around $150. Mum decided we would have no more Chinese restaurants after this day. My original plan was actually to have Chinese dinner 2 more times while in Queenstown but instead we decided to rebook Finz or Jervois instead for when we returned to Queenstown for the second time. 

Day 7: Queenstown Milford Sound tour 

I booked a small group tour through Viator with Altitude Tours and overall, I’m quite happy with it (they offered free wifi on their vans which was not offered with the other tours and apparently you got $30 off the next tour by using coupon codes that your driver/guide would tell you). 

We had super luck with the weather. Apparently for a good Milford Sound tour it had to be raining in Queenstown the day before which it did and it was the only day it did while we were over at Wanaka which was all sunny. 

On the way in, we had some stops for scenic photos but mostly they were just to rest the legs and toilet breaks. We brought our own supermarket food from an Asian grocer along for lunch (we bought a big packet of 12 Chinese sweet pastries in separate packings, we usually had one each for breakfast and two for lunch unless we had bananas and other fruits which meant we could save one pastry each for later, I think we did that a couple times) instead of having to each pay $27 for a chicken salad sandwich. The actual Milford Sound experience was a 2 hour cruise. I wasn’t too excited by the sights- mostly the waterfalls were tiny. I even dozed off during the cruise but I did get to see 3 big waterfalls with rainbows next to them. Mum was busy taking photos outside the cabin while I mostly stayed in. She took some photos of me with the waves and only caught one of me with a tiny waterfall outside. But that’s okay, I’m not crazy about photos like she is. Apparently, we spotted seals and dolphins on the cruise. I was in general too lazy to spot seals when I heard the callout and the dolphin spotting must have been while I was dozing. At any rate, Mum and I tend to not like animals in general and avoid zoos. 

Instead of having to buy more supermarket food on the way back, we actually had a quick dinner at the Alpine cafe on the ride back to Queenstown. We shared a large blueberry muffin between the two of us alongside hot drinks which came to $17.5, the cheapest dinner we had in this trip at an eatery. 

And that concluded our first week of travel within NZ. Stayed tuned for the week 2 continuation of this post in June. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (17)- Wang Cong Er

Who is she? 

  • A female rebel leader of the White Lotus Sect (which had command of fourteen or fifteen thousand individuals) 

Notable Life Events:

  • Born in 1777 to a mother who was a performing acrobat on the street (father died when she was young), from which she learnt the trade and the mother and daughter performed while wandering from city to city 
  • At the city of Shen Yang, she joined the White Lotus Sect with the help of her would-be husband, Qi Ling. White Lotus Sect was a religious rebel group that fought against the corrupt government officials of the last dynasty in China, the Manchurian controlled Qing dynasty, during which corrupt government officials and landowners conspired together to take land away from honest farmers  
  • After their marriage, the couple plotted an uprising at Shen Yang, the news of which unfortunately got leaked and Qi Ling was arrested and killed in the process along with more than 100 of White Lotus believers
  • After her husband’s death, she became the new leader of the local White Lotus Sect and was known as Widow Qi
  • In 1796, after learning of the successful uprising at other places, Cong Er finally killed the local governor and opened the grain storage to share with the common citizen. At that time, she already had control over an army of forty or fifty thousand. 
  • She led her army to Sichuan where she combined forces with the White Lotus army there. For ease of control, the combined forces of fourteen or fifteen thousand was split up into eight parts grouped under four different flag colours: yellow, indigo, blue and white. She was elected to be the leader of the combined army. 
  • In 1798, she had won her way from Sichuan to Xian with her army but eventually she started losing because the government had the number advantage on her. Eventually, she was forced to retreat and jump off a cliff when cornered. She was only 22 at the age of death. 

Why is she remarkable:

  • I believe she is the first female rebel leader to have control of such a large army in Chinese history. 
  • My Chinese source tells me that the Qing government actually recorded that she was captured after she jumped off the cliff and then put to death. But it’s not clear that the records were not forged in an attempt for them to save face. She was also discredited post-death by the government who claimed that she had sexual relationships with many men which was frowned upon behaviour in that era given the general support/dictum for virtuous women.

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

She is clearly a capable woman and military commander and with spirit to boot (or at least that is how her suicide is perceived as exhibiting). I don’t have much other thought to add to that.

Wikipedia reference:

Joy is not a trick

The line is from Instructions for Traveling West by Joy Sullivan. 

Joy is not a trick. It might not last but nothing lasts. Not truly. 

Joy is not a trick. It’s a signal, telling you something is right. Life is good if you are still enjoying something. 

Joy is not a trick. Or maybe it is if they are few and far between. 

Joy is not a trick. Or maybe it is if you remember it and it’s no longer with you. 

Joy is not a trick. Or maybe the trick is in how you feel joy. 

Joy is not a trick. Or maybe the trick is in how you hold onto joy. 

Life is not a trick. Or maybe the trick is to keep tricking yourself. 

Life is not a trick. Or maybe the trick is to keep on trying. 

Life is not a trick. Or maybe the biggest trick is that there is no trick. 

Love is not a trick. And it can stay no matter what others say. 

Love is not a trick. You can hold onto it no matter what others say. 

Time is not a trick. Or maybe the trick is fooling yourself blind of its passing. 

Time is not a trick. Or maybe the trick is to keep moving. 

Chinese Lore- A selection of mythical fauna (11)

Qi Tu

Physical Description:

A bird that looks like a crow except for having three heads and six tails and likes to laugh.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat safeguards you from having nightmares and evil.

Shen Chi

Physical Description:

A creature with a human’s head and a beast’s body, only one hand and one foot. Its call sounds like a sigh.

Meng Meng

Physical Description:

A creature that resides in water that has a mouse’s body and a turtle’s head. Its call sounds like dogs barking.

Ran Yi

Physical Description:

A six-legged fish with a snake’s head with eyes that looks like horses’ ears.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat can safeguard you against nightmares. Carrying it on your body can protect against ill fortune.

Moonlake’s Movie Discoveries (4)

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my friends had this arrangement with me where we would watch the same movie once every two weeks and then analyse it in terms of the 3 Act structure. That agreement terminated after 3 movies but we watched Matilda, Romancing the Stone and Hunger Games together under that setup. I probably liked Romancing the Stone best out of the three (that was also my friend’s favourite and why he suggested it). I thought it was cheesy but in an endearing and entertaining way. I stayed away from Hunger Games before because: 1) I only rarely venture into YA; 2) I felt like the Hunger Games premise was a bit similar to the Japanese movie Battle Royale which I watched before I ever heard of the book series, I didn’t really think the author had plagiarised the movie necessarily but I’m not that keen on a similar kind of dark premise. And since I decided that I would never actually venture to read the books after having tentative intention to maybe try it after 2 years, I nominated it for our 3 Act structure analysis. The movie didn’t hold my full attention and I really had no interest to either read the books or watch any more follow up movies (although I did snoop and read the synopsis of all the movies). 

The other notable thing with movies I’ve done is that I’ve burned through all the movies with Johnny Depp in it (that are on the free movie sites I frequent, I like his acting but I’m ultimately not such a fan that I would want to track all of his work). Since the last serial post, I’ve watched Dark Shadows (during which I felt like it was the first time I’ve ever seen Johnny Depp clearly in terms of facial features; before that, I’ve always remembered him as either wearing black lipstick or black mascara) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (in which movie he also didn’t have the usual heavy make-up on). But anyway, the ‘sex scene’ he had with the witch in Dark Shadows definitely cracked me up, with the camera angles going wild and the witch raking her claws across everything in the room, I guess to convey the effect of sex between inhuman beings. I just found that hilarious. Chocolate Factory is okay; I never read the book, I didn’t realise it was a bit dark

Of the recent movies, I think that my favourites would probably be the Enola Holmes movies and the Greatest Mouse Detective. Firstly, I have a taste for new interpretations of the Sherlock Holmes classic that still retains some elements from my fond memories ever since the Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell series (that unfortunately turns into disappointments because Mary never seems to find her own feet as a detective in her own right ever though she is written to the intellectual counterpart to Holmes). So Enola Holmes fit right into that. Greatest Mouse Detective has less freshness but has more of a whimsical remembrance vibe to it. 

Also, about the time when this blog post is released, I’m actually holidaying in New Zealand for two weeks. But with scheduling, obviously we are not losing touch at all.

Adventures Aboard the Chen Xing- Chapter 24

Jessica came in. “The guard is awake. He’s, uh, pretty upset.”

“Guess one of us better let him know his punishment.” I said. 

Estella nodded, “I’m kinda busy here flying, so one of you should do it?”

Aurora nodded as well, looking over at me, “I’ll go with you and let you do the talking? He probably won’t give you any attitude, you’re a bit intimidating when you want to be.” She suggested with a grin.

“Yep, my specialty.” I said as I proceeded her to the medbay. Before I even entered the room I could hear him shouting. He was pulling at the restraints when I walked in. I heard Aurora sighing behind me. 

“Hey! Someone! Let me out!” He was shouting. 

“Quiet!” I ordered him. 

He looked at Aurora and me and yelled again “Let me go! Why are you doing this?!” I didn’t remember him being the gutsy one. 

“We saved you from being lynched, you ungrateful big baby!” I shouted at him. 

“Lynched?! What for? I haven’t done anything!”

“Remember, he claimed to have no idea what was going on there beyond being a security guard.” Aurora reminded me in a whisper while giving the man a narrow eyed look. “Kidnapping a little girl is nothing?” 

“Tell that to an angry mob. Anyway, we decided to take your word for it and bring you back here so that you can serve your terms here on board our ship and be useful.” I told him. 

“I don’t understand. What angry mob? I was just working some stupid job where I got to sit around all day and chase off some bored kids every now and then. And then you all show up and start questioning me and now I’m locked up. Please let me go.” He was starting to cry. “What are you going to do with me?”

Aurora shook her head, “I think he’s telling the truth, or is more of a milk sop than his boss.”

I sighed. “Nothing, we were just going to let you earn your keep aboard our ship for a while. And then you can go.”

He looked confused. “But… for how long?”

I looked across at Aurora.

“And my cat… Who’s going to feed my cat?”He said out of the blue. 

“A day or so?” Aurora shrugged. “We got some business on the other side of the planet, shouldn’t take more than a day to sort out, during that time you’re going to sweep, and mop, and maybe a bit of painting, then we dump you back at the town near the factory rubble. So I think your kitty will be fine for the next day or so.”

He seemed a lot calmer. “Umm, how much will you pay me? I mean, I don’t think I want to go back to that job again.”

“Are you asking for a job on board?” Aurora smirked in amusement. 

He shook his head. “Too much excitement for my taste.”

“Umm, can you send a message to my boyfriend? He’s never going to believe I disappeared on him because I was kidnapped by… whoever you all are.” He looked a little sheepish as he made the request. 

Aurora sighed, “Keeping him around is suddenly becoming more hassle than it’s worth, any objections to dumping him back at town after we turn the factory into a parking lot?”

I gave her a firm shake of the head.

“Sounds like a good plan to me.” Estella’s voice came over the intercom (amid a faint background of Guppy chatter), I did notice Aurora holding down the intercom button at some point. 

Guppy stopped talking. “Oh, was I supposed ta be listening?”

Estella chuckled. “You okay with us ditching the guard at the town after we bomb the factory?”

“Sure.” Guppy said. 

“Looks like you’re getting off lightly,” Aurora told him. “In the future though, I’d strongly suggest choosing your jobs with more care, you came a hair’s breadth from getting killed today.”

His eyes went wide. “Are you letting me go?”

Aurora face palmed herself. “There’s no way anyone can be that dense and live this long.”

His face fell. 

Estella’s giggle came over the intercom. “See Guppy, this is why you should pay attention on the ship and learn what everyone can teach you, otherwise you’ll wind up like this guy.”

“Does this mean I have to, uh, actually work?” The guy asked us again. 

“No, it means we are booting you out of the door the first chance we get.” I turned my back on him and started walking out of the medbay. Before I throttled the dumbwit. 

“Not, like, up in the air or anything, right? I have a weak back.” Talk about taking things literally. 

Aurora Lieos sighed again. “As tempting as that option is quickly becoming…. You’ll be set free next to the factory rubble, wherein you will never speak a word about us, this ship, or anything that happened today to anyone, or we’ll find you, and relocate you to the farthest, tiniest, coldest moon we can find in the ‘verse.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m moving somewhere far away from here the first chance I get. You’ll never hear from me or about me ever again.”

“Perfect, until then enjoy our medbay’s comforts. If he gets annoying just knock him out again, with sedatives, a handy blunt object, whatever makes you happy.” Aurora was telling Jessica. 

“Hey, Estella, are we gonna go blow up the factory now?” Guppy’s giddy voice came over the intercom. 

“You know it!” Estella told her, “Go meet Sam near the cannons, she’ll show you how it’s done.”

“Yippee!” I heard her running. “Sam, Sam, let’s go blow up a factory!”

“On it, our little trouble-maker.” I told her. 

Guppy met me half way and danced around me all the way to the gunnery station. We split up with the other two gals at this point, waiting for the Xing to get in range. 

“Looks like we got a runner!” Estella announced over the intercom suddenly. “Take it out!”

We were seeing it on this side so I waited. Aurora came on the intercom, “First before we shoot anything, Jess, ask our chuckle head in restraints if that car is his boyfriends and that house is his? Last thing we want to do is blast his lover for trying to bring him lunch.”

“He says his boyfriend never comes to his job.”

“Slag it then.” Estella said. 

“Sam, you and Guppy got first shots, I’ll hold on the torps until it reaches the house, if it’s still intact by then when it stops I’ll turn it into a smoking crater.” Aurora added. 

“There’s no kill like overkill!” Estella said.

“You go first, kiddo.” I told Guppy. 

Guppy got close but just set some trees on fire. I gave her comments on what to adjust for as I took my turn. 

The trees gave some cover but not enough for my skilled eye. Smoke poured out of the craft and from what the IR scanner was showing, it was likely on fire. Still moving, just a lot slower. 

“Solid hit, she’s smoking like Scorsby after scoring a crate of stogies!” Estella commented. 

“Melt it to molten steel, we don’t want the smoke from flames to carry the spores into the forest.” Aurora said. 

“All right.” I took another shot. This time it stopped moving. 

“Looks like it’s dead.” Estella said as she circled the Xing close. 

“No harm in overdoing it with a few more shots?” Aurora wanted to make sure. 

“Let Guppy hone her gunnery on the remains.” Estella suggested.

“You sure we don’t want any survivors? Thinking we might get more information?” I asked them. 

“Good thinking,” Aurora nodded in agreement. “Set us down near it, we’ll see if there’s any one alive.”

“Will do.” She looks for a clearing, or failing that, just has Sam and Guppy blast a clearing for her to set the ship down in.

Guppy said “Awww. I wanted to blow it up more.”

Aurora grabbed her rifle and headed for the hatch, ready to exit as soon as we touched down.

I put my hand on Guppy’s head. “Plenty of chances in the future.”

The craft was smoking when we got to it. Flames were shooting out. 

Aurora hurried forward but before she got there, someone jumped out, fully engulfed, and started rolling around in a panic on the ground. She stopped. I walked up to stand beside her. 

Estella came up from behind. “Bad way to go,” she winced as she eyed the flaming figure. 

Aurora nodded silently. “They want to traffic in bio weapons that’s the risk they take.”

Estella hefted her shotgun with a questioning look. “Want me to put’em down?”

The figure on the ground flopped around a few more times and then went still. 

“No need, let’s check the surrounding area, see if they were alone.” Aurora suggested. 

Estella closed her eyes, using her special ability to scan the area. “That was the only occupant, We should check the house for their comrades.” She told us. 

“Right, we can get some info out of them at least.” Aurora decided. She turned to me, “How do you want to approach the house? Quiet? Kick down the door? Or just turn their lawn into a barbecue with the ships cannons and demand they surrender?”

“I think I will just kick down the door. Last time, the quiet approach didn’t really work for me.”

“Works for me.” Estella said as she followed me right past the edge of the trees. The building was a small structure made from wood, almost like a box with a door. 

“This could be the entrance to a much bigger facility underground.” Estella said to me as she covered the door with her shotgun. I walked up and kicked it open. It was dark inside, but I could see a large vacant space with a side door to a much smaller space. 

“I think there’s a hidden garage or something in the field, it feels off somehow.” Aurora told us as she entered and went back out again. Estella went back out to look at the plants, I assumed. I continued walking up to the side door and opened it with caution. Even darker inside. I could vaguely see the shape of a desk but that was only because my special ability was Eagle Eyes. I looked back over my shoulder to see what the other two girls were doing. 

Estella had pulled out a glow bug stick as she came in, holding it up to illuminate the room. No sight of Aurora and Guppy, I assumed they stayed outside for the odd field. By the extra lighting, I spotted a PC set atop the desk. 

I went over to check out the PC. Estella had also come into the room to give further illumination.

The computer was on standby. I pressed Enter, it came back on but asked for a password.

I looked over at Estella. “Password protected. Guess we wait for Aurora.”

“Eh,” She shrugged, “Try the name of that guy you shot, the name of the coporation he told he works with, or the name of the asteroid. A lot of these things are secured using a password the person and their pals can remember.”

“I’m just afraid there’s this three trial and you are locked business. Better let Aurora handle it.”

“Ooh good thinking, I’ll be right back.” 

Aurora gave me a nod and then looked around. “Kinda dark in here.” She commented and ran her hand near the door. “Bleh, shoddy construction,” she said, came over to the desk and checked underneath it, pulling out the drawer and checking the bottom of it. “Given the room temp I.Q of those goons I’m guessing they have the password written down somewhere close by.”

She pulled out a small folder and looked inside it first. Then she put it aside and turned her attention back to the drawer. This time she held aloft a small sticky note with Freddy237 scrawled on it. 

“Bingo!” She held up the paper with a grin, typing the password into the computer.

“You are the goods, girl.”

“Thanks, and good call not messing with it, some of these will self format after too many wrong entries.”

“I figured.”

The password cleared. Some spreadsheets were open. Dates, quantities, some kind of notation that was not immediately obvious. Some of the dates were in the past, some in the future. 

Aurora Lieos hit print and then looked around. No printer. “Bleh, I need to save this data or..” She grins. “We’ll just take the computer with us.” She skimmed a few more of the files before preparing to shut it down.

“Yeah, we definitely have space to stow it somewhere.”

“Get a move on, this place is crawling with Samurai Salad.” Estella’s voice came through the wall. 

“We better go.” I said. 

“Samurai Salad?” Aurora rolled her eyes. “Right, let’s grab this and get out of here then.”

“Militant flowers, maleficent marigolds, you know what I mean.” Estella explained. 

Aurora powered down the computer and gave me a nod. “Watch my back, I’ll carry the machine?” 

“Sure.” I told her. 

She unplugged the computer and tucked it under her arm. “Lead the way.”

“This place crawls,” Estella gestured with her handgun when we came out. “Let’s glass it with the plasma cannons and get out of here.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice, I found some useful stuff on this computer, shipments and such, and some other interesting bits.”

“Nice! Lead on.” The last was to me. So I led us to the other side of the cabin. The vines didn’t follow but there were some just lying underfoot. I made extra sure that I didn’t step on these. 

Not much more adventure immediately after that: we made it back to the Xing, Guppy got to use the plasma cannons, we dropped our captive off. But of course, there was what awaited with that business about the Old Boy. We debated a little over whether to just drop in at his office or call him first. 

“Let’s invite him out for some drinks, say we want to catch up with him on local news and share with him some of our past jobs he hasn’t heard about yet?” That way he’s out of the office and with us and you can get him hammered while I sip apple cider with ice and pretend to be dunk and use my talent to monitor the truthfulness of his responses?” Estella suggested. “I’ll wear a ring with a sapphire stone in the center I’ll be idly playing with the entire time, if he’s lying I’ll turn the ring to hide the stone, if he’s telling the truth I’ll leave the stone visible.”

“I like it.” I told her. 

“I’ll look through this computer a bit more, and give you two 90 minutes to get Scorsby to the bar and busy, then the three of us will pay his office a little visit.” Aurora said, then seemingly thinking of something, she paused. She folded up a small piece of paper several times so it made a small 1/2″ plug, and passed it to us along with a stick of chewing gum. “Chew this, while one of you is distracting Scorsby in his office, the other can press this paper into the door frame where the latch goes and use the gum to make it stick, it’ll keep the door from locking but invisible from the outside, so we got an easy way in.”

I took the chewing gum from Aurora, leaving the paper plug for Estella.She smiled at the idea. “So Sam, you’ll put the gum in the hole when you step in, and I’ll follow up with the paper when I enter behind you?”

“You’ll need to chew it first so it’s sticky.” Aurora pointed out.

Estella raised the paper towards her mouth. What was she doing? I stared at her. She must have seen the look on my face; she put it down again and said “Oh, right.” and nodded. 

Aurora glanced at her watch as everyone loaded into the skiff. “We’ll give you 90 from the moment we drop you off.”

“Lucky day Guppy, you get more driving lessons.” Estella winked at Guppy. 

I picked up the phone to dial Scorby. 

“Just hang up after he answers.” Estella suggested. “Otherwise he’ll get suspicious that we invited him out in person rather than over the phone.”

I nodded and waited for him to pick up. It rang several times before he finally answered. “What?” He sounded quite annoyed. 

I put the receiver down. “He’s in, sounds annoyed with something at the moment.”

Estella rubbed her hands together with a grin. “Perfect, he should be happy to knock back a few drinks and share his sorrows with a sympathetic ear.”

“You are devious, preying upon an old man’s vulnerability like that.” I teasd her.

Estella chuckled, “What can I say, I need to set a good example for our newest crew member.” She nudged Guppy with a playful wink. Guppy smiled back. 

“Scoundrels, the lot of us.” Aurora said, giving Guppy a nod of approval. “Drive us somewhere they serve pie Guppy, and we’ll kill some time at the diner, then drop by his office in 90 minutes. We’ll drop by the bar around 1am to pick you girls up, if things go bad, just lay low and meet us outside the bar then, sound good?”

Estella gave her a thumbs up. I nodded. 

The Guppy’s driving seemed to have mellowed out as she drove us to Scorby’s office. I led the way in. “Surprise, we thought we would chill out here, wanna come?”

The old boy looked up, surprised. He’s got a bunch of papers across his desk and he looked like he was just deeply focused on something else. “Huh? Oh, it’s you. Sam! Good to see you. I, uh, hope you’re not here to hire me for a job because I’m up to my eyeballs in it already”

I spat out the gum in her mouth onto her palm at that moment. “No no, like I said, me and Estella went by to chill out and thought you might like to come as well. You look like you could use a drink.”

He looked back and forth between me and his desk. “Well…”

“Yeah, we’ll buy the first few rounds for ya since you look like you need it.” Estella bribed him. 

“Maybe I can talk you and your crew into taking on a job or two for me? Take some of the pressure off me.” He said by way of reply. 

I stuck the gum onto the door when he’s not looking. “Well, we can talk while having a drink. But mind you, we are here to chill tonight.”

Estella leaned against the wall and casually added the plug to the gum, “Sure, let’s hear the details, we’re never too busy to help a friend.” She agreed. “We can catch you up on our latest exploits too.”

He shrugged. “Well, if nothing else, I won’t say no to some free drinks. And I could use a moment to relax before I dive back in. There’s a nice spot right around the corner. Been going there for years.”

I signaled for him to lead the way. 

Estella smiled, “Sounds perfect!”

He took a deep breath as he walked out of his office. The door closed behind him and he started heading for the bar. “Ah, fresh air,” he said as he walked down the street. I followed him.

Ít was a quick walk. The bar was small and cozy. Not busy at all, only scattered customers, in pairs at most. The bartender nodded to Scorby as he entered and headed for a booth. 

I’m worse than I thought and also better

The starting sentence is from Knee Sounds by Courtney Martin. 

I’m worse than I thought and also better. I thought I could bite the bullet on anything but I couldn’t. Yet, learning that I couldn’t and wouldn’t was important. Learning about choice was important. 

I’m worse than I thought and also better. There was always so much to learn, so much to master, and yet I’m not giving up. If the world only values the end goal, I can champion for the progress, the pain and joy every step of the way. 

I’m worse than I thought and also better. My attention span had grown shorter but I now read more widely. 

I’m worse than I thought and also better. I’m not the most courageous that I could be but I was already more courageous than I gave myself credit for. 

I’m worse than I thought and also better. Forgetting is not as easy as I thought but at least I could push things to a cobwebbed corner so that they wouldn’t bother me most of the time. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries: March 2023


Storm Front by Jim Butcher

A lot of the people I know really liked this series so I picked it up. For me, it was okay but I didn’t love it. Not sure whether that was my issue with audiobooks again after a lapse but it’s not really holding my attention despite me using the trick of doing something else as I listen to the story.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson

For a novella, this is pretty good. A fast paced read with plenty of stakes for the main character.

The Poppy War by R.F Kuang 

Most of you would know or figure out that I’m Chinese like the author and as such it’s quite clear to me the source material on which the author draws her inspirations. There’s no extra surprise for me there, not that I really fault the author for that. Most credit the WW2 as the source material but I can see that the Opium War features a little in there as well albeit just a once-off mention (since I don’t know that giving locals opium was a part of the strategy of the Japanese when they tried to occupy China back then, I’ve been watching heaps of Mainland Chinese spy thrillers and none of them had such plot lines. I do know that was part of the central conflict of the Opium War). 

Overall, I feel that the book is solidly written but not particularly my cup of tea. I guess my heart is still in epic fantasy or sword & sorcery as opposed to other sub-genres of fantasy. I was initially a bit thrown because the name for the Chinese chosen in the novel sounds quite similar to what the Japanese call themselves (both starting with the letter N anyway) but that was only a thought that lasted one chapter so no biggie. I don’t think I will continue with the trilogy. 

The Sum of All Men by David Farland

I picked this up because I randomly heard about this series by David Farland via FB and was just curious about the magic system. 

It was all right but I’m not sure I’m that keen to follow this series after reading this first book. On the other hand, the whole arc of the first quartet at least seems somewhat interesting. I might have a peek at the second book and then see whether I want to continue with this series. 

Suldrun’s Garden by Jack Vance

My whim had shifted and I decided to pick up the Lyonesse trilogy which I knew I had read but I had forgotten all about it except for some broad gist that the main character was from our world and then whisked into a fantasy land where things were a bit different. Turned out what I supposedly remembered was almost entirely wrong except for the fact that the story occurs in the Elder Isles which supposedly had sunk (not sure if that’s the author’s fabrication or historical lore). The only other accurate memory of it was that it had a quite lengthy opening in that it starts with a princess but then the story moves on other characters. Anyhow I will have more to say about the book/the whole trilogy in June.  

Science Fiction

Up the Line by Robert Silverburg

It’s funny how I came to this book. After the Black Echo, I was keen to go back to fiction published a long time ago and this was the first published book when I ran a search on fantasy on local library’s electronic catalogue even though it’s a time travel book and Robert Silverburg is more known as a sci-fi author (and the introduction to the book firmly listed this in sci-fi). 

It’s a witty book overall and easy to read. I can’t say it’s my cup of tea especially but a solid piece of work. Strangely, I like the introduction of the book which I read after I finished the book and think that it does add value in that it gives a broader perspective and analysis of the novel. 


The Tutor by Peter Abrahams

It’s a solid mystery focusing on plot as I like it but character development is solid too. I did come by it via its author who won an Edgar award so I will definitely want to revisit him in the future since I can now confirm that his work is to my liking. 

The Torrent by Dinuka McKenzie

This is a solid debut mystery. The different cases that female protagonist, Sargent Kate Miles, investigate seem unrelated at first and have me stumped as to how they are all tied together (as it says on the back cover blurb). Close to the end, when the connections are shown I felt a little fizzle down of excitement (in the form of a mini-anticlimax) but that was quickly saved by an unexpected twist. Overall, I do like it okay. It would appeal more to a mother who can empathise more with the protagonist who is going through a pregnancy while still on the job. 

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

I deliberately pruned my library catalogue for something written a while back and chanced on the first of the Bosch series by Mike Connelly. And man, did I not find exactly what I like about mystery? All the contemporary mysteries have super short chapters that are meant to be fast paced but in truth I’ve found a lot of them to be bland according to my taste. This book proves to me that you don’t need the mechanism of short chapters at all if your story is naturally fast-paced and plot-driven just like I like it. 

I did guess the twist towards the end but there’s still some details about it that I haven’t guessed.

Like I said, if you like fast-paced mystery and are mostly tired of contemporary mystery fiction run on super-short chapters, then try this.

Blood Work by Michael Connelly 

I thought I would try another series by Michael Connelly and picked this one up. I had a bout of indigestion and complications while reading this that sometimes interferes with understanding but I feel like this one was even more plot-centric compared to Bosch. But overall, I can’t really say I preferred one to the other and I mean, they are all written by the same author so who cares? 

At any rate, kudos to the author. He’s just made it to my list of comfort authors. 

The Poet by Michael Connelly 

Yet another solid mystery from this author and just when I thought I detected a common pattern underlying his work, that turned out to be a misdirection. So good work. 

The Lincoln Lawyer by Micahel Connelly

I’m clearly on a roll to sample all of Connelly’s different protagonists. And so far, due to the protagonist’s occupation probably, I feel like this is the most distinct from the other characters. And to top it off, I learnt through the sneak peek into the next book that Mick Haller is actually Bosch’s half brother. Wow, no wonder these books are all Bosch Universe.