Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Flashback: New-Found Love for Cosplaying

So I made a promise to myself when I started college and I first heard of the world of cosplaying: If I ever got to the level that I deemed skinny enough, I would start cosplaying. Well, thanks to Germany and the swine flu (let me tell you how much fun THAT was), I lost the 30 pounds I needed, and the time came for con season again.

For those of you who don't know, cosplay is a blend of "costume" and "play". Basically, imagine Halloween in America, how a lot of people go as movie characters, comic book characters, celebrities, etc. That's all cosplaying. A friend of mine joked once that Halloween has basically turned into "National Cosplay Day". I can't help but agree, but unlike him, I think it's a good thing.

What Tifa's supposed to look like.
So this fall, I had the body I needed, now I needed to come up with the costume. I had the idea a couple of years ago to be Tifa Lockheart from Final Fantasy VII, and it seemed like as good a time as any (if you haven't played this game yet, do it NOW). She was a character who I felt like I could relate to (at the time), and my body type is very similar to hers (for those of you who don't know, Tifa is known physically for her gigantic...ahem...lungs). The only thing I really needed to do was to put the costume together.

My Tifa costume.
Now as any true nerd will tell you, if you're going to cosplay, you'd better do it right. You technically can buy your costume from a costume shop, but odds are it won't look as good or authentic. A true geek will make their costume lovingly from scratch, sewing each stitch. I prefer the half and half method: I'll buy the pieces all separately from places like Walmart or Goodwill, and put them together myself. I was fortunate that the costume I chose was very simple: a sports bra (Walmart), a mini-skirt (which I already had by coincidence from Germany), boots (epic boots which I also bought in Germany), suspenders (Junkman's Daughter's Brother, an awesome local store), and 3 pairs of gloves (Party City. Sometimes you have to cave and end up at the costume store anyway). All in all, it turned out pretty well, I think. The only problem was that I'm technically not Asian (and by technically, I mean not at all, so there was a slight hitch in playing a Japanese video game character).

I found this picture at kotaku.com!
Finally the day arrived for me to test out my newly put together costume: Dragon Con. For those of you who are only hearing about the nerdier side of life for the first time in this blog (or people who may live in another country), Dragon Con is one of the largest conventions on the East Coast. It takes place in downtown Atlanta throughout 4 different (but HUGE) hotels. People book the hotel rooms and buy their tickets a year in advance to come to this thing...needless to say, it's kind of a big deal. I was originally going to go with a couple of friends of mine, but that didn't happen. They bailed on me at the last possible moment. I almost didn't go, but after considering it for a minute, I realized that there was no way I was going to waste this opportunity. So it was with great excitement that I drove down to Atlanta. The most amusing part of the trip was when I had to get gas. Most people were not prepared to see a girl dressed like a video game character pumping gas.

When I got closer to the city, I had a horrible realization: I didn't actually know where the convention actually was. I took a random exit and hoped for the best. I wasn't lost for long: soon I saw one person dressed rather eccentrically, then another, then a whole crowd... Sure enough, I got lucky and picked the right exit on my first try. I quickly found parking, and headed into the nearest hotel full of nerds.

As this was my first convention, my first impression was: I'm home. Never once in my life have I felt so...normal. I saw people from every comic imaginable, from every video game, from things I've never even heard of before. I immediately regretted only coming for one day, and not actually buying a ticket to the show room, and promised myself then and there that I'd stay for the whole time next year.

The Jawas have taken Tifa hostage!
It was the first time I'd ever felt like a superstar. People would stop me every once in a while and ask to take my picture. Sometimes other people would come up while other people were taking my picture and it ended up being a paparazzi of sorts. My favorite set was when I "taken hostage" by two Jawas. The entire experience was so surreal; I felt like I was living in a fan fiction.

Going to the con had its dark side, however. A few less savory guys decided that I was the girl of their dreams, and they followed me around the whole day. Don't worry, nothing happened. I stayed where there were a lot of people, and I remained rape free. I did get molested by people dressed up as the pope with vibrators in their clothes who claimed to worship science, but to be fair, they were molesting everyone. I kinda liked those guys...

At about 8 or so, I decided that I was exhausted and it was probably time to head home. I shook off my stalker, headed back to my car, and drove home. It was truly an amazing day. When I got home, I told my roommates about my adventure, and one of them (Allie) said, "Well, you know AWA is just a couple of weeks away, right?" (AWA stands for Anime Weekend Atlanta. AKA-Another nerd convention). Suddenly Tifa was going to have one last hurrah.

Imagine this cupcake with a grumpy face.
Flash forward to AWA day. Once again, I only went for the day. This time, however, I had friends come with me and we bought day passes. I was also the only one who cosplayed out of the four of us. This con was a lot smaller, and took place in an Atlanta suburb instead of actual downtown. The crowd was also a lot younger; I felt like one of the few people there who had actually hit puberty. That being said, I certainly did not act my age, because I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I set a small budget for myself, and bought a bunch of little things, like a stuffed 1-up mushroom, a small Tifa figurine (I figured it was a celebration of successfully cosplaying as her), and a grumpy cupcake. I also got to do a small photo shoot with other people who were dressed in Final Fantasy costumes, including a bunch of other Tifas. Now Tifa technically has two costumes: the original game one, and the one that she wore in the movie Advent Children. I wore the original game costume, but it seemed like the majority of other girls who dressed as Tifa seemed to all wear the Advent Children costume (which is a bit more conservative than the game costume. It makes sense I guess, seeing as how all the other Tifas couldn't have been older than 15).

Here are some pictures I took of other cosplayers:

I found Waldo!
Old Link and New Link face off in an epic battle!
The Powerpuff...Girls?

Dr. Horrible and his Freeze Ray!
Sephiroth (the bad guy), Tifa, and Cloud (the love interest)
All the Sailor planet girls (and guys!)
A ripped Incredible Hulk
Homage to an internet meme.
The cast of Final Fantasy XIII

Tifas galore!

The one disadvantage to going to a con with friends is that when they're tired, you have to leave. It was with much sadness that I said goodbye to this con as well. I knew at this point I was a complete con addict. I'm already planning for Dragon Con next year, and was even asked to speak at a Star Trek convention (I wrote a paper about constructed languages, and Klingon happened to be on the list). I can't wait to decide what costume I'm going to do next...

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Adventure in Arizona

My bestie Ashley.
So I think you might have figured out by now (if you've read my previous posts) that I have a best friend and her name is Ashley (If you haven't read my previous posts, you should do that. Though you can wait until after you've finished reading this one first. It's not that important). We met while studying abroad in Germany last year. It was a tearful farewell that was only made bearable by the promise we made each other that we would see each other again in the near future.

I decided to make good on my promise this past weekend. I had a full week off from school, so I decided to fly to Arizona and spent the weekend before Thanksgiving with my bestie. We made so many plans for that weekend. We were going to make music, go to open mic night, go to this little western town called Rawhide, see Harry Potter, etc. We were going to make up for the lost time that being in different parts of the country forced us to miss. I skipped classes the Friday before so I would be extremely sure that I wouldn't miss my flight due to tardiness (I fly standby, so it's extremely important to get there in plenty of time, though admittedly getting there 4 hours early is quite excessive. But hey, I was excited and paranoid). I spent the hours attempting to write a blog, do my homework, and texting Ashley every 5 minutes or so with a countdown. The time to board came...and went. At this point, I'm getting a little nervous, because a cancelled flight = Nina not getting to fly at all in the near future. Fortunately, it was only delayed for about an hour or so, but it was pretty touch and go for a while there (not really, but my nerves were shot. I hadn't been this nervous about making a flight in a long, long time). I was the last person cleared, but I was allowed on.

This is the first moment after seeing each other again after 4 months.
The flight there was mostly uneventful. I had to sit beside a 9 year old who had entirely too much energy. He kept asking for my things, such as my bracelets, my pens, and even my credit card. I put on my headphones and that little problem went away.

My first In and Out experience!
I finally arrived in Phoenix. I've never been to Arizona before, so I had no idea what the layout of the airport was, or where Ashley was waiting for me. I should've known that she would find a way to be easily recognized. She had a sign that said "Tits McGee" and then bear tackled me (ok, so you should probably know that one of my internet handles is indeed Tits McGee. It's funny. You should laugh now). We talked as if we'd never left each other in July. There was no awkwardness; just awesomeness. As we left the airport, we both realized we were starving. My roommates made me promise to go to In and Out Burger at least once while I was there, so I suggested going there. It was everything that everyone said it would be: delicious.

Ashley out on the town!
We arrived at her and her family's house, and I got to meet the furry members of her family. There are currently 4 kitties living under their roof: Elwood and Spaz, her grandparents' cats, Bagheera, her cat, and the cutest itty bitty little kitten I've ever seen whose name was determined Oliver my second day in Arizona. Ashley wanted to name him King Louie as it would fit in with the Jungle Book theme she's currently using, but she was vetoed. But I digress... After arriving at her house, we quickly changed clothes and headed back out. I got to see another friend from Heidelberg (my first friend Nicole, who actually introduced me to Ashley, as you can read here.), as well as meet Ashley's good friend Noelle (poor Ashley. She had to remember to say the right name between Nicole, Nina, and Noelle). I got to see a bit of Tempe nightlife, and discover how really similar American college campus areas really are.

The most important part of my trip out there was the music. Ashley and I are both musicians: she plays guitar and sings (very well, I might add), and I play flute and sing (not as well, I might add). Our biggest bonding experience overseas was that we created music together, or "made music babies" as Ashley likes to say. We even wrote a song called "Depths of Desperation". This was our opportunity to record a good version of it, put it on youtube, and possibly write another song. We spent most of Saturday night trying to get a good video of our best songs. Sunday we decided that we should actually write out a full second song. It turns out that we write really awesome, but really depressing songs. The second song is called "The Train to Heidelberg", and I'll let you make of it what you will.

Our second song, "The Train to Heidelberg":

A cover of Within Temptation's "Utopia":

Our original song, "Depths of Desperation":

This one we did just for fun: :D

So, Monday rolls around, and I have to wake up at 9am...to go to school. I must've upset some karma god somewhere... I kid, I kid. It actually wasn't that bad. I got to experience the Phoenix light rail system, got to see how easy classes are at ASU in comparison to UGA...All in all, a worthwhile experience. Between her classes, we went back to her house and hammered out the finals bumps and hiccups in our new song. Then we headed back to campus for her play rehearsal. I got to see the other exchange student, Marshall, in that class (I'd only met him once before but he's a pretty cool guy). As I'm also in a German theater class, it was interesting to compare and contrast the two. I also realized at this point how much more difficult the classes I'm taking really are in comparison to hers :p

The "big event" of my visit was open mic night at this place called the Yucca Tap Bar. It was a cute little bar, and a surprising amount of people were there to perform. Ashley and I were both nervous when we went up there. I got teased a little because I play the flute, but it was all in good fun. I think we did a good job: we both messed up, but that's the beauty of playing two original songs and one cover that nobody's ever heard before: no one could tell. After performing, Ashley, two of her friends (Jared and Sheldon) and I all went to IHOP, where I proceeded to show these two people who had only heard stories of how "infamous" I am, just how "infamous" I really was. We finally got back to Ashley's house at around 2, and we didn't go to bed until 3.
Ashley and I on stage at open mic night.

The next day was a very sad day: the day I was supposed to leave. Ashley had been making little jokes during my whole visit about how I had to stay forever and that I wasn't allowed to leave. I laughed, and secretly wished that that could really happen. Where before I was anxious that I wouldn't make the flight, I was now hoping that a flight somewhere had been cancelled and that there was no way that I could fly out, but once again, the strange karma god was smiling down on me. When I checked the flights, it was clear that there was no way I wasn't getting on that flight. I sighed. Then, I did one of the more rash things I've ever done: I had my ticket changed to very early Thursday morning (I'm talking like arrived in ATL at 6am early). Needless to say, everyone was ecstatic about that (well, my mom wasn't, and I did feel bad about that...but that's another story for a later date).

So, I'm going to backtrack for just a minute to Sunday night. We decided it would be a good idea to have a photo shoot. I brought some costumes along, and we took turns getting dressed up and being silly and having a good time. Tuesday night, with our borrowed time, we decided that we needed another, smaller photo shoot, because we forgot to take pictures of us with our instruments. We also decided to edit and release our music videos for youtube (which took a lot longer than you'd think). The next day, we went to class again (I went to classes 3 days out of a week where I wasn't supposed to have any classes...tell me how that's fair...), and then I got to experience Arizona mall life. Surprisingly enough, that's the same no matter where you go: Make fun of the scene kids, have fun with all the naughty things in Spencer's, ogle $1600 puppies, melt at the smell of Auntie Anne's Pretzels, etc. Then we headed back to Ashley's place for the last time.

Ashley and her mom walked me to the security gate. Ashley and I hugged goodbye, though it wasn't nearly as hard this time as it was the first time, because now I knew we'd be able to see each other again somehow. We (well, at least Ashley and I) were hoping that the flight (which while it looked really empty when I first changed my flight, it suddenly looked very full as I actually arrived at the gate) would be too full and I'd be granted a few more hours. But luck wasn't with us this time. I was once again one of the last people to be called up with an available seat, and I finally began my journey home. I sat beside a very uncomfortable man who looked none-too-happy that I was reading instead of sleeping (I'm nocturnal, so I wasn't sleepy yet; I finally got sleepy right as we landed). I arrived in Atlanta, picked up my bags in record time, drove home, said hi to mom, and then plopped in my bed for a few hours. My vacation wasn't over yet. Thanksgiving was just a couple of hours away...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Most Amazing Adventure of my Life, Part 1.

So you may or may not have noticed that in a few of my previous posts, I've mentioned that there was a long and complicated story about my absence from certain activities. Well, I think the time has come for me to begin telling you that story. It is indeed very long: so long, in fact, that there is no way I can cover it all in one blog post. This is merely the beginning. 

The Heidelberg castle in the winter time.
So I've mentioned that I'm a double major in Linguistics and German. Well, the Linguistics degree was coming along quite well, but my German comprehension was remaining at about the same level. I'd contemplated furthering my studies in German for a while, but in Fall 2008, I decided to actually do something about it. I had an interview with the head of the German study abroad coordinator in November, and she encouraged me to fill out an application. My boyfriend at the time was supportive of the idea (at the time, I never did anything without his approval), and so I did. I filled the 85 pounds worth of paperwork, wrote a heartbreaking essay about how I'd die if I didn't get on this exchange, paid the entry fee, and waited. And waited. And waited. 2 months went by, and I didn't hear a word. Christmas came and went. A new semester began. The study abroad coordinator became a teacher of mine. I'm almost positive she got tired of my asking every day in class whether or not they'd made a decision yet. I know I got tired of hearing her say "Not yet. Not yet."

Finally, one day in early February, after almost going insane, I received an email. The preview of it said "Exchange 2009-2010: We would like to inform you that..." I swear it took me 30 minutes to work up the courage to actually click the email and see what it said. I needn't have worried: The email was full of good news. I was accepted to go to Heidelberg, Germany for a whole year. Hello new country, goodbye old life! 

The money is so colorful here!
I'll skip the rest of this school year, the summer, the break-up, and go straight to the day I was supposed to fly out of the country for the first time. I'd become good friends with another girl who was also going to Heidelberg (there were only three of us, and the third guy never spoke to us), and we decided to fly to Germany together. We took the red eye, and arrived in Frankfurt Flughafen (airport) at about 7:30am. I couldn't sleep the whole ride over, and so was basically running on a lot of coffee and adrenaline when we finally landed. An online friend of mine was supposed to meet us to help us get to Heidelberg, but there were two problems with that: a) I didn't really know what she looked like, and b) I had no way to call her and see where she was. It was only by complete chance that she found us while we were getting some Euros. We got on the ICE train (Stands for Inter-City Express) with our 892719274631792673712098127 suitcases and successfully managed to make it to Heidelberg. I won't bore you with the ridiculous amounts of paperwork we had to do and the attempt to actually find our new dorms (sounds like it'd be fun, but it's really not). I'll also skip to the first day of classes.

Nicole and I. She was one of my first friends.
We had to take an introductory class that would supposedly help us acclimate to the German culture and colloquial speech. It turned out to just be a grammar class. On the bright side, I did learn how to snore in German. Other than that, it was an extremely boring time. I did get to meet my first new friends: an Arizona girl named Nicole, a couple of French guys named Florian and Pierre, a Scotsman named Craig, and a bunch more. Nicole introduced me to a schoolmate of hers back in the States named Ashley (name sound familiar?). Every day for a month, they gave us a traditional German breakfast (bread / pretzel, coffee, some kind of meat every once in a while, or some kind of pastry), and we strengthened our friendships. The best part of the day was definitely when we were dismissed from class. Nicole and I would walk down the Hauptstrasse (main street. This is the main shopping district of the town) and try on clothes, look for stuff for our dorm, and marvel at the fact that we were actually living in Germany. 

My intro class. Everyone came from all over the world!
It was a boring class, but I'm glad I got to meet these
One thing I had to adjust to was walking everywhere. I wasn't the skinniest of girls before I left the States, so having to walk even a mile was a little bit of a challenge. But in Germany, everyone either walks or takes the bus. There are few people who actually drive. I'd huff and puff and complain about having to just walk up and down the Hauptstrasse once, but by the end of the month, it wasn't even a challenge anymore. 

Up at the castle! Ashley, me, Abby (the other UGA girl),
Dan, and Kenny! (Photo by Lauren)

Towards the end of the month, a famous violinist (Andre Rieu) came to do a concert in downtown Heidelberg. The tickets were very expensive, and they sold out very quickly. However, there was one place with excellent seating and the price couldn't be beat (Read: free): Up at the castle. A little geography lesson about Heidelberg: it's nestled in this little valley in the foothills of the Alps. The castle is about halfway (or about 314 steps) up the mountain, so the location had an excellent view. Ashley invited me to go up there that night with some of her new friends on a midnight picnic. I was a little concerned about the legality, but I decided it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I went anyway. We hiked up the mountain with our wares (read: various types of alcohol. The drinking age is 16, and there are no open container laws in Germany, so we weren't breaking the law in that sense), found a great location in one of the gardens, and listened to the beautiful concert. On the way up, I was introduced to Ashley's other friends: Kenny, Dan, and Lauren. I brought along Abby, the friend who also came from my school. Dan was very friendly, and we really hit it off (that's a long story that you don't really need to know about). The view was a bit obscured by the castle, but the music came in just fine. We had a great time, and we even had a nice conversation with the security guard (so much for the illegality).

I arrived home that night very late, and very tired. But I fell asleep with a smile on my face, excited that the year was shaping up to be so awesome.


I'm sorry I haven't been posting so much these past few days. I'm on vacation (blog about that to follow soon) right now, so it's preventing normal posting. This adventure is going to take several posts as well, so just sit back, relax, and enjoy! See you next time!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Superblog 1

So I've decided to try something new. Every few days or so (or whenever I can't think of something good to blog about), I'm going to update my Facebook status, asking people to give me topic ideas. Then I'll take everyone's suggestions (or most of them) and combine them into a superblog. Most of these will be fictional stories (actually, probably all of them, but I'm allowing for margin of error). So, without further ado, here goes:

Most everyone has read about the ancient alien theories. How they came to Earth in the early days of civilization and created those wonderful and mysterious structures that still remain to this day: the Pyramids, the Mayan Temples, Stonehenge, etc. They appeared to these primitive people as gods and gave them the skills necessary to leave their mark on this world. What today's people wonder is a) did these aliens exist, and b) if they did, why did they decide to be benevolent?

This is where I come in. I have the real answers. Unfortunately, no one would ever believe me, so I'm pretty much just writing this down in case someone ever decides that I might be telling the truth. Yes, those aliens existed and still exist. I’d like to say that I’m one of them, but that would be a lie. Let me start from the beginning.

I have always been drawn to these ancient sites. Something about these ruins resonated deep within me. I always promised myself that when I finally got the money gathered up, I would go and see these places for myself and try and resolve this feeling. In my twenty-first year, I finally got my chance. I was in England on vacation with my little sister, and we found really cheap tickets to see Stonehenge (we were both college students, so it was the only way we’d ever be able to afford going there). She’s a big England buff, so she was just as excited to go as I was, though admittedly for completely different reasons.

We left our hostel very early that morning to get to the shuttle on time. As we boarded, we were both literally bouncing up and down with excitement; however, I noticed that there was this one man who was staring me down. I didn’t think much about it. After all, I wasn’t acting like a traditional sane person. I sat towards the back with my sister, who promptly fell asleep (she has a bad case of carcolepsy). The strange man kept looking back and glancing at me. Every time our eyes met, he quickly turned back and started talking to his companion (I’d say friend, but the other guy looked like he was merely tolerating his presence). This continued the entire two-hour trip.

We finally arrived at around noon. This was the moment I had been waiting for my entire life. We came up to the ticket area, and they handed us a map. Then I had this horrible realization: we weren’t allowed to actually go near the actual stones: they were roped off about 50 feet away. My disappointment was crushing, but not for long. I swore that I was going to get near enough to those stones to touch it, even if I had to sneak back when no one was watching. I told my sister about my scheme, and she readily agreed. Then I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. “We’re in as well,” I heard a deep voice say. I knew instinctively that it was the very same man from the front of the bus earlier. Sure enough, my instincts were proven right. However, I wasn’t expecting to see the other man standing beside him. My plans were suddenly complicated by these two potential extra witnesses.

“Very well,” I replied. “We won’t return on the bus. Instead, we’ll hide in the nearby hills until everyone has left for the day. Then we’ll sneak back and get a real view of Stonehenge.” I was secretly hoping that the men would be discouraged by this plan, but instead they just nodded and melted back into the crowd. I was starting to really get creeped out by these guys. I told my little sister that we were really going to ditch them. We headed back for the bus. I was just about to get on, but I could feel the stones calling to me, begging me to listen to their story (or I really was going crazy. Either way, my curiosity was piqued). I told my sister I had to go to the bathroom and that I would be back in a minute. We both knew I was lying, but she didn’t call me on it. I’ll forever remain grateful to her for that.

After what seemed like a million years, it was finally time. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen pictures of what’s around Stonehenge, but it’s nothing but a bunch of rolling hills with some sheep and random crops here and there. There’s not exactly a plethora of hiding places. I found an inconspicuous enclave on the side of one of the hills. A sheep grazed nearby every once in a while, but otherwise I remained undisturbed. Eventually boredom overcame me and I fell asleep (I did wake up very early that morning and I really had nothing better to do).

When I awoke, it was long past nightfall. There was a sliver of a moon setting in the west. I popped out of my hiding spot and slowly made my way towards the mysterious ruins. The stones seemed gigantic and menacing in the dark, even though I knew that by day they just looked like a big circle of rocks. I heard a rustling sound behind me a little to the left and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Then I heard a gentle “baaa” and almost started laughing. A silly sheep nearly gave me a heart attack. I started again towards the site. As I got closer, I noticed two of the shadows were remarkably shorter than the others. I stopped again a good 100 feet from them. I had forgotten about the creepy guys in my excitement.

“Don’t worry, there’s no one here, and it’ll be a long while before anyone comes around.” I noticed that his voice seemed remarkably clear for being so far away, and it didn’t sound like he was speaking above a normal speaking tone. I also realized that his accent sounded Australian. “Yes, we emigrated here from Australia when we were much younger.” Ok, now it was just getting creepy. “Come inside the circle and have a little chat. I promise we are not…how’d you say it…creepy?” At this point, it seemed as if it was beyond my control. I stepped into the circle. I was half expecting something mysterious to happen: some big light to flash, a space ship to show up, something. But no, nothing. Except this gentle laughing coming from the shadowy, creepy strangers. “You humans have some really ego-centric ideas about what should happen. As if you and you alone would cause a reaction simply by standing on sacred ground.” Once again, his words were impossibly sharp and clear, almost as if… No, that’s impossible, right?

“No, not impossible. We just so happen to be from a place that has learned how to use our brains a fuller potential.” So, this…guy…is talking to me in my head. Honest to god telepathy. Admittedly, it’s a bit much to handle all at once. I don’t know how long I just stood there in shock. I heard (is “heard” even the correct term in this case? My ears aren’t technically being used…oh well. My brain is already melting at the thought of comprehending this.) him sigh every once in a while, but it wasn’t a necessarily impatient sigh. Finally, I gathered the courage to actually speak.

“Who are you? What are you? What do you want with Earth? What do you want with me?” (Such a terribly cliché line of questions, but they are the ones that would potentially give me the most information. Also, my brain at that point had completely melted. I’m lucky I even spoke words at all).

“Well, I’m the answer to the questions you’ve been asking yourself your whole life. My friend and I here are the reason that this place exists. There are other places similar to this as well: The pyramids, the Mayan temples, even some of the more complex crop circles. We have helped your human ancestors to understand the more modern technologies and thus they have inadvertently created sites that we so desperately needed.” He paused just for a moment. “Ah, I see that you are incredulous about the crop circles. It’s interesting to me that that is the point that you find the least believable. They are a new form of site that we are working on that is…I believe you would say “eco-friendly?” You see, this way there is no permanent evidence of our existence, unlike places like this one here. We can’t afford to have too many people suspect our existence. It’s bad for business, and would inevitably cause panic.

“As to what we are: we are, as you might have guessed by now, not from Earth. We are aliens from a planet whose name your voicebox is physically incapable of saying. We’ll just call it Planet Koil for now. My name is irrelevant, but you may call me Kendau. My compatriot’s name is Wehaw.

“Earth is a unique planet. She harnesses so many different forms of energy, and houses so many different species and creatures. We are merely seeking one of the most basic needs in life: food.” I bristled at the mental image of a full-scale alien invasion and the death of the world. “Don’t fret so much, child.” (I also bristled at being called a child) “If you’d think for a second, you’d realize that such an end would surely have already happened by now, if not several times over. No, our sustenance must be taken in aurally. Your physical sounds are what make us thrive. Music is the most potent and most delicious form. These random sites are what send our food to us. We are more than happy to pay for our meals: most humans see their payment in the form of inspiration to make more music. It creates an infinite cycle that is beneficial for everyone. Originally, the sounds were very traditional and healthy. They had complex rhythms, instruments working melody, counter-melody and harmony, etc. As we’ve begun to switch over to a new system (your crop circles), it has had a slight effect on the quality of the music. It’s gone from Bach and Beethoven to Christina Aguilera and Lady Gaga. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just…different. Of course, sometimes we get a rare gem. The lady Björk’s music is especially delicious. It seems to agree with the eco-awareness that we’re currently working with.

“As to what we want with you. We want to make you a legend in your own right. You know the siren’s call. You know how it feels to be truly drawn to something bigger than you. Your music would be such a delicacy that people on Koil would pay a lot of…I guess its equivalent is money…just to taste a single G major chord that came from one of your masterpieces. So we’re basically just using you, but you also get something out of it. The only catch is that we will need to stay in touch with you often in order to help mold the most delicious sounds possible. So, will you help us?”

At this point, I knew they had to be messing with me. I mean, yeah, I’d always wanted to be a famous singer, but I mean, who hasn’t? If these men really were aliens, then they’d find a way to make me do their bidding anyway. I mean, they could already read my mind. However, if it was a clever pair of con-artists who suddenly had a 21 year old girl alone in the middle of nowhere…yeeeaaaahhhhh… I ran as fast as I could away from them. If they were legit, they’d find me again. I managed to hitchhike my way back to London. It was about dawn by the time I got back to the main part of the city, and about 8am before I made it to the hostel. My sister had a few choice words to say to me, but she calmed down once I told her my story.

The rest of my vacation passed without a significant event. I didn’t see the two strange “Australian” men the rest of the trip. When we got back to the States, I decided to pack up all my belongings, put them on sale at a flea market, and head to my next destination. My morbid sense of curiosity was dying for me to see what was waiting at the Pyramids…


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My (Currently) Favorite Band

My ex introduced me to metal music back in 2007. I grew quite fond of the screams, growls, intense beats and general kickassery that goes with the genre, but I was especially drawn to the bands whose sound had a solid clean singer and LOTS of orchestral sounds. Kamelot, Blind Guardian, Opeth (though they're on the fringe of this description) and others all captured my fancy. However, when I was introduced to Epica, I merely replied with "Meh".

Pretty Mark is pretty :)
In the spring of 2008, we went to the closest thing Atlanta has to a metalfest, which was 6 bands in 2 days, one of which was Epica. I was willing to give them another chance: after all, you don't really know what a band's truly like until you hear them play live. As they came on stage, I heard the crowd mutter a little. Not knowing anything about the band, I wondered what was causing the commotion. Then the singer made the announcement to the crowd: "As you may have noticed, I'm not Simone Simmons. I'm her vocal coach. She's sick and can't perform" (or something like that). I actually got more interested. Maybe she would sound better to me than the original singer. After all, she's the one coaching the lead singer, obviously she must be more talented. After the first song, I realized how incorrect an assumption that was. Her voice was beautiful, but her performance was completely lackluster, and at that point I pretty much wrote off the band Epica.

Flash forward to fall 2009. I had been living in Germany for about a month (looooong story that will probably take several blog entries to tell), and had just made a new friend who was also into metal. She found out one of her favorite bands was going to be playing in a nearby town, and she asked me if I wanted to go with her. "Well who's playing?" I asked her. "EPICA!" she responded giddily. Inwardly I groaned, but I agreed to go with her because a) no one else would and b) I didn't want my new friend to get raped and robbed because she went to a concert all by herself in a new foreign country (which are both reasons she used to get me to go with her to some other concerts as well, but once again, that's another story).
Me with Sons of Seasons

Flash forward to the night of the concert. We managed to find the venue fairly easily, even though the club was underground (with a name like Substage, it's only to be expected), and I was beginning to feel a little bit of excitement. Maybe this time the band would be awesome. When we got to the stage, I was absolutely amazed at how many people were actually at the venue. At a show in the States, a "good" turnout would be probably around 200-300 people or so, and that's if the band is huge. There were probably at least 500 people packed into this tiny area, which was only half as large as the last venue I saw Epica at. And a good deal of them were girls, too! The only girls that go to shows in the States (and there are exceptions, of course) are either a) the girlfriends of metalheads, or b) so determined to prove how hard-core metal they are that they're not even worth talking to. So this was a completely new experience for me.

Headbanging amazingness
We weren't expecting much from the opening band. They were some band I'd never heard of before: Sons of Seasons. I was expecting some local band that just so happened to get a break. Though that description of them was technically accurate (they're German, but the guitarist is also the guitarist from Kamelot), I was not expecting the complete amazingness that came forth from that band. Heads were banged. Horns were thrown. The singer had this haunting voice that doesn't sound like it belonged to that body. I planned on buying a bunch of merch and their CD as soon as the concert was over.

Finally it was Epica's turn to come on stage. This little girl with these obnoxiously huge headphones and her mom shoved their way to the front, but we were ok with that because it seemed like it was the experience of a lifetime for her. Also, I should probably mention at this point that they were releasing a new CD at midnight that night, so the concert was all brand new material. As the intro starts, I'm immediately captivated. It sounded like they might have been living up to their name for once. When Simone walked onto the stage and started singing, I understood why this band was having international success. I realized in that moment how wrong I was to write off a band after one bad performance. They did more than sing; they put on a show. They acted silly, mouthed each others part, and on top of all that, they sounded completely amazing. I was sad to see the end of the show (though I was ready to beat down that little girl's mom who kept trying to take up my space. I ended up just headbanging really hard and flinging my hair all over her face. Petty? Yes. Satisfying? Also yes.). Afterwards, the members of the band (except for the keyboardist and the bassist) all came out and signed autographs for us. My friend even got her picture taken with them. We headed home, humming the songs along the way.

Isaac's a very nice guy.
You'd think that would be the end of the story. However, just after Christmas, Ashley (same friend. BTW, she has a blog as well) she comes up to me and goes "So Epica is playing in Germany again. We should totally go." And just like that, we buy tickets, and take a train 2 hours or so north of where we live to see them play again. They were just as "epic" as last time, but this time, we knew the words to all the songs and were able to sing along. Also, that little girl with the headphones? SHE WAS THERE TOO!! That's one dedicated little girl. We didn't actually get to meet them after the show this time because we had to catch a train home.

The star of the show.

A very blurry shot of the Epicactus

VERY scary faces after we realized we
had to stay outside all night in the cold.
But wait! That still isn't the end of my Epica journey! We were on break from school (because German school systems get 2 months off inbetween semesters no matter if it's summer or winter semester), and we were all looking to do a little travelling. As a joke, Ashley and I mentioned from time to time that we wanted to see Epica again. So one day she checked out the site and found that they were playing in Holland during our break. So we decided to fly to Amsterdam for a few days and go see Epica for the third time together (The concert was actually a 2 hour train ride away, but we still wanted to see Amsterdam as well). This time we wanted to give them a little present, so we bought them a cactus, which we dubbed "The Epicactus". This show was different because a) it was a special 5-year anniversary of their CD "Consign to Oblivion", b) it was a pyrotechnic show, which was AWESOME and c) this band is technically Dutch. Always before, we heard them introduce the songs and stuff in English. This time, we got to hear them speak in their native tongue (as linguists, we found this very intriguing). They seemed to enjoy the cactus after the initial "WTF?".  Afterward, we got the last two posters commemorating the special show, and decided to head back to the train station. Once we got there, we realized something: though the trains in Germany run all night, the trains in Holland shut down. Not only that, but the train stations as well. We were stuck all night in our concert clothes with nothing but our  posters in a strange town where people spoke very good Dutch, but very poor English. We finally made it back to our hostel at about 7am. It was still worth it.

This is technically the end of the story. However, there will be an epilogue: Guess who's coming to Atlanta on December 17th, and guess who has her ticket? It won't be the same without my Epica buddy, but it'll be nice to see them at home again. Hopefully this time it'll be a better show. For more information on Epica, check it out here.