My Top 10 Final Fantasy Songs

I am trying to compile my top 10 Final Fantasy songs to be shared with a bunch of people who has never listened to video games music before.

This is going to be a long night.

UPDATED (version 3):

Ok, after about 5 hours of going back and forth and sieving through more than 40 albums, these are my final 10 picks:

1. To Zanarkand ~ this is the first piece of music that you hear when you play Final Fantasy X and Tidus ending his monologue with “…this is my story,”. Final Fantasy X is special in many ways – awesome graphics, complex yet engaging storyline, great combat and gameplay. This song becomes especially significant when a very shocking revelation was uncovered in Act III of the game i.e. that Tidus himself is an Aeon (guardian force), summoned in the dreams of the remaining summoners of Zanarkand to end their 1,000 years’ sleep by breaking the cycle of destruction and devastation on Spira once and for all.

2. Endless Sorrow ~ I am particularly drawn to the music of Final Fantasy IX because the soundtrack is diverse and contradictory – some songs are whimsical and joyful, and then there are songs like Endless Sorrow that evokes sadness and nostalgia. This was Nobuo Uematsu’s last score for the series and I was pleasantly surprised when in interviews he said that due to the fantasy nature of Final Fantasy IX, he wrote the score so that “a serious piece as well as silly, fun pieces could fit in.” This piece was played when Princess Garnet returned to (a destroyed) Alexandria to become its Queen, in the cutscenes for other characters in the game right before the (hilarious) love letter scene between Beatrix and Steiner took place.

3. Battle on the Big Bridge ~ this is the theme song for Gilgamesh, a recurring character in Final Fantasy series. He made his debut in Final Fantasy V as a bad guy; in other Final Fantasy games he is a harmless, pun-spewing sword collector who steals other people’s sword in his search for Excalibur. He is a scene-stealer and gets the best lines. This frenetic, crazy piece describes him perfectly. Square Enix should make a standalone game about him already.

4. Rose of May ~ If you have the chance to play Final Fantasy IX, you will come across a non-playable, badass character called General Beatrix who is known as the best swordsman in the continent. Now, why do I choose this song? Because it is so contradictory to her outward character that is seen as merciless and arrogant (her nickname is “the cold-blooded woman that silences even the crying infant”). This song reveals the true Beatrice: soft-spoken, respectable, fiercely loyal and ever-ready to die for her country and queen. But try to push her over and she will slice you with her blade. I love her.

5. Town Theme ~ I can’t even remember which game featured this song. But when I heard it performed in a doowop style at the Voices concert a few years ago, I unexpectedly started humming along and could not get it out of my head until I went online and looked it up. This was from Final Fantasy II and played every time your characters enter a town. Do you know what’s great about Final Fantasy II? It was when chocobos (big, giant chicken that you can ride) were introduced! Which takes me to the next song…

6. Chocobo Theme ~ This was a cover by Moonbow using the version played in Final Fantasy III. Chocobos are hard to tame and its side quests are always so ridiculously hard to complete. But riding a chocobo is an awesome possum experience (though it doesn’t always run in the direction where you want it to go). Kinda like the music which is jumpy and all over the place.

7. Dewdrops at Dawn ~ this is, hands down, the saddest piece of music in the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack. It is played after the game is over and the end-credits are paused midway to play a cutscene of dawn breaking and sunlight slowly piercing through the dark clouds. This piece is so good that you would have gotten that imagery in your head without me explaining it to you. Why the saddest? The name of the main character of the game is Noctis, which is Latin for “of the Night”. When dawn breaks… night ends. The last frame of the cutscene shows four camping chairs facing the Crown City of Insomnia. Just slays.

8. Vamo’ Alla Flamenco ~ the third song from Final Fantasy IX that made my list. I selected an acoustic guitar version by Daisuke Minamizawa because I think he perfectly captures the silly exaggeration and exuberance of a swordfight between two bumbling theatre actors. Best lagu ni. Makes me tap my feet. I can’t play the guitar like this :(

9. Somnus (Sleep) ~ the truth is Yoko Shimamura did a terrific job writing the score for Final Fantasy XV. Somnus is actually the first piece that she wrote ten years ago when it was still known as Versus XIII so I have been listening to this for 10 long years before the game was finally released. The lyric was written in Japanese (and then translated into Latin for its vocals) by Nomura Tetsuya who (originally) conceptualised the game before passing the helm to Tabata Hajime in order to focus on the remake of Final Fantasy VII. This is my favourite piece in the game, and most probably in the whole series.I loved it when I first heard it, loved it even more as I played the game and came to realize what Noctis has to do when he ascends as King. To me it speaks of indescribable love, sacrifice, bravery, loyalty and, most importantly, about upholding the trust and responsibility that is entrusted to you even if it is at the cost of your own life. Walk tall, my friends.

10. Main theme ~ the song that starts it all. This version was released to celebrate Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary. The one song that ties and binds them all. So much feels.

Can you tell how much I love the series?

p/s: there are many songs that I left out of the top 10 such as Aerith’s Theme and One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII, Dalmasca Estersand from Final Fantasy XII and Why from Crisis Core and so on. These, to me, are very specific to the game (and scene) that it is featured in. So it loses impact particularly on those who have never played a single Final Fantasy game.

For this list, I wanted to showcase the diverse musical styles in video games music and their versatility. So I picked songs that are striking in terms of musical arrangement, and evocative and expressive in terms of feelings and imagery so that non-players could relate to them too.

And that, as they say, is that.

(To listen to all of them in the versions that I have selected, click the youtube playlist below.)

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How To Conduct a KL Greet (via KL Greeters Network)

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Being a KL Greeter is a great way to get to know the city and re-learn to fall in love with it all over again.

If you would like to volunteer as a KL Greeter, or if you are looking for a KL Greeter to assist you with your visit, go to  http://kualalumpur.greeters.info/

HOW TO DO A KL GREET?

I received a lot of questions about this. But first, let me explain to you what this thing is all about.

The Global Greeters Network is a worldwide network of volunteers that take tourists around their cities and teach them the basics like how to use train system, read maps, places to eat etc. You spend between 2-8hours per greet, depending on how much time you have and what the guests want to see.

There are many ways to customise a Greet. But the basic preparation would be to arm yourself with the KL Tourist map and LRT/GoKL map (easily available at info counter in KL Sentral). Then, map out where you want to take the guests and use Wikipedia and Google Maps to aid you; once you get the hang of this it should be a cinch.

Find out what the guests want to see, their dietary requirements, age group (kids need toilet breaks!) and find out where is the nearest washroom, money changer and prepaid card booth. Teach them how to use GrabCar or how buy LRT tokens and simple phrases like terima kasih, campur-campur, -lah, alamak and so on.

My standard 2-hour Greet would normally cover the following:

00:00 Meet at KL Sentral

  • Go to the information counter in front of McDonald’s and request for the KL City Map.
  • I usually bring a marker pen to mark interesting locations that the guests may want to check out at their leisure.
  • I also mark out KL Sentral and the nearest train station to their hotel and remind them that if they are lost, simply find the pink LRT line and pick KL Sentral as the destination where they can regroup and get their bearing.

00:05 General Briefing

  • I will explain about what we are about to do and the places that we are going to visit to check if these are okay with the guests. I change the itinerary if they would like to see anything specific.
  • If the guests are unfamiliar with taking public transportation, I spend a little time to teach them how to buy LRT tokens and show them how to use the GrabCar app.
  • If all is well, we will then buy a token to go to Pasar Seni LRT Station (Central Market).

00:10 Pasar Seni LRT Station

  • During the ride, I point out the old KTM Railway Station, talk about its architecture.
  • Point out the Klang River and explain the origin of the name Kuala Lumpur.
  • Explain a little bit about KL/Malaysia history (major tin exporter, turn agriculture, turn manufacturing and k-economy).
  • Point out Kompleks Dayabumi and its Islamic-inspired architecture.

Arch Collection Kebaya

00:15 Central Market (Pasar Seni)

  • Before entering CM, give a little backstory about the building and what the guests can expect to see in there.
  • Start with the shops on the LEFT side: the shop lanes are divided into 4 categories – Little India, Malay Street, Little China and Peranakan.
  • Explain a little bit about the various races and cultures, the rise and fall of Melaka, colonization by the various European super powers (and the reasons why).
  • Bring them to the Arch Collection shop on the RIGHT side to show the guests examples of wood carving. I always point out the Baju Kebaya and the traditional Malay House.
  • Somewhere in the middle lane there is this great little (un-named) stall that sells various figurines in traditional costumes. This is good stop to show the guests our traditional and matrimonial costumes. The shopgirl is very nice so don’t be shy to ask for her permission to use her stall as a showcase.

00:45 Central Market Annexe Gallery and Flea Market

  • If they have interest in arts and books, take them to the Annexe Gallery.
    Then turn right into the open flea market on Jalan Hang Kasturi and walk all the way down to Jalan Tun H.S. Lee to get to Petaling Street.
  • Usually this is when I will ask the group if they would like to stop for a quick teh tarik and roti canai break. Btw, being a greeter is a voluntary thing therefore you should not expect your guests to pay you for your time or expenses. If you were the one who suggested the stop, please pick up the bill. If the guests request for it, do pay for your own meal.
  • Explain about roti canai and teh tarik and other kinds of food that are staples to the Malaysian diet like nasi lemak, laksa, durian etc. I usually order 4 kinds of drinks and ask the guests to try them: teh tarik, milo ais, nescafe ais and teh o ais. This is a good time to whip out any youtube video on teh tarik so that the guests can see how it is made.

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00:50 Petaling Street

  • This is where you can coax the guests to try various street food (if you are up to it). I usually use this time to let them soak in the sight and atmosphere.
  • If the guests are interested in buying anything, help them to haggle.

01:00 Jalan Tun H.S. Lee – Guan Di Temple

  • Explain about the road and why it was renamed Jalan Tun H. S. Lee.
    Talk a little bit about our road to independence, integration and so on.
  • Stop at Guan Di (aka Kuan Ti) Temple on the left side of the road.
  • Explain about the two lions and the Door Gods that are guarding the door, and about Guan Di deity.
  • During day time, usually guests would spend quite a bit of time here to take photos.

01:15 Jalan Tun H. S. Lee – Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

  • This temple is only about a minute’s walk away from Guan Di Temple.
    You will be asked to remove your shoes before you enter. It is customary to donate a small amount of money when you retrieve your shoes.
  • Briefly talk about its history, point out deities and scenes from Ramayana; segue into Thaipusam and Batu Caves, puja prayers etc. To be honest, this is where I am weakest so I need to learn more about this temple so that I could be more accurate when talking about it to the guests. The temple itself is calm, serene and magnificent.

01:30 MRT Pasar Seni or Pasar Seni LRT Station

  • Walk towards the end the road and then turn right at the traffic light. I usually ask guests if they would like to take the MRT to go to Bukit Bintang, or if they would like to go to KLCC Twin Towers. For this article, let’s assume they choose KLCC.
  • Go back to Pasar Seni LRT Station, point out the free GoKL bus and explain to them that they can hop on/off any time and to refer to the KL Map in order to check the area that individual buses cover. If guests would like to go to Little India, I would take them to Brickfields (via Nu Sentral) and end the Greet there.

01:35 KLCC LRT Station

  • There are several things to do here. Check if they want to go to the Petronas Galeri, Petrosains, Observation Deck, MPO or Akuaria; tell them the entrance fees to help them consider if these are right for them.
  • Take them to KLCC Park lookout point so that they can take photos of the Twin Towers; if the greet takes place at night, take a break and sit on the steps by the fountain to enjoy the light show.

02:00 KLCC C Level (Concourse), near Maybank/Guardian

  • Point out the route to Akuaria/KL Convention Centre and give them directions to Pavilion/Bukit Bintang.

That’s it. The Greet ends here. I normally teach the guests how to do salam the Malay way, ask them to text or call me if they get lost or need assistance, wish them happy holidays and let them be on their way.

QUESTIONS?

These are the Top 3 questions that I get whenever I do a greet:

  1. Why does everyone in Malaysia seem to be able to speak in English
  2. How are Malaysians able to accept and be respectful of each other’s religion? (Usually asked after we go to Guan Di Temple and Sri Maha Mariamman Temple.)
  3. How do Malaysians learn to live together when there are so many different races and cultures? (Always when we stop for a teh tarik and roti canai break.)
  4. Bonus question: As a Muslim woman, don’t you think wearing the hijab is repressive and a means for the religion to control woman?

I have also been asked about the palm oil controversy (the unethical clearing of forests and that palm oil is bad for you), the quality of water (somehow, European travel guides mislead tourists into believing that our tap water is dangerous — I was told that some of the guests were even advised to use bottled water to brush their teeth and to never order iced drinks coz you could get a tummy ache!), and of course, Islam and life as a female Malay Muslim.

Keen? You sign up as a Greeter, then once you are vetted, the network will start sending you requests that match your preference. If you want to join me in my next Greet so that you can see how it is being done, hit me in the comments section!

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Final Fantasy XV: A Review

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STORYLINE
I have been delaying playing the final chapter of Final Fantasy XV (FF15) for weeks. No more. Over the weekend, I took the plunge and walked Noctis Lucis Caelum to his ascension as the True King.

FF15 storyline is straightforward: two countries are at war and an unexplained darkness, called Starscourge, is engulfing the world, making daylight shorter and shorter. The only person who could hold the Starscourge back is Lunafreya, an Oracle (priestess) from the land of Tenebrae. Over centuries, Oracles of Tenebrae have been journeying across warring lands to seek people who have been afflicted by Starscourge and heal them. However, the Oracle’s more important (and concealed) role is to communicate with the Six Astrals (Titan, Ramuh, Shiva, Ifrit, Leviathan and Bahamut) and plead them to forge covenants and lend their power to the True King so that he may rise and end the war and rid the world of the Starscourge once and for all.

At the start of the game, 20-years old crown prince Noctis Lucis Caelum, is sent out by his father King Regis on a journey with three Crownsguard (fancy way of saying bodyguards). He is to be married to Lunafreya – an arrangement that is part of the peace agreement between Nilfheim and Lucis after centuries of war. Throughout the journey, you will come to learn that Noctis is the prophesied True King, although what that means is unclear until the last two chapters.

The game is all about this journey. That’s it. I was expecting intrigues, plot twists, betrayals et cetera. Nope. Just 4 guys in a car, stopping at towns and cities, doing things that 4 guys would do – shop, cook, eat, sleep, accept Hunts for monsters (as we all do), play video games, look at wedding dresses (you’ll see), ride big chickens (Chocobos!) and so on.

This realisation came to me at about 26 hours into the game. I was wondering when the main story would start. Then it hit me: this WAS the story. The game’s heart is in the friendship that this 4 young men share and how they grow up and come to accept the responsibility and consequences of their shared destiny. This sneaky game tricks you into bonding with all of them that you feel their triumphs and losses as keenly as you would your own best friends. It came to a point where I stopped playing the game and walked away as I didn’t want to go through the inevitable. This, despite having watched the end scenes repeatedly and preparing myself mentally for it. No other games in recent times, except for Crisis Core maybe, has moved me this much. The four’s last shared cut scene outside the throne room, where Prompto openly wept, “No turning back now,” is absolutely heartbreaking. I, too, wept openly.

The opening scene says it all. Prompto putting off the fire from Noctis’ outfit. Ignis calling out to Noctis and Gladiolus grabbing him to safety. All three crouching over Noctis to shield him from Ifrit’s firestorm at the risk of losing their own lives. Ignis handing Noctis a potion, and in a calm and soothing voice said, “Here you go,”. Prompto and Gladiolus running towards danger in order to give Noctis a second to catch his breath.

“Noct, hang in there buddy. Stay down. We’ll keep him busy.”

“Noct, over here quickly before he strikes again.”

“I got your back.”

“Let’s go.”

Once the game is over and you replay this opening scene, you will appreciate its significance with alarming clarity.

GAMEPLAY
The single player mode takes a lot of getting used to but once I got the hang of it, I think this is the best combat system in any Final Fantasy games and I look forward to the Final Fantasy VII remake which looks like it’s using the same system (in attack mode, at least). I have complaints – the camera is buggy and at times obscures my view of the battle, parries and dodges only require the push of a button rather than a series of complicated button sequences, summonses are completely random.

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Pic (c) theverticalslice.com

But overall, I feel I have a lot of control over the battles. Weapons and magic are not chosen based on its attack strength. In fact more than ever, you need to be tactical about it (however, years of playing Final Fantasy kinda clued me in on which weapons and magic are best used on which enemies so in that sense I had unfair advantage). Even choosing what to eat is a tactical decision – certain meals are best to boost attack or lend temporary increase in HP, some are to provide immunity from conditions like poison, toad and confusion and some are to give you critical hit advantage but only when fighting higher level bosses.

The AP ascension system is easy to use and understand although it lacks the kind of flexibility that you get in Final Fantasy X. Levelling up is also easy, by that I don’t mean that the bosses are easy to defeat. What I mean is, experience points are tallied only when you go to sleep. So, if you want to level up quickly, spend the next two hours killing stuff and NOT GOING TO SLEEP, accumulate 10,000 Gil then go to the most expensive hotel in Galdin Quay and cash all that stacked experience in one go. Sleeping at hotels multiplies your experience; while sleeping at camps allows you to cook stats-boosting meals and gain AP. So you need to balance it – do you want AP or experience? Cook your meals or buy them? Decisions, decisions.

This game has high playability. Free-roaming aside (which gives you plenty to do and see and explore), the number of quests, hunts and post-game quests are enough to keep even the most dedicated occupied. I left the game at 164 hours and I haven’t killed a single optional bosses or obtained ultimate weapons yet so I can see myself racking up 300 hours on this game easily.

GRAPHICS AND MUSIC
Frankly I don’t think it is fair to make this assessment. As technology evolves and consoles become more powerful, of course the graphics will be more beautiful too. But yes, Final Fantasy XV is beautiful. Dungeons are scary and anxiety-inducing and the open world is vast and expansive as far as your Chocobo can take you.

I find the voice acting is better in English than in Japanese (it was the other way around for Final Fantasy X). Since the excellent voice acting in Final Fantasy XII (I still can’t get over Balthier’s drawl and Fran’s scottish accent), SquareEnix has done this right this time around too. The Japanese version sounds too ‘young’ and indistinguishable to me. I went back and forth every few hours before deciding to stick to the English version.

Ignis’ voice has the right kind of kindness and gravitas (and the Brit accent, very hot, I approve); Gladiolus has a sonorous growl that walks that tight balance between loyalty and frustration over what he perceives as his inability to guard Noctis properly; Prompto’s is bright and annoying (when you learn about his backstory you will understand why he overcompensates on everything!). I actually yelled at Prompto to shut up as I was exploring dungeons as his constant yapping added to my anxiety. Noctis’ is soft but regal, decidedly inexperienced, but always polite with a touch of sadness. It reminds me very much of Billy Crudup’s interpretation of Prince Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke. Ardyn Izunia’s voice is smooth as silk but dripping with venom – I think the voice actor had a lot of fun doing this and this is probably the best voice acting in the game.

I love the music immediately. Again this is not fair because I have been listening to Somnus for TEN YEARS when this game was still known as Versus. Yoko Shimamura overdid herself. You go girl. If I have a complain it would be a small one and can’t even be considered a complain. You see, Nobuo Uematso has a sense of playfulness and lightness in his music. Even when the story line is grim like in Final Fantasy X and the music is incredibly sad, Uematsu still manages to be whimsical. Shimamura’s music, on the other hands, is the complete opposite. Her compositions, while lush and immersive, don’t have Uematsu’s light touch or whimsy. But that said, she has a talent to deliver the unexpected.

Noctis’ theme, for example, surprises me because it was so soft and temperate. I would have done it in an angrier and more conflicted style. During the Abbey Road live concert, Shimamura explained that she wrote Noctis’ theme this way because she wanted to convey the weight of destiny and Noctis’ internal monologue about situation that he is in, letting the emotional resonance seeping in slowly. I don’t agree with her interpretation. But, if you think about this piece and how Noctis is voice-acted, he is never portrayed as angry or misunderstood or as an outcast (well hello there, Cloud). And he doesn’t know what being the True King means so he is not conflicted or resentful about the journey that he has to take. The earlier irritation that he displayed is directed at his father for sending him away before the peace treaty, in what he perceives as trading the lives of the nation for the sake of saving a son, as he believes the King should have put the nation first. And when Noctis understands what is required of him, there is no tantrums or why me’s either, he simply accepts it and soldiers on. So, I get what Shimamura wants to convey, but I still don’t agree. I think, above all, Noctis possesses a steely determination to do right by his people, and that quiet strength and fire do not come across in Noctis theme. But, potato, potato.

(OK I am getting way too involved here!)

My favourite piece is, of course, Somnus. It has been covered extensively, and my favourite version is this one:

CONCLUSION
I truly love this game. I give it a high 8 out of 10. As an introduction to Final Fantasy to new gamers, it is easy enough to get into without having to understand the full backstory and history of Final Fantasy games. It certainly exceeded my expectations. I must admit, I was ready for it to suck like Final Fantasy VIII and XIII and its permutations but I am happy that it didn’t.

Is it the best Final Fantasy game ever? For me, that distinction still lies with Final Fantasy VII – a great hero, an even greater villain, a tragic heroine, a motley group of odd people who comes together to save the world, a very immersive storyline… wow I can’t say enough good things about this one.

But all said and done, Final Fantasy XV is a worthy successor to the name.

The game ends with perhaps the most beautiful music in the soundtrack called “Dewdrops at Dawn” and a shot of four camping chairs at the lookout point, facing the crown city of Insomnia in the distance as light slowly shines back on the world of Eos.

“Walk tall, my friends.”

ff15end

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Siti Britney Goes to London

This tiny little book is going on an aeroplane and heading to London! Get a copy now by tweeting @zarn_G, @opzaharin or @studioanaianai (RM20 + RM6 postage).

BeFunky Designlondoncalling

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31 Days (Nights) of Rain is here!

My debut with indie publisher Studio Anai-Anai is (finally) born!

The book is sold at RM20 per copy, please add RM6 for postage (Malaysia only).

To purchase, place your order with:

  • Whatsapp: 0193681917 (Zaini)
  • FB Messenger: Mohzan OP-Zaharin

Or visit Studio Anai-Anai’s booth at Kotakata @ Kota Buku at Parkson, Maju Junction this Saturday (26 March 2016).

You can also purchase limited copies of signed and numbered books (1-100) at RM30nett (including postage). For these, write directly to sitibritney@gmail.com. RM5 will be donated under your name to Cancer Research Malaysia for each book sold. Purchases of 10 books and above will make you eligible for tax exemption.

What are you waiting for, little darlings?

31 Days of Rain book cover

 

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Siti Britney’s Coming!

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You see the book with the umbrella on the cover? That’s Siti Britney’s maiden book under the indie label. It will be launched real soon. Sit tight!

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Eulogy for Phone #59

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It is with great sadness that I announce the horrifying demise of phone #59 last night at approximately 7:45pm. I dropped the phone onto the road as I exited the car. I was completely unaware of this fact, of course. The phone was discovered when guests at the CNY dinner heard a loud crack and one of them went to the road to see what was the cause. There, she found the mangled, broken body of the victim lying face down, its screen smashed into a thousand, little pieces. Death was instantaneous.

Previous causes of phone deaths include, but not limited to, drowning in the washing machine, committing suicide by jumping into the toilet hole in Shell Kelana Jaya restroom, abandonement at the immigration desk in Changi airport and, most famously, by hiding in the backseat of various taxis all over the world. However, I must admit that last night’s death was by far the most sadistic in my long and proud history of murdering mobile phones.

Before I conclude this eulogy, here’s some house announcement:

1) As the micro SIM card cannot be inserted into my spare (basic) phone, I shall be incommunicado intermittently until I get a new phone or get a temporary number to tide me over;

2) I am able to use facebook messenger when I am at home or at the office or wherever there is internet access. But, if you call me or text me and I do not respond, it doesn’t mean that I am a snob or that I hate you and I have changed my number in order to avoid you. Maybe I do but that’s a different story;

3) With regards to item 1, I so the very welcome any phone donation, new or old. For the uninitiated, I have ceased buying my own phone since June 2010 due to the fact that I kill or lose them very often. Please note that usually I carry two numbers — office and personal. The incapacitated phone was my personal one. Since I am starting a new job soon, I have yet to be issued an office phone. Til then, see item 2.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the donor who gave me this phone. Despite its gruesome death, this phone lasted a little over 6 months, which in itself is some kind of a record. Bravo.

On that note, please join me in a moment of silence to mourn phone #59. RIP Pink Motorola. May you find peace in mobile phone heaven, if there is such a thing.

(I wonder what phone #60 would look like.)

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