Highway 2 Code

Highway 2 Code

Back in May, I graduated from the Kajaani UAS with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration. My education and hard work during the studies helped me to land a good job after graduation, despite these difficult times. I now work as the Quality Assurance Manager at NetBaron Solutions, a Finnish B2B software company. Work is good, and I like where my career is going. Despite this, however, I want to stay hungry, and I want to keep on learning.

On the day of my graduation, I received the information that I had been accepted to the Highway 2 Code program. H2C is a six months continuing education program organised by many Finnish UASs, including the Kajaani UAS. Subjects covered during the module include Linux OS, C-programming, DevOps Basic, Embedded Python Programming, databases and data sources in IoT system, Full Stack Web Development with Vue.js and Node.js, and an IoT project.

My BBA studies revolved around project management in software development, and my current job continues on the same trajectory. While I do have a basic understanding of a few of the technical subjects mentioned above, most are very much new to me. I do not want to become a programmer, but I do want to have a wide understanding of all the various areas of software development. This was my motivation for enrolling in the H2C program.

Hopefully, in half a year or so, I will be writing my thoughts on the program, and also my next plans. In the meanwhile, it's back working and studying.


Reflections on Personal Productivity

Origins

I find myself fortunate to have grown up in the 1990s and 2000s. While computers came to my life in Mid-2000s and pulled me to the digital world of games and forums, I still got to have a taste of an analog childhood. Unfortunately, I got addicted to video games in my early teens, and this bad and unproductive lifestyle continued to my Mid-20s. Eventually, I happened to chance on a way to kickstart my life. In this post, I will talk about the tools and methods that I have picked up along the way to increased productivity. I have learned about many of these by reading, which is why I will also talk about books that have influenced me and taught me lessons about productivity.

Open Loops

Having organised my life with a to-do list for a couple of years now, I would find it difficult to live without one. It's the core of my personal productivity system. My first taste of a to-do list goes back to 2013 when I was planning a holiday trip with my brother to Nice in the French Riviera. There arose a need to keep track of all the preparations, but I didn't have a system to capture all the 'open loops'. As a solution, I plotted a rough to-do list on a random piece of paper, and ticked the boxes as the preparations proceeded. The holiday was a success, and while the paper was lost somewhere amidst the chaos, the positive experience of using a to-do list stayed in the back of my mind.

In early 2018, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity‎ by David Allen. In the book, Allen describes the GTD productivity method. Essentially, the method focuses on creating a system that helps you to keep track of your commitments without having to recall everything by yourself, thus releasing cognitive capacity and creativity. My biggest takeaway from the book was the to-do list, which can be divided into smaller lists to capture different aspects of your life. The GTD method is not, however, limited to to-do lists, and it is recommended to read the book regularly to find new perspectives that you might have missed during your previous reads.

Tracking

Since I was already using a physical planner at the time of learning about GTD, I made my first to-do list on its back cover. Despite being a student in an IT field, I was initially more comfortable with writing all the tasks and commitments down with my own hand. Ticking a box with a check mark after completing a task is always satisfying. Indeed, for around a year and a half, I tracked all my doings on physical to-do lists. It was only in late 2019 when the macOS Catalina update was released that I transitioned to digital productivity tools. Being an Apple user, I could now use the Reminders app as my to-do list, and it would sync all the tasks with my phone and even with my smart watch.

In around 9 months that I have used the Reminders app, I have completed 700 tasks, which would be around 2.5 tasks per day. I have four types of lists in my configuration, and each type consists of several lists: Projects (Personal, Professional), Action Steps (Personal, Professional, Relationship, Education Repeated), Waiting for (Personal, Others), and Others (One Day, Acute Purchases). A good aspect of using a digital tool is being able to change the configuration easily. Anyways, the number of 'Uncompleted' tasks usually hovers above 40, since I use the app to store long-term items. By the way, one day it would be cool to get some graphs for the app and also make it more gamified like the Todoist app.

Clarifying

One tool that I have never considered making digital is my diary. I have kept a diary on and off since early 2010s, and I have accumulated a big stack of old diaries. So what are the benefits of keeping a diary? Whereas a to-do list captures 'open loops' that are actionable, a diary captures and clarifies emotions. Both tools complement each other and help increase one's mental clarity. In my experience, the secret to keeping a diary consistently is keeping the diary somewhere you can see it, and also making the writing habit a regular one but short in duration. In addition to writing in a diary, I also enjoy writing on this blog, which serves as my creative outlet.

Atomic Habits by James Clear is another influential book that I have read recently. Maintaining a productive lifestyle requires productive habits. Habits can be engineered to an extent by using various methods introduced in the book. This is an area where I still have lots of room to improve. One important takeaway from the book was the idea of an Annual Review. At the end of the year, you estimate how well you did in different areas of your life. I started using an adapted version of the Annual Review, and I also make Annual Goals in the beginning of the year plus an Integrity Report in the middle of the year. This is my first year using these tools, so I am curious to see what effect they will have.

Organising

Since I work in IT, it is easy for me to take advantage of various digital tools. Personally, I love making Excel spreadsheets. I track my personal budget and my 10 Year Plan on an Excel, I have Excels for interesting books and entertainment, and more. My friend once told me: "Teemu, you have an Excel for everything!". I'm particularly proud about my budget spreadsheet that I have probably spent more than 100 hours working on. I can now easily plan my finances several years ahead with a great degree of accuracy. I'm also in the process of making an Excel inventory of my book and game collection, so I will know where everything is stored.

I'm a fanatic when it comes to storing digital files and backing them up. I have my full digital history backed up on encrypted external storages, which I store in multiple locations. It might seem like an overkill for an average person to have, but I see the value in preservering my digital footprint in this digital age. I also keep all my physical documents and letters, and store them in yearly folders. One project for the future would be to scan all the documents and make a digital backup of them. Maybe this would give me a peace of mind about them? In my opinion, being organised both in your physical life and digital life is an important aspect of being productive.

Experimenting

In early 2019, I was juggling my studies, a job, and other commitments. I had to spend more than twelve hours a day on my laptop each day of the week, and I was on the verge of a burnout. However, I had an idea. On Saturday evening, I would unplug all my electronics and hide all the clocks in the apartment. When I woke up on Sunday morning, I would have no idea what time it was, and I would go to sleep when it was dark. I would spend the day reading newspapers and doing other hobbies that didn't require me to have an internet connection. While this extreme habit only lasted a couple of months amidst a busy part of my life, I still remember the increased sense of presence it gave me.

Right now, I'm looking into meditation. Meditation is another way to increase your sense of presence, and it also includes healthy breathing exercises. I recently downloaded the Headspace meditation app, and my plan is to meditate a couple of minutes each day before going to bed. Hopefully, this will result in a better quality of sleep and better productiveness the next day. I'm also experimenting with a new concept for Sundays. Instead of unplugging, I spend some time by chatting with my friends from all over the world. I call it the Social Sunday. Anyways, experimenting with new habits is a great way to find something that can work for you, and this open-minded attitude has brought me where I am now.

Learning

Being productive also requires finding a balance between being productive and being unproductive. In my opinion, both extremes are bad. Something that I would like to learn is to relax without feeling guilt. Sometimes you just want to do something, even while knowing that what you actually need is rest. When I feel tired but still want to use my time well, I usually like to learn something. Sometimes I end up on YouTube where I am subscribed to a ton of documentary channels, my favourites talking about big tech companies. Sometimes I open Steam and play a game, my current choice being Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. A little procrastination is not the end of the world, I think.


Studying Game Development at the Kajaani UAS

Origins

On a winter morning in early 2017, I was sitting on the couch with a game controller on my lap. I was taking a break from gaming and browsing the Pelaaja magazine. It's a popular gaming magazine in Finland. On the back cover of the magazine, I saw an ad that would later change my life. It was an ad for the Game Development Studies program at the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences in Kajaani, Northern Finland. I remember looking at the ad for a while and pondering. At the time, I had a low self-esteem and no direction in my life, so something cool like making gaming felt out of my reach. So I threw the magazine on the table and reached for the controller.

Later in the winter, I moved to my own place. It was my late grandmother's cabin in the countryside of Eastern Finland, hundreds of kilometres from my family back in Southern Finland. When I wasn't shoving logs into the oven, I spent most of my time gaming. Every now and then I was also doing a little studying for the entrance exam, since I had decided to apply after all. In the spring, my father took me to the entrance exam in Kajaani. The letter came in the early summer, and I was nervous since I had already been refused from a university some years earlier – twice, actually. The letter said yes, however, and in my mind, a world of opportunities presented itself.

In August, I left the beautiful nature of North Karelia behind and moved with my little possessions to Kajaani. Kajaani is a small town in Kainuu, a province in Northern Finland. Before my visit in Kajaani for the entrance exam, my knowledge about the town was limited to the fact that it existed. Indeed, I only knew the town by name, and that was it. But it didn't bother me, because after spending the past half a year in a cabin in the countryside, entering the student life in Kajaani felt like a fresh change. At the end of the month, I was standing in a circle with other freshmen at the parking lot, doing goofy orientation games and getting to know the other students.

Back at School

Up to the point when I started my studies at the KUAS, I had spent most of my adult life feeling guilt over not having much if anything going on in my life. After graduating from high school, I spent around five years jumping back and forth from doing various odd jobs and traveling in Europe with my younger brother. It was pretty cool to not be tied to anything and to get to visit all the places we went to. However, deep inside I knew that chasing highs wasn't really going to change where I was in life. Now, after going back to school, I finally had a place to channel all the ambition and energy that had accumulated inside me, and I decided to fully embrace it.

The first year autumn semester consisted of general ICT studies such as cyber security in organisations and other mandatory courses such as Swedish. After the autumn semester, it was time to specialise in one of three areas of game development taught at the school: programming, art, or finally, production and design. While I had studied some C++ on my own time a couple of years earlier, I did not really have a passion to become a programmer. Also, since I couldn't even draw a frog, art was out of question as well. I wasn't sure about the design part since it sounded quite abstract, but production seemed interesting, so I ended up specialising in production.

The Game Development program at the Kajaani UAS consistsed mostly of game projects with some related courses here and there. In the beginning of a game project, the students were given by the teachers a rough criteria for what kind of game they would need to make for that course – e.g. a 2D game for mobile or a 3D game for PC. The students would then scatter around and form their own project teams consisting of programmers, artists, a designer, and a producer. The last two roles sometimes overlapped in that one person would take care of both, which was, of course, discouraged, and sometimes teams would have to survive without one or the other.

Distractions

Despite all my excitement for my new chance, I noticed during the first autumn semester that I was becoming increasingly withdrawn and had hard time socialising with the other students. This presented a major problem, because producing is essentially project management and requires excellent interpersonal skills. What I did not know about myself at that point was that I am in fact an introvert. An introvert has only a limited amount of social energy, and after it has been consumed, they become drained and feel the need to withdraw and recharge. I felt like I did not have what it would take to be successful at producing, and started regretting putting myself in that position.

Thinking back, the negative mentality that I had about my own capabilities closely resembles what has been described as the "impostor syndrome". Those who experience this phenomenon, quoting Wikipedia, attribute their success to luck or interpret it as having resulted from deceiving others. Looking at my fellow students who were, on average, several years younger than me, expressed themselves more easily, and even seemed to have a passion for making games, I certainly felt like a hoax. At the end of the first autumn semester, I had almost had enough, and was looking for other study programs where I could just keep my head down.

In the end, I ended up sticking around. I did not really have a plan B and besides, I recognised that I had a major opportunity to change my life for the better. Since I didn't find enjoyment in socialising, I kept myself busy and distracted in other ways, including by volunteering in organising my school's student-run events such as Nordic eSports Academy and Northern Game Summit. I also started an app project with students from the School of Tourism and Sports, and even ended up talking about it on Finnish television. These projects kept me busy even during evenings and weekends, and I did not really mind since I was having something productive to do.

Hong Kong and Japan

During the spring semester, an opportunity represented itself for me to get a fresh change of environment. I received news that I was accepted for a student exchange in Japan. The exchange would be at the beginning of the second year's autumn semester. At my school, students had the opportunity to go on a student exchange twice during their studies. The study program also consisted of a five month internship, which could be completed abroad. Since I exchanged twice and ended up interning at two different companies, both abroad, I went abroad for a total of four times during my studies. However, before my exchange in Japan, I had to find work for the summer.

Through a stroke of good luck, I got accepted for an internship in Hong Kong. I now had around four weeks to prepare for my first trip in Asia. The three month internship revolved around digital marketing of Japanese kawaii products. It did not have much to do with games, but I didn't mind since I had a chance to see the world and prepare for my exchange in Japan. I spent the weekends hiking, exploring the city, participating in events and meetups, and also visited Macau and Shenzhen. Three months went by super fast, and I'm glad that I got to experience Hong Kong before the recent events. Hopefully, peace will one day return to the city.

From Hong Kong, I flew straight to Nagoya in Japan. Japan is a major player in the global video game industry, and naturally, many gamedev students make a pilgrimage there. The two and a half month exchange program took place at the Trident College of Information Technology. I produced a team of Finnish, Japanese, and Singaporean students. We worked on a VR game, which was displayed at the Tokyo Game Show the next year. On my free time, I explored the businesslike city of Nagoya and its surroundings, including Gifu, Korankei Gorge, and Kyoto. After the exchange was over, I took a Shinkansen to Tokyo and spent the Christmas exploring the megacity.

Interim

After almost half a year abroad, I flew back to Finland to spend the New Year with my family. While in Japan, I had received two pieces of good news. First news was that I got a part-time job in a construction and software company back in Kajaani. I could now earn some extra money, and I could even work remotely on my laptop. The second news was that I was accepted on another exchange program, this time to Singapore in the next summer. I was now back in Kajaani for half a year, and I spent my days studying, working, and exercising. I remember that half a year period as one of the busiest but also as one of the most productive periods in my life.

Back at the school, I noticed that my experience abroad had helped me to grow as a person. Of course, it did not magically change me to a new person. However, it did result in new friends and myself becoming more confident in expressing myself. I still had a lot to improve in many aspects, but noticing this change certainly gave me hope. In my opinion, going on a student exchange gives you the opportunity to experience and find your own place in a new social setting with new people. Putting yourself in new situations will likely result in finding new aspects of yourself. For me, this kind of repetition was important. As they say, repetition is the key to learning.

Before going to Singapore, I had some loose ends that I wanted to tie up. The app project that I had started in my first year was still in progress, but only namely. The original goal was to launch an online platform where people could connect locally and set up their organic hobbyist groups. Reflecting on my own experience, I wanted to reduce social exclusion among young and elderly people. In the end, we did not have the time that was needed to finish the app, as I was now working and the other students were about to graduate. Recognising this, we decided to put the idea back to the drawing board and step back with a year and a half worth of great experiences together.

Singapore and Portugal

In the middle of June in 2019, I landed at Changi Airport for my three month exchange in Singapore. Due to the small land area of the city-state, the campuses, including that of my school, Nanyang Polytechnic, were huge and housed tens of thousands of students. In Singapore, I reunited with my Singaporean friends whom I had met while in Japan, and also had a friend come over from Hong Kong. At the school, I produced as many as three game projects simultaneously. Outside of school, I went out with a Filipino woman and explored the small island with her, and we even visited Malaysia and Indonesia. When it was time to leave, I was reluctant, since I knew that I had met my future wife.

From Singapore, I flew to straight to Portugal. I was accepted for a two and a half month internship in a Lisbon-based startup called Doppio Games. I worked as a Production Coordinator, and got to be part of the launch of Doppio's latest voice-guided game, The 3% Challenge. In Lisbon, I had less time for exploring – spending the nights out while in Singapore had left me with a backlog of uncompleted school assignments. The highlight of my internship was representing Doppio at Web Summit, the largest tech event in the world. After the internship was over, I flew back to Finland for 10 days, and then flew to the Philippines for a well-deserved two and a half month holiday.

Finishing the Studies

I finally returned to Finland in Mid-February to finish my studies. I was well ahead of schedule since I only had to finish my thesis to graduate. Normally, it takes around three and a half years to complete BBA studies in Finland, but I completed the mandatory internships early on and also took advantage of my job to complete some courses. My return coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the school to switch to remote teaching. Luckily, the special arrangements did not affect me, since I would have written the thesis at home anyways. I wrote the thesis about voice game, and the thesis was commissioned by the game company I interned at.

Looking back, the highlights of my studies were the student exchanges I made to Japan and Singapore, and the internships I completed in Hong Kong and Portugal. I also fondly remember the RYE Connect conference at the Levi Ski Resort in Lapland in early 2018, the Young Entrepreneurs' finals in Helsinki in the spring of 2018, Nordic eSports Academy in Kajaani in the summer of 2018, and the Nordic Health Hackathon competition in Helsinki in early 2019. All these experiences were voluntary, and required me to use my own time and resources to make them happen. I could have stayed in the comfort of my own home, but instead, I left my comfort zone and did not regret it.

Lessons Learned

One of the first assignments given to us at the beginning of our studies was to create a LinkedIn profile. I was initially reluctant, but then realised the professional value of having one. The opportunities that I enjoyed during my studies were partly due to the fact that I spent time building a strong LinkedIn profile and networking with people. However, I recognise that it has sometimes been difficult to find a balance between focusing on the depth of learning and experiences as opposed to constantly seeking what one would call "good resume material". My advise would be to try to find a good balance between the two while not forgetting either, because I have seen people do both.

I am an avid reader, and there are a few books that influenced me and contributed to my personal growth during my studies. The most influential books that I read during my studies were Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, which introduced me to the GTD productivity method, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, which helped me to better understand myself, and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, which helped me to achieve a better focus in my professional life. For anyone out there looking for personal growth, I would suggest looking into these books.

During my studies, I developed a habit of utilising three productivity tools that I rely on a daily basis. These tools are a to-do list, a calendar, and a diary. The to-do list and calendar help me to keep track of my commitments without me having to remember everything by myself, and I use them in accordance with the GTD method. The calendar helps me to keep track of what is going on inside my own head, and thus supplements the other two tools. For anyone who would like to look into improving their productivity, I would suggest looking into the GTD method described in David Allen's book. I might want to write about productivity on my blog in the future, so be sure to be on the lookout for that.

Final Words

Enrolling in the Game Development studies at the Kajaani UAS has been the single best decision of my life. After 2 years and 9 months of studying, I graduated to a new life full of opportunities and optimism, and also challenges to overcome. It all goes back to the ad I saw by chance at the back of that gaming magazine. I was at one point tempted thank that ad for changing the course of my life. However, I realised that it would have meant crediting everything to luck and ignoring all my hard work. That ad was an opportunity, which I, myself decided to take, and it lead to other opportunities, some of which I also decided to take. And those decisions lead me to where I am today.

Wow, this turned out to be a long post!


Done With My Bachelor's Thesis - It's About Voice Games

I Wrote a Thesis About Voice Games

In late 2019, I spent two and a half months interning at Doppio Games in Portugal. For a brief introduction, Doppio Games is a Lisbon-based startup game studio that makes voice games that can be played on virtual assistants. Doppio's previous work include The Vortex (2018) and The 3% Challenge (2019), the latter on which I also worked on during my internship. After the internship, I was commissioned to write a thesis about voice games. Despite studying video games full-time, I did not know much about this new frontier of voice-guided games, and since I saw the thesis as a good learning opportunity, I said yes.

I began writing in late February, just after returning to Finland after two and a half months in the Philippines. Unfortunately, my return coincided with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. To comply with social distancing, I stayed inside while having many distractions but no excuses on not focusing on writing. In the end, it took me around four to five weeks of full-time writing to finish the thesis, though the writing project itself was spread on a period of around eight weeks. I finally returned the thesis at the end of April. The thesis is publicly available for free, and is available on the Theseus platform.

So remind me again, what was the thesis about? Sure, it's about voice games – games that you can interact with by using your own voice. Some games do this by using speech recognition, so the game appears to understand what you are saying. In case you are curious about what kinds of games actually have these kinds of voice interaction features, I included in the final pages a table of 114 games that I covered in the thesis. There are actually I couple I would like to try myself, including Seaman and Alien: Isolation. Anyways, my studies are now almost wrapped up, and I can expect graduating later this month!


Two and a Half Months in the Philippines

Background

2019 was the busiest year of my life, and also the most productive one – but with a cost. After returning to Finland in late November after exchanging in Singapore in the summer and interning in Portugal in the autumn, I decided that I needed a break. Despite having usually been healthy and rarely sick, I was now feeling stressed out and was constantly sick. Luckily, my game development studies were progressing smoothly and were well ahead of schedule, which is why I had an opportunity to take some time off and fly to the Philippines.

Philippines in a nutshell

With a population of almost 20 times bigger and a cheerful and collectivistic culture that encourages self-expression and socialising, Philippines is quite unlike Finland. Filipinos are very outgoing and friendly, and speak good English due to the country's history. Philippines also spent 333 years under Spanish rule, which left the country a hispanic heritage in culture, language, and ethnicity. Philippines is a religious country with a catholic majority, and as the only Christian nation in Asia, Philippines' geographical location in South-East Asia is indeed curious against this backdrop.

Philippines is a beautiful country that consists of thousands of islands. The biggest one is Luzon, which is located in the northern part of the archipelago with the capital region of Metro Manila. In the south is the second-largest island, Mindanao, with the Metro Davao region. Between Luzon and Mindanao lies the third primary geographical region of the Philippines, the Visayas archipelago, which has the Metro Cebu region. Philippines is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and there are over 20 active volcanoes in the country.

Stopover in Hong Kong

My flight from Finland to Manila flew through Hong Kong, which was in the middle of protests. Since the airport had also been affected by the protests during autumn, I was concerned that my flight might get cancelled. In the end, everything went fine, even though it felt a little eery to look outside through the terminal's windows during the stopover and reflect on how much had changed since my stay in 2018. The flight from Hong Kong to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila was only around 2 hours, though there was a little turbulence when approaching the islands.

Greeted by a typhoon

When I was in the passport control, my smartwatch started beeping because of a typhoon alert. After having slept only a little over 1 hour during the previous night, I was too tired to pay too much attention to it. Travelling between NAIA's terminals was a little challenging, and I had to take a 15-minute taxi ride to go around the runways from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3. Since it was early afternoon and still within the office hours, the infamous Manila Traffic was not yet at its peak. After meeting my girlfriend at the other terminal, we booked a Grab to take us quickly to Tagaytay.

Tagaytay, located around 60 km south of Manila, is a popular tourist destination known for its altitude, cooler climate, and the Taal Volcano. On our escape from Manila, we managed to avoid the traffic, but the sky was looking grim because of the approaching typhoon. After checking in at our Airbnb condominium, I made the mistake of choosing comfort over safety, and thus decided to get some sleep instead of buying food supplies. The typhoon, named as Tisoy, got stronger during the night. In the morning, the wind was howling strongly and the visibility outside was close to zero.

Our condominium was high up in the tallest building in the area. Because our balcony faced north, the direction from where the wind and water was coming, the window insulations gave up quickly and water started pouring inside. The morning was spent in miserable conditions since there was little food and the water seemed to find its way everywhere. However, the maintenance supplied us with dry towels, and I managed to sneak outside at one point to buy some food. Luckily, the typhoon only lasted a couple of days and, after that, we had an opportunity to start exploring.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Exploring Tagaytay

After the typhoon was over, things got back to normal fairly quickly. Because Philippines experiences over 20 typhoons per year, Filipinos see lots of them in their lifetime. However, the typhoon was not the only natural calamity in storage for the people of Tagaytay. Because the Taal Volcano is such a prominent part of the landscape, I made the stupid suggestion that we should visit the volcano island and possibly even swim in its crater lake. However, my girlfriend opposed to this. Only a month later, in Jan 2020, the Taal Volcano erupted, and the little lake was evaporated.

Because of the beautiful and ethereal scenery, Tagaytay has many Starbucks overlooking the lake and the volcano. In my opinion, the one next to the SMDC Wind Residences condominium buildings has the best view. Another place with a good view of the area is the Tagaytay Picnic Grove, where there are lots of snacks and seats available. Our visit to Tagaytay coincided with the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, or SEA Games, which had a couple of venues in Tagaytay. We didn't feel like joining the crowds, which were causing traffic jams on the streets, and followed the competition on television.

One interesting place in the Tagaytay area was the mysterious and unfinished Fantasy World theme park. However, because of the recent typhoon, the condition of the road became a concern, and we decided to abandon the idea of going there. There were still many other places to see in Tagaytay proper. For example, as a Finnish person, I was surprised to find a cafe named Kuuma Kaakao. "Kuuma kaakao" is Finnish and means "Hot chocolate". The origin of the name never became clear despite our visit there, but we bought some coffee mugs as proof of our discovery.

Travelling on Philippine roads

After spending a full week in Tagaytay, we headed north to meet my girlfriend's family in Bambang, which is located in the Nueva Vizcaya province. By road, the trip is only around 350 km, which might lead people to miscalculate the travel time to 4–5 hours. For us, it took around 12 hours on a bus. First of all, going through Manila is never a piece of cake because of the traffic. Also, while the area around Manila is relatively flat, the northern part of the Luzon island is covered by the Cordillera Central mountain range, which has to be crossed many times on a windy road.

There are 4 common types of public transportation in the Philippines: tricycles, jeepneys, vans, and buses. Tricycles, which are popular in the rural areas, are basically motorcycles with covered sidecars, and are for-hire on short distances. Jeepneys, on the other hand, are colourfully decorated buses that travel longer distances on set routes. Vans are minivans that, like jeepneys, travel on set long-distance routes, but with fewer people, fewer stops, and pricier tickets. Bus is the most comfortable way of traveling, but the lack of timetables makes stopping the correct one a process of trial & error.

Baler and Dipaculao

After settling down in Bambang and establishing it as our base of operations, we headed in Mid-December to have a short beach holiday in the east coast of the island. Our first stop was Baler, which is the capital of the Aurora province. Baler is known for its high waves, which makes it a popular surfing destination. To get there, we had to take one bus, two thricycles, and a van. Since we weren't interested in surfing, we only stayed in Baler for one night, during which we checked the beach and walked around the town. For surfing enthusiasts, Baler might be an interesting place to check out.

We, however, were more interested in checking out the Dinadiawan Beach in Dipaculao. On the next morning, we headed out towards Dipaculao, which is a smaller town about a two hour car ride north of Baler. The road between Baler and Dipaculao follows the Sierra Madre mountain range, which again follows the eastern coast of Luzon. The scenery alongside the road is very impressive with the sea and the tall waves visible every now and then. On steeper parts of the road, the engine of our van sounded like it was about to fail but then always just made it.

We dropped off the van around 1 km before Dipaculao, and walked to a beach resort called Sand and Stars, which rents affordable and pre-erected tents for glamorous camping, or glamping. Luckily, Sand and Stars had one more tent left, which we happily accepted. The Dinadiawan Beach is a beautiful and long beach with white sand and big waves. The resort also lived up to its reputation with a beautiful starry sky, the best one I have seen so far. The town of Dipaculao itself is very small, but had a couple of eateries and a market. After a couple of nights, we headed back to Bambang.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Baguio City and Atok

In the end of January, we left Bambang to make a visit to the mountainous Baguio City. Baguio, which is located at an altitude of around 1,5 km, is also known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines due to its cooler climate, and the City of Pines because of the many pine trees growing there. The road between Bambang and Baguio has to cross the Cordillera Central mountain range, which makes the road long, winding, and uncomfortable. The distance of little over 110 km can take around 3–5 hours to complete, depending on the length of the driver's coffee break and the time of the day.

Among the places we visited in Baguio were the Wright Park and The Mansion House, which is the president's summer residence, Mines View Observation Deck, the colourful Valley of Colors housing area, the SM City Baguio shopping mall, and Burnham Park just in the city center. The multi-storied Good Taste Café & Restaurant surprised us with its big and affordable meals. The Korean Place Restaurant, a little outside of the city center, offered some variety. In total, we spent 3 nights in Baguio, and I enjoyed our stay to the extent that I would be interested to revisit it.

After Baguio, we made a one night visit to Atok to the north to visit the Northern Blossom Flower Farm. Located at an altitude of over 2 km, the flower farm is located on a mountain slope surrounded by a beautiful and mountainous scenery. I didn't understand much about the flowers except thay they were beautiful and complemented the picturesque view. From the flower farm you could see Mount Pulag, Luzon's highest peak at 2,926 m, around 15 km to the east. We also visited the nearby Sakura Park, although the trees were not yet in bloom.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

On a honeymoon in Banaue and Batad

In the beginning of February, me and my girlfriend, Rowena, got married in the Philippines. After the ceremony, we went on a honeymoon to see the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad, which were featured in the Avengers movies. Batad Rice Terraces are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes other clusters of nearby rice terraces, which is referred to in the World Heritage List as the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. The jeepney ride from Bambang to Banaue included a change in Solano, and took in total around 3–4 hours.

Banaue is the biggest town in the area, and located at an altitude of over 1 km. When we arrived there, it was raining and the visibility was a poor due to fog over the mountain slopes. The town is divided by geography into several parts, each lying at a different altitude and connected by a downwards winding road. We spent 1 night in Uyami's Green View Lodge and Restaurant, which had an amazing view over the parts below. While the Rice Terraces of Banaue were beautiful, the surroundings were more developed compared to the other rice terraces in the area.

After Banaue, we took a tricycle to Batad. To actually get the, however, we had to take a hike of around 20 minutes over difficult terrain. We spent 1 night in Ramon's Guesthouse Batad, which had a good view over the terraces and a restaurant downstairs. A guide from the guesthouse took us walking around the terraces, which were much bigger than I thought. We also visited the Tappiya Falls, which is a beautiful waterfall around 30 minute hike from the terraces. On the next day, before returning to Bambang, the guide drove us to a place overlooking the nearby Bangaan Rice Terraces.

Summary

During our stay, we stayed exclusively on the main island of Luzon. As mentioned above, we visited Tagaytay next to the Taal Volcano, the surfing town of Baler, the Dinadiawan Beach in Dipaculao, the mountainous Baguio City, the Northern Blossom Flower Farm in Atok, and the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad. Places that I would still like to see in Luzon include the mountainous municipality of Sagada, the Spanish colonial town of Vigan, The Hundred Islands National Park, the Mt. Pinatubo volcano, Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, Masungi Georeserve, and a few other other places.

On our next trip to the Philippines, which is probably some time in the future, we are planning to go outside of Luzon to visit places like El Nido and Palawan, and explore the Visayas area. The beautiful nature and the beautiful people make me eager to recommend Philippines as a travel destination, but safety should be taken into consideration if planning a visit. If you are going to the Philippines for the first time, it might be a good idea to consider staying on the main island and/or going to select places in the Visayas. As for me, I got the rest I needed to the face the challenges of the coming year!


Representing at Slush with Lieke

At Slush with Lieke

For the past year, I have been working as a software developer at Lieke Suunnittelu in Kajaani, Northern Finland. My job has revolved around Lieke, which is an app designed to digitalise the distribution of documents at construction sites. My jobs assignment have included designing and beta testing new features on Android and iOS, designing and implementing company websites and blogs, taking backups of the app's data, writing user manuals, terms of service, and other documentation, working independently and remotely, and of late, representing at Slush.

Slush is a tech/startup event that is well-known and anticipated both in Finland and abroad. This year, thanks to Lieke, I had the opportunity to attend the event while representing Lieke. However, since I returned to Finland on Wednesday, I missed the video game related Press Start event on Tuesday. The main event was on Thursday and Friday. We had a booth on Thursday, and we arrived to the venue at around 7:30 a.m. We were quite lucky with the location, since we were right next to the aisle, and had a steady stream of people visiting our booth until at around 6 p.m.

Personally, I think that events like Slush offer startups good opportunities to get out there, even without a clear goal. Conversations with visitors and other professionals can result in interesting and unanticipated realisations, or even partnerships and investments. As the website states, Slush is a student-driven, not-for-profit movement. Accordingly, I was happy to see tons of young volunteers, who will surely appreciate the experience. Anyways, since I had Friday for myself, I had plenty of time to roam around freely and experience the event from a visitor's perspective.

Slush vs. Web Summit

Earlier in November, I had the opportunity to represent Doppio Games at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. To be honest, I hadn't heard about Web Summit before the event. I was even more surprised to hear that Web Summit is the bigger event. While Slush 2019 in Helsinki had around 25 000 attendees, Web Summit 2019 had around 70 000 attendees. Also, Web Summit had four days of scheduled program while Slush ran for two days. Anyways, I promised to give my friends back in Portugal a brief comparison of the two events, so let's see what I can do.

Regarding the venues, Slush comprised most of the Messukeskus convention centre, which is located in Pasila, Helsinki. At Web Summit, you first had to walk through the four big halls of the Feira Internacional de Lisboa convention centre before arriving in front of Altice Arena, which housed the main stage. While Messukeskus is way bigger than any of FIL's individual halls, together with Altice Arena there appeared to be more floor space in use at Web Summit. Personally, I liked how Web summit was divided into separate halls, which made the space feel well used and organised.

In Finland, November is cold, windy, and grey, and Slush makes sure to be the first to call this out in their marketing. Indeed, after returning to Finland, I had to blink my eyes to make sure I hadn't lost my colour vision! Web Summit had a cool mobile app, but the web application of Slush felt a little clunky and unfocused. Anyways, as a Finnish person, I'm glad we have an event like Slush. I also think that the festival mentality (I feel Web Summit was a little more serious, though they also had some night events) of Slush provides a nice boost of energy at this time of the year.


Interning at Doppio Games in Lisbon

Background

My Game Development Studies at the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences include 5 months of mandatory internship, preferably in a real company (though some students combine the internship with their own game projects). Last year, I spent 3 of the 5 internship months in Hong Kong. Since the internship in HK revolved mostly around marketing and social media, I wanted to spend the last 2 months in a video game company. As my luck (or sisu/persistence!) would have it, I managed to get an interview with Doppio Games through a contact back in Kajaani.

As it is, I got the job, and managed to manoeuvre the dates so that I could fly directly from Singapore to Lisbon, thus avoiding an unnecessary and expensive stopover in Finland. In the middle of September, I flew from Singapore to Lisbon with a short stopover in Doha. Too bad I didn't have time to exit the airport and have a look at the city, which, in the middle of the night, looked very alluring with all the city lights. After arriving to the Lisbon Airport, I took an Uber to my dorm in the old city, and slept a couple of days straight, after which I started my internship at Doppio Games.

Work stuff

The internship was organised through the Erasmus+ exchange program. The workplace was located in the old city of Lisboa, in Startup Lisboa's incubator. The dorm, which was to be my home for the next 10 weeks, was located only a couple of blocks from the workplace, and was also hosted by Startup Lisboa. Cervejaria Paço Real restaurant, which is located right next to Startup Lisboa's incubator, is where I purchased my lunch every day. Since I always chose the turkey, or peru, I became known to the restaurant's staff as "the peru man"!

Doppio Games, founded by Jeferson Valadares and Christopher Barnes, is a Portuguese startup that makes voice games. Voice games are games that make use of speech recognition, which means that you can play them by speaking to the game with your own voice. Most voice games are available through virtual assistants, most often either as Amazon Alexa Skills or Google Assistant Actions. Since virtual assistants are available across a variety of devices, you can play voice games on smart speakers, smart screens, mobile phones, and other devices.

Since I specialise in video game production, which is essentially project management, my job assignments at Doppio revolved on the management side. I also researched various European Union funding opportunities and their eligibility criteria, which is already a job by itself! The workplace at Doppio had a nice and friendly atmosphere, and we used to play the card game Bang! each day during lunch time. My biggest takeaway from the internship was the subject for my thesis, conversational voice games, which gives me a good excuse to dwell deeper into this interesting subject.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Extremities

During my travels, I have developed a habit of pinning places I have visited on Google Maps, whether restaurants, grocery stores, train stations, parks, or something else. If I want to go there, I'll drop a green pin; if I have been there, I'll drop a yellow pin. Currently, I have +750 pins on my Google Maps, though these cover only my most recent travels. Anyways, the downside of this, if you're concerned about privacy, is that you're pretty much giving all that information to advertisers to do what they want with. However, if you're OK with this, it's a pretty handy tool.

When looking at the map of Portugal, I didn't cover as much ground as while in Singapore. Then again, I remember last year, when I arrived to Japan in the autumn after a busy summer in Hong Kong, I had a similar feeling of mostly wanting to rest and recharge my batteries while it was getting more dark and cool outside. Also, since I had *cough* ignored school work back in Finland while spending the nights out while in Singapore, I had plenty of catching up to do after arriving to Portugal. Hence, I spent most of the weekends working on my laptop.

The places furthest away from Lisbon that I went to were Sintra and Cabo da Roca in the west. Sintra has many beautiful castles, including Castelo dos Mouros, which towers over the town below. During my visit, the castle was shrouded mysteriously behind the clouds, so I decided to hike all the way up. Cabo da Roca, in addition to having a beautiful view from the cliff to the sea, is the westernmost point of continental Europe. In Singapore, I actually visited a small island off Sentosa, which claimed to be the southernmost point of continental Eurasia. From one extremity to the other!

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The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Life in and around Lisbon

Lisbon is a hilly city, and the old town appears to be cramped in valley of sorts. When moving around, it usually involves walking up and down steep roads, with long staircases here and there. There is also the Santa Justa Lift, which the locals used to use to get up the hill, but which is now a pure tourist attraction. Alfama, with its narrow, winding streets is an old district, and definitely worth checking out. Next to it, on a hill, is located the Castelo de São Jorge castle, where I managed to sneak inside early in the morning before the tourist rush.

Besides my excursion to Sintra, I mostly stayed around Lisbon. Since my dorm was located very close to the Praça do Comércio square, it was easy for me to put on my running shoes and head to the riverfront. I actually liked to do this several times per week and had my own route. The riverfront, however, was usually filled with tourists all the way to the Cais do Sodré station, so I walked to the station, and from there, ran close to the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and back. This usually took me around 45 minutes, 30 minutes of which was running at a slow pace.

You can, however, run even further, since the walkway, which is suitable for jogging safely, continues as far as the eye can see. On one weekend, I ran to the Torre de Belém tower, which according to Google Maps, is around 7.5 km west from the Praça do Comércio square. I ran under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and past Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. I even had an ambitious plan of running all the way to Cascais, a municipality roughly 25 km to the west. My regular gym was Fitness Hut Santos, where I did my strength training plus some HIIT.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Events

Late October and November came with many gaming and tech related events. One of my friends from work was an organiser of the Game Dev Camp, the biggest game developer meeting in Portugal. Doppio also had a booth there, displaying their latest voice game, The 3% Challenge. However, since I was conveniently struck by a feverish flu, I had the spend the whole weekend in bed and thus missed the event. Moche XL Games World was a another gaming event, which I attended on my last weekend in Portugal. However, I missed its competing event, the Lisboa Games Week.

The biggest event by far was Web Summit. I got the opportunity to represent Doppio at our booth, and introduce people to the new frontier of voice guided games. At one point in the afternoon, our booth was surrounded by a sea of people, including reporters and security people. It turned out to be the prime minister of Portugal. On a funny note, they had actually shooed my tall friend away from the picture! Anyways, as a Finnish person, it will be interesting to compare Web Summit to Slush, which I visited a couple of weeks later after returning to Finland.

Altice Arena, which housed many of the aforementioned events, is located in the Parque das Nações area. The area was revamped for the Expo '98, and it has a more modern feeling when compared to other parts of Lisbon. After exiting the arena and walking to the riverfront, past the impressive row of flags, you get a nice view of the Vasco da Gama bridge, the second longest bridge in Europe. If you continue south, you will get a nice 1 km walk in one direction with water on both sides. When I was there, it was a low tide, so the sandy shores were exposed and made for some nice pictures.

Final thoughts

Now that the internship is completed, what do I have to say about splitting the internship in two parts? I suppose some students might be considering this. Well, if you're ready to go through the trouble of finding two places relevant to your studies while doing twice the paperwork, then it could very well be worth it. As for myself, I got to experience two very different kinds of companies and cities, and I wouldn't trade the experiences for anything. Also, it was a big honour to be part of launching Doppio's second game, The 3% Challenge, and to be mentioned in the game's credits.

Next, I will return to Finland for a brief while before heading over to the Philippines for a couple of months. In the Philippines, I will have a well-deserved vacation with my girlfriend, and maybe time to work on my thesis. 2019 has indeed been a busy year for me. I have learned that while it's good to be active and seek out new experiences, including opportunities like exchanges abroad, it's also important to slow down and enjoy them. Also, it's important to enjoy things on your own terms and forget the unnecessary fear of missing out.


Exchanging and making games at NYP in Singapore

Background

As a gamedev student at the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences (KUAS), I have the opportunity to go on exchange studies two times during the course of my studies. As someone with an ambition to make an international career, I consider this a privilege and chose to embrace it. In the end of last year, I spent three months as an exchange student at the Trident College of Information Technology in Nagoya, Japan.

In Japan, I worked together with Singaporean students from the School of Interactive and Digital Media (SIDM), which is part of Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). NYP is also in partnership with KUAS and Trident, which encouraged me to apply there for an exchange. Shortly after arriving in Japan, I got a notice that I was accepted on the new exchange program in Singapore during the next summer. The NYP students were a little surprised but promised to show me around in Singapore!

After half a year abroad, I returned to Finland in the end of December. I also got a part-time remote work as a Software Developer at Lieke Suunnittelu, which is company back in Kajaani that works in the field of electrical engineering. My exchange in Singapore was to start in June. In the interim, I juggled between school, work, exercise, several projects, and a personal life. As a result, I remember the spring 2019 as the most stressful but also the most productive part of my life.

Arriving at Nanyang Polytechnic

Air travel at my stature is challenging due to the limited leg space, so this time I paid 100 EUR for extra leg space. Well worth the money. The straight Finnair flight from HEL to SIN took around 11.5 hours, and we arrived at the Changi Airport late in the afternoon. The cab ride from the airport to the NYP campus in Ang Mo Kio took around half an hour for 20 SGD (around 13 EUR). During the ride, I had a first look at the scenery in Singapore, dominated by the numerous HDB buildings.

School campuses in Singapore are relatively large due to high population density. According to my layman's measurements on Google Maps, the length of the school building is three-quarters of a kilometre. It houses half-a-dozen food canteens with a multitude of stalls, the food options varying from various ethnic dishes to Subway food! Students can participate in many activities in and outside of school hours, including various sports, dancing, archery, etc.

Our dorm building (there were a total of three blocks) was located inside the campus area, so the daily commute to school took us around 3 minutes per direction. The dorm had a well-equipped kitchen, but since the canteens at the campus were open from breakfast until supper, and also until lunch on Saturdays, I usually ate outside. Sometimes I used the Grab app, which is headquartered in Singapore and popular in Asia, to order food from local restaurants straight to the dorm.

Making games at SIDM

In Finland, the producers at KUAS usually produce one game at a time. Even working as the producer and the designer is considered a hazard. And usually for a good reason, since the workload and stress can be overbearing. However, after arriving at NYP, I was assigned to produce three game projects simultaneously. After the initial whammy, the workload eventually levelled to a humane degree, and I had the chance to also work on sounds and 3D graphics.

My personal observations about the NYP students include them working in a strict work culture and showing advanced technical skills. However, many of the students expressed concern about the limited presence of large game companies in Singapore, which again showed in some pessimism about future employment opportunities. Some of the students planned on continuing their studies in a university and/or showed interest in other areas of software development.

Our game projects, which lasted for two months, included a puzzle platformer for Android mobile using artificial reality, a zombie shooter game for PlayStation 4 using virtual reality, and a mecha-themed third-person shooter for PC. The exchange at NYP ended in the International Game Concept Challenge 2019 (IGCC), during which we had less than a week to complete a mobile game concept. We also visited the offices of local game companies gumi Asia and IGG.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

In and around Singapore

The surface area of Singapore is only a little over 720 kilometres. However, with over 5,6 million people cramped inside this small area, the population density is very high. The surface area has been increased by reclaiming land from the sea. Many Singaporeans live in state-built HDB buildings, which is affordable public housing. When talking to Singaporeans about the "city centre", referring to the downtown area, I was corrected that the whole island is one city with multiple local centres.

The main tourist areas like Downtown Core, Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa, Orchard, and East Coast Park were usually crowded, especially on weekends. While I toured them pretty fast and early on during my stay, I was brought back by events like Singapore Food Festival and Singapore Night Festival. I also revisited places to get some Instagram-worthy pictures, went to the movies, rented eScooters, hunted new food places and revisited old favourites like the Lau Pa Sat food court.

Singapore has numerous cosy parks spread throughout the island. My favourite pick is Marina Barrage at Gardens by the Bay, where you can sit on the grass and catch a nice view of the Marina Bay area with the Marina Bay Sands in the foreground. On the way back, you can follow the shore to the Marina South Pier MRT station, sit on the breakwater and watch the ocean. Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is also a nice place and has benches where you can lay down and relax.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Outside urban areas

While Singapore is undoubtedly a highly urbanised city-state, it's still possible to retreat from the concrete jungle once in a while to take a hike while being surrounded by real jungle. In July, I spent a half-a-day hiking by following the MacRitchie Trail to TreetopWalk and all the way back, sometimes following trails, sometimes boardwalks, but always guided by regular signboards. On the trail were also monkeys that were trying to bamboozle food from tourists.

One of my best decisions was to buy a tent from Decathlon for around 60 SGD (40 EUR) and go camping on the less-urban Pulau Ubin Island. Without a tent cooler, however, the tent quickly turned into a sauna, so we had to sleep with the tent flaps open. On Pulau Ubin, a camping permit was not necessary like at certain parks on the main island. For me, the most interesting place on Pulau Ubin was the Chek Jawa Wetlands, where I saw picturesque mangroves alongside the boardwalk.

Overall, and this applies to any large city, when leaving the more populated and touristy areas, taking interest in smaller things is a good skill to have. Also, having good company is also important; it can turn even the dullest park with benches without back supports the best place in the world. One of my most memorable discoveries, after wandering hungrily on the dark streets of a residential area, was a local food court on the bottom floor of a HDB block.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Visiting Malaysia and Indonesia

During my my first trip to Malaysia, I made a day trip to Johor Bahru, which is a city north of Singapore, just across the Johore Strait. However, since I made the mistake of going to the Woodlands checkpoint on Saturday at noon, it meant a queuing time of over three hours in a sea of people. Johor Bahru as a city proved to be quite unremarkable, with most places I had pinned on Google Maps being closed. The Daily Night Market sold various goods but felt overall quite touristy.

On my second visit to Malaysia, we made a three night trip to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Because the bus trip to KL took us three times longer (15 hours) than what was promised, we spend the first half of the next day just sleeping at the hotel. On the second day, we went to see the Petronas Towers and splurged on seafood at the Jalan Alor Night Food Court. On the third, we went to see the Batu Caves north of KL and ascended to the Genting Highlands on a cable car.

One hour ferry ride south of Singapore lies Batam, which is an island belonging to Indonesia. The local standard of living was far below that of Singapore but this also meant cheaper prices. We booked a hotel near Nagoya Hill Mall, which is the biggest mall on the island and a nice way to spend an afternoon. One of the most memorable things that we did was eating at Barelang Seafood Restaurant with the picturesque Barelang Bridge in the background.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Cultural observations

It took me a little while to follow the quickly-spoken Singaporean English, or Singlish, as it's called. Occasionally, I observed some well-masked frustration by locals when listening to my more slow-paced English. Some discourage the use of Singlish, and the government, according to Wikipedia anyways, has created a "Speak Good English Movement" to "encourage Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that is universally understood", which I find a little humorous.

Singapore is a great place to go on a food splurge since the variety of different ethnic cuisines is difficult to match. Hawker centres are open-air food places with dozens of stalls, each specialising in various cuisines, and they are spread throughout the island with similar indoor food courts. Besides eating local foods like Hainanese chicken rice, I also tried various ethnic foods from Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, China, and India.

I am a man of routines and tend to default to the same food option once I find something that I like. At the NYP campus, I found a stall that served some delicious omurice (omelette rice) with chicken katsu and curry. After a while, I could just walk to the stall and order my regular dish without saying a word! I also enjoyed roti prata, which is an Indian style flour-based pancake served with curry. In the morning, I usually had the traditional breakfast of Kaya-toast and soft-cooked eggs.

Final thoughts

Looking at the current upheaval in Hong Kong and contrasting the cultural and societal differences of Finland and all the places I have been to, including Singapore, has made me to look at the world through a new lens. While earlier, I had the naïve attitude of looking for a "cool" place to settle down in the future, I now know that there are also many other things to take into consideration. For example, how does the local culture align with of my own values?

I spent three amazing months in Singapore from early June until September. During my stay, not only had I the chance to participate at NYP in four different game projects and put them in my CV, I also made new friendships, explored Singapore and the neighbouring countries, and got new perspective on both my professional career and personal life. My next stop will be Lisbon, Portugal, where I will soon start an internship in a video game company.

Sometimes I feel that that building a professional career is like a platformer game where you have to keep on the move lest you'll get crushed by a big boulder. Whether interning in Hong Kong or exchanging in Japan or Singapore, I have spent a great deal of time by polishing my CV and applying for jobs, sending emails and doing Skype meetings, working on remote projects, preparing for my next trips, and more. Then again, gotta strike while the iron is hot!


Hacking at the Nordic Health Hackathon 2019

Nordic Health Hackathon 2019

In March, I was offered an exciting opportunity to participate in the Nordic Health Hackathon. I welcomed the opportunity with open arms, even though I lacked any previous experience in hackathons. Still, having participated in games jams as part of my studies in video games at the KUAS, I had a basic idea of developing software in a short time frame. So why not?

Powered by Nordic Innovation, the aim of the Nordic Health Hackathon was "[...] to improve health and quality of life for Nordic citizens by creating a healthy supportive environment based on innovative patient facing digital solutions." The best solution was rewarded with a prize of €10 000. The event in Helsinki lasted from March 29 until March 31 (the first event was in Reykjavik, Iceland, on the previous week).

The preparation for the hackathon began on Friday afternoon at a networking event in the Embassy of Iceland in Helsinki. During the gathering, I learned that the hackathon had attracted participants from all over the world, including China, Iceland, Pakistan, Germany, and Estonia. Indeed, I was surprised to find out that in our team were the only Finnish participants!

Hacking

The hacking began on Saturday before lunch, and the code freeze was on Sunday afternoon, so we had a little over 24 hours. Our project was called mama-card, which was to be a digitalised version of the archaic but still-in-use paper version of the maternity card. In our team of three, my role was wireframing the Android app and working on the user-interface, which I enjoyed greatly.

We spent the two nights in Scandic Meilahti, which was located a throwing distance from the Terkko Health Hub in Meilahti. During the second night, I had the intention of hacking though the whole night, but as a regular gym goer (I recommend trying out the Hot Gym Kino nearby), I realised that my body simply needs the rest. Back to the hotel, and after a three-hour slumber, I was back at work.

On Sunday afternoon, after the code freeze, we had the presentations and a chance to see the work of around 15 or so other teams. The solutions were varied, and covered, among other things, vaccinations, medicine prescriptions, different aspects of motherhood, and skin cancer prevention. In the end, our project was not enough to claim the first prize, but we left the event happy and one experience richer.


Exchanging at the Trident College in Nagoya, Japan

Background

After spending three months as a marketing intern in Hong Kong, my journey took me to my next objective in Nagoya, Japan. Saying goodbye to Hong Kong was a little sad to say the least, but luckily, my last days in HK were so busy there wasn't too much time to think about it. In the beginning of October, I took a cheap HK express flight from Hong Kong to the Chūbu Centrair, located on an artificial island a little south of Nagoya.

After arriving in Nagoya, I moved the hour hand of my writch watch one hour forward and went to look for the welcome party, and finally got to experience the movie scene with the name sign and everything. My school, Trident College of Information Technology, was located in the city center near the Gokusai Center Station, and my dorm a twenty-minute metro ride to the east, near the Kawana Station.

The dormitory

After spending three months in a room of maybe four to five square meters, having a normal-sized room where I could stand straight and stretch my arms without getting bruises was indeed a luxury. I soon got a taste of the famous Japanese formality, as the occasion of paying my rent while giving and receiving stuff with two hands, bowing, and other courtesies, felt like I was taking part in a tea ceremony.

The dorm had a Japanase bathhouse on the top floor. You would first have shower and wash yourself thoroughly while sitting on a small stool. Only after having scrubbed yourself pink and using half-a-dozen different detergents could you enter the hoth bath in the center of the room. In Finland, we usually prefer the sauna, but submerging yourself daily in hot water can get equally addicting.

Trident College of Information Technology

Trident College of Information Technology is a computer school in the Nagoya city center, a two-minute walk from the Nagoya Station – the largest train station in the world by the floor area. The Trident students are taught how to make video games, animations, and art, among other things. During the welcome ceremony, we met and chatted with the teachers and other students in a casual atmosphere.

Besides the Finnish exchange students, there were also students from Singapore. As a pleasant coincidence, the Singaporean students were from the same school, Nangyang Polytechnic, where I would do my second exchange in the next summer. After the welcome party, we formed the game development teams and started brainstorming ideas for the project that would occupy us for the next two and a half months.

In and around Nagoya

Nagoya is a very businesslike city, and not that touristy. Having said that, there are, of course, some interesting places to see, like the Nagoya Castle, the Nagoya TV Tower, and areas like Sakae and Osu. Still, after spending several weeks in Nagoya, you will have to start using some imagination find things to do. Personally, I learned to love the everyday atmosphere in Nagoya, and especially the lack of tourist crowds.

After having exhausted the limited supply of photographable sights inside Nagoya, it's a good idea to put the camera in the pocket and try out some local foods, go to karaoke, and enjoy the local form of the Japane culture in other ways. Outside Nagoya, we did a daytrip to Kyoto, and ascended the Inariyama mountain in the dark. I also took the train around the Ise Bay to see the Ise Grand Shrine, Japan's most sacred shrine.

Working on a VR game

As for the game project, we decided to set the bar low and aim for – VR! We had a dream team of eight students. I was the producer, and also produced some 3D objects for the game, as I was technically supposed to be an artist. But hey, every project needs a producer! Besides me, there were also 2 artists from Singapore, and 5 programmers – 2 from Japan, 2 from Finland, and 1 from Singapore.

Our game, the Last Train, was an escape room game where the player would get trapped inside a moving train. We chose the train as the game environment to make the production as modular as possible. The player would have to solve various environmental puzzles to stop the train and to escape. As the school had a spare microphone, we recorded the train announcements both in English and in Japanese.

Despite some initial doubts, we finished all the tasks on our HacknPlan according to the schedule, and even had some time for post-production. Managing a multicultural team with four different languages was sometimes challenging, but at the same time eye-opening from a producer's perspective. There was talk that Last Train would be displayed at the Tokyo Game Show of 2019, but it remains to be seen.

More traveling

In the middle November, I had two friends visiting me from Hong Kong on consecutive weeks. One thing that I really missed about Hong Kong while staying in Nagoya was the sea, as the Ise Bay, at least around Nagoya, was very industrialized and uninviting. Among the places that we visited were Gifu, Inuyama, and beautiful Korankei. We were also supposed to take the Toyota plant tour, but it was already reserved until Christmas.

My biggest regret was not visiting Osaka while I had the chance. A friend recommended me to take the train to Osaka on a Friday evening, to spend the Saturday exploring Nara and the evening in Osaka, to spend the Sunday exploring Osaka, and finally, to return back to Nagoya on Sunday evening. While Kyoto, for example, is a place for taking pictures, Osaka is more famous for its nightlife.

During my travels, I formed a love–hate relationship with Google Maps. The blue navigation dot proved almost useless despite countless calibrations on the streets, doing the figure-eight pattern with my phone while people staring at me. The ability to add markers to interesting locations, however, helped me to plan trips to new areas before visiting them, and keeping track of all the places I had visited so far.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Intagram profile.

Saying goodbyes – again!

The Singaporean students left back to Singapore in the end of November, and 21st of December was to be our last day at school. I spent the last weeks inside Nagoya, meeting new people, going to restaurants, and trying all sorts of foods. Our game development room became quiet again as the quiet Finns were left by themselves, and my thoughts were already on the streets of Tokyo.

As in Hong Kong, I had to send home a cardboard box full of souvenirs, other stuff, and lots of books. As an avid reader, I like to buy and read lots of books while traveling. Books take space, though, and sending them back to home in big cardboard boxes can be quite pricy. As we live in a digital age, I made the decision to get the Amazon Kindle E-reader for my next journey – no more cardboard boxes!

Tokyo

The Nozomi bullet train took around an hour and a half to make the journey from Nagoya to Tokyo. After arriving at the Tokyo Station, I took the metro to the Shin-Okubo Station in Shinjuku, near my hotel, The Global Hotel Tokyo. GHT was an average capsule hotel, nothing really to complain about. Despite the concerns of my friends in Nagoya, I could just fit inside the capsule with my feet in (I'm actually 197 cm).

As I only had four nights and three full days to explore Tokyo and its surroundings, I made the decision to marathon all the big neighborhoods and get a good understanding of the basic layout of the city. There had been talk about going to see the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 with my brothers, so I assumed the role of a scout and set to work with the help of my precious Google Maps.

The places I enjoyed most in Tokyo were Shibuya and Akihabara for their lively atmospheres and somewhat compact areas. On Christmas Eve, I made a day-trip to Yokohama to see the Christmas Market at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. You can also get a nice view of Tokyo from the Yokohama Landmark Tower and see how Tokyo sort of consists of several smaller cities.

Final thoughts

My journey took me through Hong Kong to Japan, and lasted almost half a year. On one hand, it was a very long time to spend abroad, but on the other, it was such a short time during which I lived my life to the fullest. Going to two places meant that I got to see twice as much, but at the same time, I had to say goodbye to twice as many people. Saying goodbyes, it seems, is the price that you have to pay when you travel.

I had studied Japanese on and off for almost a year before my journey. I could follow basic conversations, and with the help of Kanji, I could understand some character in signs and menus. However, as the Japanese people aren't generally very used to using English, it's important for the visitor to know some Japanese. If a common language can't be found, the lack of communication might limit the experience.

Traveling is a pleasure few others can compete with. For me, the best part of the journey is always the moment when I get to attach all the fridge magnets of all the new countries and cities on my fridge door! It's now -18.5 °C outside while I'm writing this back in Kajaani. However, it's less than five months before I embark on my next journey to Singapore and the South-East Asia. In the meanwhile, it's all work and studying.