Monster Jam Party

When I was a kid, I remember having a small pick-up truck with humongous wheels. The wheels were so big that it was taller than the truck’s body. It was called a “monster truck”. These trucks would scale mountains, jump over cars and then crush them. It was mayhem watching them on the telly. I scaled a mountain of earth with that toy monster truck and it never emerged from the rubble after that (that was a sad day for me). A few years on and I am now in my first Monster Jam event in Singapore with my family in tow (my wife has always wanted a monster truck).

This was the first Monster Jam outing that was held in Singapore. Hopefully, it would not be the last as it was loud, fast and furious. Twelve feet tall monster trucks were ripping through the Singapore Indoor Stadium jumping crests, crushing cars, doing wheelies and toppling over. Who wouldn’t want to see that again?

"I don't like it here"
“I don’t like it here”

I actually booked the tickets about two months before the actual event. I got an Email about a promotion for a certain provider’s pre-selling special price and I took it. Matthew only saw the advertisement for Monster Jam a month later and he was so excited in telling me all about it. I asked him if he wanted to go and see it and his answer was a big “duh, yes!”. But I never told him that I had already bought tickets. I just said that I would see what I could do. He would remind me about it every time he had heard or had seen the ad and I still never told him about the tickets. It was difficult to hide it from him, but it was fun doing it.

So when we got to the venue and he realised the date, he was all smiles. He was still in his moody don’t-want-to-take-a-photo mode all throughout the time we were in the pit area and queueing up for signatures (and photos and souvenirs). We managed a few shots here and there, but I didn’t bring my DSLR because it was in the guidelines for entry to the Stadium. The joke was on me as there were a lot of people with DSLRs. It’s a lesson learned for the next time we hit the Stadium then. And because Matthew couldn’t decide which Monster Jam truck he really wanted, he wasn’t able to get the toy (obviously the most famous trucks were scooped out first). He started asking for Grave Digger and Max D but both were already out of stock. On the other hand, I already have El Toro Loco and just needed to queue up for signing and a photo op with the driver, Marc McDonald. After the Pit Party, we made our way to our seats with snacks in tow. And then we waited.

El Toro Loco driver Marc McDonald
El Toro Loco driver Marc McDonald

The trucks were loud. But not overly loud and we were glad that we didn’t buy earplugs (as you get to feel the atmosphere more without them). Younger folks would have benefitted from them though. The night was divided into race, two wheels skills challenge and freestyle. It was basically a knock out challenge based on a point system that was going to be judged by the audience via an online voting website. The sound of the trucks revving and the smell of exhaust fumes only served to elevate the excitement of the crowd.

The race was about to start. You can hear the trucks rumbling in idle at their respective staring lines. Matthew was ready to start filming with his trusty Olympus as he smiled toward me. And then the air was ripped open with the sound of the throaty exhausts from the monster trucks. Matthew jumped from his seat (it was funny seeing the look on his face). And just as the lap was about to conclude, Megalodon crashes. For some insane reason, the crowd goes wild. Yeah, we love crashes but we were praying that the driver was safe. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure that these monster machines are actually safer than your regular sedan. What was funnier though, was when the support cranes and forklifts came out from the pits like an orchestrated band which was more comical than anything else. Megalodon was upright in no time (although it had to limp back to the pits straight after the race). Ten monster trucks driven by talented men and women tore through the track each winning my mere seconds from each other.

Next up was the two wheels skills challenge where the trucks and their drivers were given two runs to show off their two wheel skills (yeah, that was kind of redundant). Front wheelies, rear wheelies, stop-stand and other neat tricks filled the stadium (as long as two wheels reach for the sky). One thing we particularly loved was when El Toro Loco finished his run and snorted nitrous through the bull’s nostrils. It was befitting the raging bull’s winning run. A break was then introduced as the drivers and their crew prepared the trucks for the finale. It was going to be all-out war in freestyle.

Monster Mutt Dalmatian
Monster Mutt Dalmatian

Finally, it was time for Monster Jam Freestyle. This was where the kid gloves come off. Freestyle is where each driver wrings the throttle of their trucks to bring out only the best stunts and tricks within the time limit. Of course, performing tricks is just part of it. Getting to finish the trick without wiping out is the second part. Since it is a judged competition, they really had to put on a show to impress the Singapore crowd. And impress they did. There were notable attempts from the competitors and it was sad to see some of them retire in the middle of the competition (Blue Thunder, we’ll miss you). But I guess that’s what makes Monster Jam great, there is no clear winner as long as there are trucks are still standing. We were personally rooting for El Toro Loco and Earthshaker, but that run by Megalodon was something for the books. He was the only one to do a three sixty somersault and live to tell about it. A big feat considering the damage Megalodon took early on (he was also the first to crash in the race). In the end though, the judges have spoken and the truck to win the freestyle event was Monster Energy driven by LeDuc.

The scores were tallied at the end of the night and jamming together the points from race, two wheels and freestlye, it was clear that Monster Energy was taking home the trophy, followed closely by crowd favourite Grave Digger and then Earthshaker in third place. It was a pity that El Toro Loco only came in fifth, but we have another new favourite in Earthshaker right there. It was great fun and it would be great to see these guys back in Singapore again.


Saturday. At the STGCC.

This year’s STGCC is Matthew’s first proper “convention”.

So, what is the STGCC? It stands for the Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention and 2017 is their tenth year running. So obviously, we were expecting toys, games and comics to be at the convention. And they pretty much were. Now, the world is filled with all sorts of toys, games and comics and it can be quite a daunting task figuring out what it is that you want to see. The variety at the STGCC was quite big, and although it tried to cater to pretty much everyone, there was still quite a big hole to fill. As for being Matthew’s first convention, it did its job.

First up, the toys. Toys R Us being what most kids have come to picture what a toy store look like, this convention will throw that notion out the window. We are not going to be looking at Barbie and G.I. Joes here (not the mass market versions anyway). We are looking at Tamashii Nation, Hot Toys, Robot Spirit, S.H.Figuarts, Nendoroids and the occasional Funko Pops. Hobby shops like Action City, Simply Toys, Mighty Jaxx and The Falcon’s Hangar were there selling STGCC exclusives. I was never really into buying expensive stuff but I was familiar with them and so was Matthew. Seeing them in their actual sculpted glory was something entirely different though. Even though they caught our attention, we never really dug deep into our pockets for every eye candy that we saw. Yes, we liked the Pacific Rim action figures and the Star Wars light sabers but they weren’t really our kinds of toys (yet). So we dug deep enough to satisfy our current hobbies. Gunpla and X-Wings miniatures.

They actually already belonged to another section of the convention which was the space for games. In this case, games meant collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, Vanguard, Yu-Gi-Oh and the like. It was also the space for table-top games like X-Wing Miniatures and Warhammer to name a few. In fact, a tournament was happening during the convention. It was when we were walking around that we were asked to sit down for a demo of The Walking Dead: All Out War. It was a game literally straight out of the TV show and comic books with the characters and scenarios that you can play out. The rules though, were a bit too complicated for novices such as Matthew and myself. When we moved on to the next table however, the Tanks game was pretty much spot on. It played similarly to the X-Wings Miniatures game and so we were able to get the hang of it pretty quickly. Not to mention the guys at Blitz and Peaces were very accommodating. We even had a German officer (in full military drab) building his tank with us at the booth. The conversation, to say the least, was lively and very informative. I wouldn’t have thought of getting a WW II history lesson while helping Matthew build a plastic tank!

The E-sports section was just nearby but we didn’t pay much attention to it. It is still not in the range of what interests Matthew at the moment. And thankfully so, as building a gaming rig (fun as it was during the time that I was into it) can be quite an expensive hobby. And that was just the rig without the games. I’m already obsessed with gaming keyboards and mice, not because I’m a gamer, but because I like the feel of these gaming peripherals. We did catch glimpses of some of the games, but they really didn’t pique Matthew’s curiosity at that moment.

I thought that the Akiba Zone was where we would actually see more anime related stuff, but it was for people that are more of an otaku than we were. Sadly, Matthew and I are just hobbyists in the anime world and not full blown geeks (yet). That may change depending on how the anime and manga industry grows around Matthew. And perhaps that will depend on his friends as well, but that remains to be seen.

Backtracking to the Star Wars world, we get reminded of this year’s STGCC theme. There were lots of Star Wars stuff. Including Rey’s speeder and the deck of the Millenium Falcon built to scale. Matthew being Matthew though, we didn’t have the heart to queue up for any souvenir photos for that Instagram post. Those duel-ready light sabres were very interesting though. As much as we would have liked to whack each other with those sabres though, we opted to forego them as well.

We walked around the convention hall a bit more to look at the weird and wonderful stuff that were on sale. Products that we have never heard of were there, Indie artists selling their ware, and weird things that you would never find in retail shops (ball sack pistols anyone?). There were handmade sculptures, handmade posters, handmade toys and comic books by independent artists. The place was nearly free-for-all and we had a good time.

By the end of the day, we had to pick something up to make the trip even more worth it than the experience we already had. So we picked out some toys to put in our toy box and we left the place happy. We didn’t get to make new friends yet, but the acquaintances that we managed to experience was a good step forward in the right direction. Maybe in the next convention, we wouldn’t be too shy.

That Question About Getting A Phone (Redux)

I warned myself before I decided on getting a mobile phone for Matthew two or so years ago (link to the previous post here: That Question… ). It wasn’t so much as not allowing him to have one or giving him strict restrictions on the use of such a device. It was more about him being responsible with his own things. Something that he has been taking a lot of time to master.

The main purpose of letting Matthew have a phone on his person was so that he always had a way to contact us. It was meant to be both ways but since the phone was always on silent mode when he was in school, he almost always never answers our calls or replies to our messages. I never really understood his reasoning on why he doesn’t go through the messages that had notifications flashing on his phone. He just doesn’t reply to them and if he did, it would normally make little sense.

Matthew and his Nokia
Matthew and his Nokia

The first phone that he really recognized as his own phone was the blue Nokia 105 that he had picked out from the local neighbourhood shop. He picked it because he wanted it and probably because of nostalgia. The nostalgia would have been from us talking to him about the mobile phones that we (me and mum) had when we were younger, and both of us had a few Nokias when they were all the rage.

In recent times (calendar check, the year is 2017), children younger than 11 can be seen toting their own mobile devices. Some of them even as new and as expensive as the latest Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies. I was relieved that Matthew did not have such an attraction to those kind of things and preferred a basic (and nostalgic) device such as the Nokia 105 instead. Alas, my fears about his being responsible with his things (or lack thereof) came into view a few weeks after he got the phone. He lost it. At a bus stop. After that incident we handed him our old Blackberry but it was not as child friendly and he soon asked for a replacement Nokia. By chance, we managed to get another Nokia 110 (in the exact same colour) which made him the happiest kid on Earth. I don’t even remember where he lost the second Nokia. It took a long time before he asked for a phone since then. And we never offered until he needed to stay back for after-school work.

Mum and I decided on finally getting him a smartphone this time around. Well, we were really running out of options since the local telco announced that 2G connectivity would soon cease and the old Nokias that Matthew wanted wouldn’t work anymore. Luckily, I was up for a mobile re-contract at the time so there was a chance for getting a good deal on a new mobile phone. Asking him about his choice of smartphone probably wasn’t such a good idea since he decided to end up with a huge 6-inch phone (or in modern tech-speak, a phablet). But it worked out fine. He would give it up once he got home and we would hand it back to him in the morning to bring to school. (Of course, he would sneak it away every now and then when he gets the chance to snatch it in the house)

An Xperia XA Ultra
An Xperia XA Ultra

But that’s not going to be the end of it. Now, we are in the situation where security would become an issue. We have been very open with discussing things about social media, Internet use and cyber security with Matthew. But then, Matthew is still a bit too careless and carefree to really worry about the reality of the dangers of living in this digital age. So it’s up to us to manage it as best as we can as parents. Luckily, parental control apps are now widely available for both Android and iOS. And while majority of these are paid apps, some of them are actually worth the subscription costs. We are currently reviewing our options here, and with some free trials here and there, I think it is safe to assume that we would be arriving at a sound decision soon.

I would like to hear from those of you who have or are also considering getting a parental control app for your kid’s devices. I have narrowed down my options to the following parental control apps: Norton Family, SecureTeen and Kaspersky. They all have their pros and cons and I would be happy to share my choice when I have decided on it, but in the meantime, please feel free to share yours.