Tuesday, September 30, 2008

노래방 파이팅!

Every now and again, a normal night out at the bar turns epic. You know this. The change can be shocking. Last Friday, I was at my usual haunt with the usual crowd, ordering my usual drinks from the usual bartenders, and chatting up the same questionable blonde girl that I see at the usual bar every single time I go there. She is, to some extent, a human B.A.C. machine, commencing conversation with her (as I do every damn Friday) pretty much means I am no longer capable of driving, if driving were an option here. Then somebody, likely me but maybe one of my friends, mentions the noraebang. The night just got interesting.

I’ve spoken of the noraebang before, and if you are familiar with the concept, feel free to skip this paragraph. Noraebang (노래방) directly translated means “singing room.” It is Korean karaoke. However, unlike karaoke bars in the U.S., there is not one bar with a stage, but a series of private rooms that hold anywhere from 2 to 20 people. Unlike the rugged individualist West where one could walk into a karaoke bar alone and make a drunken ass of oneself in front of a large group of strangers, the collectivist East runs rooms like these, where one goes with a group of friends to make a drunken ass of oneself in front of only one’s friends. Noraebangs sell beer, but it is outrageously overpriced, so nobody (at least no westerner) goes to a noraebang before getting railroaded, and everybody smuggles booze in and the guys that work there never try to prevent this, despite the fact that the customer obviously has 6 litres of beer under their T-shirt.

Anyway, only three people, all dudes, were in to the noraebang idea, so clearly it wouldn’t due for us to get our own room to serenade each other. I suggested we that we crash one, thus making our noraebang adventure much more interesting and cheaper, ie, free. We headed off to a nearby noraebang (they’re on pretty much every corner in this country) and attempted to walk through to the hallway to the rooms. Unfortunately, as we walked the wrong way at first, the guy that worked there was on to us instantly. He asked us in broken English which room we were in. We ignored him, and started walking down the correct hallway (taking our shoes off before entering the hallway, of course, we aren’t jackals) to the rooms. He followed us, still asking where we were going. Our plan seemed doomed to fail.

My buddy Martin, in an absolutely brilliant move, whipped out his phone and started pretending to talk to a nonexistent friend that we planned to meet. The noraebang guy kept asking us where we where going, but Martin, in an Oscar-worthy twist, held his finger in one ear while yelling repeatedly into the phone “I can’t hear you. What room number?” Two random Koreans, on cue, walked out of a room just in front of us, and Martin said, “Okay, I can see you now,” and hung up the phone.

As the strangers walked out of the room, we walked in to a large group that seemed as excited to see us as we were to see them. The group accepted us instantly, and Martin and Ryan offered to go buy some booze, which the group of Koreans were also happy to hear. Probably happier than they were to hear our renditions of American rock songs, as none of us have much aptitude for K-pop. After a half hour or so, most of the Koreans still in the room were asleep, so we took our leave. Still, I’d like to think that while making our night with silly random drunken party-crashing, we also made the nights of the crashees.

These people are all total strangers

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Somebody owes me whiskey

Airport security, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is completely absurd. The goals are utterly reactive, always trying to fight yesterday’s threat, and the methods for checking said threats are spotty at best. So far as I know (and TSA-wise, I’m a bit out of the loop) the newest wrinkle is still the liquids thing, due to the attempted terrorist threat in London just over two years ago. The key problems, in my view, of the liquids thing is that a) the “terrorists” (assuming the morons that attempted the London plot could even be considered this rank) would not be trying the same thing again - they’ve proven to be pretty adaptive and forward-thinking; and b) the London plot, from what I’ve read, had next to no chance of success, even if these people did get onto the plane with their explosives. So, as a result of this, we are only allowed 100 ml worth of liquid per bottle on a plane, so long as the liquid is in a plastic bag.

Since the London threat, I’ve been on several flight segments, no fewer than 20 in Asia, and I’ve never checked a bag. Obviously, as I travel with tooth paste, gel deodorant, and other liquids, I smuggle this contraband onto every single flight. Up until my last flight, I had never been caught. If an idiot like me, who is more often than not two-thirds in the bag by the time I go through security, can get away with carrying liquids onto planes over 95% of the time, then how the hell does airport security intend to catch an actual terrorist? At the very least, even the laziest terrorist would be sober when passing through security, giving them a distinct advantage in surreptitiousness.

I’d had a good run at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on my recent trip. I had to pass through it 4 times, and the first three went without incident, it seemed much better organized than before. (If you want to read my thoughts on this airport last year, AND you are my Myspace friend, you can go to myspace.com/helluva_lawnmowers and click on the blog link) The fourth time, it got me. It was fate.

Like countless other fliers, I was carrying liquids in my carry-on, as I was only traveling with a carry-on. I had a pint of Thai whiskey and some sunscreen, amongst other things. The whiskey wasn’t for the flight, as Asian carriers serve free booze anyway, and it was sealed. The sunscreen was a half-empty 125 ml bottle of Nivea. Nivea has a strange sunscreen monopoly in Asia, and costs over $10 for a small bottle, even in cheap countries. The rest of my items were deemed kosher by security, but they stole my whisky and sunscreen, because they exceeded that magic 100 ml mark, despite the fact that the whiskey was sealed and there were no more than 70 ml of sunscreen remaining.

I was pissed, to lose my overpriced sunscreen that can only be replaced in Korea by overpriced sunscreen, and especially to lose my Thai whiskey, which cannot be replaced at all. Why didn’t I just check my bag at security, you may ask? At most other airports in the world, this could be a solution. However, at Bangkok, one passes through customs, but not security, to get to the secured airside portion of the airport. All of the restaurants and duty free shops and smoking lounges and whatnot exist beyond customs, but before security. One only passes through security right before arriving at the gate, so beyond security, there is nothing to do. Nothing. Steel Chairs and a bathroom. Not even a vending machine. Having been to BKK airport before, I knew this, and thus didn’t go through security until final boarding call, making it too late to check a bag. Somebody, be it Thai airport security (just following orders, chief) the terrorists (not bloody likely to buy) or the crazed fear-mongering securinati, owes me a fucking bottle of whiskey. The sunscreen I’ll chalk up to experience.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jae Hak's Summer vaction part 2 - Bankock Boozing

I returned to Bangkok. When I left Bangkok a few days before for Malaysia, I was road weary, sans camera, and a little hungover. Upon landing and having a shocking 3rd easy run through what I had thought was a horrible airport, I was ready to rock. I returned to the same hostel (I knew I wasn’t going to need a comfortable or even private place to stay after 5 days of being rejuvenated on the beach, just somewhere to pass out) and immediately made friends with some random people. After having a couple beers with them at the hostel, I headed off to nearby Patpong. Bangkok has a curfew, all the bars are theoretically supposed to close at midnight or 1, and when I stayed on Khoa San last year, that was very much the case with most every bar. Soi Patpong seemed to survive in a bubble where no such laws applied. Even convenience stores in Bangkok stop selling beer at midnight, but on Patpong, make-shift stands with ice buckets sell beer on the street at 7-11 prices until, well, fortunately I never had to find out, they were always around when I needed them.

Patpong is most famous for two things - its night market, and ping pong shows, which creates an insane and surreal mix of sex tourists (easy enough to spot, as they all tend to be the cliche you would expect - middle-age to old German guys with mustaches) and families. At little road side food stalls, at one table will be a family of Australians or something, mom, dad, 2 little kids, on vacation and going shopping. At the next table will be a 57 year old German guy with a Thai whore too young to be his daughter. Plus, the street has tons of bars and clubs filled elbow-to-tit with late night Khoa San backpacker refugees and drunken English teachers such as myself. It’s awesome.

While sitting at a bar that proved to be my Patpong home, an outdoor bar adjacent to a large open-air club (but with breathing room and cheaper beer) I watched the whores hanging out just outside the bar. Apparently, like vampires, they cannot enter the bar area, despite the bar’s open-air nature, unless they are invited in. I noticed one, who was a total knockout, get invited to one or two tables, then quickly jettisoned to orbit around the bar once more. I began to wonder why, as a couple random 57 year old Germans with mustaches were sitting next to much uglier and whorier whores. When I went to the pisser, I walked to her orbit and asked her why she kept getting expelled. “I don’t know.” she said, in Barry White’s voice. Ah. Good thing I’m not in the market for “her” services. I can usually spot a ladyboy/drag queen at 50 paces, but “she” had me tricked. At least after 97 beers.
A bartender at my home bar took me to a ping-pong show after another beer. I’d always wanted to see one, but nothing could prepare me for how awful it actually was. The bartender told me it was the best one on Patpong. I wouldn’t want to see the worst. Ugly, overweight (Asian!?) girls who seemed really bored and begged me for money every three seconds like it was a Greyhound bus terminal. I left after 5 minutes, and I only spent that long to drink my 750 ml beer that I paid 9 bucks for (an outrageous price for a beer in Thailand under any circumstances).

I went to a lame normal club, and entered junior high. The girls in the club (all of them western tourists) were on the dance floor, and all of the dudes at the club (again, all western tourists) were sitting at tables. I went to the pisser, which had a bathroom attendant, whom I laughed at when he asked for a tip. I fucking hate bathroom attendants. I am much more likely to give money to a panhandler than a bathroom attendant. Get a job, or do something respectable, like panhandling. I went back to the junior high gym. Nothing had changed. I sat down at my table. A girl beckoned me onto the dance floor. She was not cute. If I had to choose between going home with her or the ladyboy I ran into before, at gunpoint, would be a tough call. Fortunately, I had no such dilemma. I could go to one of the cheap roadside beer vendors, and go home alone, which seemed the thing to do at the time.

I drank my beer at the hostel with a bunch of people that dwindled to me and this Aussie-Brit dude. I considered going to sleep, it was after 3 and I was trashed, having begun drinking at 8 p.m. or so, but he suggested splitting a bucket. Buckets being coke, red bull, and a pint of rum, served in, well, a bucket. I considered balking. “I’ll buy” he said. Shit son, you remind me of my high school drinkin’ coach. Now, let’s drink. And so I worked on my half of the bucket for the next couple hours, as we hit on every questionable to ugly backpacker girl that happened to walk in or out of the hostel.

Overall, a great trip. I’d been on a falling plane, para-sailed, crashed a scooter twice, drunkenly jet skied, hiked through the jungle and encountered wildlife, touched a king cobra, and had a run-in with a ladyboy. Easily top 5. It certainly makes me want to go back to Thailand and hit up Indonesia this winter.

Vacation Cat is on vacation

Bank Islam

Protip: when you come across a restaurant that is both packed and serves only one thing - eat there. This chicken joint in George Town (Malaysia) kicked ass.

Standing Buddha Temple, George Town

The largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, so the say - Penang

The king cobra that I touched

Patpong debauchery. To the right, we see a sex tourist, and to the left, a whore. Will a connection be made?

How did I end up in Harajuku? Thai Cos-play kids hanging out in front of the mall for Japan Fest
Japan Fest from the subway, I ran into this boy band in the bathroom a couple hours before - they were obsessing over their hair

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 or 8 near-Deaths in Southest Asia (1 of 2)

I’m a little late in putting this up - been spending far too much time on searching the internets for election-related stories, and of course fantasy football. Since this is a “sports” blog, i really should write about my fantasy draft, though sadly I was unable to attend as I was somewhere in Southeast Asia when it occurred. Of course, this resulted in me scoring my best opening game in years, and all my players did well except for the free agents that I had a roll in acquiring.

I’ve tried to write this blog a couple times already, but I kept getting interrupted by random buddies showing up at the convenience store table where I wrote and wanting to booze. Today, I’m ready to go, as I’ve found a new fortress of solitude in which to hammer this thing out - at a different convenience store table, of course. Anyway, I’ll try to throw down all my trip stories in one blog, so that I can write on more topical things - like the election and fantasy football - next week. I’ll put the stories on the top, but if you are not inclined to read them, you can scroll down to the disjointed pictures in the latter half. But you shouldn’t.

I flew to Bangkok on a Saturday night, and got loosened up for the trip by a terrifying dive that my 767 took somewhere south of Taiwan. Even the stewardesses seemed a bit rattled. Not good times. I had just ordered a gin and tonic, and it had just been delivered when the plane dropped - as did the G and T, in one gulp - and I was sober at the time. I did as well as I could for the remainder of the flight to not be. Fortunately, on the flight a couple days later on an Air Asia flight to Malaysia - on a ghetto, old, clearly second-hand 737 (the signs inside the plane were in Spanish for fuck’s sake), there were no such incidents.

After going boozing my first night, I did what I came to do in Bangkok - ate tons of Thai food, bought some cheap clothes and a Malaysia Lonely Planet, and hung out on Khoa San. In doing this, I somehow lost my camera. Apparently, cameras are the new sunglasses for me. I bought my fourth camera since arriving in Asia, fifth if you count the at-the-time high end cell phone that I brought here with me from the states and lost in the spring of 2007. Worst of all, when losing or breaking all five cameras, I was as sober as a Republican when the cameras were on. I haven’t been losing my cameras because I’m a miserable drunk - that I could accept - I’ve been losing them because I’m an idiot. True story - the day after I lost my last camera (earlier this summer), I somehow lost a pack of smokes that I bought at a store that’s next to my building. Only I could lose something when a) I didn’t stop anywhere to lose it, and b) I was walking 30 feet, tops. And no, I didn’t leave them at the store, I checked.

Anyway, after buying my new camera in Georgetown, the main city on Penang Island in Malaysia, I decided I had no reason to stick around in town, and hopped on a non-air conditioned bus to the beach. Despite no AC, the bus was fairly awesome, since it cost like 60 cents to ride to the other side of the island and you could smoke on it. I didn’t, but just knowing I could was cool enough for me. I settled into my hotel, and after a couple nights of hostels and clubs and drinking an aptly-named “bucket” and shady Bangkok taxi drivers and airports and haggling for cameras and horrific in-flight dives and un-air conditioned busses, I finally felt like I was on vacation. My hotel was nowhere near 5 star, but it was perfect. AC, cable, fridge, and right on the beach. In that, I mean that to leave my room and it’s sweet deck, I had to walk through the sand to get to the road. I ate dinner at a beach bar, went to sleep at like 11 p.m. and woke up at 10. Vacation.

I spent my first day on the beach pretty much doing nothing, the farthest I went from my hotel was wherever I cruised out to on a jet ski. The next day, I rented a scooter, which I then proceeded to crash. Twice. It turns out that simply driving one in Grand Theft Auto doesn’t make me particularly qualified to drive one in real life. In my defense, the roads were really twisty, plus people drive on the wrong side of the road there, so it wasn’t like tooling across Iowa. After my first crash (a very minor one about 30 seconds after I got the scooter, that required me to pay some guy $7 for cracking his rear light) I practiced a bit, then headed to the national park to hike through the jungle. Unlike a Korean national park, there weren’t a million people everywhere. I was out hiking 3 hours and saw a total of 4 people. I found a secluded beach, and saw a freaking monitor lizard along with the ubiquitous monkeys.

Malaysia seemed to be quite advanced country - much cleaner than Korea (but so is LA) and much better organized infrastructure-wise than, say, Thailand. Still, there’s lots of fun stuff that you could never get away with back home other than smoking on busses. When I returned my twice-crashed scooter to the internet cafe guy that rented them (the second time I knocked both mirrors off and shattered one, but had it fixed up at a nearby bike shop for 8 or 9 bucks) the guy didn’t even look at the scooter. He just said, “Oh good, you’re back in one piece,” and gave me my deposit back no questions asked. Later that day, after drinking a bunch of Thai whiskey on my deck, I decided it would be a good idea to go jet skiing again. There was no deposit, no paperwork, nothing, I just haggled with the guy then paid him. Jet skiing is fun, but jet skiing while drunk is unbelievable. For some reason, I started loudly singing Doors songs and had a couple unspoken races with this Saudi couple (the dude driving of course, and the woman in full burka. On a jet ski.). Being that there were two Saudis, likely sober, and only one of me, I won the races pretty easily.

On my last day in Malaysia, I hired a taxi to go sightseeing around Penang before moving on to the airport. It was very cool, but I won’t bore you with most of it, I’ll mention the snake temple. It had a snake farm, which turned out to be pretty boring, just a bunch of smaller snakes in 10 gallon aquariums, like the reptile house at any zoo. I saw a large cage in the center with 2 enormous snakes in it, but the snakes didn’t move at all. There was a mouse in there, running all over the snakes’ heads, and I kept waiting for them to eat the mouse, but they didn’t move at all. I mean, even for snakes, they were totally still. I assumed that they must be rubber fakes, so I touched the tail of one of them, and it moved it’s tail. Okay, fair enough, they are real. Then, I noticed the sign on the cage indicating what they were. King cobras. Oops.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Malaysian food. It doesn’t get much press, and I’d never eaten Malaysian food other than once in Hong Kong. I loved it in HK, but it was also my main HK going-out night out when I had it, and I probably would have enjoyed microwaved tree bark at the time. It turned out my drunken Hong Kong taste buds were right - Malaysian food is the best. I cannot understand why there isn’t a Malaysian restaurant on every corner. It’s Asia, so it’s all rice and noodle based, and it’s something of a mix of Thai, Indian, Chinese, and Arabic. Had there been a Taco Bell on Penang, I doubt I would have gone. On the other hand, I love me some Thai food, but had there been a Bell in Bangkok, I totally would have gone. In fact, there was a Mexican place down the street from my Bangkok hostel, and I did go, and it wasn’t even the Bell.

Anyway, so much for this one-blog idea. I’ll post part 2 in a couple days, with more pictures

Batu Ferringhi Beach, from just outside my hotel

My hotel, photo taken standing in the same spot as the last one

My sweet ride

Lonely jungle beach (though WiFi on my iPod worked here)

Click and zoom, monitor lizard going for a swim

The beach from my deck before a 5 minute rainstorm

Old looking monkey

Maybe the best sunset ever

Me at the same sunset