Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One more girl I won't be getting

Sunday. As per usual, I was a bit hungover. I had planned to do interesting things over the course of the day, but I did no such things. I was at trivia at my local bar. It was 7:11 p.m. Again, as per usual, my team was up. My team usually wins, because I’m pretty much the best trivia player alive. States of Australia? Airport codes? One hit wonders? JFK? I’m the guy to call.

At that particular moment (7:11 pm Korean Standard time, last Sunday) I got a text. It was from a number without a name. It read: “im sorry. I can’t recive call cuz i sleep.” At first, I figured it was a wrong-number text, but then it occurred to me that the likelihood of a round-eye such as myself receiving a wrong-number text that was written in English was nearly mathematically impossible.

Flashback to the previous night. I spent a fair portion of the early evening drinking with my buddies Martin, Ryan, and Don at Martin’s apartment. Martin and Ryan were drinking a concoction that they called “the water bottle.” It consisted of two bottles of soju and a larger bottle of juice mixed into an empty two liter bottle of water. Fairly brilliantly, they had discovered that two bottles of soju and a large bottle of juice equals exactly two liters. I was drinking a mixture that I dubbed “homemade wine,” which was a mix of vodka and grape juice in a half liter water bottle. Yes, I am aware that it would be cooler in an empty wine bottle. Don was drinking a substance that he called “beer.” It was beer.

Martin and Ryan left to go to a cell phone store, where Martin had an iPhone on order. Acquiring an iPhone without Korean citizenship or a Korean spouse is next to impossible here. Martin had somehow done it. Don and I briefly retired to my apartment. Out of homemade wine, I helped myself to his beer.

Earlier in the evening/afternoon, there had been talk of an Itaewon trip. I doubted its viability based on Martin and Ryan’s level of drunkenness. However, not long after I had cracked into Don’s beer, I received word from Martin that they were, in fact, on their way to Itaewon. I wanted Indian food. Don wanted Itaewon potatoes. Off we went.

After food and some drinks, Ryan almost got into a fight with this dude outside Polly’s Kettle House. Ryan has a reputation as a hothead, but dude had it coming and definitely instigated. While Ryan and the dude were face to face, I talked with one of the dude’s friends. He was huge. He told me that I seemed cool, and it was a shame that he would likely soon have to fight me. I felt the same way. Probably more so, because he was huge.

The rumble never went down. We went to some other bars, and then took a taxi back to Nowon. We went to Noblock for a nightcap, then headed home. At home, Martin discovered that his brand new iPhone was gone. I called may bartender buddy at Noblock, and he said that it wasn’t there. Clearly, it must have been in the taxi that we took home from Noblock. Martin got a new number when he got the iPhone. He didn’t know it yet. I had a couple of recent incoming calls in my phone with no name attached, so I called one, hoping to reach the taxi driver or whoever may have found the phone. It seemed strange that it had a ring-back tone involved, but I kept calling it. I got roped in to going back to Noblock with Martin to look for his phone. I called the unknown number that it seemed he called me from earlier 15 or 20 times between 4 and 6 a.m.

Flash back to the previous day. In my run-up to my vacation, I’ve been on a sometimes asinine diet. I’m down 15 pounds or so in the last three weeks. It’s the lightest I’ve been since I was 24, and when I was 24 I lost weight on a diet based solely on abject poverty. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

After drinking with Martin and his girlfriend at his place, we went to the Train Hof. This was my first time at the Train Hof. The Train Hof is a bar where a mini-train takes you to your table. Before getting to the table, the train passes through a “scary tunnel,” which is actually a hallway. The scary tunnel is a bit like an even lower-budget version of a carnival dark ride or the Indiana Beach mine car ride. Super ghetto skeletons and vampires, some of which “jump” out at you. It was awesome. Several of our friends were at the Train Hof already. We joined them at the table. Everyone was already smashed. One buddy of mine made out with some random Korean guys, and then he motorboated a girl at our table. I didn’t know most of the girls at the table, but they all seemed a bit frisky. We moved on to Nowon’s preeminent crappy dance club - Volume.

My memory of Volume is a bit hazy. As I said, I was feeling fit and virile, and thus pretty much hit on every girl there. I woke up with a couple of new numbers in my phonebook. Sadly, by the time I woke up, I couldn’t place faces with the new names in my cell.

Back to Sunday, trivia, Metropolis, 7:11 p.m. Suddenly, the text message made sense. I got a girl’s number on Friday night and forgot to enter her name into my phone. On Saturday night, I called the number repeatedly at obscene hours, thinking it was Martin’s iPhone and that it would help us get it back. It was that unknown number that I called 20 times on Saturday night that texted me Sunday evening. I suppose things won’t work out with that girl. On the plus side, I don’t remember who she was, what she looked like, or what her name was. Still, like George Carlin said, I considered it a missed opportunity.

Epilogue: Martin somehow got in touch with the taxi company, or they got in touch with him, or something, and he got his iPhone back. It’s about time this blog have a post with a happy ending.

Also: I’m going on vacation Friday. I fly to Kuala Lumpur Friday, then Bali Saturday morning, then back to KL the following Friday, and home to Korea late Sunday night. I’ll try to post something next week to keep this “weekly” thing up, but no guarantees. I’m sure you’ll live.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pretty Pictures of Pretty Cities

As promised, here are some pictures of the cities that I discussed in my last post. All of the pictures were taken by me unless otherwise noted.

First off, I'll show the cities that both Forbes/Yahoo and I agreed on:

Chicago





as you can see, the Chi looks great even in the neigborhoods.



Firenze

Amazingly, this is the only picture that I took of Florence from within her city streets.



Paris




and my only workable exterior shots of Paris are pretty much the most cliche possible. I don't miss disposable cameras.



San Francisco




This was taken from the observation deck of the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park


Cape Town

This is the photo of Cape Town used in the Forbes article, as I've never been there. It's from Getty Images.


Venice




easily my best cell phone camera picture ever


The next group of pictures are cities that are on the Forbes list, but not mine.


Tokyo




Sydney

I've never been to Sydney, so again this is from the Forbes article. Also, this, so far as I know, is the only picture ever taken of Sydney. I believe this is also provided by Getty Images, but I don't know how anybody could copyright a picture of Sydney since they all look the same.


New York

Here's why New York didn't make my cut - an awful lot of it looks like this.


London

ditto London.


Cambridge
not pictured, no reason to.


Vancouver
I didn't take any decent urban landscape pictures when I was in Vancouver. I didn't look for any images online to post, simply because it's pretty easy to find out what Vancouver looks like this week.



The final group of pictures are cities that I feel are more deserving of the final 6 slots on the list than the cities Forbes chose.




George Town (Penang), Malaysia


This is near central George Town.



This temple is just outside the city limits.


Honk Kong


The ghetto camera phone I was using didn't do justice to HK.





Rome

Most of my pictures from Rome prominently featured people rather than cityscape, leaving me with no choice but to run my cliche shot of the Colosseum.


Prague

The last picture I took before leaving town. I converted it B&W in post, I'm not actually pretentious enough to walk around Prague with B&W film.


Rio

I've never been there, this is the first image on Rio's Wikipedia page.


Amsterdam

Like Rome, Paris, and Florence, most of my Amsterdam exterior pics prominently involved people, so I'm stuck with a cliche shot of Centraal Station. Still nice though, eh?

Woohoo, two gimmick posts off of one stupid article. I've officially spent more time with this silly idea than Forbes did creating it. Something different coming up next.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pretty Cities (or a title that sucks less)

My buddy Jack recently emailed me a list of the world’s most beautiful cities, published by Yahoo Travel and written by Forbes. He suggested I write a reaction. My first reaction to the piece, of course - what an easy, lazy thing for Forbes to write about. They named the slam-dunks that everyone would agree on (Paris, Florence, Venice, San Francisco, New York), added Chicago for street cred, chose a token representative city from Asia (Tokyo), Canada (Vancouver), Australia (Sydney), Africa (Cape Town), and the British Isles (London). For a wacky wildcard, they added Cambridge (England). Upon further examination, I decided that a proper reaction to this Forbes 12 could easily be written by anyone, but shouldn’t be. This is a job suitable only for the laziest writer I know - me.

I’ve lived in Paris, Florence, and Chicago. They are, in some order, my three favorite cities in the world. My level of bias toward them can’t be overstated. All three are, in some way, long lost loves that I cannot think rationally about. I have maps of all three on my wall. I even have soft spots for their sub-par airports. Forbes made an inspired choice here.

I’ve never been to Cape Town. I don’t believe for a minute that any writer at Forbes has ever been to Cape Town. The two or three pictures I’ve seen of it look nice. It stays, simply because I have no reason to boot it.

I’ve been to Venice and San Francisco. Both are architectural rock stars. These cities shine outside their tourist districts (presuming that there is a non-touristy part of Venice) and deserve to be on the list as well.

New York is a trickier study. Manhattan is beautiful, the skyline is amongst the world’s best. The bridges make the East River look respectable. Central Park needs no introduction. Unfortunately, most of New York’s land mass and population resides in the boroughs. Paris, Florence, Venice, and San Francisco are beautiful throughout. Chicago, outside of the worst ghettos and industrial areas, holds it down throughout the city. New York has the singular attraction of Manhattan, but is decidedly less than beautiful elsewhere. Because I am presuming that the writers at Forbes have never actually been to the boroughs, I have to deduct points here. I’m not saying that there aren’t aesthetically pleasing districts of Brooklyn or Queens, but I am saying that these districts don’t look nicer than the prettier parts of Pittsburgh or Boston or Kansas City. New York is out.

I’ve never been to Cambridge. I never plan to go. I do know this much: some random college town in the English Midlands is not one of the 12 most beautiful cities IN THE WORLD. It’s not. It’s a stupid wildcard choice for the sake of being unpredictable. Why not Cambridge Mass? Why not Madison, Wisconsin or Lawrence, Kansas? They are nice looking college towns all, but in no way comparable to Paris.

I’ve never been to Sydney. (Really, I am kinda qualified to write this - Cape Town, Cambridge, and Sydney are the only cities on this list that I’ve never been to.) Of course, I know what you know about Sydney. There’s the Opera House. There’s that nothing-special bridge by the harbor and the opera house. Sydney might have other things going on too. Sadly, we may never know. As Australian law has decreed (under penalty of booting) that all pictures of Sydney must feature the opera house and bridge, this is all I have to go by. Thus, Sydney is out too. The rest of the city may look like Stalingrad for all we know.

Tokyo, London, Vancouver round out the list. I’ve visited all three cities. As I originally mentioned, I think Vancouver was chosen to appeal to Canadian readers. This matters for marketing when writing in a publication that’s largely going to be read by English speaking North Americans (sorry, Quebec and Mexico). However, Canada is only the 36th largest country in the world, and including its most beautiful city doesn’t particularly matter. I can’t even say if Vancouver is Canada’s most beautiful city, as it’s the only Canadian city that I’ve been to. I can say that Vancouver looks very nice. Still, it doesn’t look any nicer than Seattle. Vancouver and Seattle are both beautiful cities, but not world’s most beautiful.

Tokyo is the Asian selection. Tokyo is by no means the most beautiful city in Asia. In my limited Asian travels, I can say that Hong Kong and Singapore are unquestionably more beautiful than Tokyo. Word on the street is that Tokyo isn’t even the most beautiful city in Japan - Kyoto and Nara both easily beat it. I cannot comment on this for certain having not been to these cities.

London is probably the biggest joke of all. Sure, Westminster Abbey and Whitehall look lovely, but London is chock full of ugly buildings. London is a great city, but nobody ever leaves it amazed by its aesthetics. London would not even make the list of the 12 most beautiful European cities that I have been to, and it certainly has no place on a list of the 12 most beautiful cities in the world.

Here’s the part where I make my own list. I’m keeping Paris, Florence, Chicago, Venice, San Francisco, and Cape Town. I’m booting New York, London, Tokyo, Cambridge, Sydney, and Vancouver. I need 6 new cities. Keep in mind: a) this is based on my experience, so it is in no way fair or right, as there are over 169 countries that I’ve never been to, and b) this list is better than the Forbes list. In no order (like the Forbes list):

Rio de Janeiro - I’ve never been to Rio, but I’m dying to go. I’m making a Forbes-Cape Town move here. From what I understand, Rio is supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, architecturally and naturally. Plus, South America can get in on the action - now we have every continent that matters on the list (sorry, penguins and Aussies.)

Hong Kong - maybe the best skyline in the world, and with the best conveyance possible to appreciate it in the Star Ferry. The primary HK skyline is lined up along Hong Kong Island’s north shore, facing Victoria Harbor. The view of it from the Kowloon side of town and from the ferry is unbeatable. Kowloon is no slouch either, with its top-ranked hotels and its anything-goes Nathan Road.

Rome - senseless that this got left off the original list. Maybe they didn’t want to go too Euro - easy solution - cut London or Cambridge. Yes, Italy already has two cities. So what. It’s a list of the world’s most beautiful cities. Italy should be overrepresented. If it were a list of the best cities to score killer drugs, the Netherlands would be overrepresented too (and Vancouver would stay on the list). Speaking of the Netherlands...

Amsterdam - Amsterdam as a whole city is almost as architecturally perfect as Paris or Venice. The canals, the gables, the low bridges, it all looks brilliant. I’ve been to Amsterdam three times, and like other great party cities that I’ve visited multiple times (Las Vegas, Bangkok, New Orleans, Busan) I know I’ll be back, Amsterdam just happens to be the prettiest of that bunch. Speaking of pretty party cities...

Prague - Baroque perfection. Yeah, there’s some grime, but the overall look of the town is beyond reproach. Prague looks cool most everywhere, and its historic center takes it up another notch. Half my list is Europe. Really, unless one is trying to be cute (like Forbes), then any list of the world’s most beautiful cities has to be Euro-centric. Most Asian cities sprawl to the point of being ugly. Most American cities are too new, and share the sprawl problem. South America and Africa.... to put it politely, I haven’t spent any time there.

Penang/George Town, Malaysia - George Town is a compact city, but Malaysia’s second largest. The city features a whitewashed colonial district, a downtown skyline, and raucous Chinatown and Little India. The north and east sides of town face the water, and Penang Hill (really a mountain) looms over it all. It doesn’t hurt that the city is surrounded by temples, beaches, and jungle. George Town is just big enough to matter, but not big enough to have sprawled to architectural irrelevancy.

There’s a lot of other places I could have included. However, unlike Forbes, I didn’t go Cambridge. I listed cities. Places that do not have legitimate international airports didn’t apply. Also, I admit this list is both biased and flawed. If you’d like to nominate a beautiful city, do so in comments. I’ll run a related photo album in a couple days.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dump

I went to buy a pizza last week. The girl at the pizza counter laughed out loud at me for no real reason, like I was John Arbuckle. This is life in Korea sometimes, but there’s not really a story worth making a post out of here.

I got in my building’s elevator the other night. I live on the 6th floor, but there are four basements. As usual, I was not paying attention to the direction the elevator was going, and it went down to B3. Two able-bodied middle aged Korean women got in. Following usual protocol, I immediately hit 6 again to close the door faster, allowing the women just enough time to enter the elevator. They hit the B4 button. Fucking hell. For reasons known only to the elevator, it went up rather than continuing down. It stopped on every floor between B3 and 6, and even went up to 7. This pleased me. I was no longer in such a rush to get home so long as the lazy cunts in the elevator with me were inconvenienced. Why the hell would anybody take the elevator from B3 to B4 rather than the stairs? These ladies were in no way disabled. They weren’t carrying anything heavy, or anything at all for that matter. I considered walking down from 6 to B4 to press the elevator call button on every floor to further inconvenience them, but I figured a rare bout elevator justice had already been served. I am not sure if taking an elevator down one floor is a particular strain of Korean retardation, or if this is a problem the world over. I suppose I take the elevator a lot more here than I do elsewhere, and thus notice more idiotic elevator behavior here than elsewhere. Either way - if it’s three floors or less and you’re going down, take the fucking stairs.

My vacuum broke the other night, smoke coming out of the motor and everything. Like a PS2, I took the fucker apart, messed around with it a bit, put it back together - and it worked. Man points for me.

Somehow, up until I wrote those last two paragraphs, my computer’s spellcheck didn’t know the words “cunt” or “fucker.” I don’t know how this is possible.

I went to Itaewon on Saturday night. Some guy at Spy Bar bought my buddy and I lots of drinks because he had won big at the casino earlier in the evening. Later, at Seoul Pub, my buddy drunkenly yelled at these two German guys for no good reason. Nothing else of interest happened the rest of the night.

For this reason, I will increase the length of this post by including a never-published story about Itaewon, particularly Seoul Pub and Spy Bar, that I wrote way back in December of 2006. Fair warning: it isn’t that interesting either. I have bigger, better things in mind for next week’s post, but for now this will have to do.

To set it up: at the time, I was just in the process of leaving my original school, and had just gotten a job at a different school, the one that I still work for now. I wrote it in a notebook while drunk in a bar, so I cleaned it a bit to make it coherent. I have chosen to leave the dated reference in for comedic value. After the original “Itae-wah?” post, I’m adding a couple other bits from the same notebook that don’t fit in to any other larger piece. Again, this material is all new (to you) as it has never been posted anywhere, but at the same time it’s all old as the hills.

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Itae-wah? (Dec 06)

We are officially in the no-sense zone. Like, I got a job, so suddenly I have free time that I don’t know what to do with. I took a nap today. With no alarm, so I had no clue when it would end. Turned out it ended at 11 p.m., and Richard Quest’s show was on CNN International. I watched that, then went out.

And, you know, it’s hard work, we are all working hard out here in Itaewon. Really, when I woke up from my non-specific non-alarm nap, I was hoping that I had somehow slept through the night and it was 7 a.m. and time to go to McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin. It was 11, so it meant it was time to booze in Itaewon until 5 a.m. for Egg McMuffin City. (note from 2010 - thankfully it’s 4 a.m. now for Egg McMuffins)

So I went to Spy Bar. It’s is a joint full of Russian models. It’s also one of the few places I’ve been outside Hollywood where hot girls outnumber ugly ones 10-1. There were like 126 hot girls there. Many wearing short skirts. Really, at this point, when I see a hot girl in a short skirt and it’s, say, 20 degrees (Fahrenheit yo) outside(and this happens every single day) I say to myself - I love Korea.

Anyway, so I was at Spy Bar with my buddy John, who I met boozing last week. John is a Patriots fan, and I don’t care, out here football fan is enough. Unless the Broncos are involved. The bar played Mambo Number Five, and that’s the last I saw of John. I had to hit the floor. I mean, the club playing Mambo Number Five and expecting me not to hit the floor is like the Philadelphia Art Museum blaring “Gonna Fly Now” and expecting Rocky not to come running up the steps. I know that could be overly topical, but if that joke dies it dies. (another note from 2010 - I have no idea why this was a topical joke in 2006)

So there was this ridiculous girl in a sort of half-shirt that I kept hitting on to no avail. Also, she had long brown hair and a cute smile. What can I say - I have a type.

So now I’m writing at the old Seoul Pub, a bar I could take or leave. Really, right now, I wish to leave, for Egg McMuffin Land. I will say this - I used to come to Itaewon a lot to meet random people. Now, I literally can’t come here without running into people I know. Which I suppose is good.


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(sometime in 2007)
I hate Dr. Sanjay Gupta. What a tool. “Dr” in every chiron and graphic that introduces him on TV. What an insecure prick.

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(Dec 25 2007)
My Philippines pictures suck. I wish I had some of the cool shit, but didn’t have a camera or batteries at the time. I have no shots of the hot chicks on my snorkel tour, the dog I saw with its newborn puppies, or a random awesome waterfall in Mindoro when I was on the back of a Jeepney. I also don’t have any of myself on my own now, the only customer at the most hopping bar in town on Christmas night, or of my buddies in Roxas.


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(Nov or Dec 2006, on a chick I knew at the time, maybe a co-worker)
She’s a beautiful girl, but the type of girl whom you can never tell that she looks beautiful, because if you didn’t day it again the next day, she would assume you thought she didn’t.


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Looking through my ancient notebook, I noticed a drawing. I was trying to ask a Korean dude who worked at a newsstand where to catch a particular bus. I wrote “Bus 6900?” and drew a picture of a bus. I knew such little Korean at the time that I didn’t realize that the Korean word for bus is “bus-uh,” which the news-agent certainly would have understood.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

MASS EFFECT 2. (Buy it.)

When I heard Mass Effect 2 was coming out in January, I pre-ordered it in October. I loved the first one so much, the second had to deliver. In fact, it’s better.

If you’ve never played through the first Mass Effect, you should. I do admit, it’s a slow game in the beginning, and it takes time to get your bearings, but you have to stick with it. It will be worth it, trust me. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll play it for hours. It’s basically an RPG, but with Shooter combat. You can be good, evil, or both at the same time, which really kicks ass.

For the first time in video game history (at least that I’m aware of) the choices you made in ME1 affect your game in ME2. Character that you’ve chosen to kill or keep alive will come back to haunt you in the sequel. You can start from scratch of course, but it was nice to be able to import my character from the first game.

So what makes this game so awesome? The characters. The voice actors. (Martin Sheen plays the boss in ME2). Sniper rifles. Being able to choose which things you care about, and which side missions you want to do. Being able to choose what you say to people, and who you want to bring on missions. As you gain good and evil points, you can talk your way in or out of any situation, rough people up, save them, whatever. I won’t go into any specific details because I don’t want to give anything away.

I’ve had the game for 4 days, and I’ve already logged 13 hours without even trying. It’s that intriguing. So…get yourself a 360 (also available on PC) and get to work.

Kickass Approved.
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