Friday, July 30, 2010

Reason needed

Note - this post isn't very good. I wrote it last night while drunk and lamenting lost loves. I'm posting it anyway because it's largely true and has 2 or 3 solid jokes. That and it's the first thing I've written in 3 weeks.

Listen - This blog is about to get douchy.

People need a reason why they do things. If I’ve learned nothing else watching cop shows on TV, it’s that everybody has some sort of motivation for the actions that they take.

Sometimes, as an Athnostic (yeah, I’m even on the fence on that one) I’m sometimes jealous of religious people. Their outmoded voodoo caveman ways of looking at the world provides them a sense of purpose, a sense of faith as they call it. They believe that if they behave in ways that follow their given set of beliefs, they will advance, and if they fail to follow this code, they will decline. I try to do what I can to be a good person (I recycle) and avoid committing acts that I feel would make me a bad person (I’ve never killed a hooker for sport), yet I’m fairly sure I’ll wind up dead either way, with no chance of parole.

Beyond these loftier meaning-of-life sort of questions, I really never do anything for a reason. If I did, I imagine I would be farther along in the life scale than I am. That is not to say I’m some indecisive ninny. Choosing the next bar? Picking a radio station? Looking for advice on a trans-Pacific flight? I’m your guy. I have answers.

Still, I cannot give a single reason, logical or otherwise, regarding most of my major life decisions. Senior year of high school, I chose to matriculate at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. I still don’t know how I chose such an obscure, rainy school. I received unsolicited mail from USC, Miami, Georgetown, NYU, and others. Surely any of these places would have been more fun at age 18, not to mention more prestigious. I never even applied to these schools.

At the end of my freshman year, I transferred from Puget Sound back home, to KU. Again, I have absolutely no reason why. At UPS, I had a girlfriend that I was really into, a radio show, a couple good buddies, and contacts in most every aspect of the university that I was interested in. I also really loved the Pacific Northwest. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was happy, but I was hardly marching into Valhalla at KU.

While I never understood why I attended or left UPS, I’ve made plenty of questionable decisions since. I’m not really sure why I moved to Chicago after college. I had ample reason to quit my corporate job in Chicago and I’m glad I did, but I don’t know why I did it when I did it. I certainly don’t know why I left Chicago - I really never wanted to. I don’t know why I decided to move to Korea after Chicago. There are 195 countries in the world - South Korea is a bit random. Most people move to France. I also don’t really know why I left Korea 2 years later. I liked living in Korea. I can wake up at 12:47 pm every day and go on exotic vacations. At least coming back here makes sense.

Since I’ve returned to Korea, I’ve made a few health-conscious decisions. I try to limit myself to McDonald’s once a week. I eat more vegetables. I don’t drink every night anymore. I lost 15 pounds last winter, and have kept it off. I go to the gym. Again, I don’t know why I do any of these things. In theory, they are self evident, for the sake of health. In all honesty, I don’t care that much about my health. I’ve been going to the gym for 7 or 8 months, generally 4 or 5 times a week. I hated going the first week. I still haven’t gotten used to it. I hated going today. I never want to go again, but I know I will. I just don’t know why.

This brings us to smoking. I think I really need a reason on this one. Previously I referred to quitting smoking as breaking up with myself. It might be worse. Quitting smoking, where I live, in Asia, convenience store in my building is as nasty as I thought it would be. Worse maybe. Chewing Nicorette, chewing straws, or smoking herbal cigs (as I took to doing today because I was going crazy) is brutal. On the break up scale, it’s like choosing to use crappy 1995 porn (with a crappy dial-up modem) while the ex is sitting naked on my couch.

I need a reason to not smoke. I know it will make my mother happy. I know it will prolong my life. I know my clothes will smell better. I know 51% of girls now prefer it. I know I will save money. I know I stand to make upwards of $100 on bets. The fact is, at 3 a.m., none of these reasons matter, and when you’re me, it’s 3 a.m. a lot.

This post sucked. Let’s never speak of it again, I’m going on vacation. Within 12 hours, I’ll either be in Bangkok, Taipei, Hong Kong, Manila, or southern Korea. It’s that kind of vacation.

Friday, July 23, 2010


In September of 2011, I’m going on the road. I’ve had this type of trip on the back-burner for years, but it’s time to commit. I love me a week here or a weekend there, but it’s time to really earn my travel stripes and run a real operation.

When my next contract (which at the time of writing doesn’t actually exist yet) ends next year, I’m off. I’ll leave most of my stuff here in Korea (I’m looking at you here, Don) strap on one backpack’s worth of stuff, and catch... good old Seoul Subway line 1. I’ll ride out to Incheon and bus to the port to take an overnight ferry to China (either Qingdao or Tianjin), then head right for the capital. Conservatively, I’m presuming a month in China. A week in Beijing and environs (Great Wall, duh), a week in Xian (Terra-Cotta Warriors) and the surrounding region, a week in Shanghai, and a week in Kumming where a buddy of mine lives.

I’ll take the train on to Indochina for a month that may easily become two. The original plan is two weeks in Vietnam, though that could be extended to a month as that’s how long their visas are. From southern Vietnam, I’d go on to Cambodia for a week or two, then to Laos via Thailand for another week or two. As I’d only spend a day or so in Thailand in transit to Laos, I’d return to Thailand for a proper month. I presume I’ll start in the north around Chang Mai, then down to Bangkok. Bangkok will be the first city I’ll visit that I’ve been to before, but I love me some BKK, so it will be worth a couple days. Next, I’d head south via trains and buses to hit the beach islands, my first real beach experience of the trip (unless I find a beach in Nam).

Rolling down the slow southeast Asian rail network, I’d arrive in Malaysia. I’d probably only spend a week there, since I’ve been before and because it’s more expensive than its neighbors. I’ll spend a weekend in Kuala Lumpur, as it will be the last high-order civilized place that I’ll see for some time. Next up - Malacca, a town I’ve always wanted to see. From here, I’ll catch a boat to Indonesia.

Indonesia will be the real meat of the trip. I spent 6 days in Bali last year, enough to convince me that I want to spend a lot more time in Indonesia. The food, the people, the scenery, and the food are all worth getting to know better. Coming from Malacca, I’d start in Sumatra. Sumatra is the 4th largest island in the world and with Borneo the only native land to orangutans. I imagine I’ll spend a week and a half on this massive jungle island before ending up on a brutal 20 + hour bus/boat ride to Jakarta. The Indonesian capital is largely know for being a hot, sprawling concrete jungle in the jungle and something of a hell-hole where nothing works out the way it was intended to. I can’t wait to go. Jakarta has been on my top-10 list of cities to visit for years.

Following Jakarta, I’ll take trains across Java, checking out some of Indonesia’s grandest temples and cultural sites. After a week and a half or so on the world’s most populous island, I’ll have to make island hopping tracks. Visas to Indonesia are only one month long, so I’ll have a lot of ground to cover in 7-10 days. I’ll catch the bus/ferry to Bali and speed right through along the north coast highway, taking a forwarding boat on to Lombok. Next up - Sumbawa, followed by the reasonably large island of Flores. After crossing Flores, I’ll take the 20 hour ferry to West Timor.

From Kupang, West Timor (Indonesia), I’ll continue east on the 12-hour bus ride to East Timor. This will mark the 9th and maybe last country I’ll hit on the trip. East Timor is pretty damn remote. There are only 3 ways to get there. Flights connect to Dili (the capital) from only two cities - Bali and Darwin, Australia. The only other way to get there is the aforementioned 12 hour bus from Kupang. From Dili, I presume I’ll continue east. Mini-bus lines end at Com, in northeast East Timor. I’ll need to rent a jeep and then hire a boat to make it to Jaco Island, essentially the end of the world. From Jaco, there is nowhere to go but back. There are no boats between Timor and Australia.

I’ll work my way back to Dili, back to Kupang, back to Flores. Armed with a new monthlong Indonesia visa, I’ll go slower through the eastern islands. Maybe I’ll check out Komodo or, further down the pike, Krakatoa. Ultimately, with my second visa up, I’ll head back for civilization, to either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Presuming I have a job waiting for me back in Korea, I’ll have my (likely) new school fly me in from KL or Singapore.

I’ll set up shop in Seoul again. I’ll save more money. Of course, there will be the inevitable book, which will lead to massive fame and accolades. There will be my eventual return to America, with press conferences and adoring fans waiting for me at LAX or O’Hare or wherever.

This trip is gonna rule.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Breaking up with myself

Have you ever had to break up with somebody that you still truly loved? Me too. Have you ever had to take a relative off of life support, or to a lesser degree put down a pet? You know how when you have an unpleasant, heartbreaking obligation looming, you start to feel sick as the chosen hour arrives? I’ve felt this way all week, and ten-fold tonight. The chosen hour is nigh. Tomorrow will undoubtedly be one of the worst days of my life. Tomorrow, I quit smoking.

The thing is, I love smoking. It fits like a glove with everything else I love. Cigarettes are particularly awesome after a good meal, after a bad meal, after a flight, and the cliche post-coitus. Smoking is great while writing, hanging out at a bar, or driving, particularly on a road trip. Smokes make the stress of watching sports more bearable, and are a great way to pass the time while stressing out about girls. Cigs fit with rock and roll, break up the work day, and help the flow of video editing. Chain smoking on an extended phone call moves things along. A cigarette completes a sitting on the beach with a good book and a strong rum drink. It’s the last thing I do at night and the first thing I do in the morning, thus it’s a habit that even bookends sleep. Traveling, writing, editing, drinking, socializing, walking, reading, bumming, fucking, flying, landing, driving, eating, sleeping, rocking, watching, cheering, agonizing. These are pretty much the only things I like doing, and cigarettes are a part of all of them.

I made an attempt to quit smoking last year. I was staying at my mom’s house in Baltimore. I had essentially no social life and no job, so it was a pretty stress-free environment. I slowly cut down to 6 or 7 a day and augmented that with Camel Snus and cheap cigars. I quit on a day that my mom and step-dad were out of town and never mentioned my plans to them in case I failed. I went one whole day with zero cigs. It was horrible. The down side of no job and no social life was the fact that I had absolutely nothing to take my mind off of smoking. I ate at Taco Bell, then had no idea what to do next. When I finish eating, I smoke. It’s the period to the sentence.

The next day, I feared I would break down. As the parents were out of town, I spent much of the afternoon in the hot tub drinking whiskey. It was my plan to get liquored up so as to not be tempted to drive to the store. While I succeeded in this portion of the plan, cravings won out and I walked to the nearest store to buy an overpriced pack.

I planned another attempt a couple weeks later. Hell, I’d been smoking for 16 years at this point, it was doubtful that my first attempt to quit since the mid-’90s would work. That attempt never came. I started working and quickly developed a smoking routine at the job. Then, I went to New York, and actually did fun social things. By this point, quitting seemed fruitless as I would soon be doing another US farewell tour and returning to Korea. Late summer 2009 would involve too many trips, too many parties, and too much stress to consider quitting again.

I don’t want to quit in America anyway. There’s every reason in the world to do so, of course. Cigarettes cost a million dollars a pack. You can’t smoke anywhere. Smoking isn’t as hip as it used to be. Whatever. I’ve always despised the rabid anti-smoking faction in America, and I always felt that if I quit smoking there, they would somehow win. I can’t be another notch on’s bedpost.

Quitting in Korea will be infinitely more difficult. Smokes are cheap. Smoking policies are lax. Smoking goes perfectly with drinking, and Seoul is one of the booziest places on earth. There is really no financial incentive or social incentive to quit. The only reason to do it is to do it for myself. If I had quit in America, I would have lost the argument. Doing it here makes it a selfish win. Quitting in America is LeBron. Quitting in Korea is Jordan.

This truly is like a break-up with myself. In a lot of ways, smoking isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. I’ve celebrated every win and lamented every defeat I’ve ever had in my adult life with a smoke. Every post (of mine) on this blog is tobacco stained. I’ve smoked with European dignitaries, Hollywood celebrities, and Indonesian beggars, but most of the time I’ve just smoked with friends. I’ve smoked for 17 years. I’m good at it. I was even sponsored back in the late ‘90s.

Like any break up, there will be a period of mourning. Unfortunately, every other break-up mourning period I’ve been through since high school involved tons and tons of smoking. I’ll also have to avoid good old alcohol for a couple weeks. I know that I’d be a sitting duck at the bar next weekend. Really, I have but one interest that doesn’t involve smoking. I suppose this will have to be my way back, out of this. Video games. Video games don’t match well with smoking. If I smoke while playing games, I end up either dying a lot, or wasting the cigarette. Video games are the only thing I can think of that I was into before smoking, and that I’m still into, at least amongst things that can’t be enhanced by smoking.

As writing is a chain-smoking activity for me, I’m not going to have any topical updates in this space for the next few weeks. Fortunately, I’ve planned for this scenario, and I have plenty of unpublished “evergreen” pieces in the hopper, so NES/NAS won’t miss a beat while I’m off fighting demons.

Barring extra time, the World Cup will end 45 minutes from now. While watching, I will smoke like a Spaniard. (If this country had more drugs, I’d smoke like a Dutchman too). When it’s over, I’ll go to sleep, and tomorrow will be upon me. Anybody know any good NES or SNES games for me to check out?

Friday, July 9, 2010

I didn't do my homework

Sorry friends, I know that I generally post something at around this time of the week, but I've got nothing today. Last night, I intended to write and to get to bed early for the sake of going across town for the grand opening of Taco Bell. Instead, I ran into a couple buddies and drank until 4:30 or so. Then, in a brilliant move, we decided that we absolutely had to beat Super Mario 3. Good times. If I could go back and visit a 16-year-old version of myself, I'm sure that he would be amazed that 32-year-old me could be in a position to drink beer and play Nintendo until the sun comes up on a weeknight. We would definitely high-five. Of course, then he would ask me how things were with the ladies at age 32, and how many books or stories I had published. He would likely kick me in the balls after that. I'd deserve it.

On the plus side, I did make it to the Bell. It was a beaute.

Anyway, real post soon, likely Sunday.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bring On The Awkward

I feel like George Costanza. I was half expecting to walk into work this morning, and find out that they moved my desk to the cellar, and I’d have to crawl through the vent to get there.

Let me backtrack. I put in notice to quit my job yesterday. Three weeks notice- a week longer than most people give. Apparently, they were so shocked at my decision, they took it personally, and now I’m the most hated man here. In fact, they are giving me the silent treatment. Like a child would, if you told him 3 scoops of ice cream is enough, but he wanted more.

Quitting a job is really like breaking up with someone. When you first start out, you don’t show them the “real” you until your comfortable. Before you know it, you’re in this long term relationship with each other, you see each other first thing in the morning, you share meals together, you move some of your stuff in for easy access. You go along, content with your weekly paycheck…Then, things turn south. You realize you’re unhappy, communication breaks down, and it’s a mess.

Then…the decision is made. You know it’s over, it’s just a matter of breaking it off. Could they really be this blindsided? They have to know it’s not working. Things feel different. You dread seeing them every single day, and you’re not talking about it. You talk to friends for advice, but it appears you already made your decision, and there’s no repairing this relationship, you just need to get out, and get out now. Quick like a Band-Aid.

Then, finally, you tell them you need to go your separate ways, which really is for the best. And, like a divorce, you don’t immediately get rid of them right away. You have to see them, just as you’ve been seeing them, for a few more weeks. Only, things are completely different now. They thought you were going to grow old together, and you know it’s awkward when they bump into you while you’re microwaving a burrito for lunch.

As you walk around the once stable office, doors are now closed, people behind them weeping at your departure. They have secret meetings about finding someone new, who can give them those grandkids they always wanted that you never delivered. They don’t know how to act around you anymore. You still know a lot of the same people, and though you don’t say it, you know they are all going to choose sides.

Finally, you have to turn in your keys to the executive bathroom. (Good thing they don’t know that you made a copy.) Maybe you’ll run into them on the street one day, and they’ll look at you and remember when you were together. Maybe they’ll avoid eye contact, cause it’s just too painful.

Just remember this. Jobs come and go. But Nintendo is forever.


This originally appears in The Point, Northeast Kansas's finest news source. Pick up a copy today!

I’ve written a great deal about the Philippines, but until now, I’ve never covered Manila. I flew from Seoul to Manila in December of 2007. I had no further plans established. The sight of the horrific Manila airport upon landing was enough to convince me to move on. I found out that I had to leave the international wing of the Manila airport and head for the domestic portion, essentially a wholly different airport that used the same runway. A person at the airport information booth told me to walk to the nearby curbside stop to catch a shuttle to the domestic terminal, but that the shuttle bus would probably not be in operation.

I walked up to a man in a booth near the curbside spot to ask him when the shuttle to the domestic terminal would arrive. He laughed, and said that there would be no shuttle today. He pointed me to the taxi stand, where I would have to pay an inflated price to take a taxi to the domestic terminal. This remains the only airport that I’ve been to that actually required hiring a taxi to go from international to domestic. It didn’t endear Manila to me any further. I took the taxi. It took half an hour to get to the domestic terminal.

I visited a few airline ticket offices at the domestic terminal, and some nearby travel agents. Ultimately, I bought a ticket to Boracay, a world-renowned Philippine beach a few islands away. I bought the ticket at 1:10 p.m. My flight left at 2 p.m. I rushed back to and through the Manila domestic airport. It was a joke of an airport, the arrivals area was outside under a big tarp. Fortunately, unlike other Asian airports that I’d been to, Manila domestic airport boasted a Cinnabon. Things were looking up. Shortly thereafter, I was out of Manila. Unfortunately, I knew that I would have to return, and for two reasons: 1) my flight back to Seoul was out of Manila, and 2) suburban Manila had Taco Bell.

After an amazing week in Boracay and Mindoro island, I returned to Manila. Like any sensible person, I gave Manila the maximum amount of time anybody would ever need to see its many sights and enjoy its unique vibe - 1 day. I started my day at Taco Bell in the suburbs (the same place I’d ended my previous day, I chose my hotel based 100% on Taco Bell proximity) and then headed into town. After getting a hotel, I went out and did pretty much every touristy thing there is to do in Manila - the colonial section, the city wall, the old fort, the art museum, I even went out to the rich side of town to shop and look around. While there, I partook in an Asian vacation tradition of mine and went to the most expensive hotel in town (the Peninsula in this case) for an overpriced drink.

After a full day of seeing every sight I could (something I rarely do, but I never plan to be in Manila again unless on a layover or to land and catch a bus out of town) I only had 2 things left to do - get drunk and talk to girls. Obviously, the former took precedence, as the latter was fully dependent upon it. I walked to a nearby bar that Lonely Planet strongly recommended, and the Philippines LP had been amazingly on-point the whole trip, far more accurate than any of its Korea titles . Unfortunately, Lonely Planet left out a slight detail regarding this bar.

The bar was supposed to be cheap, and it was. It was half-full when I got there, and I started throwing back 75 cent San Miguels like crazy. I didn’t really notice the music. Flock of Seagulls, Morrisey, Petshop Boys, I figured the bartenders were into the 80s. I noticed a stocky short-haired girl wearing a Depeche Mode T-shirt. She was sitting with another girl. Whoah, butch Asian Lesbians, ya never see that in Korea! I continued drinking. More songs played. George Michael. Vertical Horizon. The place was filling up. Lots of dudes here. Hmm, a disco ball. Now they’re playing Donna Summer. What’s that on the wall there? A giant collage of Marilyn Monroe? Y’know, I think this may be.. Wait, a Judy Garland shrine. Now they’re playing Cher. And oh, just above the bar, a giant rainbow flag. Other than the two lesbians, every other table in the place is two dudes. Sure, Lonely Planet never gave me a head’s up, and not that there’s anything wrong with it, but how did I end up in such an obvious gay bar without knowing it?

I ordered one more beer to slam. I mean, cheap is cheap, eh? Clearly, I wasn’t going to meet any girls here. Still, I have to wonder... at this point, the bar is packed, and the only place to sit is at the other chair at my table. Not that I wanted to be, but how did I not get hit on? It’s either that I’m that obviously straight (I unquestionably had the worst hair and worst clothes in the bar) or I’m that ugly. I’d have to go with the former. I’m a handsome devil, after all.

I went to another bar, again recommended by Lonely Planet. The second bar was called the LA Cafe, and the sign above the door said that it was open 24 hours. Suddenly, I wished that it was 10 a.m. rather than 1 a.m, simply for the novelty of going to a 24 hour bar at a silly hour.

The LA Cafe charged an outrageous $3 per beer, a steep price for Manila. Still, it was packed. I was leaving the country the following day. I still had lots of Philippine pesos left. I intended to spend them. I set up camp at the back bar, and went to the pissser after a bit. I returned to my bar stool (and I had left nothing to demarcate this stool as my own) and this huge white dude was sitting there. I had no issue with losing my seat. For some reason, the huge dude tried to give it back to me, despite the obvious fact that he could easily kick my ass. I let him have the chair. I headed to the dance floor. The back bar was a bit of a sausage fest, and I was done with sausage fests.

I met a girl within 10 seconds on the dance floor. She was cute-ish, but really friendly and fun, and she seemed to want to talk about boxing. Fair enough. We chatted for a while, and then this obvious trannie\\y came in, walking up to every dude around. Manila. He/she avoided me, because I was talking to this other girl. She told me that I owed her. I told her I could have spotted his/her Adam’s apple at 100 meters, and would never have been roped in. The girl and I continued talking, I bought her a beer or two (for $3 a piece!!!). Eventually, I hit the pisser again.

Upon leaving the john, three different girls, all of them cute, came up to me to start a conversation. I am a handsome devil after all. Oh fuck. This was Manila. What sort of bar was this? I walked passed the front door of the bar on the way to where I was standing before. There was a huge line of girls outside the bar, and one could only come in when another left. Dudes, on the other hand, were freely admitted. The LA Cafe was a locus for freelance whores.

Stupid Lonely Planet. Is a heads up too much to ask? Nothing’s as it seems in Manila.