Friday, October 28, 2011

ऍम इ अ हिपस्टर?

The other day, my friend Megan called me a hipster. She couldn't be more far off, of course. I hate hipsters. I am the opposite of hipster. Then, I stopped to think. I suppose she may have her reasons.

I've got facial hair from time to time. I generally rock sideburns that may extend to mutton chops. I've also had a full beard, a mustache, a goatee, a douche circle beard, and a fu manchu. One time, I busted a Chester A. Arthur. Okay, twice.

I love PBR. It kind of bothers me that the hipsters do too. I've been drinking it since the mid '90s, way before they started. Then again, claiming street cred for doing it first is kind of a hipster move.

I've got a pretty extensive collection of awesome T-shirts. I'd like to say that none of them are ironic, but I don't, in fact, eat ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, nor do I want to make it rain. At least I can say that none are skin tight or faux vintage. Then again, plenty of my clothes are basically vintage now since I go shopping once every six years or so.

I spent two years living in Uptown, Chicago. I never veered as hipster as Wicker Park, but mainly because the rents are too high, the bars are too expensive, and the Blue Line sucks. I lived in Lawrence, of course, which has way more cache than similar towns like Madison or Ann Arbor or Boulder, largely because most people have never heard of it. I also "lived" in Brooklyn and in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, though not for very long in either locale.

So what? A lot of these same parameters could be used to describe my buddy Dylan, and he's definitely not a hipster. He works for the railroad for fuck's sake. I feel absolved. I feel, y'know, that I'm clearly better than all of hipsterdom.

And there it is. My unfounded sense of entitlement back at work. Also, I see that I've painted myself into a corner here. Maybe I really believe my previous statement, that I am better than every hipster. That sort of self righteousness is a total tenet of hipsterism. Maybe I don't think I'm better than all hipsters (and don't classify a large swath of people as hipsters to begin with). I'm just making a joke. Well, then I'm being ironic. Lose/lose.

Are there any other strikes against me? I'm an asshole to pretty much everybody new I meet, foxy girls excepted of course. Hell, 10 minutes ago, I met a couple randoms at a bar in my hood and I was a total dick to them. I get all of my news from The Daily Show and The New York Times. I like the idea of reading books, but I don't actually do it anymore. When I do read, I go for Klosterman and Gladwell. I wear sunglasses everywhere, regardless of cloud cover. I don't own a TV. Not only do I love pirate humor, I basically invented it (y'know, cuz I'm awesome, and I was telling pirate jokes before you had ever heard of them). I love drinking 40s. I particularly love drinking 40s on a stoop. Ironically, I actually have the perfect stoop for drinking 40s on at my current apartment (i.e., urban but crackhead free, not at an apartment complex, and not on a residential street) but I live in a country where 40s in the true sense (high-powered malt liquor in glass bottles that can be procured for 2-3 dollars) do not exist (also, I don't know if this is hipster, but I blatantly overuse parenthetical phrases).

I should also note that I own a number of Apple products, and I am currently writing this very sentence on my iPad while wearing a PBR trucker hat and a mustache.

Perhaps most damning: I don't consider myself a hipster.

So I'm fucked then, yeah? I may as well move to Williamsburg or Silver Lake and get it all over with then. Not so fast, Sancho.

T-shirts aside, I don't subscribe to hipster fashion. I don't wear skinny jeans. If I were skinny (and since I'm not, that makes me less hipster), I still wouldn't. I don't carry a messenger bag (although since purchasing the iPad, I've considered it). I don't have glasses. Old Eagle Eye has no use for such things. I don't have any tattoos. Who knows, I may want to join the CIA one day. Silly to rule out options like that.

I don't own a fixed-gear bike. I don't own a bike at all right now, although I'm not against them. If I had a decent place to stow a bike, I'd probably buy one. However, I have no idea what the appeal of the fixie is. I haven't owned one since grade school, and really the only reason I had one then is because they don't make proper geared bikes for little kids, or at least they didn't in my day. A fixed-geared bike for adults makes about as much sense to me as a fixed-geared car, at least if one is using a bike primarily for transportation.

I like sports. I know I could be a hipster (at least an American hipster) and still like soccer or rugby. Because Kansas Basketball is clearly the most important thing in the world of sports, hipsters in Lawrence are allowed to rabidly follow the Hawks and still maintain their status. The Kansas Basketball Jayhawks are my favorite overall team, but I am not eligible for this loophole. See, I also like baseball. One can be hipster and like theoretical Bill James baseball or historical (read: Negro Leagues) baseball, and I do like both of these things, but I also like baseball baseball. I suppose following the Kia Tigers of the Korean League (I know, It's KBO, K-League is actually soccer) balances out my like of MLB for hipster purposes, but I go a step too far for any hipster. I love the NFL. I'm in fantasy football leagues. I read NFL news every day of the year. Worse, I follow the decidedly unhip Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are coached by ultra-douchy Todd Haley, and we all know that hipsters and douche bags are natural enemies in the wild.

Probably the biggest reason that I'm no hipster - my knowledge of music that came out after the year 2000, or lack thereof. Forget the notion of only liking hipster bands, I don't know any current bands for the most part. While I'm spotty for post-2000, I'm essentially clueless on music that came out after 2006 or so. Being out of the country doesn't help, but I spent the majority of 2009 stateside and didn't add much to the regular rotation. It's entirely possible that my mom has a hipper iTunes collection than me at this point. I could argue that I'm first and foremost a fan of rock and roll, and that Radiohead took the genre as far as it could possibly go with Kid A (in 2000), and therefore there was no reason for me to pay attention anymore since everything henceforth would essentially be a copy of something else. Then again, there is the fact that I might just be old, lazy, and uncool.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Seoul Origin Story (or McDonald's, Burger King, McDonald's)

Note - this post is kind of a throwback. I wrote it months ago for "The Point" and I meant to run it here sometime in 2010, but forgot about it until this week. If you know me or if you're a wehg living in Korea, this may appeal to you. If not, I wouldn't blame you for giving this one a miss. Just be sure to come back next week, I've got a real humdinger in the works.

So you Johnnys out there in Northeast Kansas and points less awesome may ask yourself how all this Asia shit began. How did it come to pass that a run of the mill Replay barfly like myself ended up traveling around the great cities of Asia and living a comfortable, rent-free life with minimal work?  
The “how” answer is a bit lame and dull - I started the same way you met your girlfriend and sold your old iPod - I answered a Craigslist ad.  The “why” answer I can’t really give either, that would require years of intensive therapy.  I can, however, answer the “what” - my Asian origin story, which strangely I’ve never written.  
In late September of 2006, I flew from my then-temporary home in Baltimore to Chicago on a United flight.  After a day of seeing friends and family and a night of boozing at my favorite Chicago bar, I headed for O’hare the next day.  I checked my bags and smoked my last cigarette for 14 hours and headed to the United 777 that would take me to Tokyo.  My final meal in the US - a couple of Snack Wraps from the O’hare McDonald’s.  Weak, I know.
The flight from Chicago to Tokyo was, predictably, horrible.  I watched "The da Vinci Code" and "Mission Impossible 3."  Then, I started watching bad movies.  I drank 13 or 14 Kirin beers.  I was on the aisle and in the third to last row, so eventually I started just walking back to the galley to order another beer.  Somehow, I never got remotely drunk.  
We landed in Tokyo. We had to go through a small amount of security to reach the Narita airport departure lounge.  The security checkpoint was staffed by a small army of slim, young, cute Japanese women dressed like stewardesses and wearing red berets.  Something on my person set off the metal detector.  One of these Japanese security stewardesses asked me in deliberate English “”  I liked Tokyo Narita airport immediately.  
I made a rush for the smoking room.  These Asian airports know how to operate.  I smoked two cigarettes in under 3 minutes.  The first was awesome.  After the second, I suddenly felt top-10 level hungover despite never feeling tipsy on the flight.  I was parched and disoriented.  I stumbled around and found a money changer so that I could change a fiver for yen, then started indiscriminately throwing the yen into the nearest vending machine to buy water.  I guzzled a couple bottles, then went to smoke 3 more cigarettes.  Thus ended my first experience in Japan.
My connecting flight to Seoul lasted only two hours.   Like halftime at a Belgian soccer game, I drank coffee. I landed at Incheon Airport early on a Thursday night.  I’d left Chicago on Wednesday afternoon.  Up until bit ago, the the sun had never set.  
I was met at baggage by a man holding a sign that read “Tobb.”  He spoke no English.  I had no clue where we were going.  I was totally unaware of how Seoul was set up, or where my school would be in relation to Seoul, or if we were going to my school or elsewhere.
2006 isn’t so long ago, kiddies, but back then, there was no way to find out these kinds of things. Google Maps only covered details of American cities.  Wikitravel and Google Earth didn’t exist. In this regard, 2006 is further removed from now than it is from 1983.      
My monolingual driver and I drew closer to the lights of Seoul.  I had to laugh at how many freeway and road signs made use of the word “dong.”  At some point, the driver’s cell phone rang, and it was for me.  Somehow, this made sense.  It was my recruiter, telling me that I was being driven to a hotel, and that I should call my school’s director the following day.  After getting the director’s number, I wondered how I would go about calling her as I had no phone.  
We left the freeway and drove down a major thoroughfare. We were in Gangnam, and the lights were impressive, the buildings tall, the pedestrians formally dressed, and the traffic bumper to bumper.  I knew just enough about Seoul to know that Gangnam wasn’t downtown, but it sure as hell looked like it.  
We went down a back alley to my hotel.  The driver set me up, as the proprietor also spoke no English.  I went to my room.  It was easily the smallest hotel room I had ever seen.  I flipped through the channels, and discovered two of them were porn.  Pixilated, but porn nonetheless.  I also noticed various massage oils and a couple of wrapped condoms on my dresser.  I wondered what kind of place I was in.
It was late.  I was jet lagged like never before.  Of course, I went out.  I was in a new city/country/continent.  I couldn’t just stay in and watch pixilated porn.  I was pretty sure it would be there later.  
Having failed to convert money at the airport, I had exactly $0 in local currency, $2 in Japanese Yen, and $40 or so American.  I went to a 7-11 to withdraw money.  No dice.  I was paranoid that my US bank had put a hold on my card.  Being broke in a new country wasn’t part of my plan.  I bought a pack of gum with my debit card to see if that would work.  It did.  My card wasn’t cut off.  I tried out some other ATMs.  Again, no luck. This could be bad. After trying 5 or 6 ATMs, I happened across a Citi Bank branch.  Last shot.  It worked.  Armed with local currency, I headed for the bars.  All I found were some overpriced suit bars.  After a couple of $10 Heinekens, I was ready to crash.  
The next day, I tried to call my new boss.  I was in over my head trying to use a Korean hotel phone.  I conveyed what I needed to do with the hotel proprietor, and he dialed the number from the front desk phone. After a few gestures and grunts, I learned my first Korean phrase from the hotel owner - kamsa hamnida, “thank you.”  
I headed off for lunch.  I could not figure out the process of eating local food as I was under the (sometimes true) impression that it is always shared, I ended up having my first Korean meal at... Burger King.  Sad, I know.  I was amazed at the small size of my fries and Coke, and that the Coke came in a solid plastic glass that can’t be taken to go. I found the nearest “internet cafe,” i.e. PC room in Korea, where I was shocked by its cheapness and its lack of smoking restriction.  
It was time to go to my new school. I knew from talking to my boss that I had to walk to Gangnam subway station and then take the subway one stop.  I met the boss there, and we caught a bus for the short distance to the school.  She graciously paid my 90 cent fare.  Later, I figured out that she could have taken a taxi to my hotel, picked me up, and driven me to the school for $3.  
I met the guy I was to replace, Josh.  Josh walked me through the general way a class works on paper.  He then walked me to his apartment, which would become my apartment the next day.  It was smaller than my hotel room.  This should have been a red flag too, but I had seen exactly zero Korean apartments to compare it to.  We returned to the school for my training. Unfortunately, Friday was listening day for Josh’s classes.  The lesson largely consisted of listening to a CD over and over, then answering questions.  There wasn’t a lot of live training Josh could do.  I stuck around for a class.
I went back to my hotel and took a nap, then returned to the school at 10 pm, closing time.  I met a few more teachers, most notably Julie, my soon-to-be across the alley neighbor, whom I would be able to yell at through my window like Rocky.  
We went to a nearby bar, The Barrel.  I never did have dinner.  The bosses left early, and things got silly.  After everybody was sufficiently trashed we went to Itaewon, the “foreign” district of town.  Jet lag was beat.
The next day, a Saturday, I woke up at around noon.  I had to leave my hotel and get a taxi to my new place.  I arrived “home.” Hungover like a banshee and completely unaware of my new surroundings, I immediately returned to the familiar environs of the Gangnam Station area.  I’d been in Korea 42 hours and eaten once. Near Gangnam Station, I found what I desperately needed.  I scarfed some greasy McD.  Lame, I know.  I felt mildly human and ran some errands.  
Later on, Julie called me Rocky-style.  She and our other coworker Leah were going to Itaewon for dinner.  I certainly didn’t have any other plans, so I joined them for Egyptian food.  We decided to drink at Leah’s apartment later on with other coworkers, as she had roof access.  She also had a couch and an apartment 4 times the size of mine.  Palazzo We all over again.  
I hadn’t had Korean food yet, but the drink of choice at Leah’s that night was soju - my first dalliance down that road.  She recommended that I mix it with pomegranate tea, but I misjudged the bottle she was pointing at and instead bought Milkus - a strange Korean Sprite/milk soda mix.  Soju and Milkus was delicious.    
Leah’s rooftop deck had several cheap plastic chairs on it, the type that could be found at low rent bar patios the world over.  As these $4 chairs were more comfortable than the metal folding chair that my school had provided me, I stole one.  Life would become 8% more comfortable.  
Comfort, Madden 07, and soju would be the order of the next day.  I ventured out to my local PC room and to check out the local grocery store, but I largely sat at home playing Madden.  I kept my window open should Julie decide to call, but I had no way to actually contact anybody that I had met in the last couple of days.  Ultimately, the night ended with two bottles of soju and my DVD of Airplane.   I started work the next day.  No Josh.  I would be operating without a net.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Epikest Walk (so far)

When I was a little kid, I had this crazy dream. It was about this girl I liked, and it also involved walking from Lawrence to Topeka, which was an incomprehensible distance of 20 miles. I immediately started writing about it, it was pretty much the first time I ever took pen to paper for kicks. I'm sure I've over- romanticized this dream in the intervening decades, but really, it all started for me that night. Since then, it's all been road trips (extremely successful), writing (less so), and girls (depends). Shit was influential, mythology or no.

Recently, I had a four day holiday weekend with nothing in particular to do. I wrote a post listing a few choices, and ultimately I landed on an epic walk. In the spirit of that nutty dream, I decided to hoof it about 20 miles, to Incheon. Since Incheon is basically the Topeka of Korea, it seemed like a good choice. Add in the fact that I'd be able to hit up a new Taco Bell on the way, this definitely seemed like a solid plan.

Just under an hour into the walk, I passed through downtown Seoul. Sure, I've seen the Jongno Tower a million times, but it felt more photo-worthy under the circumstances.

I always dug the Mies van der Rohe style of the SK building.

Two hours in. The back side of Seoul Station. My first run in with fairly ghetto-style buildings.

Took a note of this place, hit it up later in he weekend. Great sauce. Samgakji Station if you're local.

The Han River, with the 63 building looming.

D-Cube Mall, Seoul's newest. This is also the home of the new Taco Bell. It's also Korea's best mall, with a Uniqlo, an H&M, and cool outdoor spaces on upper floors to drink.

Finally leaving Seoul. Between Seoul and Incheon lies Bucheon, where I would spend the night after 8 hours of walking. Maybe I should have left home before 4 p.m.

At best. I would have gone to this bar if it were B-.

Here's the hotel room that I overpaid for in Bucheon. I was too lazy to comparison shop. At least it had HD, and it even ran real (non-edited) porn, which I think is illegal here.

Day 2 - finally made it to Incheon.

Bupyeong Station. Busiest part of Incheon. It was here that I met my buddies Martin and Kris, who took the train from Seoul. We went straight to a Mongolian bar we saw to drink Mongolian beer, cuz hey, how often do you get to try Mongolian beer?

I liked this, because outside of the tile roofs it kinda looked like neighborhood Chicago architecture.

Cool dog eh?

New Songdo City. This is the crazy futuristic hood they are building in southwest Incheon. Full disclosure - we took the subway here. I was wiped from day one. Right now, not much goes on in Songdo, as you can see.

Back at Bupyoeng. Amazing amount of love motels around. This was just one of many blocks that had nothing but motels.

Here's another.

Day 3. The skyline of Songdo from old downtown Incheon, near the port. Again, we took the subway here from Bupyeong.

The Incheon Bridge. Notice my horrible photography skills.

Wolmido, an amusement park near downtown Incheon. Happiest place in western northern South Korea.

Sign says it best.

Home of Korea's spiciest chicken on a stick. For reals. Wolmido.

A final word - Incheon may really be the Topeka of Korea. People I meet in the provinces tend to be weird, but in Incheon they were exceptionally so. Incheon has nearly 3 million people, yet it felt like everyone knew everyone. When we went to Incheon's "coolest" expat bar, the scene made Topeka feel legitimately metropolitan. Said it before and I'll say it again - I have no idea why any foreigner would live outside of Seoul or Busan.

Friday, October 7, 2011

whether the weather

Time for this blog to go old school. NES/NAS has always been about sports, pop culture (particularly TV and video games, often from the 80s), ranting, travel, girls, booze, and Korea (although it’s decidedly not a “life in Korea” sort of blog, I’m proud to be the only expat blogger in Seoul who doesn’t just focus on Korean matters). Occasionally I mix in politics, and from time to time throw in masturbatory typing on matters that could only interest me. Here and there, I make fun of Canada. Check through the archives, and most everything can be matched up with these topics. However, one of those core subjects has long been missing from this page - girls. It’s been since May of 2010 since I’ve written a girl-focused post, not counting last week's novelty gag. This ends tonight.

Girls are still a source of confusion, you see. I still don’t get it.

I was out with three girls from work the other night. (Well, two months ago. This post has been in the hopper for a while now).

Anyway, while I was talking to these girls, a brief exchange they had blew my mind. See, one of them, Dre, has this new guy she’s dating.

We were all planning to go paintballing for another girl at the table, Anna’s birthday. It rains every day in Seoul in the summer, so rain was a real possibility for Saturday.

Let’s jump back a bit. I’ll give my anecdotal reaction before I deliver the punchline.

In my early Chicago days, life was cartoonish. I had a 13 inch Curtis Mathis TV/VCR combo and a cardboard box for a coffee table. I couldn’t afford dial-up internet. I generally subsisted exclusively on Old Style tall boys and Flamin’ Hot Funyuns.

The first job I had in those days consisted of selling art out of my car. I worked for a pyramid scheme who provided me with framed prints of Van Goghs or Monets or Capone-era Chicago photos. It was my job to drive up and down Lincoln Avenue, visiting every single business establishment to sell them art. Oftentimes, I would sell zero pieces, netting me exactly $0, minus gas and lunch for 10 hours of work. It was unbelievably soul crushing. If I got lucky and sold a few pieces and made $20, I’d spend it all in the bar that night, knowing that I could never actually save up enough money to pay my rent.

There was this girl that things were kinda starting to happen with. Her birthday was coming up.

I made a few sales, put a couple dollars together.

I went down to the Art Institute. I wanted to get her something awesome. I walked around the Art Institute for three hours, looking at paintings, waiting to be inspired. I came across a Monet piece. It was really abstract, just blues and greens and purples, but it struck me. I saw her in it. It was perfect.

I went to the gift shop. They sold a small print of it for $20. I had around $50 to my name at the time, maybe less. I bought it anyway. It was fucking perfect. It was the most “her” thing hanging on the walls of one of the greatest art museums in the world.

Her birthday came around. I was armed with the perfect gift and $27 or so to buy drinks at her party. Her reaction? Meh. It may have been even less enthusiastic than that.

Back to Thursday night, Anna’s birthday at the bar in Seoul. Talk of rain at paintball.

Dre mentions that her new dude looked up the weather for Saturday. The reaction from the other two girls at the table? Awww!

Are you fucking kidding me? Listen, no hate on Dre’s beau whatsoever, but seriously - are you fucking kidding me? Bah. This cat spends four seconds checking an app, and he’s Aaron fucking Ralston.

That’s it. I’m getting ahead of the game. Notice the shiny new weather gadget in the upper right? It’s in German as there is currently no English weather gadget. I suppose knowing the weather in Stutgart is better than meh.