Friday, July 20, 2012

Saturday Night: Special?

After an abysmally boring one in Lawrence, Kansas a few days before I started my Asia trip, I put together a string of pretty impressive Saturday nights.

Of course, more often than not, I threw down pretty well on a Saturday night in Seoul. It would also be a big night out any time I was on the road in Korea, and often when I was on the road internationally.

This trip started out with 10 bang-up Saturday nights in a row -

Seoul - usual Itaewon craziness, went home at 6 a.m. or so and was up at 9 the next day to watch KU beat Ohio State in the Final Four. Of course, then I slept the next two days.

Kuala Lumpur - went out in Chinatown with the crew I met the day before, and capped it off at the roof of my hostel.

Melaka - met this random group of people, ended up singing "Sweet Home Alabama" at three a.m. in a Chinese karaoke bar with some British dude.

Cameron Highlands - pretty low key, but I'd made friends with this girl the night before and had a few beers with her until the streets rolled up at 11. Had a more proper Saturday-ish night the following night in Penang, when I was out until 5 or 6 with a group of Aussies and Euros.

Krabi - an epic night in which I met like 15 people and hung out at this local bar swilling whiskey and smoking weed until the wee hours. The band was decent too.

Ko Phi Phi - on this island of crazy boozing and partying every night, Saturday was certainly my signature adventure.

Ko Samui - was out until all hours at the Chewang clubs with these crazy Danish dudes.

Ko Tao - see Ko Phi Phi, only Tao's Saturday was much more fun.

Chiang Mai - met two British girls and a bunch of Thai waitresses and bartendresses at an early evening bar, went out to the clubs with them until 5 or 6.

Ko Samet - My beach swan song.

Ko Samet was the first weekend in June. Since that? Well, my Saturday nights have a lot less rock star and a lot more monk. Case in point - the following weekend, I literally slept in a monastery. Went to bed at 9 p.m. after consuming zero beers.

The following Saturday was in Mandalay. Mandalay doesn't have a whole lot going on at night, even Saturday night. Since I'd taken a long bus ride that day, I once again went to bed super early without going to the bar.

I spent a portion of the next Saturday night in Bangkok and caught a buzz, so that must have been cool, yeah? Not so much - I was boozing at the airport before getting on a redeye flight.

I actually went out to bars the next Saturday, watching live bands and hanging out with Cores in Dumaguete. This was the only notable and fun Saturday of the bunch, but I still managed to go home early.

I spent my next Saturday night on an overnight train. I suppose I spent a cool 45 minutes in the bar car before going to sleep at 11:30.

A few days ago may have been the lamest one yet. I slept in Phonsavan, Laos. Sure, this is a country that goes to bed early, but Phonsavan is especially boring. I hung out in a cafe and wrote until they seemed to be shutting down - at 9:30. Then I went home and went to sleep. Oh well, people come to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars, not to party.

This Saturday, I'll be in Vientiane, the big city here, the capital of Laos. Will my streak of boring Saturdays end? Vientiane has a reputation for being the dullest capital in Southeast Asia (other than teetotaling BSB in Brunei), so I'm not extremely hopeful. If nothing else, I meet my buddies Martin and Kris in Phnom Penh next Saturday, so that should be a rager.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Other Guy

The only way that Barack Obama loses the election is if the American electorate is even more spiteful and ignorant than I perceive them to be, and I'm no optimist. I'm not saying this as a Democrat nor Obama supporter (full disclosure: I am both), but as a student of American elections.

Here is why Mitt Romney will not win - his only selling point is that he is the "Other Guy." Without a real agenda or personality, the Other Guy never wins. In fact, the only time the Other Guy has ever won the American Presidency in the last century and change may surprise you.

Let's take a look back. For brevity, I will skip elections in which the incumbent won, as the incumbent cannot possibly be the Other Guy.

2008 - Obama wins by building a Hope/Change phenomenon and energizing an unprecedented number of first time voters, combined with McCain shooting himself in the foot by choosing That Woman.

2000 - Gore was very much not the Other Guy, and he technically won. Beyond that though, George W. Bush was a large state governor with universal name recognition and the son of a former president. He was hardly Other Guy either, as he had been extremely famous for at least 10 years before his election.

1992 - Clinton was certainly a less-famous candidate going into the primaries, and many bigger Democratic stars sat out the 1992 election since George H.W. Bush looked unbeatable in 1991. However, during the general election, Clinton definitely had a message ("It's the Economy, Stupid"), and definitely had a massive personality. Fleetwood Mac, Rock the Vote, playing the sax on Arsenio, Clinton carved his own niche. He was the first Baby Boomer president (and Bush was the second. If Obama wins in 2012, they could conceivably be the only two since Barack is too young to be a Boomer).

1988 - George H.W. Bush - the consummate insider, George 41could have never been Other Guy.

1980 - Ronald Reagan defeated an incumbent, but by this point he had been famous for decades and a political force for twenty years.

1976- Jimmy Carter. Really the only one to come out of nowhere and win. Governor of then-backwater Georgia with virtually no national profile a couple years before the election. Of course, he was running against Gerald Ford, the only man to hold the presidency without being elected as president or vice president. Ford and Carter were both good guys, but neither of them should have been president I suppose. 1976 really should have been an epic battle between Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, but it was not to be.

1968 - Richard Nixon, former vice president, hardly Other Guy material. Plus, Bobby Kennedy was the presumptive Democratic nominee but was assassinated, and LBJ opted not to run again, so Tricky Dick basically had a bye in the general election.

1960 - JFK. The Kennedys had been famous for some time at this point. It also helped that he had LBJ and Mayor Daley behind him, helping him to "legitimately" win key races in Texas and Illinois.

1952 - Dwight D. Eisenhower won. This being only seven years after World War II ended, Ike was almost certainly the most famous person alive at the time.

1932 - FDR. He was a little bit Other Guy since Hoover was massively unpopular, but FDR definitely had a strong personality and a definitive agenda that he ran on. Plus, he was governor of New York and related to Teddy, so it wasn't like he was an unknown.

1928 - Hoover. The American economy had soared in the 1920s under Republican leadership, so why would we change things up now?

1920 - Warren G. Harding. Okay, maybe he was Other Guy too, since he was virtually unknown before a crooked convention gave him the nomination after several votes. My source - Boardwalk Empire, so I assume it must be true.

So there you go. Romney has no base or supporters of his own or of his policies, he just has Republicans who want to vote for the Other Guy. So worst case scenario for Romney - he loses. Best case scenario - he wins and follows in the steps of Jimmy Carter and Warren G. Harding.

A vote for Romney is essentially "cheering for clothes," as Jerry Seinfeld famously quipped. I've done the same, of course. I voted for John Kerry, Other Guy extraordaire. When I was a kid, I rooted for Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, total Other Guys. Of course, Other Guy theory stood strong in those days, as it shall again. There was no President Mondale, President Dukakis, President Kerry, nor will there be a President Romney.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stuff

George Carlin has a famous bit on "stuff." I'm at an absurd degree, particularly today. 

Back in the spring of 2006, I lived in an apartment in Chicago with essentially all of my stuff.  Sure, there were old grade school yearbooks or childhood toys at my parents' houses, but this stuff was more theirs than mine. My stuff was all at my place.

The dissolution of my stuff began when my buddy was in Chicago for the weekend, maybe two weeks before I moved out of town.  I gave him my camping equipment to hang onto, and I've recently been assured that it still exists at his ex-girlfriend's apartment.  

Shortly thereafter, I moved to my mom's house, a move brought on by the fact that I was broke and unemployed.  As I couldn't fit all my stuff in my car and was too broke for a U-Haul, I gave away my bed and loaned my original NES and all my games to my cousin.  I also stashed a bunch of stuff at another cousin's house, consisting of things I hope to re-acquire one day (books and maps) and stuff I hope she has thrown away (an ancient printer and TV, maybe a VCR).

I moved to Korea in the fall of 2006, leaving lots of stuff behind at my mom's house, but then returned to America in late 2008 to couch surf around the country for eight months or so.  While at my mom's, I managed to sell or trash some of my stuff so that I would leave less behind when I returned to Korea in the fall of 2009.  Of course, I couldn't get rid of my pictures or my video game systems, so those are still there, along with some clothes that I could potentially wear again some day.  

I left Korea at the end of February to attend my brother's wedding.  Here's where things get tricky.

I got on the plane with a winter coat, a big backpack, a messenger bag, and two checked roller bags.  After the wedding weekend, I sent the larger roller bag off with my dad, so that stuff (I already forget what all is there) is at his house now.  I left my wireless router at one friend's house, because she didn't have one and I must have wifi everywhere I go.  I left the large backpack and messenger bag at another friend's house, along with my laptop and DVDs.  I bought a new backpack for this trip, and took it and the small roller bag back to Korea with me.

I left this small roller bag at yet another buddy's apartment, in Seoul.  That way, If I decide to move back there, I'll have something to wear on a job interview.  I wore my winter coat, travel vest, and backpack to Inceheon airport, and I purposely ditched the coat at the McDonald's there.  

A few days ago, I left my hiking boots and some clothes that I never wear (long pants, socks, long sleeve shirt) at my guesthouse on Khao San Road.  I also left my passport in Bangkok since I'm getting a Burmese visa processed.  I headed to Chiang Mai with less stuff, and after three nights decided to head to Pai.  Since the only way in or out of Pai is via Chiang Mai, I left my big backpack there and just brought a day bag and the vest here.
Today, I went off to the countryside on my rented motorbike.  Of course, I left most of my stuff in my room, but brought some stuff in my day bag on the ride.  While riding around, I passed some elephant farms and decided to do an elephant ride.  They allowed me to change clothes there, since the elephant ride involves getting wet.  I wore shorts and a shirt from the farm, and my sandals and boxers.  I locked up my bag and clothes and walked to the elephant carrying only my camera and sunglasses.  

The elephant trainer told me to take off my shoes before I got on the elephant, so I left them right next to the huge beast.  When we got to the river, I gave the trainer my camera and sunglasses to keep on the river shore.  Suddenly, I was down to my very last degree of stuff - my boxers.  

So, all told, thats self, shore, stable, locker, guesthouse in Pai, guesthouse in Chiang Mai, guesthouse in Bangkok, Seoul, Lawrence (3 places), Florida, Baltimore, Chicago (2 places).  Twelve degrees of stuff, covering two continents, three countries, four timezones, and eight cities.  I think that might be as far as this degrees of stuff game can be taken.  At least I hope so.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

First Day in Thailand

I posted this at my other blog with pictures, but I feel like it has the misenthropic voice of NES/NAS so I'm running it here too. If you want pics, check out jaehak.wordpress.com

It seems I've overkicked my coverage a bit. I didn't really plan to be in Trang yet, the plan was to head to Langkawi, Malaysia to spend the last of my ringet on cheap beachside beer. Unfortunately, getting to Langkawi from Penang turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. There are two ferries between these islands (conveniently at 8:15 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Way to spread out your ferries, Malaysia) that I never intended to take. I planned to go overland, but apparently this is an unreliable way to get there and I likely would have had to spend the night in Alor Setor or Kuala Kedah. That, or I could have stayed another night in Penang and taken the ferry the next day. Neither of these options appealed to me, so I called an audible and caught a minivan to Thailand.

And so I got in a van with a 24-year old Aussie chick (named Sheila, no shit) who had been traveling for 4 years, a leftist Spanish girl who felt that nobody should have to work ever and that people who participate in Amarillo-style eating contests deserved to die, and a few Chinese businessmen. I opted for my headphones.

In Hat Yai, I had to change to a local Thai minibus. It was full to the brim and quite different than Korean, or even Malaysian transit. On a Korean bus, everyone, literally everyone on the bus pass the time with smart phones or tablets. On this minibus, everyone just rode in silence, looking at the back of the chair in front of them. I felt it would be douchey to whip out the iPad to watch a movie, but fortunately I had a long Carolla podcast to burn.

Other than a tip from a buddy of mine that Trang was a good place to start in southern Thailand and a cursory glance at Travelfish, Wikitravel, and Lonely Planet, I knew nothing about the town whatsoever. Thailand is a whole different animal than Malaysia. English ability is much lower, and the script is indecipherable to me. Malaysian is written in Roman letters, so even if I don't understand the signs, I can read them and make out a few loan words (kompleks, motorsikal, stessen, sentral, bas, feri, etc). I was the last passenger on the bus, and I told the driver to take me to the train station (which is basically the only word in Thai that I know). I knew from my quick research that there was at least one guesthouse by the station.

Despite the fact that I pretty much felt like I fell off the turnip truck, the train station proved to be a good choice. Lots of guesthouses and coffee shops, near some cool markets. Best of all, I found a nice cafe with good-for-Indochina wifi to write and do research.

Trang town is nice, but there isn't a whole lot to do other than researching places further afield. It's the landlocked capital of a southern province known for it's beaches. I imagine my current situation is similar to that of an Asian backpacker visiting Tallahassee.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

'Merica



As I'm sure you've noticed, I've been kinda lazy on this space. Fear not, I am launching a new blog dedicated to my current backpacking trip, filled with tons of pictures. It's called Jaehak's Megatrip, and it's at jaehak.wordpress.com. There's already two posts! I'll still post non-travel related stuff here from time to time, but the Blogger app doesn't work very well and I have no laptop, so most of my work over the next few months will be elsewhere.

I recently broke up my Asia-centric life with a trip back to America. With the exception of the airport and one lunch, I spent the whole of the trip within the limits of the great state of Kansas, and happened to be in town for the state to display its best (KU beating Carolina to get to the Final 4! Rock Chalk!) and worst (Ricky Assjuice winning the Kansas Caucus) idiosyncrasies. These examples don't teach us any new information. We already knew that Kansas Basketball is awesome and that Kansas voters are ridiculous. I suppose I was further reminded why Kansas, and America will always be home, but I don't think I'll be living there anytime soon.

Some thoughts:

Sometimes I forget what a car-culture the U.S. is, to the point of inconvenience really. Most banks don't have a walk-up ATM, just a drive-up. These banks also have 4 lanes of drive-thru banking with tellers, but only one lane of ATMs. Who uses these drive-up teller lanes anymore? I haven't used one since at least the mid-90s, and I don't think my friends do either. Older people like my parents used to use them, but I don't think they do anymore. C'mon banks, get rid of these dinosaurs and add more ATMs.

I don't understand late-nite drive-thrus that don't serve pedestrians. Shitfaced at 3 a.m. and hungry for Taco Bell? Sorry chief, no Gordita for you, unless you want to drive.

My first day in the States, I walked down to Target. I got lots of strange looks from drivers for, y'know, walking. Target itself was a wonder to behold though. Korea has big-box stores, so it's not like I'm not used to those, I'm just not used to being in one that has so many products that I would actually want to buy. Still, I kinda shook my head at the tastes of the masses when I saw that, in the DVD Section, there was only one copy left of "According to Jim." Season Five. People actually spend money on the fifth season of horrible shows. The number one selling book at Target was called "Heaven is Real" or something like that, about some kid with a near-death experience who met Jesus and whatnot. Filed under non-fiction, of course.

I was surprised and impressed and/or shamed with some other than matters than my newfound love of Best Buy and Home Depot and, fuck it, Wal-Mart. Most everyone I know in Kansas suddenly knows a great deal about DIY and home repair and gardening and that sort of thing. One night, while I sat with a couple friends, the main topics of conversation were weddings, kids, and mortgage rates. The fuck? Somehow while I was out becoming an Old Asia Hand, people back home were just becoming old. Or maybe I'm just Peter Pan. Hell, what other 30 something douchebags do you know traveling around Malaysia by bus?

Now I'm on the road, as I said, traveling the famed Banana Pancake Trail. Americans in these parts are hard to come by, likely because of our short vacations and our massive distance from Southeast Asia. Fortunately, there are plenty of people talking about it.

I'm no patriot, of course. I'm not proud to being born in America anymore than I'm proud of being born white or being born male or being born devastatingly handsome. I had nothing to do with any of these matters, so it seems to be a foolish thing to be proud of. That said, while it's fine for me to continually insult my friends or my family members, that doesn't make it okay for everyone to do so.

The world is less anti-American than you think, at least this part of the world, and in general everyone I've met has been cool, other than one particular group - Euro (usually British) girls. I can pretty much promise this - if I end up in some horrific Laotian jail cell (and I'm sure a lot of you are betting that I will), it will be for punching an English girl in the face.

Anyway, don't forget to check out the new blog!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bracket Takes 2012

Since not doing my annual bracket takes post didn't help the Kansas Basketball Jayhawks win the title last year, it's time to bring it back.  This is a guaranteed gambling winner, by the way.  If you bet heavily against every prediction that I make here, you can't lose.  I'm less informed than ever, having seen a total of two college basketball games all year. 

Is is tradition, I'm writing my first takes, live as they are announced on the NCAA Selection Show.  I suppose this could be considered "live blogging," but this gimmick got it's start as a mass email in 2003 or so, making this the 10th beating of this dead horse.  I'm going more high tech then ever of course, writing this on an ipad as i watch the selection show on my iphone, feeling smug in my douchitude throughout.  

Here we go!

First off, couldn't be happier with my douchy set-up.

Kentucky is one overall.  I look forward to their forthcoming tournament games being vacated in three years.

Cuse in the East, but we all knew that was coming.  Carolina got what was probably our one before Baylor, and Michigan State gets shipped west.  I suppose I have no complaints with this, but I'm still shocked that the Big 10 is considered the best conference.

Buffering.  Oh no!  I hate my douchy set-up!

It's back.  Commercials!  I paid 4 bucks for this app, damnit!  How dare they subject me to commercials.

Wow, this is the first full 4 minute commercial break that I've experienced in years.  I didn't care for it. 

Iowa State is an 8 and gets Kentucky in their second potential game.  Seems kinda ow for them.  UCONN is a 9?  Wow, I'm way behind on basketball this year.

Uh-oh, the Shockers may get 12-5ed by that team from Virginia that I will not mention.

Wait, theres a New Mexico State?

As guaranteed by NCAA law, Duke plays in Greensboro.

Baylor clawed up to a 3 seed.  I wonder what uniform abortion they'll create for that. 

Wow, I completely forgot that the University of Colorado even existed.  I think that they're the only team that I'm not really mad at for leaving the Big XII.  They're only lasting contributions were the Harrison brothers and that wack job born again football coach who would probably do well in today's GOP primaries.  Oh, and they cheated in the Orange Bowl to beat Notre Dame. 

West time.  LIU Brooklyn?  That's a thing?  The Fighting Hipsters, I presume. 

New Mexico has two teams in this thing?  That must be a first.

Memphis-St. Louis?  I guess they battle it out for the highest murder rate every year.  The winner should be allowed to move to a better town. 

Davidson's satellite feed was a little slow.

Yep, Missurah is getting shipped out west.  No shock there.  Missouri gets Norfolk State.  They always seem to get teams I've never heard of ever.  Go Virginia or Florida. 

Marquette is a 3?  I guess it's Travis Diener's senior year again.

Wow, Murray State is a 6 seed!  Awesome, they usually get a 15 or something.  Go Racers!  OVC Title goes through Murray State baby!

Buffering!  Hopefully I'm just missing commercials since KU's fate will be decided soon.  I just missed a whole segment I think. 

Midwest, here we go.  I missed the East.  Awesome.  Didn't miss any commercials, of course. 

UNC in Greensboro too.  It could be no other way.

I still don't understand the 11 and 12 seeded teams getting play-in games.  Michigan won the Big 10 regular season, yeah?  Shouldn't they get higher than a 4?

KU is a 2 in Carolina's bracket.  Perfect, just what I wanted.  No sarcasm.  Detroit eh?  I'm sure I'll be terrified of them by Friday.  St. Mary's and Purdue as a potential second round battle.  I'm sure I'll be petrified come Sunday.  Yep, I know absolutely nothing about the teams on our half of the bracket.  Oh no, Clark Kellogg just said "it could be their year" about KU.  Obama better stay away from us this year.  Pick Kentucky or Carolina, Mr. President. 

Meh, I'm not going to make half-assed predictions right now, I'm just gonna post.  More to come most likely.  Rock Chalk and Muck Fizzou.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

tech!

I've always been a quasi-tech nerd. I'm not an early adapter by any means, not in the true sense, but I have had a gadget or two before most of my friends. This isn't saying much, of course, as most of my friends back home still don't have Skype. I like technology, so tonight I'm going to run the top ten tech toys that have influenced me the most. There's been way more than 10 of course, so I have to leave out my first TV and my first video camera and my old VCR that allowed me to record syndicated Wonder Years episodes in junior high. So it goes. I'm going chronological order here, as I'm too lazy to rank.
10. The ghetto blaster. This was my first boombox. It wasn't even a real brand, it was some J.C. Penny store model. The ghetto blaster included two tape decks and a radio along with speakers. I used it to record the radio, to record other tapes, and to record my own radio shows when I was a little kid. Because of the ghetto blaster, I owned a copy of the entire Europe album rather than just "The Final Countdown" single, because I recorded my buddy Daniel's original. BTW, the real one was black, not red, but this is the closest style match I could find otherwise.
9. Walkman. I owned several walkmen. My first was an Emerson with a graphic equalizer. After that, I went high end and only bought expensive Sony Sports walkmen with auto-reverse and bass boost. Once I acquired my first in the late 80s, I pretty much had one on me at all times for nearly a decade until I got my first Discman.
8. Nintendo Entertainment System. Like this wasn't going to be here. I was late to the NES game, and didn't get one until 1989 or so. This one never became irrelevant. I have an NES emulator on my current computer, and though my ghetto blaster and walkmen are long gone, I still have my original NES. Still works too, as I long as I jiggle the cartridge after blowing in it. It's on loan to my cousin, who I will kill with an axe if she lost or broke it.
7. My 13 inch Toshiba TV. Amazingly, this cost $240 new. I worked all summer mowing lawns to save up for it. Prior to this, I had a 4.5 inch black and white TV that didn't get cable, though I was able to watch Arsenio on it. On the Toshiba, I could watch anything.
6. My first computer. Now we jump ahead a few years, from grade school to freshman year of college. My first computer was an HP desktop with a 1 GB hard drive. It ran on Windows 95, though I later updated to a pirate version of 98. This was my only computer throughout college. It did not play DVDs, and it could not burn CDs. In the year 2000, I gutted the whole thing and erased every program but AOL and Word so that I could run a video editing program that was a bit too much for the old girl. I used this for the sake of making a Eurotrip vid, which took such precedent that I basically didn't go to class for 3 weeks. I miss college.
5. The Samsung Uproar. This was both my first cell phone and my first mp3 player. It had 64 MB of space for music, and it retailed for $300 in its day. When I left Lawrence and went on the road for the summer, it became my primary phone. It was also one of my longest running cell phones, as I had it for nearly two years.
4. My first iPod. I bought a 3rd generation iPod, white, greyscale, 10 GB, and it changed my life. It was my third mp3 player, but the first that I could but essentially my whole music collection on. It was also one of the first million iPods sold, and it converted me from staunch Windows guy to staunch Mac guy. I owned two Windows PCs at the time (a desktop an a laptop ) and bought a Mac desktop shortly thereafter. Like the rest of the world a couple years later, I went from album to playlist. I'm not sure if this made me a better person, in fact I'm almost sure it made me worse, but I can't imagine going back the other way now.
3. My Samsung A-640. Smart phones, at least in the modern sense, did not exist at the time. However, due to my expat lifestyle, this remains the smartest phone I've ever owned. For its time, the A-640 had everything. Most importantly, it had a mini-SD card, so it was functional off-network. I'd had camera phones before, but the card slot made this a real digital camera. Since I got this phone (and a long series of cameras) I haven't bought any disposables or film. Like everything else on this list other than the NES, I no longer own it. Some items I sold, some I broke, this one I lost.
2. My Mac Book. This laptop is still my primary computer, and it has been for over four years. This was my fourth computer, but it was the first that did everything. It's portable. It had (and I mean had in the past tense) a long battery life. It edits video like a dream. It burns DVDs. It's on its last legs now, but it is now my longest tenured primary computer ever.
1. My iPad. I wish I would have gotten the 3G, but the iPad is still amazing. I can use it to write, to watch videos, to surf the internet, to read books, to play games, and to rock. Thus far, it's been crazy awesome on the road. On airplanes, I used to take out a series of things to put in the pouch in front of my seat - a book, a paper notebook, an iPod, a DS, and probably other stuff. On my last fight, I just took out the iPad. It's the last thing I use every night, and it's the first thing I turn on in the morning. It's also become my primary word processing device since I got a bluetooth keyboard for it.

0. Since I originally wrote this, I've upgraded my tech to a near-perfect pitch. First, I bought a WiBro Egg. Essentially, this is portable 4G wireless in a pocket-sized package. It works anywhere in Seoul, and pretty much anywhere in urban Korea. This solved my 3G problem on the iPad. Next, since my old iPod was on the fritz, I bought a second-hand iPhone 4, but didn't connect it to service. 3G be damned though, the iPhone can do everything but call on wifi, and as stated I have wifi everywhere. Now I can run web, text, Voxer, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Twitter, Kakao, Tango, plus anything that works on an iPod. High speed internet on both devices costs me a mere 15 bucks a month with the WiBro. 90% of the time, I don't even carry my real phone anymore.


 Is your list similar? I'm always down for nerd talk.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Travel, Eat, Repeat.


Time to rank every country that I've ever been to, in a culinary way. My friend and coworker Dre suggested that I rank the Asian countries that I've been to based on food. Too difficult, I thought. Somehow, ranking EVERY country that I've been to seemed to make more sense. Anyway, here's a hodgepodge of countries based on my thoughts on their food, at least those lucky countries that I've chosen to inhabit for a time. Of course, these things are always done in reverse order, so that's the way it shall be done..

26. Vatican City - I'm sure the Cardinal Cafeteria is beyond reproach, but I only spent few hours in VC and never managed to eat within its walls. Default is a cheap loss, but a loss nonetheless.

25. Monaco - I'm pretty sure I didn't eat anything here either. It beat Vatican because I was here in the world's second smallest country for several minutes more than I spent in the Holy See, thus it's entirely possible that I may have bought a bag of chips at a convenience store that I've since forgotten about.

24. Bahamas - I've been there twice on cruises, so I ate, um, food, on the boat since it was free. I had a few beers in the Bahamas on my second trip, so I guess that counts as food.

23. Denmark - Finally, a country I actually ate in. Sure I could have started the countdown here, but then how could I brag about having been to Monte Carlo? I spent a night in Copenhagen due to an airline strike, so both my dinner and breakfast were free. The price was really the only good thing about them.

22. Czech Republic - I always seek out local food in every country I go to, sometimes just to do it. In Prague, I dined on a traditional Czech meal of pork, potatoes, and cabbage early on in my time there. Having scratched that off my list, I had no problem eating the remainder of my Bohemian meals at McDonald's.

21. Austria - This was another country where I spent more time at the dreaded Mac than I should have. The proper Austrian meals that I ate were nothing worth writing about in my Moleskene while hanging out in Viennese cafes.

20. Germany - As I'm sure you can guess from the previous few - I'm no fan of Northern European food. Germany was ranked higher because of the massive amount of Turkish restaurants around.

19. Netherlands - I ate a delicious meal in Leiden that almost redeemed Holland for me, although that restaurant was largely French. I'll never forget spending $30 for salad and a couple beers in Amsterdam back in the day. I must have been high.

18. Morocco - I dug the Moroccan food I ate. Thing is, I was only in he country for a few hours. Also, the best Moroccan restaurant that I've ever been to was in Seoul. The second best was in Disney World. Of course, I was only in Tangier, maybe if I explore the real part of the country I'd find better food.

17. Canada - It was American food. It was. Canada invented adding gravy to fries. That's it.

16. Spain - To be fair, when I was in Spain, Tapas weren't popular in America yet, so I didn't really get it. That said, when I met a girl on the train, I ended up taking her to dinner at... McD, because every other place we checked out at the Barcelona train station looked wretched.

15. Taiwan - Now we are getting to countries that offered food that I truly loved. I don't have anything bad to say about Taiwanese food, but here it is at 15. If I spent a couple weeks in Taiwan, I'm sure it would rise.

14. Japan - How is Japan 14? Well, I've been to some pretty goddamn delicious countries. It loses points for being expensive, I suppose.

13. Philippines - Is Filipino food better than Japanese or Taiwanese? Of course not. The Philippines wins a lot of points for its massive international assortment, along with having awesome grocery stores.

12. UK - Like the Phils, the UK gets mad points for international influence. Fish and chips suck, but the best Indian food in the world is probably in London.

11. Belgium - I've got a soft spot for moules and frites. Chocolate and beer push Belgium over the edge.

10. Korea - Two weeks ago, Korea would have been a couple spots lower. I've long had a love-hate relationship with Korean food. Barbecue is awesome, most everything else isn't. Free kimbap arrived in the office the other day, and it was a moral dilemma. Should I eat kimbap,or spend money on something good? What bumped Korea up? My recent discoveries of chicken fried rice and bulgogi fried noodles. Awesome.

9. Indonesia - My only experience in Indonesia was in Bali. I presume some of the food I ate was traditional Indonesian. It was all awesome, except for this one Mexican place I went. Lesson learned. Don't eat Mexican in Indonesia. I presume the reciprocal rule is also true.

8. China - I feel like I'm cheating by saying "China" here. I haven't been to the PRC proper, just Hong Kong. Sure, since 1997 Hong Kong is technically China, except if one is considering internet accessibility, currency, visa regulations, law, the side of the road people drive on, freedom of the press, or language. The food in Hong Kong was unbelievable. Sure, the local Dim Sum brings you in, but Hong Kong has a million cultural cuisines. Indian. Malaysian. Chicagoan. And tell me another place that someone could come across an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse for under 10 bucks (outside Vegas).

7. Mexico - Mexican food is probably my single favorite ethnic food. I admit, I haven't been to any major cities in Mexico, but my main reason for Mexico not being higher is the lack of variety.

6. Italy - hot damn, is there some good food in Italy. Italian cuisine is rangier than you thought (unless you are an actual foodie, in which case, why the hell are you at this blog?) and the slow food/fresh ingredient scenes has been going on there for some time. #6 is good, but why isn't Italy higher? I'm a daego, after all. One word - Venice. Unless you are either a) spending a shit ton of money, or b) know somebody who took you to some crazy back alley place that the tourists could never find; then the food sucks. High school cafeterias offer up better food than any restaurant between San Marco and the Rialto. Side-note - that's why I prefer Florence. Florence keeps its cool nightlife hidden from the tourist masses, but every corner trattoria puts an earnest effort into making quality food.

5. Thailand - This will surprise nobody - Thai food is good. If you've never been to Thailand, this will bum you out - you can get better Thai food than you've ever had on the streets of Bangkok for fifty cents.

4.Singapore - Singapore is a city-state made of Chinese, Indians, and Malays. They all brought food.

3. France - I don't need to tell you that the French are pretty goddamn good at putting together a solid dish. As a general total, I probably like Thai, Italian, and Mexican food more than French food. France still beats them out on this list. The deciding factor there would be the fact that France was the venue for the single best meal I've ever had in my life. The Monster Burger that I ate at a Hardee's in Bozeman, Montana after living exclusively on bread and mustard for 3 days comes close, but I would have to give the nod to the decadent multi-course French meal that I ate with some friends in Versailles. If Hardee's served decent wine, or even shitty wine, I might have a different number one. As it stands, the ridiculous spread that we devoured in the shadow of a blushing Louis's ghost will have to hold the top rank.

2. Malaysia - The best cuisine that you've never had, and one probably better than anything you have. Malaysian food is a magical mix of Thai, Indian, and Chinese with an Arab twist. Melded together, it is the single best national cuisine, particularly in Penang. Case in point - I've strayed from the path and ordered non-local dishes in culinary capitals like Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Paris, and Rome. Hell, in Singapore, I even went to a Hardee's, although to be fair it's probably the only Hardee's in Asia. When I went to Penang, I ate 100% local, and had no desire to do otherwise.

1. USA - C'mon. What else goes with Number One like USA? Beyond 'merican staples, pretty much any of these cuisines can be had in any sizable city in the States. New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are easily 3 of the best 5 culinary cities in the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

SOTU

I've got a couple posts in the hopper. Two of my favorite subjects will soon be covered here - technology and food. The posts are ready to go, have been for a while. I was going to post one tonight, but... I dunno, I kinda feel like doing a state-of-the-union sort of thing. A lot of things have happened that I haven't gotten around to addressing.

First off, I would be remiss if I didn't toot my own horn. I'm proud to say that a throwaway joke post from a couple months ago now has over 9,000 hits. I think this means I finally graduate internet junior high. My readership has expanded for 7 months straight. Thanks to all of you, especially the 12 of you that actually read SOTU-type pieces like this.

I'm leaving Korea soon, for an undetermined to indefinite period of time. My contract ends and Dr. Kickass is getting hitched, so my presence is required in 'merica. I was pretty bummed about this for a while. The blog is doing well, I'm generally at peace with my situation here, I was offered a monthly column for a magazine here, my tech set-up is pretty much perfect, I like my apartment and my neighborhood, and there's been a lot of interesting things going on. Life is, dare I say, pretty good.

Fortunately, I've hit a pretty good run of travel luck as of late, and I'm no longer bummed to be leaving, mainly because what lies ahead is going to be motherfucking awesome. My school, as pursuant to their contractual obligations, has purchased me a ticket back home. Fortunately for me, they bought me a round-trip ticket rather than a one way since it was cheaper that way. This means that a month after I return home, I've got a free ride back across the Pacific. I planned on traveling in either Southeast Asia or South America for a few months after the wedding, but I didn't know which to choose. I know, real first world problem here, determining my extended third world home. I was leaning toward Asia anyway, and now that I can get back here for free, the choice is obvious. I've already bought a dirt cheap ticket from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur, so this trip that I've been talking about for a thousand years finally kicks off in April.

Sure, I'm nervous. I'll land in KL and take the bus (which I've already paid for) into the city. When my bus arrives at KL Sentral Station, I'm on my own. I'll be futureless. I'll be looking for a hostel to spend my first night on the road in. Hell, maybe I'll chicken out and book that hostel in advance, but I'll still be pretty much exclusively living in the present tense. Home is where my iPad is. Planes, buses, trains, boats, or stay, my options will be pretty much limitless every single day, at least until I run out of money. There is no exit strategy. I could be on the road 4 months, 10 months, 2 years, or the rest of my life. I could be robbed on the streets of Bangkok a few days in and have to go home, or I could pick up random bar tending and English teaching gigs and stay out there indefinitely. Actually, other than the getting robbed thing, all of this sounds pretty awesome, so that outweighs the nervousness.

So, where will this leave this here blog? That's to be determined, but I presume there will be some considerable change. I'm not sure if my core audience wants to hear a bunch of stories about trekking though the jungles of Sumatra or drinking at the beach bars of Sumatra. Chances are, I'll spin off a new blog specifically about the trip for anybody who cares about my adventures or travel writing. I presume I'll still keep this space as well for everything else, the usual assortment of girls, sports, pop culture, dick and fart jokes, election stuff, and general misanthropy. I'm sure that I'll complain in both spaces. In frigid Korea, I can't wait to start complaining about the tropical heat in April.

Speaking of complaints, I have a few unrelated things I want to complain about. Surprising, I know.

First - stamp cards from restaurants. I had 4 stamps on a Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwich card, and I only needed 5 to get a free one. Sure, I acquired all 4 last year and haven't been to Dunkin since, even though there is one 3 minutes from my house. Anyway, I went there for breakfast on Saturday and was more excited than I should have been about stamp number 5. I ordered a sandwich and pulled out my card (which had of course spent the whole year in my wallet) but was denied, that promotion was over. I figured my best move was to kill myself then and there, but since I didn't have any sort of lethal weapon on my person at the time I begrudgingly paid $3.50 for my sandwich and got on the subway to eat it. I realized that if I suddenly had access to a time machine, the first thing I would do was to go back to January of 2011 to purchase one additional bagel sandwich. Not two, one. Knowing I had one potential free breakfast sandwich would be far more valuable than actually getting one. Time permitting, I would also kill Hitler, but priority number one had to be my Dunkin Donuts stamp.

Second - casinos. I went to the casino on Sunday, and I'll never understand their logic. There was one $5 blackjack table (packed, of course), another full $10 table, and then a bunch of empty $50 and $100 tables. The house has an advantage in blackjack, right? Why not change a $100 table to a fiver? The whole time we were there, zero people sat at the $100 table. Sunday evening clearly isn't the time for high rollers. Why not double the amount of space for low-class scumbags such as myself? Sure, winning big bets is better for the casino, but isn't it better to win small bets than to pay a dealer to sit and do her nails at an empty table? It's not like we would have decided to play at the $100 table instead, not on a Sunday at 7 p.m.

Third - the election. But mainly because I miss Perry, Cain, Trump, Bachman, even Palin. That was some world-class crazy. Good times. Plus, just when I'm trying to figure out if I hate Romney or Gingrich more, Santorum came back today. Oh yeah, I forgot about him, he's the worst of all. I'm not a move-to-Canada if my guy doesn't win kinda guy, but I can pretty much guarantee that I will not set foot in America if Santorum wins. Empty threat, I know, cuz like I said before, he won't. My sports predictions are always wrong, but I'm right about this kind of stuff.

That's that, for now. End communication.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kuala Lumpur

II wrote this a million years ago but forgot to post it. This seems fitting to post today, since I just booked a flight to KL.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, might be the greatest city in the world. It doesn’t have the art or architecture or cultural relevance of a New York, Paris, or Tokyo. There is no beach. It lacks the Vienna or Prague high culture. There’s no skiing. It doesn’t share the anything-goes vibe with Amsterdam, Las Vegas, of even Seoul. In fact, I retract my original statement. Kuala Lumpur is not the greatest city in the world. However, I’ve been to a lot of cities over the last few years, and there are none that I would rather live in.

I’ve often known that a city halfway between two others takes on properties of both. San Francisco has something of a half-Seattle, half-LA feel. People in SF are more laid back than their LA counterparts, but not as much as Seattelites. It never rains in LA, it always rains in Seattle, so fittingly it sometimes rains in SF. The same could be said for St. Louis being halfway between Kansas City and Chicago. Kansas City has a lot of murders, Chicago has a lot of murders. St. Louis, in the middle of both, boasts as many murders as KC and Chicago combined. Kuala Lumpur falls within the first half or this theory, ie, adopting good properties of both cities, only more so. KL is between Bangkok and Singapore.

Singapore is super-orderly, expensive, and nearly German in it’s efficiency. Despite it being a meeting point of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and Arab culture, it is almost more American than Baltimore. It’s often the European ideal of an American city, yet thoroughly Asian. English is the predominant language, and the town boast establishments like Border’s and other large English bookstores, jazz bars, and Orange Julius. Singapore has a top-notch public transit system, and one of the two or three best airports in the world. The food is fantastic.

Bangkok is chaos. It is international, but not American nor European in the way that Singapore is. Asia is the only continent that Bangkok could exist in. It is full of warm people that will go out of their way to help, and scam artists that will try any trick in the book. English language books are for sale, sure, but only on the street, and haggling is necessary. The public transit, outside the Skytrain, is disastrous. Taxis take an hour to get anywhere. The airport is shiny and new, yet still as shady as Patpong tout. Threats of all out revolution loom everywhere in town. Also, the food is fantastic.

KL, at least in my eyes, seemed to be the perfect mix. Efficient when it came time to get from point A to point B, crooked when it came time to buy movies or sunglasses. Stable politically, yet not the kind of place to issue jaywalking tickets. Not as cheap to go out in as Bangkok, but considerably cheaper than Singapore. The airport is far closer to Singapore standards than Bangkok. And yes, the food is fantastic.

I like a good mix of legitimacy and corruption in my cities. This is a factor in the years I spent in Chicago. This kind of mix is hard to find. In Asia, it’s safe to assume that most cities are corrupt outside of Japan and Singapore, and that Japan and Singapore lean too far the other way. Without a little corruption, every city may as well be Zurich.

I’ve brought it up in passing, but I should mention the food. KL is a multicultural town, like Singapore. It’s denizens include Indians, Chinese, Malays, Thais, and a large expat community. For cheap eats, hawker centers take center stage. A hawker center is a large number of food stands that each make one specific dish. Hawker centers also feature lax smoking policies and cheap beer. I stayed in Chinatown, and beyond the hawker centers, there are numerous 24-hour restaurants that are hopping at 3 a.m. I ate at a joint that served a killer shrimp-fried noodle - and nothing else. No ordering required, just sit down and tell the waiter whether or not I wanted a beer with my noodles. Beyond the brilliant local and ethnic food, KL also boasted a spread of American chains that could spawn envy in any Seoul expat. Wendy’s and Chili’s were a couple obvious gems (yes, I ate at Wendy’s. I live in Korea. Shut up). Less obvious was the fact that McDonald’s sold Quarter Pounders, another item that simply doesn’t exist in Seoul.

The right balance of corruption and the food are hardly the only reasons to move to KL. The weather is hot, maybe a little too hot sometimes, but that still beats the recent 6-month drudgery of an extended Seoul winter.

Kuala Lumpur is big, 1.5 million people or so, but not huge. It’s entirely possible to walk from the National Mosque on the southwestern fringe of the old city to the famed Petronas Towers across town in under two hours. In Seoul, a subway ride that never leaves the city limits could conceivably take that long.

Finally, as I so often do, I must bring it back to airports. A top feature of Kuala Lumpur is the fact that it’s the hub of Air Asia. Air Asia is the Southwest Airlines of Southeast Asia. Thus, if Kuala Lumpur started closing in on me and I had to get away for a weekend, I could fly to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, or Malaysian Borneo for under $100 round trip. For a little more, India or China are in play. Even Australia is a possibility.

KL is a nice place to visit, but I’d really rather live there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I'm Killin yo FB Memes

There’s a new(ish) FB meme floating around called The Travel Challenge List. 100 places are named, and people check off where they have been. Everyone gets around 25 or 30 of the 100 and then complains about how poorly traveled they are. This is similar to the “BBC” book list that circulated around Facebook a while back - in that both lists are completely arbitrary bullshit.

The plus side - for lazy writers like me, the only easier column gimmick than making a list of some sort is to poke holes in an existing list. Let’s have some fun.

Here are my major complaints:

A lot of the sites are range from "okay" to "worth checking out if you happen to be in the same postal code, but otherwise lame." All of the sites are theoretically impressive, but some of the lamer ones include:


Devil's Tower, Wyoming. I've never been, but I've seen pictures. No way is it amongst the most impressive places in the world. Shiprock in New Mexico didn't make the cut, and it looks far more awesome to me. Ditto Saddle Rock in Arizona. That's just two superior monoliths in the Western US that I can think of off the top of my head. Extend this to the world, and no way should Devil's Tower be included.


The Gateway Arch - come on. It's a fucking arch.


Gettysburg Battlefield - Sure, an important battle to the US, but it's the only battlefield on the list. Lazy, lazy pick.


Hollywood Boulevard - If they wanted to list a place to see washed up celebs and score hookers and blow, they should have gone with Avenue Revolution in Tijuana.

 
Napa Valley - I've never been. I''m sure it's nice. Other nice places to see grapevines include Chianti, Tuscany and the Loire Valley in France. I'm sure the latter are much nicer than the former, but only Napa makes the list as a wine country rep.


Niagara Falls - Angel Falls and Victoria Falls do make the list, as does another waterfall in Africa that I've never heard of. Do we really need four waterfalls on the list? Wouldn't two work?


Portland Head Lighthouse - it's a fucking lighthouse.


Sears Tower - See, I'm not just being a homer here. The Sears is the tallest and most famous skyscraper in Chicago, but it's not in my top 20 Chicago sights. If Chicago gets one attraction (and on a list of the 100 best sights in the world, I'm okay that Chicago only gets one) then it should be the Tribune Tower. Or Millennium Park. Science and Industry would work too. I'd have no argument with Wrigley Field. Michigan Avenue or State Street or The Loop would suffice. Even the John Hancock Building or the new Trump Tower would be more worthy of this spot.


The Space Needle - Why? I love Seattle, and I know the Needle is the most famous landmark, but there are plenty of more architecturally interesting observation towers in the world. I'd actually rank Seoul Tower higher, and I have no great love for Seoul Tower.


The Alamo - I've never been, but all accounts I've heard have been underwhelming. Historical significance you say? Sure, if you're a Texan. Why not Deally Plaza? At least that's national history rather than just Texas history. If history is key, then why not Westminster Fucking Abbey? Did the Roman Forum do something wrong?


The Leaning Tower of Pisa - insanely famous, but Pisa sucks. There are plenty of more interesting things to see in Italy. The Leaning Tower is probably the most famous place that I've been to that's far more interesting in pictures than real life.


The Pebble Beaches of Nice - interesting I suppose, but there are far better beaches in the world. Hell, there are far better beaches in France.


Atlantic City Boardwalk - y'know, downtown Gary, Indiana was important in the earlier part of the 20th century as well. Since I don't have much interest in getting shot, I'll avoid them both for the time being.


A lot of these sights are in clumps, either right next to each other or visible from one another.

St. Peter's Cathedral and the Sistene Chapel - right fucking next to each other. Everybody sees them both in the same day. Sure, both are worthy sights, but couldn't they have just listed "The Vatican" and been done with it?


The Washington Monument/The White House/The Smithsonian. Why not just go with "The National Mall?" There are several vantage points in DC from which all three of these sights are visible.


New York - do we really need to include The Empire State Building, Times Square, The Met, and the Statue of Liberty? I'm not knocking the Apple here - no one city, neh, borough, should include 1/25th of this sort of list. Between New York and DC (4 hour train ride), one could theoretically see 7 of the top 100 sights in the world in a single day.


This list is WAY too US-centric specifically, and Western in general. I'm not saying this as an apologist. I think the west has awesome sights, and America particularly so. I understand that this list has to be grounded in some sort of travel realpolitik, and I know most people reading this list would much prefer to visit the 8th best sight in Spain than the best sight in Burkina Faso. Still, this list includes:


An insane 32 places in America. 32! Nearly a third of the list is in the States. The island of Manhattan (33.7 square miles) ties the continent of Africa (11,668,599 square miles) at 4.


On top of that, the western world (North America, Europe, Australia) makes up a whopping 70 sights.


Southeast Asia has two sights, which is one more than Wyoming. Russia has one sight, which is one more than Indonesia. Even Canada gets slighted at one, which ties it with the city of St. Louis.


Nuts. Lazy. Bullshit.


Finally, this list leaves off all kinds of worthy sights, which I suppose is predictable. Where is Boracay? Where is Bali? Did Shanghai do something wrong to piss off the creators of this list? Did Dubai? On a U.S.-centric list like this, where the fuck is Yellowstone?


I admit that creating a list of this ilk is an absolutely impossible task, and I'd have an argument with it even if it were my own personal list. However, I maintain that they could have done better than this steaming pile of wildebeest excrement.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fire It Up!! (part 2)

If you missed part one, click here


The Culture

So, how do you keep staff at a horrible job with next to no chance for success? Here's were the marketing work that they were promising in their ads really comes in. You essentially create a cult around the business. You ... I don't know why the fuck I'm writing in the second person.

I mentioned the charming interviewers/branch managers and the morning meetings before. These are not minor details, these are the core of the business, especially a business that values constantly hiring new recruits above moving product, since new recruits create new warm markets to move the product into. Every branch manager openly brags about how much money they make in their position every single day. Why? To dangle the carrot, so that hopeless recruits will continue to sling art door to door in hopes of opening their own branch one day.

What else do the short meetings achieve? They kill a longer part of each peon's day, which makes each peon less likely to have a life outside of work. Life outside of work is bad. Outsiders might have crazy ideas about what a horrible job this is, and the less time a peon is exposed to outsiders, ie, friends and family, the better.

The job also thrives on the cult of positivity. If someone said "what's up?" it was forbidden to respond with the usual "nothin' much." The only acceptable answer was "Everything!" See, positivity breeds good feelings toward the company, makes a peon less likely to walk. My unshakable cynicism kept me from ever taking this job too seriously.

What did the meetings consist of? A whole bunch of chants and cheers. Lots of seemingly intelligent people yelling "Fire it up!" in a shitty warehouse in an office park. Lots of loud music. Lots of jumping around. Of course, there was always a recitation of the "5 and 8," ie, the 5 steps of a sale and the 8 steps to success. I wish I remembered them or could find them online.

The message board community regarding these companies is unbelievable too. Try googling any pertinent information in this post - any time somebody starts a thread dissing one of these companies (art or otherwise, they're all the same), there's always a douchy customer response. The response always blames the individual peon because they couldn't hack it, couldn't take advantage of the greatest opportunity ever. You'll notice that I haven't named any names throughout this lengthy post, largely because I don't want to attract the vindictive Kool-Aid drinking victims of this scheme to this space. I've openly attacked Mark Zuckerburg here before (hey Zuckerburg, fuck you!) , but I also know that he and his people are too busy to come down here to NES/NAS, the Gary, Indiana of the internets, whereas my former bosses are not and would totally sue me.

These responses and the meetings also regularly cast aside normal working folk. I was jealous of every single office worker I ever pitched to, because they had a real job. The "company" preached that these people had a JOB, Just Over Broke, and they were slaves to their four walls. We had the whole world to experience on a daily basis, even if that "whole world" was just the next office or store or restaurant on Lincoln Avenue that also wouldn't be buying fake art from me.

The original want ad promised travel, and it did deliver. One week, the whole operation went on the road to exotic Bloomington, Illinois. I was back in Kansas for the first part of the week, so I originally opted out of the trip. I even went out on my own to look for sales.

It came to my attention that I had an ancient bank account in Rock Island, Illinois with $104 in it, and it would be closing and I would lose the money, and I had to collect the money in person. Destitute bastard that I was, I drove 3 hours to Rock Island to collect my cash. Bloomington was now a shorter drive than home, so I joined the work road trip. I shared a room in the Bloomington Motel 6 (as nice as it sounds!) with a fellow peon, and was told my portion of the room would be taken out of my future profits, should they happen. These trips were supposed to be awesome and fun and rock and roll, according to all the hype I'd heard at last weeks meeting. I helped people move art from one hotel room to another. Then, nobody was doing anything. My roommate went to sleep. I went to the liquor store next to the hotel and purchased two 40s, which I proceeded to drink in the hotel parking lot alone. Rock!

Everyone went to breakfast the next day, and I hated it. Spending eight bucks at the Cracker Barrel for breakfast felt obscene, but I couldn't get out of it, it was "team building." Of course, at real team building exercises at real companies, the boss pays for breakfast. My portion of the hotel the night before was $18. On the road, I would have to buy my own lunch rather than eating ramen in my apartment. Add in gas, and $45 of my $104 windfall was gone, and I had maybe 11 bucks in my bank account.

For most of the day, I did horribly in Bloomington, just like in Chicago. At the end of the day, I finally hit a pretty big score at a truck stop restaurant. Lots of the staff, fry cooks, busboys, and other people I was jealous of bought several prints. I went to the hotel to cash out. After room and breakfast, I still got $68. Huzzah! The staff was staying in Bloomington another day. I knew to cash out while I was hot. Rather than paying another 18 bucks for a room, I went home. Why drink 40s alone in a parking lot when I could do it indoors in my shitty apartment while watching TV?

Getting Out

I pretty much hated every second of life working this job. I hated the meetings, I hated the commute, I hated the selling, I hated the lies, and I hated the fact that I made such little money that saving up for rent was pointless - I generally spend half my earnings at the bar.

One day, like any other, I got up early, I fought traffic, I went to the stupid meeting, I fought traffic, and I started hitting up businesses on Lincoln Avenue. Then, I got the call. A phone slinging job in Evanston that I'd applied to and interviewed at months ago wanted to hire me, and wanted me to start work the next day. They paid an actual salary, so I would make a wage every day. They were in Evanston, so I could take the El to work and skip traffic. They were a JOB, but unlike my current "career," I would move from destitute to legit middle class wages in a few months.

The call came at around 9:30. In one of the great moments of my life, I immediately stopped hustlin' Lincoln Av. I drove home, and got there in time for The Price is Right. After that, I took a nap. I read some, and played some Nintendo. I went back to the "office" at 6 and unloaded all of the art from my car. I was impervious to their hard sell as I did it. I was another statistic, another turnover. I suppose I owe them something on the positivity tip, since that was their thing. Basically every single day since I quit that didn't involve a death in the family or a break up has been better than any of the 16 days that I sold art out of my car.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fire it up!

I've had a lot of bad jobs. I've slung phones. I've (poorly) advised people on how to fill out their student loan applications. I've called alumni to beg for money for a university that I only attended during freshman year. I had a job that I rather liked as a cameraman for a TV station, but it required me to wake up at 4:18 a.m., and after tolls and gas for a daily 68 mile round trip, it actually cost me money. I've sold fireworks for 14 hours a day in a non-air conditioned shipping container in July, although I dug that job too. I've worked for the dreaded McD. Still, if I'm asked my worst job, the unequivocal answer requires less than .00001 seconds of thought.

See, for 16 days (not counting weekends, holidays, or days that I was out of town), I sold art out of my car. I've already made it sound far better than it was. Already, I'm sure you imagine that I painted something, or that people that I knew put together a sculpture, and that I was parked next to some public square and selling art to passers-by that may have been a self-selecting bunch that may care about the arts. Real life at this job was far less romantic. I sold Monet and Van Gogh and Dali prints to businesses door to door. Door to door.

Essentially, I would walk into a place of business, be it a law firm or a KFC, and I would bring a couple prints with me. I would present the "company's" scripted lies (Hey, I'm with a design company, and we were just decorating an office across the street. We have a couple paintings left over and we're selling them for 80% off. Would you be interested in checking out a couple?) Generally, it was my job to get kicked out of places. Hey, why not? I'm good at getting kicked out of places.

The want ad

Maybe this would be a good time to talk about the "company," and why I use the term "company." When I first moved to Chicago, I was flat broke. Flat broke. I applied for every job in the paper. Some of these jobs were "marketing" opportunities, which my major was somewhat related to. I responded to ads that said things like "Account Executive needed! Work in a rock and roll atmosphere. $600-$1000 a week to start. Advancement opportunities. Only apply if you love to travel." Of course this sounded good, as it would to pretty much anybody, and I was in my early 20s so I didn't know any better.

The Interview Process

The economy sucks now, but it wasn't super awesome then either, at least not compared to what I grew up with in the Clinton years. I never heard back from most of the jobs that I applied to, but I heard back from these sorts of ads. I would get a call a day after applying, and the secretary would ask me to come in the next day for an interview. I was broke, so I would, even though I still knew nothing about the job. At the interview the next day (always in the suburbs), I would be greeted by the super foxy secretary and asked to fill out an application. I would go to the interview, always a really charming dude in a suit talking about magical opportunity, but very little about the job itself. Again, I was young, so I was kinda too dumb to ask about job specifics. I would invariably be asked back to a second interview, which was always the next day.

At the second interview at the first company of this sort that I interviewed at, I realized the game. I was partnered with a sales rep, and was told it was a whole day interview. He drove us to Lake in the Hills or some far flung suburb like that, and then we went door to door selling coupons for office supplies to businesses. At lunch (I paid for mine) I was told how I could become a manager in 6 weeks and be making six figures within a year. I stuck around for the whole "interview," largely because I didn't have a car with me and din't have enough money in my bank account to cover the $70 taxi ride back to my car from Lake in the Hills. After watching this cold calling all day, I decided this wasn't for me. Once we got back to the office, I pretty much skipped out and drove home.

Trouble is, I was still broke, and I still wasn't getting calls from legit companies. A couple days later, I went to a similar first interview. I agreed to a second interview, knowing that I would be selling for free, but I asked the guy if I could drive my own car and follow from place to place. No dice. This company was selling spa treatment coupons to women in malls, and everyone who worked there was stunningly good looking and well dressed. I'd just spent 4 months driving across America and camping in Montana and drinking in Mexico. I had nothing in common with these people. Fortunately, the "second interviewer's" territory was Orland Square Mall, in the south burbs. I sorta knew the area, and more importantly, I knew how to figure out the bus system there. After watching this dude hustle mall customers and fail for an hour or so, I ducked out for a smoke. I took the chance away from the "rep" to catch a suburban bus back into town and then the El back to my car.

I went to another interview with Vector Marketing. They were in the same north Chicago building as the 50th ward alderman's office. I hoped that Vector had something to do with the Chicago Democrats, but sadly they were focused on selling knives door to door. We had a group interview, and I got up and left in the middle of the presentation. I felt like a rock star walking out.

You would have thought I'd have learned my lesson, but I still needed to pay my rent and had no source of income. I went to yet another interview with a shady company because they called. I didn't even pay attention to the spiel at the first interview. I knew what the second interview would be, cold sales all day, but I didn't care, I came back for it anyway. I had nothing else to do the next day anyway.

It seemed like the universe wanted me to work at a shady door-to-door sales company. This last interview, selling art, seemed like the least obnoxious of the groups I had come across. I decided to throw in my lot with whatever this company was called. They changed their name often enough that it didn't really matter.


The Work Day


Being on time and meetings were of the utmost importance with these people, so there was a morning meeting at 8 a.m. every day. The "office," (an unmarked warehouse space with a couple offices) was in a business park exactly 11 miles north of my apartment, but nowhere near the El so I had to drive to the meeting. Because of traffic, it took at least an hour to cover those 11 miles, so I left home before 7. At the office, we would load our cars with art and have a meeting, which I will discuss at length shortly. At 8:30, we were free to go to our territories. I had no interest in going to Lake in the Hills or some far-flung burb, so I was assigned a territory in the city. My turf would be Lincoln Avenue, from the Chicago line all the way to the road's terminus down in Lincoln Park. Thus, at 8:30, I left the "office" and drove back into town, still during rush hour. It would take another 45 minutes to get the the far northern parts of the city.

We kept our unsold pieces in our cars at all times, in case we wanted to sell after hours or on the weekend. My car was filled to the brim with framed prints. Since I didn't sell much, I didn't have much need to reload. As the meetings were totally ridiculous but required, I basically left my house at 6:45 and got to my territory to start selling at 9:15. Two and a half hours killed to get to an area that was a 15 minute drive from my house.

One of the tenets of the company was the "5 at 5." We were officially done at 5 p.m., but we were expected to hit up 5 more businesses after 5 struck, then to return to the office (again, at rush hour). As I plied Lincoln Avenue from north to south each day (covering about a mile a day, there are A LOT of businesses on Lincoln), I would always finish the day a mile closer to home than I started, but then had to return to the office in a northern burb.

Why go back to the office? To cash out, of course. If I made any sales (it wasn't a daily occurrence), then I had to got back to the office to give my money to the boss and get my paltry cut. Even if I didn't make sales, I had to go back for a "rap session." I would get back to the office at around 6 (I learned that showing up before that was bad, I obviously wasn't committing to the "5 at 5."). By the time I got back home, it would be close to 7, because again, rush hour. four times a day. I was away from home over 12 hours a day, and 4 of those hours were to make pointless trips to the office.

The System

My job, and the other jobs that I interviewed for selling office supplies or spa coupons or knives were all multi-level-marketing schemes, which are legally not pyramid schemes but employ some similar practices. Only the absolute most gifted salesmen in the world could actually make a living making cold calls with no leads and no customer qualification. The way to make money in the short run and to keep the bosses happy and rich is to use warm leads, i.e., selling useless shit to friends and family. Since I'm not one to bug my peeps about products they don't need nor want, I was a dead end.

The way to make money in the long run is to recruit friends, family, or suckers into the fold of the company and make a commission off their sales to their warm leads. Recruit a few people to the fold, and you move from an "associate" to a "trainer." See, the guy who gave me my "second interview" was actually "training" me, thus he would get a piece of anything I sold. If you are a trainer, you rotate who trains what new meat, and get a percentage of anyone that sticks around. Train enough people that stick, and you become an "assistant manager." Assistants, of course, get a vig off of every trainer under them and every peon under them. Assistants take n00bs on their second training, two weeks after the n00b starts. Of course, the assistant gets 100% of that day's sales take, just like the trainer did on the "second interview," only now the n00b is a little more likely to make them money.

From assistant, one can become a branch manager, who runs the office. He's the cat that ran the bullshit meetings and spent most of the day hanging out in the office, although he still went out and sold too. That was always one of my questions early - why is a guy who claims to make 6 figures managing an office out doing the same bullshit that I did? It couldn't have been for fun, nobody could enjoy cold call outside sales. Of course, the manager made cuts off of everyone in the office. Above him was the regional manager, and now we get to people that have actually been entrenched in the company for awhile, people that have the top of the, um, triangle on speed dial. The regional manager that I dealt with ran an older Chicagoland branch, and a Google search shows that she is still with the company. She really doesn't go out in the field, and she really does stay at the office and rake in cash. The people above her in Seattle or Atlanta or Cleveland (the location of the main office was kind of a moving target) do likewise.

I'm sure you get the pattern. So yeah, there's good money to be made, the peon just has to wait for people in the regional management level or above to be promoted, or to quit, or to get fired, or to die. Thing is, they never do. They hang around forever like an unwanted party guest. If I were to look up the middle and upper management of Sprint, I'm sure it would be vastly different now than it was when I left. Recently, I've done some research on my old art sales "company," and the middle and upper management are the exact same people it was nearly a decade ago when I was there. Like any self-respecting gang, the street level has constant turnover, but the king stay the king. Best way to make money at a pyra.. er, MLM - be early to the party.
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