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.
Google