Sunday, August 29, 2010

Except Maybe For Red Mango

Los Angeles International Airport is one of the lousiest airports that has ever graced the face of this planet – or any planet I imagine.  Terminal 3, in particular, contains the bare minimum when it comes to dining options and bathrooms so dirty that I seriously considered going outside and digging a hole to do my business in.  I had a six hour layover on the way to Florida last week, and a 12 hour layover on the way back.  Luckily, my friend Breean works for Virgin America there at LAX, and she happily whisked me off to get some Mexican food and take a walk down the ever-so-sketchy Venice Boardwalk for a few of those 12 hours.  But I still had several hours to go when she dropped me back off.  So, I cozied up to a power outlet, plugged in my new iPad, paid my $8 for wifi, and Facebooked and e-mailed and such for a while.

The only power outlets you can find to charge your phone, laptop, or other electronic device are scattered around the terminal at little stations.  Each station has maybe 4 plugs at it, a little table, and some barstool type chairs for people to sit.  The power outlet stations are sponsored by Samsung – because you can get companies to sponsor anything these days.

As I was sitting there playing with my iPad, mentally preparing myself for the bathroom break I was about to need, I noticed an older Asian man walk by staring at me and the other gentlemen was who charging his laptop at the plug adjacent to mine.  Then, a few moments later, the old Asian dude walked by again.

And again.

He was like a hawk or a pedophile circling his prey.  I was starting to get a bit creeped out, worried if he was going to try to steal my iPad and run off with it.  Well, an attempted theft didn’t occur, but something equally as annoying, though far less traumatizing, occurred as the man walked by for a fourth time.  He walked up to me, and with his heavy Asian accent, said to me:  “Do you know where Samsung is from?” pointing to the big sign that said “Samsung” that was above my little table.  “I don’t know.  Probably Japan” I responded, very clearly in a tone that should have put across the fact that I didn’t care where Samsung was headquartered.

Asian man:  “No, no!  It’s not from Japan!  It’s from South Korea!”
Me:  “Ok.”
Asian man:  “It’s not Japanese, it’s Korean!”
Me:  “Ok.”
Asian man:  “I come from South Korea, and my country makes Samsung!”
Me:  “Ok.”
Asian man:  “Everybody thinks it’s Japan, but it’s really South Korea!  Now you know it’s not Japan.”
Me:  “Ok.”

All the while I was packing my stuff up and getting ready to dart for the bathroom – any excuse to get away from this creepy stranger.  First of all, who does that?  Who walks up to a complete stranger at an airport and tells them that Samsung hails from South Korea.  That’s like me walking into a McDonalds or Starbucks in Seoul and going from table to table saying “Do you know that McDonald’s is American?  Well, it is!  It is American!  I am American and McDonald’s comes from my country!”  Wouldn’t that be fucking annoying?  Actually, that wouldn’t happen, because I’d probably be pretending to be Canadian.  But really, even we Americans aren’t so full of ourselves that we would do that.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, America brags a great deal, but this was just over-the-top ridiculous.  I am all about being proud of your heritage, but come on, if you love it enough to go annoy random people at LAX, then I think it's time to go back to Korea, ok?  This only tells me that Koreans are just incredibly jealous of Japan's success, or that they have some major penis envy going on.

What’s even sadder is that this creepy old Korean gentleman thought I’d be impressed that Samsung was from South Korea.  Well, sorry to break it to you old man, but I’m completely unimpressed.  First of all, the Japanese brands are superior.  Given the choice between a Samsung and a Sony, Panasonic, or Toshiba, I think most people would go with the Sony… or the Panasonic… or the Toshiba.  I mean, would you buy a Kia or a Hyundai over a Honda or a Nissan?  No you wouldn’t.  Not unless you were poor.

And, I’d like to point out, that a few months ago a headline out of South Korea graced the front pages of the newspapers.  A South Korean couple, so addicted to computer games and the internet, spent so much time in an internet cafĂ© playing a game where you raise a virtual baby, that their actual real life baby starved to death upstairs in their apartment.  I’m not even shitting you.  And these are the people who make Samsung.


After this episode, I've decided that I'm boycotting Samsung and Kia and Hyundai and kimchi.  I'll stick with my Sony and my Nissan and my chow mein noodles instead.  Japanese?  Bring it on.  Taiwanese?  Hells yeah.  Korean?  No.  I don’t want any of it.

Except maybe for Red Mango.  But only because their yogurt is super delicious.

For Grandma

Last Saturday morning I awoke to find a missed call from my mother.  I didn’t need to call her back to find out why she called so early, for there was only one reason she would call me at 5am Sydney time.  It wasn’t completely unexpected, but shocking nonetheless.  After several months of deteriorating health, my grandmother passed away.

It takes an event like this to make you realize just how far away Australia is.  Without hesitating, I booked a flight to Fort Lauderdale to attend the funeral.  It wasn’t cheap, but luckily it wasn’t outrageous, but I ended up spending more time traveling to and from than I actually spent in Florida.  Despite the cost, time, and distance, it was a trip I had to take.

Why am I posting this?  I hate doing sad posts – and the last thing I want to do is bring anyone down - but a few of the following posts may not make sense without knowing that I had to make a journey back to Florida so soon after I was just there in May.  So, I decided to write about it.

This one is for Grandma Pearl – the smart, strong-willed woman who always told it like it was – and was always right.  The one who was married to Grandpa Max for over 60 of her 88 years on this planet.  The one who made us turkey meatballs and matzo ball soup and latkes, and taught us how to play Scrabble and Boggle and Set – though it took us a while to actually be able to beat her.  Disney World trips, morning pancakes, and a predictable amount of money each year on our birthdays.  The one who taught me that a yellow light means speed up and that broccoli actually is delicious.  And maybe most memorable – or at least most representative of her personality - the lady who took the Pepsi Challenge and, without any qualms whatsoever, correctly identified which one was Coke and which one was Pepsi, and proudly told the Pepsi folks that she knew which was which because the Coke tasted better.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Art: Now With More Seagulls

I hate art.  Ok, I don’t actually hate art, but I usually find it incredibly boring.  Yeah, it’s fine to walk around a museum once in a while, but I can’t stop and stare at every painting, and usually they all look the same to me anyway.  How many different portraits of Jesus can there be?  And that abstract art?  I just go cross-eyed.

Modern art.  Don’t even get me started on modern art.  You can go to the junkyard, grab a broken-in-half used toilet bowl, through a pint of neon paint on it, put it in a gallery, call it art, and someone will actually buy it for an obscene amount of money.  WTF?

So, I was skeptical about the Biennale.  The Biennale is a bi-annual arts festival here in Sydney.  The main portion of it is held on Cockatoo Island which sits pleasantly right in the middle of Sydney Harbour.  The island contains old military barracks, warehouses, a few old homes, and a variety of other industrial type buildings.  I had heard good things about the Biennale, and about Cockatoo Island, so I thought I’d venture to check it out, despite the art, since it would be my last chance for two years.

So, my housemate Mayra, her co-worker Andri, and I took the free ferry out there one Sunday afternoon in June (yes, I’m way behind and this blog is no longer chronological – what’s it to you?)  What we found was… actually pretty frickin’ sweet.

The art was… crazy!  And I actually liked the art aspect of it.  There were a small handful of paintings and sculptures, but most was installation art or video art.  The venue was great:  giant art pieces in big warehouses, videos set up in barracks, paintings in old military homes, and so on and so forth.  The island had tunnels and cliffs and all sorts of other fun scenery.  I kept thinking:  “This would be an amazing place to play hide and go seek.”

There was one thing I wasn’t such a huge fan of:  the seagulls.  If there’s one thing I hate more than children, it’s seagulls.  Heinous little creatures.  They were swarming everywhere and loud about it.  Cockatoo Island – I think not.  That’s a misnomer.  It should be Seagull Island.  That way we’d know to nuke it first.

And now, without further ado, some art.  Starting with:  me surrounded by space age colanders hanging from the ceiling… science fiction?  Almost.  Making me hungry for spaghetti?  Definitely.

Cockatoo Island looks like a scary old prison.  Reminds me of Shutter Island.  Eeek!

More of Cockatoo Island.

Art that lets you walk on the rooftops.  Mayra is playing the role of Mary Poppins and Andri is the chimney sweep.

Sad Mayra does not like the fog machine art.

You’ve heard of soap on a rope?  Well, this was meat on a chain.  To be precise, it was a video of a well-dressed Spanish dude tap-dancing while juggling meat that was attached to the end of chains, while hungry rabid dogs barked all around trying to get at the meat.

360 degrees of art surrounding us.  Medusa and her feminist army on treadmills.  Right.

It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  No – it’s a car exploding.  I knew never to buy a Chevrolet.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Encounter with George the Spider

For months, all I heard about Australia was how scary the critters are:  snakes, sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, and of course, spiders.  My housemates told me that the big spiders – the ones the size of a human hand - had been found in the house a few times, especially after a good rain.  But, 6+ months and many a rain later, I still hadn’t encountered a spider.  I was starting to believe it was all made up.

Until last night.

I had gone to bed around 11:00pm as usual, but as I was drifting off to sleep, I realized that I needed to use the bathroom.  So, I got up and wandered down the hall into the bathroom, where I proceeded to do my business.  I was sitting there on the toilet, making a #2, when a sudden movement caught my eye.  I didn’t have my glasses on, and it was hard to see what was moving on our dark brown tiles, but after about two or three seconds, I realized what it was.

It was a spider.

A big… HAIRY… spider.

And it was about two feet away from me.


What would you do if you were taking a dump and a giant spider popped in to say hi?  I really didn’t know what to do.  My first instinct was just to spray the crap out of it with whatever chemical would cause it harm.  Unfortunately, the spider was strategically positioned between me and the shelf with the cleaning supplies, so that was out.  I jumped off the toilet – wearing nothing but a t-shirt, flip-flops, and my boxer shorts down to my knees.  I grabbed our hand towel and threw it at the dang thing, but that little shit was fast and I totally missed it.  Then, I kicked our bath mat in its direction, but it sought refuge behind the toilet.  Now, I was in a corner with nowhere to go.  I grabbed the only weapon in sight that I could find:  our 200g can of Air Wick 4 in 1 Premium Fragrance & Odor Neutralizer.

Because nothing screams death to spiders like a vanilla-scented air freshener.

Nevertheless, I sprayed that spider until it ran into our shower.  Enough was enough – fuck it.  There was no way I was going to try to find that thing in the curtain or in the maze of shampoo bottles that we have.  I cleaned myself up real fast, quickly washed my hands, ran back to my room, and shut the door behind me – closing myself off from the horrors of the bathroom.

I spent half the night awake worrying about how the hell I was going to shower and shave in the morning.  When 7am rolled around and my alarm went off, I decided it was best to warn Mayra about our unwanted visitor.  She uses the bathroom first in the morning and I didn’t want her to have the shock of a lifetime.  Still partially afraid to leave my room, I decided to communicate with Mayra via text message:

7:02 AM
Me:  FYI big scary spider in bathroom last night.
Mayra:  Oh no.. Thanks
Me:  wanna look for it together now?

7:15 AM
Mayra:  I saw it, it’s in the corner of the step next to the door but it looks dead!
Me:  Oh god.  Maybe I’ll get the roach spray and confirm….
Mayra:  Haha do u need help?
Me:  Yes :(

So I ran downstairs, grabbed the roach spray out of the kitchen, and met Mayra in the bathroom.  The spider was lying motionless in the corner.  It was only about 2.5 to 3 inches in diameter, which is not that bad for Australia, but still the largest spider I’ve ever seen by far.  That means it was probably a juvenile, and we’re also sure it was probably a juvenile because it didn’t jump when I saw it.  Oh, did I mention that the spiders here can jump SEVERAL FEET?  Luckily I had already shit, because if I had seen a spider jump through the air, I would’ve shit on the spot.

So, I sprayed the crap out of the spider with the roach spray, and it began to move – very slowly.  I think the vanilla air freshener may have actually had some effect on the spider the night before.  Mayra and I were both too afraid to smash the spider – fearful that it would move and touch us before we could get it, so I ran down the hall and grabbed the one tool I knew would be a surefire way of getting rid of this creature without having to get too close to it.  I came back armed with our vacuum cleaner.

Oh yes, I brought in the big guns.  I sucked it up, and then Mayra and I put one of the attachments on the end so that it couldn’t crawl back out.

Problem solved.  Crisis averted.  I did a thorough check of the bathroom before I locked myself in there for my morning shower.  I’m now completely paranoid to use the bathroom, and probably will be for weeks.  Of all times for a spider to come along… right when I’m my most vulnerable position.

In an effort to speed up the recovery process, I stopped by our local grocery store on the way home from work and picked up some spider spray.  It’s a slight comfort.  I’ve also decided to name this spider and any future spider that may come along.  So, what do you call the little shit of a spider which terrorizes you in the bathroom and then torments your mind for weeks after?

I've posthumously named it George W. Bush - just to add a greater sense of evil to it.

I believe the name Newt Gingrich is next on the list.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jonathan's Chauffeur

A few weeks ago, I was up in St Ives visiting my friend Jonathan.  St Ives is a suburb of Sydney and is located approximately half way between East Jesus and BFE.  While Jonathan was driving me around, we were talking about how I was a bit afraid to drive in Australia since everything is backward.  Then we devised a plan:  I’d come up to St Ives one weekend and drive around in the quiet suburbs during the day.  That would be a good plan to ease me into Aussie driving.

Well, that plan went to shit last night.

Jonathan and I were at Katzy’s – a kosher restaurant in Bondi – enjoying some matzo ball soup (I was having a craving), and as we drove away, I mentioned our plan to drive one day in St Ives.  Well, apparently Jonathan was tired of driving that day, so he pulled the car over on a side street and told me to switch.  Did I mention it was nighttime?  Well, it was.  And did I mention it had been raining and the roads were totally wet?  Well, it had been, and they were.


So, I hopped behind the wheel.  Jonathan was trying to coach me on how to drive – telling me to use my signals and put the car in drive.  Yes, I know.  I don’t need instruction.  I’ve been driving a lot longer than he has.  Just please tell me if I turn into oncoming traffic, thanks.

Having the steering wheel on the right side of the car really messes with your mind, even more than having the flow of traffic reversed.  At least I know to follow the cars in front of me, so it would be difficult to turn into oncoming traffic, but when the wheel is on the right, you find yourself drifting to the left – trying to position yourself in the lane where you normally are used to sitting.  Jonathan kept telling me to keep to the right… one time… two times… twenty times…  I think he was overreacting a bit, but I suppose I would overreact too if the voices in my head were repeating “Why did you give this Yank the wheel?  Are you fucking nuts?”

Besides, Jonathan’s tiny Volkswagen is like a Happy Meal toy compared to my old Nissan Pathfinder.  I probably had plenty of room to roam in the lane.

The end result… I did it.  No crashes.  No turning into oncoming traffic.  No panic attacks.  Well, not for me at least.  Jonathan was a different story.  Whatever.  It was his idea.  And he now he has himself a chauffeur.