Random Oz notes

17
Dec
2014

– They eat more beets (which they call beetroot) here than any other country I have ever seen.

– Despite their great love of coffee, they do not use (or offer) coffee sleeves for the sometimes unpleasantly hot to go (take away) cups they serve it in.

UV warnings are ALWAYS off the charts, in the extreme range. Perhaps we are directly beneath a large hole in the ozone layer. Or maybe other countries don’t take skin cancer as seriously.

– There are lots of food courts here.

– Sydney is a great city for walking around in, there are many lovely neighborhoods.

– People must have coffee often before lunch, I am constantly asked in restaurants if I would like a coffee before food. And not just any drink first, specifically coffee.

– Burger King is called Hungry Jack’s here. Apparently when they came to Australia, the name was already taken. I still won’t set foot in this or any other fast food establishment (while sober, anyway).

– They use short post codes, here only 4 digits to our 5.

– This will not surprise a lot of people, but Australia is very white, a little Asian, and not much else.

– People walk how they drive, on the left. This is pretty much true of all the left side countries I have been in.

– This last one is hard to put my finger on exactly, but people (in general, not everyone) seem a bit more reserved than other countries I have been in. They are less likely to volunteer information or help, less likely to go out of their way for anyone. They are not rude by any stretch, just not very effusive. I am still trying to put my finger on exactly what it is, stay tuned for a much longer blog post on this subject as I put my thoughts about it more in order.

hj

odds n ends, odd things

30
Nov
2014

– You can’t make reservations in most Melbourne restaurants, so it is always a crazy long wait to get a table. This strikes me as woefully inefficient.

– And speaking of restaurants, if you can’t finish your meal, you can’t take your uneaten food to go. Or perhaps you can, but everyone I spoke to here finds the very idea repellant. (but apparently wasting half a plate of food is not as repellent).

– There are oh so many things in the language that are similar to us, but different. They say “general knowledge” when we would say “common knowledge”. They say “how are you going?” when we would say “how are you doing?”, etc etc etc

– The seats facing each other on the trams and trains are far too close to each other. Only children and little people could comfortably sit across from one another. But I guess the same is true of how close some subway seats are in New York. Perhaps these were all originally designed for a time when people were smaller.

– As in the UK, people seem to drink more here than in the US.

– I have probably mentioned this before, but card payment is almost all contactless or chip and pin (although I gather they came to this quite recently). I can’t wait for the US to join the modern era in this regard.

– Because of the accent, I often can’t understand what people are saying and need to ask them to repeat themselves. When people say “all good” here, it sounds exactly (to my ear) like “awkward”. Which is pretty much the opposite of what they are meaning to convey.

– Automatic doors here all open much too slowly, what is up with that?

More notes on Seoul

9
Nov
2014

– There are a surprising number of Christians here. Like way, way more than any other Asian country that I have been to. Churches are everywhere, and so is proselytization. Maybe that explains all the early Christmas decorations.

– Many of the shops and service establishments are tiny and in very out of the way places, tucked into seemingly unfindable nooks and crannies of back alleys and dead ends. How do these places survive and thrive? Or do they?

– Similarly, any type of business could be anywhere, they are all stacked up on top of each other in improbable places and sizes. A bar in a broom closet on the 4th floor of a walk up. A nail salon behind a piece of corrugated metal propped up between two buildings. A church on the 3 rd floor of an office building. A “storefront” made by taking over the side of a public, very steep staircase. (To be fair, this kind of micro organization of space and lack of zoning is the hallmark of many Asian countries I have been to, I just haven’t seen it in a while and it is impressive and disorienting to Westerners)

– Apparently they did away with public garbage cans several years back because people were dumping their private trash there (and thus avoiding taxes related to home garbage pickup), so there is no place to throw anything away. Now what happens in the public space is people will wait for one brave sociopath to drop some garbage, and then everyone feels safe to add to it, creating large public piles of garbage that apparently will then get cleaned up by the city.

– cell phone service (signal) is pervasive here, in every nook and cranny and deep underground. And everyone is always on their (mostly Samsung) phone.

– On several occasions, especially early morning when things are generally quiet, I have come across people repeatedly chanting some sort of prayer loudly while walking down the street.

– I note with some disappointment that the bibimbap I have tasted here does not compare well in quality to the ones I have had in NYC. I am sure I am not finding the right or better places to go, but I would still expect this to be one of the best things you find almost anywhere here, but no. Same story with the BBQ grilled meats, which while better in quality than the bibimbap, are not as good as what I have had at some places in NYC. The only real standout food wise so far has been the street food, most especially the meat and kimchi filled steamed buns I had the other day.

Soju, on the other hand, is way cheaper here and I love it.

– I have had a great time here, especially with the people I have met. I highly recommend coming to Seoul. However, I feel that 4 or 5 days in Seoul is more than enough to get to know the place.

さようなら

4
Nov
2014

Ah Japan, it has been great. I will miss many things about you. Things like your perfect showers. Your butt warming, butt washing toilets. Your attention to detail in everything. Your ramen, your sushi, your yakitori. How spotless you are. Ken and I are on our way to the airport in a few minutes, where he will head back to NYC and I will continue on to a new adventure in Seoul. Before I leave, I have one final list of odd notes about Japan, things that I found interesting or strange:

– It is frustratingly difficult to find a trash can here. For a people so obsessed with being clean, there is almost no place to toss the odd drink can or wrapper, I almost always had to give it back to the person behind the counter of whatever establishment I had purchased from, as they saw me wandering around with a bewildered look.

– Many people having photos of themselves taken will flash the peace (or victory) sign with one or both hands.

– There are far too many people wearing Crocs here.

– Google maps walking time estimates are always much lower than the actual trip. If it says 10 minute walk it is almost always 20. Which is really strange because in New York, if Google estimates 10 minutes, I usually get there in 8.

– There are a lot of crows in Japan.

– Horsemeat is on a lot of menus here.

– People seem to eat very early here, even by my midwestern standards.

ramen

General things I notice about Japan

1
Nov
2014

We arrived in Kyoto yesterday but have yet to really dig in to explore, just a bit around our neighborhood which is a little out of the way (having been rather quickly chosen on AirBnB) and not exactly densely packed with major sites, as least not that we can tell so far. And since it was raining heavily yesterday, we didn’t venture too far afield. Weather permitting, today we will see some major temples, shrines, and other buildings.  Separately from specific musings about this place, I have been maintaining a small list of things I have noticed in general about Japan and Japanese culture which I will share below:

– This country is shockingly clean. There is no garbage anywhere to be seen, everything is neat and ordered and tidy. Anyone that knows me knows that for this reason alone I am in heaven here.

– Probably not unrelated, the entire culture seems a little OCD about a lot of things. For example, almost without fail we see cars backing into spaces where possible for easy exit afterwards.

– There is a particular way of walking here, especially among the old, but even a bit among the young. They definitely favor many smaller strides over fewer longer ones. Everyone seems to be hopping about a bit.

– Similarly, people always seem in a hurry and are rushing to get places, which speeds up the above small steps routine into something staccato and cartoonish, especially when they are pushing into a crowd of people.

– I have mixed feelings about Japansese desserts involving rice and forms of gelatin. They are not hugely satisfying to me and often represent a choking hazard. On the other hand, the creamy and bready things they make are often better and tastier than their analogues in the west.

– Moist (very often plastic wrapped) towels are everywhere, hot and cold. It feels as though I have wiped my hands with these more times in a week than in my entire life beforehand.

– And they really seem to eschew napkins in general, especially dry ones. Everyone is just so clean while eating that they never need one I guess.

– I really love the fancy toilets here. The seats are warm on a cold night. They lovingly spray wash your ass with whatever temperature or pressure of water you like. And yet, their aim is somehow always perfect, how do they accomplish that? Is there some sensor that judges the exact distance to your asshole from the back of the seat?

– Japan is much less expensive than I had heard about. Granted, we are not in 5 star luxury, but without trying to be budget-conscious here everything is very affordable. The housing, the taxis, the food — all of it surprisingly good value.

– The train system here is mostly amazing in how well setup and modern it all seems, and how easy it is to use, even then you don’t speak the language. And yet, for as advanced as everything is, why can’t you reserve and get your ticket online? Why on earth can’t I have an electronic ticket on my phone and present that instead of the paper one? This seems silly and backward in a country that is so otherwise far in advance of us with trains.

bullittrain

Notes on Serbia

3
Oct
2013

As I do in many other locations, I have a collection of random notes about Serbia. Just a simple list of things I have noticed while here:

– Sweatpants. I have never seen so many people (almost exclusively men) wearing them as their primary mode of dress.

– Natural Gas / Petrol. Many of the cars here are retrofitted to work with both natural gas and petrol, as natural gas is far less expensive here than regular petrol.

– Smiling. No one seems to do it here but us. And the locals look at us as if we are crazy for smiling. What do they know that we don’t, or vice versa?

– Heavy, meat-based cuisine. As you have no doubt noticed from some of the postings and photos, this is a crazy meat heavy culture. They seem to eat very few vegetables and love everything deep fried, soaked in cream or fat, or generally colon cancer causing.

– Heartburn. I have never had more of it, I am sure related to my note above.

– Smoking. Almost everyone smokes here, like I haven’t seen since Paris in the early 90s.

More notes on Istanbul

12
Sep
2012

– Maybe it is all the water around, but people seem to absolutely love fishing here. I see them on every bridge and near every body of water.

– There are a lot of older wooden houses here that kinda remind me of the Victorian ones that are scattered around San Francisco.

– The public transit system is surprisingly easy to use here, and all of it seems quite new and updated. And the underground metro part of the system (as opposed to the above ground trams) seems to have been dug by the same engineering guiding principles as the ones in London. That is to say, they are crazy deep in the ground, I swear we are near the magma.

– A very high, statistically unlikely, number of men on gay dating websites here claim to be bisexual.

– And speaking of websites, when I first got here I noticed that a number of them were being blocked by the government. As I have read up on it, it seems that Turkey, while not in the same league as China or Iran, is still up there in the amount of things it chooses to censor. Fortunately, it is very easy to get around most blocked sites by merely changing one’s DNS address, and my friends tell me this is very widely done here.

Lokum is a greater scourge than opium, if you ask me.

Random Notes on Istanbul

4
Sep
2012

Every place I visit, I gather a bunch of random impressions, here are mine so far for Istanbul:

– There seem to be no walking rules for navigating a crowd as in most other cities I have been in. (Usually it follows traffic patterns so that people from cultures who drive on the right tend to stay to the right and move to the right of oncoming people, for example). People here cut across in all sorts of diagonals and bump into each other all the time. I can’t get over it, there really seems to be no pattern. In New York and Paris and other places, I can slice through a crowd very easily. Not so here in Istanbul.

– There are more stray cats in this city than any place I have ever been by a wide margin. And people seem to like them, pet them and feed them scraps. It is almost as if the city of Istanbul is one big house, and all of these are pets.

– Since I am staying in an apartment for the month, I thought I would pick up some essentials like shampoo and toilet paper and water. Despite three separate supermarkets or convenience shops I have been to, I can not find toilet paper sold in fewer than 16 roll jumbo packs.

– Hawkers of all kinds seem to leave me alone here (while chasing other tourists with gusto), and people immediately begin by talking to me in Turkish. I think they think I am Turkish. Finally, my hirsute nature pays me a dividend.

– Waffles are bafflingly popular here. Sometimes they make sandwiches out of them. I see signs everywhere. I guess that is true of chestnuts and corn on the cob as well, but for some reason those I can understand more readily.

– Turks seem to hate random garbage in the way of them walking. Several times now I have watched men stop to kick a piece of trash all the way to the side of the street or gutter, not just out of their immediate way. The clean freak in me appreciates this.

More random notes about London

5
Aug
2011

– The 9 year old boy in me can’t stop snickering when hearing words like “Cockfosters”

– There is an odd trend I have noticed a bunch while here. Men in overly modish running gear with backpacks on, running through crowds on their way somewhere. They are not running all that fast, and seem to be more about displaying themselves than any actual exercise or getting anywhere. I have spotted at least 8 of them while here over the past week.

– London is so spread out that it makes socializing somewhat less likely inter-area. It is always a lot more effort and time to get from one side of the city to another. In New York, it is relatively easy to get from one area to another in short time and thus makes it more likely that people from various neighborhoods will mix.

– Reinforcing the separateness noted above, how can a city as large and cosmopolitan as London stop running the tube so damn early? This makes it rather a pain to get home from wherever one is out and about.

– On the other hand, they seem to be investing a lot in their stations and infrastructure (and technology associated with it) while New York stagnates in this area.

– I believe the measure known as the pint is in large measure responsible for the incredible amount of drinking that goes on here. redefining it to 2/3 of the existing size (I propose “New Pint”) would result in much less public drunkenness, vomiting, and general puffy redfacedness.

Random London Notes

3
Aug
2011

– I love the visual display and packaging of food at Marks & Spencer’s and Waitrose.

– Although there is a ton of pork and other meat, there seems to be very little beef for sale in these places, could it be due to the Mad Cow scare a few years ago?

– The British (and some other Euros) seem baffled by properly working plumbing, mixing of hot and cold water, etc. And I am baffled by them being baffled.

– Is there really a need for plugs to be so big here?

– I love digestive biscuits, even though they are really without any health merit. (most especially the dark chocolate covered ones)

– Public transport is far too pricey here.

– Why can’t American yogurt be as good as British (and French, and Italian) yogurt?

– Why can the British have such reasonable debates on radio and television, while the Americans can’t seem to raise the level of discourse beyond sound bites and willful ignorance?

– When the weather is hot here (admittedly, somewhat rare), it is hellish on the underground.

– The British Museum is fantastic