January 3, 2008


Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 12:22 pm

(Updated below)

Two great posts have just gone up that have some bearing on my last, so I wanted to point you towards them if you haven’t seen them already.

Girl Detective just posted about an encounter we both had with a politically-minded drunk, who lambasted me for my laziness, privilege, and selfishness in getting a PhD rather than (for instance) volunteering in New Orleans, and then urged GD to make me understand what’s really important (by taking me to see Charlie Wilson’s War, mainly). One of the points GD makes in her post is that, despite our interlocutor’s avowed progressivism, she was actually embodying the anti-intellectualism (and, in her dealings with GD herself, the sexism) that is such a staple of the right wing. Now, most of the progressives and radicals who level accusations of liberal privilege are not drunk and belligerent, but rather thoughtful, committed, and intelligent. Nevertheless, the same kind of duping is often present: at the Shrub Blog, I observed that some criticism of Yes Means Yes, in dismissing the link between women’s sexuality and rape, was echoing right-wing opposition to (for instance) The Vagina Monologues. One of the right wing’s great triumphs has been to use privilege as a wedge issue against the left—think of the emphasis on Kerry’s billions and Edwards’s haircuts, while Bush and Cheney are allowed to be as rich as they want—such that ambition and idealism are both considered superfluous and inauthentic.

•After reading about my brief meat-eating stint, Uncomplicatedly posted her own solution to being a vegetarian in a meat-heavy locale, New Orleans in her case: simply to ask the chef to prepare something vegetarian, which can be more intimate than simply picking something off a menu:

You see, ordering a vegetarian plate gives you a unique relationship to the chef. Some will just give you a collection of their side dishes, which can be a bummer, but some will look around at their kitchens, see what’s on hand, and improvise something special for you. If taste is the most transitory aesthetic experience, it is also one of the most intimate, and I am grateful to all the chefs who have ever taken extra time to consider my needs. While my family members struggled with difficult choices, I would be sitting serenely with a closed menu, waiting to see what delightful thing the chef would do for me. I didn’t feel restricted — I felt more free.

Uncomplicatedly also writes movingly about the ways those with good intentions towards animals can reconcile themselves to the times when we can’t help them as we’d like. This seems to me applicable to other attempts to help the disadvantaged, and provides a link between what the two threads of my last post, threads which at the time I thought were unconnected. We should do what we can to help, and we should absolutely criticize those who harm. (To slip into the specific for a moment: some may feel this way about Yes Means Yes; I disagree, but more power to them.) But energy is almost always better spent doing, than it is lambasting oneself or others for not doing more.

Update (1/4): Joseph Kugelmass gives his take on all of this over at his blog, in an ambitious and thought-provoking entry.  It includes, among other things, the only defense of meat-eating I’ve seen that goes beyond “The lions do it,” “The cavemen did it,” “It tastes good,” or “How do you know PLANTS don’t feel pain?”  Highly recommended.


December 31, 2007

Don’t you know that other kids are starving in Japan

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, General Me, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 2:29 pm

Two unconnected month-of-December items, so that my conscience can be clear going into the new year:

•Julie and I finally took our honeymoon, to Ensenada in Baja California, about three weeks ago. It wasn’t sub-tropical by any means—our shorts and bathing suits went unused, which we half-expected—but it was quite relaxing, with plenty of napping and strolling, with a pleasant day trip to Mexican wine country thrown in. It also featured a minor milestone: I fell off the meat wagon. For the first time since (roughly) May 1993, I knowingly ordered and ate meat.

I’ve never been one of those vegetarians who is appalled by the thought of eating meat unknowingly. When, at one Midnight Breakfast at Sarah Lawrence, I realized that the fake sausage I had been enjoying was actually real sausage, I didn’t freak out, nor was I bothered when I realized that “imitation crab” is made out of other fish, not out of gluten or something. I also have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards broths, stocks, and sauces. But even with this permissiveness, my trip to Japan a couple of years ago felt extremely unsatisfying: while my family enjoyed every kind of fish dish, I was eating the same miso soup, salads, and edamame everywhere, and anything else I tried was most likely cooked in fish products anyway. Furthermore, my moral commitment to vegetarianism is wholly personal; I’m perfectly fine with others eating meat, so it felt strange holding myself to an absolute standard.

So, when I learned that our vacation destination was the Home of the Fish Taco, I realized that I was open to trying some. It was important that it be fish—I do believe that they feel less suffering and consciousness—and also that there be few interesting vegetarian options where we were traveling; even in Greece, I was able to enjoy local varieties of Greek salad, as well as various pita-based foods, whereas around Ensenada few restaurants had anything vegetarian other than quesadillas.

Over the course of the trip, I ate five fish tacos at two different restaurants, as well as a plate of seafood pasta. (I also ate steak tacos after all, but that was a misunderstanding: I ordered “tacos quesas,” and it ended up having steak, and the food took so long to arrive that I didn’t want to send it back.) How was it? It was fine. It felt somewhat odd knowing I was intentionally breaking an abstention, and I worried that I would have digestive problems (I didn’t), but it was basically anticlimactic; I was just eating food.

In the end, though, I think this experiment ended up strengthening my vegetarianism. The fish tacos tasted good; they didn’t make me feel like I had been missing out on something amazing for fifteen years. At one point during our trip, I had a vegetarian tostada, and that was as satisfying a meal as anything else I ate in Mexico. Taste is possibly the most transitory aesthetic experience: even if you eat a meal that you remember for the rest of your life—and I’ve had one or two—it can’t make you want to live a different way. My feelings on eating meat are unchanged: for me, it is a moral issue, but not a moral absolute.

Incidentally, in talking about this experience, I received a reminder that the personally significant is not always identical with the objectively significant. Talking to my sister about our trip, and trying to build suspense, I told her that there had been a “significant occurrence” on our honeymoon. She thought I was going to tell her that we had gotten pregnant.

•There’s a debate raging in the feminist and left-wing blogospheres these days, over a new book project, Yes Means Yes, a collection of essays about fighting rape culture through emphasis on women’s sexuality. The book was announced at Feministing and is co-edited by Jessica Valenti, controversial author of Full Frontal Feminism, which was (to my mind justly) accused of excluding middle-class, non-white, and international feminist issues, despite its claims of universality. (My two favorite responses were petitpoussin’s and Kugelmass’s.) Yes Means Yes is facing much the same criticism: it has been accused of being ahistorical, reductionist, and indifferent to working-class and third-world rape cultures, among other things. However, the book right now is just a call for submissions, and so there is no content to critique; furthermore, many people seem to be taking it as a given that the book is attempting to be the last word on rape, and that it could not be relevant to underprivileged women’s issues. Neither point seems fair to me.

That said, I don’t have much of a dog in that fight … except where it spills over into unfounded incriminations of progressives generally. At an excellent post by tekanji at Shrub Blog—a post that correctly critiques aspects of book’s promotional material while recognizing the potential value of the project overall—I read a comment that seemed to cross the line between making supportable claims about the book, or about Western feminism in general, and unsupportable generalization and hyperbole (“the incessant need of some middle-class white folks to act as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count”). Breaking my usual policy, which is not to discuss politics online except at friends’ blogs, I responded, and a discussion followed, including what is probably the longest comment I’ve posted anywhere. The thread seems to have run its course, but you never know.

You can read the actual arguments at tekanji’s blog. I do want to say a word, though, about where my interest in this issue comes from: it comes from attending both high school and college with students who were 1) universally left-wing and 2) divided, to different degrees, into pretty stark contrasts of privileged and unprivileged, both financially and demographically. Consequently, identity politics has been central to my political understanding and discussion, for better and for worse. Some would expect this to be the point where the white, straight, middle-class man complains about how unfairly he was treated; actually, I found most of political discussions in my youth to be thoughtful and productive, and especially important for someone coming from natural positions of privilege. The exceptions have been cases where assumptions of exclusion and privilege preclude and eclipse fair consideration of content, and I think that’s what’s happening with Yes Means Yes. At Shrub Blog, one commenter accused progressive and feminist bloggers of paying “lip service” to working-class issues, which for me raised the question of what other kind of service can be paid on a blog; aside from organizing and fund-raising efforts, the internet is all talk. In fact, people seem to be criticizing Yes Means Yes precisely for its failure to make explicit mention of unprivileged women’s issues. Honestly, this is a fair point—if the book wants to be for everyone, it should make this clear— but the fact remains that the suggested topics are just that, suggested, and before the essays are compiled it is impossible to conclude whether or not the book is “exclusionary.” The frustrations with the state of feminism and the feminist and progressive blogospheres seem valid to me; the assumptions about this unpublished book do not, and run the risk of alienating potential supporters and allies.

Be safe tonight and this year, everyone.

August 20, 2005

I left my baby on a pretty blue train

Filed under: Romance, Travels — tomemos @ 2:17 pm

Sorry for yet another long silence. At least I have an excuse this time: Julie and I took a road trip to Iowa City to get her moved in to her new digs. It took four days, with stops at Provo, Utah; Ogalalla, Nebraska; and Ames, Iowa. We made the trip in Pearl, Julie’s white Saturn, which performed admirably, even nobly. Some highlights:

–While still in California, we saw one of the jerkiest (in MHO) religious bumper stickers imaginable. It was on a pretty expensive two-seat car, along the lines of a Mazda Miata but different. The sticker said, “Don’t let the car fool you–my real treasure is in Heaven.” Now THAT is assholic. Basically, this guy is saying, “Oh, I know I have lots of expensive material goods, but that’s not the best part. The best part is, I’m righteous and holy and I’m going to Heaven!” You know, if your real treasure is in Heaven, why do you have that nice car? Sell the car, donate the money, get yourself a 1992 Altima and use it to take food to soup kitchens. Remember that thing about the camel, and the eye of a needle? Remember that?

–A much much better tribute to Christianity was on view on that same stretch of highway. It was a pickup truck with a CRUCIFIED TEDDY BEAR on the back, legs crossed and everything. I got a picture, I will Flickr it and link it here. An incentive to keep checking the site!

–When we woke up in Provo, UT, the newspaper’s top story was that, according to a study of American cities and their voting habits, Provo is the most conservative city in America. The most liberal city? Detroit. Don’t ask me.

–Our initial plan had been to get to Provo on the first night, Cheyenne, Wyoming on the second night, and Omaha, Nebraska on the third night. This was based on the assumption that while a ten-hour drive was reasonable on the first day, we wouldn’t have the energy for more than seven or eight hours after that. In fact, what we found was that when you reach a town like Cheyenne, the main thing to do is to get back in the car and keep driving.

–This goes double for Nebraska. A young woman who served us in a roadside Subway found out that we were from Orange County, and asked, “So, is Laguna Beach a real place? Are the people they film there real?” I felt like I was from Camelot. Actually, my relatives in Ames (who were the reason to push ourselves past Omaha, for a real meal and real company) told us a joke: On the night before the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer addressed his men. “I have good news and bad news,” he said. “The bad news is that our scouts tell me that the force we’re facing tomorrow is so large that they will slaughter us to the last man. The good news is, at least we won’t have to march back through Nebraska.” This is a representative sample of midwest humor.

–Aside from the conservatism of the towns we passed through, gas prices were the other major news story in the papers, not to mention in the car. $2.13 was the cheapest we saw, somewhere in Utah; by the end of our trip, it was around $2.70 for Regular. One unexpected benefit to being in corn country was that, in Nebraska and Iowa, Plus was cheaper than Regular, since Plus had ethanol in it, much cheaper than oil in these states. Meanwhile, back in Berkeley, I’ve seen $2.93. It’s like living in Spain or something.

–We got Julie moved in okay, with a decent complement of furniture and everything. Iowa City seems like a pretty cool town, and also a true college town: the student population is about half that of the town, and the bars and cafes have shorter hours during the summers. I don’t envy her the winters she’ll face, but from now until December she’s definitely living in the cooler place.

As for being long-distance again…it’s not ideal, obviously, especially since we had gotten really used to living together after four months. At the same time, after France, it should be cake. I’ve long thought (and maybe I’ve even said this here) that the major factor in the success of a long-distance relationship isn’t distance or availability, but whether the two parties are up to something interesting that they can talk about in those late-night phone conversations. It certainly seems like that will be the case now. So, here’s to a short wait and frequent visits.

April 17, 2005

Mon semblable, mon frére

Filed under: Romance, Travels — tomemos @ 1:11 am

I had a great time in France and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you so until now. A couple vignettes (that’s French for “little vignes”) about the trip, which ended two weeks ago today if you can believe it:

–I was lucky enough to be on the same flight with my friend Brandon, who was going on from Prague to visit his girlfriend. Brandon’s roommate took us to the airport, and on the way Brandon was talking to his girlfriend on the phone. “No,” we heard him say, “no, I’ll just get one at the airport.” “A passport,” his roommate said, and I laughed. Then I said, “Oh shit, turn around, I forgot my passport.”

I made it to the airport on time and everything, but still pretty dumb. It reminded me of when, flying home from England, I assumed that I had an electronic ticket; they informed me that, no, I had a paper ticket, which as it happened I did have with me. When I say I have bad travel luck, a lot of that is due to crap like this.

–Julie and I pulled off an admittedly risky maneuver, which was that rather than meeting at the airport we had our rendezvous (French for “liaison”) in the city. Luckily we picked an easy landmark, the Eiffel Tower. We found each other among the crowd, we started down the road towards the apartment…and thirty yards later, there we were. Our apartment (lent to us by a kind, out-of-town friend) was a loft right next door to the Eiffel Tower and almost on a level with it, or so it felt after climbing the eight or so flights of stairs. It was no bigger than a dorm room, but it had a great view and was extremely charming and Parisian.

–One less-than-charming aspect was the shared toilet, which was one of those squat-and-pray deals. Luckily, none of the predictable disasters took place, but I did, at one point, have trouble getting the pull chain to work, and not knowing my own strength I managed to pull the damn thing off. We figured that it was best to tell the super about this, rather than leave Julie’s friend to bear the brunt when she got back.

Of course, when you’re living somewhere without paying rent, you run the risk of awakening someone’s ire about it. And that person might not speak English. Julie probably has a clearer idea about what the 5’6″ supervisor was haranguing her shrilly about than I do, but it was clear that he wasn’t happy about us being there. As Julie took him up, up, up to the bathroom to look at the damage, and then came back down, down, down while I was pacing around outside, I couldn’t shake the fear that we had gotten her friend evicted. Luckily it turned out that he was a tinpan apartment dictator–she had already cleared our stay there, he was just personally unhappy with it. Still, whenever we entered or exited the building from then on, our conversation stopped and we walked swiftly and uneasily past the supervisor’s door.

–We had dinner with a member of Julie’s extended family who was in town with his wife and kids. They’re pretty well off–he’s in real estate–and the proof was in the soufflé we had for dessert that night. In the Eiffel Tower. I’m not kidding, he took us to dinner at the Jules Verne, which is the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, I grabbed a box of matches to prove it. The food was quite good, but mostly I was kind of dumbstruck. The funniest part of the evening was after dinner, when we left the restaurant, descended the tower, went back to the Four Seasons to say goodbye (and so I could return the jacket and tie I borrowed from him), and got back in the hotel’s van, which took us to our building’s service entrance so we could go up to our garret. I tried to tip the driver, but I think he took pity on me, because he turned it down; he probably realized that he makes more money than I do.

–It was a great time. Great to be back in a city, great to be spending lots of time in cafés, great to meet Julie’s friends. It rained all week, and even that was Parisian. Now we’re back in Southern California, nearly living together, and things are going fine. I’ll keep you posted–honest–in the coming days.

December 24, 2004

The anagram lover’s Tokyo

Filed under: Travels — tomemos @ 2:01 am

I could have written this last night, but I couldn’t figure out the international keyboard well enough. I had this problem during my junior year abroad, too–just when I had the (comparatively easy) British keyboard figured, I had to go to the continent and learn a whole ‘nother system. This is worse yet because if I press the wrong key I go into Japanese character mode. I still am kind of behind the learning curve, and I may not have time to correct my mistakes, so if you see any colons where an apostrophe should go you’ll know why.

So. After a wonderful and flamboyant end to our time in Tokyo (we got a Karaoke room and two pitchers of beer; I did “Tiny Dancer,” “Ticket to Ride,” “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” [with Zoe], “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “Let’s Stay Together” [which I dedicated to Julie, so it’s too bad I sang it so very badly]), we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Kyoto doesn’t have Tokyo’s razzle-dazzle; the commercial areas are mostly unremarkable. But we’re not staying in the commercial areas–we’re staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) right smack-dab in the Temple District. We’re across trhe street from a big Buddhist temple (which we oddly haven’t gone to yet) and a short walk from a shrine, a big famous temple on stilts, some less famous but still cool temples, and the Philosopher’s Walk, a stroll along the canal connecting two–you got it–temples. My irreverence belies how great this has all been; when I was a kid I fell in love with Japan, home of both Karate and Nintendo, and for some reason Kyoto was the focal point of that. Of course the reason is that Kyoto, not having been firebombed in the war, is the repository of beautiful Japanese architecture. It’s the Florence of Japan, but with even more of a sense that these temples and shrines are still in constant use–almost everyone still makes offerings, lights incense, and rings the bells when they visit these places. It’s been pretty remarkable.

And the ryokan is a trip. Our floor is a straw mat, our beds are futons, our bath is a four-foot wooden cube. Our window overlooks a pagoda from a nearby temple. The walls are thin and there’s not much privacy–I’m kind of looking forward to strolling about my apartment talking as loud as I please–but when you’re sitting in a robe after a bath, playing rummy with your sisters, the quaintness really hits the spot.

I’m looking forward to Christmas, o’course. My parents are keeping up the Big Lie–that they’re not getting us anything, nor each other–but this is simply a formality. I’m sure the haul will be relatively slight–you may remember, I’m writing this from JAPAN–and anyway I don’t want much; I just enjoy watching the pretense. (Every year, even when we don’t go abroad, my parents swear to each other that they won’t buy each other anything expensive. My sister and I were wondering today what would happen if one of them kept their word on that one.)

And so the trip comes to a close–I leave on Boxing Day. I’ve had a great time, and I’ve reached that all-important stage of looking forward to being sedentary at home. I’m sure I’ll go back and mention more great stuff I saw once I again have access to free internet. Suffice it to say right now that this was great, that I couldn’t have planned it better, and that I’m looking forward to subjecting all my friends, particularly Julie, to hours and hours of stories and photos about it all.

December 19, 2004

Shibuya Roll Call

Filed under: Travels — tomemos @ 1:41 am

Here we are in Tokyo. Tensions have slowly been rising on this trip, which is inevitable since all of us kids, now out of the house, have started to resent commands and instructions from our parents who, nevertheless, are footing the bill for all this. The particular form this has taken is a running argument about Japanese etiquette; Tokyo is a major city and is on the cutting edge of just about everything, but you’d think it was Iran for all that our parents are chiding us about our manners. I recognize that there are certain rules that are just different, and very important to follow–you’re apparently supposed to sniffle here instead of blowing your nose, and I’ll go along with that–and at 6’2″ I don’t want to be more noticeable than I already am. But when my parents question whether I should be pointing at a building I find interesting, I suspect that they’re making too much of this etiquette thing.

Not that we’re fighting all the time. In general we’ve gotten along real well, and we’ve kept a sense of humor about this etiquette thing–we have a running joke that certain essential activities (using a rolling suitcase, e.g.) are breaches of Japanese etiquette. This will culminate, on Christmas, in a stocking-stuffer my sisters and I bought our parents at Condomania: “Etiquette” brand condoms. (Try not to be too weirded out. It was just too good a joke to pass up.)

I’m writing this from my hotel room, a single overlooking Tokyo tower. I like it here an awful lot. It’s the most like New York of any city I’ve been to (except New York, I suppose)–very metropolitan, sometimes dizzyingly busy, not usually hard to navigate but composed of people who have better things to worry about than getting you back to your hotel. Of course, there are lots and lots of important differences.

For instance: today Zoe and I went to Shibuya, a trendy, youthful district. Which is like saying that the Castro has a certain gay presence, because Shibuya has gone into trendy and come out the other side. The area is packed with young people who have dressed to be seen. Sometimes this just means extra-nice clothes, sometimes it means ratty ones, and sometimes it means dressing for a particular subculture, like punks or goths (I had never seen Japanese goths). And then there are the Fruits: people dressed in amazingly elaborate clothes, costumes really, sometimes coordinated with friends. (I don’t know where the name comes from.) I saw a woman in a black lacy wedding dress, decorated with roses; two women wearing identical, cartoonishly colorful schoolgirl-like outfits; a woman with torn fabric covering her face. (I didn’t see any male Fruits, now that I think of it, though I did see a Japanese guy with a guitar and an afro.) There was a group of them standing together and talking, and I really wanted to take their picture, but I didn’t have the guts. This might have been stupid on my part, since they were clearly dressing to be looked at, but I wasn’t comfortable taking the picture; they dressed to be a spectacle, but not my spectacle.

I’ve been keeping my eye out for wacky Japanese stuff, but haven’t seen much of it. Aside from the vending machines selling cans of hot coffee, which Julie had already told me about, most of the strangeness has been in the bathroom. Some of the toilets double as bidets–even in a museum–and the hand dryers blow with astounding force. Other than that…I did see a commercial that bears talking about. It was a Mediterranean street scene that looked like it was directed by Truffaut, with solemn music playing; a street urchin walks through the dust and comes upon a long unbroken row of Cup Noodles. Catching a significant glance from an old man, he bends down and takes one. “Cup Noodle: Without Borders,” the text says, as he and the old man eat Cup Noodle, together.

I take the bullet train to Kyoto on Tuesday; we’re celebrating Christmas in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Then, a week from today, I come home and see Julie, which is one of the few things worth leaving Japan for.

December 15, 2004

Very large, China

Filed under: Travels — tomemos @ 10:26 pm

Every city in the world, especially those not in Europe or North America, has been described as “a city of contradictions.” But whatever, Hong Kong is a city of contradictions and I’m not going to apologize for saying so. Yesterday we got on a bus in Hong Kong’s financial district, amidst gargantuan skyscrapers with claws protruding upwards, and in twenty minutes we were on a winding mountain road overlooking the South China Sea. Some of the buildings on that end were neo-colonial villas, others were gargantuan hotels and apartment buildings (one such building had a giant square hole in it, for better feng shui). Ultra-Western stores–HMV, Lacoste–rub elbows with tightly-packed Chinese markets; it’s like if you were in Times Square and then went a block and found yourself in Little Italy. It’s exhilarating and disorienting. If everything wasn’t in English as well as Cantonese I’d be overmatched.

We have a great hotel room in Kowloon that faces across the harbor to Hong Kong island. The skyline is gorgeous, it’s colorful enough without the laser light shows the buildings display every night. A number of the skyscrapers show animated Santa Claus displays, because Christmas (often rendered “X’Mas”) is huge here. Carols play everywhere, store clerks wear Santa hats. You’d think that going to a Communist country would be a good way of escaping this kind of thing.

My time isn’t free so I can’t give the full story, but I’m having a really good time. Hong Kong is a really exciting city, and it’s not at all difficult to communicate or get around. It’s great being with my family, and it’s great just being on vacation. We leave for Tokyo on Saturday, which I’m thrilled about; I’ll try to blog again from there. In the meantime, I’ve got to get on a ferry.

December 2, 2004

I’m so bored with the U.S.A.

Filed under: Travels — tomemos @ 12:30 am

No one ever asks about your vacation plans unless they want to tell you how cool their vacation is going to be. This is the situation I’ve found myself in, as someone with an impending vacation I’m dying to tell everyone about. I even asked my class what their holiday plans were, as what I realized later was a hollow pretense for telling them about mine. So rather than post a blog entry asking, “So…what’s everyone doing for Christmas?” I guess I’ll come direct and say: in lieu of presents, a tree, ho ho ho la di da, my family and I are going to Hong Kong and Japan for a couple weeks.

The deal is, my stepmom has a conference in Hong Kong in early December, and due to all the jet-setting that she’s had to do with her job (a short list: DC, Irvine, London, Hong Kong once before, Australia) she’s lousy with frequent flier miles. We’re using these, combined with the gift money, to get us all out there and back again.

We’re in Hong Kong for five days, then Tokyo and Kyoto for a week and a half. I’m pretty totally excited about it. I don’t exactly know what to expect; it’s my first time in Asia, and all I have to go on are friends’ impressions and cultural sources (Tokyo: Lost in Translation, Kyoto: Usagi Yojimbo, Hong Kong: Rumble in the Bronx). But we spent Thanksgiving break poring over guidebooks, and Julie made me a mini-guidebook, and I’m slowly building up an idea of what I’m in for before I get there and am totally blown away.

Anyway, I can always use more reconnaissance. Does anyone who’s been to any of these cities, or who knows someone who has, have any suggestions on what I should see, do, eat, or buy? Hey, I’ll welcome requests for souvenirs, too, though on a student budget I don’t know if I can afford more than a doodad (or perhaps a gewgaw if I find the right deal).

February 23, 2004

Last of the Red-Hot Swamis

Filed under: Travels — tomemos @ 3:03 am

I spent the weekend in Portland, visiting my friend Lauren. Lauren and I were housemates in Oxford, and this was only the second time I’ve seen her since then; it’s been more than a year since the last time, and we haven’t really kept in any kind of touch. In fact, she didn’t even know I was coming until last week. But it was the kind of instant good-time weekend that you want from a 36-hour visit. We talked a lot, we played with her dog Petey, we watched movies. We finally exchanged phone numbers. At first I was relieved that we’re still good friends, then it seemed natural. No doubt it’ll go that way next year, too.

Only a couple of you have met Lauren, so I’ll let one vignette speak for her, and for the whole weekend. On Saturday night, she and some friends took me to a Nickel Arcade–$2.50 to get in, and inside are all kinds of games (arcade games, claw games, skee ball, air hockey) which cost between one and four nickels (two is average). They sell nickels in $2 rolls, I used up three of them. At the end of the night, I had only something like 150 tickets, so I got a wiffle ball and bat. Lauren, though, got 280 tickets, and spent a long time browsing the available prizes. Finally she decided.

“I want a bunch of plastic dinosaurs,” she said.

The dinosaurs in question were so cheapy. They were hollow, with garish colors, and only four or five different dinosaurs, including one which I think doesn’t exist–it looked like what they used to think Iguanadon looked like. But they were five tickets each.

“What’s 280 divided by five?” she asked. The answer is fifty-six.

She turned to the woman at the counter. “I want fifty-six plastic dinosaurs,” she said.

The woman gave her a bag, and Lauren put all the dinosaurs available (twelve) in it. They went into the back and got another bag, then another. Lauren had a plastic supermarket bag full of cheap plastic dinosaurs, and she was just the happiest person.

At the time of this writing, she’s used a bunch of them to decorate her room. Standing on a shelf, they like some fluorescent dinosaur conga line. She’s still got about half of them left, though–and she’s talking about going back to the nickel arcade to win more.

Visit soon, Lauren.

December 13, 2003

Where my thought’s escaping, where my music’s playing

Filed under: Romance, Travels — tomemos @ 11:45 pm

My flight was at 4:30, and I had a window seat on the left side of the plane, which meant that for almost an hour I got to see the sun set over the Pacific. From the red horizon to the blue sky, it looked like I was looking at the color spectrum off in the distance. Some wispy clouds came between the plane and where the sun had been, and and the contrast made them look like grains of ash thrown on the orange sky.

But the most beautiful part came towards the end, when I noticed that we were coming into Oakland from the north, from Berkeley. I saw the Campanile, and the and the Berkeley Marina, and the Mormon Temple. The last thing I saw was the lights reflecting off Lake Merritt, where Julie lives, and at that point the eight- or nine-year-old boy sitting in front of me said, “Look at the lights! It’s really pretty!”

I’m with you, kid.

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