#Trending

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There are many current trends. Vampires being sexy instead of scary. Zombies. Immediately, the election. Internet cat videos. You get the idea. Some I find more irritating than others, my Facebook home page has become the equivalent of a neighborhood full of political banner ads cascading across mildly unkempt lawns; meanwhile all the homeowners are on their front porch screaming at one another across the street because their side’s “Got it right.” It’s become ridiculous.

The Arab spring showed the world what a wonderful part of a revolution social media has to play, but during this election season I can’t help but feel like instead of encouraging a fruitful national conversation all it’s done entrenched us further into the cyclical thinking that brought us here. But that’s enough about that. This is all my personal feeling and I don’t have much in the way of backing it up. I’ll leave this conversation to others who believe they’re smarter than the rest of us.

What I wish to discuss – and ultimately complain about – is a current trend in the media. That miserable trend is reporters/journalists/talking heads/newscaster reading comments from regular folk on twitter or an outlet’s Facebook page. We are all entitled to our opinion and in this country we are all free to express ourselves. Social Media gives us the ability to broadcast ourselves out there to the world, to try and be heard. It’s kind of noble when you think about it.

Here’s the thing. When you, as a user, are on these social media sites you have the option to ignore the noise. When I’m watching the morning news and I’m too blurry eyed to find the remote I can’t change the channel when the news person starts reading random comments from @PalsyStud52 about last night’s debate. Whatever @PalsyStud52 has to say is no less valuable than my humble opinions, but is it really worth the time it takes to read it out loud? @PalsyStud52’s idea were sent out to the people who wished to follow his snide comments about his buddy’s delts, but do the rest of us need to subjected to it?

This brings me to another waste of my time; and that is the “caption this” segment of my morning news. While I think it’s a cute idea online – in the interest of full disclosure I have contributed to my fair share of these on FB – there is no place for it one THE NEWS. I find few things more grating than listening to a newscaster read the limp attempts at humor Frank T. from Whitehall wrote – while fondling himself online before his wife and kids get up for the day – in regards to a cat photo submitted from Claudia-Joy of Catonsville.

There is famine, elections, revolutions, espionage, stories of hope, charity, and the like going on all the time, but instead of reporting actual news we are subjected to a classical reading of @PoeSlut’s musings on the Occupy Movement.

Now, one could argue that I could just change the channel and move on, but they all do it. Every last one of them. So what’s my alternative? Re-runs of Golden Girls? Sure, but then I have NO idea what’s happening out in the world – which, studies have shown, is the equivalent to watching purely Fox News. I also don’t understand who they are doing this for? Is it to capture the younger viewers? I can guarantee that no one younger than myself gives a f*** about your local morning show. Is it for the older folks? To make them feel more in touch? I don’t think so; they think Twitbook and Face-itter are the devil – and they may not be wrong. So who does that leave? My generation? If that’s the case when we want social media we’ll get it, on our phone, mac, pc, or tablet… NOT from the GD television.

My apologies. In reality, it’s probably an attempt to stay relevant in an age when most of us get our news from a feed on our phones – I had no idea about the killing of Bin Laden until I checked my fb feed the night it happened. So I get it local news, you’re feeling out of touch, you want to make it sexy again, make people tune in. Well I have my station and I like it better than all the others, I like the people. It would be a wonderful way to start my day if I didn’t have to hear what @BuckSniper420 of Jarretsville thought about the gay marriage bill. Do the news: Report it and they will come.

So … in closing… go vote tomorrow.     

At 28 I’ve taken My First Retirement Vacation

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I recently returned from what I now dub my “retirement vacation.” I probably have another 45 years before retirement, but given my recent experience I now know what to expect. This past Friday I returned from a Canadian cruise with Royal Caribbean out of Baltimore. The ship was nice, nothing too large or extravagant – large enough to stay busy, but not large enough to miss out. I knew when booking the cruise that it would be fairly low key because of the time of year and the destination. I couldn’t see how a trip to Canada would turn into a spring break style get away. I had also expected to be one of the youngest people on the ship at the ripe age of 28; I had expected to be cruising with people my parent’s age Pre-retirement/Post-children – the 45 to 55 rage. What I got was something very different, what I got was a medium age of 70. As we were waiting at the port to go through security – which was indefinitely held up by artificial hips and knees as well as forgotten purses and passports – my girlfriend and I were the youngest people in line by an entire generation. I could feel myself tensing already starting in on dissatisfaction. My girlfriend looked at me and asked if I was “okay?” I had at first been reluctant about the trip when we first planned it. To me vacation is still beaches, fruity drinks, and bathing suits. The idea of vacation in October, to a colder climate no less, seemed foreign. But I agreed and as the months pasted and the vacation neared I started to feel excited. I wanted to get away and I really wanted to see Canada. I have always found something appealing about the (very) north east as opposed to other parts of the country. It had also been three years since my last real vacation. Yes I have traveled much since then, but always with a certain purpose or goal. It had been even longer since my girlfriend and I went away together. So as work got hectic and life got busy I couldn’t wait to get away, even if it was on an ol’ people cruise.

The trip was excellent, it was truly a wonderful experience, but before I get to all the things that I thoroughly enjoyed let me discuss what I didn’t  For the record this in no way reflects badly upon Royal Caribbean, they are a wonderful company that continually surprised me on superior customer service. In all honesty, it was the old folks. They were not kindly or sweet; they were mean, rude, and often smelly. You know the smell I’m talking about. Perhaps its decay and cheap perfume or Old Spice; I’m not sure, but it’s the same smell as hospice care. Most of them seemed very angry; no one smiled except the ones whose minds were on a vacation somewhere other than the cruise liner. I cannot begin to count how many times I was cut off, butted in front of, or just generally ignored. Perhaps they couldn’t actually see anyone younger than 60, perhaps my young age equipped me with a perception filter. I don’t know; mysteries of the universe I guess?

On the way to the port I was listening talk radio in the car. There was a news story about South Park and a recent episode regarding Wal-Mart. At one point Cartman says “You can’t even walk around a Wal-Mart anymore without getting run over by some fat d*ck on a Rascal.” My girlfriend and I laughed, OH did we laugh. After 8 days of trying to get lunch at a buffet on the boat I have a very similar feeling. I will not complain about the speed at which people moved, as long as they were moving. With the rapid degeneration of my ankles and knees I know things are going to take me awhile down the road. What I will complain are things like groups of women in red hats and purple shirts standing around talking in the middle of the beverage area. All I wanted was a cup of coffee or a glass of water, but couldn’t reach it because four women were complaining about all the “foreigners” on the ship (in the interest of full disclosure I don’t remember if that’s what these particular women were talking about, but I was a common sentiment overheard throughout the length of the cruise).

Besides that the trip was great.

Seems like most days you can’t even get a person working behind a counter to look you in the eye when out and about. Within the first day of the cruise every crew member I had personal interactions with knew my name/ drink preference/ etc. I realize this is part of the job description, but dammit, it’s just so unusual. Any issue we had (and there were very few) was dealt with immediately. I have never been on another cruise line, so my experience is rather limited, but as far as Royal Caribbean goes, they have me sold. The way that I was treated as a customer was incredible. I feel like it harkens back to a different age, one in which people “served the customer” as opposed to worked in customer service; there is a difference. Every employee we met, including security and maintenance, had a smile and a kind word. I also wouldn’t have blamed them if they had been cross, the way I saw some of the older guests treat the staff was appalling, no one should be talked to that way, even if they are just a bus boy. If the employees were fazed, I never saw it. They must have taken it below into their cabins or in the employee lounge on the forth deck (which I found out from another young’un who asked if they could join the crews party because it was better than the mausoleum of a lounge we were sitting in). I wanted for nothing for 8 days, and that, as a guest, is all I can ask for.

More companies should take Royal Caribbean’s approach “Want for nothing.” If more companies provided superior customer service they would have life time clients who wouldn’t dream of switching providers. Better customer service is interesting though, and it is changing. Take for example, my grocery store, I prefer the self-checkout. There is rarely a line and I can check myself out about as fast as the cashier can, except if I have produce, then the cashier becomes quicker because of the product codes. No one really likes going to the grocery store though, so the store should streamline the process as much as possible. Whereas on a vacation, people want to be pampered and not rushed; it is the company’s obligation to figure out which is which. I was actually having this discussion at breakfast one morning with some nice folks who we were sat with in the dining room, a very welcome change to some of the other unpleasant folks milling around. As an aside, the people at our dinner table were great; the company did a masterful job at putting similarly aged couples at our table. At our table were probably six of the youngest on board, my girlfriend and I included. There was a table of hipsters, about our age, behind us; they weren’t the least bit interested in talking to their peers. Instead they sat at dinner talking about riding bikes to find the best places to find fair-trade coffee – or something like that. Again, the company provided exquisite customer service our dinner mates. Having dinner was much more enjoyable with them, as opposed to some of the other curmudgeons milling around the decks of the Enchantment of the Seas.

On our days at sea there were art gallery auctions. Now, I don’t have nearly enough capital to participate in an art auction, but I think it’s an interesting notion. Perhaps this goes back to the days of cruising around the Titanic area, when there weren’t movies and rock climbing walls? At least that was my thought. There were a great many activities planned when we were at sea, most of which I ignored. Nothing against trivia, bingo, or informational seminars, I just really wanted to eat, use a hot tub, have a few drinks and read on the deck while the ocean whizzed by. That’s exactly what I did, and it was glorious.

I don’t really have much to say about our ports besides they were nice and I would love to go back to Maine and stay little while. I would like to “summer” there one day. Not take a vacation, but “summer.” There is a difference. Also, did you know that Nova Scotia stands for “New Scotland?” I didn’t  That piece of information would have been helped before seeing everyone at the Halifax port dressed in kilts.

Like I said, it was a great trip and I was sad to come home. I cannot recommend enough a Royal Caribbean cruise! Also seeing as how I live around the Baltimore area I cannot also recommend enough cruising out of the port of MD. I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve flown and not have had my flight altered or cancelled, so being able to drive twenty minutes to the port and immediately be on vacation is great. There is no hassle… just park, check-in and walk on-board = BOOM! VACATION.

Facebook Would be the Worst Bar Ever

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Dear Lord I cannot wait until this reality show masquerade of presidential election is over. Do you know how many people I have “unsubscribed” to on my FB news feed because of overly obnoxious conservative and liberal posts?  Just about everyone. I have to admit that I have been tempted from time to time to muddy the political and religious waters with my thoughts in my Timeline, but I abstain. I let it go, I try to keep it light. (Well, I thought I did, upon review there is a very clear sense of anger running through my posts – which is completely unintentional.) Generally speaking anything I would post on either one of those two taboo subjects, politics and religion, would just piss off one side or the other, and there is nothing more pointless or inane than a Facebook argument. Grown adult’s blood pressure rising because a third cousin posted an article from Fox News or the Huffington Post. Or perhaps you’ve taken it upon yourself to provide an overly generic manifesto about one side or the other. Bottom line… actual bottom line… no one cares. Maybe the people who agree with you do, but everyone else just gets irritated. Both sides of the aisle have become so polarized that nothing can get done. The belief is if you’re a Republican than your a gun toting evangelical who wants everyone to raise rape babies, on the other hand if you’re a Democrat than you’re a Marxist commie who wants to spread it all out evenly among the masses.

It’s all wrong, the issues and the problems have all been marginalized down to a level of near retardation. There are no simple questions and there are no simple answers. There is cause and effect for every action taken by the government; the most detrimental effects being the one’s no one sees coming. For example do you know why you haven’t gotten a credit card offer for anything less than 14% APR in the last few years? The legislation that went through banning certain fees that card companies can impose has caused them to raise the cost of credit. But perhaps it will cause people to be more cautious about spending? Perhaps. But we need to spend to get out of a recession.*

We believe we’re turning into a nation of polar opposites. But that’s not even true; TV would make you believe we are a nation of polar opposites, we aren’t. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, not every Christian believes the rapture, not every republican is believe humans once rode the dinosaurs as an early form of transportation, not every democrat wants to Robin Hood the system. But this is a nation that is obsessed with reality television, which pandering to the lowest common denominator. It’s about selling ad space and ratings, sensationalism sells. Imagine how boring the news would be if every story said, “Today Congressmen and women from both sides worked together to figure out the best course of action for the upcoming budget” instead of “On the floor today John Boenher shed tears during an impassioned speech about Nancy Pelosi’s ‘Rape Baby Maker’.” Most American’s lie somewhere in between the left and the right and to write off one group or another is both silly and detrimental to the system as a whole. How about instead of just complaining, stating half baked facts, and posting frivolous opinion pieces from inane sources you think on what could make things better. Just saying. Never come to the table empty handed.

In addition to overly political posts there is the vein of overly religious or exceedingly atheist posts as well. Faith is personal, faith is internal, faith is private. And I mean that in all beliefs. Facebook is not the time of the place to contemplate the exist of a higher power. If there is a higher power than he’s face palming every time one of it’s disciples starts a FB argument.

I see social networking, namely FB, as a distraction from other, more important tasks. Like a place you go to happy hour after work. It’s a place relax for a few minutes, enjoy yourself, and take some time for “you.” Have you ever been to a bar where that guy on the corner just won’t shut up about the current administration? Meanwhile there is a man standing out the bar door screaming about the end of the earth? It’s annoying and totally “kills the vibe.” That’s what FB is like these days, but instead of one drunk asshole on the corner it’s every patron. (The other issue being of course that when something it read on FB you bring your own biases and perceptions to the table meaning you may complete misconstrue the meaning of one thing or another and then an utterly pointless argument about nothing… or the thread turns into a crucifiction of how bad someone’s grammar is.**)

So this was my soap box moment. I seriously considered writing an expansive post about that I believe, but I don’t want that on record anywhere. I also considered bitching about “bitching about” posts on FB, but I’m guilty of that too, so no real complaints there. There is one fundamental difference between this and my FB Timeline: you, the reader had to willingly read all of this, you also had to follow the link. That was your decision. You didn’t log into your account and have this pop on up. So HA!

In conclusion: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Time to go post a link on FB and twitter.

*Yes, I am completely aware that this is a gross over-generalization of the legislation and the recession. I was just trying to show a simple example of unintended consequences.

**I ended the sentence in a preposition, so what? See what I did there? And there? Oh you get it… Okay, I will stop.

No One Ever Tells You…

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My folks taught me a great deal. My father taught me to listen and consider others, my mother taught me to always find the humor. I could go on for ages about the positive and negative things I learned from my parents. I prepared me for a great deal of what was to come when I grew up. Were there things they could have done better on? Maybe, I was the first born and as such was the initial experiment. I was lucky enough to be born to two people decent people, decent human beings. Just because they’re your parents doesn’t mean they’re not assholes. It’s unfortunate but true.

I’m getting off topic; I wanted to talk about something no one ever told me about, no one warned me would happen. My father prepared me for a lot. When he was going through his midlife crisis instead of leaving my mother and buying a sports car, he sat and talked with me about it, talked through it. His biggest purposes were two fold. First was so that he could possibly make sense of what he was going through by saying it out loud; the second was in order to warn me so that one day when I go through it, I know what these feelings are. He bought a motorcycle too, but that’s beside the point. The point is that, we talk; we talk a lot about our own personal thoughts and feelings. We’re each other’s sounding boards. I’m his so that he can get a younger and fresher perspective and He’s mine so that I can have a mature take on things. As a quick side note a part of me honestly believes that men’s midlife crises happen because the human body hasn’t evolved into the longer life span yet. Just a little over two hundred years ago the average life span was what, 50? 40? We’re not ready to live until we’re 80 years old, we can’t handle it. But that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, on to what no one ever told me… But first some more context.

I had some work training the other day. It was in our office building and an instructor was brought in to teach many of us. The training was to last all day. I was already in the training room when the instructor came in. Before I continue let me start by saying that what I am about to say next in no way is meant to be mean spirited or harsh, but simply the best way I can describe this man. The

instructor might be one of the most unfortunate looking people I have ever seen. I am fairly certain that this man was born mildly deformed. He was the shape of an egg. He had the build of a standing manatee, with the head of sperm whale. In profile his head seemed too long from front to back and his forehead was too
His eyes were lazy and they swiveled around in his head. There was a constant glistening around his mouth which was either spittle of sweat, I’m not sure. He almost reminded me of the Bill Paxton monster from Weird Science.

Bill Paxton MonsterAgain, I don’t want to sound cruel, I just don’t know any other way to describe the man.square. His bald head ran directly into his shoulders and he was severely obese.

During the lesson he admitted that at 50 he was finally engaged. He bragged a great deal about his career and when I brought up something about some new software he immediately dismissed it and started discussing his successes other programs. It was mildly off putting. It had occurred to me that the bragging and discussion of self was due to his physical insecurities. But what do I know? He also used cutesy voices at the end of his sentences which annoys me greatly when anyone does it in a professional setting. Don’t know why, it’s just a pet peeve.

We broke for lunch around noon. I started to get up to head back to my office where I had packed a lunch when one of the organizers asked the room about where the instructor could get something to eat. There are many places, but they’re not out in the open, so it can be difficult to navigate. Immediately some of the other people gave the instructor directions to a sandwich shop down the street. Seeing as how other people had the question covered I headed out the door.

I looked back into the room on my way out and saw the instructor standing there staring blankly as three people described where to get something to eat. I’m not sure how to describe what – I think – I saw. The instructor, who I honestly don’t believe was looking at me, had a look on his face, this blank, almost devoid, look on his face. Apparently it stuck with me.

In the elevator back up to my floor, I started feeling guilty. About what? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t shown him where to go. Not that it was my responsibility, but I felt responsible. By the time I got to my office I could get away from this heaviness. Perhaps it was the fact that he was unfamiliar with the city and was going eat lunch alone, and chances are he’s eaten lunch alone a lot in his life.

I stood in my office and had the sudden rush of a life of sadness run through me from the Instructor point of view. A life of rejection and social dismisses. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like getting emotionally hit in the face. I quickly closed my office door, sat down and tried to get ahold of myself. The image of him looking blankly stuck in my mind. I had to hold back from sobbing uncontrollably.

I’ve never had that happen before. I mean I’ve been upset, but it had always had to do with death, or a break up, or all the other common things. This was the first time in my life where it hit me for no reason at all.

I’m going to personify as best I can the feeling I had. The look he had on his face was the same one I imagine a horse has as it’s about to be put down on the track after it breaks its ankle. It’s miserable when that has to happen. The fact that you’re putting the animal out of its misery is little consolation to having to put the barrel of a gun to its head and pull the trigger. I had the feeling of overwhelming grief, for absolutely no reason. To even think about it now sets me on edge.

Once I was able to compose myself it occurred to me that I have reason to be upset for this man. It’s almost insulting. I have no idea what kind of life he’s had. Who am I to say he’s been rejected all his life. He could be living a very accomplished and fulfilling life and my – for lack of a better word – pity is completely unwarranted.

But why did I feel that way, why was the emotion so strong? Why did it happen? No one ever tells you that something like this will happen. No one talks about the uncontrolled emotion that can strike at even the benign of times. Is this because I’m not normal? Am I somehow emotionally unstable? I don’t believe so. I believe this is probably a lot more common than not. Unfortunately the discussion of high emotion is often left to conversation about women and their PMS or dudes and their anger issues.

I’ve only heard this situation talked about in two places. The first was by a very drunk friend of mine discussing late in one evening in the bar is experiences with an uncontrollable crying fit. The second was during Dane Cook’s Vicious Circle tour. He did an entire bit on driving home from work in your car and all of a sudden you start crying for no reason. Besides that, I’ve never heard it discussed. I find it both interesting and suspect.

Is this common place, or am I emotionally unstable? I was recently talking to someone at a work conference who said that our emotions are like elephants and our logical selves are the riders on their shoulders. We can try to steer, but an elephant is going to do what it wants when it wants. That is to say, our emotions can stampede and trample an entire village if in the right mood. How do you steer your stampeding emotions? Was the instructor someone to be pitied or has he lived a life that is to be revered? I obviously don’t have the answers, but I think they’re some interesting question. Questions that I probably won’t be able to answer for a very long time. I’ll probably never know about the instructor. I hope he is happier than the lame horse I had envisioned the other day during my lunch break. I think that is what I choose to believe. And if it’s not, if he is that lame horse, he is someone to be revered. I give him a great deal of credit being an instructor, putting himself in front of group after group. Living one day as the instructor may be heavier than my entire life, who knows?

I read a quote once, which I cannot find now, about living one day as someone else would bring a person to tears. I think that’s probably true.

Thats all for now. Until next time.

You Can’t Go Home Again

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When was the last time you saw a Firefly? The bug, not the excellent Joss Whedon sci-fi western cancelled entirely too early (Thank’s Fox). It has been at least ten years since I’ve seen one. I let the dog out late last night before going to bed. As soon as the dog got in the yard I saw a few lightening bugs fly up from the grass and the mutt was able to catch a few… with his mouth … and he ate them. I started to look up at the stars through the trees and realized the twinkling I was seeing was the stars, but hundreds of firefly’s in the streets. The giant dutch elms in my neighborhood were all lit up like Christmas trees. I don’t ever remember seeing that around the neighborhood as a child.

In August of 2011 I moved back the very street I grew up on as a child. My family moved in April of 1996 out to of the counties surrounding Baltimore City. I was a tough adjustment at the time, but ultimately for the best. That was the only move I has as a child, I was 11 and my street was my universe. My friends were there, my school was there. It was a difficult adjustment. I wasn’t comfortable until the age of 14, which is when I started to become the person I am now (14 years later).

I’ve mentioned how traumatic is was for me, the move, to my girlfriend. She has little sympathy for no other reason than she moved around a lot as a kid. She wasn’t a military brat, but she might as well have been. So my one move as a child has little impact on her.

Whats worse, or just more stereotypical for us Baltimore natives, when I moved back in August I moved into my grandfather’s old house. Yes, as a child I lived across the street from my father’s parents. My grandparent’s have been dead for years and the house has been sitting vacant, my father unwilling to part with it just yet. So instead of selling the house, he has been kind  enough to let my girlfriend and I use the house.

The house is old. When we moved in all the old furniture was still there, which now sits down the basement collecting dust and probably being lived in by any number of small insects who seem to be upset that have new roommates. I used to love the basement as a child. For as small as the house is, the basement is huge. It is due to the fact that the basement extends to under the raise patio out back, which a lot of space. It’s also broken up into smaller spaces for different uses. There’s the living room/den area which has a built in bar that my father made for my grandparents when he was 16 as an anniversary present, the laundry room, the drafting/drawing corner, the work bench, and then the wood working room, and the boiler room. The walls are set up so it feels like a maze. Every room connects to every other room, and there is a smell. It’s not bad smell, but it’s smelled like that as long as I can remember. Now it’s no different. But I’m getting more used to it, so it’s not as pronounced as it used to be. When I used to breath in the basement air I was immediately transported to a time when the basement seem cavernous and my grandfather would have some kind of special project for the two of us to work on. Now my head practically touches the ceiling, and I’m not tall.

That basement held a lot of wonder for me as a child with all its stuff, all its nooks and crannies. My Grandfather held a great deal of wonder because he was the gate keeper of the basement, he was the master of all it’s contents. As a child this made him some kind of mythic figure on a epic scale, as an adult this made him seem like a hoarder. Which he was, in truth. A hard lesson, some people never realize, is that the adults in your life as you grow, are just people. No better or worse than the guy standing next to you on the street. People tend to gloss over the rough stuff in memory and are left instead with unreal sense of a person/party/vacation/time of your life, etc. I actually worked for my grandfather for an entire summer helping him around the house. I went down 5 to 6 days a week and helped with odds and ends. It was a good summer, he paid me to paint his house in the heat while I sweated out the night before. So the following spring, when he asked about doing it again, I thought, why not? The first day I came down we spent all our time “unclogging” the sewage ventilation pipe. He swore up and down there was a smell coming from it, seeping into the house… there wasn’t. He was getting old and more than a little senile. I got a job at Blockbuster Video two weeks later.

Last night, as I was standing there admiring the fireflies in the trees I turned my gaze to the house I grew up in. It looks more or less the same. The owners have kept the same color scheme my father started, I think. They took down the trees in the front. Which makes the front of the house and the yard look bare. I don’t blame them though, the “shrubs” my father planted were actually ever greens that can grow as tall as 150′. They were high maintenance, probably more than anyone but him would want to put up with. The neighbor to the left of my old house is the same as when i was a kid. He’s now an aging hippy who wears mostly denim and could be one of the Allman Brothers. He’s as nice as ever, genuinely nice, and asks about the rest of my family all the time.

It’s all the same, but so much different. I difference, I have come to realize, is me. A lot of the people on the street are the same as when I was a kid, some are different. The neighborhood has aged over all making my girlfriend I and some of the youngest people in several blocks. Most of the people there are Baltimore natives, like myself, with the distinct difference that they’ve never left. I remember hearing the statistic that 30 or 40 years ago most people would live and die within the same ten miles their entire lives. Probably not as true today.

So I’m back, within 500 ft of where I grew up, but it feels 500 miles away; because that’s how far I’ve traveled from there. It’s interesting because I get these moments of great nostalgia and think “It’s great to be back.” But then again, I see the people who never left and think “What a shame.” Other days I come home and think “I have to get out of here.” It feels like I’m just re-treading my father’s foot worn path, and I need to create my own.

 

China Journal: June 16 – 17, 2011

June 16, 2011

*Throughout the journal comments made in real time, while on the ground in China, are designated in italics. Everything else was written after returning. Side notes are random thoughts I had that do now particularly fit in anywhere.

We had two company visits, to Ogilvy & Mather and Peking University.O&M was a great presentation. I did everything I could not to fall asleep during Prof. Zhao’s lecture. He seemed like a nice man.

Lunch was alright, except the tiny tables, and pickled chicken feet in a bowl.

Waiting around outside of the back of the University took quite awhile as well. Making us late to get back before the Kung Fu Show. As for the Kung Fu Show, it was easily my least favorite part of the trip. Where the acrobatics were entertaining and fun, the Kung Fu show was too over rehearsed and just felt forced, not to mention there wasn’t one actual Chinese tourist in the building, leading me to believe that there is nothing genuine about it. The best part of my night was sitting in the lobby have a couple glasses of wine, catching up on emails, and talking to everyone on the trip as they walked through. It was a very pleasant evening.

June 17, 2011

Two presentation for the day: ABB and Airbus. The first was entirely more interesting than an presentation about converters should have been and the second was a sh*t show. Here are my notes from both.

About a week after we got back from the trip there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about how the government in China was gumming up the works of Airbus’s A380. I’d imagine if Mr. Lim had known something about that than his life would have been very difficult and he wouldn’t have been the most pleasant person to be around. His presentation was still a joke, but maybe that explains the attitude.

When we finally got back from presentations and had several hours left before we were getting picked up at 9pm.

So a bunch of us went out and ate scorpion. It tasted very similar to a thick potato chip. I also had some octopus and squid, which was good too. We wandered around for awhile. I did my all of my shopping, which I hadn’t bought a thing up until that point. Lady vendors tried to drag me to the stall with had all the same crap as the woman next to them. It was good though. After awhile we stopped at an outdoor cafe on the concourse and had a couple of beers as we watched Chinese people watching us. It was so nice out. We all agreed we were hungry so Chris M., James, Jose, and myself we to Pizza Hut to have some grease food to coat the stomach before going out for the evening. The bus arrived at 9pm and we were off to the races.

I met a Chinese man name Mike, he promised us Karaoke, but there was no Karaoke. Just three people on stage singing an international variety of hits. The male vocalist in the band had a rat tail.

 

I’m getting ahead of myself. Caitlin had an idea after our first night in Beijing, seeing as how we couldn’t get a cab to Houhai because the fair wasn’t as large as the cab drivers wanted, we weren’t sure how the rest of the week would go. After a few beers at Molly Malones we decided to ask Isabella about renting out the bus for a night so we wouldn’t have to worry about transportation. We decided on Friday – it only turned out to be ¥300… ¥20 per person… for our own bus. Awesome!

 

Armed with some recommendations from the woman at O&M we were ready for a night out, Hangover style. I fully expected to be a wounded pup on Saturday morning w/ my delusions of grandeur. I’m anything if not ambitions when it comes to partying.

 

Our first stop was the Workers Stadium. A bar district built into an old stadium. We were looking for a place called Fubar. Unfortuneately we never found it. It was supposed to be a speak easy, it may have actually been there, but we never got to it. Instead we, well some of us anyways, went to a place called George’s. There were only a few people there, but it was good. Only a few of us stayed there for more than one drink. We finished quickly because the bus was leaving at 10:30 to take us to the next place, a stretch of bars along a single road. I cannot recall the name. Everyone got back to the bus except Lacey and Jakeria. Luckily I spotted them rounding a corner and we stopped the bus to get them.

 

This street is where we met Mike. He said he could offer us good deals on drinks. “Well alright” we thought. Plue he swore up and down there would be karaoke. Mike lied… about everything. We ordered several round of beer. Some folks got a huka. When the bill came Mike has screwed us, but Caitlin got him to throw another round on the house. We drank those and headed out.

 

Several folks ran off to pursue this or that, but a bunch of us stuck together. We hit another two or three places before we headed back to the first bar. It was right next to the cab stand. We ordered another round, had a bathroom break and sure enough everyone else started rolling in. Karaoke never came. Pretty soon everyone started to feel a bit tired and we thought we’d call it a night.

 

We hit the cab line and no one was willing to take us home. When we had been dropped off the bus driver went home because he was picking us back up the next day. The cab drivers started point towards the motorized rickshaws. Seeing has how most of us were thinking through an alcoholic haze, this seemed like a good idea.

 

Marlon, James, Caitlin, and I took two motorized rickshaws all the way back to the hotel. It might have been the greatest idea we ever had in China. The weather was beautiful and the streets were empty. It was amazing.

 

We had agreed on ¥50 for the ride, but the poor old guys had busted their asses getting us back  to the Novotel. So Caitlin handed him ¥100. That wasn’t good enough though. He actually started following me back into the hotel. So I reached in an gave him whatever I had loose in my pocket. That seemed to satisfy him. Our driver and he friend pedaled off into the night. Everybody else got back and we headed over to the 24hour McD’s. Jose spilled my drink… Sarah disappeared… we left without her. I crawled into bed and fell into a deep sleep. When I got up the next morning at 7:45am I felt great. I am a freak of nature when I travel.

The Tailor of Shanghai

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I have heard before that Shanghai is known for their fine quality suits. On the bus ride back to the hotel that day Lina got on the loud speaker and said that there would be a tailor in the lobby for us if we wanted a new suit. It had occurred to me that I was in need of a dark blue suit, the only color I do not have in my collection… not that I have anywhere to wear these suits, I like having them around. So, my immediate thought was that one of these suits would be a good early graduation present to myself.

 

When we got back to the hotel from wandering around Shanghai the tailor had not yet arrived so Lina said we could all go upstairs and she would call us individually when he got there. So I went upstairs and took a quick shower and by the time I was done she had called. I padded myself dry and headed downstairs. When I went down a bunch of people were already around looking at the fabric swatches. I went through every booklet; we took the samples outside to see the colors in true light. I settled on a modern looking blue pattern and I was the first person to say “Let’s do this!”

 

I got some money from the ATM in the lobby and put down my deposit. I accidentally left my card in the machine, which I wouldn’t find out until the next morning. I was measured for the suit in the middle of the lobby. The tailor himself did the measurements and his pimple faced apprentice took down the numbers. They asked me some questions about my preferences, the tailor sketched the suit and I was good to go. I had myself a custom fitted suit on the way, to be ready the next night.

Twenty four hours later I was back in the lobby with the tailor, Lina, the suits, and everyone who ordered one. I excitedly took mine and went right into the bathroom to change. I got in the stall, took out the suit, it was dark so I couldn’t really see how it looked. I pulled out the pants and went to try them on, I could immediately tell they were too small. Sure enough as I pulled them on the length was right, but they were skin tight around my thighs, crotch, and waist. So I thought, “Okay…” Let’s at least try on the jacket. Just from pulling it off the hanger I could tell that the jacket was made for some the size a thirteen year old. I put on the coat, it was skin tight around the arms and shoulders and sure enough the jacket wouldn’t even close.

 

So, I walked out of the stall in my tiny suit and showed myself to the world… Marlon was the first person to see me and he laughed his ass off. When I came out all the ladies on the trip who purchased the suits were trying them on, they seemed to have similar issues with their suits. The tailor was standing right there, he didn’t speak a word of English by the way, and his eyes just about bulged out of his head. Lina then asked, “It doesn’t fit?”

 

“I think that’s pretty obvious.”

“Okay. He say he fix it and bring it back tomorrow night.” She said.

“Alright.”

So I took off the suit, gave it back to the tailor and went on my way. From my understanding the Professor took one look and said no way. He eventually got his money back. Marlon, who got the same suit made as I did, had an issue as well. So we had to wait until the next evening.

It was the last night we were going to be in Shanghai so the suit needed to be right. We had gotten back from dinner late, there were tentative plans to go out for the evening, but I needed to deal with the suit first and by the time it was over no one was going out. Sure enough the suit fit. Well the jacket did. It actually fits like a glove. The pants are still a little tight, but they’re manageable. Marlon’s suit seemed to be fixed as well. Pam’s suit was all f’ed up, this really was a sh*t tailor. As I went to pay the rest of what I owed the tailor tried asking for more money. The final price was ¥1200, roughly $184.00. The tailor tried asking for  ¥1400. Really? After all that? F’ that guy. I ran up to the hotel room and grabbed the receipt to show him the accepted price. I was ready for a fight… in another language, but I was ready. My heart was racing and adrenaline going. Bring. It. On.

 

When I got down to lobby and showed him he said “Okay.” Well that was a letdown. With all this action going on it wasn’t until I got back up to the room with the suit and ¥1200 poorer that I realized that I took the time to consider the fact that the suit was absolute crap. The stitching is terrible, there are loose thread everywhere, and the cloth lining the suit is rough. At least I have a suit I don’t care about ruining. If I ever want to suit up for a night out on the town, I won’t care if someone spills their drink or throws up all over… I won’t care about the suit.

 

I take this as a learning lesson. I think this is a good metaphor of China. I had assumed that because Lina was working for ISP that this tailor would be part of the network and trustworthy. After the struggle put up about getting people getting their money back I firmly believe that Lina is somehow related to the tailor and was getting a kickback from the sales. If the tailor didn’t make any money, neither would she. Lina was in it for herself, she had an angle, everyone in China has an angle. It’s hard to constantly remember that everyone in China is playing an angle and it must be considered when doing anything. It truly is a country of “Buyer beware.”

China Journal: June 15, 2011

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June 15, 2011

*Throughout the journal comments made in real time, while on the ground in China, are designated in italics. Everything else was written after returning. Side notes are random thoughts I had that do now particularly fit in anywhere.

The next morning I expected to wake up feeling slightly hung-over, but I was good. I felt fine. There was enough time to get some breakfast, pack, and be down in the lobby by the time we needed to leave.

We loaded our luggage on a van bound for the airport. I then ran up to the “to go” counter at the market to get some coffee for the bus ride to the Maglev. Here is what I don’t understand. This counter was specifically made for hotel guests to by coffee and pastries to go. It was called Mojo TO GO. Yet I stood there trying to get the attendants attention for 5 minutes. It wasn’t until a waitress from the restaurant walked all the way over that I was helped. The woman behind the counter, never even looked up, she just stood there shuffling and filling out papers. It’s a GD coffee bar! How much paperwork can there be?! The employees of the Courtyard Marriott Puxi have not yet grasped the concept of “to go.”

On an unrelated note, the Maglev was awesome. I sat backwards most of the trip, which was 7 minutes (the bus ride from the airport to the hotel took about an hour and a half… the maglev did it in 7 minutes… awesome!) At the airport Lina helped us check in and I gave her the rest of the money I had volunteered to collect. I had originally been giving it to her every day, but after day two she laughed and told me to give it to her at the end of our stay in Shanghai. Security was easier in the states, the people were more polite and WAY more efficient. I was expecting something much more invasive.

This was my first flight within another country and obviously the initial language is Chinese. The flight was delayed several times due to the “control tour.” It was interesting though because even though I didn’t know what anyone said I could tell it was bad news because of the reactions of most of the plane.

 

We got to into Beijing late and the hotel even later. When we arrived at Beijing airport it was pouring down rain, awesome. We were let out onto the tarmac where buses waited to take us to the luggage terminal. Everyone received their luggage quickly, we exited and met Isabella, our new tour guide. There was some confusion about elevators and escalators but we got our luggage to the street where a bus picked us up.

On our itinerary there was a recommendation on where to go that evening, the Houhai Lake Bar Area. So we thought that would be where we were going to headed. Once in the Novotel we quickly got ourselves together and headed over to the mall that was adjacent to hotel. It would be quick and easy food. Some folks did McDonalds, some folks did Pizza Hut, some folks went out for something more “authentic.” I stuck with the Prof and Sarah and we ended up at this great dumplings place in the mall where I stuffed myself on fish, pork, beef, and shrimp dumplings with tofu and fried rice. It was great!

We met everyone back at the hotel to catch cabs to the Lake Bar Area, but we found it increasingly difficult to get cab because the destination was not far enough away. State owned cabbies can reject clients apparently. After 20 some odd minutes we decided to head down to Molly Malone’s, an Irish bar in a hotel down the street.

The place was empty, but it felt familiar, it felt like home. We ordered beers, sat and talked, it was a good evening. Some of the folks did eventually decide to try and find a club instead, the quiet bar just wasn’t blowin’ their skirt up. So all but me, Chris M., James and Caitlin left. The four of sat, had a few more beers, ordered some food, and discussed the ordeal that was trying to get a cab. It was in the conversation that a plan was hatched to see if we could rent our bus for the evening. We decided that Friday night would be the best night out and would ask Isabella the next day if that would at all be possible. Once we were done, we headed back to the hotel. Chris, James and I considered going back out to try and find some trouble, but ultimately decided against it. That was probably for the best.

Now I’m sitting here on the plane, finally in the air after a two hour delay, I was finally able to finish my book about China. It was an interesting read, although I do not think the book is true to form any longer. The book was written several years ago and as the author mentions China is changing so fast that any moment in time is not accurate the next day.

I’m also sitting here to one of the most considerate airplane passengers I have ever met. He doesn’t seem to speak English, but we have an understanding. We communicate through pointing and smiles. We have come to a nice arrangement about elbow room, he has been pleasant.

I am ready to leave Shanghai. I have never seen anything so vast, so engulfing. I noticed that I can suffer from seasonal depression and the last several days of rain were starting to get to me. Although Beijing is going to be hot I welcome the sun and lack of humidity.

I cannot being to express my satisfaction with my trip thus far and excited to start the new section. I am in awe of China and regret that I will never see everything the country has to offer, it is too much in one person’s life time. I think this is a place I will come back to over the years. If given the opportunity I don’t know that I would live here. After last year’s trip to Switzerland I was ready to move, to hold the label “ex-pat,” but I do not feel that sensation thus far from Shanghai.

China Journal: June 14, 2011

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June 14, 2011

*Throughout the journal comments made in real time, while on the ground in China, are designated in italics. Everything else was written after returning. Side notes are random thoughts I had that do now particularly fit in anywhere.

Fudan University: The “Princeton of China.” The Dean, who took a minute to talk to us seemed, was charismatic and seemed very pleasant. Dr. Chen went to the University of MD from 84-88.

 

At Fudan University today we met several students. For all the differences we’ve seen in American and Chinese culture they were all typical college student, just better informed. Weh-Zhe, a student who will be training at Goldman Sachs in Jersey City this summer, asked us several questions about the US, the economy, and the death of Bin Laden that my sister (who is the same age) would never think to ask. 

Side note 6/14/11: Shanghai – The city never ends. We’ve been on the road for 30 minutes and there hasn’t been a single break in the high rises… and they’re all freaking apartments. 

More Notes about June 14th: A recounting of past events

Yesterday was an early one. Out by 8am, off to Fundan University, and we met with some very pleasant students and faculty. There was a nice group lunch with the students. Who were surprisingly informed and intelligent. My sister is around the same agi and she cannot hold a candle to these kids intellectually; if there is anything America needs to be worried about it, it is this, education. Their students are so better prepared, at least academically. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person and there is no way in hell I could ever get into MIT for a masters in finance at 22 years old. We need to step it up.

 Side note: Caitlin posed a question about Chinese financial markets, consumer education, and China to the doctoral student yesterday and it got me thinking.

 She talked about how without any barriers of entry into the markets anyone can partake, perhaps lending to some of the current financial difficulties of America. If investors were better informed perhaps everyone would fare better. If investors are ignorant, perhaps they harm everyone.

 Consider Blackjack. Blackjack is considered a game of chance, as is the stock market. But in Blackjack people know how the system works, and they fare very well. When a card counter sits next to a novice, who doesn’t understand the system than the counters chances are harmed. I think Blackjack and card counters could make a very persuasive metaphor for the stock market. 

After a decent lunch we made our way back to the hotel to change and drop off our belongings before heading to a “water village.”The town is built right on the water, like Venice.

 

During the bus ride back to the hotel the professor asked for volunteers to speak about their thoughts. I rose my hand and walked to the front of the bus. I made my point about how effective the speaker had been. When I finished the professor took the microphone and said, “What can I say? It’s Bill.” Which has now become my official tag line for the trip.

 

It rained all day, no better time to wander around a town built on the water than when its pouring down rain. I wore flip-flops and I immediately regretted my decision. We walked around for the afternoon, had a couple of beers while the Prof and the girls haggled over pearls. There were stalls everywhere selling the same things as everywhere else. There was a smell throughout much of the village that came from something the Professor called Stinky Tofu. The smell truly was monstrous. Being the adventurous type I tried some, but have regretted it since. I can still feel the smell permeating my body. I can still smell it, in me, on me, coming out of me… The stuff actually turned my stomach, which NEVER happens, just thinking about it gives my stomach a little flip.

 

During that afternoon we took a boat ride around the canals, which was really nice. It probably would have been incredible had the weather been nicer, but it was fun none the less. The water village was an impromptu activity that several people wanted to go on, but since everyone wanted to go we all gave up our free afternoon. The time was originally supposed to be ours. In the evening there was a planned dinner at the Pearl Tower in a rotating restaurant high above the skyline of Shanghai. Because we originally we supposed to have an easy afternoon many of us planned on actually going out for a night on the town on recommendations from Lina. But because we spent the day at the water village we were forced to head right to dinner, drenched, cold, and covered in water village muck. By the time dinner ended no one had any energy to do much of anything.

Dinner at the Pearl was a western style buffet. As the restaurant rotated diners had access to separate parts of the stations, each one having a different theme. Many of the younger women on the trip were excited to see an Italian station. The food was okay, I was honestly bored and underwhelmed with most of it, but I had a couple glasses of wine, so I was good. Eventually someone found escargot at the European station, served in the shell. It was, without a doubt, some of the best damn escargot I have ever had. I was amazed. At first I thought I must be crazy, but Jose and a couple of other totally agree, it was some of the best.

We did not have to be up early the next day and it seemed like such a waste to just stay in that night, but all I really wanted was a shower. So as soon as I got back I ran upstairs and rinsed off the film of stinky tofu, sweat, water village, and international buffet. When I got done I gathered up some things and headed back downstairs. If nothing else I was going to sit, have a beer, check some email, and read. I sat there at a computer until the bar closed; at some point Lacey came down to Skype and called me an alcoholic… Just as I had resided myself to the fact that I was going to have to call it a night, Olachi and Sarah came down to have a cigarette, so I was saved from having to go to bed. We hung out with Marlon for a bit, drank some Chinese liquor Olachi had bought, which I couldn’t place, and I went to bed feeling pretty good.

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