Hiking

Ode to Mamoun's Awful Falafel

Mamoun's, Mamoun's
worse than fried baboons
I'd rather chew harpoons
than go to Mamoun's

like warm cardboard
but, if it's all you can afford*
then enjoy.
but me, I'm like, oy,

this really sucks
even for three bucks
it's desert-sand bland
I'd rather eat my hand

(*A low blow, I know -- I like bargains too,
but Mamoun's? Ewwwww.)

Hiking

Happy birthday, dirtbag

Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
Happy birthday, dirtbag
;)
Hiking

Ming Chan Dong Restaurant, Flushing, Queens, NY

Ming Chan Dong, a Korean-Chinese restaurant in Flushing, Queens, has some outstanding food. Unfortunately, a Mandarin or Korean speaker is required. I'm glad I knew that in advance, so I brought a friend who speaks Mandarin. AND, our Mandarin speaker had to convince the staff to let us non-Asians in! They didn't want to serve us because they thought we'd hate the food! Wow.

And the food (at least what WE ate) turned out to be much more accessible than a lot of other things I've eaten. We're not talking sea cucumbers or stinky tofu here.

I LOVED the kimchi buns. Yes, that's right. Buns filled with kimchi. At $1, they're a steal. And the pork in black bean sauce, served with tofu skins to wrap it in, was also outstanding. Some of the others in the group didn't like the heavy thickness of the tofu skins though. Our Mandarin speaker asked the staff for recommendations and they said the baby squid was good. And it was. It was outstanding, actually. They also recommended a cucumber dish with clear noodles which was excellent. These two dishes reminded me a bit of things we ate at Northern Dumpling House, just up Northern Blvd.

Also we got eggplant with garlic, which was burning hot, temperature-wise. Like molten-lava hot. Once it finally cooled down, seemingly like 15 minutes later, it was very good. The consistency became better and different when it cooled down, I think. Not only was it a bit painful before it completely cooled down (even though I waited maybe 3-5 minutes before trying it), but I didn't like the consistency at first, either.

They also brought us a lamb dish. I'm pretty sure this was their version of lamb with cumin. I tasted some cumin in there. It was excellent and complex and spicy. I liked it better than Northern Dumpling House's version.

There was one other dish which was noodle-y and had chicken and was hard to describe but I liked it a lot. It's on the lower-left side of the first photo. Hmm, I think that's everything.

We were almost tempted to lick our plates clean.

We were hoping for deep fried taro or sweet potato but they claimed not to have any dessert available.

I got a sweet bean bun and a kimchi bun to go. $2 for those two! What a deal. The sweet bean bun is a bit too beany and not sweet enough for my tastes, but it's clearly authentic.

So far, I liked this place a LOT more than Golden Palace or M&T. (But I may not have gotten the right things at M&T -- I've only been once.)

Thanks to my friend Joy for translating, for convincing them to serve us, and for taking the photos!

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Hiking

Misfits

Oddly enough, the UK TV series Misfits is only available in the U.S. at Hulu and has not appeared yet on any cable network. Based on the first two episodes, it's intriguing, but I wonder whether or not it's headed anywhere, or if it will just eat its own tail. It's like a cross between Skins and the 4400, or maybe (more insultingly) Skins and Heroes, but better than such a comparison might suggest. The main characters are British teens doing community service for various misdemeanors. The debut episode dodges explaining how they get mysterious superpowers: A mysterious and unnatural-looking micro-storm rolls in out of nowhere and they get zapped by weird lightning in an unrealistic but visually-striking bit of special effects. We are left to assume that the storyline will eventually return to this and they'll unravel where the storm came from and how they got their powers. If it doesn't, I won't be happy -- assuming I keep watching. I'm on the fence. The second episode centers around the most annoying character, but also features a raunchy and memorable sex scene. Hmmmmmmmmmm.
Hiking

TV: TNT's Falling Skies

Hello! What's this on TNT? It's an alien invasion show! How very 1980s! (It reminds me a bit of the syndicated War of the Worlds TV show.) Perhaps because of the nostalgia value, I kind of dig these early episodes. The characters are a bit bland and there's too much focus on the dumb kids and their relationship to their father, because it's produced by Steven Spielberg, who has a fetish for father-son stories. But Noah Wyle and Moon Bloodgood are charismatic and competent. I like Bloodgood better here than in any other role so far.

It's competent and watchable if a bit bland.

I'm always amazed that every single sci-fi TV show in existence, and most movies, inspire cavalcades of comments on the Internet about how bad the special effects are. What do you want, $200 million effects like in Michael Bay's shitty Transformers movies, which look fabulous, except that Bay is too coked-up to hold the camera steady (or is still suffering post-cocaine addiction tremors or something) and can't even block an action scene properly? The viewers have no idea who's fighting and who's getting blown up at any given time. I'd rather have this.

I think Falling Skies has pretty impressive productive values and effects for a cable show. The aliens look very real, and very creepy.

Edited to add: Ugh, I was being ridiculously optimistic about this show. It's terrible. TERRIBLE. The goddamn kids are SO ANNOYING. The dialogue is SO REPETITIVE. The show just can't get its crap together. The writers flail and occasionally spit out a decent episode and then flail some more. Wyle seemed embarrassed about it in a recent interview with one of those free newspapers.

AVOID.

Blargh.
Hiking

Terrifying Christian Comics in the Subway!

Holy heck, I didn't know that crazy Christians were still handing out Chick Tracts! How old-fashioned! Today at the 74th St.-Jackson Heights subway station in Queens, young dudes were handing these out by the bucketful. Take a look. Nightmarish! These are old-school methods of converting you to Christianity: scare the living shit out of you so that you'll give yourself over to Jesus! As WFMU's Beware of the Blog puts it, "...if you get religion, you can order them and start spreading the homophobic, prayer-in-schools, anti-partying message." HA!
Hiking

Thailand, August 4, 2007

Arrived in Pitsanulok (official mis-transliteration Phitsanulok) yesterday on the train.  Staying at a cheap joint called the London Hotel -- 150 baht (about $4.50).  Small rooms, no A/C, but a big powerful ceiling fan and two big windows, and a firm mattress (perhaps too firm, as with many of these places).  Shared bathrooms/showers, but there are three of them for only about nine rooms, so that's good, and the water is usually warm, if not hot.  Asian-style toilets, though.
 
Saw some great wats (temples) today, including one called Wat Pra Si (or mistransliterated Wat Phra Sri; and the full name is longer, and also known as Wat Yai), which was mobbed with Thai tourists since it's Saturday.  I didn't see a single other honkie there.  Pretty amazing sights. 

Pitsanulok





Also lots of vendors there.  Finally found a couple of rayon shirts.  [I thought it would be easier to find non-cotton clothing in Thailand. Cotton is bad for backpackers, and for humid environments, because it doesn't dry quickly. But then I discovered that they grow a lot of cotton in Thailand, so tons of their clothing is made of cotton.] Spent more on one of them than on a night at the hotel.
 
Then got a haircut for 120 baht ($3.60 or so).  That included a wash afterwards, with a scalp massage, and then blow-dry and brushing (didn't realize I'd get all that -- could've gone to a 40 baht barber probably, but I wanted something with A/C).  But then the temperature shot up to perhaps the highest I've experienced here (or so it seemed), and I had to take a breather back in the hotel room. 
 
Unfortunately, the Lonely Planet guidebook [2003 edition] has some incorrect info on Pitsanulok.  For one thing, Internet cafes are in short supply around here, unlike what the book suggests, and they're not in the general areas mentioned by the book either.  They also don't mention that the whole town pretty much shuts down at 10 p.m., but maybe I should expect that everywhere but in the most major cities (although Kanchanaburi and Lopburi weren't entirely like that).  I should've brought a more recent edition than the 2003 one, maybe.
Hiking

Rediscovered Notes on Thailand Journey 2007, Part 2: Chiang Dao

Now I'll recall some of the unhappiest moments of my four weeks in Thailand in 2007. But I also went up the most astonishing and unforgettable staircase on Earth and saw some amazing views.

Surprisingly, I don't seem to have written anything about the amazing 560 steps which go way up to a wat (temple), Wat Tham Pha Plong, halfway up the side of the mountain -- I had some good photos but since I'm an incorrigible slob, I can't locate them. There was hardly anybody else up there. Check out this guy's photos instead. Plus there's these. Lots of monks live up there and walk down the stairs very early every morning to collect alms from villagers.

So here's what I wrote at the time:


15 Aug 2007: Staying at Malee's Bungalows 74 km N of Chiang Mai. Nice and cool up here in Chiang Dao, but still sickeningly humid, with amazing views of a 6000-ft. mountain right above us.

Met some cool Tennesseans who currently live in Manila and two Londoners who said I should look them up on Facebook. [Of course I totally forgot to do so, and now that I'm transcribing this in 2009, it seems a bit late. One was named Dan... Smith? maybe? of Morgan Stanley and the other was Carla Cohen.]

Earlier the two Tennesseans and I met while we were both trying to find a nature trail marked on the map near the bottom of the amazing stairs. The beginning of the trail was so overgrown that we just had to guess its location across a field and into the woods. Then the trail became easier to discern but as it plunged slightly in elevation and entered the rainforest-like depths, it became startlingly dark and foreboding. As we ventured farther into the forest, we passed a totally mystifying little area with some kind of chemistry experiment (maybe?) and a scary sign with a skull and crossbones, and a warning written only in Thai. Yikes! We almost turned back there, but the sign seemed to be warning people away from the turn-off area and not the trail itself. We hoped. Then the trail went upwards. Did some slipping, sliding, and falling in the mud of this trail. What a mess.

Had to turn back as we weren't making much progress and darkness was approaching. I must've fallen on my ass six or seven times. Fortunately the slippery mud that made me fall so many times also cushioned my fall repeatedly. It became like a ridiculous sloppy version of a water park, or more accurately, a mud park. A rowdy seven-year-old would've loved it. It took some serious scrubbing to get all those stains out. Anyway, the three of us met the Londoners later over dinner at one of the Chiang Dao Nest restaurants. [The food was pretty good but nothing amazing. It was a little gussied-up and highfalutin. Some was a bit bland by Thai standards, probably toned down for western tastes. The place was a bit fancier than most I'd tried and I felt a little out of place. When you get used to eating at outdoor Thai markets on plastic chairs on the street, then eating at a nicely-furnished real restaurant seems odd for a slobby backpacker like me.]

Ugh. Two nights later, 17 Aug 2007, I'm slowly recovering from food poisoning. Or I assume that was the problem. Hardcore vomiting for about 18-24 hours. Mostly feeling better now, but still very nauseous sometimes, but that goes away when I belch. No more vomit. I assume I got this food poisoning from the Chiang Mai sausage I ate at a middling, empty restaurant on the north side of that city, about 14-18 hours before I started vomiting. Or maybe some off-brand bottled water poisoned me.

A couple of times there, I wondered if I was going to get so dehydrated that I'd have to go to the hospital, because I couldn't keep anything down, not even water for a few hours there.  Fortunately they have some sports drink mixture here at Malee's and they were happy to sell it to me.  That stayed down.

Can't quite finish my meal of tom ka gai. They made it bland for me, since I'm recovering from food poisoning. [That was probably the first and last time I actually asked for my Thai food to be bland.] Good mushrooms. Malee's little brat is really starting to annoy the shit out of me, though. [I'm not keen on screaming children.]

Earlier today, after I woke up at around 1:30 p.m. and didn't have a headache for the first time in seemingly eons, I took a shower, had some of Malee's thick home-made whole wheat toast, then walked 1 or 2 km down the road to the Chiang Dao Caves. I was a little startled to see so many other whiteys there. Not too many other people are here at Malee's.

Caves were great. Went up into the unlit part with a guide with a gas lamp and two Afrikaaners. Couldn't recognize their language until they told me what it was. [Where the HELL are all my other damn photos of these caves?!? I had a great photo of some bright electric signs featuring mangled Thainglish deep within the caves, and colorful reclining cave Buddhas.] Exhausted by the end of that. Disappointed to find that the vendors just outside the caves closed, but not surprised -- they turned the lights off on me just before I emerged from the caves, so clearly people were closing up. Out on the road, a few very rustic shops were open. Bought some Nori seaweed-flavored Lays chips. Couldn't taste much seaweed, as expected. Oddly, they also carried Mexican BBQ flavor.

It's several degrees cooler up here in Chiang Dao than in Chiang Mai, but I feel frustratingly cut off, and it seems more rainy up here. Certainly more muddy and mosquito-ridden. Escaping the heat wasn't really worth this bother. I wonder if my Tevas will ever be truly clean again.

At some point after that, I started to plan a humorous e-mail called "10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Thailand." Unfortunately I never finished it. This is how my rough draft started out:

1. Legions of stray dogs wandering around. [They're not fixed, so their big balls are just dangling there for everybody to see.]
2. Legions of ants
3. A 7-11 every 100 ft., all with A/C

That's where the rough draft stopped, but I think I would've added:


4. Some of the rural ATMs are mysteriously huge and sometimes their rear-ends swallow up massive amounts of space in a convenience store or whatnot. And many of them are made by Diebold. Yes, that Diebold. For a while, I joked that Diebold must've been hiding legions of cryogenically-preserved heavily-armed dwarfs inside their ATMs and plotting to defrost them to conquer Thailand at some future point. But Diebold probably also makes all the voting machines in Thailand, so why bother with dwarfs when you have control over the voting?

5. Some of the soy milk is "enriched" (or from a lactose-intolerant person's standpoint, poisoned) with whole milk powder!  I had to look very carefully at the mostly-Thai-script label on the back of the bottle of one brand of soy milk to discover this.  In many instances, the bottles have little or no English at all, and you just have to hope that there's no dairy in it.
 
As I understand it, southeast Asians never used to consume dairy, except for eggs.  But in recent decades, various milk-based desserts, drinks, milky bubble teas, etc. have made inroads there.  And so:

6. A lot of kids there are drinking weird milky fruit dessert drinks from plastic bags with straws sticking out of them. Not from bottles, not from cans, not any other kind of container -- just a loose, limp, clear little plastic bag with a straw. The drinks usually contained little bits of fruit and were reminiscent of milky Indonesian desserts like es teler, and I believe they all contained condensed milk. But who knows?

Big Dairy must be pushing hard to open this market further.  At the well-known Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, women in fake pink nurse's uniforms were handing out free samples of "cultured milk with collagen."  Pretty strange stuff -- like drinkable yogurt but with little bits of collagen in it (tasted like coconut).  I figured I'd give it a try, since yogurt doesn't usually bother me.  And generally, you can buy more milk and yogurt than soymilk in the local 7-11s.  I think I've only seen rice milk in one place if at all.

7. Americans will see some familiar brand names in Thailand, but also lots of unfamiliar ones. One big brand name widely seen in Thailand is Dannon: They make a lot of bottled water there. Plus there's Nestle. And it usually only costs about 8-15 ฿ (about 24 to 45 cents U.S.). Or you can get off-brand bottled water for about 4-8 ฿ (about 12 to 24 cents).

8.
 250
I can't really explain this. The picture says it all.

9. Stores in Thailand sell a mysterious powder called Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder. My first reaction was, "What the fuck is that?!" But then I tried some. It's talcum powder with some nice additives -- and it's great for absorbing sweat and dealing with the insane humidity of Thailand. The lavender variety is especially nice. I still have some.

More to come! I'll have to think up a #10 later.

Hiking

Best of 2008

Best albums of 2008 that I got a chance to hear:

1. Haale: No Ceiling
2. Philip Jeck: Sand
3. Broken West*: Now or Heaven
4. Parts & Labor: Receivers
5. Crystal Castles*: Crystal Castles
6. Longwave: Secrets are Sinister
7. Secret Machines: Secret Machines
8. M83: Saturdays = Youth
9. Atmosphere*: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
10. Growing*: All the Way: Get an awesome free MP3 of a live set by this band here.
11. Friendly Fires: Friendly Fires
12. Ladytron: Velocifero: I tried hard not to list anything with a lot of filler. The entire list should be albums that are wall-to-wall excellent. But there is a lot of filler on the Ladytron album, as always with Ladytron. I wasn't going to list this album, but it's a relatively weak year, and the great tracks on the album are great enough to get this up to #12. But just barely. Besides, the filler is reasonably listenable.

This list is subject to change. I can't stop obsessively trying to figure out what great album I might have missed in 2008. This isn't practical at all. If I don't find a way to stop myself, then I may literally attempt to listen to every album released in 2008 that got a reasonably positive review anywhere and that has a good-sounding song streaming anywhere on the Internet. Really, I should not bother. Who needs albums when you have great radio on WFMU (with countless archives) and WOXY.com?

Best tracks not found on albums listed above:

- TV on the Radio: "DLZ" and "Halfway Home": I just can't get into the whole album. A lot of the tracks don't do anything for me. But those two songs are brilliant.

- White Lies: "Death"

- Mother Mother: "O My Heart": Wonderfully off-kilter. But I can't always take these vocals for more than a few songs.

- Deerhunter: "Nothing Ever Happened" and "Never Stops": Some of this album isn't noisy enough for me. Needs more noise!  MORE!

- Wire: "One of Us"

- James: "Waterfall": Album is meh, but great song.

- Elbow: "Grounds for Divorce

- Portishead: "Machine Gun" and "The Rip": Beth Gibbons sings like her soul is being obliterated, particularly on "The Rip," a song that truly strikes upon the live wire of mortality as a font of creativity. And mournfulness. When you listen to this song, you know you're going to die someday -- fbut you also might glimpse infinity just through the sound of the song.

- Santogold: "L.E.S. Artistes": What a great song! Parts of this album are amazing, but it didn't quite have the same staying power for me as others from 2008.

- Blitzen Trapper: "Furr": I loved a song by some dirty hippies! Wonders never cease!

- Raveonettes: "Dead Sound" and "Aly Walk with Me": These two songs are killer, and stand amazingly far above the rest of the album. This is one of the few bands I saw live in 2008, at Terminal 5 with Blonde Redhead and School of Seven Bells. They were all brilliant.

- c.db.sn, "Vulcanoctopus Hydrothermialis": I don't even remember how I stumbled across this. I don't like the other songs much.

- Death Cab for Cutie: "I Will Possess Your Heart": Ooo, somebody discovered krautrock!

- Beck: "Profanity Prayers": I liked most of the album on which this appears. I might still put it in my best of 2008.

- The Heavy: "Colleen"

- Mi Ami: "Ark of the Covenant": I first heard this on WFMU and it blew me away. But each time I hear it since then, it loses more of its power. Maybe it works best in the context of a great radio show.

I heard a ton of other brilliant stuff on WFMU that I have failed to list. In particular, check out Fabio and Bryce's shows.

(*MySpace is only good for one thing: Listening to music. Most of the pages still look like they were designed by a retarded 10-year-old in 1993. I became less averse to visiting bands' MySpace pages when I realized I could listen to music for free on those pages, thus essentially stealing Rupert Murdoch's bandwidth and not giving anything back, especially since I use Mozilla Firefox with Adblock Plus.)
  • Current Music
    M83
Hiking

(no subject)

Attention fellow New Jerseyans!

Unsurprisingly, again this year, we have confusing, puzzling, and opaque statewide public questions on our New Jersey ballot. The "interpretive" explanations on the ballot are clear as mud. What the hell do they mean?

Well, here is an article from the Record that interprets the questions and says we should vote YES. A PDF file from the League of Women Voters interprets them and presents arguments for both sides. Also, here's a discussion thread on BlueJersey.com where a poster interprets them (much more opaquely) and recommends NO on both. The Trenton Times is also opaque, and says YES on both. Any thoughts?

http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/33710214.html

http://www.bluejersey.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=9300

http://www.nj.com/opinion/times/editorials/index.ssf?/base/news-0/122508031975930.xml&coll=5

Caution: Annoyingly large PDF file, but with helpful explanations of why to vote YES or NO.
http://www.lwvnj.org/VotersService/2008-1104_Ballot%20Questions.pdf

(I hate PDFs! Memory resource-clogging crap! PDFs are evil and should be destroyed. I have taken screenshots of the useful parts of the PDF. E-mail me at ikehull at yahoo dot com if you want me to forward the screenshots to you.)

Voting YES on #1 sounds pretty good to me.

As for #2, solely based on the info in the PDF, if I understand it correctly (which I may not), I'm inclined to vote NO on #2 because I'm a Democrat and I'd prefer more liberal judges statewide. #2 might make that harder, if I understand current state politics correctly (which I may not). After all, there are more Republicans proportionally at the local NJ municipal level then at the state level, right? On the other hand, that may be short-sighted, because that could all change over time. I don't know.

Any thoughts? Interpretations? Ideas?

Feel free to forward this to anybody else who is voting in NJ. (Expiration date: 11/4/08!)