Saturday, January 30, 2010

African Chronicles: Day 4-6: WILD

Does anyone remember the WILD Puffalumps? It's one of those things that it seems were marketed heavily to my family and to no one else on earth.

There are six or so dull reasons as to why I haven't posted until now. One of which is that I left my USB key in Capetown. So we're going to start with day 4 and maybe we'll get Day 1-3 later.

Day 4 was the most structured day that we've had in South Africa, primarily because we were on a tour. There's a lot of stuff that we thought we probably wanted to do down here, but we knew we needed to go see the Cape of Good Hope, and so today was Cape Peninsula Day. We hopped on our tour bus and pretty well had the rest of the day planned for us. Not exactly prime adventuring, but a good decision.

First stop, Hout Bay. We'd been there the day before, but we didn't do much there. Hout Bay is famous for being both a snooty suburb of Capetown, and for having large harvests of crayfish and snook from the bay. Also, for having Seal Island. But not the real Seal Island, which is in False Bay. But another island, covered with seals, which is not Seal Island. I'm not sure why people don't go seal watching at Seal Island, but they don't (perhaps because it's shark infested.) Anyway, we went to see the seals, and indeed, there were seals. I'm not sure what to report, apart from the fact that seals are relatively amusing to watch, there were a lot of them, and I took pictures of them. It's actually low-shark season, which means it's high-seal season, so we saw them stealing food up at V&A harbor, lying on rocks elsewhere and just generally all over the place. Kind of like big, wet, fat dogs. The largest seal was up on the dock getting its picture taken. The seal's “owner” would flick you off in the picture if you didn't give him money, but since I liked the picture with him flicking me off better I didn't.

We stopped by the highway to eat cookies. They called it breakfast, and it was quite random. But we had a good view of Hout Bay from the top of a cliff. We had nine or so other members on our tour, and a number of them were insistent that they could see whales in the bay. It's not whale season, so we were quite positive they were seeing rocks. But it became a joke everywhere else we went to spot whales.

Next we made our way down to Simon's Town. I should mention that we had a tour guide named Mario, who was not the greatest guide in the world. He was pretty much a neverending stream of bad jokes, commenting on how we weren't laughing at his bad jokes, and some random trivia. Like Simon's Town was the first place in the world where a dog was drafted into the Navy. True story, maybe. But he was a nice guy. Simon's Town is a little picturesque town where rich folk vacation to feel rustic. It's also home of Boulders Park, the best spot to spot African penguins. Known to some as little British guys in suits. As with the seals, penguins are generally fun to watch, and there were a ton of them. It started to rain on us, but pretty well stopped by the time we left Boulders.

A neat twist on the tour was that we were able to bike through a game reserve. So we hopped out of the van and cycled for a while across the Cape Peninsula. Mostly we just saw ostriches, but I did glimpse a baboon for a second in the distance. And we met another dassie, which are among my favorite animals in South Africa. It was a fun little ride, even if it rained for a portion of it. Biking and hiking made for a more interesting tour than just riding around in a van.

The Cape of Good Hope was pretty impressive. Our guide kept asking us if we could tell the difference between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, which sadly I could not. But there were a lot of cliffs, beaches, a lighthouse, lots of old Japanese tourists and of course, the most South Western point in Africa. Unfortunately it's been proven by satellite that it's not the most Southern point in Africa, but I'm going to ignore that since there isn't a nice sign to stand by at the actual most Southern point.

Since I was the only one with vision keen enough to spot the baboon, our guide was kind enough to bring us to a baboon area. He warned us to keep the windows closed, not to frighten the babies, and not to feed them. As we pulled up on a dozen or so of them, we watched them chase people that frightened the babies, tear apart cars that had food in them check every door and window to try to get into vehicles. It was awesome. Not for the other tourists, who had baboons all over their cars, tearing up their stuff, but for us who knew better. We did help a bit, distracting them, using a tire pump to annoy them etc. Don't mess with baboons. They'll mess you up.

That pretty well ended our tour. We continued to suffer through bad jokes on the way back to Capetown. We decided to eat at a British pub that was playing Tegan and Sara. It was a pretty awesome place, and one that I'd recommend if you're looking for a good chicken banana curry on Long Street. We also decided to move out of our ghetto hostel. We took several steps upward on the social scene and moved into The Penthouse on Long. We had a doorman, our own rooftop bar, pool hall, kitchen, laundry, everything. We also had roommates and neighbors, which we'd enjoyed living without, but are really part and parcel of hostel living. The funniest thing about the place was the bizarre paintings. There were Primary murals, dragons, Spongebob, African landscapes, and pretty much everything in between. I imagine it's a great place to be high.

Day 5

Almost certainly the chillest day thus far. We slept in a bit, then headed to a couple bazaars in town. I'm not buying any knickknacks until I get to Durban, so really the morning consisted of me turning down every single vendor that approached me, which did get old. We were accused of being gay by a number of merchants after refusing to buy their wares, so that was a bit entertaining.

We'd intended to go to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was kept prisoner, but they canceled our tour due to rough seas. Evidently the whole thing is pretty horribly run (the tour, not the jail, though that as well I suppose) so I didn't consider it a huge loss, historical value notwithstanding. So instead of going to a world heritage site we went to the mall next door. I'm cultured, I know.

To try to infuse some culture into the day we did go to GOLD, which is a museum by day, restaurant by night. We paid a bit extra and got some drum lessons before dinner. I'm sure Bryce will say differently on his account, but I was clearly the better drummer. We even asked the instructor later and he said so. The dinner was a set course, so they just kept bringing us small portions of African foods. Patat, bobotie, samosas, curry, fresh fruits and vegetables etc. It was all quite good, extremely filling and moderately educational. They also had some singers, dancers and puppets to round out the evening. But despite the good food, quality entertainment (though the dancers wore Converse, so I'm not so sure about that authenticity) the most amusing element of the evening was how much the staff hated us. I think it was because Bryce was wearing his Utes hat. The animosity started when we asked about the price, which was different than had been quoted to us. Then we wouldn't order wine. Then we wanted tap water and not still water. Then Bryce knocked over a dish the waiter was holding. Then he asked not to have the prawns since he's allergic. I know, what a jerk. Other than a lot of eyerolling and making us find them in order to pay our bill, they didn't really retaliate. That we know of.

Day 6

Bryce had been going on and on about shark diving for the last month, so we found ourselves a shark diving tour. They picked us up in Capetown and drove us down to Hermanus, the whale watching capital of the world. When there are whales, which is not in January. We then went down to Gansbaii, which is Goose Bay, which is funny to some of you. Our tour group consisted of a bunch of old Portuguese people, a couple locals, a Canadian, ourselves and our guide. I forgot his name, but I'm going to call him Sven, because I'm pretty sure he is the South African equivalent of Sven. He looked like he might've killed a few sharks with his barehands. For fun. But he's a nice guy.

South Africa is pretty much the premiere spot for seeing Great White Sharks. So, when in Rome. We got into our boat and went about fifteen minutes out to sea. The cage was already set up, so we docked the boat to it, dropped anger and threw out some chum. Before we even had our wetsuits on a shark had snuck up on the boat and eaten the chum. That jerk. It was a pretty awesome first meeting. You kind of imagine sharks as living torpedoes, just shooting from kill to kill. But when the earlybird shark took the chum it popped out of the water, curving it's slategray back and twisting back down into the water. It was much more dynamic than I'd anticipated, and more awesome. Actually inspiring awe.

The wetsuit wasn't the most comfortable or flattering suit I've ever worn, but it worked out well enough. We generally had about five people in the cage, and I got to go in during the second shift. It was quite cold, but you get used to it quickly. You don't really get used to the sharks swimming a couple feet away from you. Other people were keeping track of whether they were male or female, how long they were, how many there were etc, but the extent of my thoughts were pretty much “Holy cow, there's a shark!” I thought that over and over. Evidently we had 6 sharks, the largest about 3.5 meters, and a mix of males and females. Sven said this was a very good turnout, especially for this time of year. Bryce and I were the last ones in the cage (we got to go in twice) and for the last shark they let him get the chum and he went to town on the fish chunks right in front of us. He spun around and the force from his tail pushed me backwards in the cage. It was pretty awesome.

We decided to stay in Hermanus for the evening. I wanted to have a sharky meal, but the Great White's favorite food in these parts is seal, which isn't on the menu anywhere we tried. Their second favorite is other sharks, which also wasn't. So I had to settle for snook, which was good, but quite a compromise. Hermanus is basically there for whale watching, shark diving, and summer resorting for the wealthy, with little industry of any other kind. So it's a nice place to relax but that's about all there was to do. Bryce dubbed our new hostel Hippie-friendly, and it's actually quite fun. There are a lot of scantily clad slackers (one girl spent most of the next morning in her underwear and a t-shirt), a bit of a commie mentality about the food, and a number of cats and dogs wandering the halls. It'll be an interesting couple days.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

African Chronicles: Day Zero

I'm in Africa, and have been for 4 days now. I have lots of pictures and stories. This computer isn't letting me upload them. They will be uploaded later. But for now, I'm alive and hope you are as well.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Show Must Go On

Admittedly, I have an issue with plays. I think it stems from the fact that I like movies so much. I like movies, and a movie, in a worst case scenario, will set me back 14 dollars. Much more frequently it will cost 5. And not infrequently it will cost me zero. If I like it I can eventually procure my own copy of the movie. And if I really like the actors, director, writer etc I can follow their work to other movies ad infinitum.

When I go to a play, I get a similar experience to seeing a movie, with much more inconvenience and much higher a cost. It’s kind of neat that the people are there, acting in front of me, but it’s only kind of neat. Not $100 neat. And so, traditionally, Broadway is not my favorite part of the New York experience. It’s just not my scene. And I’d like to delude myself and say that I’m just as cultured as theatergoers, but perhaps I’m not.

But perhaps because I’m buying plane tickets left and right these days, the $26 rush ticket price of a play seems like a small sacrifice these days. So while I was in town for business, I made sure to hit up some shows.

First and least, Perfect Crime. I saw this play for a number of reasons. It’s a murder mystery about psychiatrists, so that’s a plus. They didn’t seem like particularly good psychiatrists, in any sense of the word, but that at least was a draw. It’s also the longest running play in NYC history, which is notable on its own. I suspected that its longevity was related to its quality, which I realize isn’t necessarily true. Oprah’s been on a long time. Even more notable than the longevity of the play is that the lead actress has been playing the role since 1987 and only missed 4 performances. Think about that for a minute. But, no offense to Catherine Russell, I don’t think this is necessary a good thing for the play. Literally every character in the play falls in love with her character, and I felt this would be more believable if she were 23 years younger. I may sound negative, but all in all it was an enjoyable play. It was frequently funny, always twisty and just generally a quality production. It just didn’t blow my mind, which happens relatively infrequently.

Next and not a play, I finally made it to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. On my last couple visits to NYC I’ve meant to make it to the theater. It’s an improve studio, whose most notable alumna is Amy Poehler. They had a tv show in the late 90s that was twisted, bizarre and awesome. Since seeing the show, I’ve wanted to see a live performance. I’d thought that Amy would be at the show, but instead Horatio Sanz was there. I was disappointed for no Poehler-love (I think she’s better at improve than sketch) but Horatio was actually quite funny. Bobby Moynihan was there as well (he’s another SNLer) and the rest of the crew were up and coming comedians. And they were hilarious. The longform improv of UCB is sometimes amazing to behold. I’d have a hard time ranking comedy acts as they’re all so different, but this was certainly one of the best I’ve seen.

Last and my favorite, Avenue Q. This was another one that I’ve been meaning to see for a long time. It even came to Columbus and I missed it. Stupid! Oh well. But I was back in NYC and I was not going to miss it this time. It took going to the ticket office on 2 different days and waiting in the cold for an hour (I’m pretty sure it didn’t get above 30 degrees during my whole trip) but I got my ticket. And it was a dang good time. The play is, shall we say, spicy. I think people hear song titles like If You Were Gay and The Internet is for Porn and think the show doesn’t have legitimate content, only shock. And although my theater experience is intentionally limited, this is one of my favorite plays. It has the spice, but is also innovatively funny, quite good musically and has a real, if not deep, story. In any case, I knew I liked it, I got to go, and indeed very much liked the experience.

And because I know I won’t have time to write another NYC blog post, here are some other tidbits:
- The UN building is pretty cool.
- The Met was closed when I went, so instead I went to Midtown Comics. It’s a famous comic book store. It was fun so I’m kind of glad the Met was closed.
- My sister and I went to the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. I liked the museum in general (it was modern without being in your face LOOK HOW MODERN I AM) and the Burton exhibit in particular was great. It was completely jammed with people, with is less than ideal, but I guess comes with the territory. Props from movies, original sketches, personal history etc etc. If you’re a Burton fan, it’s definitely worth dealing with annoying crowds.
- I was going to write a post about Phoenix people v New York people (as I will almost certainly be moving to one or the other next year) but that will have to wait.
- I went to church, it was a smaller ward than I expected, but they seemed nice enough.

That’s it for now. I’m off to South Africa on Saturday. I have no concept as to how often I’ll have internet access over the last month, so you’ll just have to be flexible along with me.

Bon Voyage.
(Maybe I'll take pictures)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


So, I’m in Arizona, which I could write about. And I leave for South Africa on Saturday, which I could write about. Or I could post the movies from the variety show. But I haven’t even finished talking about my trip from last week. So let’s give that some shrift, even if it’s short.

No Apples, Big or Otherwise

Since I lacked the money or passion for shopping for material goods on this trip, I made up for it with food. Oh food, so often a replacement. As with shopping in general, I have powerful forces influencing my food purchases. On the one hand, I love trying new foods, dislike almost nothing, and generally consider myself a bit of a foodie, although I find that term ridiculous. Are basketball fans called basketballies? No, because it’s stupid. On the other hand, I do occasionally cringe at making expensive food purchases, because all food purchases are inherently indurable, and I hate spending a lot for fleeting moments.

But for this trip I made an exception. I was being a flavor tourist. The tastes of New York would be my souvenirs, my hobby and my sustenance. I vowed not to eat anything that I could find outside of New York, and succeeded as far as I could tell.

Cupcake Wars
If for no reason other than Lazy Sunday, I went to Magnolia Cupcakes. It was packed. I have no idea why New Yorkers love cupcakes, but they do. I mean really; cupcakes? Yes, they taste good, but I almost feel silly eating them. It’s like I can’t handle a whole piece of cake. And would you ever walk down the street eating a piece of cake? Anyway, like Liz, I wanted to go to there, and I did. I had the chocolate and the Hummingbird, which somewhat disappointingly didn’t contain any hummingbird. Because don’t you think hummingbird would be delicious? It was actually like a pineapple carrotcake, which was admittedly, quite good. However, Crumbs crushed Magnolia. Crumbs is advertised as New York’s best cupcakes, and they succeeded (beating the only other contender I tried.) I walked into a store on a whim, only to be accosted by cupcakes the size of my fist. Actually the size of a much larger man’s fist. They were so large, I ran away. Really I just wasn’t hungry enough to eat a little cake. But I returned later after I’d fed my hunger (by not feeding it) and faced the cupcake. The grasshopper cupcake was delicious. Winner: Crumbs.

Crepe Wars
Crepes on Columbus. Nutella and strawberry. Winner!

Hot Dog Wars
For my last 2 trips to NYC, one of my main goals has been to eat a NYC hotdog. The fact that I wasn’t able to achieve the goal of eating a hotdog is pretty indicative of my goal-setting skills. This trip I did. I had a street hotdog, which was fine but not amazing. But it fulfilled a goal, so gold star for me. I then went to Gray’s Papaya, because Barney Stinson did it once and so I felt obligated. And they were pretty dang good. Nothing fancy, just hotdog, kraut and special sauce. Washed down with papaya juice. Gray’s wins!

And now for the main event.

Pizza Wars!
Because what says New York like pizza. During my time in New York I had the following:
Tony’s Pizza – random store, owner of unknown middle eastern decent, pretty mediocre.
Campos – this hardly counts because it was California style pizza (blasphemy!) but it was the best portobello pizza I’ve ever had.
Ray’s Pizza – good NYC style pizza, but not unlike other I’ve had before.
Famous Ray’s Original Pizza – similar to Ray’s, slightly better, but admittedly I biased the results by ordering different toppings at different locations. Hawaiian is always going to score well.
Lombardi’s – by reputation, the first pizza in America. A very interesting pizza. Imagine growing up on McDonalds hamburgers. I imagine this isn’t too hard to imagine. Then one day you actually have a burger from a BBQ. Lombardi’s made other pizza seem like fastfood. Which is not to say I liked it 1000% better; it just tasted authentic.
Patsy’s – I’d have to say that this was my favorite. It was a little bit faker than Lombardi’s, but more substantial. It smelled so good that I ate my first piece on the subway rather than waiting to get home. Despite the fact that I literally ate pizza every day for the whole trip (I had leftovers from most of the above) I very nearly bought another pizza later because I liked the first so much.
Winner: Patsys!
However, my stomach wasn't able to handle more pizza or I would've gone to Grimaldi's and Totonnos. You have to leave something for the next trip.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Till You Drop

I’m a good shopper – I can shop for hours on end. I’m good at looking for sales. I do enjoy having nice things. I think I have good taste (though I suppose no one believes themselves to have bad taste.) I strike a good balance of research beforehand and spontaneous shopping.

I’m a bad shopper – I’m thrifty/frugal/cheap/miserly. There are many genres of consumer goods that are entirely unappealing to me. My decision making is frequently longer than my co-shoppers would like.

So, all in all, I’m probably a pretty average shopper. I’m not making it into the Olympics, but I can hold my own.

New York is rather famous for its shopping. But I feel like this is much less of a distinction than it was a decade ago. I was strolling through the CBS store, pondering buying a copy of The Bro Code, and I thought to myself: I can buy this on the internet. For less. And while I did find things on my trip that cost less than their internet cousins, it was relatively rare.

So I did some of the touristy shopping; or at least perused. Times Square, Century 21 etc etc. I didn’t make it to any of the “districts” (garment district etc) because I couldn’t think of anything that I needed or could afford (stupid Africa trip!) in those areas.

So perhaps this aspect of New York was squandered on me, at least this time. My purchases for the trip included the following, and were pretty much limited to the following:

1 tie
1 shirt
2 cufflinks
52 sweet Frank Lloyd Wright playing cards.
I wanted that to be a neat sequential list, but 1,1,2,52 isn’t a mathematical pattern that I’m aware of.

I did learn some things about NYC shopping:
• Employees are more aggressive. Normally earbuds keep away sales associates, but not in some stores. They spoke through the music, tapped my arm, even threatened me. They didn’t really threaten me.
• The Apple store is far too popular. I would shoot myself if I worked there.
• DVD stores, labeled only as DVD Store, are in fact porn stores. At least the 2 that I tried. There’s about one rack of movies right as you enter the store, then racks of racks for the rest of the store.
• The best prices are in Spanish stores.
• You’re not allowed to look through the records books in FAO Schwarz. Even if the workers leave them lying on the countertop. But if you do read them, they tell you which celebrities have bought what. TomKat and Suri looked at the Muppet display, but didn’t end up buying one.
• I wish I liked souvenirs, because NYC is the souvenir capital of the world. I could even buy souvenirs of places other than NYC.
• It makes sense to sell pashminas and hats on street corners. It’s freaking cold. It doesn’t really make sense to sell movie scripts or pictures of high heels. But I can only assume they make a profit so what do I know.
• It’s not economical to buy groceries at delis.

Tomorrow’s NYC article: No Apples for Me

Friday, January 15, 2010

12960 New York Minutes

So for the last year or so we med students have been pondering our futures. Where next? Stick with OSU? Go East, go West, go back home, become a hobo. So many options. I’d imagine a hobo with an M.D. would be some kind of hobo royalty.

I’d planned on going to NYC for med school, but OSU was just so darned cuddly. So when decisions about residency came up, I again defaulted to New York. When I indicated such to some friends I was greatly shocked to discover their analysis. “Chris, you’re not a New York person.”

I repeat.

I’m already, technically, a New York person. The Chester is in fact part of the state of New York.
In what way am I not a New York person? How did they come to this conclusion?

Turns out they had no specific reasons why I wasn’t a New York person. One went so far as suggesting that I’m a Chicago person. I spit on her. In my mind. Imagining that she herself was Chicago personified.

But this certainly got me thinking. As I spent a week in NYC I tasked myself with some careful observation. Am I a New York person?

I watched the people walking down the street.
Was I a member of the Peacoat Mafia?
Yes. Check
Did I have my earbuds firmly in place.
Yes. Check
Did I largely ignore other people, with a permanent semi-scowl?
Yes. Check
So far so good. As far as I could tell, I blended in with the people on the street. For the most part. I didn’t have a hat or scarf, and I seemed to get some stinkeyes because of it. What? I’m a Viking. I don’t need your hats or scarves New York. I also had a copy of Not For Tourists hidden in my pocket. But I attempted to keep it hidden at all times. Only reading it hidden in phone booths and skulking in the shadows.

So I think I look like a native. Do I act like one? I was a bit hesitant to jay walk within eyesight of policemen, but eventually I got it down. My homeless dodging and street performer ignoring was up to snuff. I didn’t try waiving down a taxi, but I got pretty good at Subway hopping. I’ll discuss my culinary adventures in another post, but I feel that I excelled in that arena. Due to early morning meetings and a general lack of knowledge of late-night festivities, I didn’t really exemplify the City That Never Sleeps ethic, but realistically I’m not going to in residency either.

Did I feel like a New Yorker? Admittedly, I was initially annoyed by my decreased control over transportation. I like hopping in my car and getting from A to B with little muss or fuss. There can indeed be muss and fuss in New York. But, I feel like I got much less annoyed by the end of the trip. The lines and crowds every which where were also offputting at first, but I acclimated pretty quickly. It took more planning and insider info to get things done, but it could be done.

I’ll go over more details of the trip in future installments. I think it would be difficult to prove in any reproducible fashion that I AM a New York person. But at least I proved to myself that I was not NOT a New York person.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Evidently I'm White

If you don’t read Stuff White People Like, the most recent post was concerning Conan, as is this post. Man has that site got my number.

Tomorrow dear readers, I’ll actually talk about my life, NYC, pizza and the meaning of life. But not today.

Today I’ll talk about talk shows. To really be topical I should’ve done this days ago, but days ago I was being lazy. And really today I’m being lazy, so I’ll be brief.

Suffice it to say that Jay Leno is a waste of space. Maybe he’s a nice person; I don’t know or care. But he’s useless on television.

Letterman v. Leno? Letterman, hands down. The fact that Leno consistently beat Letterman in the ratings probably makes me like Letterman even more.

Leno v. Conan? Conan. Hands even further down. Or down harder. Or whatever. Conan’s nerd cred for being a Simpsons writer alone guarantees his victory. But the fact is Conan is funny. Leno is not. The only reason to watch Leno is if he has a guest I like, and that guest for some idiotic reason refuses to go to other, funnier, talk shows.

So, like so many others, I support Conan in his times of trouble. He deserves his show, in its current form, in its current time slot. Does it matter to me if his show starts at 11:30 or 12:00 or 3:33? Not remotely. But it matters to Conan, and I support him standing his ground against NBC. Kick Leno to the curb, let Conan stay where he is, and let’s all forget about this nonsense.

And just to get some weekly ranking in:
Ranking of talk show hosts:
1. Space Ghost
2. Conan
3. Ferguson
4. Letterman
5. Kimmel
6. Fallon
7. Leno
Carson Daly doesn’t get a number. That's what I think of him.

Friday, January 08, 2010


I had an interview today. Often I feel like Hugh Laurie must feel.

Be te dub. I'm in NYC. I'm just too lazy to write about it tonight. I will later.