Archive for the ‘Culture’ category

No Porn in China?

January 6, 2009

Apparently, internet porn is illegal in China. 

Remind me not to go to China.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/01/05/china.internet/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

What kind of supposed democratic country doesn’t allow internet porn?  This is an atrocity.  The internet is all about the free exchange of ideas, and my uneducated guess is that the idea that porn is obscene and should be banned is probably not one that most people in China would agree with (if asked in private and out of the range of Big Brother, if such a place exists in China) .  It’s restrictive, and it’s censorship.  And it will only serve as a boon for China’s already massive and constantly burgeoning black market.  I think all this fast-track image sculpting the Chinese government is implementing will come back to bite it in the ass in the not so distant future.

At a minimum, it will definitely make for a lot of lonely nights and cranky mornings.

Two Weeks in Turkey — Thoughts and Tips

December 1, 2008

blue mosque.jpeg
I actually got back from Turkey a month ago, but better late than never i guess.  It took me a while to get my pics up…more on that later… and then i got busy and started planning my next trip.  But below is a summary of the trips, highlighting the ups and down, my honest impressions, and traveling tips for those as absent minded as I tend to be while traveling…enjoy
 
My 2 week adventure in Turkey, as I expected and hoped, turned out great.  I was traveling with my best buddy Haricot, and after i picked her up from work so we could take public transit to the airport, the trip took a sudden and amazingly early downfall.  The cheap-ass luggage I bought already started fucking up on me.  I was walking down the street and suddenly realized that there is no way it should be this hard to wheel my bag along with me, as I did not pack that much stuff.  A quick glance around was all I needed to see the back wheels of my suitcase sticking out horizontally from the sides, nearly flattened and barely turning and I walked.  Amazing how just two days before when I bought this new luggage set I thought I had found the best deal ever (“Wow, a 10 piece set for $19.99, and it comes with a coupon for a 6 pc. Chicken Nuggets at MickeyD’s?? Sold!”).  I suddenly got dramatic and imagined myself carrying my suitcase on my back all around Istanbul…but Haricot assured me that she saw the wheel turning a bit and I’d be fine for the trip. Wheeling it everywhere for two weeks wasnt easy, but luckily it held up.  Lesson #1 — buy reliable luggage…the peace of mind is worth it alone.
 
Haricot was able to sleep the entire trip as I jealously stared and contemplated sticking things in her ears and nose to bother her and make her stay awake with me. We stopped first in Madrid, where we are held up for 5 hours after extensive delays.  We sneak our way to the front of the boisterous Spanish check in crowd, and land in Istanbul a  few hours later, at around midnight.  Lesson #2 — In airports, nice guys finish last.
 
We take a taxi to the house of our host, an American living in Istanbul whom i met online and was willing to let us sleep at her place for a few nights (every budget traveler should do this, great way to save).  She wasn’t there the first night tho; her brother, who recently moved in with her, was there to greet us.  Won’t get into the nitty-gritty details, but walking around that first night with him kind of made us consider sleeping on the street that night, or if it got too cold, whoring ourselves in return for a place to stay.  Luckily our host arrived the next morning, and she was a cool chick and helped make our stay in Istanbul a cozy one. 
 
The mosques were beautiful, though after a while you feel like youve seen them all.  Can go on and on about sites to see, but some of my best memories came just from walking around and soaking it all in.  Istiklal Caddesi is the Broadway of Istanbul, and the nightlife is PUMPIN.  It’s packed until pretty late Wednesday-Sunday, mostly with 20-somethings in small groups, looking for a place to eat, smoke shisha, and/or get wasted.  Plenty of options there for all three. I thought people there were pretty good looking, and while the females were varied, most the guys usually seemed to come from the same mold, at least with regard to style and fashion [see Turkey pics above].  This of course is when youre out on the night scene; take a walk through Kumkapi, Balat, Fener, and the rest of old Istanbul during the day and you’ll see the colorful clothing hanging from laundry lines tied across narrow cobblestone streets, boys playing soccer barefoot in alley ways and jumping out of windows of seemingly barren buildings, girls in colorful flower-laden dresses, whispering and laughing, women conversing from their respective stoops as they sew or shell nuts or trim vegetables, hear and smell the crackling of fresh fish on the giant street-side oil vats, and you certainly wont hear any English — not even the “Yes, please!” that is a constant in the touristy areas, where vendors try to convince tourists to visit their stalls.  But anywhere in Turkey, if you have a guide and have two functioning hands with which to gesture and point, youll be fine.   I learned about 10 words in Turkish: yes, no, bus station, train, and various types of food.  And I did just fine.
 
Cappadochia, the central region of the country, was an unforgettable place in large part because of the other-wordly landscape.  It is a land of compressed volcanic ash shaped into towers and pillars that fill the innumerable valleys cut into the a sprawling mountain range.  We rented motorcycles and biked from village to village, which was truly the best way to experience the region.  We sampled [devoured] all types of ethnic food the region had to offer, and fell in love with it…you didnt think fresh bread could taste that good, but it does there.  We saw traditional dances (in the few touristy places) and listened to old men making their instruments cry to the tune of Turkish folk songs.  We crawled through underground caves, explored tombs carved into mountains, hiked steep paths, picked and ate fresh wild produce along the way (including amazingly sweet tomatoes and cucumbers, disgusting apple-like things that tasted like cement powder, atrocious berries that made your mouth feel like it was being glued shut, and raw pistachios). Clean air, bright skies, quiet nights, friendly people, plenty of cheap hostels full of care-free young travelers to explore with.  Cappadochia is a must if you have the time.
 
Went to Ephesus also, near the Aegean coast and the most famous spot in Turkey to see the old Roman ruins.  The ruins are amazing but more sparse than I imagined.  Nice little side trip if you have the time.
 
Other random notes on Turkish-isms:
 
Random people will always ask you where your from if you speak another language.  If you’re from an Arabic country, they might not be so happy about it either (i gather this is because they want to distance themselves from the “arabic=religious extremist” stereotype as much as possible).  Avoid political conversations with people you don’t know!  Most Turks I spoke with had trouble acknowledging recent political history (see Greece; Armenia).
 
The food is pretty good but not spicy like I thought it would be…next time I go, Im bringing my own hotsauce.  The world-famous doner kebaps Turkey is famous for?  You can get much better ones from NYC street vendors.  Trust me.  Baked goods (anything bread-y) are great in Turkey.  Nevisade street + surrounding area in the Beyoglu section of Istanbul is restaurant/pub heaven.
 
Get an akbil pass (Turkish version of a metro card) for ultimate transport convenience on Istanbul’s extensive and really reliable transit system. Walking is great, but wear comfy shoes — hills galore.
Turkish delight (lokum) is….delightful.  Love the stuff.  If you go, bring me back some please…esp. the honey/pistachio ones (fistikli in Turkish).
 
Intercity travel — shop around the bus station and go to each office to find the best price for intercity travel. Be sure to get an official printed ticket and not some dude’s chicken scratch writing on a post-it note.  Make sure the name of your destination is printed on the ticket, and be sure to ask whether or not you have to change buses at any point — bus companies will go to great lengths to confuse and cheat weary travelers at intercity stops.
 
During long inter-city bus rides, the buses will stop at rest stops every few hours, cuz there are no bathrooms on board.  GO TO THE BATHROOM. Even if you dont think you have to.  Just do it.  And be sure to bring change, as every public bathroom charges a small fee (rarely more than a lira).  It helps to have a little pillow to sleep with on the sometimes cramped buses also… like one stolen from an airline perhaps…especially from Iberia Airlines if you want to pay them back for the 5 hour instruction-less delay they made you endure!  Just a hypothetical tho…
 
“Every price can be bargained down — except for movie tickets.”  A turklish saying, according to my Turkish homie.  Totally true from my experience.  Don’t be afraid to walk away — either youll get a cheaper price or youll find it for less somewhere else.
Pics soon!

The holy-crap-its-already-August Round Up

August 4, 2008

The summer is flyin by, and I’m not happy.  Gotta make the most of it while we can, folks.  Ive been trying to, but that’s only part of the reason why Ive been seriously slacking with the posts…believe it or not, Ive actually been busting my ass at work.  Despite my best efforts to evade acknowledgment and remain anonymous in all aspects of the company other than the payroll, word got out that I actually exist and have the capacity to tackle a larger workload.  Sons of bitches…

Here’s another patented ramble to update you on my life, and ruminations on everything relevant (to me) outside of it:

•Just back from a weekend down on the Jersey Shore, where I stayed at my friends awesome beach house.  Saturday was a fucking monsoon and I got kicked out of the water because the sissy lifeguards were afraid of the raging lightening.  Wimps.  Sunday made up for it though…started the day early and got in plenty of sun, and my arabian skin did great under the pressure (I only used SPF 8 sunblock).  Came back to work today lookin extra crispy, wearing white to accentuate the contrast, which made all the home-bodies in my office hate my guts.  Mission accomplished.

•Reading Things Fall Apart right now.  It was assigned in college but I Sparknote’d that biatch.  My friend Andrew gave me a spare copy and I thought I should actually read it, being it’s a classic and I haven’t read any other books set in Africa.  More to come on this.  No spoilers, please.

•I lost my phone in a  taxi after it fell out my pocket.  No one called or tried to return it.  I hate that.  Ive found phones before and went to crazy lengths to get it back to the owner.  Feels pretty crappy, cuz I know someone found it…  Ah well, I have insurance cuz I know I always lose or damage my phones; the list is pretty impressive.  I’ve dropped a phone down a sewer grate, in the toilet, in four feet of snow and couldnt find it, one fell on the street and got ran over by a truck…I could go on for a while.  That’s why I am the only person in the world who has no interest in an iPhone…I know Im gonna lose that shit in a week.  Not much of a gadget person anyway…long as I can make a phone call and it’s smaller than the one Zack Morris used to pull out of his ass in Saved By the Bell,  then I’m all good.

•SPORTS. Ok, plenty of quick thought, cuz each is deserving of it’s own post…  Brett Favre is a selfish bastard and the Packers are assholes for now declaring that he can compete for the starting QB job, after all this freaking talk about being committed to Aaron Rodgers.  They totally gave in to this drama queen.  They drafted Brian Brohm because Favre said for the 716th time that he was definitely hanging up his helmet.  He put the Packers in such a bad spot, and for that reason alone they shouldve had the stones to move on.  Federer is losing his #1 ranking, but is still the best player in the world.  I think he’s gonna bounce back in a big way, and people are nuts for prematurely predicting his demise.  Manny to the Dodgers is good for both teams. He is gonna play great there (a motivated Manny is the most dangerous hitter in the league), and the Red Sox dont deserve the negative backlash theyve gotten since the trade.  That team won 2 championships because of team chemistry, and Manny gave up on them and called out management on a daily basis.  Francona is the best skipper in the league and he needs respect from everyone in his clubhouse.  They gave up a lot, but in getting Jason Bay and ridding themselves of a clubhouse cancer, theyre a contender that will only get better.  Team USA basketball is looking great in their tuneups, and D-Wade is STRAIGHT UP NASTY.  Do not sleep on this man!!  He lost some luster in the eyes of many the last two years because of serious injuries, but somehow he looks more explosive than ever and has been their #1 highlight reel so far (and he’s a only sixth man).  I’m not afraid to say it: USA Basketball is gonna dominate the Olympics.  Write it down, bitches.  Ron Artest to the Rockets?  I’d be lying if I said I’m sure it’s gonna work, because Artest truly does deserve his rep as a headcase.  But the conditions are as good as they can be, as he’s playing for a coach who he actually respects, in a system he can benefit from, will be asked to contribute offensively and handle the ball at times, which will make him happy since he’s always clamoring about not being utilized offensively, and Shane Battier can come off the bench as a top sixth man who can play multiple positions.  The Rockets are my fav team after the Knicks, and, if by some strange turn of events the Knicks do not win a championship this year, I want the Rockets to go all the way.  T-Mac is too damn good to never get out of the first round. 

•McCain is a dirty bastard and his attack ads are ridiculous.  Trying to knock Obama as a leader by comparing calling him a celebrity in the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears?  That shit is weak.

What a loser.  Later y’all.

George Carlin & Co: Open Up [your fuckin] Eyes

July 18, 2008

I was watching videos of George Carlin on youtube and man, that dude was a genius. RIP man. The great satirists just have a skill for cutting through the bullshit and explaining things to people in a way that not only makes sense, but is also funny as hell. And it’s not just about politics — it’s about all of the many forces and waves tugging at and crashing around us that try to move us, shape us, scare us so that they can then be the ones to comfort us, and turn us into sheep so that they can herd us into cages locked the second we let others think on our behalf.

But the greats like Carlin and Bill Maher and Jon Stewart clear the fog a bit. Not to say you should believe whatever it is that they say, but if you listen, youll notice that theyre not telling you what to believe, like your politicians, parents, teachers, and priests (rabbis/imams) do; theyre telling you to open up your eyes and start thinking for yourself.

Here are a few great clips i came across:

this one explains why I am a francophile:

More videos to come, but I have to leave the office before they make me do work.

ciao

This extreme weather is scaring the crap out of me.

June 9, 2008

Weren’t we here in NY just complaining 2 weeks ago about how we were enduring an impossibly long winter, causing us to wear sweaters deep into May?  And now were on the verge of topping 100 degrees in early June, setting a new record?  And this humidity is like an energy-zapping parasite that drains the life  out of people.  You can’t breathe out there.    This is scary to me because even though we all know by now that industrialism has taken toll on the environment, the rate of tangible change is more rapid than I ever thought possible.  I grew up here, and the weather was so different then.  I can imagine telling my kids this story one day:

 “When I was your age, we had 4 seasons.” 

“Wow, really papa! Is that true? Four whole seasons!” 

“That’s right kids.  Summer, winter, and two things called Spring and Autumn.  They were magical things.  We had breezes, and air you could breathe easily.” 

“Wow papa!  Can you tell us the seasons story again!” 

“Sure.  When I was you age…”

Be sure to hold onto your Spring and Autumn memories so you can tell your kids about them one day. 

Oh, and also….START TAKING CARE OF THE FREAKING ENVIRONMENT by conserving as much as you can and being conscious of the effects of your consumption.  We only have one world. Let’s take care of it.

Turkish Court Bans Headscarf In Universities — Again

June 6, 2008

This really pissed me off.   I’m going to Turkey for a few months on vacation; it has always been my dream vacation.  I think about it as a crossroads of modern human history, where so many civilizations have made their mark on the world, a mark whose beauty is reflected today in the diversity of the Turkish culture.

That’s why I was so pissed off by the news report today that the Turkish High Court overturned a legal change issued by Prime Minister Erdogan that would allow women to where the headscarf at Turkish universities on the grounds that the change violated laws protecting Turkish secularism.

Read that sentence again.  The purpose of the overturned legal change wasn’t to require women to wear the headscarf; it was to allow women who choose to wear it to attend a Turkish university. 

I know the history of Turkey is complex and that there is a strong general desire to protect secular laws from religious extremism, but this isn’t a question of zealotry or “Islamism” or security.  It is a question of liberty, justice, and equality.  Secularism can be maintained while preserving individual liberties.  These kind of laws cannot be made to assuage irrational fears; think about where the U.S. would be if lawmakers and courts never took a stand against irrational and often ignorant public opinion. The decision of the high court is appalling because Turkey is trying so hard to kiss EU ass and prove that it is progressive, yet refuses to pass laws securing individual liberties for it’s own citizens (the other well known grievance is the strict code of expressive censorship Turkey enforces). The courts are also considering banning Erdogan and his widely popular AKP party from politics altogether…they have banned entire parties in the past and are expected to do it again here.  

Obviously there are many other countries in the same boat, but I guess I just expect more from Turkey.  I am also especially sensitive to human rights violations that are validated by the courts…I place a lot of faith in court systems as the guardians against corruption, and I feel indignant when they instead become the purveyors of it (I wrote about a similar story a few months ago regarding a US supreme court decision).

Here’s hoping that Turkey can be a place where all people are afforded equal rights, and that any protests that result from this decision are widespread, yet peaceful.

My 5 Minute Journey Into Vegan-ism

June 3, 2008

Five minutes. Yea, it didn’t go so well. I’m slightly ashamed.

On the other hand, the ice cream I’m eating right now is so damn good.

I started thinking about cutting animal products out of my diet after reading a lot of blogs about how vegan and raw food diets can really transform the way we look and feel, for the better. The testimonials are boundless in praise, relating the stories of people who swear to have twice the energy, half the fat, buns of steel, filled in bald spots, whiter teeth, better LSAT scores, cheaper gas, and farts that smell like roses. And as I’ve been becoming more health conscious, cutting the crap out of my diet and going to the gym more, I said to myself, hey, I want me some roses. And if I can avoid the 2-hour long food coma that I endure after most hearty servings of meat, then that would be an added bonus.

So the next day I wake up ready to live the lean-and-green life. I usually walk straight to the kitchen from bed to make coffee and a small breakfast. That usually includes eggs. (Mmm. Soft, warm, creamy eggs. Vegan diet or not, eating too many eggs probably isn’t good for you, but I haven’t slowed down..theyre so easy to make, can be prepared in so many ways, and are just about the best thing in the world for breakfast. God made eggs so that people could eat breakfast. It’s true.) Clearly, I knew ahead of time that I couldn’t eat eggs if I wanted to be a vegan. I’d just find something else to eat.

Easier said than done.

Cereal? Need milk. Oatmeal? Need milk. (oatmeal with water is NOT an option). Soy milk is an option, just not a good one, far as I’m concerned (although ice cold chocolate soy milk is delicious). Cheese? Uhh, no can do. Bread? Ok, I can eat bread. Let me spread some butter on that…crap, can’t eat butter. Fruit? Why not… oh wait, that orange in my fridge is a big ball of penicillin…ok, how about that banana. Yes, bananas are great. I’ll have a banana with my coffee..my black coffee. Ugh, I don’t drink black coffee. Guess I will today…gonna have to go a little heavy on the sugar though…there, ok, not too bad. Damn, I’m still hungry. What’s that shiny thing over there? It’s a little heart shaped chocolate thingy…mmm, little heart shaped chocolate thingy looks tasty. Yes it’s the morning, but only good things can come from a little heart shaped chocolate thingy. Gotta get this damn foil wrapper off…mmmm, this is some delicious milk chocolate. Oh, CRAP.

As is usually the case with diets, chocolate was the culprit.

Yes, MILK chocolate. As in anti-vegan chocolate. Ehh, whatever dude. Throw some eggs on the griddle and let me get back to reality.

Now, I know that there were plenty of other things I could have eaten; I’m only pretending to be this ignorant, I swear. But the truth is that being a vegan – or making any other radical change to your diet, or any other daily routine – takes a lot of planning, especially when you start. You need to really make a commitment to it, and that means shopping properly so that you don’t feel like you’re denying yourself every time you see a heart shaped chocolate thingy staring you down. And there are actually plenty of things a vegan can eat…

…but not too many things that don’t cost twice as much as stuff a vegan can’t eat. Vegan-friendly food, and even healthy food in general, is expensive. Everything is expensive these days, but go to a health food store and stock up for a week, and then go to a regular supermarket and compare the bills. It’s crazy! I cringe every time I pass by the produce stand near me and see the price of avocados (my favorite thing in the world…$2 each!), but I still manage to eat healthy by sticking to basic vegetables. And though I save money by never buying prepared foods, I still sacrifice by rarely buying things I love to eat cuz they cost too much — fish, red meat, good cheese, fancy condiments — and being a vegan would take the sacrifice thing to a whole new level.

Not only is price a concern, but the ingredients found in a diverse vegan diet — what planet are they from? Try to make some vegan and raw food diet recipes and you’ll find yourself in Mongolia looking for a rare root that grows only in the mountains between June 4 and June 12. Wheatgrass, hemp seeds, bee pollen, seaweed..this stuff is not found in the typical Queens supermarket. Goya does not make tofu seasoning.

Dinner? Do I look like a freaking rabbit? Diets like this are what make Ben & Jerry’s so successful.

Vegan and raw food diets become especially difficult if you’re trying to cut down on the carbs. It would be a whole lot easier if I didn’t mind eating rice and pasta for dinner every night, but I do, because I’m trying to cut down my body fat and get in shape. That bread I saw that morning for breakfast? i could have eaten it with peanut butter and that would have been fine. But I don’t want a big piece of bread for breakfast every morning…I love it, but it isn’t great for you and it gets boring after a while. Take out the carbs, and these diets become damn near impossible.

Of course I know that it CAN be done, and many people do it everyday. But instead of making a huge leap, I’m just gonna take it one step at a time. I’ve started by adding a lot more veggies to my diet, and have gotten used to eating less meat. After that I can work on cutting back on the eggs and milk. As for the sweet treats like ice cream and chocolate, I actually prefer sorbets and dark chocolate anyway, and buying expensive fresh fruits can be my reward for eating well. I doubt I’ll ever come to the point where I’m having a seaweed shake for lunch every day, but I don’t have to in order to enjoy a healthy diet. I think the moral of the story is that as long as we are conscious of what we are putting into are bodies and moderate our intake, a healthy lifestyle can be achieved.

I’ll start right after I finish this ice cream.