Friday, May 30, 2014

Movin' on up to the Tumblr side

I'm hep to what the youth of today are all about, with their short attention spans and twerking and froyo and congregating on my lawn, so I've mostly moved over to Tumblr.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Nerd love

Sit back, kids. Grandma O’Kistic is going to tell you a tale about a time when AOL was serious business, people hated cats and predators were what Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover tried to catch.

It was April 1994.

Your dad tried his best to hide the floppy disk he’d bought of Dana Plato giving a double blowjob, but if 2 girls were eating a substance from 1 cup, it was almost certainly not feces.

Modems zipped along at 9600 bps. You paid by the hour to dial into your online service, and you liked it – until someone picked up the phone and interrupted your 3-day odyssey of downloading Doom.

There was no 3G, no Angry Birds, no Google, not even Friendster, and all you had to entertain yourself in the bathroom was a dog-eared copy of “Reader’s Digest." Oh, that Humor in Uniform.

Few of your friends had PCs. And they were PCs, not Macs, because Apple who? The ones who did primarily used it as a replacement for their parents’ ancient typewriter. Meeting people online was not normal, and the people you met online were not normal. You had to be dedicated to embrace the then-burgeoning online world.

My parents went through several online services – Compuserve , Delphi and GEnie – before settling on Prodigy. Or "* P *," as the cool kids referred to it.

As more people discovered the Internet and online services grew in popularity, Prodigy instituted a policy of charging for emails. Can you imagine paying US$0.25 per email after exceeding your allotted free emails? These were dark times.

My online friends and I didn’t care for that, so we used our genius 2600-reading brains to deduce Guns N Roses fans were fond of using “garden” as a password, and Metallica fans usually chose the not-at-all-obvious "Metallica" for theirs, and we then added ourselves to their accounts.

“Hackers” still hadn’t been released, and the general public was mostly oblivious to the threat posed by dangerously smart, spiky-haired 1337 kids who could fuck your technology up while riding skateboards.

So, my parents weren’t concerned that they never paid for my Prodigy usage nor did they understand why there never seemed to be any long-distance charges for calling the boy I’d met from New York City on the teen discussion message board.

Our parents didn’t mind us chatting online or talking on the phone, which we did for hours at a time thanks to a phone-phreaking acquaintance, and they didn’t object to us meeting in person. They just didn’t want to put much effort into making it happen.

I realized if I was ever going to hang out with the boy of my angsty, riot grrrl dreams, I’d have to do it on my own.

After yet another explosive fight with my parents, I told them I was going to the deli down the street to grab a sub, but instead, I called a taxi from a payphone. Before I left, I told my uncle where I was going and swore him to secrecy.

The taxi took me to the Trenton train station, which began my long trek to the wilderness of Staten Island—a place so backwards that it wasn’t totally wired for cable TV until the early 1990s. Even today, wild turkeys roam the streets.

From Trenton to Hoboken to the World Trade Center to the Whitehall ferry terminal to the Staten Island ferry terminal, where the boy was waiting for me in the arrivals hall decked out in his finest clothes of a Skinny Puppy T-shirt and Docs.

We took a bus to the movie theater to see John Waters’ “Serial Mom." The theater was almost empty because, well, it was Staten Island, the borough where culture and dreams still go to die.

After the movie, we sat and talked at the bus stop, each secretly hoping the other would make a move. But we were introverted and awkward and just being in the presence of another human being was overwhelming enough.

A half-hour later, the bus arrived and our date came to an end.

At the ferry terminal, it dawned on me that I now had to make the reverse trip during the early-morning hours in a NYC that still hadn’t been Giulianified and Disneyfied, and the only other people around me at that hour were already home.

So when I saw the boy walk into the waiting area 10 minutes later, I was relieved. And then I saw his dad behind him. His angry garbageman father who needed to be up at 4 a.m.

Hoping he hadn’t gotten a good look at me yet, I took out my nose ring and hurriedly shoved it into my pack of cigarettes. Because it would have been the facial piercing and not the multi-colored hair and Crass T-shirt that would have freaked him out.

His dad glared at me. “Come with us.” The fear of having been busted was not as great as the fear of being a 15-year-old Jersey girl alone in NYC at midnight.

I climbed into the Isuzu Trooper for an awkward 20-minute ride back to their house. I took my nose ring out of the cigarette pack and played with it. No one said anything.

At their house, I met the rest of the family. His mom looked horrified, and his sister stood by silently, mostly due to her archaic orthodontic headgear making it difficult for her to speak.

Not long after, the doorbell rang. Two men who looked straight out of central casting for “Homicide: Life on the Streets” walked into the kitchen. They introduced themselves as NYPD detectives.

During my absence, my panicked parents had worn down my uncle and discovered where I had gone. My father, being a cop himself, figured the NYPD would be on his side and send out every squad car to look for me. (AMBER alerts had yet to be invented.)

He asked my future mother-in-law to call her local precinct and explain the situation to them. The sergeant on duty told her: “Lady, they’re on a date. If they’re not back by tomorrow, call us then.”

My father learned the harsh lesson that fraternity is often limited by state lines, but he managed to persuade the NYPD to give a tiny shit about his missing daughter and to arrange for an escort home.

The detectives directed me to their unmarked car, and I slipped into the backseat, a metal grate separating us. As we drove toward New Jersey, Munch and Bayliss tried to engage me in conversation.

Intrigued by this growing technology that gave kids new tools to get themselves killed, they asked: “What the fuck were you thinking? He could have been an axe murderer!”

But he wasn’t, I responded.

”But he could have been,” they argued.

We went a few more rounds.

They drove me as far as the New Jersey side of the Goethals Bridge, where state troopers picked me up. They brought me to their station and gave me a turkey sandwich and coffee. I didn’t like coffee at the time, but that little Styrofoam cup had the delicious flavor of freedom and fuck-you-Mom-and-Dad.

At home, my mom chain-smoked her Salems but said nothing as my dad raged and threatened to have me sent to juvenile detention. I laughed. They hid the modem and sent me to my room to think about what I’d done.

And what I’d done was awesome. Not many first dates start with a John Waters movie and end with a police escort, but they’re the kind of the first dates that lead to a 19-year relationship that takes you all the way to Hong Kong.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Handy Guide for Foreigners About Guns in These Glorious United States

Because this blog is primarily about living in Hong Kong and traveling around Asia and my in-laws making my life hell when they visit, I don't want to completely depress readers with a post about the Connecticut school shooting and gun culture in the United States. So, I'm posting it here instead.

I found this outfit at a mall in Bangkok last month, and I regret not buying it because it's the perfect outfit to wear when writing about American politics.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free

A throwaway tweet about a comic I'd only vaguely heard of because of Reddit led to my being listed in a Yahoo article about "9 badass women who are not amused by Daniel Tosh's rape joke." Having once been a journalist, I think I can say with some authority: Tweets are not news or newsworthy, unless said tweet is along the lines of, "Holy shit, I just saw Mitt Romney rip off his face to reveal a robot one under it! Then he said: 'Skynet is online! Prepare to die, humans!'" And only if you verify its authenticity. But, by then, it'll be too late because the war will have already started. In short: Stop quoting tweets, you lazy hacks.

As an American living abroad for nearly six years, I don't make it my job to keep up with the latest in dude-bro culture in the US, and I don't need to because there will always be Lenny Bruce and Howard Stern wannabes trying to recapture their genuine shock value and cultural relevancy despite that boat having sailed years ago. Now, comics like Tosh are just as lazy and hackish as Yahoo writers on a deadline. They don't need to try very hard because the bar has been set so low thanks to the Internet, and I know a thing or two about that because I helped invent online trolling, kids.

It wasn't Tosh's joke that offended me, and I wasn't attacking him or defending the woman in the audience who called him out. What offends me is that so many Americans seem to have no fucking idea what the First Amendment entails. "I can say whatever I want, but you can't say anything negative in response to what I said! That's censorship!"

No, it's not. It's really, really not, you constitutionally ignorant crybabies. Until the government shows up at your door with an arrest warrant for writing such insightful prose as "that unfunny cunt can choke on my dick and then get tit cancer lol" on YouTube, you are not living in some totalitarian gynocracy.

Free speech covers both telling rape jokes and criticizing comedians who tell them. It means politicians being able to say poor people should just crawl off into a ditch and die if they get cancer, and those with even the tiniest shred of human decency left being able to respond, "That's horrible. What the hell is wrong with you?" And when a relative posts a link to the conspiracy theory du jour about Obama working with the Muslim Brotherhood, the UN, Planned Parenthood and Matt Damon to steal our guns and install a caliphate, you're allowed to comment, "Stop smoking bath salts, Grandma."

Free speech is not a one-way street, and censorship is not a private citizen publicly calling you an asshole because she disagrees with your opinion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

tl;dr lol

In 1987, a group of sci-fi writers were asked to make predictions about life in the year 2012. Those predictions were placed in a time capsule, and 25 years later, they've been unsealed. The most prophetic of them all was Gregory Benford, who foresaw a future in which "most Americans are barely literate, think in images rather than symbols..."

To that end, I realize some of my readers aren't... exactly... readers as such. Skimmers, maybe. "Where are the funny Hong Kong pix, bitch?" probably. So, for those with short attention spans, here's my Tumblr about Hong Kong expat life.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mighty Myocardial Infarction Rangers

McDonald's in Hong Kong now offers a cheeseburger topped with a hash brown and bacon. Very clever, America. Make the Chinese too fat to wage war.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What not to wear when sober

I assume he’s accessing government drug-treatment services because you'd have to be high to dress like that. Or, well, I guess just a resident of Hong Kong.

Friday, February 3, 2012

People from Bangkok are called Cockneys

Marriage is about compromise, sacrifice and doing the right thing even when it feels wrong to you. When those building blocks start to crumble and one member of the couple puts individual desires above the marital relationship, you might hear those four words that change everything: “My parents are coming.”

After their last visit, when my mother-in-law loudly proclaimed on a hotel shuttle bus in Macau that “Wow, they have bridges here too!”, I thought I’d convinced my husband that this could never happen again. Compromise. Sacrifice. Doing the right thing, like telling Hong Kong authorities his parents were drug smugglers and thus should be banned from entering the country, even when it feels wrong to you. None of that meant anything to him.

And so it was that on January 19, in the year of our Lord 2012, my in-laws did arrive in Hong Kong from Staten Island, and lo, God did say, “Fuck this shit” and turned the weather cold, dreary and rainy.

For my mother-in-law, every trip is a guilt trip. She brought close to 10 pounds of homemade cookies and assorted gifts that we didn’t ask for but now must somehow make room for in our 780-square-foot apartment, and you know, if we moved back to the US, we’d have so much more space for the babies we should have been having by now.

A point she stressed when she turned to me and...

Mother-in-law: The quality of your eggs goes down a lot after 30. I'm just saying. Me: Didn’t you have [sister-in-law] after you were 30? Mother-in-law: Yes? Me: Oh, well, then I guess you have a point.

As I shoved those pignoli cookies and Russian tea cakes down my gullet and indulged my in-laws in their favorite hobby of watching television crime dramas where everything is inexplicably covered in semen, I realized, “This is really happening” and mentally murdered my husband in about 20 different violent fashions. (Thanks for the tips, “CSI”!)

The next day, we took my in-laws to the Chinese New Year flower market in Victoria Park.

It was a weekday afternoon, so the crowds were still manageable and navigable. Or so I thought. My whiny, cranky, retired-NYC-garbageman father-in-law who finds just about everything displeasing decided there were too many people and threw a passive-aggressive temper tantrum to get us to leave, which we did.

He also decided he didn’t want to take the subway because he was tired of walking, even though we’d taken a taxi to the park from our apartment. The main problem for my father-in-law is that he’s now about 22-months pregnant based on the size of his stomach and that extra load makes it difficult for him to get around.

Given that most foods fall into the category of Displeasing Things for him, I don’t know how he’s managed to acquire this massive amount of weight around his middle. But it’s at the point where I no longer have the Cantonese words to ask for his size in souvenir T-shirts and instead just hold my arms out far from my side and say “Mei gwok yan” (“American”). Then the vendor smiles, nods knowingly, pulls down the stairs to an attic I didn’t know existed, scurries into another dimension and returns about 10 minutes later covered in grime, holding a shirt that could double as a parachute.

So, we took a taxi back to the apartment. Along the way, my mother-in-law made a fascinating observation. She makes lots of observations because she can’t stand the sound of silence and has to fill the void with any nonsensical thought that pops into her head. She also comes up with inane “facts” that are not remotely factual, but somehow, somewhere, she once heard them and, HAND TO GAWD, she knows they're true.

As we drove past a hotel, she turned to me and…

Mother-in-law: Why is that hotel guard wearing a turban? Me: Um, he's a Sikh. Mother-in-law: Ohhh, I thought it was a themed hotel. Me: ...

On Saturday, we left for Bangkok.

The morning of the flight, we took them for a dim sum lunch at a restaurant in Wanchai, where my father-in-law refused to drink the jasmine tea. It’s not like we were trying to get him to chug some 17-herb concoction made with turtle jelly, tiger balls, and fermented panda placentas. But, no, only Lipton tea would ever pass his lips.

Red-blooded Americans being wary of foreign foods they’re not regularly exposed to and that contain exotic ingredients whose flavors are unfamiliar to them, I can deal with and understand, but refusing to drink a tea because it’s not from a Lipton teabag?

At the airport, we stopped for Popeyes because, well, it’s Hong Kong and that’s about the height of culinary excellence here. After biting into her chicken sandwich, my mother-in-law stuck out her tongue, fanned it with her hand and said, “THIS IS SO SPICY. OH MY, GAWD, WHY DIDN’T YOU WARN ME?”

Now, for my Hong Kong readers, to give you even more insight into how ridiculously sensitive my mother-in-law’s tastebuds apparently are, she also said the beef and mushroom pie at The Globe was “too spicy.” She’s like the Princess and the Pepper. She can sense even one flake of black pepper in any dish.

So, imagine my face as I sat in Hong Kong International Airport, looking down the barrel of four days of trying to figure out what the fuck to feed these people in Thailand. I briefly contemplated carrying sippy cups of beer and baggies of Cheerios for them.

Then my mother-in-law turned to me and…

Mother-in-law: You know how people from China are Chinese and people from Japan are Japanese, what are people from Bangkok? Me: Bangkok isn’t a country. Mother-in-law: Right, but what do they call them? Me: Cockneys.

On our first day in Bangkok, we went to the weekend market. The weekend market is spread over an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, and there are thousands of stalls selling everything from handicraft jewelry to survivalist gear to some weird creatures you’re not supposed to feed after midnight.

It was interesting to my father-in-law for about an hour—“I can’t believe I’m drinking American beer in a Thai market while Mexican music is playing”—and then the heat and his weight started to get to him until it culminated with him sitting at an outdoor restaurant’s table with his arms crossed, refusing to eat or drink anything.

He hates all icky "weird" foods, needs frequent naps, throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way and has to stop to shit every few hours. Dealing with my father-in-law in a foreign country has confirmed my decision to never have kids.

Actually, I take that back. At least you can hold the threat of punishment over your child’s head. How do you punish a 63-year-old man? "You better eat all of your spicy Thai soup, mister, or there'll be no Tums and Tucks for you after dinner!" That just doesn’t have the same force behind it.

We left the market soon after and decided we’d spend the evening getting massages at either Urban Retreat or Lavana, the two spas we normally go to because they seem hygienic enough that I don’t feel compelled to spend my entire massage wondering how many penises the woman doing my massage had to touch before rubbing my feet. (One to three is acceptable.)

After booking the appointment, my mother-in-law turned to me and…

Mother-in-law: What kind of massage am I getting? Me: An oil massage. Mother-in-law: Are they going to rub my boobies?

(Yes, reader, they did indeed rub her boobies.)

The plan for Monday was to spend the morning and early afternoon at a cooking school because it would be a brief reprieve from us having to entertain them. That would be the job of a poor Thai instructor who had no idea what he was in for. (Thanks, Kong!)

Before heading to the school, the instructor would take us to a local market to pick up the ingredients and answer any questions we had about Thai food.

Now, the cooking school’s website gave the impression it was located in the same neighborhood as our hotel but didn’t give any indication as to how students would get from the market to the school. I assumed we’d walk, as it didn’t appear to be too far, but I thought they might also use a taxi for tourists not used to walking so much.

Just before we ascended the stairs to the walkway to the other side of the street to meet the instructor, my father-in-law loudly proclaimed that if we couldn’t guarantee we’d be taking a taxi, he was just going back to the hotel. We couldn't. And he did.

Going to a cooking school probably wouldn't have been something I'd have chosen to do on my own, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, and given that I've never once seen my father-in-law even make a PB&J sandwich in the 17 years I've known him, it probably would have been a lot less fun if he had gone.

My mother-in-law, husband and I all cook on a regular basis, so prepping the ingredients wasn't a challenge. The challenge came from figuring out how to make my mother-in-law's penang curry and tom yum soup edible without adding any spicy flavors to them. In the end, her curry and soup looked like a Thai version of New England clam chowder, but she seemed to enjoy them.

While we were cooking, the instructor and I traded war stories about all of the battle scars we've accumulated in the kitchen, with us discovering we both lack feeling in one of our middle fingers due to knife injuries.

After we finished cooking and were sampling our dishes, my mother-in-law turned to me and…

Mother-in-law: How did you get that scar on your fingertip anyway? Me: Cutting a bagel. Mother-in-law: In New York City emergency rooms, they call Sundays “Bagel Day” because of all the knife injuries. Me: I… don’t think that’s true.

The class ended around 1 p.m., and we walked back to the hotel. As we exited the hotel elevator and headed toward my in-laws’ room, we passed my father-in-law in the hallway. “Headin’ to the British pub!” he said.

What did you do all day? we wondered.

“Went for a walk.”

Oh, that’s interesting. You didn’t want to walk to the school, which we ended up taking a taxi to anyway, but you decided to go for a walk to… well, where did you go?

“I ended up in a slum.”

Oh. Really. Tell us more.

“There was a canal and it smelled like piss and shit.”

Hmmm, you didn’t want to walk to the school, so you decided instead to go for a walk to a slum next to a canal that smelled like piss and shit? Well, you certainly showed us.

Our last full day in Bangkok was spent with an English-speaking tour guide named Nook, who managed to not go insane dealing with my in-laws, so I can highly recommend her services. My husband and I didn't think they would appreciate our travel style of just wandering and seeing what we find, and a guide seemed like the best way to a) not have to be the one to answer their questions and b) not have to figure out how to transport them from Point A to Point B with the least amount of whining.

When we exited the van at the Grand Palace, Nook finally took note of my father-in-law's girth and remarked, "Wow, you're a lucky Buddha!" He glared at her and added that comparison  to his list of Displeasing Things. My mother-in-law then spent the rest of the day trying to get him to stand next to fat Buddha statues for a photo, and my father-in-law spent the rest of the day looking like he was wondering if domestic violence is legal in Thailand.

At the palace, my mother-in-law read one of the signs that have both Thai and English writing, turned to me and...

Mother-in-law: That Thai writing is just like what the Filipina girl in my office posts on her Facebook wall. Me: They use the Latin alphabet in the Philippines. Mother-in-law: I don’t think so. Me: Yes, they do. Mother-in-law: Then why do some of her friends post in those squiggly letters? Me: Maybe she’s Thai and you’re just confused. Mother-in-law: No, she’s from the Philippines, but she lived in India for 18 years. Me: …

On Wednesday, we caught an early flight back to Hong Kong, and I spent the rest of their visit pretending I had to do work from home despite it being a holiday but, shhh, I was really just playing Skyrim.

And now I leave you with the sound that I woke up to almost every morning.