Monday, October 18, 2010

Vampire Weekend in St. Louis

I recently went to a Vampire Weekend show at the Chaifetz Arena on St. Louis University campus. I had only first heard of the band a week before going to the show, so I didn't have much background information. They have a very unique sound and the show was entertaining. A review of the show in the St. Louis weekly paper Riverfront Times begins "It's extremely difficult to write about a band that does everything right", so that is some indication that it was liked by those with tastes more refined than my own.

At a point early in the show someone in the back of the crowd started whipping glow sticks in big bunches through the air. I assumed that this was part of the show (the reviewer thought it was just a generous fan). Either way the effect of everyone waving them around was cool.

After the show I acquired the band's two albums at a little known place called "the Internet". They also have a few music videos, with "Giving up the Gun" being by far the nicest. It's the best video I've seen in some time, and I've watched it several times already. The song has some cool Japanese influences and has an all-star cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Joe Jonas, and Lil John.

This one has nowhere near the production value of that previous, but it does have a good energy to it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Going to Washington, D.C.

I haven't been doing too much that I think is worth writing about lately. Currently two part time jobs and applying to MBA schools is taking up the majority of my time, but tomorrow I'm finally doing something exciting! I'll be in Washington, D.C. for about a week.

This is my third time over there and I've already got many of the monuments and museums out of the way, so maybe this time I can experience a bit more of the city proper. I'm looking forward to some ethnic cuisine and some quality exploring. The description of DC on wikitravel is pretty awesome: "[DC] has a collection of free, public museums unparalleled in size and scope throughout the history of mankind, and the lion's share of the nation's most treasured monuments and memorials. The vistas on the National Mall between the Capitol, Washington Monument, White House, and Lincoln Memorial are famous throughout the world as icons of the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation." Sounds pretty epic. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Next Level Beats

My friend Seago has introduced me to some interesting music videos. A couple of them are rap videos with the requisite bad language and sexual themes, so don't watch them at work or you will probably have to go to jail for blowing your coworkers' minds. The main theme that strings the following four videos together is that it's hard to tell if the artists are serious.

The first group I present is Die Antwoord, which apparently means "the answer" in Afrikaans (google translate thinks it means "the reply", but whatever. These guys hail from South Africa. I'm not going to try to describe them or compare these people to anything. There's no point.

This video has some dancing in it that I wish I could emulate.

Another video from Die Antwoord.

I'm pretty sure that Jack Parow here is also South African. He raps while switching between English and Afrikaans, and his way of speaking makes it hard to sometimes tell which is which. His little gimmick is a hat with a cartoonishly long bill. Is he serious? I'll let you decide. He sounds good though.

This is some weird 80's synth pop group called Bronski Beat. I include them only because this song is referenced in the first video I posted by Die Antwoord.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Beware the Prickly Pear

I was recently browsing in the produce section of my local Meijer store, and after grabbing the usual grapes and oranges I had a quick peak at the "weird" stuff section. You know, the little area with the odd coconut, pomegranate, or starfruit; the stuff you may have heard of but still don't buy too often. Well they had something I'd never tried before: prickly pears!

I've never even seen these things sold anywhere, so I just jumped right in. Didn't know how they are eaten, or what a good one looks like, so I just started squeezing them and giving them a good looking over. They were 3 for $2, so I did a good amount of fruit moving around. I put the three winners in a provided plastic bag and that was that.

But, these little guys aren't called prickly pears because they used to be prickly. This diabolical plant has two types of spines. The big mean ones are removed by the pear technicians, but there are also very fine, transparent, hairlike spines to deal with. These detach and become embedded in the skin. So after touching countless of the little things, my hands were covered in little bits of pain. It was like having 15 or so splinters at the same time. I definitely looked like someone to avoid, walking around a supermarket, staring intently at my own contorted hands and mumbling painful expressions to myself. I got most of them out, but I'm typing this with a band-aid on one finger. Shouldn't those things have a warning label or something?

Well in case anyone would like to have a little taste test at home, if you avoid hurting yourself you've won most of the battle. Peeling and eating the fruit is pretty straightforward.

How to eat a prickly pear:

The culprit. Use a rag or gloves or something while cutting to avoid being poked a bunch by invisible pricklies.

First cut off either end of the fruit to get rid of the stem and other inedibles.

Then make a slight cut towards the center, and simply peel the rind off of the fruit with your hand. It separates easily.


The fruit is nice and juicy. There are seeds throughout but they are edible. It has a bit of a watermelon sort of taste.

Prickly pear fun fact: the eagle eating a snake on the flag of Mexico is perched on a prickly pear cactus. The legend is that the Aztecs built their capital city of Tenochtitlan at its location because they were told to look for the eagle by the god Huitzilopochtli(whose name is hereby declared unpronounceable). Tenochtitlan(present day Mexico City) literally means "the place of the cactus fruit" (source here).

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Colombian Candy Bars

While I write a bit more on Colombia, I thought this was worth sharing by itself.

The name of this delicious Nestle treat is Beso de Negra, or "Black Kiss" according to Google Translate. The African American woman pictured blowing a kiss on the wrapper is a bit risque by American standards. I think it's a nice little illustration of how race is treated differently in other countries. The treat is like a chocolate covered marshmallow atop a cookie. The tagline is "delicious chocolate flavor... delicious cookie".

Here is a much more attractively named ripoff of Baby Ruth sold in Colombia: Baby Johnny's!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Rail Line to Machu Picchu Destroyed by Floods

There aren't a lot of pictures to show of my current adventures, which include job hunting and MBA night classes, but I've still got a few little things up my sleeve.

In the mean time, I've been following the dramatic events in Peru. Haiti is obviously where the world's attention is rightly focused at the moment, but many of the areas I visited just a few months ago have been destroyed by heaving rains and mudslides. The PeruRail line I traveled on from Cusco to Aguas Calientes was damaged to the point that the nearly 1,300 tourists that had come to see Machu Picchu needed to be airlifted out.

As the train is the only way for tourists to get to Machu Picchu aside from mountain hiking, the city of Aguas Calientes is being evacuated of its residents as well. With tourism at zero for the near future, there's no money coming in and no reason to stay.

BBC News reported that "some tourists had to rely on locals for food after cash machines dried up and prices for some goods soared."

An MSNBC blurb on the evacuations.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Moray and My Last Days in Peru

The latest installment of my month in South America.

I last left off while enjoying the view from the top of Inca ruins in Ollaytantambo. I trod back down the numerous stone stairs and explored a bit more of the city below. The patchwork of souvenir stands looked pretty basic from above with rusted metal coverings exposed to the sky, but on ground level there was some fun stuff to look at.

Its funny because I love markets to death, but I don't ever buy very much. For me, it's the colors and sounds, the fast paced atmosphere, and the people watching that necessitates a trip to the market.

I was very tempted to pick up one of these dancing terrorist clown masks, but I knew there was no possible way I would ever wear it in public.

My least favorite souvenir from the trip. The bites weren't from mosquitoes because whatever it was left an open wound that then scabbed up. Not only did it look awful but it was quite scratchy.

Here I walked into an amusing scene. Someone apparently saw a big fish swimming through some sort of a drainage ditch. A group of locals was very interested in catching this fish, but the little guy was too smart so he stopped swimming while in a part of the ditch that was covered by pavement. With 5-8 people excitedly talking about the fish and holding a bucket or something to catch it in, a little girl threw rocks into the large ditch opening to scare the fish towards the waiting group. It was great entertainment.

Ollantaytambo was the starting point of the most interesting little journey of my time in Peru. If I had been alone, I most definitely would have simply hired a ride from one of the many cabbies constantly harassing me. Angelica's Spanish ability really shined at this point. She asked around and got us a ride on the public transportation of the area, a cramped little van.

This was super cool. Until this point I was in places that, while interesting, were pretty usual places for tourists to go. Here we rode on several little buses and vans to get to our destination, and it really started to feel like an adventure. There were no other tourists around, and a ride cost (if I recall correctly) like 25 cents. I love sort of seeing a small peak in the lives of average people from other places, and this was it.

It was funny, because I had only been out of Japan less than a month. In Japan, I experienced many instances where locals would avoid sitting next to "foreigners" on the train. In Peru it was pretty close to the opposite. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like people I met on my little expedition here had no issue squeezing into the seat next to me. One person on a jam-packed bus was practically sitting on my lap.

One time I will never forget was sitting next to an older man with a worn face. He talked to me in high speed Spanish until the van came to his stop. I understood maybe one out of 50 words that he said, but that didn't seem to bother him. He would pause, I would say something so painfully basic like "Do you live in Cusco?", and he would start back up again, probably giving some philosophical excellent answer to my question. Angelica, who had previously interjected in moments like this, didn't say a word. I'm sure she was laughing to herself.

Our game of musical vans brought us to this little bus station. I bought a Gatorade from a couple of very cute kids running a snack stall. They were very good salesmen.

Many of the sodas sold in Peru still use returnable bottles. These dead soldiers are a couple of my favorites, Fanta and Inca Kola, which is a fruity Peruvian soda.

This Gran Mustafa chocolate covered marshmallow bar is made by the Peruvian candy company Winter's. I think it's interesting that although Colombia and Peru border each other and are both small relative to the US, their candy, beer, and snack selection seemed like it didn't overlap much at all. There were certain industries that felt pretty nationalistic down there, but whether that is due to consumer preference or some sort of government intervention I don't know.

This little ad on the side of an ice cream freezer is a good example. It reads "experience the Peruvian flavor". I think it's interesting because I don't often see these sorts of patriotic appeals in American food advertising.

Our public transporting took us to this little three walled, bus stop in the middle of nowhere, also known as Maras. Here Angelica's bargaining skills were put to the test.

There were only two cars nearby. This really felt like swinging from one vine before we could see the next. What if there hadn't been anyone waiting here to pick people up? My cellphone didn't work, and there was no other evidence of the presence of humanity in sight. And we still got a good price. Baller.

We stopped as the road was engulfed by a funeral procession. Notice many of the women wearing the tall hats. No one in the city wore this sort of dress. An excellent reason to go to the country.

As we drove, the road became more basic, and the scenery more beautiful.

We were forced to a stop by livestock crossing the road several times.

Our destination was Moray, an Inca ruin thought to be an agricultural testing ground. "A series of inscrutable ringed terraces sculpted in the earth, the deep-set bowls formed an experimental agricultural center to test new crops and conditions. The different levels produce microclimates, with remarkable differences in temperature from top to bottom," reads an article in the New York Times.

We walked down into the rings to check things out, although honestly it all looked much cooler from above. I haven't been able to find a reliable reference, but Moray's wikitravel page hypothesizes that the Inca might have used their superior knowledge of seed technology to entice neighbors into peacefully joining the empire. A bit of Inca imperial soft power.

There wasn't much in terms of amenities at the site, but who cares?

We hired the same guy that drove us from the bus stop to drive us back to civilization. Not only was that probably an excellent bit of work for him, but his family could ride in to town on the gas I was paying for.

So we stopped at his house and picked up his wife and daughter.

Somewhere during my numerous transactions I was passed a Peruvian nuevo sol note that had a bit of tape on it. It was worth a significant amount, because I bought Angelica and I some last snacks with it the night before we were due to leave the country. We were out of the store and in another store several doors down when the shopkeeper found us. He was holding that nasty bill and asking for different payment, because he was sure that one was fake. Fake? Wow. I'd never had that happen before. I futiley tried to get rid of the crumbled paper once more before heading back to the hotel. Dirty taped bill in hand, I decided that Peru had given me this fake money, and before I left Peru was going to take it back.

But we had an early flight back to Colombia, and few chances to buy anything along the way. The next morning Angelica and I packed up our bags and paused at the front desk for check out and payment. Most people pay for hotels with credit cards, but today I was paying in cash. I handed the man at the front desk a small stack of money for the hotel, a mixture of both soles and dollars. He counted the money slowly, probably calculating the exchange rate simultaneously. Angelica and I both glanced at eachother nervously. Was this going to work? "Wait a minute. This one won't do. I need a different note," said the man at the desk. I thought the ruse had failed, but no! The man was holding one of the US twenties I had given him. "The bank won't take them if the edges are torn," pointing to a tiny little ruffle in the paper. I quickly retrieved the newest, crispest 20 I could find. He said that we were settled, and Angelica and I quickly and quietly walked out the door.

Amusingly, according to this Reuters video, Colombia once accounted for 70% of the world's counterfeit US currency, but crackdowns there have caused the printing business to move to Peru.

Go check out Peru. It's a nice place.