Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beijing Opening Ceremony

Well I finally saw the opening ceremony last night, and it was as impressive as everyone keeps telling me. After being a part of a few live events (and a fairly large one mind you), it's breath-taking to see what that production group was able to create. I asked my old boss if the opening ceremony gave him some ideas. He said yes, but they would never ever come close to that kind of budget. I guess he helped create the Atlanta Opening ceremony, but that paled in comparison. And I think every event will pale in comparison after this. What live show will ever get a 100 million dollar budget, over 10,000 volunteer performers, and the visionary talents of one of the worlds most creative cinematic directors Zhang Yimou (Or in Chinese Yimou Zhang. Known for both art and wuxia pien films such as: Raise the Red Lantern, Happy Times, Hero, House of Flying Daggers). I just feel bad for Vancouver and London, they have a pretty high bar set. But as I mentioned in a previous blog I am very excited and proud for the Chinese. I love the people, and I love the country. There were a lot of eyes on this event, and I think China did an excellent job showing the positive attributes that can be found within their nation: hospitality, hard work, pride, community, and family. 

Some other notes:

• Who cares if they digitally enhanced the fireworks. I think that's innovation if you ask me. The artists are given a completely abstract idea and they have to perform it live. Like I always say, "sweeter not harder."

• The boxes were incredible. You know what I'm talking about. 

• China is going to be rolling in the tourist dollars for the next couple of years. Which kind of sucks, cause I want to go back, and now it's going to be very crowded. 

• I don't think that the event ever could happen in a democratic state. Most of those people were volunteers, and just happy to be there. In the US we'd have to worry about unions, they would inflate the budget, yadda yadda yadda. As much as you may dislike communism you have to admit they put on a good show. 

• There was a point where Putin and George Bush seemed to be having a heated argument during the celebrations. Apparently the Australian prime minister leaked that they were talking about the Georgian conflict that happened earlier that week. A) You're a leader of a country. Isn't there some leader code stating that you don't blab things you overhear to the media?  B) I would have loved to hear that conversation, I wonder what it sounded like...

Putin: Evening George. 
Bush: Evening Vlad. 
Putin: Wonderful weather we're having tonight. 
Bush: Yes. Wonderful... Sooooo my sources tell me you invaded Georgia.
Putin: Do we have to talk about this right now? They have a thousand glowing drums playing right now, can't we just enjoy the show?
Bush: Stay the fuck out of Georgia. 
Putin: What did you say? 
Bush: I said stay the fuck out of Georgia. The USSR is dead pal. Dead.
Putin: Listen cowboy, just because Georgia has the first four letters of your name doesn't mean you can dictate your business over there.
Bush: .... (thinks for a little bit)
Putin: You don't even know how to spell your own name do you? 
Bush: That's not the point here Vlad. The point is you're pulling military action on a nation that did not threaten you in any way. 
Putin: Oh, a thousand apologies. We certainly shouldn't attack a country without reason. [cough]  Iraq
Bush: They had weapons of mass destruction.
Putin: [moves hand in a jerking-off motion] Sure George, weapons of mass destruction. 
Bush: You want me to nuke you? Cause I will nuke you, I have the button right here in my pocket. 
Putin: Go for it. We have satellites that will shoot down your puny missile. 
Bush: Oh yeah? Well we have satellites that will shoot down your missile, make a cappuccino, AND send you the Texas Rangers games in HD. 
Putin: Really? You have that? 
Bush: Yeah, it's pretty cool. 
Nicholas Sarkozy: Hey guys, I can't finish this crepe. Either of you want one? 
Bush: What's in it? 
Sarkozy: I think it's an orange and brandy crepe. 
Putin: I'm allergic to oranges.
Bush: Well si vous play. I love crepes. Hey aren't you boycotting this olympics?
Sarkozy: Well, I was going to, but Carla's never been to China, and she kept begging me to reconsider. 
Putin: Ah. Women. 
Bush: Man this is a good crepe. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beijing 2008

I can't believe the Olympics are almost over and I haven't even posted a single blog on them. I love the Olympics. As a kid I had always dreamed of becoming an Olympian. As fate would have it I found a lot of other activities I'd rather explore than to dedicate myself wholly to a single sport. The Olympics lost some respect from me in Athens when the horde of drug accusations tarnished the some of the sports. I also have never liked the American-centric coverage that TV seems to do on the Olympics. I feel like unless the US has a chance at winning the gold medal you won't see it on TV. Granted this makes sense. No one goes to watch someone else child play baseball. But I think the point of the Olympics is watch the world come together in friendly competition and not just root for your home country (although I do love myself a good 'ole USA!' chant now and then). 

In my jiu-jitsu class there are a handful of foreign students ranging from Mexican, to Japanese, to Korean. While most of them know English, for the most part it's only a spatter of English. While we can't always find the right words to communicate we both know the rules of jiu-jitsu, and there is no linguistic barrier that blocks us from that. When one of us does a good escape or a quickly applied submission we both look at each other, smile and bow, a universal code of respect. To me that is what the Olympics are about. Overcoming differences and coming together in the name of compassion through friendly competition. I think it's one of the many  amazing things sports can do. 

Some other thoughts on this years Olympics thus far:
• I haven't seen the opening yet, but I really need to check it out. I've heard nothing but amazing things about it, and seeing that I might be floating into the live events business it's probably a good thing to see. 

• Michael Phelps has gills. The man is incredible. Nuff said. 

• Usain Bolt has quicksilver for blood. The man is incredible. He blew the world record away by .03 seconds. Sure that doesn't sound like a lot, but in the 100m that is HUGE. Not only that, but he did it as he danced the last 5 meters. It blows my mind how much bigger and stronger our race is becoming over the years. You wonder what the record will be in another 10 years. And furthermore, is there a limit to how strong and fast our bodies are capable of becoming? 

• Olympic boxing is boring. I don't like the points scoring system. To me it looks very sloppy, and just a quick fluttering of punches. They bob in, punch punch punch, then bob out. I like the slower methodical rules in normal boxing. 

• China is by every right winning the Olympics. I know they show medal count, but I think Golds count three times as much as Bronze. I think it's great that the Chinese athletes are stepping up on the world stage and bringing pride to their country.

• Watching the weight lifters scares me. It blows my mind how they can lift that much weight and not destroy themselves. 

• Where is the wrestling and judo? I feel like I never see any of the sports I want when I turn on the TV.

• Every Olympics I learn of a new sport I never even knew existed. C2 (canoeing races), Handball, and this year synchronized diving. Such a pretty sport, and I'm in awe at how they can get all of the rotating and flipping together. 

• I have a new respect for Dressage. Those horses are freaking incredible. How do you train a horse to stutter step like that? Or trot sideways? 

• So Japan beat the US in softball. Their first loss since 2000! A tough way to go out, but it's good to see other nations becoming stronger in softball. 

• BMX bike racing had it's debut. It's interesting to see what sports are added to the list, and which ones are taken away. One could argue that the ideology of the world could be reflected in the Olympic sports selection. One could argue, but I won't here. It'd take too long. 

• And finally, I want to congratulate Benjamin Boukpeti of Togo, for winning his countries first medal. He won bronze in the kayak slalom event. I happened to see it on TV, and it was amazing to see his excitement (Upon winning he broke his paddle on his kayak). That is also what the Olympics about. It's not just about winning gold, beating records, and winning medal counts. It's about third place, it's about being able to compete at all. It's about having a small never-heard-of-before country placed on the same platform as world superpowers, there for the entire world to see. Sport is a reflection of the possibility of greatness found within the human race. We're all born with potential, and through hard work, determination, and dreams we can achieve anything. 

Saturday, August 16, 2008

East Coast Tour '08: Final Stretch-NYC

Kind of silly I should be writing this post back in LA. But I suppose I can't go back to NYC and write this post. Anyhoo...

After an extremely slow morning (thanks to the lemonchello shots and late night tequila shot no doubt) I made my way out onto the streets to walk to South Station to catch my train to NYC. I made a quick stop by a local deli to get an Italian sub, which was recommended by my friend. One cool thing about the Northend is that it's pretty much little Italy. All around the neighborhood you see Italian flags flying at all hours and old Italian men coupled off on outdoor benches. Even the winding cobbled streets and red brick buildings are more reminiscent of an European town than an American capital. The little shop I got my sandwich in even offered olive oil in a gigantic drum, where you could bring your own receptacle and fill it up for your personal use at home.

Walking towards the bus station the sky began to open up with a summer shower. I accepted the rain, I missed it. I strolled along as others ran by me with umbrellas and tented newspapers. I was completely content with getting wet, literally soaking in the weather changes I miss so much being out west. I hopped on my train (no lateness this time!) and sped off towards the Big Apple. Upon arriving I met my good friend at a bar and we caught up. It's always a little awkward when I don't have time to stash my gigantic rolling bag at a friends place when I go out. I feel like a hobo strolling about. But at the same time I love the freedom I have. It's like I could venture anywhere and still have enough to wear that I could attend any occasion, play any game, or even hunker in and do some reading/writing. So after more drinks with another friend I ventured to my new home/couch at my friends place downtown in Stuyvesant Plaza. Even though it was a school night for her she stayed up with me and we caught up.

The next day I met up with two friends and we went to check out the Met. It had been sometime since I visited, so it was nice to get reacquainted with it. I had been going to the Museum for class trips ever since I was a wee pup, so it's almost like an old friend at this point. It was under renovation, so it had some blemishes, but it was still as beautiful as ever. I think you appreciate art and culture so much more when you're older, so it was great to be able to revisit all of the exhibits. Afterwards we ventured into central park and wandered about its lush grounds. My brother and I had wandered about the same section about a year or so ago, so it was nice to see the development of the park. An area called "The Brambles" (I am 80% sure), where winding paths stitch through the thickest parts of the park. Tall trees and shrubs hide unseen wildlife at every corner. There were also a few boulders and rocks calling to be climbed. I love central park. I think if I lived in the city I would probably visit it every day. It's the perfect kind of Northeast nature that I grew up in. Climbing it's trees, walking over fallen leaves and listening to the twigs snap under my feet. I love it.

I then followed my friend back to his home in Queens, and we hung out for a bit. For all of the bad things you hear about Queens I love it. He lives in the Northern part, called Astoria. It's a cute little brick-house lined neighborhood occupied mostly by Greek inhabitants. After spending a bit of time in Queens I ventured back into Manhattan and went out with my friends. Pretty much your typical Manhattan night: a lot of fun. I'm sure the fact you can hail a taxi anywhere helps, but people in New York go out much harder than their Western counter-parts.

The next morning I woke up and prepared myself for the three-day music festival I was about to partake in. I was a bit late getting to the festival (for some reason I was not feeling 100% that morning...), but I still got to see the main bands I had highlighted on my schedule. These included CSS (Cansei De Ser Sexy, an amazingly energetic Brazilian band who's name means "tired of being so sexy"), Underworld, and Radiohead. CSS was as awesome as ever. They had two fluorescent clad back-up dancers this time around. While they seemed more like throw-backs from an eighties work-out video, they added a lot of fun and energy to an already dynamic performance. Underworld was good, they played a lot more songs that I knew than I thought they would. Of course they played 'Born Slippy' (which everyone in the audience called 'that song from Trainspotting'), but they also played 'King of Snake' which I loved as a kid. And then Radiohead of course rocked out. They're an incredible experience live. I can't even explain, you just have to see them. Even though I was exhausted from dancing and festivaling I soldiered up and headed back into town to see my friends in Manhattan. I good friend from high-school was leaving town the next day, so I felt somewhat obligated to go and hang out.

The next day I head back out into the festival, this time seeking out the Felice Brothers, The Kings of Leon, The Roots, and Radiohead. The Felice Brothers might have been my favorite of the day. You may have remembered I wrote about them not so long ago, so I was pumped to see them live, and they didn't disappoint. Their fiddle-player went back and for from fiddle to wash board. Their keyboard player from organ to accordion, and their drummer from single drum in hand to a three-drum two-cymbal drum kit. And they all played with same energy of us dancing in the audience. Their studio album certainly doesn't do their live show justice, and I once again urge you to check them out. Kings of Leon again rocked it. Still one of my favorite bands. They played the three songs I really wanted to hear ('Taperjean Girl', 'Milk', and 'Fans'), along with some new tracks which is always nice. Aside from it being incredibly crowded it was a great show, another band you need to see live before you die. Afterwards I again headed into the city.

The last day of the show I went with some friends of mine, which made the whole show much more fun. I'm completely fine going to shows by myself, but it's always more fun when you can share experiences with others. After some bloody marys on the mainland we got onto the ferry and headed over. It was sprinkling as we boarded, so we all got a bit damp. The energy from the storm also caused a bit of static electricity, so all of the girls hair began to stick straight up into the air, it was pretty crazy. As we walked towards the venue the sky opened up, and the warm summer rain came down, and again I welcomed it with open arms. Getting onto the grounds it certainly added an element of Woddstockism to the venue. The rains washed away the crowds, and we sprinted over to see Rodrgio y Gabriela, who were AMAZING. While they were only two guitar players, they blew my mind away. Definitely someone you need to see live (to get an idea check out this video). After them we spent a lot of wet time in the beer garden chatting and being silly. We then ventured back out to see Ben Harper, a lil' bit of Trey Anestasio (who pulled out two Phish songs, 'First Tube' and 'Farmhouse'), and Jack Johnson. All pretty amazing. It was a very successful show all in all.

So my last few days I met up with my cousin, checked out the Museum of Sex, saw a Mets game with my friend, and had some final drinks with some of my friends. Sorry to rush through the last parts here, but I know you are all probably done reading about my adventures, if you're still reading this.

Anyhow, so here I am. Back in Californi-A. I'll have to blog some more thoughts at a later time. And get back to normal blogging. I'm not sure how I like blogging about my travels. I'm sure it's good to have my friends and family see my ventures, and it'll be nice to be able to reminisce at some point down the line. But I'm not sure this is why I've started blogging.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

East Coast Tour '08: Boston Leg

New York was great. It was great to see everyone, and it was amazing to be in a city that I love. While there are still a lot of friends I want to see in New York, it would have to wait as I had to continue on my travels and head to Boston.

My trip to Boston started on a sour note. After stewing whether to take the Fung Wah bus or an Amtrak train ($15 versus $89), I decided to take the more expensive, but more comfortable decision. They both would take four hours, but I figured I could get some writing in on the train. So lucky me, when I arrived at Penn station I noticed mine was the only train late on the track. So after a ridiculously expensive burger, 4 innings of a Yankees game, and three chapters in my book later the train arrived, and I sluggishly railed it to Boston.

Arriving in town I hastily nabbed a cab and dropped my stuff off at my friends house, then met them out on the town. They took me to this cool hotel that just opened. It was an old jailhouse converted into a hotel, so black iron prison bars decorated the random corners of the building. It was a fun night of reuniting and revelry, capped with some late late night Wii bowling. I always have a good time with my friends in Boston. Oddly, I feel like I've gotten closer to them after college than when we were in college. My old wrestling friend in particular. I can remember on snowy day where I had a flight detoured into Boston, and I called him last minute at about 8AM. He was more than happy to come pick me up, he skipped work, and we spent the day touring about Boston. I think that's the test of a true friend, someone who will drop everything for an adventure. 

The next day my friend and I headed to Fenway Park to get some drinks and watch the game. I had never been to the park before, so it was cool to check it out. Aside from all of the Red Sox fans and Red Sox paraphernalia it was a pretty place. It was very cool to se how vastly different it was from Yankees Stadium. Boston certainly loves their baseball. The East Coast in general loves baseball, but it's much more universal in Boston. You can walk down the city streets, and at all times you will see someone with a Red Sox hat or shirt. Every single store window has at least one piece of news showing the most recent team headlines. You could walk twenty city blocks and catch the entire game, whether it's through TVs or Radios, because everyone in Boston is always playing the game. It's cool to see a city so taken by their sports teams. 

On Monday I walked a bit of the freedom trail. A brick lined path that goes about Boston and stops by various landmarks of the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere's House, the church where he hung the lantern warning the minute of the English attack, old cemeteries. After that I ventured out to check out the Museum of Fine Arts. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw it, but the entire place had this air of nostalgia hanging throughout the halls. My favorite pieces were from the Egyptian and Greek sections. I've always loved Greek Mythology, and being able to recognize the pieces always makes things more enjoyable. I wish I could visit the museum with an art history friend of mine. I do love artwork, but I feel like I don't appreciate it as much as I could, for my art history knowledge is not quite up to par (my par at least). After the Museum a friend of mine got out of work and we met up to get drinks. We walked about, then decided to try to drive back to the North End. Very quickly I remembered how much Boston's roadways suck. My friend told me how Boston was voted the "most walkable city," while I think it's just another way to say the "least drivable city." The story I heard was that a drunk Irishman rode on a donkey and randomly pointed out the ways the roads should go. Which is the only reason why there are no lane markers, and a giant horse-shoe shaped road that sends you directly back from the direction you were coming from. After some drinks another friend of mine met up with us, and we all headed to get dinner. Pizza of course. She brought her new boyfriend who I got to meet, which was very nice. It's always nice when your friends meet good people for significant others. It brings a smile to my face, it's just nice to know someone out there loves and respects them as they should be loved and respected. 

After dinner I headed back out into town to meet another friend for drinks. I was pretty exhausted, but being in town for such a brief period forced me to cram in as many visits as I could. Plus this was a friend from middle-school, which is always fun to see. It's so crazy to meet those you've known for so long, since you were both under 5 foot nothing. To see how you both have grown-up from when you were little. 

Tuesday, my last day in town, I walked the harbor walk all the way around to the new Institute of Contemporary Arts. It's a beautiful new building, perched right off the Boston Harbor. There is certainly a lot of contemporary art I don't like, but there was this exhibit by Anish Kapoor that was incredible. These tall finely polished sculptures that made these illusions as you walked about them. You couldn't tell if parts were convex or concave, and you couldn't tell where it began and where it ended. An amazing collection, and I highly recommend checking it out if you're in the area, or if you ever get to see his work. The other galleries were impressive, but my favorite part was the Kapoor exhibit by far. Once the museum gets more work in there I think it'll be an amazing addition to the cultural life of Boston. 

After heading back into town I hung out with my friend, and waited for an old high school buddy to meet me for some drinks and dinner. We had some great conversation over calzones and lemoncello shots. Having a fun time we extended the night. Walking the brick streets of the Northend, taking more lemoncello shots, popping into various bars, and waxing philosophic on relationships, morality, and cultural barriers. For a non-philosophy major I was very impressed with my friend's knowledge on the topic. It was a good night, and very good to see my old friend again. 

The next day I packed my gear and took off to New York, quickly grabbing an Italian sub from a place my friend recommended down the street. This time my train was on time, and I quickly arrived to New York. So here I am, spending the last few days here in the city. It's going to be a pretty crazy time. I have three big days of a music festival in front of me, and I've already spent a lot of energy on late nights. I'm looking forward to the music, but I'm sure my body is looking forward to a rest. Anyhow, I'll power through. Five more days...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

East Coast Tour '08: NYC 1st Leg

Continuing on my travels, I’ve recently taken a small excursion to the East Coast. I have most of my friends and family there, so I try to make it back at least once a year whenever I can. Here is a brief log of my travels thus far.

After a long flight (and dodging an earth quake by only a few hours), I arrived at my Uncle’s place, and he greeted me with a smile and a glass of Cabernet. I dropped off my bags and surveyed the apartment. It was beautiful. It’s on the 23rd floor, over-looking central park. The building itself is a large red stone mammoth made up of multiple circular shaped segments. It used to be a hospital back when they believed that germs were the cause of all ailments, and since germs congregated in corners they built the hospital devoid of corners. I stayed in for the night with some Chinese delivery, gazing across the night city skyline and reading my book.

The next day I went to a jiu-jitsu class at Renzo Gracie’s Academy in Mid-town. My master has his black belt under hi and attended his Academy when he lived in the city, so I thought I would see where he learned his technique. I got there early, so I killed some time venturing about Madison Square Garden (where you can actually hear the sucking sound that the Knicks make). Aside from getting dropped on my head a few times by a black belt and slightly injuring my shoulder it was a great class. I learned some tricky new takedowns, and some alternate finishes for my arm-bar. All-in-all a good class.

That night I had a very nice dinner with my cousins and my Uncle at “Wolfgang’s Steakhouse” (not to be confused with Wolfgang Puck apparently). It’s always nice to go to dinner with my Uncle. He’s quite the foodie, and has impeccable culinary taste. Afterwards my cousin and I went back to her place and shared conversation and a glass of wine on the rooftop of her new apartment. My best friend later met up with me, and we got more drinks at an Irish pub and caught up. A night full of good family time and conversation, it was very nice.

The next day I woke and ventured to the Museum of Natural History. My earliest memory of the city is when my Mom brought me into the city and took me to the Natural History museum. I was a huge dinosaur fan, and she took me to check out the dinosaur exhibit there. I remember clutching a tiny plastic brontosaurus on the subway, and having my first wonderful experience with pastrami and carrot cake. The museum was amazing, and I wish I had more time to explore the halls. I have a “bad” habit of wanting to read all of the information at museums, and before I knew it I was running late for meeting my friend.

We met up and went to an awful Yankees game. I had to check out at least one game in their final season, but it was not very good at all. Petite got laced with three three-run homers, and the Yankees bats were anemic. The next day was spent getting more drinks and seeing more people. Including a patio for drinks, and then some bar hopping that night. It was great to see everyone, but there are still a bunch of people I didn’t get to meet up with, and hopefully I’ll be able to see them on my second leg in NYC.

Right now I’m on a (late) train to Boston, and getting excited to get rowdy with some Bostonians. More adventures to come…