Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Boar

I'm on the Hawaiian island of Oahu visiting my uncle for spring break. He lives near the main city of Honolulu on the southeastern shore, about a mile from the beach up a verdant canyon. The street he lives on is the furthest one up the canyon wall on this side, so his backyard is essentially wilderness. It's a really gorgeous place where it rains a few minutes a day and usually stays above 70, even at night. Needless to say, it's a perfect place for a break.

My activities here so far have been pretty laid back. I've spent a lot of time playing with my uncle's Korg Kaoss Pad, which is basically a touchpad synthesizer/sampler, loopdigging through my music. A couple of days ago we took a day trip to Kauai and saw some of the famous vistas. Trips to the beach have been interspersed throughout. I expected to spend the rest of my time here doing the same sorts of things, ironing out the stress I have accumulated recently.

But then something funny happened. Last night, a little after sundown, my uncle's next door neighbor Kono came over. He's a warm and funny guy with a Hawaiian accent and a goatee. He told us that he saw a boar in the upper part of his backyard eating some food he left out for it. He told us that he snuck into his house, grabbed his crossbow, came back outside and shot it. Kono said he got it square in he shoulder, but it ran off up the hill. He asked us to help him look for it, as the brush was pretty thick up there. We immediately agreed.

I got my boots on and grabbed a flashlight and a machete. Kono estimated that the boar was over 100 pounds, and a boar of that size can do a lot of damage. We hiked up the steep incline about 10 yards until we reached a large path that ran parallel to the street. There were about five of us, and we split up to look for a trail of any kind. For about ten minutes, none of us could find anything. All of a sudden, my uncle called out to us. He found a small spot of blood on a rock a little further up the hill. Three of us went up the hill directly from that spot, including me. I was following a trail obviously made by animals through the thick brush, and decided to get on my hands an knees. 10 yards up from the parallel path, I found it.

The boar was clearly dead. I saw it through what was essentially a tunnel through the brush, formed by weeks of animals' use. Its hair was dark with some silver tinges in places, and no wound was visible. I called out to the others that I had found it once I was sure, and Kono came running. He grabbed the beast by its hind leg and dragged it into the open. He rolled it over and exposed the arrow, buried almost to the feathers. Kono's face lit up: "Hooooooo. Look at the size of him." And with good reason. The boar must have been over 130.

We worked it down to the open space of the path, and Kono found a good rock to pose the animal on. Then he chopped down a length of some tree, and quickly whittled down a 3 inch stick. He pulled open the jaws and stuck the stick in to prop them open. Then he posed the pig with some rocks, and we took some pictures. Once the photoshoot was over, Kono proceeded to gut the animal. He did it quickly with only a few cuts, his hands protected by latex gloves. Two of the four razors that made up the arrow point sheared off in the boar, so he had to be especially careful. Once the animal was gutted, he tied some rope around the back legs and the snout, and carried the boar with his friend down to his backyard. He found a branch of a tree that suited him, and tied the boar snout down to it.

At this point I decided to go home. Kono told us he would skin the boar, then butcher it and debone it in preparation for smoking. His friend has a smoker built in his back yard, and it can be done in less than 48 hours. I thanked him for the adventure, and headed to bed. All I could think about as I drifted to sleep was how good the smoked boar was going to taste. About a month ago, me and some friends got together and ordered a suckling pig, around 30 pounds, and roasted it in a backyard. That was absolutely delicious, and I can only imagine this will be better. I'll let you know.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Quick One While It's Away

I find it somewhat funny that I can feel guilty about not writing in something that nobody reads anyway. It's as though writing in here is a continuous investment of some sorts, but I don't know what I am hoping to get out of it in the end. Sometimes, like now, it is just a nice activity to let my brain decompress between studying, gritting my teeth because I can't remember how to solve a differential equation, and shooting off terse emails to my professor who I've never actually met.

I'm in the North Reading Room in our main library. It's a huge cavernous space that echoes more than anywhere I have ever been. This makes people especially silent, and on a relatively clear day like today the big windows let a lot of light in. I like that. It took me a while to realize it, but florescent lights drive me crazy. Most of our library is underground and that awful unnatural florescent color pervades every nook. The problem is that I have a very tough time putting my nose to the grindstone when the sun is up, so most of my work gets done under those demon lamps in the wee hours of the morning. This dilemma haunts my every step. It's a really tragic catch-22 that will likely end up costing me thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in therapy at some point in the future.

Well, back to work now. I have to read Macbeth and the sun is already starting to set. Thanks a lot, Daylight Savings.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Settled In

Being back home is strange and wonderful and all kinds of other shit simultaneously.

In some ways things went right back to normal as though I had never left, but other things are new and different. I'm in a new house with old friends, and am recently (painfully) aware of how little time is left for me here at Berkeley. I am going to try to get more out of this semester by managing my time better and seeing more of my friends more often.

With classes, research, and a job, it can be difficult to find enough time for anything else. Tons of students here, especially in the scientific majors, only spend their time studying. Not only do I think that's unhealthy, but it's also a total waste of a perfectly good college experience. I will leave Berkeley knowing that I could have gotten some better grades had I spent more time in the library. I'll also know that what I got in return for that sacrifice was completely worth it. I probably won't get into the very best medical schools, but the limited social life I have has kept me sane and centered.

Basically, it's going to be a bitching semester.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I am currently flying over Iowa on my way to LAX. I was in JFK for a bit of a layover, but now it's the real home stretch. The last 36 hours have been hectic, boring, and painful all at the same time. I do not recommend dragging 80 kilos of luggage around the Paris metro system, in case you were thinking about it. I booked this flight so long ago that I had no idea where I was going to be right now. It turned out that I would be back in Leiden, outside Amsterdam, where my two traveling buddies have been living this semester. I was very close to splurging and changing my flight to be out of Amsterdam, but I didn't. Stupid decision. J. Alexander was on my flight from Paris though. I was pretty close to asking him something ridiculous and out of the blue like, "Does my ass look fat in these jeans?" but I didn't.

I can't be upset at the moment though. I have WiFi on my flight, and I am Going to California for the first time in almost six months, and there is a 3x3 animal style, fries, and a coke waiting for me at the In-N-Out near LAX. I have definitely have missed my favorite California food more than anything else. Is that bad?

I was informed (warned?) by my abroad program that there are two kinds of culture shock that people tend to experience when they live in another country for an extended amount of time. There is the shock of arriving in a foreign land, not knowing the people and the customs, and having to figure everything out on your own. It's frustrating, annoying, and eye-opening. After a month of Denmark I was settled. I never ceased to be annoyed with little things like how everything is closed on Sunday, but I adapted for the most part with no problem.

The second kind of culture shock is supposed to hit when you go home. Apparently a lot of people have such a fantastic time during their program that going home just sucks. This happened to my cousin when he went to Barcelona a few years ago. I have a feeling that, at least at Berkeley, this has to do with the fact that we do real work. According to the interwebs, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Leiden are both highly-regarded institutions internationally. Yet, my Berkeley friends and I haven't done so little work since elementary school. Go figure. Next semester is scheduled to be one of my lightest since coming to college, but I know it will be a lot more intense than this past six months. Frankly, I'm tired of not using my brain.

I doubt I will be feeling this reverse culture shock. I was tired of how small Copenhagen is, how horrible the weather is in that part of the world, and how expensive it was. I loved the place, but 6 months was just enough time. I have been fortunate enough on this trip that I have seen a ton of Europe. Since arriving in late July, I have been to France three times, Sweden twice, England, Germany, Holland four times, Spain twice, Morocco, and Portugal. I have seen more in my life than most people ever will, and feel like I am somewhat immune to whatever culture shock is. I get way more annoyed being in Texas than most other places.

This adventure is far from being completely sunk in and understood. I have seen more in these months than I usually do, and it flew by like you wouldn't believe. Some of the best stories I have were made along the way, and I haven't even realized it completely. There will never be anything else quite like it for me, and I am happy to say that I lived life to the fullest while I have been traveling. I made some great friends with couches in different parts of the world, and can't wait to see them again in who-knows-when.

At the same time, I have never appreciated my friends at home so much. For that matter, I have never appreciated my country so much, but that is 95% Obama. My friend Ryan and I recently spent an entire lunch just talking about our mutual close friends. We wondered how they are, if all the gossip that has filtered over the Pond is true, and how they have changed. I miss Leah's laugh, Pablo's wisdom, and Ben's politics.

But, seriously, I miss food the most.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Whirlwind Tour

My internet access over the last couple of weeks has left a lot to be desired. I have been traveling almost constantly since December 15. It took me 19 hours door to door from my apartment in Copenhagen to my friends' place just outside Amsterdam. I slept a bit on the train, and thankfully nothing was stolen.

Our flight from the Netherlands to Barcelona was at some ungodly hour I can´t even recall. We didn't sleep the night before, and took a train to Eindhoven at four in the morning. Discount airlines suck for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is their association with airports in the middle of nowhere.

For the first couple of nights in Barcelona we stayed with a friend of mine from high school. He was wrapping up his stay in Europe as well, and showed us as much as he could in 48 hours. I have to say, I had never really thought about going to Spain when I thought about traveling around Europe, but I loved it. I almost felt like I could live in Barcelona. It reminded me a good deal of Los Angeles because of the weather, the terrain, and the atmosphere. It was better in some ways, thanks to good public transit and Gaudi artwork sprinkled all over the city. No Mexican food though. Very tragic. I really fell in love with the place after only four days. I will be back.

Marrakech was next. I have never been somewhere like it. Hell, I haven't even read about somewhere like it. It was the most hectic place I have seen, heard, or smelled. All three senses work overtime in a place like Marrakech. At all hours, the streets are filled with people, motorized scooters, beggars, urchins, trash, animals, smoke, and loud noises. One only manages to take their eyes off the insanity in the middle of the street because of what is on the sides of almost every street. Hundreds of shops line the twisted and unmarked rues, from old women on dirty sheets to large well-lit stores. Many places sell the same sorts of things: leather goods, handmade wooden tchotchkes, scarves, spices, teapots, bootleg movies, exotic pets and everything in between. In the main square people rush to hand you monkeys or put cobras around your neck so they can demand payment thirty seconds later.

Good shopkeepers spot Westerners from a mile away, and start calling out to you in many languages. Monsieur! Est-ce que tu veux?, Hola Amigo!, Good price! Morocco was a French colony, so knowing some Francais goes a long way, but I got to practice my Spanish too.

Then comes the bartering. At first, Marrakech is so cheap that it almost doesn't cross your mind. They use the dirham, which is about 1/11th of a Euro. A tall glass of the best tasting orange juice I have ever had was 90 euro cents. We got ripped off because we paid 13 euro for a 20 minute cab for three plus luggage when we first arrived. You quickly learn that nearly every price in the city is not only negotiable, but that the first price you hear may be 500% of what you could ultimately pay with some skillful banter. There is a certain etiquette you have to figure out, but once you have it down buying things becomes quite fun. If you ask for the price of something in a shop or stall, it is generally assumed that you are genuinely interested in it. If you end up not buying the item, even after a large drop in the item's price, it is seen as rude. Then again, this could just be another negotiating tactic.

Needless to say, I did all my Christmas shopping in Marrakech. I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the city as well. Excellent cheap food abounds, but it is a third world city. My friend got sick while we were there, and I think it was probably the water or something. We rode camels, checked out the sites, and wandered. I loved my few days, but it's unlikely that I will return anytime soon. When I do, I certainly won't stay in a hostel.

Madrid was next. We saw almost none of that city. We stayed with my friend's family and celebrated Christmas with them and their two beautiful kids. It was very nice to have some semblance of holiday tradition for my first Christmas spent out of the country. I am by no means religious, but I do enjoy this time of the year for spending time with family. We ate well, relaxed, and played with the children. I am sad to have not seen Madrid, especially the Prado. I'll be back though.

I am now in Lisbon, and have been for a couple of days. I love this city. I can't help but compare it to San Fransisco. Seven hills, on the bay with a Golden Gate-esque bridge, trolley cars, and pretty decent weather. Every sidewalk and street is paved with these little cobblestones, often in cool designs (slippery though). There are statues and arches and fountains everywhere. It reeks of the Enlightenment. Also, it's pretty cheap compared to the rest of Europe. There are museums everywhere it seems, and good views to be had from castles and skyscrapers alike. It doesn't hurt that we are staying the best hostel I have ever been in. It's called the Living Lounge, and feels like a hotel. Great design, very clean, big bathrooms, free DVDs to watch and internet to use. I'm almost tempted to leave a review of this place on the site we booked with.

Tomorrow we head to our last stop, jolie Paris. We will be there through New Years, and probably spend too much money. Our good friend who is about to begin a semester abroad in London is going to meet us there. There isn't a city I would rather be in to end this journey and this year. I will probably spend 6 hours or so in the Orsay alone. We'll be on the Champs-Elysées or the Sacré Coeur for the actual countdown, hopefully with a bottle of champagne in hand. I can't wait.

That's enough. I might throw up some pictures in a couple weeks when I get back to my real computer.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Internet Is Evil

Recently, I spent some time chatting with a friend of mine back in Berkeley while she wrote a 20 page final paper. Like me, this girl is a big fan of procrastination. So she decided to start writing this paper a little more than 24 hours before it was due. She chronicled this marathon writing spree on her blog. I have to say, she held up remarkably well under the intense pressure. What could have been like a time-lapse car crash turned out to be a pretty interesting look at the modern college experience. I have to wonder though: did my chatting with her help by occasionally taking her mind off the assignment and allowing her to relax? Or was I a distraction? Either way, if she ends up doing poorly on this, I think we all know who is really to blame. That's right, The Internet.

Admittedly, now that I rely on it, I couldn't live without it. My love of instant gratification has been fed too often by this evil entity. Sports scores, news, pictures of friends, restaurant reviews, lolcats, etc etc etc. Once they are at your fingertips 24 hours a day, you get addicted. Psychologists are even considering adding Internet Addiction Disorder to the next edition of the holy bible of psychological disorders, the DSM. When I was a young kid, the Internet was just hitting the scene. I still remember the horrible noise of dialing up over a 56k connection. Downloading a handful of songs over Napster or Audiogalaxy was something you did overnight. But now kids are growing up with an Unlimited Distraction Complex the likes of which the world has never seen. And it's only going to get worse. With Blackberries, iPhones, and other assorted gadgets, people are increasingly connected wherever they go.

If it hadn't been for the Internet, my friend could have written her paper in peace, attention completely zeroed on her topic. Then again, how would she have done research? She was writing about the Dark Knight, and there certainly haven't been any books published on that film yet. See, like the HAL 9000, we depend on the Internet so much that, even when it hurts us, we can't turn it off. If we try, it will jettison our bodies into space or something. In a rare attempt to learn from past experiences, I started the 20 page paper I am currently writing a week before it was due. I was proud of myself at first. But the Internet combined with my body's unfamiliarity with a stress-free writing environment has foiled my plans at early completion of this godawful paper.

Because I started so early, I didn't feel the Fear: the stress that comes with knowing you have to write a page an hour or you will fail whatever class you are taking. It is that Fear that has kept my procrastination system workable over the years. In fact, I get the feeling that my subconscious is undermining my attempt to write this paper without the Fear. Every time I get into a good flow of writing, something draws me to read the Times or Politico or bash. With around 36 hours left, the Fear is only just starting to creep up my spine. Luckily, it is doing its job and my attention is improving by the hour. But, as you can see, I was drawn to write about this on my blog instead of writing about the Germanic influence on ancient Roman internal policy. See, the Fear works best with single-digit hours remaining.

I'm happy we have the Internet. It has entertained me and informed me better than anything else ever could. Because of the Internet, I can write term papers about ancient Roman history without ever touching a book. But it is still Evil, and it will probably bring about the downfall of the human race or something.

At least we'll be able to watch it happen on YouTube.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Onward and Upward

In less than a week, I will leave the country I have called home for the last few months. Early next week, I will travel to the Netherlands to meet up with a couple of friends from California who have been studying there through the same program I am enrolled in here in Denmark. Together we have planned an extraordinary adventure to cap off what has been nothing less than a fantastic semester abroad. Our journey will take us to Barcelona, Marrakech, Madrid for Christmas, Lisbon, and Paris for New Years. Once this trip is over, I will have been to every major European country and Africa for the first time in my life. While I am somewhat sad about leaving Denmark, the upcoming trip has me so excited that I can't really feel bad about anything.

Luckily, the job I have been working at here has prevented me from burning through my life savings in this outrageously-expensive country. In fact, all told I have probably made some money. Gotta love these social welfare states, eh? I fit right in the sweet spot of the system, avoiding the insane taxes (38% is the base rate) by not making quite enough money to be noticed. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error, the Danish government took 60% of my first couple of paychecks and have yet to return that money. I suppose if it's not in my possession then it's like savings.

Speaking of savings, I just read a Times article about the latest sale of short term securities by the Treasury. Investors scrambled to get the opportunity to... get 0% return in four weeks. I'm not economist, but from the tone of the article and common sense, it sounds like things are getting even worse. Maybe someone could explain to me how buying Treasury notes at 0% return is a better deal than just holding cash. Are the securities adjusted for inflation (which should be nothing at the moment anyway)? I have never taken economics very seriously. Why they give fake Nobel prizes to people in the field while ignoring mathematics bothers me. It dilutes the meaning of the award and gives people the impression that economics is scientific. Imagine if green florescent protein or anti-biotics just stopped working one day. I realize the analogy is far from watertight, but I'd really like to see a reproducible experiment in economics that goes beyond "when prices go up, people buy less."

I've got mixed up confusion about how I feel about the future. I have read somewhere that people my age are remarkably optimistic about it even though times are so bad right now. Maybe that's because we believe in America, and are young enough to know that we will see it shine brightly again. Pessimists will tell you our time is over and China will take the reigns. I find that laughable, but what do I know? I think of myself as a realist, and know that the best man for the job is about to take power in America. It's true, he has a bigger mess to clean up than we have seen in many decades, and more expectations resting on his shoulders than anyone deserves. But we have no other choice but to believe in him. For the next eight years (knock knock) Americans of all stripes are going to have to give things up to help us all. Based on his rhetoric, it sounds like Obama will stress personal responsibility and the power of the individual. He will find ways to put Americans at work for America. If we answer his call, we will rise from these ashes.

Now excuse me while I discuss long term savings plans with my Danish bank.