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Dinosaurs and Ramen

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Almost forgot about it being exactly 1 year since I moved back to the United States.  Coincidentally, I spent the “anniversary” not in St. Louis but up in New York City.  Got to meet up with some friends who live in the area, and the last few days my brother came and met up with me.  It had been a long time, probably around 8 or 9 years since I was last up in NYC.  It smelled a lot less of urine than I had expected or remembered.  Also I didn’t encounter any cracked out homeless guys screaming about women stealing your DNA like last time.

The weather up there was fairly similar to here in St. Louis, which included the break in the heat that luckily started about a week before my trip.  I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with the intense summer heat in New York, considering how much walking I ended up doing and how pretty awful the underground train stations were even in decent weather.  Is there no ventilation there!?  The trip was primarily to hang out and do I guess touristy stuff – it was a good vacation.  Went to Times Square the first night and met up with Seth, who took me to an izakaya that was basically a warp hole to Japan.  It was pretty awesome to have yakitori and shochu and all kinds of menu items that I don’t really get here in the midwest.  And while I’m on the topic of Japanese food, later during the trip my brother and I went to Ippudo, a Japanese ramen chain that I used to go to in Chiba since it was a straight shot down the street from my apartment.  The food was hands down perfect.  The big difference though was the price (fair since I was in NYC on vacation, so whatever) and the building itself.  I was pretty shocked – instead of a small noodle shop with counter seating and a few small tables, this place was a huge restaurant with I guess what you would call trendy lighting, furniture, and music.  It felt like a nightclub that just so happened to serve Japanese ramen.  There was a long wait just like the Chiba location had during rush times, but in NY they actually had hostesses and a waiting list.  I think I prefer the Japanese Ippudo’s decor, but again it’s not really a complaint since the ramen was awesome and I was still in America.  It was also  kind of strange feeling to have Caucasian American waiters yelling “IRASSHAIMASE” when a table was sat.

ニューヨーク居酒屋・萩一風堂NYYES RAMEN

The American Museum of Natural History in Central Park was pretty sweet, and as a bonus it was a good break from walking around outside.  I didn’t really understand the ticket pricing at first though, considering they give you a “suggested” entrance fee but you don’t technically have to pay anything.  We paid the full suggested fares, which I’m assuming most people do.  It was pretty smart of them though to actually have people at the entrance gate instead of just a machine or a box for donations, because I’ll bet having an actual human shames people into paying more than they would with just a machine/donation box.  But yeah dinosaurs are sweet and embarrassingly while I didn’t take many photos while in New York, most of them were at the museum.  Oops!

YES! DINOSAURS!

New York restaurants are, as expected from the biggest city in the county, amazing in both quality and diversity.  In addition to the Japanese places I went to, pretty much every meal in New York was great.  Chinatown was, of course, one of the highlights, so much that I went twice during the short trip.  I’m pretty sure I could eat dimsum every day.  There unfortunately weren’t as many stores selling cheap electronic knockoffs, and junk like I was kind of looking for, but that was also probably because it was raining on the last day we were there and it wasn’t worth walking in the rain to buy cheap stuff in Chinatown when we were already full of food too.  And yes, I did actually eat American food in addition to all the other multicultural stuff – stacked high sandwiches at a Jewish deli were probably the highlight from that category.

Overall I got to see a decent amount of the city, especially Manhattan, during the few days I was up there.  There was almost an incident with some shady scam-cab driver one night when my brother and I were coming back from meeting up with Dave down in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t a big deal since we got out as soon as he said he was going to try and charge us $20 to go just a few blocks.  But aside from that, the trip was great and I definitely want to go back again sometime.  To eat, at least.

I accept pizza as royalties

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My friend Kyle sent this picture to me the other night, and also tweeted it:

I admit, I see the resemblance

This is from a mural on the wall at a Hotbox Pizza in Broadripple (Indy).  I have to admit, it does eerily kind of resemble me.  I have glasses that look pretty close to those too.   One day I should visit this pizza shop and ask for free pizza in exchange for them using me on their wall all this time.

Recent travels

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Last month I headed to Vegas for a sort of mini family vacation. Well I guess it really was a family vacation, although it seems weird to say that considering my brothers and I are all grown now, and the primary reason for the trip was to gamble.  My brothers, parents, and I flew out to Vegas on a Sunday and met up with my uncle who drove in.  We were originally supposed to leave on Saturday, but due to “mystery electrical events” that supposedly occurred at some airport in Minnesota, every flight in the Midwest was held up or cancelled.  That excuse might sound fake and ridiculous, and I totally agree.  But that’s what Delta was telling us as the reason why we couldn’t be rerouted on another flight to Vegas, even though we were at the airport at like 8AM.  We were rebooked for the next morning, having to fly through Atlanta (going the opposite direction from St. Louis, mind you) in two separate groups.  Thanks Delta, I really appreciate your customer service not to mention you shortening my Vegas trip by an entire day.  We weren’t even given free flight vouchers or anything, which I honestly kind of thought they had to do in this kind of situation.  Maybe the rules are different for those mystery events that they can’t explain.  Meh.

So once we got to Vegas and waited in a taxi queue that literally wrapped around the airport building, we checked into our rooms at the Luxor and it was time to go big.  And by that I mean In N Out Burger.  Oh yeah, and gambling.

This beautiful scenery was paid for by a bunch of losers' money

Overall I’d say while the Strip is great for the flashy experience, party atmosphere, and buildings shaped like monuments, I think I preferred gambling off the strip.  Minimum bets on the strip are just way too high and money goes too fast.  After getting the strip experience the first few nights, we went to a decent number of off the strip casinos like Silverton, Green Valley, “M,” and the whole downtown area and it was a lot more relaxed and fun for me.  Also not to mention that you can bet less money and play games with better odds, like 2 deck Blackjack as opposed to the 8 deck electronic shuffler ones on the strip.  You’re surrounded by a lot more locals and old people when you go off the strip, but for gambling (as opposed to partying, etc), it definitely seems like the way to go.

We didn’t gamble the entire time we were there of course.  We also checked out this awesome “museum” called the Pinball Hall of Fame, which has tons of pinball machines set up to play.  They’ve got machines going way back to probably at least the 1950’s, all the way up to machines that are still being manufactured today.  As a big pinball fan from when I was a kid, this place was better than Disneyland.  (I mean that literally, since even the tea cup ride makes me want to puke).  It also helps that I bought a pinball game for PS3 earlier this year, and have played it a lot.  Not as much as my dad, mind you, who plays it probably every day.  It has a lot of old Williams machines, very accurately recreated in HD.  After playing that for a few months it really makes you want to play a real pinball machine.  The Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame was the perfect way to take a break from gambling but still getting to do something different and fun.Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame

While we only had like 4 days in Vegas, it was a pretty solid trip and I didn’t lose as much money as I had budgeted for, which is always a good thing.  I’ll have to keep an eye out again for cheap airfare/hotels to head out there again.  Also my god we ate at so many buffets, ranging from decent to ridiculously amazing.

A few weeks after the Vegas trip, I drove out to Bloomington for a weekend to meet up with some friends.  It is definitely getting a little stranger every time I head back to good ol’ B-town, primarily because I don’t have many (any?) friends who actually live in Bloomington anymore and I am about 6 or 7 years older now than your typical undergrad student.  Not to say that Bloomington isn’t still a great trip.  I had 4 of the best years of my life there and it’s worth the drive to go visit old friends, see the old and new parts of campus, and eat some good food.  A certain SOB did end up bailing out on us at the very last minute, though, which was disappointing.

Instead of getting a hotel like last time, I tried out AirBnB for the first time – it’s basically a website where individuals rent out rooms in their homes or even their entire home for prices usually less than what a hotel would run.  I had heard about it a while back since a friend from college now works there apparently, and this seemed like a good chance to try it out.  Surprisingly even a college town like Bloomington had a decent number of available places, and we were able to rent an entire house for the weekend.  It ended up being a great way to stay comfortably without paying as much as what a hotel would have been.  I’ll have the try it out again sometime when I have the chance.  There are ratings, feedback, etc. on the site so you can get a decent idea of where you’ll be staying, hopefully avoiding any creepers and such.  But my first experience on there was pretty good, even though I don’t know if I’d really want to stay with someone I didn’t know.  Getting the entire house for our group worked out really well though.

Balls of Gold

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First the short (and very misleading) version: this golden ball came out of my body.

Oh god this came out of my ear!?

Ok now the longer more sensical version.

This morning after taking a shower and getting dressed I still felt like I had some water in my outer ear, so I went to do a quick Q-tip swab.  When I looked at the cotton swab (because you always look, don’t you?) I saw a miniature gold ball shining on the end of it.  Now, remember that I had only been up for a short period of time when this happened and was probably still half asleep.  But I would be lying if I didn’t say that aside from the obvious “WTF is this?” thoughts I had, I also thought for a nanosecond “I have somehow mutated into a modern Chinese leprechaun that is capable of producing gold from within my body.” Unfortunately and obviously this was not the case, as the little gold ball burst when I poked it and I smelled the distinct scent of my new grape seed oil and lemongrass body wash. The little orb was like a mini-paintball, with a thin soft membrane.  Somehow one of the little scent beads found its way into my ear and managed to stay intact throughout the showering, drying, and getting dressed routine.  That is pretty amazing in itself considering that to take the picture above I burst 2 of the things even when trying to gently fish it out of the body wash.

So unfortunately I am still incapable of creating and secreting precious metals from my body.  I don’t know what’s more embarrassing, thinking for a second that I had a gold ball in my ear, or admitting to the internet that I use grape seed oil and lemongrass body wash.

In other thoughts, why is Dial using little paintballs in their body soaps?  Isn’t it supposed to be something that actually dissolves on its own in water?  And why does everything have to have a smell these days?

Half asleep

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Whew.  So the busy tax season at work is done, and luckily I had today (mostly) off with tomorrow off as well.  4-day weekend FTW.

Earlier today when I was thinking about what I would do during this brief burst of freedom, I was like “oh man I’m totally going to stay up all night and play some video games, watch TV, eat junk food, it will be like I’m in college again YEAH.”  Yet here I am, sitting at my computer just after midnight, and half-dozing off.  This isn’t just a rare occurrence.  I can’t stay up late anymore, even when I want to.

It’s not old age kicking in just yet, right?  I mean sure I am getting older, (I do forget how old I am usually though) but that can’t be it.  It’s because I’m so used to waking up every morning at the same time for work, right?  And thus going to bed around the same time every night?  But I had to wake up a lot earlier when I was working in Shinjuku and I’m pretty sure I stayed up later and went out more back then.  Hmmm.  I don’t actually know where I was going with this, and as I mentioned I am struggling to keep the drool off the keyboard, so I guess this will be the end of this post.

Travel will be happening this summer.  I’m going to Vegas for sure next month, then later in the summer I hope to visit Boston and probably New York on the same trip.  Dunno where else.  I’d like to go to Japan sometime, although realistically that won’t be until sometime in the fall or next year, especially since I kind of want the place to quit rumbling until I visit again.

Either way, this old codger is heading to bed.  I will play video games tomorrow maybe.  Or do some other kind of slacking off, I hope.

Oh deer me

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Saw these guys hanging out and snapped a picture with my phone a few minutes ago.  Since when did my parents’ backyard turn into Nara Park?

Deer in the backyard

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