17 August 2009

By the dawn's early light...

Patriotism has always been an awkward subject in my life, especially in regards to the United States of America. In part, I feel that this is due to my upbringing, which involved moving around quite a bit to different countries prior to my middle school years. Sure, I always attended American or International schools instead of local schools but regardless, I spent many impressionable years in places where American culture was not the dominating force that it is in places such as, well, America. At times, I have thought about how odd it is that I have ended up living in this country and becoming an American citizen, as our family had a choice of places to immigrate to during the early 1990s. My parents have always maintained that we decided on coming to the States since my sister and I loved the United States so much.

I love this country, I really do, but I never am very open about my patriotism. I don't own an American flag, don't particularly celebrate Fourth of July in any way that ties into my love of this country and never sing the Star Spangled Banner, except at hockey games. I think that as an insider of a country, you tend to get a view of the bad parts of a country and perhaps that turns you off in regards to being all "rah rah" about your patriotism. There are many other countries I am a fan of, such as Canada, Denmark or the Netherlands and since I don't know as much about those places, I can filter out the bad and just think positively about them.

I'm sure my readers are wondering why I'm talking about patriotism in late August. There are no big national holidays this weekend, nor have I just received my citizenship. I'm talking about patriotism because I want to talk about the one thing in this country that does really help me reinforce my love for this country in a very loud, brash and mainstream way. I am talking about the United States men's national (soccer) team, which I will intermittently refer to as the USMNT from this point out.

I've often felt that people are sometimes a little surprised that I cheer for the USMNT so passionately. I spent my early teenage years as a massive Anglophile, yet never felt like cheering for England. Sure, I have my other national teams that I cheer for, but that's only when the US are not involved. After all, outside of football and hockey, I don't cheer for the US in anything. I could care less how this country does at the Olympics, although part of that is probably rooted in my overall dislike of the Olympics but that's a topic for another time. I'm not sure when I started following the USMNT as I know that I wasn't a passionate fan of them during World Cup '94. Sure, I was pissed off when Leonardo destroyed Tab Ramos' face but I wasn't devastated when the US lost on that Fourth of July. It must've happened sometime between that World Cup and World Cup '98, which was a complete farce. But even then, I distinctly remember following the fortunes of Scotland and somehow only catching the United States' opening defeat against Germany.

The run up to World Cup 2002 was definitely when I started to become very passionate about this team. Perhaps it was sensing that we were actually decent and while facing Portugal in our opening match scared the crap out of me, it turned out to be one of the happiest sporting moments in my life. Even when we went up 1-0, I thought I was going to cry but going up 3-0 was just beyond the realm of possibility.

So, I've cited examples of watching this team through the years but I don't feel like I've properly explained why this team means something to me, why outside of Les Canadiens, this is the team that I get most worked up watching, that gives me the most joy and the most anger. Perhaps it comes down to cheering for "my team", that as an American, this is the team I get and that it would be folly to willy nilly pick a random country. I'm a Canadiens fan because I've never lived anywhere near an NHL team, thereby giving me the freedom to choose whomever I'd like to choose. Perhaps another part of this is that this matters. Major tournaments for the United States only come around every couple of years and the matches matter, unlike a mid season game against the worst team in the league in hockey, basketball or baseball.

Maybe I'm really only here to say that I still have no idea exactly why this team makes me feel so patriotic but it really does. Oh, and they frustrate me at times, which is a great sign in sports as it means that I care.

05 August 2009


For the early part of this decade, I had always maintained a pretty strong dislike of Australia. A lot of it was based in the way that their sports teams conducted themselves, especially their cricketers, who always come off as pompous pricks. Some of it was also based in what I saw as Australia's horrible history with race relations, whether in the guise of the Aborigines that have been in Australia longer than any white man has, the not-so-subtle White Australia policy and incidents like the Cronulla beach riots. Over the past couple of years or so, my negative views of Australia have changed for the better, having been helped by the death of John Howard's political career. However, the biggest catalyst for my positive view of Australia is due to five men, Chas, Andrew, Julian, Chris and Craig, all members of the The Chaser, a comedy group best known for their hit television show, The Chaser's War on Everything.

I discovered the Chaser after a fleeting mention in the blog of Nick Bryant, the BBC's Sydney correspondent. I was interested in finding out who the hell the "Chaser Boys" were and why they might have an impact on Australian politics, which led to the cursory Wikipedia and YouTube searches. I watched tons and tons of clips on YouTube, laughing until my sides hurt. Eventually, I bought a couple DVDs and eagerly awaited for their return this season. I write all this about Australia and the Chaser as the very last episode of The Chaser's War on Everything concluded its run last Wednesday. I have a feeling that politicians of all stripes popped champagne corks at the conclusion of their last episode, safe in the knowledge that they'll never be harassed again with a random backing band showing up or even worse, waiting outside Kevin Rudd's home. They have, of course, had their fair share of controversy, what with The Eulogy Song, in which they make light of the fact that horrible people are almost usually praised in the media upon their death, and this year's "Make a Realistic Wish" sketch which forced them off the air for two episodes after the fake moral outrage that ensued.

In honour of The Chaser and the country that made this all possible, I present to you a list of my favourite Australian things (in no particular order):

1) The Go-Betweens

By far my favourite Australian band. It took me awhile to get into them because at one point of my life, I was naive and stupid, dismissing their music for no apparent reason. I do find it a bit odd that my starting point was '78 til '79 - the Lost Album, a compilation of their early work, a lot of which was recorded in someone's bedroom. I've focused on the earlier stuff as opposed to their work early in this decade. Anyway, I always feel like a bit of a berk when talking about music so I'll just leave you with one of my favourite Go-Betweens songs, Man O'Sand to Girl O'Sea

2) Vegemite

I've always been a cult foods junkie, searching out whatever the locals eat on a day to day basis. Therefore, if we talk about Australia, I'm not trying to find kangaroo meat or something "wacky" like that but rather the ubiquitous Vegemite. Outside of Australia, it has a poor reputation of tasting foul, which only spurred me on further to seek it out. I mean, I'll eat anything! How could I not like this stuff?

Of course, it turned out that I not only liked the stuff but that I really, really loved the stuff. How can you beat a Vegemite Sandwich? A piece of toast, heavily slattered with butter and then with Vegemite (not too much but also not just a trace amount) spread on top of all of that goodness? I will admit that I've gone through phases of eating a ton of Vegemite Sandwiches in a short time period and then not touching the stuff for months. I am in a huge Vegemite Sandwich phase right now but unfortunately my new jar of Vegemite has yet to arrive in the mail.

3) Tim Tams

As some of you may know, I have some relatives who have ties to Australia. Most of my relatives have moved back to Hong Kong after gaining their Australian citizenship but my Aunt Ronnie has lived in Australia for over twenty years now. I had a chance to see her for the first time in years back in March, due to my great grandmother passing away, and one of the first things I wanted to talk about was my recent discovery of the joy that are Tim Tams.

In a similar way as to how I discovered The Chaser, I found out about Tim Tams because people on either FlyerTalk or Airliners.net would always mention Tim Tams when someone would talk about transiting in Australia. Tim Tams, I should mention, are two chocolate biscuits with a sort of filling in between (chocolate, vanilla, etc) and then the whole thing is covered in chocolate again. Since I've traditionally not been a huge fan of sweets, I never sought them out. However, I had somehow heard that they were being distributed by Pepperidge Farm at Target and happened to remember this fact while at there once and voila, I had secured my first package of Tim Tams.

They were fantastic, of course, and for about a month or so, you couldn't get me away from my Tim Tams. Alia and I even started doing the Tim Tam Slam, which consists of biting off the two ends of a Tim Tam and then using what's left as a straw to suck up hot liquid, such as a hot chocolate, until the whole thing explodes in your mouth. Like with Vegemite, I go through phases, and like Vegemite, I'm sort of on a Tim Tam kick again.

4) The Chaser

Last but certainly not least, would be The Chaser. They provided me with so many laughs throughout the years and all of my rudimentary understanding of Australian politics stems from The Chaser's War on Everything. In addition, a lot of Aussie pop culture has been introduced to me by way of The Chaser. After all, how else would I have known who Naomi Robson, Anna Coren or Rove were or that Masterchef was pretty much the biggest thing to hit Australia in years?

So thanks for all of the laughs and I can't wait to see what new television project you guys will work on. I'll leave this with my favourite bit from this season's Chaser, their parody of Obama's "Yes We Can" song in the guise of Kevin Rudd and Australian celebrities. Before you ask, no, I don't know who any of them are.

24 July 2009

籃灣, part two

The recent impetus to delve into my made up megalopolis of Bluebay is rooted in my desire to take a closer look at its mass transit system. Why? Well, when I was home in Ohio, I flirted with the idea of converting my maps to digital form but not by just merely scanning them. I wanted to replicate these maps on my computer so that I wouldn't have to worry about damaged or even losing my hand written documents. The only documents, however, that could even potentially be converted are those related to the mass transit system. Since I possess no knowledge in how to even draw a straight, coloured line between two dots on a computer (I'm running a Mac, so I don't have Microsoft Paint), I eventually gave up on the idea.

The other reason why I've been thinking of mass transit a lot recently is, believe it or not, related to my process of falling asleep. For many years, although not every single night, I often helped myself fall asleep by imagining that I was on a fully flat bed in either First or Business Class of Mayjorkit's flag carrier, Blueair. I'm not quite sure why I did this, outside of my obvious love of commercial aviation. Then again, sometimes I feel that I enjoy thinking about the experience than actually going through the experience, which is understandable since flying can be quite stressful in this post-9/11 world. Over this past year, my attempts to fall asleep have been rooted in the idea of being on an overnight train from Bluebay to the biggest city in Mayjorkit's northernmost province, Forehoe, Chissta. Due to Mayjorkit's size and its many islands, rail travel can only exist in certain areas and the Bluebay - Forehoe route is the only one to require an overnight journey due to the long distance, along with the lack of a completed high speed rail line. Even when I'm not imagining myself being on an overnight train, I still will often times fall asleep while thinking of Mayjorkit's rail network.

Unfortunately, I do not have an actual map of the rail systems of Mayjorkit Rail, although it does exist in my head. I am, for the most part, concentrating on the high speed rail lines for now but once again my issues of scale come in again. Exactly just how far away from Bluebay is Stratsbourg, located in northeastern Mainway? Then, how long would it take to get there by both high speed rail and air? I consider Lockhead, to the southwest of Bluebay, and Shorline, directly north of Bluebay, to bedroom communities where a significant amount of the population commutes into Bluebay for work. Even then, I have no precise figure as to how far away these cities are from Bluebay. Lockhead has always been at the hour/fourty-five minute mark, which would make Shoreline about an seventy five to eighty minutes away, according to the highway map of Mainway. This would be a perfect time to finally look at our first map of this post, a map of the commuter rail lines in the Bluebay metropolitan area.

Bluebay Commuter Rail map

First off, this is a ridiculously low number of commuter rail lines for a metropolitan area of around twenty-one million. I'll chalk that up to this not being a complete project, along with not really having any major exposure to the heavy use of rail lines at the time I completed this map. Secondly, I also wanted to mention the large influence that Boston's commuter rail system played on Bluebay's. In the official canon of Mayjorkitian history, this is obvious not so but personally speaking, it was Boston's commuter rail system that compelled me to create one for Bluebay. I had, of course, spent time in Boston during the mid-90s due to my sister's spell at Boston University and always really loved it there, especially when visiting from suburban Ohio.

Third, I wanted to focus in on some of the length of time one would spend on these rail lines. If we look at the purple line from Campary to Shoreline, we'll notice a note mentioning that travel on this line would take a whopping two hours and fourty-five minutes. Yikes. I can't imagine anyone commuting approximately six hours a day. Of course, there are express trains and such but it gets back to my real problems with scale and determining exactly how far away from Bluebay a city like Shoreline is.

Our second map of this post is of Bluebay's subway system:

Bluebay MRTR system map

It is, like the city that is serves, sprawling. Sprawl is probably not the issue here as a sprawling city obviously needs a sprawling transit system to properly facilitate movement around the city. The issue is that this is one horribly, horribly designed system. I really wish I could re-draw this on my computer as I would probably alter a lot of the routes. The lines make no sense and don't properly connect various areas of the city. I attempted to solve this by adding in other dedicated "express" lines, such as one connecting the western ends of the Pier and St. John's Lines together. Seems like an awful waste of money, in my opinion.

The other thing that these two maps present is of a city with multiple large rail stations, as is the case in Paris and London. Basically, Bluebay Main is surrounded by four stations, which are outside the city. Once again, I am unable to define exactly what "outside the city" means. Unlike Paris and London, I feel that a lot more traffic in Mayjorkit flows through Bluebay, as opposed to being the end point. How many people travel from Marseille to Lille? I'm guessing that not a whole of people, so you're not inconveniencing a ton of people by making them switch stations in Paris. My solution to this is a large construction project (not depicted, of course), directly linking three of the outer stations to Bluebay Main by way of yet more tunnels underneath Bluebay. These tunnels will serve both high speed and regular rail as the high speed trains obviously can't hit their maximum speed while within a metropolitan area.

If you thought that the metro system was as bad as it gets, feast your eyes on the abomination below:

Bluebay "urban renewal"

Bluebay, as seen in prior maps, surrounds two lakes, Lake Bluebay and Lake Blueway. These two lakes, in turn, are surrounded by a giant park, in an effort to create something similar to Central Park in New York or Stanley Park in Vancouver. Basically, a large green space in a city. The first problem is the existence of a circular freeway surrounding this park. However, this has since been torn down, if you will. The second problem is depicted in the map above.

This was my idea of urban renewal back when I was fifteen or so. That idea, my friends, was to build a giant shopping centre, an arena, a stadium and worst of all, casinos. Oh, and tons of surface lots for cars. Argh. Horrible, horrible idea but I take comfort in the fact that actual cities run by actual mayors and their advisors who have graduated from university basically have the same ideas that my fifteen year old self had. Not only is the thought of "renewing" a city through malls and casinos horrible, it's even worse when these things are built in an existing park. Even though it's hard to see, I should also note that the mall is shaped line a giant cruise ship, which was an obvious rip off/tribute to the ship shaped mall located in Whampoa Gardens in Hong Kong.

It would be interesting to see how Bluebay would be constructed if this was a project that I started a year or two ago. I know that after all, it is my imaginary city/country and could start over if I wanted to. However, that just seems too unrealistic to me. In a way, it's a good thing to not have constructed a utopia, that any metropolitan area of twenty-one million people is bound to have its problems, no matter how planned it is.

21 June 2009

籃灣, part one

I recently returned home to suburban Dayton, Ohio for a week long visit in order to see my parents and older sister. I hadn't returned since October 2005 and despite Dayton pretty much being the antithesis of glamour, I was looking forward to it for a couple of reasons. Obviously, I was looking forward to getting to spend some time with my family. Besides that, I was also looking forward to dining at a few places that we don't have in Portland, such as Skyline Chili and Chick-fil-a. However, one of my biggest reasons for looking forward to my trip was an entirely personal reason.

Every time I've returned to the home where I spent my high school years, I always vowed that that particular time would be the time that I bring home all of those precious mementoes left in my room. I am, however, not talking about supposedly rare trading cards or some seminal white label record. I am talking about my collection of maps related to my entirely made up Southeast Asian metropolis of Bluebay.

I can't quite remember the exact time period in which I invented Bluebay but the bulk of the things I drew and wrote about Bluebay most likely came from the mid-90s, when I was at an age around thirteen or fourteen. I continued to work on this city to varying degrees as I got older but even at the age of twenty-seven, I still think about Bluebay a lot. I don't see this as being odd, besides the part where I'm still thinking about this stuff at the age of twenty-seven, as many boys spent parts of the adolescent years making drawings of fake sports leagues or fake all conquering bands that played in arenas all over the world.

Bluebay, or the idea of it, allowed me to branch off into a couple of interests I had and still maintain to this day. For example, since Bluebay existed, it would need a mass transit system. Therefore, as the benevolent God-like being who invented Bluebay, it was my task to grant Bluebay a mass transit system. Of course, Bluebay and the country in which it is located, Mayjorkit, would need a (world class) airline, so Blueair (IATA: BY, Callsign: Bluebird and member of SkyTeam) was invented. Even my interest in sports was tied into Bluebay as it had many sports teams that somehow were members of North American sporting leagues, despite being in the same time zone as Singapore.

We'll start with a general overview of the province of Mainway, which is where Bluebay is located. As indicated on the map, it sits in Western Mainway. The reasons for the city not being on the coast are due to old fears of being attacked by ships and their guns, so the port of Lockhead (about an hour to the west) handled trade and defence duties while the bulk of the population lived a bit further up river in Bluebay. Due to Bluebay's massive size (population: a whopping twenty-one million) and importance, it is neither the capital of the country or its province, with those titles belonging to Whisster and Kevsie (a combination of my name and my sister's name, Winse). You see this happening in the real world with capitals being located in smaller areas in order to balance out the influence of a major city, along with encouraging development in a certain area.

Mainway highway map

Overall, the population of Mainway is concentrated in Bluebay and her sprawling suburbs, along with certain cities on the north coast (Portland and Stratsbourg) and her provincial capital, Kevsie.

Next, we have a look at the Bluebay metropolitan area, with a focus on her incredible amounts of highways:

Bluebay metropolitan area map

As I've gotten older, this is something that has really bothered me about this city that I planned. I wonder why as a teenager I opted to construct (at least in my mind) an ideal city with tons of freeways and sprawl. Of course, the answer lies in my influences, which would be travelling to places like Toronto somewhat frequently. Toronto itself is quite the sprawling gigantic metropolis, spreading to the southwest all the way out to Hamilton, to the north to Barrie and east all the way out to Oshawa. The amount of highways don't look too bad in the Greater Toronto Area but as anyone who has been there can attest, the traffic is horrendous.

However, I digress. Besides the freeway and sprawl, the other thing that's interesting on this map of Bluebay would be some of the place names. While some of the names are generic and could be found in any English speaking country, such as South City, St. John's or Midland, others are a bit odd. I'm not sure how I came up with some names, such as Polon or Campary. I imagine that I was trying to come up with something unique that somehow could also be believable as place names.

In this next picture, which is a full list of Bluebay's highways, we notice the French influence in some of the names, such as the Sud, Détroit, Cercel and Cartier Highways/Freeways. This comes from my fascination with French that dwindled out in the early part of this decade but has made a big comeback in the past three years or so. It seems a bit silly that a country located south of Indonesia and off of the northwest coast of Australia would have any bit of French influence. To this day, I have trouble justifying it but it's also stuff like this that makes it all the more interesting.

Bluebay freeway names

The last map for tonight is this map of central Bluebay, although I have no idea how central this should be. This is also the cleanest and most "professional" looking map which means that I did this one a little later, perhaps even when I was sixteen. I like the way this looks but this map also bothers me the most due to issues of scale. Basically, the scale seems to vary depending on the part of the map one is looking at. For example at the bottom is a stadium labelled as "TRC", which would be The Rugby Centre. The place is absolutely huge and seems to be as big as, say, Metro University, which is located north of TRC along Arena Pike. Another example of this inconsistent scale woule be the Museum Square complex located south of Lake Bluebay. This complex, which according to this map has three museums, is somehow the same size as a major university, the University of Bluebay (Go Sunblazers!). Nevermind that, as the Mayor's Home, located west of UofB is massive. I don't have any maps of the country's capital, Whisster, but I doubt the Prime Minister has a gigantic home sitting next to a river side park.

Central Bluebay map

In the next post, we'll look at my horrible idea of "urban renewal", along with the aforementioned mass transit system, which will include some commuter rail lines.

19 June 2009

And on the Malin Head...

It's odd enough to think that I'm at an age (and in a certain age group) in which I can state that this is my newest online writing venture. I am, of course, someone who used to have his own website, back when it was actually a bit difficult to run one. Thereafter, everyone migrated to Livejournal and soon people stopped writing and instead moved onto social media.

This reminds me of a great conversation I had with Dan when he visited Portland a couple of months ago. Dan is someone I've known for years, having met him through Livejournal. We both lamented its death and with it, the death of people who used to write about actual things happening to them, along with how those things made them felt. Perhaps I'm saying it all wrong in a poor attempt to add flowery prose to this but what we meant was that people have shifted away from actually saying anything about themselves and their lives and instead, they're now writing with alarming frequency about the most asinine things in their lives. Am I guilty of this too? Of course. It is, after all, easier to hide behind something in which you complain about the last fast food meal you partook in as opposed to mentioning that you're depressed because you're utterly directionless in life.

In our conversation, I brought up the point that even with blogs, a lot of things seem to have the focus of making money. That these outlets for our thoughts are ultimately "monetized". Of course, I look at the top of the page I'm writing this on and there's a tab at the top that says "Monetize".

I can't promise exactly what type of writing I'll do here and I don't imagine it'll ever match the frankness of the writing I did in my early twenties, but I do promise that it'll be better than endless Facebook updates. I leave you, for now, with the song that the title and URL of this blog reference, Blur's greatest ever song*, "This is a Low"


* - Besides perhaps "Young and Lovely", but I can never really decide.