Monday, June 19, 2017

The "Cherokee Triangle" of Louisville is Great: photojournal

Two people I love got married in Louisville this weekend.

Part of their goodness is generosity; characteristically, they put a bunch of us up in a very nice house in a part of town that is called the "Cherokee Triangle" and/or the "Highlands". I thought these were abutting neighborhoods but per Wikipedia: "[Cherokee Triangle] is considered a part of a larger area of Louisville called The Highlands..."

We were pretty wrapped up in wedding stuff, but I got to do a couple of runs and had a long walk to yoga (solid!) Saturday morning, which gave a taste of the neighborhood. 
Highlands ("The Highlands"? the "Highlands"? anyway)
is a lot like this mural.
I know nothing about Louisville. I've never been here and have no ties or family here.

I really liked it.

Okay so you know how glossy publications that do long-form sometimes throw in pictures with captions that are on the same topic as the overall story but kind of a different thread, thus surreptitiously shoehorning in content that didn't make the main copy? [note: Slimbuttons has no idea if this is "why" they do this. --Ed.] That is how this entry will be: some pictures thrown in, while the words are about two Lyft rides I took.

Lyft #1: B
First of all: both of these Lyft rides were good. Nice, responsible drivers picked me up on time and efficiently took me where I needed to go. Both were friendly; both were chatty, once I signaled that I was receptive to that.

First was B.

B tells me that he's originally from Iraq; actually, as he shortly clarifies, he is in fact from the mountains of Jordan. His mother is Arab is father is Kurdish. He does a thing with his hands, stacking right-to-left: "Iraq, Jordan, Israel". I wonder, as he does this, why he includes Israel, which never otherwise comes up in discussion; if you're going to throw another nation-state in that geographic layout it seems like the comparatively very big one immediately to the south would better anchor the map; I wondered and still wonder if B illustrates Jordan's location in this way because he assumed that I, as an America, would be more familiar with/interested in Israel?


Most of our conversation is located outside the complexity of B's point of origin. It comes up, but glancingly, and in much the same way that my being from Manhattan comes up: we are talking about the upsides and downsides of places like Louisville vs. places like Chicago (rather: we talk about the upsides and downsides of Louisville vs. Chicago, those actual places). Cosmopolitan-ness, diversity, food, nightlife, etc.
I saw this walking to yoga Saturday morning.
F*ck yeah, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School.
Towards the end of the ride, we gravitate towards questions of how long he's lived here and continue from there. B is excited about America in a contagious way; this has already been made clear in our conversation about cities and comes up again with an assertion he makes that, essentially, people in America from different backgrounds all feel "American", even if they also feel "African-American" or "Chinese-American" or what have you.

Then we loop back more explicitly to his own point of origin and sense of identity. We start talking about the Kurds--with no expressed animus to "the Arabs", he makes it clear that he speaks Arabic because of his mother but that he himself is/feels Kurdish. Once I say a couple of things that signal my interest in and basic awareness of the topic, he dives into the question of Kurdish independence and the position they find themselves in: caught between Turkey's wishes, the current Iraqi government's wishes, and their value as a coalition partner to external actors (not least: America) seeking reliable forces on the ground to assure stability.

B connects this to his enthusiasm for America by saying that, in terms of how he feels, he used to feel Iraqi first, and then Kurdish as a sub-categorical identity. But since the invasion and subsequent fracture of the Iraqi state, B no longer feels "Iraqi"; he seems unsure what that means or to whom he'd be giving allegiance.  It is clear that, while he is enthusiastic about America and living here, he feels negatively about the invasion and its impact on the civilian population. I do not ask how directly he has experienced some of the things that he mentions.

That's about it. We reach no conclusions. It is a "good talk."

B drops me off at the thrift store whose revenues benefit a non-profit that supports individuals infected with HIV; my parsing of Yelp has led me to believe this place will be good. I need clothes for the wedding of these wonderful people -- for a variety of Slimbuttons-typical reasons I have no appropriate clothes even for just like being out and in public, nevermind attending a wedding.

Lyft #2: R
The thrift shop is great! It has a good selection and a friendly gentleman minding the till who is thoughtful--perhaps clocking my appearance--about making sure that I in fact purchase everything a man would require in order to be presentable at a wedding.

I do that. It costs like thirty-three bucks. Thrift stores: great.

Waiting for me upon completion of shopping is R.

I think, from R's Lyft pic, that a young woman is coming to pick me up -- the little pic in the app shows a face with finely plucked eyebrows, light make-up, wide lips pinched in a sensuous moue. The sex of the person who picks me up, of R, is male; R's gender is male as well, but my misunderstanding is not a random accident.

R and I get to chatting and the two-- no, the three things that become clear at once are:

  1. R is gay
  2. R is young; maybe 20? I wonder what Lyft's minimum age is
  3. R is in a place where the transitional process into a public gay life still feels tentative to him

He presents a mix of caution and candor that is sad and inspiring. His Lyft pic is obviously a kind of declaration; as are the rainbow-striped sunglasses he wears. But he soft floats balloons throughout our conversation, and when I'm gentle with them--asking about them, rather than either puncturing them or letting them fly up and away to spare us both what I guess would be the awkwardness of my disapproval--he increases his frankness and specifies his terminology.
I approve this message.
So, for the first leg of the ride we are talking about how Louisville compares to the small town in Kentucky where he grew up. And the diction here is of people "like him", the lack of such people and the negative view of such people and what he experienced as a claustrophobic and judgmental social environment.

Then--just to skip a bit--by the ride's last ten minutes, R is telling me in some detail about his gig in Louisville as a drag queen (!!!) whose name I will not share in case he'd prefer I not do that but which is pretty great, and the freedom of inhabiting that persona and how he is proud that she is not one-dimensional: that he can play with different looks and makeup and songs all within the same persona (i.e., not "playing" a different character, but rather adding layers to this one persona, who is his alter-). And he talks about the "friend" (I'm putting that in quotes, but actually by this point in the conversation I think that this person maybe was in fact just a friend, that R might use a different word if this person were something else; but I dunno!) who kind of swept into R's small-town and helped R not recognize his own orientation (he, R, had had no trouble recognizing his own orientation) but helped R live it and--specifically--introduced R to the drag scene. R says that he'd not even know what "drag" was.

R opines that the drag scene in New York and other big markets is more about extravagance and being OTT, whereas in Louisville he characterizes it as being more about being "feminine" and "beautiful."

It is expensive. "You can't just buy something off the rack"; it's still a drag show -- you have to be a creation, fantastic.

He loves it -- it's clear.

But he's taking a break!

Sometimes, "you know how it is" (it had relaxed R a lot when I'd said that I used to be an actor; that I was unsuccessful but did get some work and share some of his feelings about inhabiting a persona), sometimes R feels a little underappreciated and (my editorialization) the scene sounds kind of political/dramatic. So R, though he loves it, who after all is a freaking kid in a state of identity flux, says that he's taking a break.

An urban place without some measure of picturesque decrepitude
is, at best, a suspect urban place.
Which is perhaps how I had the good fortune to get a ride from him.

We also talked about how nice the houses were getting as we drove towards my destination. Then we got to my destination and parted with handshakes and wishes of good luck.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Don't Know What She Looks Like

So here's an odd thing: I've thought so much on this post that it was basically written when I logged in tonight; written and in-fact revised a few times. Which meant I was certain I had in fact drafted it. But I hadn't! I'd just spent lots of time in my head.

You now know my inner life. It may looks much like yours, with different particulars.

Here are some of my particulars:

You know how it is, that it sometimes only takes a couple of instances for a practice or habit to become that thing that you do Mondays (or whatever)? A version of that that I'm having is this: I've been five or six times, in total, but a thing that I like to do Mondays--when I can--is go to this yoga teacher's really excellent class at Yogaworks (gorgeous) Westlake Village location. I go early, to "avoid traffic", even though in fact there is very little traffic in either direction between Topanga and Westlake Village at any time of day; I camp out in a great place to work for the afternoon (I never buy food; I buy one cup of coffee, take advantage of refills, and semi-surreptitiously eat protein bars; I tip well).

What's good about this teacher's class for me is that it is about music and flow and has a distinct and I would say joyful energy; it's not particularly technical re: what she calls out but it's athletic and moves fast and is a class where she gives you the room to do stuff that you want and the vibe of the class validates that: doing stuff that you want. It's a class where people think it's fun, or at worst cool wutever, if there's a sweaty guy in the front doing arm balances, rather than people thinking that's...whatever. Anyway.

The point of this post is
I've been to this teacher's class I'd say five or six times,
I'd like to go a bunch more,
and I have very little idea what she looks like.
I'm trying to keep it that way.

It started the first time I went to her class. I had pushed myself to do a bit of an exploration; Westlake Village isn't that far from where I live, but you have to want to go there from where I live. And/but I was having trouble finding classes I liked close to me, so exploring seemed smart. And so I'd pushed myself to do this afternoon exploration, and I'd done the thing with the coffee and sneaking my protein bars, and I was either tired or pissed off or one of these dumb stupid things that I get, so for the preamble to and the start of that very first class I was on my back, then face down and just doing the flow, not looking around, not saying hi to the teacher. And she is particularly mobile, particularly vocal: she's a chatty and dynamic presence, padding around, making jokes/observations (another reason I like her class: my favorite thing is when yoga teachers simply do not do the "yoga teacher talking" stuff. BUT, if they must, it's better if it is interesting/not dumb. This teacher is uniformly interesting, always generous, and never dumb; she veered into woo-woo like, one time for one sentence, and immediately laughed about it and etc.).

Anyway the point is I got about half-an-hour into my first class with her and I realized two things:

  1. I really liked her voice; both for itself (she has a nice voice, she says good stuff), and for the quality it had, bouncing around in this gorgeous high-ceiling'ed studio; and
  2. I had no idea what she looked like. Which was a little bit helping me love her voice, more.

So basically I decided to just go with that. And I have.

I know that she is a slim, Caucasian woman. I know that she has dark brown or maybe black hair. I have a couple of concepts regarding her nose. But beyond that: nothing. I do not think I could pick her out of a lineup. When I got that link for you, above, the one to her website, I averted my eyes from the screen where it showed so I again saw just "slim white lady dark hair".

I know that this affects my affect in class. I say "thank you" at the end, of course, or I do when the opportunity arises (it's a big class; she's very popular, chatting with regulars after). But I do not look up and make eye-contact during; I have never engaged with her, directly face-on. This is probably not weird from her viewpoint, at all; it's not like every yoga student has lots of face-on interactions with every yoga teacher. But it's a little weird for me: I tend to like connecting at least once or twice per class with teachers I like; a smile, a joke, whatever. If she has perceived any aspect of this, at all, I imagine she thinks that I'm shy or whatever. Or possibly cold, I guess -- I'd prefer not to think that but I suppose it could be.

But it. I love not really having a physical concept of her. Having nothing to do with blahBLAHblah all that; I just love knowing her only as a presence, a voice. It makes her exist purely as a presence, a voice. And of course she is a whole person, with a whole-person life, and in fact because she has added nice things to my life I wish her nothing but goodness in that whole-person life. But as she weaves through my life: she's a good yoga teacher; that's her principal role. And until the day--it will come--when I glance up at the wrong time and BAM: FULL INSTANTIATION -- until that happens she lives as a voice and a form and a practice and thoughts I enjoy and appreciate exactly for themselves.

Monday, June 12, 2017

HliAT #25: it's the airport so u r sto0p1d Edition

How long it actually Takes to...

sit at the red light in the shuttle from the parking garage, on the way to your flight, about thirty minutes after you wanted to be there, 
thinking "if I could just teleport to the moment when I'm at the front of the security line I'd be fine" because you're stressed about what the security lines will be like; 
then you get through the red light and ask the shuttle driver if you should just walk from terminal 1 to terminal 3 because traffic's so bad 
& he laughs and's like, "I'd say no need" 
and then laughs again like (but not saying) "but don't blame me, friend" 
and you say (out loud) "don't worry I won't blame you" 
and he laughs again;
then you get through terminal traffic 
and to the terminal 
and hop out and everything goes pretty smoothly: 
security isn't that bad 
and here you are at the front of the line, the place you wanted to teleport to this much time ago,
taking off your shoes: 12:18.87

side-note: you arrive at the gate nine minutes before boarding, just as they start making announcements.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

HliAT #24: Graduation

How long it Actually Takes to...

(actually, this shouldn't be "Takes to..." ⇒ "Takes for...") the lady saying the kid's name to say the kid's name and the kid to stand up and come down from the bleachers and walk across the floor, and then the lady says the next kid's name while the first kid is still traversing, shaking hands, taking pictures and getting diplomas so the point is we've got the time from the start of one name to the start of another: 0:10.24

At 10 seconds per name, if there are (say) seventy young women in the graduating class, that's 700 seconds = a little under 12 minutes for the "say names, shake, get diploma" bit. I'm not going to guess about other class sizes, because maybe they'd say the names more quickly if (e.g., like at Stuy, there are more like 800 graduates).

Thursday, June 8, 2017

HliAT #23: OmiGOSH HOW Can I DEAL with this THING with the GARage

How long it Actually Takes to...

drive all the extra flights all the way up to the top (ninth) floor of the garage at Hot 8 Yoga Sherman Oaks that you have to drive because of the deal that Hot 8 has with the office building in the office of which this location is set, and then validate at the 9th floor (so they know that you did that -- drove all the way up) and then take the elevator down to Hot 8, which is on the ground floor: 05:35.70

How long it Actually Takes to...

not have to do all that; i.e., just park in like the first available spot (generally on ground or 1st floor) and walk into Hot 8, because it's the evening or the weekend and the weird thing with parking is not in effect: 02:49.65.

So we've got a difference of just under three minutes, here.

Pretty sure this one speaks for itself.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hong Kong June 2017 #2

Wut wuuuuuut #HongKong.

I'm gonna keep doing this thing senza sorted thematics.

A Haircut!
So I tweeted about this $100 voucher I got, for the "spa" at the Mandarin Oriental. My first thought was: "awesome, I will get a massage!" Turns out that massages at the ol' MOHK start at about 3x the value of my voucher. But I semi-need/want a haircut; the voucher was good for the salon; I got one! The main differences I experienced between this ~$60  men's haircut and the ~$60 men's haircuts I've gotten in America--my data on these are about a decade old; I stopped getting fancy haircuts awhile back--was that, in this haircut, there was no expectation at all that I'd chat with the fellow who was doing the cutting (M.). M., by the way, did a thoughtful and terrific job -- he was the opposite of some fancy/stuffy haircut guy; he was kind of intuitive and precise. Anyway: he absolutely did not expect me to chat, or try to pass the time with chat. WHICH O MY GOSH I APPRECIATED SO MUCH. A big part of why I stopped getting fancy haircuts, in fact, was the craziness of spending a lot of money to sit in a chair and have to do something I am bad at and don't like: make conversation. M. was very friendly the few times I did say a thing, but for the most part he made the whole thing about my hair; he got me a magazine; he moved around the fact that I was catching up on The Economist Espresso on my phone, gently nudging me where necessary.

Anyway, this was worth it -- a good use of time and the gift of the voucher. Now I'm just a tiny bit concerned that, because my haircut took place in the "barber shop" and not the "salon" despite the fact that I called the "salon" I won't be able to apply the voucher but...that is kind of a dumb thing to be concerned about, obvs. Not that that'll stop me.

Leaving the Hotel omigosh All These People
This was great.

At dinner with the senior colleague with whom I am taking this trip, he had mentioned (he's an old hand at the ol' MOHK) that it was very much worth it to check out how "the streets [are] transformed" on Sundays. I thought that he meant they were totally crowded and, y'know, whoa! Like that. He did not. He meant this:

Chater Road


Ice House Street

and, when I went out again later on in the evening, this:


Assuming you don't know wut's going on here (I sure did not), let me first just tell you literally what you're seeing.

What you're seeing is major streets in downtown Hong Kong, full of people in tents and in gerry-rigged kind of cardboard...hangouts; the streets are formally closed off, no traffic's allowed on them. The people are everywhere, and there is food all over: packaged foods and meals and also some music playing in the distance. The people are Filipino, pretty much uniformly, and the atmosphere is relaxed and a little festive. Like a Sunday barbecue, or people hanging out in a park on a nice day.

It turns out, that's exactly what this is.

As it was explained to me later by a couple Hong Kong-ers: an aspect of HK that you, reader, may be know and that if you do not know may not surprise you is that Hong Kong has a large population of people who work in various service capacities (housekeeping, home health-aids, etc.) from the Philippines. Now, apparently, (I don't quite get this, because Hong Kong has a lot of parks; I'm not being salty I'm just saying I don't understand) there is either not enough or not enough accessible communal hangout space for these folks to kick back on Sundays -- which is, as in many places, often a day-off. SO, there is some kind of formalized thing where they take over the streets like this; it's not even that rowdy, they're just hanging out. A white guy walking through them taking some pictures was paid zero mind; totally chill.

So, clearly: I loved this. Thanks to my colleague for encouraging me to check it (I thanked him like, actually, too. Not just on this blog).

Mak's Noodle
Readerfriend, I'll be str8: I'm crushing it this trip with the "go to that place you've been meaning to go to." So, in the afternoon, when I sallied forth and encountered the festive tented streets, I marched m'self to this famous noodlery. I bought these shrimp wonton and noodles for $40HKD.

It was good! And I, personally, appreciated the fact that the bowl was not that big. I don't like having a like bucket of noodles thrown down in front of me.

In fact, though: not only was the bowl not very big. An apparently DIVISIVE fact of Mak's wonton is that they are traditionally sized, which means small. Apparently a "traditional" wonton should be able to fit on a teaspoon? Or something.

Turndown Service
Let's stop talking about food (don't worry: just for, like, three seconds).

I am struck by how quickly I'm adjusting to aspects of the preposterous luxury in which I am swaddled, here at this hotel. My first evening, when a woman showed up at my door to do "turndown service", my instinct was that it was obvious she shouldn't come in: I was in a robe, in the room, working. She--in the least pushy way possible; in a very gracious way--seemed to make an opposite assumption: that "turndown service" was a service offering that happened around the guest, to make the guest's time and space nicer. And I kind of went with that, and it was fine -- the little things that they do for turndown (the thing with the bedcovers; leaving a little gift of candy or some personal grooming product) are nice: they do things with the lights and the shades and generally make the room feel nice and calm and evening-y. It weirded me out a small amount when she kneelingly placed the slippers closer to me, as though to minimize the steps I'd have to take without them. But it was nice; I felt weird the whole time, but it was nice.

Anyway my point is that literally by the second evening, I was looking forward to this. I was like, "hey, where's that turndown service?" and was happy when it came, and much more comfortable, and felt much more like, "how nice. someone is so nicely looking after my room to make it and me ready for evening. how nice."

I'm gonna have more to say about all this luxury stuff, but that'll come (if it comes) at the end of the trip.

Lan Kwai Fong: Finding the Right Part of Wellington Street
So, when I wrote in the first entry how Central was different, and I didn't think I'd find the same scrappy, good stuff (restaurants), I felt a flicker of, "well, you don't know where to look." This is a feeling I'm accustomed to, as a New Yorker -- I remember being in the Met Bar in London where my then-girlfriend was a waitress, and having some kind of marketing/promoter guy explain to me how New York didn't have stuff to do at night ("it's shit -- people talk about New York at night but it's shit") and quickly accelerating past angry to, like, wow, dude, you're a knob.

So I knew I was a bit of a knob, saying that about Central. There are places everywhere. Anyway: fixed it.

So a "famous" "walky area" of Central is this distract of smaller streets called Lan Kwai Fong. I knew about LKF from previous trips: it's a thing. And/but because it's a thing, I had written it off. I'd walked LKF, I'd found a couple of places, but y'know it was not as good as the places in K-town that I liked; I assumed that because it's the kind of place with a hundred things on the Internet "100 Things You MUST Do in Lan Kwai Fong," and because so many of the things I apparently 'must' do are like stand on some rooftop and pay $20 (US) for a f#(king cocktail, I was get it.

So that was wrong, also. I just had to walk it.

Specifically, you just have to keep going northwest up on Wellington Street, past the break where Lyndhurst Terrace jukes off and Wellington gets smaller.

where Wellington picks up...

Don't get me wrong: it's not K-town. It's more touristy, more backpack-y, etc. etc. But it's good: a lot better than what I'd been seeing. It's the kind of place where you can find

Goose Web!
So, a little echo of the thing from my first entry of this trip, where I kept thinking that I was ahead of Hong Kong but really I was behind it. Small one but I think it's basically the same thing. I'd seen "Goose Web" on a few menus; it of course caught my eye. I'd tried to order it once but been turned down ("out!"); in my state of denied-ness, I imagined that "goose web" was like the goose's neck wattle (do geese even have neck wattles? also what is a "neck wattle"? deliberately not linking, here), somewhat awkwardly translated onto the English menus.

Instead of being an awkward translation of this thing that I'm not even sure it exists, "goose web" is a perfectly straightforward translation of, y'know, the "web" part of a goose -- meaning pretty much the feet.
goose web!
Culinarily, this was a little bit less exciting. I like eating the feet of poultry--I like chicken feet, a lot--but I've had them before. The webbed-ness of goose feet just adds some skin and (maybe) fat, it's not super-exciting. But they were tasty and knobbly and deliciously sauced.

The place on good-Wellington that finally set me straight re: the web of the goose is called Wah Fung Roast Meat Restaurant [note: I really like how on OpenRice the "didn't like it" emoji is the yellow face crying; it's like: "how much did you not like this restaurant? wow."). It's a lovely place, where the waiter was totally nice. The goose web there is good, as is the roast duck, which I ordered but won't post a picture of here. wtf is this, a food blog?
mission creep
Also--remember, we're on "good" Wellington now--Wah Fung is a place where you can get roast duck + goose web for $206 HKD, which is by no means cheap but is also not crazy: it's basically two meals worth of protein (or kinda protein-ous gristle, in the case of the goose web) for about $26 USD.

I'm just STOPPING when these entries are done because they don't have a point to reso

Monday, June 5, 2017

Hong Kong February 2016 (sic) #4

Don't worry, I'll be clear about time as I do this. I'm writing these words on the date this is posted in June, 2017.

But the rest of this post--I'll be clear, when this starts--is a post that, in draft form, has been sitting around since my first trip to Hong Kong in February 2016. It's kind of weird to think how that was my first trip, not that long ago, and that my second trip was just like a four months ago (no time). Time dilations: the things that have changed and that haven't, etc.

Anyway: here is that post. It's about being a flâneur. Beginstart:

Walking is different from running. I mean, duh. But the specific aspect I'm concerned with here is how differently distance is experienced in each.

A ten-miles run is like, "cool, great, good long run." It's a part of a day. Just a part of a day, "got a run in"; maybe a day with the bandwidth for a longer run, but that's it.

A day in which I walk ten miles is...well it means that that day was about walking.

As my yesterday was, here in Hong Kong.

Here's the path:

wait 2017 slimbuttons breaking in what the f$*K??? Look, here's what I wrote for myself 16 months ago and--

oh no, wait! wait I totally figured it out. It's cool, we're good: I see, reading down, that I actually totally did this a very smart way. I promise I did not engineer this little outburst in green; it's an example of a thing that I constantly do. Not green outbursts; this: I actually usually tend to not f#*k things up too badly the first time I do them. But then I often wind up putting them away for awhile (e.g., this post) before coming back to them; and when I do that I often forget that I've not totally f#*ked them up and so when I come back to them I do redundant work till I realize, "ah, crap. I did that. That was fine." Anyway, sorry for interrupting. We're back FEBRUARY 2016:

Here are the relevant legs that I walk...ed. Okay sorry I'm now--this is me now. 2017. But I'm going to keep going through the 2016 notes, writing out the entry, so it's also sort of recent past tense? I guess? Look we're just gonna have to get through it together.

Between Ursus Fitness and Ching Lin terrace (the flat where I stayed on that first trip). Distance: 0.9km.

Between Ursus Fitness and some place that I felt was sufficient to identify as "cafe", so sorry I can't give you a map on this one because I have no idea wtf I was talking about but I did write the Distance: 0.5km.

Between H-Kore and Ching Lin terrace. Distance: 3.4km.

Between H-Kore and the pier, to take the ferry to Kowloon. Distance: 0.8km.

Wandering around Kowloon; no map here again but in this case I remember: I estimated the distance based on marking out the general path I knew I had followed. Distance (one direction; "out"): ~2.4km.

Okay, so my path was that I walked
from my flat to Ursus
then from Ursus to the cafe -- oh yeah! I met a friend at Ursus to work out, then we had some food and caught up, then I walked home...yeah! yeahyeahyeah:
so from the cafe where I caught up with my friend back "to" Ursus but really past Ursus
continuing from Ursus back to my flat.

Then from my flat to H-Kore -- this was a weird day. WTF was I doing? A class at Ursus and H-Kore? Two workouts isn't weird, but that's a weird way to do it and weird workouts to--o well wutever:
then from H-Kore on to the ferry terminal
then the ferry took me to Kowloon (no walking)
and I walked around Kowloon
walked back to the ferry
took the ferry back
walked from the ferry terminal past H-Kore
and from there back to Ching Lin terrace.

What all that boils down to is just that I walked every "leg" twice ("there and back" in one way or another). So,

2 * (3.4 + 0.9 + 0.5 + 0.8 + 2.4)
= 2 * 8
= 16 km
= 9.94 miles

And the whole day, I remember, was about walking. Even though it was also a very full day: I did these workouts, I saw an old friend, I explored Kowloon some (walking, but a different kind). Nonetheless, the substrate of every thing that day was wallllking and--this is interesting--I was tired at the end of it. That I remember, too; "bone-tired". And in a different way than I am after running ten miles. The psychological wear of that much slower movement attritted on me in a different way.

Why'd I do that? Not the walking, I mean -- that was a smart idea, it was great to see how the city connected and how the Kennedy Town was fluidly contiguous into Central. I mean: write this post, after such a long time? Why was it important to me to do that? I don't know. If you read it -- I thank you. And if not, you're not reading this, so y'know whatever. Merry Christmas.

Anyway: walked 10 miles one day in February 2016 in Hong Kong. Major motion picture adaptation coming Fall 2020.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

J. and M. at Primo's Donuts

I am at Primo's Donuts, a famous donutery in Los Angeles.

The go-to "buttermilk" donut (click link, scroll to "Specialty") is exceeding expectations. Paired with a cup of (good!) coffee, it's great-- a rush of sugar, fat, caffeine. I'm happy about this. I'm into the idea of the L.A. donut thing, but I rarely do it because in practice it often disappoints. So I'm in a good mood on this stop on the way to my mentee, early on an L.A. Saturday morning.
Someone else had arrived at the same time that I had. Older man...mid-60's; African-American. Noteworthy mostly in the conspicuousness with which he presented as a military veteran: fatigue pillbox cap; snug olive t-shirt that looked army surplus-y even before I saw that it said "Marines"; camo cargo pants. He looked like he liked how he looked, looking like this.

This man's name was a name I know. We'll call him J.

Primo's has three, maybe four tables. It's a small shop and people mostly come in, grab donuts, go.

I stashed myself in the back table by the wall. I was gonna enjoy donut and coffee, read some, and head out.

J sat at the table immediately next to me, one table closer to the front door. The tables in Primo's are snugly fit, so he was ~two feet away.

At this table already was a man we'll call M. M was Caucasian, J's age, with a full head of white hair in a careful, kind of boyishly curliqued, part. Pinkish roundish face. He wore khaki shorts and a blue-tone Hawaiian print shirt.

M had dismantled the day's newspaper; by the time J arrived its guts were all over their table.

I will now begin, best I can, to recount from my notes how they talked to each other. I can promise that I did not capture everything. But I can also promise that everything here is words that were said, with punctuation added only for clarity, etc.

PAUSE is a pause, during which we are listening to their silence.

BREAK is a discontinuity in the action: jump-cut in time.

J (having picked up a fragment of paper; reading)   Ha. Here...this guy's complaining about, but I like it, how they're going to get rid of all the EPA requirements. But I like that. I like it.

M (face in paper, not looking up) Mmm.

J (paper down, fixing M with a stare) Cuz they, the [name of golf club] we've been dealing with these forestry service requirements? These rules, that...

Whereupon J recounted a baroque, years-long set of misadventures that this golf club has had with fulfilling these (per J) complex and onerous forestry service requirements. I'm eliding the details because (a) J's narrative skipped around, and (b) there's no reason to get too specific, here.

J (finishing up) we're invested in it now. And if we start with a new person we start the whole thing again. And it's cost us [millions], this whole process. We'd just done what they wanted, it'd've cost [much less]. But the process cost [millions].

M (not looking up; has not looked up this whole time) What process is that?


M (lowering paper; shows it to J) I've killed a moose that big.

J responds with what I'd call more-than-polite interest, leading to a discussion of the specific weight/size of such a moose, as photographed; how one can sort of tell weight/size by the antlers; and M's observation that the hunter and corpse in these photos are always positioned in such a way that the perceived size of the corpse is maximized.

Primo's "buttermilk bar"
photo credit: Endo's Edibles
By this point I have, as you can tell, totally given up on 'reading'. I am in fact on my phone, taking these notes. In my defense (if defense is required) we're in a bustling coffee shop--it's not as if these guys are trying to be private. And I'm there, flush to the wall, close quarters. They're not being rude or impinging on me. I'm just saying: my choices boil down to "listen, or leave."

So, yeah: duh.

I am at this point working with two non-mutually-exclusive hypotheses:
(1) J is a more generous conversationalist than M. He's nicer about showing interest in M's topics than M has so far been about topics that J brings up (Forestry regs vs. moose).
(2) J and M may also have disagreements, re: public affairs. I'm almost sure they're both vets; they interact with the easy companionship of older people who share biographic essentials. But their conversation has already had these little moments that feel like...either static or deliberate dodges. The most obvious so far has been M's forceful disinterest during J's jeremiad about the environmental regulations. M was so consistently disinterested that I started out thinking he might be a jerk, or in fact disliked J; as it became clear that neither of these things was true, and a few other things happened, I began to think that this hypothesis (2) was a possibility.


M Yesterday, I did my little estate sale circuit, and you know how estate agents will advertise a sale for a whole area? So I thought before church I'd go drive by.

J Mm.


M (drops his paper with intent) Okay so, you feel wetness?

J (it is clear that he's answering "do you feel wet, right now?")

M That's the right answer. But why is it the right answer? If you have a wet towel on your arm, do you feel wetness.

J (again, kind of transparently reorienting) ...yes.

M No. "No" is right answer.

Thus follows a long exegesis by M of this article he's read. It is about how skin can only feel five sensations, and "wetness"--the fact of a thing being wet--is not one of them. So "feeling wetness" is one of our learned responses. It's a combination of other sensations that we learn to process as "wetness". This apparently also goes for "oily", "soft", and "hard".

J (engaged) ...then, if the water is the temperature of your finger and you stick your finger in the water, what're you feeling?

M Perhaps pressure?


M I just thought that was interesting.

J (not unfriendlily) It goes into a level that I find, uh, what...unnecessary.

M Minutiae.

J Exactly.

M I like things that are counter-intuitive.

J Do you think...would you say that you're more into the, uh, the physical side than the social, the human side?

M (gives it thought. Then:) I think so.

J I'd say so, with you.


J (with the paper up, open, splayed in his face -- like an improv comedian miming "reading the paper") Did you read this with the Tulsa cop? Why do they think she shouldn't be on patrol.

Whereupon M begins a delicate recitation of the details of a recent police shooting: a white Tulsa cop shot a black citizen under questionable (at best) circumstances. I might, of course, be projecting my own priors onto this scene, but I got the sense that M was aware of and wrestling with separate concerns:
  • he, a white man, was recounting an episode that many see as a manifestation of systemic racism--the murder of a black citizen at the hands of police--to his friend J, who is black.
  • BUT J, the black man in this conversation, is also the man more inclined to take the cop's side in this kind of thing. Certainly, that was the inflection of J's opening this topic, which was done with a tone of now what's this fresh nonsense? re: the fact that the cop had been taken off-duty.
As M is trying to explain what is known of the shooting itself:

J You know how you white people are (does breathlessness:) he was a 'big scary black guy'. I still don't see how they can uh...I don't see 2nd-degree murder but I can see manslaughter-- (I might be making this up, of course, but he really looked to me like he got a little bit sadoh, and not guilty of manslaughter unanimously.

M Well 'not guilty' has to be unanimous otherwise a hung jury.

J Oh oh--

M (joking) 'Duh'--

J You're right I got caught up by the press's hyperbole. (pronounces the world "hyper" "bowl"; he continues reading. His shoulders shift.) And she's been returned to the force that's a mistake...I wonder if she just, she had her finger on the trigger and just tightened it or something.

Reader, you may notice a conflict in J's view here; I did, as well, but no there was no inflection point I'm not recounting. He just kind of eased into two separate responses. M again explicates facts of the story, and the dynamic crystallizes. J seems visibly moved by an aspect of the event. But he also continues to make allowances for the cop. 

M relates that no, the cop herself in this case was not reaching for mitigation; part of the reason she was back on the force at all was that she had owned full responsibility and thought she could be useful in counseling other cops on how to deal with similar situations. [note: I am doing my best to wipe my own views on this story, which is of course an emotional one, from the account. I'm sorry if the whole inevitably triggers anyone reading. I'm also just recounting their conversation, without recourse to independently confirmed facts of the event (not that M's facts are necessarily wrong)].

J Still for her to be back on the force. That's a mistake.


J (dropping paper; perhaps relieved with some lightness after previous subject) Oh this is funny. "To save the republic, take away Trump's twitter account." (laughing) Let's take away people's rights, especially the president.

M talks about how "the twitter guy" had "apologized for Trump" -- meaning not on Trump's behalf, but rather for Twitter's role in Trump's prominence/election etc.

J Hoisted on your own petard. Do you know the meaning of that phrase?

M ...I know a [some totally unrelated thing (M does not know the phrase)]

J No no it...a petard, was a bomb, in the middle ages. And so if it blew up in your hand, if your own bomb blew you up, that was being 'hoisted on your own petard'.

[note: I had a completely different understanding of this phrase. Completely. I checked, sitting there: J's version was right.]


M That reminds me of, when I was a cop in South Central. There was a guy on the force, who was a little...let's say he was a little wild, let's say. And he found some kids, they were playing with firecrackers, and he wanted to show them how dangerous firecrackers were.

The story ends when this "wild" cop does some crazy thing where he confiscates the kids' firecrackers, wraps them all together in an alley and sets them off and, because they're packed so tight or something, they blow up like a bomb and a piece of the shrapnel takes off the "wild" cop's finger.

M So you could say, there, he was 'hoisted on his petard.'

J Yes you could.

So he certainly showed them how dangerous those were.

Yes, he did.

Frankly, primed by their previous topic and the preface of a "wild" cop in South Central in the '70s or '80s, I was braced for a much sadder story than that.

M (standing) Okay J.

J Oh you're taking off.

M Yeah I'm gonna go, hit those garage sales.

The two go through a summary of convoluted social plans; a lot of names are mentioned and my sense is that some friends of theirs (a couple?) want to do a thing like a dinner, and that J and M's wives (female names; spoken of with a mix of emotions (mostly positive!)) want this dinner to happen and J and M are happy to go along with that.

M leaves: walks out the door, gone. I can see him through the window, like a character in a stage play. And then, also like the character in a much too broadly directed stage play, he does a whole take and he stops, pauses, turns back and comes in. It really looks like, basically, bad acting. It really, as far as I can tell, is not bad acting.

A conversational thread I skipped earlier was that
M had asked J
in what was clearly a somehow loaded way
if J had "sent those emails and made those calls."

And J had said something that,
even then,
I registered as clearly a kind of a shrug or avoidance.

M is still acting, badly; he is doing "guy squaring up uncomfortably with his friend but he feels like he's gotta."

M So you had stated that you couldn't live with misleading [name and name]. But you're planning on misleading them.

J (slight smile, sloooowly looks up from the paper) ...and?

M You are compromising on the values you stated.

J (this does bother J; he does not find 'compromising on values' funny) No. I am, going to [do the thing I said, just in a different way].

[note: I'm eliding details here, clearly. Which is a shame. But, y'know.]

M But you're misleading them on it.

Yes but I am going to [do that thing.] Just, [differently].

M Yes but you're okay misleading them on it.

That's kind of where it ends. They don't have a conflict; from the start M projects this sense of "I've just gotta say," and J projects "I guess I hear you, but this is my thing." To wit, to conclude it:

J But I appreciate your, (laughing, not unkindly) ah registering your, ah...

M leaves. Not in a huff; everything seems basically fine. He said the thing; he's off.

Within...I'd say within 90 seconds of M leaving, J--whom I have already pegged as a highly, highly interactive human being--turns to me and

J (tipping his chin at my phone, in my hands, on which I am basically writing these words)   I mean, you've been working on those fingers all morning.

And I totally straight-up lie to this nice man; well, a lie of omission. I say (which is true) that I am trying to text with this kid that I mentor, because it's a bit of a scramble to figure out scheduling and I don't want to wake up his household by arriving too early.

Yes, this is a lot of information to just share. But I sense J is not a man who will mind. Indeed: he goes back to his paper, but then within a minute:

J   How long've you been, doing that?

I tell him.

He tells me a long story about mentoring: how he mentored this guy through ROTC, how the guy is now 46 and has a family and he (J) jokes that this guy is "my dad's vengeance on me," meaning that the ups-and-downs of this guy's life, and how J's own heart was tugged along on that ride, was J's dad's vengeance for some stuff I guess J put his own dad through. Because J never had a son himself, see, so this guy this mentee that he started working with through ROTC, this was how J got a sense of all he must've put his poor old dad through.

I smile and laugh--I don't mean I perform those things, I mean this guy in this donut shop is telling me a wonderful story.

He says he really valued that, mentoring through ROTC.

I'm happy that I can tell him, in total sincerity, that one my own mentees favorite things is Junior ROTC. He takes the stuff where you memorize the rules and procedures pretty seriously; he seems really rewarded by advancing through it.

I thank J and he thanks me and we wish each other good mornings. I leave Primo's, and go to hang with my mentee.

Hong Kong June 2017 #1

I'm going to not-limit myself to finessing entries into thematic buckets cuz that makes these take much longer. Much longer, i.e., I have slips of paper from not just my last trip but the one before that because...well, because crazy. Maybe I'll do something about those slips on this trip.

I am in Hong Kong for 5 days, (one down!). I am, for the first time, staying in a fancy hotel for that whole time. That is great, I've gotta say.

I'll try in these posts to tell you a little bit about the trip.

Correcting People Like a D1¢k (They Were Totally Right All Along)
This is a thing that is typical of me, in contexts in which (a) I'm tired or frazzled; in this case after 20 hours of transit, and (b) faced with the complexity of a new set of norms.

I overestimate the extent to which these new people, whoever they are, and this new context, whatever it is, are distant from my own norms and assumptions. And, at least in my own head, get impatient about it. It actually is usually in my own head -- most of these interactions are friendly (all of the ones listed here, for example, were cheerful on all parts).

First D1¢kness
I get into my cab at the airport and ask to go to the Mandarin Oriental. The driver does not speak English: no surprise, no problem. However, he seems confused by my destination: surprise, problem. So he starts driving and I say it a few times and we confirm generally that we're going to "Central" (me, tired, thinking: ????) and I say the name a bunch so that, y'know, I guess this driver who crazily has not heard of one of the oldest/fanciest hotels in a city where generally cab drivers know stuff like that (me, tired, thinking: ????)  will maybe have his memory trigger and know where to go. At one point he's like "very old", in English, and I laugh and am like "yes! fancy hotel!" And it was friendly, but especially right there I was like, "What is going on? How has he not heard of this place?" So I keep saying the name of the road, etc., and at some point he's like "yup I got it!" (not in those words) so I stop, but then when he pulls up he's like, "Yes, right?" And again I'm bemused: yes, of course! This hotel, which says "Mandarin Oriental", which is a super-famous hotel in the city and whose name I've just said like...yes. Yes, obviously, this is right.

Second D1¢kness
So, remember how one paragraph up there was a clueless cab driver who was like "very old" as if he were establishing the identity of this very famous hotel in his city? Let's keep that in mind.

I get to the hotel and I'm way early to check-in but they have my room ready and that's awesome so I check-in and settle and then, even though I don't think it's what I'm up for, I am in fact in time for the 9am Vinyasa Flow class at the hotel's gym/spa, so I call the spa to find out what the deal is with that. And this woman who answers, at this fancy hotel with a high level of service, has like never heard of this class or (it seems) Vinyasa yoga, for that matter. And she's all let me check for you and no, but we have personal trainers and I am all (to myself) man, okay, what is going on? It was on the website! And I don't care that much but it's weird and then she asks if I saw it on the website and I'm like, "Yes, I did!" and she's like, "Oh because maybe it was the other one then," and I am like wut.

There are two Mandarin Oriental hotels in Hong Kong. And they are like a block apart (???). But there are, certainly, two.

Which makes it really reasonable for a cab driver to be confused when you just say the name, over and over, as if that's supposed to clearly establish which one you mean. He might even clarify by asking if you're staying at the one that is older (luckily, I am).

It might also be why someone who knows her spa really well might be confused when you start calling up asking about classes at some other spa that is not hers; but good thing for you, slim-bozo-buttons, she might be on top of her game enough to gently point out that, in fact and surprising no one (ex post; surprising you, in the moment, you dope), you're the bozo here -- not everyone else.

And yet, I still managed to do it again. I settle into my room I go out for a run; I come back and I want some coffee after a nap; I've noticed that my room has a setup for tea (kettle, teabags) but no coffee and I'm not annoyed but I'm like, eh, sure I get it, cosmopolitan town but a place where tea might be much more the norm.

So I march on up to the Concierge and I'm like, "hey, it's so great all the tea stuff, thank you, but I was wondering could you guys send some instant coffee up to my room?" And the thing I want to be clear about is that I don't want a room service cup of coffee because those cost--I mean it's crazy, what a cup of coffee from room service costs in this hotel. So I go through this slightly tortuously involved thing of "instant coffee, stir it into the water" -- I don't think I'm insulting the Concierge's like language skills, which I assume all along are fluent, but it turns out I'm still playing myself because he's nodding after a while and sort of repeats, like, "So you want, some instant coffee, that you can make, with the water?" And I'm like yes dude, yes, instant coffee c'mon I ran past 5 coffee shops coming back here yes, instant coffee and then he says something weird like, "So, you like this more?" And I'm like more than what?? And he's, "You don't like the espresso machine in the room?"

So yeah. There's a very nice high-end espresso machine in the room with the little pods and all that. Which I've encountered before! And in my defense was (a) not with the tea, where it might logically be, and (b) actually in a slightly weird place (the closet by the door, with the safety deposit box and all that). But STILL: my approach to this was clearly fashioned on some idiot cultural script about coffee being "less of a thing" in a big eastern city than it would be in a western city; a thing which I myself have experienced ample evidence of not being the case. But I was there, with my dumb script, until the nice Concierge was like, "yeah man, we got you."

How the Heck Was That So Expensive?
I will below lay out a list of restaurants I've in mind to try out on this trip. So, an obvious downside of staying in Central rather than Kennedy Town is that my favorite kind of food thing--tramping out and finding a place with no English--is much harder in Central. I mean, I have tried that approach here, in Central, on previous trips. And I have basically found no places with no English; "off the beaten path" has to take on a different meaning when every path in an area is beaten solidly flat; and, especially: beaten solidly flat by exactly the kind of moneyed ex-pat customer base that drives the establishment of restaurants that I'm not that interested in. But -- an upside is that I am much closer to a number "you've gotta try this place!"-type places. While I find that genre of thing kind of uniformly disappointing, it's also interesting sometimes to see what the thing is that people are writing about. So I may wind up doing that more.

In fact, on my first day I did it twice! #result. The first place I tried, for lunch on my own, was Yung Kee restaurant. My read is that Yung Kee is meant to be an archetypal (i.e., tourist-friendly, although it did seem like also Hong Kongers were there) "Hong Kong eatery": low-key classic Cantonese dishes; "comfort food". It is, in this, a lot like the kind of places that I've enjoyed wandering into on previous trips. It is a little bit gilded/fancy inside for me, but I was seated right at a communal table and, after a brief tussle with the waiter (who was very friendly) where he tried to look out for me by telling me to order what was kind of clearly the dish for Americans instead of the dish that I wanted, and I briefly acceded out of some sense of politeness, then I got up and changed back and thank goodness I did, got my food and it was great. Here is a picture of that food, because Internet:
Braised Frog Legs with Bitter Gourd
So: food, really delicious; slightly overfussy setting but not like fancy; delicious food. Sounds like a totally slimbutton's HK dining experience!

Except the bill. I expected this, prices were clearly posted, I'm casting no shade. Except to note that this meal--and I've had very similar meals, often with a soup course or something before, several times in Hong Kong--cost $242 HKD. That is, according to the Internet right now $31.07 USD. So, wow. Again I am not casting shade on Yun Kee -- if its age and location and clientele can support those prices, charge those prices I guess. But it's such a striking difference, paying over 3x what you're used to for the same kind of food.

I won't let it deter me from exploration on this trip, though. That would be a real shame: to let what will ultimately be a marginal difference of like a hundred-bucks (between "would've paid" and "did pay", over the few meals I'll be able to get on my own) stifle this chance to get out and explore this great city. Just: different areas, different markets. Cities, economies!

Anyway that's my review of Yun Kee: it is a nice Hong Kong eatery-type place that costs ~3x what such a place needs to, in my view, but I get it.

This Gathering of Peddlers What Was It?
At the corner of Connaught Place and Pedder Street, underneath these pedestrian overpasses with traffic rushing by in this kind of thick, congested chunk of city, I saw this.
I had no idea what it was. What I saw, since I know this is not a great photo, is two big clusters (this cluster continued behind me, and there was another cluster on the other side of the street) of people of mixed ethnicities (meaning, different people of different ethnicities: Chinese, Filipino, perhaps Vietnamese as well) kind of strapping up those characteristic big multicolored plastic satchels you see here. Really strapping 'em up: circling them with duct tape and all of that. The pedestrians moved through them as though this were an ordinary thing. Ten seconds of Internet research hasn't helped me understand what was happening here; my preliminary thoughts were that these folks were either hawkers gathering up their unsold wares for the day, either from a market that had been here or elsewhere, or that they were the consumers of such goods, having bought what looked to me like a big bunch of tchotchkes per person (I only got a glance at the goods, which looked like street vendor tchotchkes to me; certainly there were a lot of them per person), that they were now packing up to maybe take on the ferry? (This is across the street from a big ferry terminal). But: I have no idea! Anyway, it was thick and fun.

Restaurants So Far
Zooooooooom. Audible! This section was going to be "my list of places I want to go on this trip", but honestly...who knows if I'll even keep to this vague 'list', right? Lemme just tell you about the places I've been so far.

Yun Kee -- dun. See Above.

Mott32 -- bit of a cheat here. This is not the kind of place I'd dismiss out of hand on its merits; a chic upscale take on Cantonese cuisine that's largely well reviewed sounds nice to me. But it's very expensive, the "chic" part doesn't actually interest me, etc. So I'd usually not put this on the list; but I had dinner with my senior colleague last night and he suggested it and we went there so I'm adding it to my list since I did it -- and certainly, it wasn't overrated or anything. It was really tasty Cantonese food that was very expensive but also very good, so y'know: that thing.

Y'know what THAT'S IT. Sorry, I know this post doesn't have much of a thrust or conceit or point, but I love HK and I like sharing it with the like 11.2 people I imagine reading this blog (hi, mom). As more interesting stuff happens, I will report back; or if I do any really awesome navel-gazing that I feel impelled to share.

Hoooong Kooooooooong here we go herewego