I hope everyone enjoyed their much-needed and well-deserved long weekend because I know I certainly did. I paid a long overdue visit to my underwhelming suburban hometown, ate too much turkey and spent some (but not enough) quality time with friends and family. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, no holiday is devoid of at least some stress or frustration – so I listed a series of pros and cons summarizing my holiday. Cons aside, ultimately, it was wonderful.
Naps – The greatest thing about visiting my suburban hometown and staying with my easygoing old parents is the over abundance of free time. To put it simply, there were just multiple occasions where I had nothing to do. There were no errands to run, no work to attend to and only a few friends to visit. When nothing on TV or my bookshelf looked particularly stimulating, I’d simply just take a nap. As a gainfully employed member of the workforce, I rarely have time to sleep just for the hell of it. I napped at least once a day over Thanksgiving break and it was fantastic (on Thursday it was obviously tryptophan-induced). And yes, that’s my bedroom where I spent a good portion of my formative years. My mother so kindly collected every mismatched pillow and stuffed animal in the house when making my bed and preparing my room for me.
Football – Last week, I watched that new Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence movie, Silver Linings Playbook. I loved the movie, I loved the cast and I loved the humor – ultimately, an excellent, excellent film. However, an ongoing plot point in the movie involved superstitious behavior affecting the final outcomes of Philadelphia Eagles football games. Since I watched that film, EVERY single one of my teams lost on Thanksgiving and the days following. The Cowboys lost. The Longhorns lost. The Packers lost. But Oklahoma and Texas A&M won. Fucking Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro compromised the fate of my football allegiances and I’m borderline hysterical. Hopefully, my Fantasy Team wins this week as our league heads into playoffs. Believe it or not, I’m counting on the Eagles’ wide receiver to clench this week’s win for me. According to Silver Linings Playbook, “DeSean Jackson is the man.” Therefore, DeSean Jackson better show up tonight and break this awful losing streak that almost ruined the holiday for me and my family.
Megabus – I decided to test the Megabus waters for the very first time. Thanksgiving traffic in Central Texas is a nightmare so I thought the holiday warranted an opportune time to try this alternative mode of transportation. The fact that I didn’t have to drive and sit through 5 hours of stop-and-go traffic was a godsend. For $40 round-trip, my friend and I watched 2 discs of the Friday Night Lights TV series, ate snacks and napped multiple times. It even had a reasonably clean bathroom. I don’t mind long commutes – traffic and distance are factors far beyond my control. However, if I have to spend 5 hours in traffic, I’d much rather multitask, watch movies, read or sleep than be alert, focused and bored the entire time.
Megabus – In spite of the pros I just detailed, this mode of transport definitely has some room for improvement. Operationally, Megabus left something to be desired. Long lines, poor communication and logistics just led to a frustrating experience on top of a commute that was already abnormally long. Luggage could have been unloaded more efficiently. The check-in process could have been expedited. There were just a lot of easy fixes to what I considered very trivial problems. I can’t judge Megabus fairly from this one journey, especially because I chose the busiest weekend of the year to try it out. If we’re evaluating cost vs. reward, it’s ultimately still a great service with a few understandable, but fixable glitches.
Family – I’m fortunate that I live close enough to my family where I can always return home for the holidays or any other occasion that warrants a short, weekend visit. I don’t have to deal with expensive holiday travel or taking precious time off, and for the most part, I can see my parents, sister and big extended family with little to no hassle. I’m blessed with a big, loud, loving family, and as my generation grows older, my family continues expanding and becoming closer knit as my cousins marry and have children. Though I’m on the fence about reproducing (the expense, the responsibility and the stress are not things I look forward to), the kids are always my favorite relatives to visit because they grow up and significantly change every time I see them. It pains me that my personal favorite cousin/nephew, Nicholas, will soon approach the age where it’s uncool to give hugs and hang out with his elders, so I’m cherishing these last few years where he still looks up to me and genuinely enjoys spending time with me. Thankfully, Baby Benjamin has quite a while before he starts rejecting my affections. Ha.
Holiday weight – This is a no brainer, but I ate my weight during our family’s Thanksgiving feast and I ate my feelings during all of those miserable football games I mentioned above. A lot of people ask if my family conducts a traditional Thanksgiving, and we do. We don’t cook rice or potstickers or duck though many Asian families do, but every year my parents fry up a batch of eggrolls to snack on while people prepare food in the kitchen or watch the afternoon football games in the living room. As you can see, these delicious morsels are swimming in delicious grease. I’m lucky I didn’t pop any buttons off my jeans or you know, have a heart attack. Good thing New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner.
This past weekend, I took a short, semi-impulsive trip to two of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people. Until recent years, I never considered the Midwest a particularly ideal or charming vacation destination. Thankfully, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by multiple Midwestern cities I’ve visited and have found myself returning to these chilly locales over and over again. Here’s a quick recap of my wonderful weekend characterized by scarves, flowing beer and life-long friends.
I’ve only been to Chicago a few times and unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to explore the city as thoroughly as I’d like to. During this particular jaunt, my best friend and I took a charming tour along the Chicago River that details the history behind the city’s remarkable buildings. The skyline is a sight to behold, especially viewed from afar. We lucked out with the forecast too – clear blue skies and chilly, but by no means intolerable weather. I suppose I brought the warmth up with me from Texas. You’re welcome, jerks.
Though I’m not a Chicago native and far from an expert on the city, I thought I’d share some of my favorite music inspired by Chi-town, some created by Chicago-based artists.
Lupe Fiasco: Go Go Gadget Flow – One of my favorite speed raps about the best city in the Midwest (best city in the whole wide wide world)
Ryan Adams: Dear Chicago – Such beautiful lyrics. Makes me miss the city and makes me want to go back.
Sufjan Stevens: The Seer’s Tower
I keep a special place in my heart for Madison, Wisconsin. Upon my first visit to the state in 2009, I never imagined that Madison would eventually make its way into my top 10 list of U.S. cities. I might be biased because that place represents a very significant part of my life that resulted in wonderful memories and amazing friendships, but even from an objective lens, I’d still argue that Madison is pretty great. In fact, it’s a lot like Austin in some aspects – thriving campus town in a Capital city that’s a great place for young people to live. Just a lot colder.
This time around, I attended my first Big 10 game and it was quite a culture shock from what I’m used to in Texas. The school’s traditions are so much fun and you could safely assume that their tailgating scene is characterized by beers, cheese and bratwurst – all delicious things. The night life in Madison is awesome too – I’ve had many a late night along State St. and a fair amount of war stories in that city. I’m not sure if I could live in the Midwest – I don’t think the cold is an element I could ever get used to, but I’m definitely still a fan. Maybe I’ll convert one of these days.
Until then, have a great Thanksgiving. I’m so thankful that I have such a fun, loyal group of friends. What are you thankful for?
Thanksgiving is such a special time of year; it’s the only holiday that is solely dedicated to spending quality time with your friends and family and appreciating what those people mean to you. No presents, no costumes – just people sharing a meal and reflecting on what they’re thankful for. Thanksgiving is also an opportune time to remember how fortunate we are and give back to those who aren’t as lucky. As a sad result of Hurricane Sandy, a lot of people won’t have the warmth and comfort of a traditional Thanksgiving this year. I just wanted to share a few great ways to give back to some great causes that I personally care about. Every little bit counts and sometimes, giving time is an even more rewarding way to make an impact.
Shwood is one of my favorite up and coming brands in eyewear. Their sunglasses add an organic and modern twist to universally classic frames, but still look cool and effortless. To lend support to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, the company launched the Shwood Recovery Initiative and released these rad limited edition shades – the classic Canby in Santos Mahogany. Each pair has the Latin phrase “E Pluribus Unum” engraved on the frames – meaning “Many uniting as one,” signifying communities coming together in times of need. Proceeds from these shades will be donated to the American Red Cross.
Circa Survive was one of my favorite bands growing up and frontman Anthony Green has always been one of my favorite vocalists because of his unique voice and beautiful lyrics. Originating from New Jersey, the band and many of their loved ones were directly affected by the storm so this week, the band released a Hurricane Sandy Benefit EP, in which all proceeds go towards hurricane relief efforts in the Northeast. Listeners can pay what they want for the 5-song EP at a minimum of $4. What a beautiful way to give back.
A cause that strikes very close to home for me is breast cancer. When I was in high school, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was one of the most difficult and painful ordeals my family has ever experienced. Thankfully, my mom’s a fighter and a survivor and her strength inspires me every day. One organization that I’ve been impressed with over the years is Keep A Breast. Since I was only a teenager when my mom was diagnosed, I appreciate the youthful and fun spirit of the Keep A Breast organization and their dedication to educating young people about early detection and prevention. Rather than hosting yet another 5K, Keep A Breast partners with artists and musicians to target young people and mobilize them. I smile when I see teenage skateboarders wearing “I ❤ Boobies” bracelets because it gives me hope that future generations will hopefully live in a cancer-free environment.
What are you thankful for this year?
For the overwhelming majority of my 25 years, I’ve equated Ramen noodles with what most of you would equate Ramen noodles with – the affordable and convenient pre-packaged cup noodles that serve as staple items in virtually every college student’s pantry. However, I was recently introduced to a traditional Japanese Ramen eatery here in Austin and I’m never going back to those economy-sized packages of MSG and beef/chicken/shrimp flavored powder.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya has only been open a little over three months and has certainly lived up to its cult-following calibur hype. Currently, the restaurant is only open five days a week during dinner hours and there’s usually a line of eager patrons patiently waiting out the door. Though this line may look intimidating, I’d advise against giving up and trying again later because the line actually moves reasonably fast. Once you finally reach that sacred cash register at the front counter, it’s pretty smooth sailing from there.
Your food comes out hot and fast and though the waitstaff is busy, they’re also friendly and super attentive. The food is also a force to be reckoned with – the traditional Tonkotsu broth is a hearty, creamy, buttery combination of meaty flavor – up to 60 hours of preparation go into creating the broth alone. In fact, ramen virgins are encouraged to take a few minutes to savor the broth before trying the noodles and other accouterments.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya also features a slew of extra toppings you can add to your dish – spices, extra noodles, you name it – it’s like a Pinkberry, but hotter and much saltier. I consider these satisfying ramen dishes as a nice alternative to Vietnamese pho which is usually my cold weather, Asian comfort food go-to. This place is purely traditional Japanese – they don’t even carry forks because ramen is meant to be enjoyed with chopsticks. If soup and noodles aren’t your thing; I feel sorry for you – but fortunately, this place offers other options that look quite admirable – their edamame (both spicy and regular) is some of the best I’ve had. Their sliders and curry bowls have also received rave reviews. Their cold house sake and mochi ice also add a nice refreshing kick to mitigate the savoriness of the meal.
If you’re in Austin at all during the cold weather months, I would stop and visit this charming little place. Your belly will thank you profusely.
For the most part, I try to keep my political opinions to myself because I know how frustrated I get when people relentlessly try to impress their political values and ideologies on me. I support respectful debates and open dialogues about issues that affect our country, but I dislike when people inundate my social media feeds with tasteless (and oftentimes, uneducated) banter.
I wish people realized that voting in itself is the most effective communications channel. Silently casting your ballot is the best way our nation can actively speak up about policies, social issues and the future state of affairs. Every citizen has a right to their own opinion, and the beauty of Democracy allows us to express how we feel and participate in government without being punished.
Mobilizing voters is harder than it should be; I almost forgot to change my address and re-register this year. Who has the time? Where’s my precinct? Where do I vote early? These simple questions have simple answers, but they impede on our convenience and ultimately prevent people from heading to the polls, especially young people.
Texas is a challenging state to live in because it historically has leaned a certain way in elections. Young people often don’t think their votes matter here – and to be honest, they probably won’t impact the majority in many years. But to not vote is inaction. Not voting is silence. Even when it doesn’t make a difference, by not voting, you’re ignoring your right as a citizen. You lose your right to opinion. You lose your right to complain. Why have a right as powerful as voting if you choose not to exercise it?
I voted for Obama. Sure, Texas was still a Red state in the end (as expected), but my county was blue. I’m proud to live in a city whose residents proudly went to the polls and cast their ballots anyway. In order to make way for change, you have to start with baby steps.
When I hear the term “3-Day Music Festival,” usually the big ones in the big cities come to mind (Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits) then I remember some of the less prominent ones that still draw significant crowds and impressive lineups (Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Sasquatch). Sometimes, a few electronic fests come to mind as an afterthought (Ultra, Electric Daisy). This past weekend, I attended my second consecutive Fun Fun Fun Fest here in Austin. I think this festival still falls under the “best kept secret” category since tickets are easier to attain and the crowd is easier to manage, but over the past few years, the lineups have been outstanding and remarkably diverse. I suspect Fun Fun Fun will continue improving and will eventually develop into a heavyweight after a few more rounds. For now, I’ll cherish the affordable tickets, the shorter beer lines and cleaner porta potties that actually have toilet paper in them. Here are some highlights:
Best No-Brainer: RUN DMC
Obviously, RUN DMC was all the rage at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest; I’m sure you can imagine the crowd when the first three ticks of “Tricky” resounded through the speakers. Playing their first show together in 13 years and headlining the first night of the festival, an item was crossed off my bucket list and a childhood dream was finally realized. RIP Jam Master Jay; you are missed, but not forgotten.
Funniest: Hannibal Burress
I was fortunate enough to see Hannibal Burress earlier this year at an intimate (and dingy) comedy club; though he recycled material from that show and his “Animal Furnace” album, he was no less original and definitely no less funny. I love how Fun Fun Fun features a comedy stage; it’s a unique way to keep your patrons entertained and amenable in the dusty heat (I know it’s November, but average temperature was above 80 every day and hipsters were definitely sweltering in their black skinny jeans and combat boots). I opted for tshirts, shorts and a handy bandana that shielded me from the Dust Bowl.
Most Entertaining: Nicky Da B
Though Nicky Da B had an early set time on the final day of the festival (approx. 2 pm), he and his crew took no prisoners and performed as if it were time to shut the club down on a typical weekend night (approx. 2 am). Equipped with high energy and erratic, relentless booty shaking, Nicky Da B gave me and my exhausted peers a much-needed jumpstart on Sunday afternoon. Plus, I’d argue that he rivals Girl Talk in terms of highly enthused fans who party with him on stage. Can you even spot him? More elusive than Where’s Waldo!
Most Skilled Performer: Araabmuzik
I just can’t believe how lightning fast and deftly his fingers move. Every beat is precise and purposeful; as if he had an entire high school drumline at his fingertips. My friend Chris wisely commented, “I bet he’d be really good at that Bop It game.” Chris, I think you’re absolutely right.
Best Out of Body Experience: Explosions in the Sky
Being a long time fan of the band and Friday Night Lights, I can’t describe the thoughts going through my head and the stirrings in my stomach as Explosions in the Sky played a full hour of their magnificent catalog with the glowing Austin skyline as a backdrop. I listen to Explosions when I work, read and travel because it’s easier for me to focus on certain activities sans lyrics, but I also love unwinding and falling asleep to their worldless symphonies because they’re so epic and beautiful. Explosions in the Sky is one of the few bands I’d love to watch in a theater, a venue fit for a philharmonic with balcony seating and excellent acoustics. (Andrew Bird and Bon Iver also fit in this category, and yes, I’ve seen both in venues that fit that description).
Other Fun Fun Fun Fest highlights include:
A porta potty photo booth:
A commemorative pin:
Thanks Fun Fun Fun Fest. See ya next year!