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Weekend in Southern Sweden

22/07/2013

I spent the first weekend in July in southern Sweden, one of my fave places on the planet. I was working in London for a couple weeks, so I took the weekend in between to come see my friend Philip in Lund. As per usual, summer in Sweden was incredible.

My first attempt at speaking Swedish again in the wild was total fail, at helping a dude at the Lund train station buy a ticket from Helsingborg to Halmstad which didn’t even work (but to my delight I at least figured out what he was asking me, and responded in semi-Swedish).

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I boarded the wrong bus because Lund is so familiar to me that I don’t even pay attention trying to navigate it. I waited at Botulfsplatsen for the opposite bus near these buildings which didn’t exist last time I was here.

My first night in Sweden was so typisk it almost felt like I’d never left at all. We pre-fested with Philip’s friend, Björn, #obviously. They tried to feed me red wine champagne without telling me what it was, but it’s a bit hard to slip that one past. Then we went to a party of a guy named Henrik, who I didn’t know, but a different Henrik I did know was there as well #EveryoneIsNamedHenrik.

Afterwards, we went to Björn’s apartment where he fed us his homemade ~*~bacon dip~*~ (Americans, take note here).

The next morning I awoke to this:
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Yay Swedish interiors:
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Daytime means time to go find yourself some local strawberries and sit outside:
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In my familiar, lovely spot in the Botaniska:
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Others avoided the shade and worked on their tans:
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Toilets, because why not:
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Obviously, grilling for dinner:
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#Haloumi & ananas:
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A few weeks ago, I rescued some friends of friends of friends, three Swedes misfortunate enough to be traveling in San Francisco the week of Pride without booking a hostel in advance. My San Francisco apartment, woefully underused, became their crashpad for 3 days and in return, they told me I could hang out in their Malmö apartment when I was in Sweden. Malmö is just ten minutes by train from Lund but I’d never had the opportunity to hang there much, so this was clearly destiny. Major props to Polly for helping this destiny fall into place.

We arrived at their Malmö apartment Saturday night, hung out in the neighborhood (called Möllan, a great neighborhood) — went to the pub literally downstairs, then wandered through Folkets Park to hit up Debaser. The whole park is lined with bars and clubs and partying outdoors. Perfect summer vibe.

The club kicked people out around 3 AM, so I went back to watch the sunrise on the apartment’s balcony, various people walking home on the street below, and neighbors across the street awake watching TV at 4 AM, (who woke up bright & early just to blast Robin Thicke to the entire neighborhood).

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In the daylight Melanie & Calle’s apartment became wonderfully photogenic.
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I am ever impressed by their ability to keep a jungle of plants alive (also, a stuffed bird, though not alive!)
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#Dalahäst:
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That day we wandered around Malmö which seemed oddly empty and there was nothing to eat (all the restaurants opened at 2 PM, it was earlier than that and we were hungry). We did stumble into this, though #swedishgenderroles:
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Turns out, everyone was at the beach, which was packed like Dolo on a warm San Francisco day. We sat on the pier out in the water, with great views of the Öresund bridge, the Ribersborgs Bath House (which is really awesome, btw), and the Turning Torso.

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It was warm enough to swim, but I wasn’t about to jump in the water and be all soggy for my flight back to London. Oh well.
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And with that, my yearly pilgrimage to Sweden was complete. The biggest discovery of this trip was that as a non-student now, Malmö makes a lot more sense / appeals to me more than ever before (and more than Lund now, in fact). Also, plastic eating utensils on male mannequins.

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Party Report: Mardi Gras

27/02/2013

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Mardi Gras has been on my party bucket list for a while, since it often comes up on largest-parties-in-the-world lists. I envisioned it as a southern purple-green-and-gold version of St. Patricks day, slutty bleached blondes flooding the crowded streets of a mythical land called “The French Quarter”. NOLA native buddy Matt got my crew the hookup this year: a floor to sleep on in downtown New Orleans and southern hospitality ample enough for seven San Franciscans to pop their Mardi Gras cherries (Hurricanes?)

Mardi Gras is more of a season than a holiday, but we happened to be there at its peak, the last weekend before Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Lent starts. Perhaps the strategy of the whole affair is to throw you into a 40-day long hangover that prevents you from sinning?

Just being in ~*~The South~*~ involved some culture shock for this northern city girl (accents, lactation rooms, and chapels, all in the airport, oh my!) but let’s stay focused on the Mardi Party and break it #down.

PARADES

The parades are a *Big Deal*, and they are all different.
I knew to expect parades, but I did not realize how huge they were going to be. First of all, there are a zillion parades and they are nonstop ALL DAY EVERY DAY for something like 5 days straight (plus the parades the previous weekends). They stretch all across the city, so you can walk for miles along a parade’s path. Basically everywhere we walked all weekend was along a parade path, so we were actually participating in parades like 6 hours a day. Different parades have different vibes — Endymion was extravagant with floats costing over a MILLION DOLLAR$$$ EACH, but it was incredibly crowded/packed to the point where you could barely see it, whereas Bacchus was animal themed, more low key, and involved a lot of glowing shit.

The parade will throw things at you.
Standard Mardi Parade Format: there is a float with a bunch of old ladies in slightly horrifying masks standing on top, and in between floats there are high school marching bands. The old ladies throw things from atop the float, usually the all-important Mardi Gras beads, but sometimes cups, toys, or glowing party accessories. Unfortunately for those of us with no hand-eye coordination, this means you constantly have to keep your arms up in self defense, lest a pack of beads land in your face.

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Babies on ladders.
To watch the parade, you stake out a spot and put down some lawn chairs and your cooler maybe. But if you have a baby, you put it on a ladder! So that the babies can see what’s going on, plus for cute appeal so that the ladies-on-floats will throw goodies at your children (I think??) I’m #notclearon the ladder-baby Mardi Gras death rate, but I did witness a child hit in the head with some beads and the dad immediately rationalize, “Oh, that wasn’t so hard!” #southernparenting?

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Zombiepocalypse
Especially after the parade, there’s trash everywhere, a heavy sense of abandonment, plus extreme humidity and grey skies, that culminate in a distinct zombiepocalypse vibe. Also, prisoners clean up the trash from the parades, hella creepy.

BEADS – What is the deal?

You must really be wearing Mardi Gras beads at ALL TIMES. Otherwise you look like a moron.
We made the mistake of going out on Bourbon Street (the main shitshow area for tourists/sluts) without beads the first night, pretty awk. These kids are doin it right:

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Once beads touch the ground, they are worthless.
Our local friends told us it was bad karma to pick up beads off of fences, etc. where people have hung them decoratively, and it’s bad karma to pick them off the street because someone probably peed on them. The city of New Orleans didn’t seem particularly urinated on to me, but then again I live in San Francisco, which is one giant urinal.

Trade economy of beads.
While at the parades, the float ladies throw beads at you pretty much as long as you make eye contact. Nevertheless, people in the crowd still wave and shout at the float ladies as if getting beads were extremely exciting and not the easiest thing in the world.

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However, once you’re partying on Bourbon Street, there are no ladder babies and there are no old ladies, it’s the slutty St. Patricks Day-style street party scene of my Mardi dreams, and beads come at a price of flashing boobies. People stand on the second floor balconies of the bar/clubs and dangle beads over the heads of people wading through the street (wall-to-wall people). A girl makes eye contact with a balcony person, flashes, and receives beads. Sometimes, beads are thrown for not-quite-flashings, or to guys, though I didn’t discover any hard-and-fast rules on what level of exhibitionism is or isn’t bead-worthy.

By the end of every day, you probably will have collected roughly 3x as many beads as you actually want, and damn those things are heavy. Going on the balcony and tossing beads is a good way to reduce your bead supply, as is just dumping off all your beads at your host’s apartment at the end of the day.

FOOD

King Cake

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King Cake is the most important Mardi Gras food. It’s basically a giant cinnamon roll with frosting on top decorated with purple, green, and yellow sugar. There is a plastic baby inside, and the tradition is that whoever gets the piece with the baby in it is responsible for buying the next king cake. FYI, every king cake seemed to cost $13.99.

Beignets
This is a year-round item, not just Mardi Gras season. It’s pronounced “BEN YAY” for those of you who are confused by the Frenchness going on here. Fried dough with a mountain of powdered sugar on it = extremely delicious. The canonical beignet way is to get these with some coffee at Cafe Du Monde around 3 or 4 AM on your way back from partying in the French Quarter. Warning: DO NOT WEAR DARK CLOTHING as you will be covered in this stuff by the time you’re through. Also don’t sneeze.

Things that don’t involve sugar
Even though New Orleans is literally made of sugar, there were a few New Orleans dishes that happened to not involve mountains of sugar on top:
– Jambalaya — rice + sausagey dish
– Gumbo — jambalaya in liquid form, but spicier and involving more seafood. The best one we had was street food, some window alongside one of the parades.
– Po-boys — fried shrimp inside an enormous piece of bread
– Fried chicken, or actually fried anything, including alligator — our locals were shocked I had never tried alligator or snake.

This list, plus the two items above, are an all inclusive list food in New Orleans. Will New Orleans discover vegetables? Stay tuned to find out. (I kid, I actually had some really delicious Brussel Sprouts at Butcher.)

Drank
Hurricanes and giant daiquiris were probably the drinks of choice, plus of course beer. Open containers were not only permitted but encouraged — bars gave you to-go cups (to avoid bringing glass bottles out). At Rite Aid, you had to set down your hurricane at the door and pick it up on the way out, but there were GUARDS watching over the drinks (!!) and low and behold nobody’s drink was stolen or roofied while we bought body wash.

The French Quarter

Most of the advice revolving around Mardi Gras seems to be either “Bourbon Street is where the party’s at, go there” or “Don’t even bother with Bourbon Street, it’s a shitshow and everywhere else is better.” In reality, Bourbon was a bit underwhelming, yes a shitshow but wasn’t super crowded compared to Bay to Breakers street danceparties, or a train at rush hour in Japan. But the second floor balcony bead-throwing component was unique and probably the most interesting part.

I’d advise to try it, both as a walker and as a bead-thrower, and then just use Yelp and go to places that match your vibe, like dungeon bars if you are us.

Bourbon has hella downsides tho:
– Ladies be prudes (albeit sluttily dressed prudes). Flashing was surprisingly #rare — we were on a balcony for maybe an hour and saw max like 10 pairs of breasts. Mostly dudes just crowded below and yelled/shook their asses. #sausagefest #typical
– Not LGBT friendly — I couldn’t get ANY girls to flash me, or even really maintain eye contact for more than 2 seconds. Maybe I’m just an incompetent bead-thrower, but a Dorothy “you’re not in San Francisco anymore” situation. What about Big Freedia, y’all!??
– Bourbon street is DANGEROUS. People were shot there on Saturday night. Getting killed at Mardi Gras would be a major party foul.

TECHNOLOGY

Aside from falling outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, New Orleans is also inhabited by old people and ladder babies, so I wasn’t expecting much technology or app-tivity (Yelp reviews, etc.) Our friend’s apartment didn’t even have its own Foursquare checkin before we arrived (come ON people!!!)

However, New Orleans did feature a GIANT TWEET WALL at a funk show, which I have not seen in San Francisco (aside from at @veroz’s birthday party, of course).

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Tweet with the hashtag #wolfgras and it’ll be projected for all to see (unless you use textbook profanity, in which case it was censored). Very quickly it devolved into a very large and inappropriate conversation about Brian’s mom. Public commentary at its finest, I was very #proud.

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IN CONCLUSION

I was a bit underwhelmed by the actual partying going on at Mardi Gras — not quite up to the RIDICULOUSITY I’m used to. San Francisco parties/festivals often have a high WTF factor, whereas Mardi Gras was a bit more party in a family-values-meets-jello-shots kind of way. Certainly a new thing for me.

Maybe there just wasn’t as much nudity or crossdressing in San Francisco? Something absurd was missing, anyhow.

However, we did pick up a lot of loot perfect for any San Franciscan’s party box (you know, the box in your living room or closet full of costume accessories and brightly colored sunglasses?) My fave was a glowing plastic cup. When @lewisisgood caught it for me I pretty much felt like I had WON MARDI GRAS.

And, I do have to hand it to NOLA for being a city willing to just go into parade mode for 3 weeks a year. Like, dang.

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If you do decide to attend Mardi Gras, I suggest you simply remember the 3 basic rules:

1. Always wear your beads.

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2. Babies in cakes and on ladders.

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3. Zombiepocalypse.
(Badass photo courtesy of @veroz)
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And a big shoutout to @schouest for making this trip happen and to his friends for putting up with us for an entire weekend!

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Singapore: Merlions and Durian-free Subways

26/02/2012

Impression of Singapore after spending about five minutes in the country:
It’s shiny, modern, tropical, and everything is running swimmingly.

Singapore is run by a benevolent dictator who has spent the past couple of decades turning this country into a well-oiled socialist machine, that people seem legit happy with because it’s working out pretty well for everyone.

Yeah yeah don’t spit your gum, but loiter outside 7-11 and mix your cocktails.

One thing about traveling is that you learn your own countrymen’s stereotypes about the places you’re visiting. Just tell people, “Oh I’m about to travel to ______.” and let the stereotypes spout forth. For Singapore, the first thing any American tells you is that you can be thrown in jail for spitting out your gum on the sidewalk. I suppose this is meant to indicate they’re really strict in Singapore?

However, upon arrival, we immediately realized that this was the ONLY information we knew about Singapore, and that it was effectively useless. First of all, WHO SPITS THEIR GUM ON THE STREET, that’s just a jerk move. Alright, some people must, but I have never done this before and wasn’t about to start. Second of all, this is useless info because it doesn’t give you a sense of ANY OTHER LAWS in Singapore. We saw people jaywalking everywhere, which doesn’t seem to jive with the crazy-strict vibe of the no gum rule, so we were like, are all these people risking their lives jaywalking? Or is it just like any other place in the world? Hmmmm. (We jaywalked.)

Turns out, the gum rule was instated after they started construction of the MRT (subway system) and people vandalized it by putting gum in the doors, causing them to stick closed. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH GUYS, no more gum.

Here’s a more practical list of subway rules. Try really hard to remember not to bring durian, because it smells bad (though, there doesn’t seem to be any fine…?)


Okay, so don’t spit your gum, but you can drink and smoke in public (no open container laws, plenty of smokers), and you can apparently also loiter in front of 7-11 mixing cocktails. We wandered into a 7-11 around 12:30 AM one night and sitting outside on the curb was a group of three or four teenagers (definitely looked really young). They had an impressive array of supplies: plastic cups and bottles of liquor and mixers, and were actually sitting there making drinks.

KEEP IT CLASSY, SINGAPOREAN YOUTH.

Culture and Language Mishmash

There are four official languages in Singapore: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. So there’s a huge mix of different people and each minority group is really huge. According to my friend Yan, kids growing up are required to learn the language of their ethnic background — so Chinese kids study Mandarin, etc. It’s not clear to me how many of these people are speaking the language at home as well, but school is normally taught in English. According to Wikipedia, the second language taught is determined by the father’s ethnicity. Interesting.

It was pretty common to be surrounded by 3-4 different languages at a time, and signage could be really lengthy/complicated since everything had to be translated into the FOUR different languages.

There is some geographical segregation of the different ethnic groups — Little India, and Chinatown for example, but I felt like it could have been way more segregated than it was.

Staying in Chinatown

We stayed at Winkhostel, a brand new hostel in Chinatown and apparently the best hostel in Singapore. It was really nicely designed and well-located for foodie adventures. The security was better than any other hostel I’ve been to — you got swipe cards for the rooms and your own personal lockers, also with key cards. The beds were pod-style and had nice green lights.


Winkhostel was a little less social than other hostels I’ve been to. I think this is partially because the only air-conditioned rooms were the bedrooms, where people tend to avoid talking if there’s sleepers, and not everyone was as excited as I was to hang out in un-airconditioned sweat-inducing temperatures. Also as my travel buddies suggested, not everyone’s English was as good as travelers in say, European hostels. I did talk to a couple of people, who seemed cool, and ended up having a very bizarre relationship with the dude at the front desk, who would give me useful tips (like to check out the parade going on a block away) but also question my travel habits, e.g. why are you not napping before your 5:30 AM flight???? No seriously, your friends are napping, you should too!!

The answer to this (and all questions, of why I might not be doing something, ever) was of course: Dude, I’ll get to it MAYBE, I’m busy reading the internet.


Aforementioned parade, with master photobomber

Places to Go

Merlion – Singapore’s weird-ass mascot. “Singapura” means lion and fish is fish, so clearly. It’s out by the bay where you should be going anyway, for good views of the city and to check out the Marina Bay Sands.

Marina Bay Sands – Kind of the most amazing hotel ever. How’d they get a boat on it!?

The most important thing about this hotel is that there is an infinity pool on the ROOF. The problem is, only hotel guests are allowed to swim, so you’d best be booking a night there. We made the mistake of not doing that and were full of tears and regrets.

I mean, this hotel is cool enough to basically be the subject of an entire Martin Solveig video.

We did manage to spend an evening on the roof though (tragically outside the pool) by going to the Chocolate Bar on top of the Marina Bay Sands. At the very least, do this. Go forth and be decadent.

Stand on the balcony on the opposite side from the pool, cuz hey, boats! (I like boats!)

Okay I swear I’m shutting up about Marina Bay Sands now.

Orchard Road – Mall country. You cannot cross a street without being sucked into a 4-5 story underground mall.

This is how it works: “Oh hey, there’s a big road and no crosswalk, but looks like we just have to enter that glass bubble thing to cross the street…

…oops.

15 minutes later, $15 at MUJI and a takoyaki snack later, you have re-emerged on the other side of the street. Why were we crossing the street again? I’ve already forgot. Let’s go back to MUJI instead. Or maybe let’s explore one of the 29 other malls.

Siloso Beach

Take the MRT from HarbourFront and get off at the beach stop. Lie down on the beach and be really happy because you are on the beach and it’s February out. Go in the water and it will be warm and the seaweed is cute instead of disgusting. Also, Siloso Beach appears to be the beach with the fewest children, which is probably the most important beach-selection criterion. Party tunes emanate from the bars behind us.

This is how each of us felt about being on the beach, and also how I felt when Boyce spilled his smoothie on me. Verdict: his smoothie was yummy! But smoothie bodyshots, probably not for me.

Wander over and find some rocks when it’s time to go think on rocks.

Haw Par Villa / Tiger Balm Gardens – A strange park where you get a tour of the Ten Courts of Hell, and you learn which sins on Earth result in which punishments in Hell, and illustrate said punishments it through creepy sculptures. Here’s a helpful sample of the crime/punishment menu:

Other fun part about visiting, you can legit tell your travel buddies to go to Hell.

Also, there are some animals with guns. Might also has something to do with Hell.

That’s pretty much all we did that didn’t have to do with food or partying, so stay tuned for the next two posts!

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