Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The biggest salad in Berkeley, and something for the Dancers

The second day I got to Berkeley (after I woke up from my 18 hour jet-lag coma), I was famished - so I grabbed... a salad. OK I was coming out of the gym and was feeling a little nauseous. Anyway, that was my first experience of the 'American serving size'. It was a $5 salad, but it was absolutely humongous. I couldn't finish it in one meal, which is saying a lot, 'cause I like to think I can put away my food.

Since then, I have grown very much accustomed to this 'American serving size' and I'm not sure how I'm going to cope when I go back to Perth and see these tiny ant-food sized servings on my plate. But, on Sunday, again, coming out of the gym - famished (as always) - my friend suggested I try what is renowned as the biggest salad in Berkeley.

The place is Cafe Mattina, and shit yes, they are huge. I got the chef salad with double meat - lean pastrami and turkey. Feast your eyes on this mamma:

At t = O min

At t = 15 min

On other food related events, I recently tried out a different dining commons at another residence hall (there are 8 UC operated residence halls: Units 1, 2 & 3, Foothills (mostly Engineers), Stern (Girls only), Bowles (Guys only AKA 'Hogwarts' since it looks like a bloody castle), Clark Kerr (athletes), and I-House). Then there are about 5 or so main dining commons, some of them serve more than one residence hall, for example Units 1 & 2 share Crossroads, and Foothills, Stern & Bowles share the Foothills DC. I-House, Clark Kerr and Unit 3 have their own DC's.

So I've always been eating out or at I-house (I'll post up a video of the I-house DC later). But this time I tried out Foothills, which is the only a-la-carte DC (every other one is Buffet). So although it means you have to order using your meal points, rather than serving yourself and swiping meal points, it does mean the quality of the food is better. And damn, I have to say, the place looks nice. I guess once you've eaten at the same DC for a whole semester, anything else looks appealing.

Plus, they have carpeted floors and even leather couches in the actual dining hall, and plasma TV's, and slushy machines - brain freeze here I come.

Alright, on to the dancers. So you've seen the cheerleaders at the Cal Football games, well here's another taste of 'em at the Bonfire:

But here's the main student group - 'Movement' - who do Jazz, Hip-Hop, Swing & Contemp:

To be honest, I think the dancing back home is better. Maybe I'm just biased to you lovely TDC girls but I also think the American's have... a different way of doing things. It's hard to explain in words, but let me put it this way: you can definitely feel the love on the d-floor in the clubs.

You Know You're in Berkeley When... (Part 5)

You get booked by a traffic warden who cruises around in something that looks like the lovechild of a golf cart and one of those 3-wheeled minivans:

They seem to have something for handing out fines here. Actually I guess that's the same everywhere you go.

You also know you're in Berkeley...when you see the AXE getting paraded around:

I guess you're wondering what the hell is so special about this axe (which you can just make it out on the plaque right there). OK so here's a bit of Cal folklore for you - actually it's a true story, although I bet a bit of Chinese whispers has distorted some of the facts.

So there's a massive rivalry between Cal (Berkeley) and Stanford. It all started back in the 1890's. One of the dorms in Stanford had this axe forged, and it was to be presented to the 'King' of that particular dorm - someone elected by his/her peers every year. Eventually the axe became much bigger than that, and Stanford believed it to be her good luck charm. The axe was brought to every sporting competition by superstition. However, when it came time for the football game versus Cal, the good fortune of the axe was broken as Cal smashed Stanford 24-6 (something like that).

The Stanford students cursed the axe and abandoned it at the stadium at the end of the game, only for the Cal students, who raped and pillaged the Stanford section, to steal as a trophy. However, the Stanford students immediately regretted abandoning the axe, and set about trying to get it back. By this time a massive brawl had started between the Cal and Stanford students. Not unlike the famous origins of the marathon, the axe was passed via a number of Cal students until it finally fell into the hands of Cal's fastest distance runner. He was charged with the responsibility of smuggling the axe back to Berkeley from the Stadium. Back then the games were played in San Francisco - so he had to catch the ferry (no BART or cars back then) back to Eastbay where the campus was.

He took the axe, and sprinted out of the stadium. The Stanford students had alerted the police, so he was a hunted man. He took a quick pit-stop in Chinatown (no shit) where he ducked into a Chinese butcher and asked the kind butcher to hack off the handle of the axe. He then sprinted off with the axe head concealed in his jacket and made it to the ferry. But it seemed he was too late - the police were searching everyone getting on board.

Then, in the corner of his eye he spots an old flame, an ex-girlfriend, the one that got-away, what ever you want to call her. He sashayed up to her and linked arms. You see, back then it was common etiquette that women could not be body searched. Accordingly, if you were linked arms with a women, by association, you too would not be searched. And so our hero get's on board the ferry with the axe head and manages to make it safely back to Berkeley.

Several years later, the Axe came to be presented to the winner of the annual 'Big' Cal vs Stanford football game, and has been ever since.

We won this year. Hell yeah! Must have been all the witch doctor/wood burning shit we did the night before:

Friday, November 20, 2009

100 days have made me older...

...Since the last time that I saw your pretty face

WOW (literally: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtX5Nu2dXYM), time sure can fly by. I can't believe it, but by the end of today I will have been in the States for 100 days. In these 100 days, I've definitely had some awesome, unique and life-changing experiences. From college parties - like beer ponging US style at frats or stripper contests at Co-ops - to big city life in San Francisco, to late night dining hall and gym sessions, studying overseas has been amazing. There's no point trying to sum it up. For one, I'm not done yet, and anyway, I wouldn't be able to do it justice in a blog.

Having said all that, I always think about home, and all you guys back there. Honest!

And here are just a few of the reasons why:

Can't wait to see you all next year. 2010, lets do it again! Yeah baby!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


They say the longer you hold that 'oh' sound, the more fun your having. If that's true then I'd probably go on longer than those La Liga commentators do every time a goal is scored (yeah I mentioned this before, twice is nice OK?).

Yes, this past weekend I went to Hawaii! Like I said at the beginning of November - this month was and is going to continue to be awesome - starting with Hawaii, and ending with thanksgiving in LA. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to go hit the beaches, but I only have one relative in the States and that's my cousin Hanqing. She lives in San Diego but we decided that, if all there is to do in SD is go to the beach then we may as well just fly out to Hawaii and catch up there. It's my second time to Hawaii, but the last time I came I was 9 years old and not quite capable of taking full advantage of all the islands have to offer.

Queue the beach, cocktails, leis, floral shirts and of course, funky ass tropical island music:

I could feel the tropical heat drench me as soon as I stepped out of the airport terminal. That's what I've been craving - Berkeley has been getting cold lately and I've been daydreaming about the beach back home, so Hawaii has come at the perfect time. We spent 3 nights and 3 days in Honolulu. Of course, we did all the cliche beach lounging, snorkeling and cocktail sipping. But we did some cultural stuff too.

But first, the hotel. I have to give a shout out to Wennie for introducing me to Hotwire. Best travel deal website ever. You get the cheapest prices on 'hot-off' deals because they don't actually release the name of the Hotel, because the big names don't want the general public to know that they will sell that cheap. Instead, Hotwire gives you the location and the star rating of the hotel. It's kind of like a lucky-dip but you're guaranteed to get something good. You know, like you're playing secret Santa and everyone else is a millionaire.

So basically I booked through Hotwire, and scored the Hilton Prince Kuhio in Waikiki for $200 for the 3 nights. To top it off, when we got there, I ask for a free upgrade - and I got it! Oceanview room on the 25th floor? Yes sir, I'll have that and the Mai Thai.

That's my balcony!

First day on the island we just spent on Waikiki beach and checking out the strip. Unlike the Cott or Scarb, there are a million things to do right next to the beach. Shop, eat, hang out with Elmo, you name it. There's even a 24 hour fitness one block from the hotel, right in front of the beach. I know what you're thinking - do a few sets, then straight out to the sand while you're still PUMPED. Oh, you weren't thinking that? Bullshit.

Next day we snorkeled Hanauma Bay. It's meant to be the best snorkeling on Oahu, but the snorkeling I did 10 years ago off the big island was better. Anyway, it was raining, but the water was clear and I did see a green sea turtle, which is pretty amazing. I also saw a franger floating in the ocean. That wasn't so amazing, in fact, it prompted me to leave. I'd have to say our tour guides on this trip were amongst the funniest I've ever had. This particular guide looked like a Mexican people smuggler and had a voice like Abruzzi from Prison Break:

"If you see turtles, don't play with them. If you see a shark - good luck." And when he handed us our snorkel masks: "You see the try-hard professionals spit on these when they got foggy. You don't actually have to do that. I already did that for you." He also knew where Keanu Reeves lives in Hawaii, which I found surprising. He must not visit much - his ass was way to pale in the Matrix 3.

That night we hit up a Lu'au, which is basically a traditional Hawaiian buffet/dance/sundowner on the beach. They had the traditional whole pig pit roast, a Samoan fire knife dancer, and the best cocktail that I've had for a long time - the 'Lava Flow' (sorry no picture of that).

I wonder why my face is like that.

OK, so besides the awesome beaches, the culture, the cocktails and the grass skirts, what else do you go to Hawaii for? Sunday Brunch at Orchids of course! Holy shit. This has got to be the best buffet brunch I've ever been to. Wait, make that the best buffet full stop. I'm sorry but this place makes the Atrium look like Sizzlers, no, even worse, it makes it look like a soup kitchen.

It opens at 9am and doesn't close until 3:30pm. Plenty of time to get your eat on. The selection was just HUGE. At first I only saw the main section with the hots, the carvery, the fruit and desserts. Then I noticed the whole cold section, the breads and cheeses, the salads and sandwiches section, and the deli section. Then I delved further and found the Japanese section. I'm pretty sure this place is the solution to global hunger.

You have to wear a collared shirt. I wasn't wearing one, so they gave me one.

Orchids hires its own Iron Chef to personally cook your custom omelette right in front of you. You choose what you want in it, and he whips it up for you. He said he'll be going down to work in Melbourne's Crown next year.

I hung out here quite a bit.

And this is the plate which killed me. It was that piece of watermelon. Damn you! If only I had fried chicken.

After gorging ourselves for a couple of hours we did a hiking tour to check out the waterfalls and explore areas where they film Lost! It was pretty damn filthy in the jungle, but it was good fun. I kept trying to look out for the monster, or a polar bear, or at least have a flashback of Perth - but to no avail. I did see one of the 'others' lurking in a tree though:

I was also hell close to getting tickets to the Fray concert that night in Honolulu, because the lead singer was actually on the morning session of the tour we took. Apparently he got everyone on that tour on the VIP list. Damn, should've left the buffet earlier.

I'll post all the pictures and videos from this trip up on facebook soon. Anyway, back to reality and away from King Kamehamaha (I'm not kidding that was the Hawaiian Chieftan who united the tribes). 3 more weeks until final exams. I hope everyone back home is enjoying the start of their holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You Know You're in Berkeley When... (Part 4)

The printers in the computer labs have their own names.

Meet Calvin and Lee:

Calvin is the best, he always prints my stuff good. Double sided, shrink to fit, 6 slides per page, notes pages, everything.

Lee has a bit of a temper. If he's in a good mood, and you ask him to print more than 20 pages, he'll just politely decline. If he's in a so-so mood, he'll give you the finger. If it's the weekend, or past 5pm, he'll just chew up all the paper so that you have can't print at all. I don't like Lee.

Yes, in every computer lab there lives a couple of unique, personified printers.

Oh, and I just noticed something the other day. I was staring at the desktop background on the computer labs and finally noticed the UC Berkeley crest:

Hilarious! You know you're in Berkeley when... wait a minute, have I gone back 3 years in time to Peppermint Grove?!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mr. Supplement rules all over the world

I always love talking about football. Now after the standard season has finished, I can finally talk about the competition here in Berkeley. I play on two teams here: 1 outdoor 6v6 and 1 indoor 6v6, the outdoor on Monday night, and the indoor on Tuesday night. Sound familiar? Those are the same days I play back in Perth with the almighty Mr. Supplement. I love it how quirky parallels pop up all the time, a little deja vu here and there is always a nostalgic, if a bit creepy, experience.

OK enough touchy-feely bullshit. I'm here to talk about football. I did mention at the beginning that the leagues here are either open (meaning men and women by choice) or coed (men and women by obligation). I did say it wasn't bad, since a number of girls here are definitely beasty enough to give most guys a run for their money (speaking of which, the other day some lady was leg pressing 360 pounds). But, at the end of the day - and I don't mean to be sexist - it's just not as good as solid man-on-man action.

Having said that, most of the higher divisions are just made up of all guys teams so it doesn't really make a difference anyway. In terms of the standards with the guys, I'd have to say the top divisions for outdoor are a bit better than UWA div 1 (especially in recent years) but the top divisions in indoor are probably similar to the top for Leeming indoor, though there are maybe a few more outstanding players who play college soccer (sorry I can't say football in this case).

In terms of the quality of the refereeing, and the pitches and such, all the college sports here completely overshadow whatever service we see back home. Everything is organised so well, and maintained so well. There are at least 2 referee's per game, and they use their whistles. Similarly, cards are actually given out. Finally, there's also a sportsmanship rating that goes down along with the final score, and if all else is equal, that get's taken into consideration when they do the final tallying for the play off as well, which I think is a nice touch.

So a bit more about outdoor. As you can see, the pitches are blissfully huge, which means loads of space. But you need it. On Monday nights it's on the astroturf at Maxwell Stadium and not the grass at Underhill (which is where you go for pick-up games or training), which means soft soft touches or else you'll send the ball over the byline. Kind of like the hockey pitches we played on at Challenge. But the goals are also bigger, and no they don't make that satisfying thump noise like the hockey goals do, but instead, you can here Tommy Smyth's (with a 'Y') voice in your head as you "bulge the 'ol onion bag". However, I prefer to replay the La Liga commentator's goal celebration instead: "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL in LA LIIIIGAA".

Way more dramatic. Plus it gives me time to run around with my shirt over my head.

Outdoor games at Maxwell Stadium

Alright, moving on to indoor. This is the cool thing that I hadn't told you guys about. It is literally the indoor soccer variety - not futsal. Yes, this means you can use the walls! It adds a whole new dimension to the game, and was pretty hard to get used to in the beginning. But, it definitely opens up the door for beating opponents and crossing it into the box. It's also good if you have a weak foot - your crosses from your weak side can actually come off your stronger foot and just rebound off the wall to make the angle. I still advise getting some coordination, but it's just one of the differences of getting to use the wall.

One thing in particular is running the line. It's never been so hectic. If you're a defender, you can't just see it over anymore. You've got to do something about it. If you're attacking, then damn, you've just got a whole new angle to beat the guy with. Of course, there's a few extra rules about using the wall to shield the ball and stuff, and they're quite necessary - I've seen and been in some pretty nasty tackles that involve two players and a wall.

Indoor at RSF. Our keeper, Vadzim, is the Lithuanian version of Kev. Except he can do the splits 'cause his calves aren't quite as big. Seriously though - he is a damn good keeper.

A consequence of allowing the wall to be in-play

I love nderhill. It's the football version of blacktop pick-up. Awesome grass surface, caged all around, and it even sits on top of a multi-story parking lot! Best place to play outdoor besides a real pitch.

OK maybe I spoke too soon. The other week we actually went down into Memorial Stadium (the Cal Bears home ground for college football) and played there. It was awesome, we went in through the tunnel that the players run out of. Because it's University property, you can just stroll in and play as long as it's not being used for official stuff - try that at the MCG.

Anyway, both my teams have made the playoffs (another blatantly US term) and they'll be getting underway next week. So, hopefully I can bring some glory back home and show these yanks how Mr. S does it!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

(Final) Gameday

Today's Gameday would be my last one at home in Cal. We have one more home game in the season but that's next weekend, and I won't be able to make it. So I had to go today. NFL has kind of grown on me since I've been here, but it still pales in pathetic comparison to football - real football.

However, you can't fault the atmosphere, and with a 4 game win-streak behind the Cal Bears it was pretty hyped in the student section. Too bad halfway through the first quarter we conceded a touchdown, and then another.

But then, Jahvid Best, literally the player of our team comes out and pulls one of the greatest acrobatic touchdowns I've ever seen. To put this guy into context, he's like the Bobby Despotovski of Perth Glory - actually no, that's completely wrong. Because not only is Best the most valuable player, he is idolized by the fans.

The story doesn't end there though. Best really hurt himself bad making that touchdown. He was already carrying a concussion into the game, and the way he landed after basically vaulted the last defender 5 feet into the air was not healthy. He was out cold.

(Check out the ESPN replay here: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=4633427).

What was amazing was the crowd and player response. I've never seen anything close to this kind of mass empathy in real life. Sure you see it on TV. But wow, the crowd went dead silent, the whole team dropped to one knee and you could see their lips moving in prayer. People held up four fingers (Best wears the #4 jersey) and nobody moved for half an hour while the paramedics saw to him.

But seriously, damn. That was the most epic touch down I've seen.

Halloween? Hulk SMASH!

As you can imagine, Halloween is a huge deal here in the States. If you're aged 3-15 then October 21st equals tonnes of candy, chocolates, sweets, magic tricks (cheap bastards, everyone knows trick-or-treat means hand over the bloody TREATS) and possibly a blood sugar induced coma. If you're 16-25 then its an excuse to dress up, go out and party. Of course you can still get treats too. If you're a home owner, its an excuse to leave town and go to Lake Tahoe for the weekend.

Apparently the biggest Halloween party in the States is Monster Massive in Santa Barbara, people literally trek across the country to get to that gig, and quite a few of us from my residence hall went down (25 actually went in a 9 person 'Bago, no Quagmire at the wheel thank god). Unfortunately, I didn't go down, which was especially unlucky 'cause on the way back half of them went to see Armin van Buren in LA.

Before you all reprimand me for passing up this opportunity there is a reason why I didn't travel - I've got bigger plans for the coming weekend. You'll see.

Anyway instead, I partied it up here in Berkeley. And yes, I am still painting myself (any excuse will do). So to add to my growing list of alter ego's, which currently includes Wolverine and Rama, is undoubtedly my best yet - the Incredible Hulk:

Hulk vs Wolverine - we all know who wins in the cartoon

One bad thing we have to deal with here is the fact that the drinking age is 21. Which means the cops bust parties all the time. In fact, shutdowns are so common that chances are the party won't last past midnight! However, if you make it past that magical threshold then you're pretty safe for the rest of the night. Why do I mention this? Because the first night the I-house party got shutdown at 11:30pm.

Thankfully things were better on Saturday - the actual date of Halloween. I went to pres at a pseudo-sorority called TBA where I got to watch the girls try to shotgun beer from a can for the first time (see video). Hilarious. Then I went to two parties at different co-ops. Co-ops are basically privately owned student housing, so they get a lot messier. They're cool 'cause each co-op has its own theme, there's one for muso's, one for homo's, one for African Americans, one for vegetarians, and well, you get my drift. Of course you don't actually have to fall into the particular category to live in one but its part of the culture.

CZ - great place to party, not so great place to live

Casa Zimbabwe, where I spent most of my night, has quite a reputation. They throw killer parties, and not just because they have a stripper pole in the middle of the top floor dining table (which doubles as a dance stage) - though I definitely had fun with that. Maybe a little too much. Oh well, too late.

I think the best costume I saw all weekend was the shower stall guy. Chris, an American from my residence hall built himself into a shower stall. Depending on your style, he was either the most loved guy or most hated guy on the dance floor.

He did take up a lot of space, but then again, you could just jump in there with him

I have to say though, I ended up the night coming off the dancefloor with barely any green on me at all. So, I just want to put it out there, for those of you who got back home after the party and found green paint in places you shouldn't, I'm sorry - the Hulk does what he does when he's angry.

Yeah the second night I was a Hulk-Wolvie hybrid

By the way, this is my roommate Michael!

Shotgun fail!