Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Las Vegas 19th-22nd Dec






Mandalay Bay. The Luxor. The Monte Carlo. MGM Grand. Ceasar's Palace. Wynn. Encore. Aria. Nah. I choose the Bellagio. 3 crazy nights. A few highlights: Bellagio fountains, MGM lions, being among the first to set foot inside the new (5 day old) Aria Megaresort, Casino hopping with free cocktails at the tables, VIP guest list at XS in the Encore, A class seats for the Lion King, a 4x4 animal style burger at In-n-out and Sas taking a dump during the Bellagio buffet so she could fit in more.

Epic, epic, epic!

See the full album:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/album.php?aid=131584&id=764974345

Act Two: San Francisco 16th-19th Dec




Sas & Phil are here! Spent our last few days in the bay area doing a few things in SF and in Berkeley. Biked the Golden Gate, Strawberry Canyon, RSF with Phil, I-House DC buffets, Kingpin Donuts (better than Krispy Kreme). Discovered that Sas had become a cookie monster. Almost missed our plane to Las Vegas.

See full album:

http://www.facebook.com/photos.php?id=764974345#/album.php?aid=128876&id=764974345

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Act One: The Finale

This is it, my last post from Berkeley. It's been a long, but extraordinary semester. I won't even bother trying to sum it up, firstly, because I wouldn't be able to do it any sort of justice, secondly, because the journey is far from over, but mainly, because I have 5 minutes until my last exam.

Before I say my last few words, I want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes. Every single one I read shortened the gap between Berkeley and Perth. Thanks to Mum, Dad, Dan & Damien - you don't need me to say why (no it's not just the card). Alright, I'm going to stop before this turns into an Halle Berry Oscar speech (why couldn't Kanye have been there to stop her?)

Phil and Sas just arrived in San Francisco yesterday, and I'm going to go see them as soon as I smash this last one. I think seeing them is just going to remind me of all of you back home, and seriously I cannot wait to come back to Perth, catch up, and swap stories (I know I must've missed out on a fair few good ones with all those 21sts happening).

OK to be perfectly honest, I can wait just this one extra month, because it promises to be something truly epic. Cruising the North American continent, we ethnically, culturally, and gender diverse threesome are gonna' wreck havoc.

So from here on in, whenever I can I'll come online and post up a few short comments, update you guys on where the hell we are, and throw up a few pictures.

Thank you all for reading this - whether it was just one stupid post that someone else made you read, or whether you've been in this from the start to finish. Cheers for coming along on the ride, I only wish you guys could've been here with me.

Alright, enough sentimentality. Next stop: Vegas. Ballin'.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gym Class Heroes (and Villians) - The Big Two-One Special


Hey everyone, the time has come - this will be the last proper post I'll be doing from Berkeley. Of course, I've saved the best for last. So, here it is, my 21st gift to all of you faithful back home.



People love stereotyping. Labels are everything. Record labels, clothing labels, yellow post-it notes - everything these days has a label. And no matter how hard you try (or think you try) not to stereotype or judge or label, you inevitably do. You just can't help it.

Why am I going on about all this crap? Well, I want to introduce you to a few characters that I've gotten to know well in the last couple of months. They all have one thing in common, they call the RSF home. Don't know what the RSF is? Shit then, you better catch up here:

http://davidatberkeley.blogspot.com/2009/10/this-isrsf.html



The New Age Arnie

While he pales in comparison to the OG Arnie, this guy is still a beast. He's your typical bodybuilder nugget. Wider than he is tall, and always dressed in a big shirt and tiny shorts, his characteristic self-motivating talk is easily recognisable: "One...arghhhh...Two...yeahhh...Three...c'mon!". You'll usually see him with his bodybuilding buddy, putting in heavy bench sets and old school exercises like weighted upside down crunches while they discuss important topics such as muscle symmetry, lifting form, and of course, the infamous pump.

'God I love this pump, here man touch it...'



The crossfit duo

To be honest, these guys are probably one of the most annoying people in the gym. Sure they work hard and they're fairly clued in on the iron game, but at the end of the day, they always just seem like over-glorified aerobics instructors. I don't mean to hate on cross-fitters (though I believe the Gym Jones guys are way more on the money with conditioning) but the ones you find in commercial and school gyms give them a bad rap.

Why are they annoying? OK, imagine you've just gone through your ritual. The bar on the pins in front of you is loaded so heavy its flexed in the middle. You've paced two times around the rack, wiped your hands down on your towel and closed your eyes and taken 5 deep breaths. You've stepped up, clenched and unclenched your hands one final time and grit your teeth. You're mentally prepared. You're ready to rip this 1RM beast off the pins.

Then, just as your about to pull, you hear this hysterical yelling: 'Yeah dude! We just did Fran in 12 minutes!'

What the hell? Who is this girl Fran? And she let you do what now to her in 12 minutes? Workout ruined. So yeah, besides the fact that crossfit dudes have the weirdest names for their workouts (Murph, Eva, Helen, Dirty Thirty, Filthy Fifty), they are usually the loudest most obnoxious assholes in the gym. It's not the bodybuilders who behave as if they are fueled solely on testosterone and manly high-fives, its the crossfitters. They yell and curse and take up about 3/4 of the gym space with their circuits. Don't get me wrong, those workouts are killer - but seriously, please shut up and lift.



The Solitary Elite Athlete


The first moment you see this guy, you know immediately that he means business. He's the epitome of efficiency. All you see in his eyes are focus. He doesn't speak to anyone. No one speaks to him. The only way you can tell he's not a machine is because you can see him subtly responding to the rhythm in the music that you can just hear coming from his headphones. He's all power. Not the buffest, but definitely the one you least one to meet in a dark alley. You'll find him in his own corner, usually with a pair of heavy dumbells and a box, and the rest is all bodywork.

Actually, the guy is a top bloke and I've worked out with him a couple of times - he's really nice and assuming and would probably never hurt a fly (sound like Adrian?).


Staring down a pair of 100 lb dumbells

This is a little bit harder than your regular jump squat.


The dude with the massive chest and nothing else

Do I really need to elaborate? His workout log contains two words only - 'bench' and 'press' and maybe a few abbreviations like 'BB' or 'DB'. That's it. Maybe some people really do find cracking walnuts between their pecs convenient.



The Fat Guy with the Huge Squat

Yeah you all know who I'm talking about. You've seen him. Massive gut, tree trunk legs. Takes 20 minutes at the drink fountain. But my god can he squat. Sorry, no pictures - I couldn't fit his girth in the frame.


The Tortilla Boys

There's a flurry of thick Spanish and a bit of a jostle as the two Mexicans rush to the dumbell rack. These guys make the most ridiculous noises you could ever hear. There characteristic grunts and pants are recognisable from the locker room. Greasy hair and sweaty palms included. Members are required to use towels, not so they can wipe down after themselves, but so they can wipe down after these boys.


'But Julio, I'm so tired.' 'No Pablo just do it or I go loco!'



The Twins

OK, most of the time girls just stay in the cardio area. But there are always the stereotypical twins or sisters, who are usually on the basketball or football or volleyball team that always hit the weights. Word.


What Cathy? Girls can't bench 30? Of course, no one can!


The Massive Asian Guy

No. I wish it was me. But it's this guy. I don't get it though. On average, Asian dudes are short. But why are some of the tallest dudes Asian? The tallest guy in Cal history is a current sophmore who is 7 foot 6. Yes he's on the basketball team. Yes he is the most unco guy I've ever seen.

Not this dude however.



The Skins but no pants Guy

Only two kinds of people are allowed to do this:
1. You have insane quads/hamstrings and can squat like Tom Platz.
2. You have two X chromosomes.


Sorry buddy but you don't fall into either of those categories



Kevin...

One word: calves.



...Matt?

When I told Phil that I'd seen someone who looked exactly like Matt at RSF, only that he was gay (yes you should hear him speak). Phil just laughed and said: 'so what's the difference?'.



And finally, what inspires me most:

He's a paraplegic, and I still see him there 3 times a week. That's dedication.




And there you have it, I'm sure there are many more 'heroes' and 'villains' that I didn't bother singling out, but these were a few that I though would be amusing, interesting, or motivating. Things like this are surprisingly consistent, so next time you're in the gym keep an eye (or ear) out.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

College Dropout (Studying the American Way)

You keep it going man, you keep those books rolling,
You pick up those books your going to read

And not remember and you roll man...


Today marks the commencement of the Final Exam period, right before the festive season. It's 8 days over here at Cal, and usually there's no study week. You just go straight from classes on Friday, and your first exam could be on Saturday morning. This semester was the first semester that they introduced a 'dead' week, which suits me fine. But as you can guess, this sort of exam schedule encourages cramming, all-nighters, caffeine-induced violence and all that other good stuff that characterises the reality of college life.


Christmas tree, warm fire, hot coffee and...a great book to read: Control & Dynamics of Engineering Processes. Oh yeah, Santa came early.

Most residence halls are completely self-contained, and mine - I-House - has some of the best facilities. The library here has been packed out for the last week, so much so that they've opened the Dining Hall from 9pm-5am as an extra study location. Shit is serious. They even provide donuts and coffee for free from 11pm onwards to help fuel our sleep deprived bodies.


Old school classic. Who needs fancy computers and labs like abacus and UWA biz school? They only end up getting used by Indians for Bollywood marathons.

A lot of guys I know are seniors, so they're graduating after this semester, and are hitting the books hardcore. The thing is, unlike in Australia, its pretty much the norm to go to graduate school after you get your bachelors, unless you have a highly technical degree (e.g. Engineering). The system here is quite different. Med school and Law school can only be entered as a graduate, so you can spend 4 years studying something ridiculous like liberal arts, then (some how) get accepted into Harvard Law and then 3 years and a bar exam later you can be in a courtroom. That's a long time to invest.


...You get that associate degree, okay,
Then you get your bachelors, then you get your masters
Then you get your master's masters,
Then you get your doctorate...


Speaking of Law school, the one here at Berkeley is actually top 10 in the States. But I reckon it has the number one name: BOALT (like Usain Bolt).


The cafe is also a pretty popular place if you want easy access to coffee and a bit more background noise.

Anyway, like I've mentioned a few times before the workload here is at least 5x more than in Australia (no exaggeration) and consequently the study ethic is pretty high. Another positive correlation is the amount of stupid superstitions that come along with it. Here are my top superstition picks:

1. Do not step on any UC Berkeley seals (plaques located around campus).
2. Roll down '4.0 hill' in your Freshman year - the GPA range here goes from 0-4.0 (not 4.0-7.0 like at UWA), but the 'hill' in question is more of a moderate incline than a hill.
3. Run through 'Main Stacks' (the massive archive of literature stuck underground between the two biggest libraries on campus) naked on the first day of Finals. This actually happens in an organised group, and they are definitely in their birthday suits. Main stacks is inevitably filled with people trying to study when the naked run goes through, and is yet another demonstration of how err, alternative, people in the Bay area are.

How any of that is supposed to help is beyond me, but the naked run was quite a sight. I didn't have anything on hand to capture the moment but here's what happened in Spring '07:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtuWpB8YuKU&feature=related

Another interesting thing to know is that all the libraries on campus (there are 26) are actually all connected via underground tunnels and secret walkways. Perhaps it was inspired by the Viet Cong, but either way its pretty cool to know that if something like 'I am Legend' ever happened and you holed up in Berkeley you'd at least have access to all the books.


...You go man, then when everybody says quit
You show them those degrees man, when
Everybody says hey, your not working,
Your not making any money,
You say look at my degrees and you look at my life...


Just to illustrate how serious they are about hitting the books, check out the notices that have been popping up around the residence hall:


They love fines here in California, as you'll recall from my minor $250 bike infringement (http://davidatberkeley.blogspot.com/2009/10/five-o-five-o.html), but as ridiculous as this sounds, its probably actually a good idea since we live right on frat row.

So yeah, a semester at college is pretty much a slog all the way through, since the assessments are non-stop. It's not like its that much more difficult, its just the sheer volume of it all. But I guess you get what you pay for, or you should at least try to get what you paid for. Tuition fees here are around $15k USD a semester for an undergrad if your a Californian resident, and closer to $30k if your interstate or international (no discrimination whether you're all the way from say Europe or your just coming down from Oregon). Remember that this is UC Berkeley, which, despite being a damn good school is still just a public school. Want to go to a private school? Try USC: University of Southern California aka University of Spoilt (Asian) Children and you'll end up giving up an apartment on the foreshore in South Perth at the end of your Bachelor's.

Thankfully for us exchange students we only have to pay our fees from back home. This applies to everyone in the EAP system, so I know some people who are coming from the University of Mexico (UNAM) who are literally paying the equivalent of 1 USD to be here. That's like, 13 pesos, or 5 tortillas! Don't laugh.

But study isn't all that bad, because the American system lets you be so much more flexible while you're an undergrad, since you basically spend the rest of your life specialising in grad school and research. Berkeley takes it one step further: they offer 'DeCal' classes which are actually taught by students and the subjects are amazing! My personal favourites are, in ascending order:

7. Integrative Medicine
6. Jewish Social Justice
5. James Bond: Politics, Pop Culture, Hero
4. Introduction to Magic: the Gathering
3. History of Middle Earth
2. Star Wars Galaxy

OK, you may be thinking that the the last 3 aren't real, and that David is failing at a stupid joke attempt. But wait, no, I'm not kidding- THEY ARE REAL (see the entire list of course offerings here: http://www.decal.org/courses/). Which leads me to my absolute favourite, which unfortunately has been taken off the curriculum as of last year:

1. StarCraft: Strategic Analysis

Now I finally understand why there are a bunch of 30 yr old Korean guys who always bring takeout from shabu shabu to the computer lab and have heated debates where they would occasionally yell: 'sunken colony' and 'psionic storm'.

So yeah, you could basically spend an entire lifetime studying at Cal. But, I for one still don't understand the massive cramming they do for Finals. I mean, its only worth 35% of your final grade.

We DOUBLE or nothing that shit over in UWA.


...Yeah I'm 52, so what, hate all you want,
But I'm smart, I'm so smart, and I'm in school,
And these guys are out here making money all these ways,
And I'm spending mine to be smart.

You know why?
Because when I die, buddy,
You know
what's going to keep me warm?
That's right, those degrees
.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dwight's Delts


...are MASSIVE!

Last weekend I went to my first NBA game as a sort of mini B'day celebration (since my actual birthday is going to be during final exam week, in fact I have two finals on my birthday - now I know the pain that all you June/November babies suffer). It was the Orlando Magics vs Golden State Warriors game at Oracle Arena which is the GSW home court. I managed to score a sweet deal, we got $40 priced tickets plus a free 'girls' calender and a signing with the 'team' before the game all for just $20 per person.


With a line that long it must be good! They only do one unique topping per day. We scored broccolini, pecorino & gremolata.

So after hitting up cheeseboard for dinner (best gourmet pizza in Berkeley) we rushed over to meet the team. Except that at the time I didn't know anyone in the GSW team. Well, it turns out it didn't matter because when the ticket offer referred to an 'exclusive signing with the team' they weren't talking about the basketball team, they were talking about the cheerleading team. Yes, I was uhh, very disappointed.



OK enough of the girls. The game itself was actually really exciting, despite the blowout it looked to be on paper. In fact it seemed like it was heading that way after the Magics put up 46 or so points in the first quarter with a 14 point lead. Dwight was dominating with some awesome post moves and a few great dunks, Rashard Lewis was hitting 3's from everywhere and Vince Carter was carving it up pretty hard.



But GSW managed to make a game of it and with 10 minutes to go in the last quarter they were level for the first time in the game: 110-110. Yeah it was a pretty high scoring game. But, too bad, they threw it away in the last 10 minutes, and the Magics went on a 14-0 scoring run and ended up winning by a fair margin.

There was also your usual half-time antics, but I have to say this dunking trio were pretty awesome.

video

Either way, it was pretty entertaining, and the fact that we snuck into the reserved seating section on the lower tier during the 2nd half made it all that much better.

To get a good view of Dwight's delts.

Friday, December 4, 2009

You can be my Cinderella, ella, ella....

Before you start reading: This is one mother of a blog post. In terms of length, if this was a 21st/birthday speech *cough* I would either: go to sleep/pass out, hit the bar and mow down the tab while everyone else is locked down, or leave and check out what the scene is like at 146 Roe St.

BUT hopefully, if you decide to man up and keep reading I promise it's enjoyable. So grab a coffee and condiments, and nice warm snuggie (order it off an infomercial if you have to) and turn off the lights.



Thank you pilgrims, for Thanksgiving. I knew November was gonna be awesome. And now that it just flew past, I can look back and say: 'Yes, November was awesome.' I'd barely recovered from the shenanigans in Hawaii before I was hit by the lights of LA. Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Melrose Avenue, Rodeo Drive, shit...everything was in OVERDRIVE.

My mate Andrew (who lives just down the hall from me) and his family were kind enough to take 8 of us exchange students in over the break and share the love and warmth that we all know the Americans have in them. Now, Andrew's family doesn't just live in LA - they live in Hollywood. But, no matter how hard I searched and used my uber Paparazzi skills, I didn't see any A-lister's. Or B-lister's. Or anyone for that matter.

Anyway, so much happened on this trip that I think I'll just let the pictures do most of the talking and I'll just throw in a few comments here and there. There are way more up on facebook, but they're in my friend's albums so I'm not sure if you can see it.



Thanksgiving exodus - all the kiddies leaving for home, and warmer weather.



Shit I forgot my Ipod. No worries, I'll just get one from a vending machine. But damn I wish I could buy what Phil, Sas, Guz and Gowri can get in Japan.


Universal Studios

The rides were pretty lame, but you don't go to Universal for the rides. You go for all the delicious behind the scene action. We spent the best part of a whole day checking out different movie sets, special effects and theme park scenery.


A lot of you guys back home are movie buffs, so you'll enjoy this. In fact, think of it as a game. Have a look at each picture below (it'll be of a scene, or a special effect) and see if you can work out what movie it's from. The answers will be in the captions, which you can highlight to check. You get 1 point for each correct answer, and 1 point off for each incorrect answer. Some even have bonus points! Tally up your score and the winner gets a gold star and one of those giant turkey legs that I had at Disneyland (see below...way below).



This is the scene from King Kong, where the ship reaches Kong's island for the first time through the mist. Special effect? Well, the 'scene' you see there can fit on your desk. The ship is about the size of a basketball.

Bonus! (There is more than one correct answer). 1) The flooding scene in Big Fat Liar (with Frankie Muniz & Paul Giammati. 2) Heroes - the scene in Mexico with the chic who has that power where her eyes go dark and people just die.

This should be easy. It's not exactly from the movie, but its a demo of the special effects from the Fast and the Furious series. V-DUB! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aaaaz_XPwHI)


The airplane crash site scene from War of the Worlds. Unlike the King Kong scene, there were no special effects here. That's a real Boeing 737 that they dumped into their scene. Then they released 15 angry Scientologists with sledgehammers.

There's a bonus point in it for this one, its the hardest. The end scene in Backdraft with Kurt Russell where the fireman makes his sacrifice.

Thanksgiving Dinner

They may be Asian, but Andrew's family are as American as you can get. But they still have good ol' Chinese cuisine to go with the bird. Thanks Mr. & Mrs Poon! (I know, killer last name).




Black Friday Shopping (for the ladies)

In the States the two big days to mark on your calender if you're a shopperholic are Boxing Day (like in Aus) and the Friday after Thanksgiving. Black Friday shopping is crazy. It's so crazy, it starts on Thursday night at 9:00pm at big outlets (midnight at most malls) and goes on 'till as late as 11pm on Friday. Don't worry though, it caters for all, from those of you who shop only on '5th Ave' you can have your Chanel, YSL, LV etc, to those that want to hit up Nike, Adidas, and Converse. Then you've got insane deals on electronics, and even Walmart is packed to the brim.

We drove out of LA basically to Palm Springs (more than half way to San Diego) straight after dinner to make sure we got to the biggest outlet in SoCal on time after 1.5 hrs of driving. Two comments: 1) RIDICULOUS prices (e.g. Nike shoes average price was about half that you can find on eastbay); and 2) 95% Asian shoppers.

So if you're in the States around Thanksgiving, and you feel like working off your Thanksgiving dinner, just make sure you go shopping afterwards and take advantage of the exchange rate.

Santa Monica Beach & Hollywood Blvd

When I saw the beaches in LA I couldn't help but hear the theme song from 'The O.C.' play in my head.

We've been on the run
Driving in the sun
Looking out for #1
California here we come
Right back where we started from

We weren't quite at Newport beach (the O.C. is the next county south of LA), but Santa Monica beach is actually one of the real filming locations for the TV show - in fact none of it is actually filmed in Orange County.



Yeah, I did check out the little lifeguard hut to see if Marissa was on one of her late night binges. Then I remembered that she's dead. Aww.



They have these sweet rope courses on the beach. Doing these rings is a lot harder than it looks, they're about 3 m apart from each other and it takes a lot of body language to get through it. Some pro guy was doing the rings whilst hula hooping - some serious ass twisting action.





He's alive!

"Quick, he not dead! Take photo - wait no no, look there, wahhhh transformer bumblebee! Take that, take that!"


"Are you getting a bit of chaffage man?" "No, I wear mine on the outside"

Disneyland

You have to go to Disneyland once in your life, do all the rides, get all the princesses signatures, and take a photo with Mickey. You just have to. When I first walked through the gates, I imagine what I felt would've been similar to what Dorothy felt when she fell through the rabbit hole, but probably not as violated as what Neo felt when he took the red pill.

Disneyland probably deserves it's own blog post or two, and it's a couple of photo albums - but here a few of the highlights:


















Roscoe's

Last day in LA, and still no sight of any celebrities. So we got a tip from some locals and apparently sometimes they hang out at Roscoe's Fried Chicken and Waffles. You know, natural habitat and that sort of thing.


Anyway, as the name suggests, they only have fried chicken and waffles combo meals. Glancing through the menu, it looked kind of like a cross between KFC, Nando's & Gelare. I know Nando's don't do fried chicken, but Roscoe's list it by the 1/2, 1/4 chicken sizes like Nando's do, as well as individual 'pieces' like KFC. Now, I should know by now that US servings are huge. I think that must have slipped my mind when I ordered.

I mean, I was thinking back to a Nando's 1/2 chicken, which is a good sized meal. But uhh...
,Apparently that's half a chicken. OK well technically when you order half a chicken you get to choose the 4 pieces that make up your chicken. 2 breasts and 2 thigh's please! Not 2 whole bloody chickens!


Oh and everything comes with butter. Not cream, ice-cream, syrup or chocolate sauce. Just butter. Mmm filth.

Back to Berkeley

And now I'm back in Berkeley, getting ready for finals...and I can't wait for Phil and Sas to get here!

Things are still the same here. It's getting cold, and people are still driving into open manholes.