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Worst Best Picture: Is Around the World in 80 Days Better or Worse Than Crash?

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Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1956 winner Around the World in 80 Days. Is it better than Crash?

I’ve become fascinated by the disconnect between how a movie was seen at the time and how it looks now, and there may not be a better contender to break that down than this one. The 1956 Best Picture Oscar winner Around the World in 80 Days was produced by Michael Todd, and the poster for it claims “Michael Todd’s show makes this a better world.”

That’s a bold damn statement, on the one hand. If you’re considering seeing a movie or not, the fact that it has been declared a net positive for humanity is as good a reason as any. On the other hand, all that sentence really means is that someone considered if Around the World in 80 Days made the world a worse place to live and said “no, I wouldn’t go that far.”

I might. This is a tremendously bad movie. It’s tough to even decide where to begin. Let’s break this down.

The movie starts with a 10-minute fake newsreel about the history of travel from Edward R. Murrow. To some degree, that’s a novelty. It’s so strange to see a time when people would go see a fanciful “road movie” and then be delighted to see the leading newsman of the day explain travel as an idea to them. It really sets the tone for next three hours.

The rest of the movie falls into place, and I mean that term in the worst sense. You get the sensation that the creators cast a ton of big names and secured some exotic locations and then picked moments from Jules Verne’s book that fit those. There is no larger narrative beyond “go around the world.” David Niven bets a bunch of stuffy British people that he can go around the world in 80 days. There you go. You can skip it now.

If you do see it, you’ll see some absurdities. Chief among these might be the legendary Mexican actor Cantinflas fighting some bulls for half an hour, which, again, they just heard they could get Cantinflas and filmed around it. He’s charming and funny in it, but it’s just such a strange performance. It has nothing on Shirley MacLaine as the exceedingly white Indian bride that they save from being burned alive in ritual practice. The less said about the view of 1956 India — or the very, very white woman they meet there — the better. Yikes.

The prevailing emotion after watching this epic is one of wonder, but more wonder at a time that does not exist now. This is a terrible movie. It’s far too long and feels even longer, and it’s chock-full of easy, obvious things to cut. An entire trip to the Wild West does nothing for the story at all. India introduces the terrible love story, and that’s it. The setup itself takes half an hour, and if the idea was “show all these great locations” you may as well start out with the champagne in the hot air balloon.

It would be difficult to imagine the kind of person that would like this movie in 2014. From it’s time, though, it does represent a monumental achievement in scope, though one that throws out narrative and any hope of meaning to do so.

The Best Part: The saving grace here, such as it is, is that some of the performances are great. Cantinflas is funny and David Niven is crafty, and both of those are good, because they’re both on screen for almost three solid hours.

The Worst Part: This has to be the unexplained Shirley MacLaine role. She’s excellent in The Apartment and Terms of Endearment, but there is no excuse for this disaster. The movie’s length is what it’s remembered for, and don’t get me wrong, it’s absurdly long. But MacLaine in India is just one long wince in 2014.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? One of the debates in this space has been if “nothing” is better than “bad something.” I think here the racial stereotypes and the cringe factor are as high as they are in Crash, so I have to default to a standard decision maker for CrashAround the World in 80 Days is five decades older. Crash is certainly less boring, but all Around the World in 80 Days will do is waste your time and leave a taste in your mouth. Crash feels like an earnest attempt to make something, which is worse.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The GodfatherCasablancaGrand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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Tough Questions: What’s the Longest You’ve Ever Stayed Up in a Row and Why?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the longest you’ve ever stayed up in a row and why?

Rules are simple: go to sleep. Well, don’t, actually. You remember that episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete where the kids tried to stay up so long that they went back in time? This is basically the same thing, really. Most people have pulled one all-nighter, but have you pulled two in a row? Or more? Are you dead right now because you’ve been up for two weeks?

Alex Russell

I used to go two or three days without sleep in a row all the time. I hated sleep as a teenager; I used to be worried I was missing something cool whenever I went to sleep. I now know that an infomercial for a hot plate doesn’t count as “something cool” but that kind of wisdom comes with time. My longest stretch was in grad school when I went more than three full nights without sleep. I had to finish a particularly complicated project and I hadn’t had time to read everything I wanted to before starting it. The final night involved a four pack of Red Bull, a box of off-brand NoDoz from the gas station, and a crying jag on a staircase at 7 a.m. when I couldn’t figure out what a book about nationalism and farming was trying to say. All-nighters for education are really stupid, and I’ve forgotten almost everything about that final night other than how manic I was.

Jonathan May

I, like most Americans since the advent of Netflix, am prone to binge-watching TV shows online. Reality competition shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model are my jam, and I’ve seen every episode of both. But I was recently (like two weeks ago) introduced to So You Think You Can Dance, which falls safely in line with my main TV binge interests. I’m on day three of no sleep as I compose this. I’ve watched more people laugh and cry and dance in the past few days than probably the rest of my life combined. Needless to say, I feel really weird, both physically and emotionally. Also, I’ve become almost uncannily able to predict the winner once they announce the top 20 dancers. I have one episode left, and I’ll definitely watch it as soon as I get home. As was often said in our high school, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

Brent Hopkins

The longest I have stayed up in one sitting was around 60 hours and that was due to traveling. I was flying from Korea to Hawaii to visit my cousins and had two insanely long layovers in China and Japan. I couldn’t sleep on the flights because the seats were so tiny and by the time I arrived in Hawaii it was 9 a.m. and there was no way I could sleep then. I kinda went through a daze of delirium but my sleep schedule was on point once I woke up the next day.

Andrew Findlay

I have never missed more than one full night’s sleep. I had one prepared about the time I stayed up all night at a friend’s bachelor party. He broke his arm, and I had to drive his car home for him hungover on no sleep, but most of the time when I miss sleep, the word “party” is not involved, so I selected something more representative. I intake media at an alarming rate. School let out in late June, and I have already used that time to read five novels. With video games, I actually play fairly rarely. I can go weeks without turning on my console, but that is because when I do, the game consumes me. This is not a problem often, as the majority of games clock in around 15-20 hours, which translates to just one to two days where all my waking moments are spent playing. But Skyrim, oh Skyrim. It does not end. Ever. The first weekend I got it, I started playing on Friday, stayed up all night, brewed coffee continuously, and did not shut down the machine until late on Saturday. By that time, I had entered an altered state of consciousness. At one point, I had to go buy eye drops because my corneas were sticky from being constantly open. Not my proudest moment, but there it is.

Gardner Mounce

I can’t function without sleep. I never saw pulling an all-nighter in college as a rite of passage like some people do, and I’ve never stayed up for more than one night. I hate the idea of not sleeping at the end of the day. I stayed up all night at a birthday party and was the one who kept suggesting that we all go to sleep. And I stayed up all night for my bachelor party, and probably was the one who ended up suggesting that we all go to sleep.

Tough Questions: What’s the Best Thing You’ve Seen this Year?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the best thing you’ve seen this year?

Rules are simple: what have we, like, gotta see, man? No, really, what have we gotta see? It’s the middle of the year and nearly everything worthwhile is on hiatus. Wonder if anyone here is writing about that? Is that the first meta-plug in the intro paragraph? Why are you reading this, still? Go find out what you’re missing! What’s the best stuff from your first half of 2014?

Alex Russell

“So Did the Fat Lady” is the episode of Louie that’s nominated for an Emmy, but I’m sticking with the entire “Elevator” saga. I’m Louie‘s biggest fan, and I’m honestly a little surprised every time I realize it competes for Emmy awards as a “comedy.” I guess it is, but the “Elevator” arc from this season is everything the show is supposed to be. There were a ton of thinkpieces written about how it’s not funny anymore, but if you’re watching Louie to laugh then you’re missing the point. It’s all about watching a woman try to explain “hairdryer” to someone with no shared language between them. DAMN this season of Louie was good, y’all.

Jonathan May

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I’d have to say the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado. Clyfford Still was one of the leading American Abtract-Expressionist painters. The Museum houses 94% of the artist’s output, and he stipulated in his will that all of his work should be sealed off from the public (upon his death) until a museum devoted solely to it was built. The Museum opened just a few years ago, so I was lucky to be able to return to Denver to see it this year. Not only is the building itself absolutely gorgeous (concrete and steel), the paintings hang beautifully in chronological order, with many more in careful storage. I’d never been able to see his paintings in the flesh, so to walk through rooms and rooms of them was just heaven.

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Brent Hopkins

I would say the best thing I have seen this year would have to be Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in Japan. I’ve always been intrigued by Japan as a long time video game and anime fan, and finally had a chance to go visit. (I wrote about the arcade culture there way back when.) You always hear about Tokyo, but the other cities are so vibrant and lively that they shouldn’t be taken for granted either. Kyoto in particular had me feeling like I had lived there forever or could live there forever. Just a breathtaking place with amazing people.

Gardner Mounce

The best thing I’ve seen so far this year is the trailer for Boyhood, the new Richard Linklater film. I’m a huge Linklater fan, having seen all of the Before… movies a dozen times. I was smiling ear-to-ear when I saw that trailer. It looks like it’s going to be like the Before…movies but three hours long and with all the cringiness of puberty. That’s my kind of entertainment.

Colton Royle

Can we just talk about how incredible The Lego Movie really was? I mean here is a movie about a kid’s toy that was somehow also about globalization, free movement of capital, and the possibility for a post-nation state while also adding in a little Marxist criticism for the low income workers?

In all seriousness, the movie is really funny. Each cliché is tweaked just out of reach for comedy. Consider the foreshadowing of Emmit’s fall into the human world (spoilers, but it’s been enough time) with items like the “Blade of Exact Zero” and the enlightened flashes that included a cat poster. Consider how Morgan Freeman’s character Vitruvius thinks that a prophecy is true because it rhymes. And the first five minutes of the film in Bricksburg is the most satirical animated wonder since Shrek. While it definitely shows as not a movie for children, it is philosophical and quirky in a way that had me doing jumping jacks.

Andrew Findlay

The best thing I have seen all year is The Sopranos. I have been on a quest to catch up on all of the universally acclaimed television shows from the last couple decades, and The Sopranos has impressed me the most by far. Mad Men is dripping with style, The Wire is sprawling, complex, and incisive, and Breaking Bad is absurdly exciting to watch, but none quite hit the slow and workmanlike layering of a fully realized network of people. The Sopranos is a show about generational psychosis, the American dream, and family (both the kind you see at Thanksgiving and the kind you order to hijack a semi of fine Italian suits for you). All the shows I listed are amazing, but they are all missing something intangible that The Sopranos has, and I expect it to remain for some time in my top five cultural experiences.

Tough Questions: If You Had to Move Tomorrow, Where Would You Move?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

If you had to move tomorrow, where would you move?

Rules are simple: get out of here. People are obsessed with movement and change. This week we ask everyone to pack their bags and move away. You’ve already got the wanderlust, where are you going?

Alex Russell

I love Chicago and I do not want to leave. It’s about to get to the oppressively hot part of the year here, though, and I’m one of the few people that hates the city in the summer more than I do in the winter. I moved here to get away from the 103 degree summers of the South, so I don’t appreciate when Hoth gets hot for a few months.

I’m not a beach guy, but I was in Santa Cruz, California on July 4th in 2008. This picture does not do it justice, but something about the weirdness of one of the last great beach towns in the country really, really stuck with me. Everyone was what you can only call “specific.” It’s not somewhere I could live for a decade, but there are worse places to turn 30, I think. There are definitely worse places.

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Jonathan May

New Orleans! I love everything about the city: the food, the people, the connection to the water, the art. Since my friend Tyler moved down five or more years ago, I stay with him a few times a year, and it’s always a magical time. I love how close a lot of things are; you can do a lot of great walking and people-watching. The museum has some real treasures in it, and their cafe puts golden raisins and dill in their chicken salad (so good!). But most of all, just being in the city, with the susurrus of the crowd along the sidewalk and in the street, you lose yourself in the beautiful history of people promenading along the boulevards slowly with coffee or booze, in no great hurry to see the world that day, just one beautiful slice of it. I’ll there for July 4th this year, and I can’t wait!

Andrew Findlay

This is confusing to me. Am I being chased? Has a job opportunity opened up? I would either go to Memphis, where rent is about thirty percent of what it is here, or to Paris, where things are awesome. D.C. is great and all, but it’s kind of an in-between city – not as cheap as some, not as astounding as others.

Brent Hopkins

I would probably move to Busan, South Korea if I had to move tomorrow. I have been missing the ocean recently and also generally having a metropolitan area to roam around in. I have been slowly making my way south in the peninsula may as well pull the band-aid off and go all the way south.

Gardner Mounce

San Francisco. Does it matter that I’ve never been? No. I’ve seen pictures and I’ve watched Full House, and everyone agrees that it’s the most beautiful city on earth. This is a picture of me in San Francisco, but as another person.

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See how happy I am?

Tough Questions: What’s the Worst Thing You’ve Paid More than $50 For?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the worst thing you’ve paid more than $50 for?

Rules are simple: What do you regret blowing half a c-note on? We all spend money on things we regret, but when did you really mess up? Did you get into an eBay war and lose sight of just how important collectable glassware is? Did you buy a plane ticket to somewhere you didn’t even want to go? Did you go to grad school, like, at all?

Alex Russell

Every year I go to Vegas with a few friends. We go in March, both because Chicago is miserable in March and because March Madness in Vegas is always full of degenerates, but mostly your happier, saner degenerates. A regret story about Vegas is nothing new, but it’s hard to pin down a “bad beat” any easier than this one. We were early for a dinner reservation, because your life in Vegas revolves around when you’re supposed to be where for what, and there was a roulette table right outside the restaurant. Vegas wants you to play, of course, but they want you to play impulsively. The $100 bet on black because I was hungry and frustrated was straight out of an anti-gambling PSA, and even though I know in my heart that Vegas is smarter than me… it’s rarely that damn obvious.

Alex Marino

Remember netbooks? It was that awkward time between laptops getting smaller and the iPad’s debut. People swore that netbooks were going to be the next big thing. I bought it because I wanted something for taking notes on in graduate school. I only installed what was absolutely essential for school stuff to keep it running fast. Well, it wasn’t fast. It sucked. And now I have a $200 dinosaur collecting dust in my closet.

Mike Hannemann

When you go to Epcot, sometimes you will want a drink. When you want a drink at Epcot, you’ll notice each country the park is divided into has a beer from that country. When you figure this out, you will want to go on a beer crawl of every country. When you do this, you will drink nine beers with high alcohol content. When you complete the beer crawl you will go to the Japan portion of the park and buy a $75 backpack that is a Goomba from Super Mario. When you do this, your parents will think you need to go back to therapy.

Andrew Findlay

I bought a pair of Mephisto shoes for 150 dollars. I was in Europe with a group for my friend’s wedding, and after they went off on their honeymoon we went to Paris. I had a pair of old, ratty tennis shoes, and I was ironically worried about them causing foot pain from the miles and miles I would walk there. My solution was to go to a shoe store and buy those damned Mephistos, which are like the Cadillac of supportive shoes. Seriously, podiatrist-recommended. They felt great for the first day and a half, and then I started experiencing sharp pains in the balls of both feet. One day in particular, waiting in line to go up the Eiffel Tower, the standing for more than an hour really did a number on me. Once we got up there, I immediately sprinted to the nearest bench and sat down without informing my friends of what I was doing. Because there are a shit-ton of people at the Eiffel Tower and because I’m an idiot, I did not see them again until we all made it back to where we were sleeping. I spent the rest of the vacation limping around, complaining about my feet, and being generally annoying to my companions. To this day, the balls of my feet still cause me pain, ranging from slight to significant depending on the day. I’ve bought a lot of crap I regret, but these motherfuckers ruined my vacation and gave me a lasting injury, and I paid out 150 dollars for the privilege. Clear winner.

Brent Hopkins

Fifty dollars was much harder for me to figure out than I would care to admit. I am a fan of saving money and spending it on big purchases, so I rarely have things that I am just disappointed in. There was something recent that didn’t sit well with me, and that was a motel I stayed at when my sister came to visit. Now, this motel was 38 dollars per night and we stayed two nights, so it amounted to over 50 in total, but I would have rather roamed like a vagabond than stay there. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about this place and the bathroom looked like it had seen the Korean War in its prime. This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation but we were both awake by 7 a.m. and out the door to spend as little time as possible there. I was around there a few weeks ago again and just looking at the facade of the motel made me feel dirty. Never again will I go that far by my purse strings again.

Tough Questions: What’s the Weirdest Place You’ve Ended Up on a Trip?

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Every Monday we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the Weirdest Place You’ve Ended Up on a Trip?

Rules are simple: Where did you end up when you didn’t mean to go anywhere? We’ve all ended up in weird places – like a cookout with an ex or Iowa – but the weirdest of them all are the unexpected ones. Where were you most surprised to find yourself, and how many goats were there with you?

Alex Russell

I went to London for a month in 2005, supposedly to learn how to teach middle school. I guess I did that, but I also spent a lot of that January in the pub you can see in the opening credits of Black Books. I was there with some people I knew and some I didn’t and we managed to make friends with the staff of the pub. It was a weird experience, because usually when I travel I keep to myself. This time, though, a spunky British lesbian and a gruff bartender became my travel companions for a really weird week. I still remember ordering a boilermaker (there are many ways to order one, but I wanted a shot of whiskey dropped in a beer) and having to explain what I meant to the guy. I spent a lot of time apologizing for being American, but never more than when he asked me plainly: “Why can’t you Americans just drink?

Brent Hopkins

The weirdest place I ended up on a trip had to have been when I went to Cambodia and ended up at a private house party. I was traveling with my friend Sara and we had a really nice tour guide to help us get to all the sites (the killing fields are more depressing than you’d imagine and Angkor Wat is far more impressive). He was a fascinating guy and told us about his life and how being a tour guide had allowed him to buy some land and start building his own house for his family. I really wanted to to drink palm wine, but we found it a bit hard to come by so on the last day we were there he invited us to his still-under-construction abode. This was far from the main tourist drag we had been on and he picked up a special treat for us when we were on the way… grilled dog. The meat was pretty good, though it wasn’t the first time I had dog, and I got quite drunk sitting outside with about 25 to 30 people for an impromptu housewarming.

Austin Duck

The strangest, most surreal place I’ve ever ended up on a trip was a Denny’s in Orlando, FL. Ena had never been to Disney World as a child so, right before she graduated college, we took a bus down, rented a cheap motel, and went to Disney and Universal. And here’s the bitch of it: The Atlanta bus station–with shoeless children eating nacho cheese from plastic containers with forks–was not the weirdest place. The Greyhound bus, where, as soon as we boarded (and sat next to the toilet because there were three of us), a toothless woman threw in a styrofoam cup, rendering it completely useless and, for the next eight hours, we were tasked with denying desperate customers their bathroom privileges… this wasn’t the weirdest. No, the weirdest was, after taking the “convenient shuttle” from our hotel to Disney (2 hrs), after wading through oceans of children so Ena could have the prototypical American experience, after It’s a Small World and The Haunted Mansion (sans Eddie Murphy) and Pirates of the Caribbean and a $15 burger and fries and the 100+ degree heat with full humidity and after waiting in a parking lot for an hour for that fucking shuttle to take us back to our hotel, we stumbled, numb, into Denny’s in some kind of psychedelic/psychotic daze, laughing through course after course of over-salted, brown food, me in a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt, Ena in shock at the heat and the awfulness that is Orlando, the waiters and residents of Kissimmee or wherever the fuck we were just staring at us… We definitely brought the weirdness–after all, it was just Denny’s–but, nevertheless.

Jonathan May

In 2010, I went to LA to visit my friend Cody with my friends Jenny and Ben. I love LA. The great people, all the great shows, Korean BBQ. But inevitably, I’m drawn inland toward Joshua Tree National Park. So we went. Cody’s family had a house there outside the national park. Now, the desert has always been one of my ideal landscapes. I love the hot and cold, the weird creatures, the rock formations; hence, I love Joshua Tree. Well, in the town of Joshua Tree (population 7,414 as of the 2010 Census), there happens to be one world famous museum. I had no idea such a thing existed, there on the outskirts of the brutal California desert, on the edge of the civilized world. But lo, on the rim of the city, off the highway, is the World Famous Crochet Museum. The two photos cannot possible illustrate how small this thing is. Literally three people, and no more, can fit inside. And inside? Inside?! Stuffed to the brim with crocheted objects, including the pictured taco (a personal favorite). I literally stood outside the small green building, looking around, hoping we were too far from LA to be Punk’d. It’s a surreal place to be in the middle of so much harshness.

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Andrew Findlay

The weirdest place I ever ended up was the catacombs underneath Paris. I can’t really say “ended up” as if I didn’t plan to go there – it’s a major tourist attraction. It’s also creepy as hell. The quick history is that the limestone used to build Paris was mostly mined from underneath the city itself, a practice which continued until streets started falling into the tunnels honeycombing the city. The city leaders made further mining illegal, but still had all these tunnels, all these people, and all these overflowing cemeteries. Instead of exhuming old corpses and burying new ones ad infinitum, whoever was running Paris at the time decided to just toss all the old bones into the old mining tunnels. In recent years, it has become a tourist attraction, and people organize and manage upkeep for all that calcium. There are skulls stacked in artistic arrangements. Walls of bones. It is creepy to be shuffling through the tight, cramped underground of one of the most famous cities in the world, and it is doubly creepy to be surrounded by the remains who used to walk, live, and breathe just like you. Seriously – a cemetery is just a bunch of stone and memories. Being hemmed in on all sides by human remains is a completely different psychological experience, and the catacombs are one of the weirdest places I have ever been.

Mike Hannemann

I wasn’t the most traditional college student. I missed out on a lot of milestones that you see cliched in movies – most notably the road trip. I never really take vacations that aren’t somehow family related. I left the state for weddings but never had an epic Spring Break or drove to x place to see y event. The closest I have, after reflecting on it, is Wisconsin Dells. Yeah, that crappy water resort north of Chicago that families go to. A group of friends decided it would be a great place to go for a weekend in the summer. Hindsight is 20/20. The highlight of the trip took place after 60 minutes and one game of Drinking Mario Party. Turns out the area didn’t really sell beer after 10 and we were desperately low. People drinking eight beers in an hour will have that outcome. We asked the receptionist at our hotel if anywhere was selling beer and she said yes. A gas station. Two miles away. With no cabs to be found, we decided to walk it. Now, as I mentioned, eight beers in an hour will have another outcome: You’ll desperately need to relieve yourself. As we reached a breaking point, we walked past a tourist attraction with large recreations of historical monuments. This all builds to the weirdest place I ended up on a trip: peeing on the leg of a replica of the Trojan Horse, towering above me.

Alex Marino

Tanzania is a weird place. I loved the two weeks I spent there back in 2007 but in retrospect it was such a crazy experience. If you ever get the chance to go you MUST go to Zanzibar. It’s an island just off the coast of Dar es Salaam. We spent a few days at a coastal town called Jambiani. “Town” might be too nice of a word. It was basically three hut-lined streets going north/south with some bungalows on the beachfront. My friend and I went on a quest to find booze which turned out to be especially difficult. A local identified with our struggle and said he knew a place to get us booze. He demanded we call him “Flea” and lead us down a weaving pathway of identical huts. We ended up in this little courtyard with a large pile of rocks stacked four feet high in the middle of it. He told us we had to wait there as he went into his friend’s house to get us the booze. He then proceeded to reach into the pile of rocks and pull out an empty bottle to put our booze in. At that point we had to politely tell him that getting us booze and putting it in a used empty bottle pulled from a pile of rocks was not okay.

A Visual Travelogue of Chinese Food

Brent Hopkins

Good day folks, it is time for yet another non-gaming article from yours truly.

Today I want to chat about Chinese food. I am coming back from two years living in South Korea and one of the main things you miss when you live overseas is the food. South Korea has decent international cuisine and plenty of American chains like Subway, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. That being said, there are still a ton of things you just can’t have in South Korea without spending an arm and a leg — like cold cuts and fine cheeses. I traveled a lot in my two years, so I was able to get sated on many things in countries like Japan and Taiwan which have dirt cheap imports on those kinds of goods.

The thing that I want to really focus on here is Chinese food. Chinese food is unique in that every country you visit tends to have drastically different cuisine that is considered “Chinese.” In Korea there are two or three main dishes that are considered Chinese. The stigma behind the food is much the same as it is in America, though: tasty, cheap, and not entirely healthy. That being said, the food is delicious just like in America but it is drastically different. My favorite dish happens to be jjambbong:

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Seafood and spice, so very nice!

This is a spicy seafood soup with rice noodles and lots of veggies and seafood, mainly squid octopus, and mussels. This is absolutely divine and is probably the only Korean-Chinese dish I really wish I could find in America. This will almost never happen because the seafood in America tends to be less fresh and more expensive and generally speaking spicy soup isn’t something you see, as we go for creamy and savory soups. This gets five stars, and in any country this should be on the Chinese menu.

Next we have bokumbap, which is just good old fried rice, though they do tend to throw a fried egg on top in Korea. Three stars, because honestly the plain rice in Korea is so good that this just doesn’t really hit the spot

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Great picture, but you won’t be craving this wherever you’re from.

Lastly, we have jajangmyeon or black noodles. These things look vile but actually taste pretty decent. The problem is this is the cheapest main dish you can buy and it is known for being made with old oil in less than street-legal kitchens. I personally got violent food poisoning from this dish but would recommend it nonetheless as it is very Korean-Chinese. Three stars. I dunno if I can love myself giving a higher rating to something that led to an IV drip.

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This looks a bit like alien insides. Their insides become your insides! ^_^

Hong Kong is now a part of China proper but even there the dishes are slightly different due to the heavy British influence. This is closer to the mainland of China in cuisine and you can have some amazing meals on the street in little alleyways.

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This is actually open air in an alleyway even though it looks like a shop wall.

This turned into super cheap fried noodles. The perk here is that you can choose the type of noodles and the type of meat and the lady fries it up and gives it to you to go in a matter of seconds. These noodles are delicious and were better than a lot of sit-down restaurant meals I have had.

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Look at this handsome man with his farm worth of animals in the background.

Next, I got to have some pork, goose, and duck meat in what appears to be a butchery/restaurant. This is an odd combination as you tend to want to keep the dirty work away from patrons but I say if you can’t handle seeing where it came from then you shouldn’t be eating it anyways. This meat was smoked goodness and I can’t recommend it enough. Also the price was reasonable compared to going to a place with a prep room and a closed off kitchen. Four stars. The taste and the value can’t really be beaten here.

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Had to eat the weak to get to the fish.

Last for Hong Kong I had some steamed fish, which is really hard to find in other areas of Asia. This is hands down my #1 Chinese dish and I try to have it any time the option presents itself. This thing is butter love in the esophagus. If you like fish, you will devour this whole thing’s body and crave more when you’re done. Face, fins, and inner bits are all fair game because it is just so friggin’ flavorful. I tend to understand disliking certain types of food but this is one I wouldn’t even invite a non-fish lover out for as I would feel its death was under-appreciated by the naysayer. All the stars. Seriously, there are only a few non-fish dishes I have had that can go head-to head with this.

Now, as most of the people reading this will probably be North American I am not going to go image search Chinese food since you know what is out there, but almost everyone has their favorite dish and their favorite place to go. There is nothing quite like Chinese cuisine around the world (please comment if you know any others) where the immigrants and the home nation always seem to create a fusion of dishes that would be the most appetizing within the country. I love Chinese food in every country I have had it but none of them taste or look anything alike except for having fried rice and dumplings. The one thing that is constant is just how similar it is to that country’s culture without just suddenly becoming American food or Korean food. It takes skill to be every nation’s entry into exotic dining, so props to the Chinese for making bellies happy.

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I lied these thing are so friggin good and I had to make mine in Korea to have them. Best appetizer from a Chinese place.

Image sources: General Google Image searches (first three) and the author (rest)

What is a Japanese Arcade Like?

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Brent Hopkins

Back again with a shorter entry. This one will be gaming related, but not a review. This one is a cultural story. Last weekend I went to Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto in Japan for vacation. They are about two hours away from Seoul by flight and it was my first foray into the land of video game history. I was with a friend who is not a gamer in the least, so I knew this wasn’t going to be a nerdcation. Still, we started out in Kobe and while we were walking around looking for some sweet Kobe beef we happened upon an arcade. Now, one thing about me that my gaming friends know is that I am an avid Sega fan — the Sega Saturn is my favorite system — and I’ve debated with myself over getting a Sega-flavor tattoo on my person.

This was a Sega arcade and when I walked in it was like all the synapses in my brain fired at once. I went from travel-weary to gleeful. The arcades in Japan are different than the ones I’ve been to in America and Korea in that the peripherals are extremely ornate. There are cards to save your profiles, there are fishing controllers, there are built in mouse and keyboards for PC-like gaming, there is just everything. Korea is close to this but as a PC-gaming nation the arcades are small and they focus more on dancing and light-gun games. America doesn’t really have arcades and the peripherals are almost always broken and mangled so it tends to be just light-gun, racing, and a few fighting games.

The thing I noticed most about this Sega arcade is the atmosphere of it. The men there (my travel buddy was the only woman) looked really serious and did not appear to be playing for fun. Some were grinding characters in games others were practicing combos in fighting games but the general air was serious gaming. I only had a short time to play so I say down and played some solo BlazBlue (a fighting game) and I had a blast. The games all appeared to cost about 100 yen (which is about a dollar, which is expensive) but there was no worrying about not having the right change after exchanging bills.

Later on in the trip we headed to Osaka where we spent most of our time and I got to go to a few more arcades. Sega has really cornered the market on the arcade scene in Osaka and Kobe at least with about 80% of the arcades being Sega branded. There was a large Namco (think Pac-Man and Tekken) arcade in Kobe but that was the only one I saw the entire time I was in Japan. The first Sega arcade I went to with the grumpy men was also the smallest I saw. The few Sega arcades I went to in Osaka were MASSIVE with the largest being a six-to-eight floor themeland with claw machines, pachinko, and photo booths. It felt closer to an amusement park than an actual arcade.

I love arcades and miss being able to go to them freely in America due to the console scene but they appear to be doing fine in Japan. There are plenty of really amazing games I wish would be released outside of Japan. The entire country is not as game-crazy as is oft perceived of Japan (especially not in the Kansai region) but you see Pokemon here and there and lots of anime characters (One Piece being the hands down most prevalent). I tried hard to pick up some nerd swag (goods, not swagger) while I was there and did find a few things, but it was hard (the best being Nintendo-brand playing cards, which is what the company originally made before video games). If you want your gaming fix I would recommend going to Tokyo, not elsewhere.