Friday, December 24, 2010

Part 4: Seoul

We arrived on a Tuesday night Dan-less and then proceeded to immediately get hustled by a cab driver taking us to our hotel. Oh well. Tony and I checked in and then asked the concierge directions to a good Korean BBQ spot. For those who haven't met Tony he is obsessed with Korean BBQ. It would not be an exaggeration to say that is a big part of why he wanted to visit Seoul. Largely through his influence I've come to really enjoy it as well, and I must say the meal did not disappoint. The quality of the beef was fantastic. We passed out and were lucky to be well-rested for what became a very interesting Wednesday.

I woke up and ordered breakfast then did my normal routine of dicking around on the internet. To my surprise I saw several links on my friends' Facebook/Twitter about North Korea attacking South Korea and started reading all about that. Basically, just as we were arriving in Seoul the Koreas had the biggest military incident between the two countries since the end of the Korean War. While I could see the seriousness of the events I was also pretty confident nothing would actually escalate from it, but it still wasn't exactly great timing to be visiting Seoul. While Tony and I did receive several very concerned messages from friends it seems basically everyone in Seoul felt the same as I did and went about the lives normally. I couldn't sense anyone really worried about the situation and what I read said the same thing. It appears most Koreans were just like, "Yeah, those North Koreans be crazy, what else is new?".

So Tony and I went on about our business. We knew one person combined in Seoul upon arriving, but as always with Tony he knows so many people that he's always able to get put in touch with people in whatever city he ends up. That night we went for Korean fried chicken with a mutual friend's ex-girlfriend who was in the city and a group of her friends. We immediately hit it off with the group and several rounds of beers, a bottle of soju, and some other Korean alcohol we were well-initiated to the Korean custom of going for drinks with your friends/co-workers after work. The fried chicken was nothing special, but the food was the hardly the focus.

After dinner we met up with group #2 of people Tony had been put in touch with. This was a group North American guys who had moved to Korea mostly to try to play Starcraft professionally at some point and then gotten into poker because Koreans are way too good at Starcraft. I think they all had some general version of that story. They had all been in Seoul long enough that they spoke both English and Korean fluently, which was nice because not a lot of people in Seoul speak much English, though there seems to be more of the younger generation making an effort to learn it. These guys took us to a karaoke spot spot where we proceeded to party until 7 or 8 in the morning. At this place they bring in girls to hang out in your room and party with you. They are paid to be there and hangout with you but that's all. I think only one girl spoke English, but we had a fun time drinking and singing and getting to know all the guys.

I awoke around 4pm on Thursday and Tony and I went for some much-needed Korean BBQ to cure our hangovers. After that we walked down to COEX mall, the largest underground mall in Asia. It really is pretty huge and has a lot of the huge international chains you would expect. It seemed like most people working at the mall spoke enough english to get by as it's such a huge tourist attraction. All the signs were in both English and Korean which was different from most other places we visited. Then we wanted to go see the new Harry Potter movie but for some reason they didn't have it in Korea yet, so we saw Unstoppable instead which was actually pretty decent. When we got out of the movie a few people from the first group the previous night were keen for us to meet them at their friend's club in Itaewon. All the partying was starting to wear me down by this point, but we didn't come to Asia to not party, so off we went and had another great night.

Friday was our final night in Seoul and of the entire trip. It was all already planned to go out with a blast. First, I was meeting up with a friend from university now living in Seoul for dinner, and then we were meeting up with Starcraft boys and hitting a booking club. Over the course of the night talking with my friend and then experiencing a night at the booking club I learned that dating in Korea is just way different than in North America. My impression is that while many Koreans appear to be conservative and in some ways shy, they are also very social and open to giving a date a try with a lot of people they meet and seeing how it goes. I have yet to explain what a booking club is, but I should preface that explanation by saying it's not something most people do in Seoul. Yet, the very fact these places exist shows how different the culture is.

It's not unlike a high-end club in most places in the world in that the guys pay for a table with bottle service, beers, etc.... but you also have your own private room like at a karaoke place. They give you a nice spread of food as well. The girls get in for free. They are completely normal girls just looking to meet guys (this isn't Macau), the same as the guys are looking to meet girls. The difference is that there are waiters going around the dance floor and area outside the private rooms. They have a camera in every room so they can see when a guy doesn't have a girl sitting beside him and they immediately move to rectify this situation. Girls are pulled into your room, sometimes literally, and they have no choice but to go when the waiter grabs them. They can always leave when they get there or you can ask them to leave, but if you're a girl hanging around by yourself outside you have no control over when/where you end up next. Throughout the night you might easily talk to 10-15 girls. It really was something to see firsthand.

In the morning I awoke feeling like crap, Tony feeling worse not having slept, and we made our way to the airport for about half what we paid on the way in. The long flight home really sucked, though probably not as bad as I'm making it sound except for transferring at LAX. That was a disaster, thank god I left 4 hours between flights.

I spent the next 3 weeks in Toronto and currently I'm home in Newfoundland for the holidays. I'll write another post soon detailing my plans for the first quarter of 2011, and reviewing my 2010.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Part 3: Manila

Manila is definitely not a typical tourist spot from what I've read, but Tony had a blast there last year and definitely wanted to go back. It is the most densely populated city in the world and there is always traffic. Just unbelievably bad, and people drive crazy. Traffic lanes appear to be merely a suggestion. By comparison driving in Shenzhen was like being out on a back country road, and I thought driving there was a death trap. Manila does however have great clubs and fun friendly people that party all night, and everything is super cheap. Also, basically everyone speaks english well.

We arrived in Manila on a Tuesday night and I felt awful the entire way there. I'd gotten a bit of a cold the last day or two in Macau, and while I was never really very sick it was enough to make me feel pretty bad. I had a bit of a fever and a very sore throat, such that it hurt every time I swallowed. I was also just generally tired. I crashed pretty early Tuesday night and slept a bunch, but was still feeling under the weather Wednesday night when the team was getting ready to go out. I decided to stay in as I knew it was going to be a big week of partying and I wanted to recover for the next three nights. This was definitely the right decision, but unfortunately I missed out on a pretty epic night. Actually, I woke up at 9:30am to grind online (Wednesday nightly tournaments with the time difference) so I guess I could still have caught the tail end of the party.

After I finished up my session, I went up to the other hotel room to see what the hell had happened to Tony and Dan. I walk in to see three girls, Tony, and Dan all passed out, Dan and Tony each cuddling with a (very attractive) girl. They regale me with some of the stories of last night and Tony and I hit the gym for a bit as I'm feeling a fair bit better. I end up going out that night but it really sucked. I guess everyone rests up for the weekend Thursday night in Manila as it was dead. Even the girls from the night before, who were legit party girls, had no interest in going out. We were at a spot that was supposed to be one of the best in the city that night, and while there were a lot of people there it totally blew.

Friday and Saturday we went to what we were told was the best club in the city and it did not disappoint. Friday night in particular we had a table on the dance floor (for fairly cheap) and there were gorgeous girls just everywhere around us. It was to the point I think we were almost confused what to do there were just too many possibilities. It was probably the best atmosphere I've ever been at in a standard club. Saturday night wasn't as good as we got bumped to a less ideally positioned table and there just seemed to be a lot more guys than Friday. While I know certain team members have reason to disagree, it was still an awesome night! I have to give a shoutout to Carlos and Max (slider on 2p2) who hung out with us those nights and were great guys to party with.

Sunday was a day of recovery, but despite relaxing all day my body was still not happy with me. It wouldn't really be again for the rest of the trip. Monday was our last night. I ended up having a date with a girl I'd met on the weekend that was easily one of the best first dates I've ever had. So then we all got on a plane the next morning and left. Such is the traveling lifestyle I guess. At this point Truck Dan leaves the team to go back to Jersey for Thanksgiving with the family, while Tony and I soldier on into Seoul for the final leg of the trip, and try not to get blown off the face of the earth by communist dictators.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Part 2: China

We flew from Hawaii to Seoul and connected to Hong Kong. From there we took the ferry across to Macau. In a lot of ways, Macau really is like the Vegas of the east. In several important ways, however, it's a whole lot worse. The massive incredible casinos are the same. Many are even bigger. There are great restaurants, though not quite on the same level as Vegas. There's a Cirque du Soleil show. There are amazing spas (probably even better than Vegas). There are prostitutes.

There are some differences as well. There's no blackjack, just baccarat and some Chinese version of roulette or something called Sic-Bo I never figured out the rules to. There are not drunk people in the street at all hours of the day. Even at night. In fact there's not much of a party scene at all. There are however lots of prostitutes, it's legal, and even casino-sponsored (spa good, sauna bad)! Basically, Macau is Chinese Vegas with the party scene removed and the seedier parts emphasized.

Our plan was therefore basically to spend as little time in Macau as possible when not playing poker, and more time in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. We played the Macau Poker Cup (~$2600 USD) but no one did anything so then Tony organized a big get together at a bar at MGM. A lot of drinks, catching up with my Aussie mates, and meeting some new people later it was 2 or 3am and it was decided that those of us still partying were going to D2. As far as I can tell D2 is the only good club in Macau. It was ladies' night and there were hot girls everywhere. At least half of them were pros, but even a lot of those girls were not working that night and just out to party. Still, I was pretty nervous about trying to meet any girls. Not many of them were likely to speak great english, and how would I know if they were just trying to get paid?

David Steicke had joined our group. This was the first time I'd met him though I'd heard plenty about him. Basically, he's some super rich businessman who plays poker for fun and crushes high roller tournaments in Australia and Asia. He got us a table overlooking the dance floor and started making bottles appear. I only got to talk to him for a bit but he seemed like a super nice guy and a huge boss. At some point Dan mentioned it was his first time in Asia and was told "you have to go down there", referencing the dance floor. I was mostly planning to hang out around the table and socialize with our group, but looking down over the railing it appeared Dan was having the time of his life. I had no idea if these girls were really into him or not, but I knew either way I had to get in on the action. Suffice to say, this was a very good decision.

Unfortunately, this is where I cut off the details just as I'm getting to the good part. Sorry about that. Our next stop was Hong Kong. Tony's friend Semo came up from Shenzhen to meet us and we tore it up in Lan Kwai Fong. There weren't any especially epic stories from this night surprisingly, but good times were had as you can imagine when you're buying beers at a 7-11 and drinking them in the street. We hung around in HK the next two days as Tony and Dan waited on their visas so we could cross over to mainland China and meet Semo in Shenzhen. Hong Kong was real cool, but maybe my expectations were too high or something as I was a little underwhelmed. It was extremely cool to walk the 15-20 minutes from our hotel down a main road to the IFC where we ended up eating lunch most days. You'd start in an area that was very stereotypically China. Cramped dirty roads, stores spilling out into the sidewalks, restaurants with only Chinese signs, almost no english. Then just a mile or so down the road you are surrounded by huge modern buildings, with high end stores and restaurants, and everything is in both English and Mandarin. It really was an amazing city, but like I said I guess that's what I was expecting and it didn't blow me away. Also, the air quality was by far the worst I've ever breathed.

Finally the boys got their visas and we rocked down over to Shenzhen. Unlike Hong Kong I had no idea what to expect in Shenzhen other than that Semo would show us a great time. I've gotta say though, I was very impressed. It seemed a lot less cramped than HK. There was a very clear effort to have a lot of green and that really made the city a lot more visually appealing. Just like in HK there were huge modern skyscrapers everywhere. From what I was told SZ is a very modern city, largely getting built up in the last 30 years or so when Hong Kong became such a huge international business hub due in large part to its proximity. That modernity definitely shows in its design.

We arrived Tuesday night and Semo took us to our hotel and then for dinner. Unlike in Macau or HK there seemed to be very little english spoken. Without Semo and his friend it likely would have been difficult to even order at a restaurant. Even at the hotel the staff's english was just passable. Anyways, Semo took us to the club that night. We got a table, a bottle of vodka, and four yahtzee-like cups with five dice each. At every table in the bar, people are playing liar's dice drinking game because that's how China rolls. Semo quickly teaches us the rules and hand signals and we get in on the fun. I'm too lazy to explain how it works, but basically it's a game of luck, strategy, and bluffing, so we were all pretty sure we'd be world champion by the end of the night. This made it suck that much more when tiny 19 year old Chinese girls kicked our asses repeatedly throughout the night.

So basically, we are the only young white guys in the entire bar. It does not take long to realize that we are going to be very popular. Unfortunately, the language barrier is a bit of an issue. A lot of girls speak enough broken english to get by when combined with gestures and body language, which we're used to by this point, but others don't really speak any at all. Still, we have three things going for us:

1. Semo can translate.
2. The dice game has hand signals making verbal communication unnecessary to play.
3. Dancing is also non-verbal.

1 was not as useful as we'd hoped. Upon learning that your 6'4" friend who trains and is built like an MMA fighter speaks her language, it's amazing how fast a girl's interest can wander. 2 and 3 were money though. It really was an interesting experience. I'd imagine it was similar to being a celebrity at a bar in North America. In general I'm sure you've heard stories about how white guys are really popular in Asia, and I'd say everywhere we went that was true to at least some extent. Nowhere was it as pronounced as in Shenzhen though, and we had one hell of a fun night.

Unfortunately we had to leave the next day to get back to Macau for the next tournament. The APT main event (~$4300 USD) we all bricked as well, but we decided to hang around for the players party instead of rushing to Cebu for the APPT event there. In retrospect that was likely a botch, though we did have a good time at the player's party. While sites like PokerStars especially and FTP do everything they can to keep a clean image in the public eye as they already looked down upon as gambling sites by many, the guys who organize the APT have no such concerns. Also, I think they won in big cash game the night before as they decided to pre-pay 30 working girls for the party. While this is clearly many people's idea of a good party it was not ours. We were mostly excited because the 10 or so models they had working the tournament were all supposed to be there. Sadly only maybe half of them were there and they were serving drinks and often busy with that. So Dan and I took advantage of the open bar while Tony still managed to juggle girls and sleep with one of the models, and then hit D2 again with some of the Aussie boys for the improved hooker:not hooker ratio. While it wasn't nearly as good as the last time I would still file it under good decision.

Next stop: Manila.