Archive for August, 2011

Generalization time

…Everybody’s favorite!
Usually, I kinda like mixing cultural observations with the pictures and sarcasm when I can on this blog, but that’s always going to be a little harder when I don’t really have any context whatsoever in which to place them.
That disclaimed, here are my impressions of Austrian society drawn from four days in a town full of tourists, of whom the majority were probably not even other Austrians.

Things that Austrians don’t like:
A) Appearing to give even one shit about anything whatsoever. Salzburg was on permanent vacation, an entire town expressly committed to chilling the hell out. I found the most telling example of this during my last few hours in the city, after my family had already left on their train and I was killing time before heading to the airport. I was just wandering around for two hours, with zero destination or goal in mind whatsoever; it was meandering purely for the sake of meandering and apparently that projected itself through my demeanor, because in that period three separate groups of people accosted me in German, which had hitherto not happened all trip.
B) Hurrying, because this implies a violation of A). Austrians have one speed, namely “amble.” The exception here is old women on bicycles, who often ramp this up to “bat out of hell.”
C) J-walking, per aforementioned two observations. You’d literally have an empty two-lane street with two dozen people on either side of a crosswalk, just patiently waiting. As someone who has lived on Sheridan road for the past two years of my life, this was perhaps the most foreign thing I encountered on my trip.

Things that Austrians do like:

A) Cafes, and everything associated with them. I have no idea how a society in which 70% of the population is seated in a cafe at any given time functions, but it does. I have a hypothesis that every Austrian actually owns a cafe, and there are contractual agreements in place which bind people to sit around in one another’s cafes all day; whatever person A spends while sitting in B’s cafe must be reciprocally spent by B in A’s cafe later that day. This makes both locations look more appealing to tourists (look at how many people are lounging around in this cafe; it must be legit!), who are the only people who actually infuse money into the economy.
B) Consuming high fashion. When a swath of town contains three times more high-end purse shops than convenience stores or fast food restaurants, one knows he is not in the states anymore. What’s interesting here is that Salzburg completely lacked office buildings of any sort, or really any ostensible place for people to be employed other than cafes and expensive clothing stores. Economically speaking it is bewildering — if it weren’t purely for the population’s stubbornness one would expect a Walmart to absolutely wreck shop in these little European towns, but it is precisely that stubbornness that distinguishes Europe and the states. Dad explained it by describing how Homeaway’s french employees live, which is to say they spend 100% of their paycheck week to week. Saving rates are incredibly low because you know the government will always be there for you at the end of the day, and in the meantime people recognize that all these various shopkeepers or whatever need to make their own livings and charge relatively high prices to do so. The cumulative result is that spending 15 euro on two sodas becomes affordable and acceptable. It’s worth noting here that every time I saw a can of sprite being sold for 5 euro, or 7.5 usd, I may or may not have died a bit inside knowing that the same drink would run 12 cents in China, but that’s neither here nor there.
C) Wearing leather pants. You would think they’d know better as per B, but alas.
D) Maintaining as high a fountain-to-inhabitant ratio as possible. The eventual goal is 1:1, and they’re getting damn close.

So my family and I decided to join an Austrian salt cult.

You wear these sweet white jackets and pants and ride around underground on ridiculous little slides and trains

...which look like this. The whole 'no-handles-but-the-guy-in-front-of-you' element fosters inter-cult bonding.

and instead of kool aid we drink brine from the fucking harry potter underground inferi + locket lake.

but it's cool because instead of poison, the lake is full of trippy lights and trance music, obviously. Pretty sure we traipsed into Germany for a little while once we got to the other side of this lake, which was sweet. The whole story of the salt mines and how they influenced the politics and economics of everything around them was pretty sick too. To an econ nerd, anyway. Moving right along...

We grabbed lunch and headed down the road to the biggest ice cave in europe. 48 km long, ~100m under the peaks of the mountain range but still really damn high up

No but like, _really_ high up.

They gave us some kerosene lanterns and took us pretty deep into the cave, which was coated everywhere in like 20+ meter thick ice. 90% humidity and freezing temperatures too obviously, which was a little change of pace after the hike up the mountain in 85 or 90 degree weather. Crazy how the cave stays ever-cold like that. Anyway they wouldn't allow flash photography in the caves so I only broke that rule once to give you an idea of what the 700 steps we took each way looked like. Solid ice on the right.

Occasionally we'd come to a more open cave that our guide would light via burning strips of magnesium. This formation was called the polar bear, for reasons you could probably surmise. Most of the trip was spent in almost-darkness though, lit only by the reflections of kerosene lamps off/through staggeringly large expanses of ice. It was a really striking effect that I unfortunately couldn't capture on camera. Boo.

Finished off the day with another castle. Which was neat, but not super notable with the exception of our asshole tourguide who took his 'dress up like a knight and tell people about various battlements' job extraordinarily seriously

Yeah, this guy. He snapped at both dad and Jack. What a winner.

Oh, PS: never go to a Mexican cafe in Austria, no matter how desperate you are for food. Go for the bowling alley instead.
A page from the former’s menu:

Apparently Mexican food is highly spit-based these days, and baked potatoes have replaced any hint of tacos, fajitas, etc. Sigh

Note: the following loses a lot of its humor because my internet is run by Nazis who won’t let me on google image to find pictures of Dr. Seuss words. What the fuck, Austria? How much more innocuous can I get? You’re losing a lot of respect here… not to even mention the fact that all Arnold youtube videos and ATHF Plutonian videos are blocked. Not happy about this.

Note 2: I’m in Salzburg. Russell correctly pointed out that I’d hitherto failed to mention this and it seems kinda important.

A problem has arisen. Until this trip I thought Asia had really started to harden my heart against the peculiar. For example, Engrish barely fazes me anymore; it has to be really outstanding to even merit a grin these days. But German – even properly written, perfectly correct German – is just too much for me to handle. It’s either just English with superfluous suffixes like “bankomat,” compound words that have no reason to be like “panorama(_)terrase,” words with so many syllables as to become pure comedy – ATM is “Geldausgabeautomat,” for instance, or Dr. Seuss-esque labels that just cannot simply be taken seriously, such as the cabinet pictured in the museum below labeled “Waffenmeisterkasten.”

It's a real language, we promise! C'mon guys!

Honestly now. Read Waffenmeisterkasten out loud three times. If you’re not chuckling, put on your best Arnold Schwarzenegger accent and try again, then rinse and repeat for 48 hours or until you start to reject the notion that German words can actually have more meaning than, say, a bamboozamaphone. (Here I would have a Seuss picture for your reference, but the Austrian internet hates me. I think if China has the ‘great firewall’ then Austria — or at least my hotel — needs a similar nerdpun on Iron Curtain. Geoff, if you’re reading this, get on that. Thanks)

All this to say I’ve spent a huge portion of my time here wandering around reading signs and sounding like those aliens from Aqua Teen Hunger Force (again, I’d link you to a video of the Orange plutonian, but I can’t. infuriating) and it’s put me in somewhat of a giggly mood, which I imagine may color my perception of the country. Vhatever…haggenstrudelkampf.

In serious though today was a lot of fun. Did a bunch of hiking around the hills surrounding the city (which is still really pretty), toured a couple of palaces and museums, sat around pretentiously in cafés pretending to be European, all sorts of things. The highlight was probably Hellbrunn, a huge palace outside the city featuring the Wasserspiele. Water…spiele. Like Glockenspiele but apparently that joke of a suffix couldn’t be contained to just one word. Anyway the Wasserspiele means ‘trick fountains,’ and it refers to a series of statues and stonework that were built above a spring in the palace garden. The ‘trick’ part comes from the fact that the natural spring created enough water pressure for the archbishop of the area to realize he could be a dick with it, which he did with abandon. Basically everything in this garden will attempt to soak you at the touch of a 250-year-old button. Some cases in point – forgive me if it’s hard to see:

Considering how trigger-happy our tourguide was with the trick fountains, it’s a little surprising that all our cameras made it through without issue, and in the summer heat it was definitely a nice twist on the standard ‘look at shit that obnoxiously rich dead white people made/gathered for themselves’ motif that is inevitably going to be a major factor in any visit to Europe, especially when one is touring with one’s parents. Not that these aren’t neat, certainly, but the pictures from it aren’t too interesting, so I’ll spare you the museums and inside-of-palace shots. Except for the mustaches.

All signs indicate that tomorrow will be the best day so far – salt mines and ice caves. Really hope it all works out.

Austria Day 1

Hey friends.

So it turns out I’m in Austria, which –as you may or may not be aware — is not located in the United States. It’s not even in China, despite what the title/tagline of the blog may lead you to believe. Pretty confusing, I know, but bear with me. Basically what’s happening here is that several years ago I made an agreement with myself to record any out-of-country trips that I took from then onward, which is how the China match was ultimately born. I had initially started playing with the idea when I went to visit Connor in Japan in 2007 and realized upon arrival just how many memories of my 2002 trip to the same had faded dramatically, which I found irritating because that one was of the coolest vacations I’ve ever taken. I ended up documenting 2007 Japan through a couple facebook photo albums of Japanese oddities I’d encountered which I then tagged predominantly with sarcastic quips – basically the exact same format as the photoblogs I’ve posted here over the last past year. This worked well enough but I was still emailing big chunks of backstory to go with the pictures to anyone who wanted to hear them. Eventually it became difficult to remember who had been told what, so by the time my first China trip came along I rolled the backstory and the photos together into this blog to keep everything centralized and clear. So I’m gonna put Austria (and future trips) here too, dammit. And yeah, I definitely had to use 250 words to justify that.

Concerning the actual Austria-related part of this post: you may recall that I was always a big proponent of pen-and-paper blogging on the subways of Beijing, but I don’t think I ever posted pictures of any of the rough drafts. Well, today I gave it a shot on an Austrian bus. Check it out:

Airplanes, forts, Jack’s birthday, cake, music, lots of bees*, dinner at a cafe, sleepy really early.

Just kidding. I only wish my handwriting was that good. This is actually copyrighted material belonging to my little brother Jack, who I found scribbling it out on a notepad before bed tonight. He did this with no prompting from me or even our parents, as far as I can tell. Now it’s worth pointing out that if you read the sixth item on Jack’s list as “beer” instead of “bees,” you get a 3rd-person account of Jack throwing a raging 14th birthday party at an Austrian café and passing out early instead of the relatively-less-exciting tale that you’re about to get from me, so on that disappointing note you should probably stop reading now.


This is gonna get huge, guys. You'll thank me later for the fashion heads-up
Oh my god I am going to rock this quarter-mullet so hard ASAP.

Alright actually come to think of it that last bit of Jack’s reporting was more accurate than I had previously thought so I’ll tell today’s story tomorrow and instead leave you with four pictures – the fort from the outside, the city from the top, and then two scenes in the city that can be seen from the top-o-fort picture.

Here's the fort. I'd tell you its name if it weren't in German...

...which makes me laugh too hard to type every time I attempt. German is the most ridiculous goddamn language on the planet. More on this later. Anyway for the next two pictures, use the golden sphere at 6o'clock for reference

I don't know exactly what this is but it was awesome. It's a really lively city; I'm a big fan so far.

*not the bees, all over my eyes, my eyes! gahhhh, ahhhhhh