January 20, 2015

January 20, 2015

Come to KidZania

Whether you read the original article in The New Yorker, heard the reference to said article on this week’s Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!, or both*, you may have recently learned about KidZania. If not? Quoth Wikipedia:

Every KidZania is themed as a child-sized replica of a real city, including buildings, shops and theaters, as well as vehicles and pedestrians moving along its streets. In this city, children aged 4 through 12, work in branded activities…. The children earn kidZos (KidZania's currency) while performing the tasks, and the money is kept in the KidZania bank for children to spend at the gift shop and on KidZania activities.

In short, this is an amusement park wherein the amusement is living a miniature, simplified version of adulthood.

WHY DID THIS NOT EXIST WHEN I WAS A KID?

I mean, wasn’t pretending to be an adult one of your favorite childhood activities? You played school, or restaurant, or firefighter, or doctor.** You wanted the cachet of having a job, and getting money, and spending it on stuff. You yearned for the day when you would have a car, and your wallet would have more than a library card in it. Heck, you would have been happy just to have a wallet.

For kids today, that dream is a reality. They can be airplane pilots:


Or dentists:


(Note that boring-but-necessary jobs like this pay more than the sexier ones do.)

Firefighters:


Or bakers:


They drive cars and get gas:


Shop in kid-sized stores:


And go through customs:


In case you’re one of those parental types worried about kids being exposed to actual blood, fire, etc., rest assured that all of the activities are simulated and kid-friendly. For example: the kids think they’re baking, but KidZania employees swap in pre-baked goods for the raw dough deposited by kids into the ovens.

I find myself utterly overwhelmed by the brilliance of this concept, and hopeful it will soon come to the U.S. (KidZania originated in Mexico and is currently concentrated in Asia and the Middle East. Parents with money and a strong mall culture are key elements of the business model.)

There is probably an age limit, so I just have to figure out how to look 12 or whatever.

* If it’s both, we should absolutely be friends.
** I myself personally played office using a rolltop desk and rotary phone long-abandoned by my parents. I manned the front desk of Corporal Corporates, Incorporated and I nailed it. Some dreamed of becoming astronauts; I dreamed of becoming an administrative assistant.

January 11, 2015

January 11, 2015

2015 Golden Globes Picks

It's the most wonderful time of the year: awards season. Though I'm woefully behind on my 2014 movies, that tardiness in no way prevents me from making uninformed predictions about tonight's Golden Globes ceremony. Freedom! Winning! America!



































Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are hosting, which is reason enough to tune in. Get yourself some tiny slices of cheese and cured meats, print yourself a ballot, and play along.

January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015

Writer's Almanac Highlight of the Day

(Since this was a particularly good one, I've highlighted my best bits.)

It’s the birthday of President Richard Milhous Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, California (1913). He grew up poor in a Quaker family in the town of Whittier, where his family ran a grocery store and gas station. He won a scholarship to Harvard, but his parents needed his help in the store, so he attended a local college. He went on to Duke University School of Law, then returned to Whittier to work as an attorney. During an audition for a community theater production, he met a high school stenography teacher named Pat Ryan. He was immediately smitten, although it took her longer to come around; at first she was uninterested, but he was so determined that he even drove her to dates with other men. After they started dating, it was another two years before she finally agreed to marry him. He called her his “Irish gypsy.” In one letter, Nixon wrote: “Every day and every night I want to see you and be with you. Yet I have no feeling of selfish ownership or jealousy. Let’s go for a long ride Sunday; let’s go to the mountains weekends; let’s read books in front of fires; most of all, let’s really grow together and find the happiness we know is ours.”

He served in the Navy during World War II, and he learned to play poker, which was forbidden under his strict Quaker upbringing. He asked a friend for a guaranteed way to win, and the friend said sure, but it’s a boring way to play: drop out of every hand unless you’re sure you have the best one. Nixon did just that, staying away from high-stakes hands, winning $20 here and $40 there. By the end of the war, he had made almost $10,000, and he used his poker earnings to fund his first political campaign. He unseated a five-time Democratic congressman and was elected to Congress with 60 percent of the vote.

January 8, 2015

January 8, 2015

Manfred von Richthofen Would Not Stand for This

One of the many modern innovations that tickles my giblets is the single-serve microwaveable french bread pizza. Red Baron is my brand of choice, though Wegmans will do in a pinch. By the miracle of modern technology, I can have a crisp pizza in three minutes.

Or, I should say, I COULD.

Once upon a time, you see, Red Baron packaged each pizza in an individual crisping tray that looked like this:


It was microwave safe. Kept the melty cheese contained. Crisped the pizza up straightaway. It was, in short, perfectly suited to purpose.

Some time later, Red Baron turned the crisping tray into a crisping disc. Since not even Google can provide an image of this blasphemy, you’ll have to imagine the tray from above but with no sides. Less than ideal, since you have the potential for a cheeseslide, but workable overall.

But then. BUT THEN.

The last box I opened contained no crisping tray. Not even a crisping disc. Instead, the instructions told me to start the pizza in the microwave and then finish it in the oven.

Red Baron (can I call you Red?): If you think the oven gets involved when I make dinner, you’ve got another think coming. Using to different appliances to heat a single food item is basically making it from scratch. I might as well get out my cornmeal and flour. (Y'know, if I had those things in my pantry instead of Trader Joe's cookie butter, Campbell's chicken soup, and Sapporo Ichiban original flavor ramen.)

So we started with a product having three advantages (tasty, crispy, quick) and systematically stripped them away until we’re left with a limp memory of what could have been. (Insert your own limp joke here.)

I’ve begun a study of the feasibility of repurposing Hot Pockets crisping sleeves. This could be my Edison moment, people. He had tungsten, I have susceptors.*

(Anyone who knows how I could get my hand on an industrial quantity of Hot Pocket sleeves, or whether Googling “industrial quantity of Hot Pockets” would cause confusion at the NSA, please let me know.)

* Susceptors being the name for the things that convert microwave energy into heat. Or something. Tip: Do not click from the Wikipedia article on susceptorswhich is comprehendableto the Wikipedia article on susceptance because it goes all mathy and your engineer husband will get out a white board to explain it and you'll be like "But there are more letters than numbers!" and he'll be like "No, this is basic stuff" and you'll be like "But I never even got to trigonometry" and he'll start drawing diagrams and you'll be like "WELL I'M IN MENSA AND I'M GOING TO BED." I mean, hypothetically.

January 5, 2015

January 5, 2015

Incredible, Inedible

Since I’ll eat just about anything that sits still long enough, it really steams my clam* when non-food is put in confusing proximity with food. You know what I’m talking about. Inedible garnishes, for one. I see you, parsley, beds of lettuce, and wildflowers. I SEE YOU. And as pro-Asian as I am in all things, they are among the worst offenders in this arena:


I would attempt to eat all of this, including the cup with the lemon wedge in it and whatever that tall black stuff is.

To be fair, it is by following a strict “eat first, ask questions later or not at all” policy that I got to have whale in South Korea. It was one of the best meats I’ve eaten. (So far.)

Also, let’s talk about this entire industry of things that look like food.

These cupcakes?


SOAP.

This pie?


CANDLE.

And now, I learn via BuzzFeed, the concept of 3-D printed pieces you stick on vegetables to turn them into toys:


Have we regressed to the 1960s, when Mr. Potato Head was an actual freaking potato? (Unless the toy parts are now made of some kind of high-density starch, in which case I’m in.) This addition of sharp inedibles to food is Club Sandwich Toothpickgate all over again. Use your noodle, people. (Literally, why not use a noodle, if you have one? NOT SHARP. NOT INEDIBLE. DELICIOUS.)

(Related: I have no problem with cakes that look like other foods, because you can still eat cake. This is a fine distinction, but an important one.)

I blame the obesity epidemic, which—alas—has also been responsible for such wonderful innovations as cheese-stuffed pizza crusts, the cronut, and the foodstuff that’s quite possibly the pinnacle of human achievement:


I’d love to see the Christopher Nolan screenplay version of Taco Town, is all I’m saying. Interstellar, schminterstellar.

* The first of as many food idioms as I can cram in here. You’ve been warned.

January 2, 2015

January 2, 2015

Open the Pod Bay Doors

What’s the opposite of claustrophobia? Claustrophilia? Is that a thing? Because I’m pretty sure I have it. Whether it’s an elevator, a blanket fort, or my windowless office, I prefer being enclosed in a small indoor space. It’s cozy. Containment is cozy.

Alas for living in the age of wide open spaces. Open floor plans. Manifest destiny. The way I see it, the Tudors had it figured out. Look at how they slept:


Is anything more appealing than being swaddled in blankets, surrounded by curtains, and covered by a small roof that is in addition to the actual roof? Throw in a onesie and I believe the result is spelled h-e-a-v-e-n.

(Now that I think about it, perhaps I was swaddled as an infant and I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to recreate that sense of security. Huh.)

Should I ever get to Japan, rest assured I’ll be checking into a pod hotel. Though most of the press I read on these things has a negative slant, I see a picture like this:


…and wonder whether I could build one in my own home. Like, from two or three front-load washing machines welded together. (Note to self: Learn to weld.) I would probably put a Hello Kitty curtain, cut to size, in the front window because privacy is a large part of what I’m dubbing the Container Movement.

I notice that the pod hotel image is labeled “coffin hotel,” which is probably meant to disparage the concept. Instead, it makes me warm to the ideal of burial. O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING?

(How hard is welding, on a scale of napping to brain surgery? Are we talking like a 6 or…?)

December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014

My Best Books of 2014: A Threeve

As the year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my Book of the Year selection. It was a strong, strong year, right up until the very end. I wasn’t able to finalize my selection until yesterday, when I finished Americanah. (Solid contender, but did not make the final cut. Though surprised by how much I liked it, I soon realized I’m that white person who wants to tell all her black friends how much she now understands their struggle. AS IF.)

Here, then, my top five books of 2014:

#5 - The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida (Non-Fiction)


That this memoir is written by a 13-year-old autistic boy is reason enough to check it out, whether or not you understand autism enough to realize how impossible the idea of an autism memoir seems. I’m no expert, but the autistic are generally trapped inside themselves, no? Higashida learned to use an alphabet grid to communicate his ideas, and the insights into how those with autism—and to a lesser degree, Asperger’s and other social anxiety disorders—function. Fascinating.

#4 - The Martian by Andy Weir (Fiction)


The film adaptation of this book, starring Matt Damon, is due out next year. Beat the zeitgeist rush by reading it now. The titular character is not, in fact, a Martian, but a stranded astronaut. Will he manage to survive using his own derring-do in the face of impossible odds? No spoilers here.

#3 - Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings (Non-Fiction)


Most of what your parents told you is pure crap. Don’t take this personally; their parents probably told them not to swim after eating or stare into the microwave, and that apple seeds were poisonous. But you know what? False, false, and FALSE. In this book, Ken Jennings (yes, THAT Ken Jennings) takes many of those parental edicts and either proves or debunks them. And guess what? Turns out that most of what we weren’t allowed to do would have been totally fine. If you have procreated, read this and then let your spawn  go crazy. If you haven’t procreated, read this and then go crazy to make up for all those years you missed. I think this is what the kids mean when they say “yolo,” correct?

#2 - Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (Non-Fiction)


I am just now joining the cult of the Bloggess, and I apologize for my tardiness. I can’t describe this book better than Amazon did: “When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.”

#1 - Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Fiction)


Set in 1970s Ohio. About a Chinese man, his American wife, and their three kids. Put into motion when the favorite child is found dead. Calling this a murder mystery, though, is like calling To Kill a Mockingbird a courtroom drama. It’s about family ties, the domino effect of small choices, racism, sibling rivalry, friendship, and more. Not since Gone Girl have I had such simultaneous, permeating feelings of dread and fascination while reading a book. Gripping. Not least because I saw in it many things still inherent in the Asian American experience today. The more things change, right?