Archive | October, 2016

Charmander mania in Green Park

25 Oct

Remember Pokemon Go, that augmented reality mobile game everyone was really into 3 months ago? It seems the majority of PokeTrainers have thrown in the towel, but I am still into Pokemon Go — like really, really into it, to an almost embarrassing extent. Stephen came home from work the other day and asked me why I was so happy.

“There’s been a nest migration,” I told him. “Green Park is teeming with Charmanders. I can’t wait to go tomorrow!”

He laughed. “I wish I had something that made me as happy as Pokemon Go makes you,” he said. Yes, it is embarrassing that I am a grown woman running around catching imaginary monsters on her phone, but it makes me happy. And I think Stephen secretly likes the game too. He downloaded it when it first came out, but never got into it. Now every night he asks me to see my Pokemon and asks me how many more candies I need to get a Charizard and Dragonite. Perhaps he’s just being nice and acting interested in my interests, but even if that’s the case, that’s nice too.

This past weekend we went to lunch in Soho, then walked up to Tottenham Court Road to go sofa shopping. When we left the store I asked how we were getting home.

“We can walk a little bit,” he said. “You have to get more Charmanders, right?” So we walked all the way from Oxford Street through St. James Park to Green Park. To those of you who don’t know London, that’s about 3 miles of walking (after we had already walked a mile to the furniture store and ran 4 miles in the morning). As we got closer to Green Park, I opened up Go Radar for the first time. For over 3 months now I have been playing Pokemon Go without the help of any trackers or radars — it felt like cheating and I heard you could get banned for using some of them. But then I was in Jubilee Gardens the other day and a wild Snorlax appeared (a very, very rare, very, very good Pokemon), but it disappeared before I got a chance to click on it. I couldn’t let that happen again. I also need to up my roster if I’m going to have a chance in the Pokemon gym scene. So I downloaded the radar app, which tells you where and when certain Pokemon spawn, but it only seems to work in a very small area of London, so I don’t feel too bad about cheating since most of the time I’m still playing the game blind. The radar app told me there were 5 Charmander in Green Park. Even Stephen got a little excited when I caught the first one. But after 20 minutes of chasing little red dinosaurs up and down the park, he was done. I caught 7 Charmanders before we made our way to the bus stop.

“Next time you’re coming by yourself,” Stephen said.

And so I did. This afternoon I ran to Green Park again, because it’s not a childish waste of your time if you’re getting exercise whilst doing it, right? And just as the park was teeming with Charmanders, it was teeming with Pokemon Go players of all ages. I saw everyone from parents playing with their children to businessmen on their lunch break. It was the most crowded I’ve seen Green Park, the wimpiest of the Royal Parks, in years. This Charmander nest is bringing in people from all over the UK and getting everyone out and active. Well done, whoever is in charge of Pokemon nest migration!

green-park-charmander

I ran around the park for a half hour until I caught 14 Charmander and had enough candy to evolve one into a Charizard. Starting tomorrow, Pokemon Go is having a Halloween promotion where you get extra candy for every Pokemon you catch or hatch. That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t play (in fact if you don’t play, I’m impressed you made it this far in this post), but it’s a really big deal. If Green Park was crowded today, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like tomorrow. I guess I’ll just have to see, because of course I’m going to have to go back, there’s no such thing as too many Charmanders!

charmander pokemon snap gif.gif

(Remember Pokemon Snap?)

member-berries

The Fitbit superglue conundrum

10 Oct

The other day my Fitbit Charge HR fell to bits. It’s been hanging on by a thread for the past few months, but it finally said “enough!” when I tried to plug it in to charge it.

broken fitbit charge hr.png

I had planned to spend the afternoon working and was feeling particularly productive. But when I could not charge my Fitbit nor press the side button because it had fallen off, everything else took a backseat. One of my previous Fitbits had fallen apart before and I was able to salvage it with superglue. I rummaged through my cabinets, only to find the superglue had dried up. I switched my sweatpants for jeans and hurried next door to the little overpriced hardware store that had somehow replaced the always-crowded laundromat where I used to wash my duvet. I even took the lift down instead of the stairs, because why take the stairs and get exercise when your Fitbit isn’t counting it? I still swung my arm on the walk there out of habit though. Overpriced superglue in hand, I went back to finish my mission. I carefully practiced how I would place the tiny bits of plastic, then applied the glue. Mindful not to superglue my fingers together or to the plastic, I held the pieces in place for a few seconds. Success! I thought. I still need to buy a new Fitbit, but I could wait another month and have my parents bring me one from the US.

I placed my Charge HR back on my wrist, ready to get back to work, only to remember I got into this whole debacle because it needed to be charged. So I went back to my computer and tried to plug it in. The charging cable would not connect.

I had filled the charging hole with superglue.

I googled “how to remove superglue,” which was a purple link because I had obviously searched this before. The answer was acetone. So I got out my nail polish remover, some cotton buds, and a needle and frantically started scraping at the hole. Slowly bits of glue came off, but no matter how much I scraped, I couldn’t get the cable to connect. I had fixed my Fitbit, but it would only work for another day or so on low battery. After more time than I’d like to admit, I was able to get the cable to connect, but it would only charge if I held it in with both hands.

The next thing I googled: “Where to buy Charge 2 UK.”

charge hr charge 2.png

Fitbit Charge HR on the left, Fitbit Charge 2 on the right

The only thing good that came out of this time-wasting situation is that I got the cool new Fitbit Charge 2 the next day, and thanks to the falling value of the pound, I paid about the same as I would if I bought it in the US.

And I learned never to underestimate the watery nature of superglue.

China Impressions: Road Trip Snacks

5 Oct

My first Chinese road trip occurred during my first trip to China back in 2009. Stephen’s family drove us to Chengdu so I could achieve my panda dream. This was also my first experience with Chinese road trip snacks. When we got in the car, Stephen’s cousin passed us a bag of snacks, which consisted entirely of fruit — mini bananas, pears, lychee and mangosteen. Some of my favorite fruit, but not the easiest to eat in the car. Growing up, my dad always took pride in our cars. It was the greatest compliment when my friends would get in and tell him our years-old van still looked and smelled brand new. Fresh lychee is not readily available in the U.S., but if it were, we would never be allowed to take it in the car. I can hear my dad’s voice now — “It’s sticky and you’ll get shells and seeds all over!” But that, in a nutshell, seems to be the requirement for Chinese road trip snacks: sticky, shells and seeds.

This month we were in China briefly for a friend’s wedding. The ceremony and reception were held at a resort in a quiet mountain town about 3 hours outside of Shanghai, so the bride and groom kindly rented a big bus to take all their out-of-town guests there. I was prepared to “hold it” the whole way — it was a previous Chinese road trip that enabled me to set my 7 hours “hold it” record (I do not recommend this). I have taken many Chinese road trips, but since I assumed there’d be nothing but squatters, I have never been inside a Chinese rest stop. Until now.

I was pleased to find one handicap sit-down toilet in a sea of squatters (did I set that 7-hour record for nothing?!). While I was in the loo, Stephen hit up the fruit stall — that’s what they have at Chinese rest stops, fruit stalls. When I emerged, he greeted me with a bag of bananas and lotus pods. Members of our group gathered round as I broke the pod open and popped a seed into my mouth.

lotus fruit.jpg

“Oh god, this is horrible!” I said through muffled attempts to spit it out. Turns out you’re supposed to remove the bitter green shell before you eat it. If you do that the seeds are actually tasty.

Just then the bride came over and handed me what I thought was a souvenir relic from the Ming dynasty.

water-caltrop

“Try it,” she said. “It’s good, it tastes like a potato.”

water caltrop open.JPG

It was indeed good and potato-like, but I had no idea what it was. I meant to google “Chinese fruit or vegetable that looks like Satan’s mustache” when I got home, but I didn’t need to. An image of one happened to pop up on Reddit the other day. Turns out it’s a water caltrop, a type of water chestnut — those crunchy bits you see in tins or at the stir fry bar. Who knew they had such ominous exteriors.

water-chestnut-can

Stephen returned to our little group with a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts (cue The Christmas Song). I’m not sure I’ve ever had freshly roasted chestnuts, but they were delicious, and in true Chinese road trip food form, difficult to open and sticky. At least the stall gave us an extra bag to put the shells.

Once back on the bus, everyone shared some of their treasures. One guy went down the aisle passing out sweet potatoes — piping hot, gooey, delicious whole sweet potatoes.

“Why did you buy a whole bag of sweet potatoes?” I asked him.

“Because sweet potatoes are awesome!” he replied. Touche.

So if you’re keeping tally, my Chinese rest stop road trip snacks consisted of a banana, lotus seeds, chestnuts, water chestnuts and a sweet potato.

When we couldn’t possibly eat another chestnut, we passed the bag through the bus, while other snacks came to us. I passed on the bag of dried squid, but grabbed a handful of the next thing that came by.

“Ooo, are these prawn crisps?” I asked.

“Did you just say prawn crisps?” the guy across from me asked, faking an English accent. “They’re obviously shrimp chips!”

My accent might say “American,” but apparently I’ve become more British than I thought.

On our way back to Shanghai 2 days later our bus stopped at the same rest stop. It was around 7pm, so instead of just snacks, we needed to eat something more substantial and dinner-like.

“So tell us, what can we eat here that won’t give us diarrhea?” one of the American guys whispered to Stephen. His advice was to get something hot and cooked, preferably not with meat. There were stalls selling rice balls filled with pork and salty egg, all kinds of tofu, ice cream, corn on the cob, and crepe-like sandwiches. We settled on the crepe-like thing filled with egg, spam and ketchup. It was surprisingly delicious despite how I described it, and we didn’t get sick from it either. On the way out we popped into the only store somewhat reminiscent of an American rest stop filled with packaged snacks like chips and candy. A bag of honey-flavored potato chips caught my eye because I remembered reading an article about Korean honey chip hysteria. I was so excited to try them. They were just OK — better if you thought of them as really thin biscuits/cookies instead of potato chips since they were so sweet. I later realized the popular chips are “honey butter” flavored, not just honey, so I probably bought some cheap rip off Korean chip. I guess I’ll have to go to Korea someday to try the real thing.

Though Chinese road trip snacks are some of the most inconvenient things to eat with their sticky shells, seeds and skins, they are also some of the healthiest. While I don’t see sweet potatoes, lotus and chestnuts coming to an American Flying J truck stop soon, it would be nice to have some options besides McDonalds, chips and candy on my next Megabus ride.

For more in my China Impressions series, click here.