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My year of not complaining

Posted December 12 into House keeping by John Birmingham

I had some thinky time while I was travelling. Getting ten thousand klicks away from your daily routine is good for that. Apart from filing a couple of columns, I didn’t work. Every time my thoughts strayed to work, I lured them away with contemplation of chicken and beer.
It cleared my head.
One of the first things I resolved to do was spend a lot less time on the Hell Sites of Twitter and Farcebuck, and more time here. There’s no escaping the Hell Sites. I do a lot of business there. But there is a cost, a heavy fucking cost to being there.
That led me to my second resolution. If I was going to spool up the engines on the Burger again, I didn’t want to simply repeat here at length, that which I was doing there.
Bitching and moaning, basically.
Ninety percent of everything online is bitching and moaning now. The rest is cat and dog videos, adverts inserted into cat and dog videos, and shameless self promotion.
But mostly bitching and moaning.
It’s not just human nature. The platforms have tweaked their software to preference ugliness because like the tabloid editors of yore they have learned that ugliness sells. If it bleeds it leads, as we used to say in the fish wrapping business.
Or to update the model, it if enrages it engages.
I’ve had enough. We’ve all had enough.
I can’t change a damn thing by putting on a happy face, and to be honest, it’s not appropriate given the accelerating collapse of our civilisation and ecosystem. So I’ll still be raging over there.
But here I want some peace and quiet. So for the next 12 months I’m going to try a new approach to blogging. Niceness. Gentle humour. Good vibes.
In service of this new beginning I’m going to run some of my favourite and most gently written pieces from my old private column, Alien Side Boob.
Starting with the piece above.
How To Cook the Perfect Steak.

7 Responses to ‘My year of not complaining’

insomniac would have you know...

Posted December 12
I'm not on social media so I don't really know how ugly it is. I do have a Guardian presence though, and while there is some ugly, there is much dumbness, mainly from the gubbermunt troll army. That can be depressing, especially if I haven't had my Vegemite for a few days. On the other hand there are many not dumb peeps concerned about where this country is headed, and their comments are most welcome.

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andrew asserts...

Posted December 12
I don't do the social medias as such either, but I imagine that it probably isn't any better than the comments sections on news sites and some blogs. Not the high signal-to-noise ones like yours of course.

Used to be that whinging in public would get you shunned. "Don't feed the trolls" seemed to mostly work, on usenet for a while. Perhaps its time has come again?

I particularly like the approach of David Byrne's blog "Reasons to be cheerful". It's not always good, but I think that it's heading in a useful direction.

There's a lovely piece on "How to do nothing: resisting the attention economy" that I read last month. Perhaps it would help:

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted December 12
This is a good link. Thanks.

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted December 12
Good luck, let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Remember the advice from The Meaning of Life movie
"I've had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and what we've come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts.
One. People are not wearing enough hats.
Two. Matter is energy.
In the universe, there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source, which act upon a person's soul. However, this soul does not exist ab initio, as orthodox Christianity teaches. It has to be brought into existence, by a process of guided self- observation. However, this is rarely achieved, owing to man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.

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Rob mutters...

Posted December 12
Its the sameness that bugs me. (and the lack of humour) Everyone wants everything to be exactly like everything else. Every new video is a copy of a copy of a copy. Copies sell, and then everyone wants their new creation to look like the last cool thing. 10 minutes on tiktok and you can just see these poor kids all trying to emulate the last faddish thing, to capture exactly the same appeal of that thing.

And the Karens & Sharons all commenting 'exactly' & 'this' on the endless parades of tedious positivity memes, love yourself first posts, 'my husband left me because of ptsd not because I'm a totally annoying miserable asshole' statements.

Mind you that's all not too gentle or nice I'll try harder in the new year JB.

Dave W swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 12
A friend of mine was constantly posting those passive-aggressive meme things. Another friend of his replied to one saying "I've noticed you've had a few of these up here lately. Is everything okay? Give me a call if you want to talk."

That was the end of the posts. I'd like to think I'd do the same and treat these annoyances with a positive response.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted December 12
i took a 45 odd day break from twitter myself. It was on the back of seeing some person tweet "if you have to log off from twitter you are doing it wrong". It incensed me, then made me think "why the eff do i care?" - closed it down completely and logged off (but went back in just to refresh the login before the 30 day cutoff). Went back after the much needed rest. Everyone was still there drawing out the same old type of jokes, making comments about shit that suddenly did not make any sense (or more to the point I didn't care about). It was weird - so i posted my bird shots recording the species that visit my place and commented less myself. The only thing i could relate it to was one new years eve myself and the better half had no plans, turns out no invites to parties (everyone was away that year), first year in our new place, so decided we'd wander down to the fireworks in the harbour. But what to do till midnight? Ahh we'll go watch the new Lord of the Rings movie, that went for four hours or something - good waste of time not requiring us to spend too much. It was daylight and normal when we went in. When we came out we thought it was the apocalypse. Normally I get a bit disoriented after sitting in a movie in the dark and you emerge blinking in the sunlight. But this was different. It was just after dusk. Everyone had turned into drunk zombies - it was frigging 9 oclock for gods sake. People vomiting in the gutter, agro guys trying to punch you out, girls collapsing in a heap. We had decided to walk up to the harbour but as we got closer it got worse. A total bin fire. We reached circular quay and just kept going - got on the train and went home . . . . and figured we could see the tiny explosions from our balcony anyway. So, twitter is a bit like that . . . . i may jump on that train yet to get out of the bin fire.

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Hefty chunks and creamy head

Posted December 11 by John Birmingham

I'm one of those people who doesn't like to travel too much when he travels. For sure, I'll happily fly around the world and through the night, but when I get where I'm going I like to sink my roots deep. I like to dig into every nook and cranny of whichever neighborhood I'm staying in rather than flitting about the country, changing hotels and moving from city to city every couple of days. It's possible I'm just weird and lazy, but ... okay, I guess it's more than possible.

In Korea this meant hanging out in the University district of Hongdae most of the time, occasionally riding the subway into the heart of the city, and not really venturing much further. A few people asked if we were going to go up to the DMZ, because it's awesome. And maybe if I'd been there another week, we would have. But not this time. Had too much hanging out to do.

One of the things I really like about my approach is not just getting to know a place, but letting the place get to know you. I like to choose a bar, a café and a couple of restaurants to get most of my business, for instance. The first time you roll in, they'll treat you like a tourist. The second time too. But by your third visit they're onto an earner and you start getting better treatment. In Seoul this often took the form of the password for the superfast Wi-Fi, nicer snacks with the drinks—seriously, these people serve snacks with every damn drink that arrives— or even free drinks.

Luckily, Thomas is a bit the same way. Probably even more than me. He's a good traveller, fearless* in many ways, but when he finds something he likes it's difficult to shake him of it. We ate the same breakfast nearly every day for 10 days.

We had one break from the routine to try out a specialist toast place. Yes. The Koreans have specialist toast shops. They are more civilised than us.

We tried Korean barbecue of course, but to be honest I never really found a place that grabbed me. There were two restaurants, both of them pretty cheap, that we kept going back to. One was a place called to Ddobagi chicken, which offered about a dozen different variations on fried or barbecued chook.

The other was Mawang, a specialist pork joint which had more than generous service of beautifully cooked pigmeat. We ordered one platter, medium sized. It defeated us.

Neither place was looking for the tourist dollar and none of the staff spoke English. But they did have menus with pictures of the food for idiot Westerners who wandered in by accident and we did just fine by pointing at those and rubbing our tummies. So too with the beer.

Chicken and beer it turns out, is the national dish of Korea. Not that fiery cabbage shit everyone goes on about. We defaulted to the same two or three dishes each time at Ddobagi – an eponymous sort of nugget mound in which hefty chunks of deep-fried breast meat arrived in a crunchy coating of spiced rice flour, and a platter of legs and wings smoked and baked in a sticky sweet seasoning. There was a barbecued menu item that looked amazing, but the staff anxiously mimed to us that its fiery spices would kill us instantly. Should I ever be in Seoul at the same time as Mr Barnes, we shall see about that. The beer was some ice-cold local brew which appeared to be called Max Cream but which I insisted on ordering as Creamy Head because at heart I'm a 14 year old boy.

We doubtlessly would have discovered two or three other really cool places if we'd stretched our legs. But then I'd have eaten less Ddobagi chicken and Mawang Pork.


*You have not seen determined until you've seen a 17yo boy negotiate across an impenetrable language barrier with the staff at an Internet cafe for access to the gaming 'puters.

6 Responses to ‘Hefty chunks and creamy head’

jl ducks in to say...

Posted December 11
That food n stuff looks amazing. Totally agree with your method of seeing the world. Much better to get to know one place well, then a dozen places superficially. Plus the tourist shacks are always horrible, a real rip-off.

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Spanner asserts...

Posted December 11
Where is my fried chicken?


I’m sitting here at work like some sort of fried chickenless numpty and this will not do.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 11
I can testify to the awesomeness of the Beer & Chicken combination embodied as the Korean national dish. Around my neck of the woods in Melb I am fortunate to live in a largely Asian community and from the smallish Korean eateries to the larger Korean franchises such as NeNe Chicken or Bon Chicken & Beer the stuff is deliciously satisfying. I am a little alarmed that at my local they no longer ask for my order but as I come in simply look up and with a slightly raised inflection at the end of their statement 'the usual'.

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Doccs has opinions thus...

Posted December 11
Good stuff JB, getting to know the place you’re visiting is cool.
I never could understand all the sightseeing and photos me self.

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Bondiboy66 ducks in to say...

Posted December 11
Yes have done the same thing - staying put that is. We stayed in a small southern French town about 2 years back, went to the same cafe for breakfast for 2 weeks. By day 3 we were virtually locals!

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she_jedi mumbles...

Posted December 11
"There was a barbecued menu item that looked amazing, but the staff anxiously mimed to us that its fiery spices would kill us instantly." I'm not sure why, but I laughed so hard at this.

I am a late convert to Korean fried chicken, but by every known god it's good. I want to go to Seoul now :(

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The King's Ohio Rifles

Posted December 10 into Books by John Birmingham

Jason Lambright has released an extract from the draft of the alt history novel he's been working on. THE KING'S OHIO RIFLES. It's set in a WW1 where the US is still part of the British Empire.

Whole thing is here.

Elizabeth Moore was bumping along the road to Binche, she had an ambulance full of wounded. One of the men was sobbing, she took deep drags on her harsh cigarette.

The scene back in Thuin was bedlam, there were so damn many hurt and maimed men waiting to be evacuated, and so few ambulances and medical staff. The loading had been done to the soundtrack of heavy artillery fire, she had sat in her seat and watched as a round pulverized one of the few intact brick houses left.

It was damned unhealthy.

As she drove along the pitch-black road with her wholly inadequate blackout lights, she knew that this road was dangerous as hell, too. She had to constantly make her way around craters and other debris, she feared getting stuck as she navigated through cow pastures.

As usual, the lamentations of the men in the back stretched her nerves tight. And they were like piano strings tonight. The word she had received back at the aid station in Thuin was bleak, the Germans were breaking through along the line and they weren’t taking prisoners.

What would they do to her, she wondered, if captured? Probably something very unpleasant. She was in a grey area. Not really Army, not really a civilian, and definitely a woman. She really didn’t want to find out. When she heard about the German no-prisoners threat, she believed it. She didn’t intend to be captured, and she took a few measures to prevent rape followed by death.

She dodged a corpse. Her expert eye judged it fairly fresh one, allied. She drew in hard on her cigarette, she was glad she had spotted the dead man in time. Elizabeth hated the squishy feel beneath her wheels.

Some figures loomed out of the darkness. Maybe the mates of the dead man, she thought. She peered, she squinted. The blackout lights weren’t helping her much, and these buggers weren’t clearing off of the road. Her lips pressed into a thin line. Stupid gits. She flicked her cigarette out of the cab and drew a breath. She was going to give these idiots a real tongue-lashing.

At the precise moment that she was about to yell, her shout died frozen in her throat. Her blood ran cold, a bolt of lightning-like adrenaline shot through her body from head to toe.


6 Responses to ‘The King's Ohio Rifles’

Bondiboy66 has opinions thus...

Posted December 10
Totally looking forward to reading the whole story!

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she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 10
So, SOOOO good :D

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted December 12
i think i must be tired. Or just distracted from smoking a pack of bushies (2million hectares of prime aussie bush in every breath) a day without a filter. I kept looking at the title and thinking it said Oreo and then my brain going off on a tangent that companies were like monarchies and had armies . . . . yeah maybe too many oreo's for lunch. Actually that rings a bell - was it Kim Stanley Robinsons Mars books that had that idea that countries didn't rule themselves but companies carved up the earth?

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted December 12
Look I am on board for the King's Oreo Rifles, they sound delicious

jl asserts...

Posted December 12
Yeah. I wonder if they come as deep fried or chocolate covered? Me, as a kid I always liked pulling them apart and licking out the filling.

she_jedi asserts...

Posted December 13
Surely pulling them apart and licking out the filling is the ONLY way to eat an Oreo?

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Ironic, tragic and “a rich source of potassium”

Posted December 10 into Blunty by John Birmingham

I love the $170 000 banana art story much I could just eat it.

At Blunty...

I am in awe of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, who convinced three rich idiots in three separate transactions to cough up between 175,000 and 220,000 dollary-doos for a duct-taped banana on a wall over the weekend.

But I am truly, madly and deeply impressed by hungry performance artist Dave Datuna, who ate the half-million-dollar installation without warning, permission or a freshly cooked waffle swimming in chocolate sauce.

1 Responses to ‘Ironic, tragic and “a rich source of potassium”’

insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted December 10
One could say that the art only resides in the duct tpe

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New best friends

Posted December 9 by John Birmingham

All sorts of things surprised me about Seoul. And some delighted me. Among the latter was the inescapable everywhereness of cartoonified... mascots? Characters? Anime friends?
I don’t really know the correct nomenclature, but they’re everywhere. Like, literally everywhere you turn you are likely to run into the gigantic plastic or furry manifeststation of Korea’s childlike fascination with delightful little cartoon friends.

Pondering the sorrows of human conflict at the National War Museum?
Let your little friends help you process that.

Drank too much soju and got a little rowdy?
Officer Friendly and PC Plod have a bed for you in the lock up until you feel better.

I found these things everywhere. The foyers of banks, the forecourts of giant industrial combines. And of course in the many, many, many brick and mortar shopfronts of the various corporations (such as Japan’s Line messaging app) that brand themselves with little friends.

At first it was just weird. You’ve got this hugely successful, super advanced post industrial civilisation, and it looks like it’s obsessed with infantilised cartoon culture.

But within days, so was I. There is something hugely appealing about universal whimsy. I found the more time I spent in the company of my little cartoon friends...

...Some not so little...

... the calmer and happier I was. The 24hr insta-rage energy of Twitter and Facebook pretty much lost all attraction for me. I ignored Facebook the whole time I was there, and logged into Twitter rarely, mostly to post pics of my dinner when I ordered too much. There just seemed to be no sense to any of it when I could be spending time digging on the magical superquirk of Korea’s cartoon mojo.

It wasn’t a youth culture thing. I saw very serious looking, and very successful businessmen lined up to buy teddy bear stickers, stuffed toys, weird, almost inexplicable plastic fancies (cartoon sperm, plastic egg yolk superhero totes).

I never really came to understand any of it. I still don’t.

But I did love it.

3 Responses to ‘New best friends’

Bondiboy66 has opinions thus...

Posted December 9
Japan appears similar. On a short stopover in Tokyo a few years back I noted that anime-like cartoons all over the place on signage etc...not so much the oversized Korean versions though!

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted December 9
Indeed John Oliver commented on the thousands of mascots throughout Japan on his program 'The Japanese city of Susaki cut ties with their unofficial otter mascot, Chiitan, and otter wearing a turtle for a hat, leaving their official otter mascot, Shinjo-kun, all alone. So we came up with a plan to help'.

It sounds like you really liked Seoul if you could would you live there? If I could choose I think I would live in Iceland.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted December 10
I asked myself this a few times while walking around the city. I feel like I could, because my work isn't geotagged to any one place. But I'd have to learn the language, which is not easy. And I do wonder what Jane might think of it.

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I heart Seoul

Posted December 6 by John Birmingham

I went to Korea for Schoolies Week and I loved it. A long time ago we offered both kids a choice. They could take themselves off to Schoolies, or we could take them overseas. They’re not dummies. They took the travel option.

I got Thomas, who chose Hong Kong (I know, right) and Seoul.

We flew into HK the weekend of the big campus showdown (bows and arrows and molotovs vs sound cannons and tear gas).

It was fine. I thought it would be. Having done a lot of reporting on riots and political violence when I started out I know that as intense as the scenes can be on TV, you get a block away from the action... nada.

Still, you could see the damage from previous street battles most places we went. And beer was very expensive. I was happy to fly up to Seoul after a couple of days.

I know Murph had a terrible time in Korea, but I blame his hosts; the US Army. We had a great time. We stayed in a cool hotel, the L7 in Hongdae.

It had a boss level lounge and bar, a well equipped gym, and it sits on the edge of a groovy part of town, next to Hongik University. The uni used to be the old Defence Headquarters (I think) but it’s now an art/design centre. The streets around it are full of student bars and cafes and there’s this sort of winding mall where would-be K-Pop stars perform every night.

It was a carnival space, really. You could have your fill of cheap beer and fried chicken, check out half a dozen acts in the space of five minutes, and just hang with the crowds.

I thought the Korean kids were awesome. Seoul is a 24 hour city, but everything accelrates after dark. Most places don’t seem to fire up before lunch time, but when night falls ... boom!

I’d get up most mornings and go hunt out a coffee. It’s true what they say about cafe’s in Seoul. They’re everywhere. These guys are obsessed with the bean. I’d walk up to a 24hr place where the old boy working the espresso machine baked fresh madelines every morning.

It meant walking through a night club district just as the doors were opening and the revellers spilled onto the streets. You know what a shit show that can be.

Except it wasn’t. I don’t know that getting blotto is a big part of their culture. The kids would appear blinking in the dawn, but also smiling and tired. No aggro. Not once. The whole city had a really chilled vibe like that.

Maybe it’s because all the young blokes have to do two years in the army and they all know taekwondo or something. Or maybe K-Pop is just cooler than bogan culture.

Either way I walked that club district every day for ten days and saw nothing but good vibes.
Pics and stories to come.

6 Responses to ‘I heart Seoul’

AuntyLou is gonna tell you...

Posted December 6
Seriously? You got drinkable coffee in Seoul? Hubby & I spent a couple of nights stopover in central Seoul a few years ago & could not believe how bad the coffee was everywhere we went. Burnt dirt over & over. Apart from that...fabulous place. Would happily return. Travel tips gratefully received. Glad your boy has turned into such a sensible young man. Congratulations.

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Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 7
There literally is not enough money on the planet to get me to visit that part of the planet again. Eleven months was plenty.

As for Seoul, well, a night at the symphony was nice while trussed up in a civilian double breasted number, but I did not enjoy my time there. The best moment was getting on the plane and leaving.

No fault to the Koreans, to be fair. I didn't really deal with them much.

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted December 7
That matches with what I heard from a couple of colleagues that did post docs in Seoul, they said similar stuff. Sounds like a good place to go especially since I wouldn't need to give up my coffee. Where did the other half of the family choose if you don't mind me asking?

Murphy_of_Missouri would have you know...

Posted December 7
It must not smell like shit anymore.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted December 8
Ha. No. It smells like waffles. There was a waffle cart directly out front of our hotel. When I think of the smell of Seoul, that's what I remember. Despite all of the beer and fried chicken.

Barnes: Italy and HKG.

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Dave W ducks in to say...

Posted December 8
When Mrs W and I spent a stopover (in mid-fucking-winter) in Seoul a few years ago, we visited the local war-memorial/museum. It was also frequented by the US service-people stationed nearby.

With my number-zero haircut I got a few weird doubletakes from the those guys when they saw that I was with a *gasp* lady.

We also had some inexplicable trouble with the local ATMs, so spent a day absolutely cash-less until we found one that would accept one of our cards. And as for no, awful, instant, nestle shit. But this was in the mid-2000s.

And did I mention that it was mid-winter. It was -15c most of the time.

But you paint a much more attractive word-picture, JB, and pretty much could entice me to go back. So my perceptions of Seoul and Korea aren't as bad as Mr Murphy's.

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