Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sonic Scenery @ The Natural History Museum: BYO iPod

Looking for a hot date with your iPod? This Friday is the opening night of Sonic Scenery: Music for Collections exhibit hosted by the Natural History Museum.

Sonic Scenery is part of the museum's 'First Fridays' series; this monthly event dedicates the first Friday of every month to highlight a different component of their collection.

Adding an aural dimension to the museum's visuals, the Natural History Museum has gathered an eclectic group of musicians to compose songs inspired by their permanent collection. The museum hopes adding an interactive element allows patrons to discover a new layer of relevance within the permanent collection--which sounds kinda cool in a Holden Caufield sorta way (the permanent exhibit is still exactly the same yet, at the same time, different).

Sonic Scenery invites museum-goers to download the list of songs off iTunes (Sonic Scenery album) to their iPod, don on headphones and walk through the Cenozoic era (or, once upon a time 65 million years ago) to Ozomatli's hard-hittin' Latin-punk, check out Ancient Latin American stone sculptures with Sun Ra Arkestra's jazzy song playing in your ear and revisit American history from 1865 to 1914 to the beat of Autolux's moody tunes.

And, of course, what visit to the NHM is complete without checking out taxidermied animals? (This time, to the musical animal sounds from the Matmos band)

If you're one of the few remaining iPodless folks like me, the museum has $3 headphones you can rent. Afterwards, plug into museum headphones to hear 'silent DJ sets' or drop in on the panel discussion of the Future of Sound in Space...or, get lured by the drinks at the museum's bar.

Even if you're not a big museum fan, the idea of drinking cocktails and listening to music in a Natural History Museum after hours is cool enough to erase bad memories of museum class field trips as a kid.

General admission is usually $9 but this Friday's (February 3rd) Sonic Scenery opening night is free. You only pay the headset rental or the cost of the iTunes download which you'd probably want to purchase for your iTunes library regardless given the playlist.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Century Sports Club Korean Spa: No Clothing, No Modesty Allowed

Last Friday, Leslie and Miuk introduced me to the wonders of the cheap, no-frills/no-nonsense Korean bath-house spa experience; initially, the spa's privacy-shunning policies probably tensed me up more, but by the end, I felt just as relaxed as I do after any spa visit AND I left with the fresh-looking, slippery-smooth skin of an 8 year old.

We headed to Korea Town's Century Sports Club & Day Spa on Olympic and Crenshaw. The $15 admission includes the use of the sauna, jacuzzis and steam room but Leslie and I also opted for traditional basic body scrubs ($30) and Hourig, my fellow non Korean Spa initiated friend, chose the scrub/massage combo ($70 with admission fee waived so essentially $55).

Slipping into our thin rayon robes, we walked out of the locker room into the women's spa area. Leslie forewarned me Korean style spas ain't no Burke William's cucumber-water, fuzzy slippers and robe niceties type of place--think more YMCA with spa services. However, I still assumed sea salt scrubs and a private room would figure into my body scrub treatment.

I opened the door to a rude, nude awakening. All the spa's facilities were all in one large room; everywhere, nonchalant, naked women (both Korean and non-Asian) taking showers in the stall-less shower area, slipping into large jacuzzi and tea detox pools, sweating it out in sauna and spa rooms and hanging out, chatting sans robe in the resting chairs...and to the right of me--along an assembly-line style row of massage tables each 2ft apart--more naked ladies being scrubbed and massaged by Korean masseuses in black bras and underwear (the whole scene may inadvertently sound way hotter than it was).

I'm not heaps prudish but the idea of sauntering around the room from amenity to amenity buck naked--like everyone else was except myself, Miuk and Hourig (nude Les was fully in her element)--took some getting used to.

I awkwardly tried to disrobe and sink into the Jacuzzi in one smooth and speedy motion. Clutching our robes around us, we hopped into the sauna room and minty steam room before heading back into the jacuzzi while waiting for our treatments. In Korean culture, going spa'ing with your friends is more of a social activity than a Zen indulgence, much like catching up over lunch.... except we were gossiping about boys and shoe sales in a giant jacuzzi. And naked.

My number got called to enter the treatment-side of the room. My bra'n'undie clad spa lady spoke little English but got the point across "UP! On table! No towel!" Once on the massage table, she started polishing away my back and legs with a pair of stimulatingly-scratchy mitts. Although more invigorating than calming, the firm, circular movements and intermittent floods of warm water poured over my body soon soothed me into a sleepy lull.

Suddenly, SLAP! Was I just butt-slapped? The slight sting on my left butt cheek confirmed that, yes; I was indeed just butt-slapped by my spa lady. "FRONT, turn FRONT!" Facing upwards and fully uncovered while being scrubbed pretty much everywhere (including the boob and nether region-adjacent areas) was a little weirder but I was too fascinated with the sight of my dead skin being exfoliated off like pieces of dirt to spend time feeling shy. Ooohh, I was getting so much smoother and cleaner with every slough!

A quick face rub and dreamy shampoo/scalp massage completed the 1/2hr treatment before I was sent away to shower off. By then, I was over it and decided 'when in Rome...’ I walked over to the shower stalls sans robe in all my smooth skinned glory.

Although not as tranquil in the traditional spa sense, my overall Korean spa experience still left me totally relaxed and my fresh-scrubbed skin feeling super-smooth. It was also a fun and social alternative for a girls' night out.

Century Sports Club & Day Spa,
4120 W. Olympic Blvd., 323-954-1020.

**If you feel like flexing your newly buffed body afterwards, there's also an indoor driving range in the same building for some post-spa golfing.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hello Operator, Free 411 Please

Remember the days when finding out a phone number didn't cost an arm and a leg? (Albeit, cheap arm and leg body parts at $1.49 per 411 call). Well, let me rewind back time my friends.

A friend of mine recently turned me on to 1800 FREE-411 and believing it's a citizen's basic right to inquire about phone numbers for free, I am spreading the word.

Yup, 1800 FREE-411 works like the real thing....and just the like the real thing, if you prefer to request your desired number from a human being rather than Lady Robot Voice; just mumble nonsensical words after you hear "City and State please", and the computerized operator will get frustrated and transfer you to an actual person.

So, 411 away and buy yourself a cup of coffee with the money saved. (For Starbucks or Coffee Bean, you'll have to inquire about a handful of numbers before you earn that vanilla soy latte though.)

1800 FREE-411

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mo' Pho! Thai Lai Vietnamese Restaurant

(yes, i know it's pronounced 'fher' no 'fo'...)

My friend Tracey was visiting from out of town recently and part of my outta-towner's culinary tour included Thai Lai, a South Bay Vietnamese joint on the corner of Rosecrans Ave and Prairie.

Inside: Fluorescent lighting. Check. Beige linoleum floor and varnished Formica tables. Check and check. Yup, it’s a hole-in-the-wall. However, the bright and clean interior and amiable wait staff makes the place more inviting than your average no-frills spot. Besides, the crowded tables indicate the diners are willing to trade mood-lighting for solid homestyle Vietnamese cooking (despite its misleading name, there is no thai green curry or tom kha kai soup in sight.)

Although the menu is in Vietnamese, no worries if you don’t know the Vietnamese lingo; the menu’s numbered items and photos of their most popular plates allow you to confidently point and nod—and actually know what you ordered.
Although my usual is their flavorful rice noodle 'bun' bowl filled with charbroiled pork, crispy-fresh vegetables and mint leaves, it was cold outside and we needed warming up. We ordered the #68 house special pho ($6.00); an aromatic, slow-simmered beef broth with rice noodles and green onions brimming with every type of beef under the sun (including slivers of steak, brisket, flank, beef balls and tripe). It’s traditionally breakfast fare but luckily for those who can't stomach such a hearty meat-laden meal before your morning coffee, it’s served all day.

We also split Thai Lai’s signature spring rolls. These plump, translucent rice-paper goi coun rolls ($2.50 for 2) are bursting with shrimp, bbq-basted pork, green onion and mint leaves peaking through the paper-thin wrapping. It comes with a peanut dipping sauce but both the hoison and fish sauce on the condiment table are also good. The crispy, golden-fried version, cha gio egg rolls ($4.50 for 5), come wrapped in lettuce cups and one bite will dispel any oil-soaked memories of the soggy, greasy spring rolls you get in Chinese takeout combo meals.

They don't have traditional desserts so you can get your sugar high from their exotic sweet drinks. Thai Lai's forty different candy-colored Vietnamese beverages are tastier than they sound—and at around $2.00, are well priced for experimenting if you’ve ever wondered what a salted plum soda or red bean jellygrass drink tastes like.

We left stuffed and only $22 lighter for the both of us. The dishes at this family-run eatery are as authentic as they are generous—so look past the non-descript, white stucco exterior and unglamorous Hawthorne locale to enjoy some of the best Vietnamese spring rolls outside of Buena Park’s Little Saigon.

Thai Lai Restaurant
14221 Prairie Ave, Hawthorne
(310) 973-0819

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bodega DeCordova: For a Night of Wine-Soaked Conversation and Sublime-Tasting Olives

With friends in town and in the mood for a chill night where we could actually converse over drinks, we headed to the newly opened Bodega DeCordova wine bar last night.

This sliver of a bar is located along the easy-to-miss, nondescript Fairfax block just south of The Grove. We entered through the fairy-lit door into an unpretentious, tavern-like bar scattered with dark wooden wine caskets doubling as tables and warm-colored walls adorned with vintage bullfighting posters and images of cobblestone Spanish streets and bodegas.

A scroll of butcher paper behind the bar listed their small but varied list of exclusively Spanish wines. As a wine non-connoisseur who is often swayed by the design of a label or a catchy name (I was bummed they were out of their Wrongo Dongo Jumilla wine), the bartender patiently doled out samples of almost all their wines as he explained their flavors so we could choose a bottle actually based on taste. Thoughtful handbag hooks under the bar allowed both hands free to sample the selection.

Our group chatted as we toured Spain via our bottles of red wine...from Northern Spain's reliably good Rioja to the south's full-bodied Casa Castillo Monastrell Jumilla and fruity Enate Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot. With the mellow crowd (groups of casually-dressed locals were scattered throughout the bar but finding seating was easy for a weekend night) and talk-friendly noise-level, our boozy-conversation flowed as easily as our 4 bottles of wine.

While Bodega DeCordova's tapas menu is more for snacking than dining, the cheese plate of manchego cheeses, figs and bread and the plate of intensely flavorful Seville olives were perfect nibbling companions for our wine. The anchovy-spiced olives were sublime; our group only took breaks from polishing off the deep dish of olives to rhapsodize about how unbelievably tasty they were.

Bodega DeCordova is cash only...but thankfully you don't need a lot of it. Whether by the glass (starting at $5) or the bottle (hovering around $20), the prices are extremely reasonable. Our 4 bottles of wine, a cheese plate and the world's best-tasting olives only added up to $102 for our party of five. Our chill, Euro-style night of wine-soaked conversation only came out to $25 per person including tip.

The (lack of) parking is a bit of a deterrent but you can park at the nearby Farmer's Market lot or find residential street parking and walk the extra block. This semi-undiscovered neighborhood spot is ideal for "getting-to-know-you-while-I-show-how-casually-sophisticated-I-am" first dates, girls' night out catch-up sessions or for enjoying a glass of good wine in a bar setting without paying typical bar prices.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Price of Ugly Shoes

I don't know if this qualifies as a bargain but yesterday I stooped to a new level in my 'lovelife'. I bought a pair of ugly shoes I don't even like because the guy was hot.

In an effort to prolong conversation, I tried on 5 pairs of trainers from him and when I ran out of sneakers to try on, I simply bought a pair, buying me another minute to chat with him at the cash register.

Where is the bargain in this story? The New Balances were 25% off! (so I only spent $67 instead of $90 to flirt with a boy for 10 minutes!) $6.70 per minute to enjoy (attempted) witty repartee while shyly checking him out as he threaded the shoelaces for me. Bonus: the store's closing down so I have no chance of returning these clunkers. I guess it'll give me motivation to run fast in them so no-one can see how unstylishly white & chunky they are.

To be fair, I DO need running shoes and they ARE ultra-comfortable so the NB's are perfectly fine if i don't care about looks at all...which clearly I do given I just bought ugly shoes to score some time with a good-looking guy.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Free Ecstasy: Thursday Night MOCA

Looking for some budget culture, I decided to check out MOCA's Ecstasy: In & About Altered States Exhibit at the downtown Geffen last night. MOCA allows patrons to feel intellectual for free every Thursday--the musuem offers free admission after 5pm and stays open late until 8pm.

Apparently the entire Silverlake/Los Feliz population also had the same idea as myself to enjoy some thrifty culture; 90% of the MOCA demographic consisted of stylishly scruffy Eastside couples enjoying a freebie date night.

This latest exhibit is a collection of positively trippy paintings, installations, film, photography and sculptures designed to give viewers the perception of riding the wavering line between reality and hallucination. Keeping in theme, many of the mind-bending works were created while the artists were all drugged up.

For those who feel it's only fitting and respectful towards the mind-altering art pieces to also alter own their states: yes, experiencing the mesmerizing 70's groove room consisting of colored lights pulsating through hazy fog and ambient beats (artist Pierre Huyghe's "L'expediton Scintillante: A Musical" installation) and the Alice in Wonderlandesque "Upside Mushroom Room" by Carsten Holler--a winding dark corridor leading to a white room decked out with upsidedown larger-than-life mushrooms twirling from the low ceiling--would most definitely be enhanced with um, enhancements of the chemical persuasion.

However, those flying high should stay clear of Glenn Brown's seemlingly melting, swirly-brushed portraits or Ann Veronica Janssens' vertigo-inducing flash-light installations. The dripping, acid-like paintings and rapid strobe light display tripped me out, and my hardest vice yesterday was a vanilla latte.

This Ecstasy exhibit is the closest I've felt to being in a playground while in a museum; check out a fountain trickling with board-certified LSD, channel your inner-Neo as your step into the Matrix Room's glowing 3D green grid or enter a gold-speckled pod reminiscent of Mork's spaceship to be enveloped by a Swarovski crystal encrusted interior for a disco-flavored cosmic galaxy.

I highly recommend Ecstasy, this exhibit will appeal even to you self-described 'non-museum types' (for the record, I also self-describe myself into that category).

MOCA comes down from the ecstasy on February 20th--which means you only have 6 more Thursdays to check it out for zero dollars.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Palm Springs on $77!

Itching for an end of year vacation with no funds to support this last minute, last hurrah of 2005, Meriam, Chaya and I started researching destination options the day we were set to take off...somewhere. Displaying our superior time management &/or procrastination skills, it took us 5hrs between planning our trip and arriving to our final destination.

A quick accessment of "last minute deals!" on the usual travelocity, expedia and pleasant holidays sites proved $1100 for 3 day advance Hawaii and Mexico packages weren't that much of a deal, and more importantly, a 3 day advance wasn't that much of 'last minute' when we were looking the day of. Discarding our wishful thinking for finding a cheap vacation at a far-flung locale during peak holiday season, we settled for a more budget-friendly road trip.
Rains up north and no realiable car for a trek beyond a two hour driving radius left us with Santa Barbara, San Diego,Temecula (apparently filled with Napa-esque wineries but we couldn't sell ourselves on the idea of vacationing in 909-adjacent territory) or Palm Springs.

We wanted sun, spa, relaxation and maybe an outdoor activity to feel less guilty for all the nutritious gas station snacks we'd be wolfing down during our car ride. Fitting our criteria, www.weather.com announced Palm Springs was 70's and sunny, and the visitor's bureau reassured us the desert town was packed with spas, sun-drenched poolsides & cheapo but decent, 'non-backpacker living conditions' motels galore. An online brochure declared the aerial tram taking visitors up thousands of feet up the shrub'n'dirt-covered desert mountains to a hidden oasis of hiking trails through NoCal-worthy pine trees, waterfalls and picturesque green vistas was a 'must see!' Sold!

Our online search found us the Caliente Tropics Resort Motel. Our 2 1/2 star, Tiki-inspired find looked adorably '50's Palm Springs kitchsy, was well-maintained with a pool and spa treatments on premises and located 1 mile from downtown Palm Springs. Regular double rooms started at $125 but their Deluxe King Room was $44/night-Caliente deal indeed. For $15 per person, we decided we could definitely squeeze three onto a bed--or even extravagantly splurge with a extra $15 sleeping cot.

To the desert!

Two nights accommodations: $37.20 per person
Gas: $18 per person
Aerial tram ride and hiking trail map: $21 + $1
Grand total: $77.20!

Plenty of savings leftover for a post-hiking spa treatment (Tropic's Brown Sugar Scrub Rub-Down), Las Casuelas Terraza's mango margaritas (skip the bland food for another margarita) and a new wardrobe of discounted duds at the Cabazon Outlet Mall.