Tuesday, August 31, 2004

sha la la laaaa...

Mercedes and I went to dinner at THE greatest Greek restaurant in town the other night. It's called Mykanos, it's on Polk at California, it's incredibly inexpensive, and the food is amazing. We go there a lot. You should too. Anyway, I found myself discussing Michael J. Fox at length. After watching a mid-day marathon of "Family Ties" on TV Land, I have a renewed devotion to MJF and I've got to talk about it.
I've always maintained that Family Ties is my favorite show of all time. It defines my childhood and represents all that is good and right with the world. Mallory Keaton (along with Denise Huxtable) is, to this day, my style icon. Every life lesson I've learned, I saw on a very special episode of Family Ties. This show is awesome.
So, it was no big deal when I decided to sit down and devote a couple of hours to the greatest show in history. I found myself laughing out loud, really getting into it. That Michael J. Fox can really deliver a line. He's amazing. I started to realize, it's not the writing that's so genius. It's him. In one episode, centered around Mallory and Skippy, the side story is that Alex grows a moustache. Literally, I laughed so hard, I had to wipe away tears. The fact that Nick was wearing a lavender fanny pack may have added to my amusement as well. None the less, that MJF took a retarded sub-story line and made it brilliant.
Sure, there's some over-acting. Granted, Jennifer had a face for radio. But, my god, Family Ties is beautiful. Never in my life have I seen so many elbow patches and v-neck sweaters. In my recent need to constantly discuss this phenomenon, I was asked what my favorite episode of all time is. Easy. The one where Alex gets addicted to speed. Hands down.
If you're home with nothing to do, as I often am, do yourself a favor and take a gander at some vintage Family Ties episodes. I think you'll be pleasantly enthralled. Or just go to Mykanos. It's almost as emotionally fulfilling.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

informing the neighbors...

Today, one of my tasks includes informing the upstairs neighbors that we're having a party. Now, this is tricky and a little delicate, as these neighbors have called the cops on us. For those of you that witnessed and survived the Beth and Bonnie red carpet themed, joint-birthday extravaganza, perhaps you remember 5 uniformed officers rolling in at 2am proclaiming it to be the "classiest party we've seen all night!" God Bless the SFPD. While our upcoming Anniversary Party starts much earlier in the day, I think it's safe to say it'll be pretty packed and continue well into the night. In addition, it's appears we'll have live music. Live loud music. Now, I say, fuck it. We're Beth and Bonnie. This is the party to celebrate all the other parties. This is what we do. I mean, we still have empty kegs rolling around the backyard. The whole point of picking this flat was it's party-worthiness. And the whole point of our Anniversary Party is to celebrate our party history. Wait till you get a load of my ambiance on this one. It's going to kick ass.
Anyway, I've created the following rough draft. While not entirely honest, I think it encompasses what we have in mind and encourages them to join us. I mean, if we can get them to do keg stands and jell-o shots, how can they call the fuzz?

Dear J+S,
We're delighted to inform you that we've survived one year of living together here at 916A. In the traditional celebratory gesture, we plan to invite over our close group of friends and family for an afternoon BBQ. In addition, we'll have local musicians and dear friends of ours performing for the gang. We would be honored if you'd join us, and bring along anyone you wish. As is our philosophy, the more the merrier.
We have found living at 916A an absolute delight (minus the mugging) and hope that you'll swing on down and join us in a toast to this great home of ours.
Take care, and we hope to see you soon.
B+B

Oh god. I know this is going to end with jail time. Screw it. I was born to host, y'all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

indescribable, part 2...

Last night, Marcus and I went to Toons. Toons is a restaurant at Serramonte, and Marcus was convinced it'd be good blog fodder. Indeed it is. I arrived to find some street youth being hauled away by the authorities, which, you know, is always a good sign. The interior of Toons looks like a color-blond child molester designed it. The most striking and terrifying feature in the restaurant are the brightly painted sconces, made up of two little children lifting glowing orbes to the ceiling. We were seated by the very eager Joseph, who encompassed every quality of my old pal, John He, at the Mezz Lounge in Shanghai, although Joseph was wearing a t-shirt proudly declaring, "I need a TOON up!"
Over grilled cheese and fish sticks, we discussed the fine line between inappropriate and offensive, until suddenly Joseph appeared with ice cream and a huge drum filled with stuffed animals. He began banging on said drum and busted into a broken English rendition of "Happy Birthday" which appeared to be directed at me. Apparently arranged prior to my arrival, I now celebrate August 24th as one of my birthdays. Really, it's only fair, as I can honestly say I'm reborn after having survived the dining experience that is Toons.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

could you please open your suitcase, ma'am...

Fuck. Oh Fuck. At the Hong Kong airport, I apparently look suspicious enough to warrant a random seach. Clearly, I'm carrying enough illegal knock-off handbags and jewelry to spend some time in the airpot security lounge, but this is compounded by the fact (or the felony, depending which way you look at it) that I was also smuggling some Cuban cigars. Really, why commit one crime, when you can commit two?
So, with my family nervously standing around attempting to laugh while knowing we could be spending a little more time in Hong Kong than imagined, I had to open my suitcase. The guard rifles through it.
"Do you have any matches or lighters in here?"
"No." I say, as box of matches falls out. (Seriously. That actually happened.) My credibility was shot. He pulls my dirty underwear and gold stilettos. He grabs at the bottom, where the following is stashed: 4 pieces of faux jewelry, 3 fake watches, 2 fake bags, 1 North Face huge backpack, 1 North Face ski jacket, 1 North Face fleece, 5 Montecristo Cuban cigars, and one long metal opium pipe. This took up about a third of the suitcase. I'm a goner.
He really takes his time, feels around, shuffles everything around. I mean, he's lifting and taking things all the way out. He's not fucking around. He's lookin' for somethig just to make his quota. I'm convinced I'm looking shifty eyed and try to make conversation. It' doesn't work. He's concentrating too hard on sending me to jail. I must watch and wait.

Nothing. He finds nothing.

Shaken, we get our boarding passes and head for The Red Carpet room. You see, this time, we all get to upgrade, and are on the 2nd floor, which I love. Prior to the flight, we all get to enjoy the never-ending buffet and open bar that is The Red Carpet Club. As we waited for our plane to board, dad ran into some cronie from Mill Valley. Jesus Christ. We're in goddamn Hong Kong. It never ends.
The flight was uneventful, save for the white trash psycho who refused to lower her shade when the in-flight entertainment started. What is that? Every other shade on our little floor was closed, creating the theater-like darkness I require to watch a film. But this dreadful beast forced us all to be plunged into sunlight, through my entire viewing of Miracle. A few hours into our flight, she chose to look out for the needs of her fellow passengers before her own, but until then, I looked back and shot her dirty looks every so often.
I read most of the book I'm now obsessed with, Absolutely American. Unlike the films I was forced to watch on the plane: Miracle, Jersey Girl, and 13 Going on 30, Ambolutely American had me laughing and crying all flight long. Written by a Rolling Stone reporter, it's the story of one class at West Point through their entire 4 years. It's amazing and I want to go out and find each of them.
We suddenly landed. It's amazing how Business Class makes the 11 hour flight seem so quick, and coach made it seem like we were travelling to the moon. Back home, I had to deal with both immigration and customs again, however the huge "INSPECTED" sticker on my bag may have helped us float through them both. Stickin' it to the man and overpacked with contraband, I'm home safe and sound, back at 916A. And, to top it all off, my stunning silk lamp purchased in HK and delicately carried across the Pacific, works. Mom predicted I'd plug it in and the lights of San Francisco would darken. Ha! My room is one step closer to being the opium den I envision.
I'm back! I'm back! I'm so glad to be back!

Friday, August 20, 2004

so long china...

Well, here we are. It's my final afternoon here in Hong Kong. We leave bright and early tomorrow morning, and arrive in San Francisco at 9am Sunday. Thus, by the time most of you read this, I'll be home, broke and exhausted, but gloriously home. I can just imagine my huge featherbed now. I can see the Diet Snapple. I can predict what'll be on TV. And of course, Bonnie is away for a week in Long Beach, so I'll be bored out of my mind and I'm going to make you all come over and entertain me.
This has been an incredible experience, from dancing with the toothless guy in Shanghai to nearly dying of food poisoning in Beijing. I must say, Hong Kong is by far my favorite city, and I most certainly plan to return. It's pouring rain outside, but I have a few hours of shopping left in me, so at 4, mom and I will hit the temple night market, and I'll pick up the last of the Rolex's and Coach bags. Tonight, it's dinner at felix, the Philipe Stark restaurant on the top floor, and then it's Business Class all the way home. Going out in style, just how I like it.
It's hard being so far away from home, even for two weeks. Thus, Sunday night, I'm going out. I don't care who comes and I don't care where we go. I want a glass of California Cabernet. I want to drive my own car. I want to give you all your presents.
I'm afraid the blog must return to it's usual boring commentary on my daily trials and tribulations, however don't fear. I have both jury duty and traffic court coming up, so I think it's safe to promise hilarity and adventure.
You guys are awesome for reading.

Beth Spotswood has left China...

my night alone as the mysterious american...

Dressed in a tiny lingerie inspired number that sent my mother into both shock and hysterics, I asked Alex if I looked like a hooker. He replied, "Umm, yeah. But a really high priced one." Perfect. My goal, you see, was to spend the evening entirely alone, drinking in the bar alone, then dining alone. As I'm normally terrified to actually sit at a restaurant and have a meal solo, I figured this would be a good way to face my fear. Plus, I'm in Hong Kong at a fancy hotel. This is my one chance to be the mysterious, stunning American girl and have everyone wonder about me.
Feeling slightly slutty, yet still quite fabulous, I entered the elevator to find a Hassidic Jewish man who refused to make eye-contact with me. Oh dear. Perhaps, the wrong choice of clothing. But it's too late now. Previous evenings, I've dropped down to "The Bar", The Peninsula's old school watering hole, and found it rather empty. It's a dark room overlooking the Harbor with a mahogany bar and Ella Fitzgerald in the background. Cleary, my kind of place. In anticipation of my solo evening, I'd tipped well the previous nights, and thankfully, it payed off. Last night, the bar was abnormally packed with a large group of Australlians in tuxedos, and as no tables were available, I was offered a seat at the bar. Fine by me, as I gave me a great vantage point and added to my mysterious quality. I pulled out my book, entitled "Absolutely American" and a pack of cigarettes. I mean, if I was free of the family and in the mood to create mysterious allusions, I was having a cigarette. I pulled out a Marlboro light and before I had a chance to even grab a match, a tuxedoed Australian had a lighter in my face. "Allow me."
How lovely. He offered nothing but a light and went to sit back down with his cronies. An older Indian man walked in, and was ushered to the bar as well. He pulled out a cigar and the obligitory Cigar Afficionado Magazine and went to work ignoring me. Not even the requisite nod to the only other person at the bar, and a woman at that. What an asshole. I did, however, notice his very real Rolex, as he knocked back 3 Tanq and tonics. Suddenly, the action picked up. In walks a tall, 40 year old, freakishly tan English guy, with Hugh Grant hair and designer duds. He sits at the far end of the bar, on the other side of the Indian, and orders something complicated and fabulous. I'm impressed and begin to watch him as he pulls out some businessy stuff and gets to work. The lovely bartendress, Inka, comes by often to check on me, and I take the opportunity to speak loudly so Hugh Grant can get an earful. Soon, he's looking over and making the eyes. He's so freakishly tan, I start to realize it's a fake tan, and that gets me thinking. How cool can you really be, if here you are, swanky british businessman in Hong Kong, and you apply self-bronzer? Not very. He then does the unthinkable. He flips his hair back. Clearly, if I'm playing out my fantasy of being the mysterious American, he's playing out his fantasy of being the debonaire Brit. I hope I'm pulling mine off better than him. He lifts his drink to me, and I see a flash of gold. A wedding ring! Ugh. get me out of here. But it's too late.
Now, he's refusing to even look at his work and is staring at me. I bury my head in "Absolutely American" and hope he asks for the check. Nope, he orders another round and comes and sits next to me. "Good book?"
"Uh, yeah." I reply.
"Ah, well I'm stuck with work, I'm afraid."
"That sucks." I attempt to appear like a disinterested teenager. It doesn't work. He continues. "Hong Kong is gorgeous, really, so I suppose if I had to be working anywhere, I'd work here."
"Oh." I reply. "Does it bother your wife that you're so far away, sitting in bars, or is she here as well?" He chuckles, clearly unaware that I can be far more scathing. "Ah, you're observant. Yeah, she's in London. Stuck here for months, working for Barclay's."
"Really, that's fascinating." I'm starting to find it rude he hasn't asked me a single question about myself. I have all kinds of prepared answers already made-up. He keeps talking. "The views are incredible, aren't they?"
No shit, Sherlock. "Um, yeah. Breathtaking." Then, he says it. "They're even better in my room."
"Check, please." I practically scream it across the room, so much so that Hugh is startled and leaps off the seat. "Sorry. Didn't mean to offend." And he runs back to his end of the bar. The Australians, who've apparently been watching the entire transaction, errupt into laughter. One even comes over as I'm signing the bill, pats me on the back and says, "A gal with sass. Are you sure you're not from Australia?" I smile and hold up my book. He chuckles heartilly, slaps me on the back again, and sists back down.
Slightly shaken, but now quite confident in my abilities, I saunter over to Chasa, some Swiss joint next to the bar. It's dark and wooden, with german phrases all over the walls. This, I think to myself, is what I'd imagine the Officer's Club at Auchwitz to look like. I'm seated at a table in the middle of the room, and make my observations. There are several tables of Asian businessmen, dining and drinking loudly, and paying me little to no mind. And then, the rest of the tables are filled with couples. I'm hardly mysterious to anyone in here, and while I'm a little bummed, I've had my fill for the night and peruse the menu. Turns out, Swiss food is basically German food, and as I can't really pull of having fondue by myself, I opt for a salad and the foie gras. The salad is fine, although huge, but the foie gras is really just a giant piece of liver. Giant. Like something used in medical school exams. I'm terrified, yet have no one to pass it off to. The maitre'd is the only one remotely concerned with me, and he comes over constantly to check on me. "You no like-uh?"
"Oh, no, no. It's lovely. Just so much." He smiles, and sends over a tray of petit fours. I eat my chocolates and drink my latte and watch the restaurant empty. As it's now 10, I'm relatively drunk, exhausted, and feel I've certainly overcome my fear, I sign the bill, and head for the room. I survived my night alone as the mysterious American, and while I hardly has the Lost in Translation experience I was hoping for, I think I did quite well.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

me make-uh you noodles...

After tea, yesterday, I drew myself a bath in our huge bathtub. I hit the mood-lighting button, turned on the flat screen, and sat in the most luxurious bubblebath watching the Olympics and the Drew Carey show. It's interesting what one is forced to watch without the benefit of the ususal 900 Comcast channels. Alex and I have explored MTV Asia, where they actually have Chinese rappers who ramble on in Cantonese and then scream, "Kick it!" every 5 seconds. We've discovered that The Simpsons comes on at 6pm every weeknight, Alex choosing to watch an episode fully clothed in the empty bathtub, just for the experience. We've discovered many random American movies that never quite made it in the States, most of which involve aliens and/or the mafia. There's a Chinese sitcom, but spoken all in English, called Living with LiLi, which is both offensive and divine. Like an auto-accident, as much as I want to, I can't look away. And of course, the ever present Olympics, where Alex and I, feeling homesick and patriotic, scream for the Americans in any event. When all else fails, it's CNN World or BBC. Every hotel has both of those stations, and as is typical on vacations, I'm catching up on the current events. I hate, and really, hate isn't a strong enough word, Richard Quest, that jackass Australlian on CNN, who's a cross between an informercial host and a travelling reporter. Molly Burckhardt, my good friend who's a producer at CNN, is about to get an e-mail insisting upon his immediate removal. This guy makes me want to throw things at the TV, and I think we all know how much I love TV.
Last night, we walked down to Victoria Harbor to see the lights show that happens every night at 8pm. All of the big skyscrapers on the water do a cheesy, 5 minute laser show set to music. I thought to myself that the 9pm laser show at Pier 39 is far more advanced, as Alex leaned over and said, "Color me unimpressed."
Dinner was at a huge Chinese restaurant called The Peking Palacewhich I found loud and packed with a blend of locals and Westerners, all screaming across tables and swinging their lazy susans around. A chef came by, and dramatically displayed his noodle making abilities, which involve slamming the dough on a table and then throwing it around the room. It reminded me of the scene in Big where the chef throws balls of pizza dough at Tom Hanks. Only, there was no Tom Hanks.
After dinner, I dragged Alex to explore the restaurants in the hotel, as I have to select one to dine in alone tonight. My initial plan of dining at Gaddi's, the fancy French place with chandelliers and 8 waiters per table, may be thwarted as they have live music consisting of a sequined clad Phillipino woman singing early 90's easy listening backed by a synthesized band of elderly musicians. Alex pointed out that some sleazy European is going to come up as ask me to dance, and while it would make good blog fodder, I don't know that I'd actually be able to go through with it. My other choices include a Swiss restaurant, which appears quiet and romantic, but I don't know how mysterious I'd look, and The Veranda, which is the kind of restaurant The Golden Girls would hang out in. We shall see.
Today, mom Alex, and I are off to find the markets. The knock-off selection here is greatly lacking, especially compared to the wonderment of Mainland China. I think I screwed up, guys. In my attempt to save room and wait till I got to Hong Kong, I may have passed up the good stuff. I'll do my best, though. I am a shopper, and if there's knock-offs to be found, I shall find them. In fact, if shoping were a sport, I'd be in Athens right now. With 2 days left, I've got my work cut out for me.

kicking it with royalty...

Mom and I decided to meet at 5 and hit the shopping arcade here. Dad, insistent on having a sportcoat custom made by one of the many Hong Kong tailors joined us, and we began our shopping extravaganza by assisting him in the selection of his fabrics and buttons. It was actually quite fun, watching dad stand in the middle of this room, a little Chinese tailor draping fabrics all over him, and mom and I saying, "Oh, I don't know. Maybe darker. And longer in the arms? Shhh, dad. Don't speak. We'll handle this. Um, maybe a heavier gold button. Mom?" "Oh yes, and I like the red lining. It's very classic and snazzy." Once we called the shots, we left dad to be measured and went strolling along the designer shops, pausing to watch the arrival of the Crown Prince and Princess of Nepal. You gotta love this hotel.
I gave mom the scoop on Shaghai Tang, one of my favorite stores which is impossible to find, and of course, there's one here. She and I spent and eternity in there, and now mom has a fabulous black shirt with a red sequined dragon on it. She looks incredbly foxy and if any of you feel like dropping a paycheck on something hot and unavailable in San Francisco, check out www.shanghaitang.com.
We then swung by Manolo Blahnik, noting the 50% off sale. I cannot express to you what those shoes do to me, but it's close to sex with a celebrity. We also admired the ridiculous diamonds in the jewelry stores, drolling over the 9 carat diamond ring. Although mom, with far more subtle taste than her daughter, claimed she would be embarassed to wear such a monstrosity. I think that's baloney. 9 carats? That's a house in Pacific Heights. My former employer at Beach Blanket wears a 7 carat diamond, and whenever she'd talk to Zoe and I, we'd just watch that hand fly all over the place, unable to divert our eyes. But, I guess that's the idea.
Before dinner, Alex and I hit the old school hotel bar for a quick cocktail. As soon as we sat down, I noticed what appeared to be a German business man, about 35, with a cheap, poorly dressed hooker wearing ALL baby pink. I was fascinated, and could not look away. Alex and I spent most of our drink attempting to eavesdrop and making observations and comments. We agreed, based on both the uncomfortable and awkward conversation and body language that she was definitely, as Alex put it, a working girl.
I convinced the family that as we were so close to India, this is the plave to have Indian food. The conceierge recommended a place across the harbor, so we took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island. Taking that ferry is unlike anything I've experienced. It was extraordinary, like we were in a movie. I've seen the biggest cities all over the place, but I can honestly say, Hong Kong is becoming my favorite. I never had any idea a place like this existed. Like a planet with a civilization far more advanced than our own, multi-colored highrises surround a packed harbor, everything glowing and sparkeling. Marvelous.
We took a quick cab ride to Veda, the Indian place, which was far swankier than I'm used to but fantastic. Mom and dad, never the biggest indian food fans, are now converted. After a quick ferry ride back, Alex and I decided to check out the 3 bars on the top floor. The private elevator has ever-changing mood lighting although, I'm sad to say, the clientele was old and cheezy. It was packed with a bunch of rich old guys, who turn their head at every gal who walks in. I saw a teeny little Asian trophy nearly fall down a neon flight of stairs as she attempted to maneuver them in a matching Channel mini and stillettos. Honey, leave it to the experts.
The next day we met Jupiter in the lobby. Jupiter is 26, speaks perfect English, and never shuts up. She's been to San Francisco 4 times, her ex-boyfriend lives in Hayward, and she backpacked all over Europe last summer. Clearly, growing up in Hong Kong and growing up on mainland China are two very different things. We hit Victoria Peak, Aberdeen fishing villiage, and Stanley market, as well as some mandatory jewelry factory. We've been forced into a bunch of places like this, and it turns out, it's required of the tour guides as the manufacturers give kickbacks to the tour groups. Jupiter was the only one to fess up to this, and it all makes sense now. Mom and I decided we like Jupiter, and although she'd talk your ear off till the end of time, she's full of gossip and uses phrases we haven't heard in ages, like "screwed up" and "what's that about." Ah, glorious slang.
Back at the hotel, dad and Alex went off to find Chinese food and English bookstores, while mom and I opted for high tea in the lobby. Tea at the Peninsula is on the list of things to do before you die, and it was quite an experience. Surrounded by gabillionaire Chinese wives, Japanese businessmen, and tourists, we dined on watercress sandwiches, scones with Devonshire cream, and petit fours, along with the obvious tea. It was awesome, compounded by the fact that the Nepalese royals made many grand enrties and exists during our meal. Then, I spotted him. Whispering, "Mom. Mom. That's him."
"What! Who! Where!"
"Shhhh. That guy over there. With the Nepalese royals..."
She looked around blindly, screaming, "Who???"
"The guy with the hooker. From last night. Over there. Shhhh. Just look. The tall Westerner with all the royals."
The royals are easy to spot, as their short, they all wear dresses, and the men wear little funny hats. Mom finally spotted him. "I thought you said he was German."
"Well, that's what it sounded like to me. Oh my god, he's here with the Crown Prince and Princess of Nepal and he gets a hooker for the night. Classy."
I wonder if I can sell this to the tabloids. This is far better hotel gossip than some stupid Japanese rockstar that stares at the infirmed and dying. This is pure royal scandal and I'm at the center. Okay, maybe not the center, but clearly the only witness to a travesty. Fab. U. Lous.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

spots has hit the motherload...

But before I get to that...a day of travel:
We awoke at 5:30am and were greeted in the lobby by our old pal, Mr. Yen. He drove us to the Guilin Airport where we literally walked right onto the plane and found our seats. Unfortunately, we were surrounded by 50 pushy German tourists who kept dropping their huge carry-ons on Alex's head. I shot them dirty looks and kept mumbling something about the gestapo under my breath. After a 45 minute flight on South China Airlines to Guangzhou (formerly Canton), we landed and attempted to disembark. The Germans, however, had some extreme need to get off the plane before the doors were even opened, prompting a loud and annoyed, "You need to chill out." from me.
At the luggage terminal, there was no sign of a guide to take us to the train station, so I was sent to the greeting area and was promised my bag would be located and taken care of. Wandering around the airport looking for someone holding a sign saying anything resembling "Spotswood", I mistook 3 people for our guide before finally finding him. A middle-aged Chinese guy that spoke great English, he introduced himself as "Kelly" and informed me that the drive to the train station would take 45 minutes, and the high speed train ride to Hong Kong another hour and 50 minutes. Fine. I'm normally not even awake yet, so what do I care. The family found the bags, including mine, and headed over to meet us. Mom kept calling him "Kenny", but otherwise, it was pretty easy getting to the train station, all the way across Guangzhou, aparently the biggest city in Southeast China.
The train station resembled Calcutta during a Ghandi speech, and we were forced to fight our way past the chickens, goats, and legless beggars to the ticket counter. Informed that they only took cash, and my father now famous for being consistently cash free, we ran Amazing Race style to an ATM, and with much help from me, dad was able to aquire some scratch. As Hong Kong is considered foreign still, with different money and English as the official language, we had to go through customs and get a SARS test, which consisted of lasers in our eyes and some machine that magically took our temperature. With minutes to spare, we made our train and had a lovely ride to Hong Kong. We spent our last yuen on a gross train-prepared lunch and dad seemed to worry the entire time about getting some HK dollars at the train station. Ya know, I bet they have ATM's there too.
They did indeed, and as soon as we went through customs again, and more SARS laser tests, we found said ATM and a taxi line. I cannot express to you the level of BO I encountered in that taxi line, but I think it's fair to say it was substantial. So having traveled by van, plane, train, and taxi, all in one morning, we pulled up to the world famous Penninsula Hotel in Hong Kong and here I am. As we entered the lobby, a string quartet played "Yesterday" from a balcony overhead. I looked up and smiled at them. They looked down and smiled at me. I was tempted to request "I think I'm Gonna Like it Here" from Annie, but thought I should probably play it cool. Shops in the lobby include Manolo Blahnik, Tiffany and Co., and the ever-present Armani. Out bathroom has a flat-screen TV with DVD player built into the marble wall, and the robes are plusher than anything I've ever felt in my life. Our 23rd floor room has a view of metro Hong Kong, and a Philipe Stark designed retaurant and bar on the top floor is open till 2am. On my way down to the Business Center, where I have my own office, mind you, I chatted with the bell boy about where the hip and happening party here. Now, I've got the scoop and plan to hobknob with the jetsetters upstairs once the folks hit the hay. We're here for four nights, leaving bright and early Sunday moring. And no, dear Andy, I return on the 22nd, not the 23rd. In fact, we leave HK at 11am Sunday moring and arrive in SFO at 9am. This is one crazy planet.
I must say, after an exhausting day of travel and new and unexpected smells, it's all been worth it. I shall now retire to my room, steam my gown, and plan my next three days.
I have one fantasy in Hong Kong, and the family has agreed to it. I want to spend one evening alone, drinking alone and dining alone. I have this fantasy of myself as the mysterious, American woman travelling alone at the Penninsula Hotel, dressed fabulously, reading a book at a table alone. I want everyone to wonder who I am and what I'm doing here, and I don't want to talk to anyone I'm related to. The key word is alone. Alone. Alone. Alone.
You people have 3 days of freedom left. Send your last minute requests for Chinese curios and I'll do my damdest. And now, to tea...

indescribable...

I should be curled up in bed asleep, as I have to be on a plane in hours, however the events of the past few hours are too bizarre and I'm terrified I'll forget them. Tonight, Mr. Yen picked us up and took us to some hotel, where we were to have dinner and a cultural show. We were ushered into a huge atrium auditorium, where only 2 other people sat, both Americans. A stage, with a large digital screen above it, was at the center, and hundereds of empty tables and chairs surrounded it. We were then presented with a fixed menu, and discovered our meal would consist of prawn salad, minestrone, steak and a baked potato, banana pancakes, fruit, and coffee. We were also allowed one cocktail each. Dad and Alex chose beer, as mom opted for her traditional Chardonnay, and I ordered Evian, which was apparently extra, but I'm taking no chances with this water. We also ordered a bottle of our now standard wine, Great Wall, and all agreed that this would be incredibly wierd if there were only 6 people in the audience. Dad, carrying only cash as he's now terrified of pickpockets, asked if anyone else brought money. No, why would we. Dinner arrived, but no other guests. At this point, mom and I got the giggles. Dad pointed out that he felt perfectly fine, and wouldn't care if he were the only one in the audience. The trick was to clap fast, as it would seem there were hundereds of us. Finally, just as the show was about to start, maybe 10 more people joined us in this huge theater, although they didn't eat. Wise of them, but live and learn. Mom expressed concern that the stairs leading up to the stage inplied audience participation, but I pointed out this was traditional, minority Chinese dance. How could they integrate us?
The show began, with a woman dressed in sparkly Tibetian attire, and in broken English, welcomed us. Above her, on the digital screen, scrolled her lines, just in case we couldn't understand her. This continued throughout the performance, with every 10th word misspelled. The cast consisted of 10 tiny Asian gals and 4 Asian queens, who took their roles far more seriously than their female counterparts. Dressed initially in a combination of Martian and peasant, I was instantly enthralled. The dances, which could have been choreographed by Paula Abdul's less talented assistant, was hilarious, as were the ever changing, over the top costumes. It looked like a Saturday Night Live sketch, although we weren't supposed to laugh. I could do nothing but wish my friends were there to witness this event, as words don't exist to adequetly describe it.
In every country, under any circumstance, if someone is going to get pulled onstage, it's going to be Alex Spotswood. Starting at age 10, getting his head chopped off by a magician on a Carribean cruise, Alex always seems to find himself hand in hand with some scantilly clad hussy getting dragged into the spotlight. He's a big, tall pretty boy who's always a good sport. God bless him, tonight was no different. Twice, I repeat, twice, the boy dived in and performed, beautifully, I might add. In hysterics, I snapped away at my disposable as he made faces at us from the stage. With about 15 people in the entire audience, he felt perfectly comfortable hamming it up. As he descended the stage, I shouted, "Fabulous! Encore!" at the top of my lungs.
The show lasted far too long and had about as much to do with traditional Chinese minority culture as the Starbucks on every corner. As it was finally time to go, and meet Mr. Yen in the lobby, the bill arrived. Dad looked it over, and then looked up in horror.
"I don't have enough money."
My mother, finding this the most hilarious thing ever to occur, couldn't speak she was laughing so hard. It was agreed that Alex go run and get 10 yuen from Mr. Yen.
"Mr. Yen, I apologize, really. God, I'm so sorry. We're 10 yuen short."
He returns with the 10 yuen ($1.30 US) only to find we're 20 yuen short. Again, he runs into the lobby to find Mr. Yen. With the bill finally paid with borrowed money, we agree to get the hell out of there. Laughing so hard we can barely stand, we agree that begging this poor, old Chinese guy for 3 bucks is far better than washing dishes in the back, even if there were only six of them.
I cannot belive that a) we agreed to go to such a bizarre showcase of Chinese bad taste, and b) that my father, who drives a car that costs more than a condo in Guilin, was 3 bucks short on our bill.
Oh. My. God.

selective communism...

China seems to have selective communism, although that that is communism is pretty out there. Mom's fascinated by the whole "one-child rule" and asks about it often. Apparently, if you're pregnant with your second child and can't afford to bribe the government, soldiers will come in the dead of night and forcibly take you to have an abortion. The government regulates ALL newspapers, as news should inspire and encourage the people. Oh, in America, we like our news to inform the people. All judges and juries are for show, while a government central committee really decides the fates of criminals, with firing squad death penalty given to murderers, drug dealers, and bank robbers. Guilin, the town I'n in now, has a population of 500,000 and an average of 33 criminals are put to death here every year. I spent a month selling cheap joints in college. Had I done so here, I'd be tied to a pole and exectued.
The thing about being in some tiny fishing town in the middle of nowhere, with my baggage at it's maximum, means I can't shop and explore what interests me and get massages. I'm actually forced to learn about the country I'm in. Apparently, this is why most people travel in the first place. Turns out, it's kinda interesting. I don't really want to pontificate in some pseudo-intellectual diatribe about why China is so backwards and our way of doing things is much better, but quite frankly, it is. Communism has never worked, even selective communism as they have here, and I can see why. Sure, there's free enterprise, but it's found through bribery and exploitation of the poor and uneduated. The fact of the matter is, no one is truly free to say what they want or live how they please. Women lack all power, and while most work, they earn far less than their male counterparts. True in America as well, obviously, but the gap is dramatically wider here. It's shocking and sad, particularly as America and China do so much business. Why can't we smoke Cuban cigars but purchase Coke produced here? It doesn't make sense, and while I have no idea what it's like to live in Cuba, it can't be any worse than China.
And now, for my judgemental commentary on the past 24 hours...Last night, we passed up the "Forest Gump Restaurant" and hit some joint that had both Western and Eastern food, pleasing everyone. Alex and I headed back to the hotel to watch Olympic weightlifting, while mom and dad walked around and shopped. We awoke this moring to meet Mr. Yen in the lobby to head off to our Li River Cruise. Occasionally, Mr. Yen's cell rings, and mom and I can't seem to stiffle giigles as he's chosen "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as his ringtone.
At the docks, we're hustled onto one of several huge, old, ferry-type boats, the Westerners being separated from the Chinese tourists. Apparently, the Chinese tourists pay half-price. We were on a boat with a bunch of Italians, who sucked down Marlboro's like there was no tomorrow. The boat ride was pretty spectacular, and Mr. Yen hid himself well. Occasionally, he'd show up to point out to strangely shaped hill, and we'd all pretend to see the lion or steamboat or pumpkin he'd point out. A few hours into the ride, we had a buffet lunch of disgusting Chinese food and french fries. I knew the food was inedible, as we could see it being prepared on the other tourist boats that flanked us. The kitchens, you see, were open decks at the back of each boat. A fishing raft would pull up and hand over live fish, which the "chef" would then grab and bang against the floor of the ferry until the fish was nearly dead. I decided to pass on most of the buffet, especially considering my recent bout with parasitic SARS.
The boats docked in the early afternoon in Yangshou, an even tinier fishing villiage packed with hikers and climbers, here for the mountaineering. It truly looked like Southeast Asia, which is essentially, where we are. I bought a communist t-shirt and drinkable water. After wandering around Yangshou, we drove the hour back to the hotel quizzing Mr. Yen on all things Chinese.
"We make-uh much lice here."
"Oh yes." says dad. "We make rice in California too." A pause. "But not as much as you make here."
Mom lost it. No shit dad. This is China. My father is famous for stating or asking the bizarre, in the interest of appearing informed or interested. His last famous quote occured 3 years ago, while on safari in South Africa. In the middle of the bush, guided by Jerome, the Matt Damon-esque safari guide I'm still waiting for to come and whisk me away, we stop to observe hippos in a small pool of water. "Now Jerome," says dad, "What's the difference between Rhinoceros' and Hippopotomous'?"
About the same as cats and dogs, dad.
Finally back at the hotel, we're being taken to some Chinese minority dance show this evening. Tomorrow, we leave at the break of dawn, literally, on a plane for Canton, where we then take a train to Hong Kong. Thus, I should be in Hong Kong by tomorrow afternoon, on a real computer which might be able to post these blogs. Hong Kong is still considered a foreign country by the Chinese and thus, we must spend our remaining yuen before tomorrow afternoon. Considering I have about 25 yuen left ($3), I don't think that'll be a problem.

Monday, August 16, 2004

"this is a pretty trashy town"-joanne

Last night was our final night in Beijing. To celebrate, I decided to have a solo drink in the lobby bar. To know me is to know I love hotel bars, and I find nothing more pleasant than sitting in an upscale one, drinking my Cabernet and silently observing those around me. I chose a table towards the middle and ordered something French sounding. I then proceeded to pretend to read my book while taking inventory. I was instantly delighted to notice I was the only young woman sitting alone and there were 3, yep three, hot, young guys sitting alone at different tables. I made the requisite eye contact with each of them and then began to fantasize about all of the fabulous reasons they would each be in Beijing. the one sitting closest to me was obviously American, reading a Nick Hornby novel and drinking beer. Another was a stunning black guy dressed in Paul Smith and drinking something girly. I made a note that we had a possible homo. The 3rd appeared a little too backpacky for me, but what the fuck. I'm in Beijing. Beggars can't be choosers. I did the occasional look up from the book and smile, although the only one staring back and smiling was the hot black dude. Homo confirmation.
A group of 20 year old Brazillian soccer players were sitting at the bar, and had finished their drinks and left. A few of them stood yards away, by a huge floral arrangement, and I noticed them looking at me and giggling. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw two approaching me.
"Excuse me." they both appeared terrified.
I looked up and smiled. "Hi."
"Yes" said the obvious leader, "Can my friend have one of these?"
He pointed to a Pingle sitting in the silver dish before me. (The Chinese are obsessed with Pringles. Even at the fanciest of bars, I'm always presented with them. Mm says it's because they travel so well.)
"Of course. You may have them all!"
He nervously grabbed a single Pringle and they both ran off, high fiving their compatriots and turning around shooting me huge smiles. I laughed, at which point the Nick Hornby guy looked up and laughed to. A ha! My chance. I considered sending over a note and a drink, and as soon as I mustered the courage, who shows up but my brother. Hornby shoved his head back in the novel and that was the end of that. Foiled!
We went to dinner at a terriblyfancy place called Aria, where I spent the evening dodging the stares from a hideous businessman at the next table, resembling a less atractive Mr. Kotter. Dinner, however was fabulous, and I had an incredible foir gras with tomato chutney that blew my mind.
Today, we left at the break of dawn and arrived in Guilin after a 3 hour flight on Hainan Airlines. No, I've never heard of it either. Guilin is a tiny fishing villiage, about 200 miles from Vietnam. This makes sense, as it looks exactly like Vietnam does, at least in the movies. We were greeted by our guide, Mr. Yen. Hardly a 20-something Asian beauty queen, Alex descibed Mr. Yen as resembling the evil villian in a James Bond movie.
"A-welcome to-a Guilin. Me take-a you to hotel and den we see da caves of magic and you very long flight. you rook at lice patties."
Oh dear. Oh dear indeed. As our rooms weren't ready yet, Mr. Yen took us directly to the aforementioned caves, which resembled the Small World ride at Disneyland. We immediately insisted on going back to the hotel and relaxing, as tomorrow is a 7 hour boat ride down the Li River and then a dinner and cultural performance designed to make tourists think China's got their shit together. The thing is, they don't. Not around here, at least. Mr. Yen kept pointing out all these empty buildings, apparently once lived in by locals but then kicked out by the government in order to develop the property into money-making businesses. The thing is, they can't develop anything. No one wants to rent. So they remain empty, and the people that were once perfectly happy living there are given a thrid of the value of their property and sent ot the country. Nice.
Guilin is tiny compared to Shanghai and Beijing, and about 20 years behind both. We've been warned sevral times about thieves and robbers, and I'm now, of course, terrible paranoid.
More importantly, however, I have to run as my dad and Alex are a half an hour ahead of me at the 2 for 1 drink special at the bar. And they do have, oddly enough, a killer Sangria.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

alive and shopping again...

Oh, what a difference a day makes. The dreaded tapeworm, parasite, or small Asian that entered my system seems to have left, and after 13 hours sleep, I'm a new woman. As I return home in a mere 7 days, I have much to do and much to buy. Today, I made up for lost time. After breakfast, which I was delightedly able to keep down, we hit the Silk Market. There is no silk at the Silk Market, but there is fake silk, and fake everything else. As told by Jason the flight attendant, this is the place to buy North Face. So I did. Alex picked up some Lacoste and Adidas, and I must say, is quite good at bargaining. The student, it seems, has become the master. We ran into another family, much like ours, and both moms comisserated at how their sons love to haggle.
Often on these trips, I spot families just like ours. They're always from a coast, the dad is always carrying a International Herald Tribune, the mom has expensive walking shoes, tons of maps and travel books, and a good, non-designer bag, and the kids give us knowing looks. Many of my friends find it bizarre that my family takes a big trip together every year, but we're not alone. I remember at 17, we went on a European cruise up to Russia and through Northern Europe, and I met MacKenzie, a 20 year old from Greenwich, CT travelling with his family and 16 year old sister. "Ah", he said when he saw me, "Travelling with the family on a non-optional world tour? Let me charge you a drink." We spent an all nighter in the bar, trading war stories of the bathrooms at the Louvre and pickpockets in Rome. That night, he taught me how to order champagne as we toasted our travels. When we left ship, he found me and said, "Hey Beth. Maybe I'll see you at the piramids, next time." One can only dream.
After shopping at the knock-off extravaganze, we hit the Ghost Market. Possibly the most famous market in China, this was unlike anything I've ever heard of. Covered stalls filled with painted human skulls, revolutionary memoribillia, Tibetian jewelry, caligraphy brushes, and tons of old anitiques were packed with locals and tourists alike. I found a little shop along the side selling amazing black and white photography. In a bin in the corner was a pile of old, rejected photos. I pulled up a stool and spent 30 minutes shuffling through them, pulling the ones I liked. My uncle Ted, a frequent commenter here on the blog, is a photographer who would have died upon entry into this place. It became inperative that I find him something. For mere pennies, I walked away with a handful of old photos and the undying love of the girl running the shop.
Amidst the stalls, I found incredible, old jewelry and accessories. I bought some silver and jade earrings for Mercedes and tried to talk dad into buying me a vintage cello. No luck, although he promised to buy me a silk lamp in Hong Kong if I carried it on the plane. Gladly. This was his way of getting out of buying me a real Cartier watch, as my fake one tragically passed away. To his dismay, there's actually a Cartier boutique in our lobby, and I found it a sign that I was meant to have one. Apparently not.
Mom and dad headed off to explore some palace and architectural feat of genius, as Alex and opted to cab it back to the hotel and order room service burgers. Ah, civilization. Tonight, we're off to some fancy French joint, and bright and early tomorrow, we leave for Guilin. I have no idea about this Guilin place, but we're only there for two days to see the Li River and some random caves, and then it's off to Hong Kong. I can't wait to get to HK, as I consider it an international mecca. All things cool are in Hong Kong, as well as more knock-off markets. And I can stock up there, as our flight home has no baggage weight limitations. Although, all you boys that have requested Rolex's, keep in mind my prinstinely maintained Cartier lasted a week. I make no promises that your watches will survive the flight. I shall do my best, however. Though should I get arrested at customs, you'll have to bail me out.
I'm off to check out the pool, hoping to spot my Japanese rock star friend and make actual contact. He sat near us at breakfast this moring, listening to an MP3 player and bobbing his head like he actually understood the gangsta rap I'm positive he was listening to. Oh, you crazy foreigners. I've become an expert at hotel gossip, and have befriended many employees in my need to be nosy. Being so far away from home, I have no idea what's going on with my friends. I'm desperate for info and must resort to spying on Australian tourists and Japanese rockstars. It's midnight on Saturday in San Francisco. I know you guys are out partying without me and it's driving me nuts. If there's anything I hate more than food-poisoning, it's being out of the loop. Send me e-mail gossip immediately.
As an aside, my brilliant and gifted friend Jesse just updated her website. Check it out and buy everything. www.thejessebcollection.com
Props to her and Zoe for sending me updates and headlines. I'm assuming I can update from Guilin, but as no one's ever heard of this place, who knows. We shall soon see.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

guess who got food poisoning...

And I'm not talking about that wimpy, Westernized, once I had old salad dressing food poisoning. I'm talking the Third World, SARS based, internal organs imploding, wish you were dead kind. After dinner, at a seemingly safe restaurant last night, I decided to forgo a romp through town with my family and hit the hay. After all, we were hiking The Great Wall the next day and I wanted to be well-rested. At 1am, I shot out of bed. Pain emminated though my entire body and I immediately got violently ill. Violently. I can not express to you the ammount of pain I was in last night. I can only imagine what it's like to give birth, and this was significantly worse. By 3am, I was convinced it was a tapeworm or something equally gross and tropical. By 3:30, I was ready to call an ambulance. By 4, I had to wake Alex up, really just because I was beginning to think something was seriously, seriously wrong and I needed a second opinion. After watching me writhe in pain for a half hour, he went over to mom and dad's and explained the situation. Mother, who, as I've said many times before, isn't really the mothering type, found me curled up in the fetal position crying hysterically. She crawled in bed with me, sent Alex to sleep in her room, and literally rubbed my back until 7:30, when it became clear I had to make a descision about how I was going to spend the day.
As I could barely stand, getting dressed proved complicated, but I made my way down to the dining room. 3 bites of yogurt and I immediately ran for the bathroom and lost it all. Back at the table, and in so much pain I found it hard to not scream, I ran out into the lobby sobbing and cluthing my stomach. Standing alone in a corridor, close to death, I couldn't believe my luck. Today, of all days, when I'm supposed to knock off my 3rd wonder of the world, I get sick. And my family was trapped, as they were terrified to leave me alone, yet really fucking wanted to see The Great Wall in China. Another wave of pain shot through my stomach as I collapsed onto the marble floor in tears. I looked up to find the Japanese rock star standing over me, silently staring. Upstairs, I found mom and admitted I might need to see a doctor. In goddamn Beijing. This terrified all of us, and mom decided to go talk to our guide, Annie, patiently waiting for us in the lobby. It was agreed that Annie, dad, and Alex would go find some kind of medicine and mom would stay with me. In the hotel room, I curled up on the bed and screamed into a pillow, half from the pain and half from the frustration.
The boys soon returned with a curious concoction that smelled like mint and they instructed me to drink it. I did, and and attempted to lie back down. 30 minutes later, with it made perfectly clear that this was our only opportunity, probably in any of our lives, to see the Great Wall of China, I decided to go. In retrospect, probably not the wisest choice, but one I had to make. I looked up and said, "Let's just get this goddamn wall over with." It was agreed.
It took an hour to get out into the country, and as we pulled up to a parking lot, I saw no wall.
"Oh no." says Annie. "First we learn about jade."
Fabulous. Another attempt at forcing us to buy crap. I was still finding hard to stand upright, must less feign interest in the jade making process, and mom hustled us out of there. Next, were the Ming Dynasty tombs. I'm sure they were very interesting, but I spent that time on a bench with my head in my lap. I ran to the bathroom as another wave of hell consumed by body but found that the toilets were merely holes in the ground with no toilet paper. Dying or not, I couldn't do it. I've never peed in a hole in the ground and it's a record I intend to keep.
Lunch followed, at some government run place that serves you food as rapidly as possible, and then you're supposed to shop in their wherehouse of Chinese crap afterward. Our dining table with filled with plates and plates of fabulous food, yet all I could get down was 3 bites of plain rice and some Hot and Sour soup. After lunch, mom piped up, "Let's go buy you some silk jackets!"
It was so bad, I didn't even want to shop.
I went outside and sat in the sun. Finally, around 2, it was time to head over to The Great Wall. I must admit, it's impressive. Packed with tourists, it climbs thousands of miles into the hills and looks exactly like it's supposed to look. I made it 100 yards, sent my family off, and sat in a corner. Hours later, they descended, drenched and ready to collapse. I was finally starting to feel somewhat better, as we piled in the van with Annie and headed back to the hotel. I slept the entire way home, and now can aknowledge I'm about 75% better. My stomach can still be heard across the room, I'm dehydrated and red eyed, and frustrated as all get out, but it appears I'll live. Considering I wasn't so sure about that a few hours ago, I'm delighted.
No one can determine where I contracted this dreaded parasite, although theories include that I drank the water you're not supposed to drink or had too many Chinese Pringles. I think I was the jackass that ate a piece of undercooked meat last night, and hopefully, 24 hours and wierd Chinese medicine will cure me of my malady. Tomorrow, thank god, it's shopping around town at will. I must say, when faced with the prospect of death versus having an ambulance pull up to the Penninsula Hotel and cart you off to some delapidated hospital, I pretty much risked death.
After all that, I saw The Goddamn Great Wall of China. And like a Mongolian, nearly died on it.

Friday, August 13, 2004

that person is accustomed to the clothing...

Both yesterday and today, I passed a shop called, "That Person is Accustomed to the Clothing." I wonder if it was the same shop, or if it's like the Chinese Gap. KFC is huge here, and while I barely believe my eyes, they've Asian-ized the Colonel. Literally. That picture of him that's all over KFC looks like the dad in The Joy Luck Club.
Today, after breakfast, Annie picked us up for a huge day of touring Beijing. I'm actually starting to like her more, as she's pretty laid back and seems to cling to me. She's 28 and very curious about California. First, we hit the Temple of Heaven, which is where the emperor prayed twice a year to his father, the ruler of Heaven. Mom found this very confusing. "I thought he was Buddhist? Is he praying to his biological father? I don't understand." Hello? He's the emperor. Regular religion doesn't really apply here. I mean, he thinks he used to be a fucking dragon. Don't question. Just accept. This is also where they used to sacrafice little six year old boys and girls, calling them golden dragon (boys) and jade pheonix (girls). Cozy.
Then, we drove to Tien'amien Square, which was packed with 68 billion people all trying to sell us crap. We could have waited in line for 4 hours to see the actual dead body of Chairman Mao, but thought better it. We walked over the The Forbidden Palace, essentially across the street from the square, and walked the entire length, about 2 miles. The Forbidden Palace is very recognizable, as it's in a milion movies and has that big portrait of Mao at the front gate. It's 650 years old and was only opened to the public in 1928. I found all the concubine stuff the most interesting, as they were sent away to a seperate palace once they turned 40 and were never heard from again. Kind of like a Chinese Menuedo. Everything here is symbolic, from the roof tiles to the inlaid floor. You start to block it out after awhile, as really, who cares. It's all pretty and obviously has some long story. With so many tourists pushing and shoving, I really just wanted to get out of the way and breathe.
After lunch, we toured the Summer Palace, where the emperor spent April thru October. It's huge, of course, and has a monstrous lake in the middle. Many, many tourists were fascinated with us and wanted to have their pictures taken with the Americans. I was delighted to oblidge. Annie said they'd never seen a live Barbie doll before. I knew I liked her. Apparently, they see very few Westerners, and we really look American. We're constantly stared at, and have taken to staring back. Many of them point out my long neck, often touching it and then errupting into laughter. Um, get your fucking hands off my neck, Ming Lao.
The most interesting part of the Summer Palace was hearing about The Dragon Lady, the Last Emperor's mom. Also known as the Dowager Empress, she was a hardcore bitch who loved to inflict pain and suffering upon those she hated. Her husband, who I'd imagine to be the 2nd to last Emperor, had a favorite concubine, who sang and danced beautifully. The Dragon Lady was, of course, horrible jealous of her and the day after the emperor died, she had the concubine's arms and legs chopped off. The concubine, still alive mind you, was then put on display in a huge glass jar. Annie told us that as a child, her grammar school class got to camp out at the Summer Palace. "Golly." I said, "I'd be afraid of the Dragon Lady's ghost."
"Oh yes. We sit around and tell all scary stories of Dragon Lady chop up people."
This is the kind of stuff I love. I could just imagine the Dragon Lady, bitter and bitchy, with her 2 favorite eunichs who did her hair (queens), parading around her summer palace chopping people up. That's so much more interesting than hearing about why the roof is yellow and dragon's paws point east.
Finally, we hit the Pearl Market, where you can apparently get great deals on really good pearls. I don't want to give anything away, but I'm a fucking awesome roommate.
Tomorrow we walk the Great Wall, although hopefully not all 3700 miles. I'm actually pretty excited to see it, just because it's the fucking Great Wall of China, built to keep out the Mongolians. All I know of the Great Wall is really what I've seen on that episode of South Park (Damn you Mongorians!) and that it's the only man made object you can see from space. None the less, it's on Dad's list of 1000 things to see and do before you die. As I'm staying in room 666, it's good I'm knocking a lot off the list.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

the people's republic of smells...

Where do these smells come from? Every day, I'm bombarded with an ancient blend of aromas that shock my system and make my eyes water. I can't figure it out. The Chinese have a very different sense of what tastes and smells good or bad. Desserts are uber-sweet and covered in pastel crap. Beef is always hot pink and oddly flavored. Yesterday, I detected hints of lime popscicle flavor in my stir-fry.
We took a cab over to Lotus Lane last night. Lotus Lane, recommended by the concierge, is kinda like Epcot Center's China. There's a big lake in the middle, with all kinds of paddle boats you can rent, and then a promenade around the lake packed with super trendy bars and restaurants, where waiters wear Dolce and Gabbana sarongs with sequined tops and faux-hawks. We seemed to find the only legitimate Chinese restaurant, where dad ordered his standard bottle of red and bottle of white. We each picked 2 things off the menu and the table was soon packed with a wide array of unrecognizable food. I wasn't in a drinking mood, still exhausted and nauseous from my day of hell. That however, didn't stop anyone else. There we sat, along Lotus Lane, overlooking a lovely little lake and sparkely lights, and mom, dad, and Alex were getting trashed. Through the eyes of sobriety, I observed my family and came to the following conclusion: The reason I'm nuts is because these people are nuts. My father insisted upon finishing both bottles as a matter of national pride. My brother and mother seemed to have cause-less giggles, particlarly my mother who gets louder and louder with each sip of Chardonnay. Alex, when drunk, apparently spills food all over himself. I practically had to carry the 3 of them to the cabs waiting at the gates of Lotus Lane. I crawled in the front, and packed the AA meeting in the back, where my then father lost it. He literally couldn't breathe, he was laughing so hard. At what, you ask? He saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken tram carrying around Japanese tourits and I said, "Look. It's the KFC zoo-tram." I think he peed his pants. And when my dad laughs that hard, he makes no noise. He just turns red, shakes, and slaps himself, which of course, makes everyone else start laughing. At one point, he and Alex started to wrestle. My mother, ever the voice of intellectual observation, looks out the window to the packed streets of Beijing and says, "If they have that birth control law, why do they keep multiplying like rabbits?"
For all that food, booze, and fun, dinner cost $40 US. They're practically giving it away. (Oh wait. Fight in the Business Center. I must eavesdrop.....Oh dear. A very well-dressed American woman's credit card was denied and she's livid. Fabulous. Speaking of which, there's a Japanese rock star staying on our floor, and he looks like a sketch from Saturday Night Live.)
Today, Annie is picking us up and we're exploring the Forbidden City. Now, as I generally love to see places that have been in movies, I'm pretty excited, save the fact that it will take all day and I'll probably be ready to shop by 11am. Also, watching my mother try to converse with someone that speaks relatively good English is upsetting. It's like she thinks their deaf AND retarded. Lots of thumbs-ups and similar. It's hard to watch.
I'm off to breakfast. Maybe, I'll sit next to the Japanese rock star and he'll hire me to style his upcoming tour. Although, he's gonna need to lose that Catwoman look.

the sign of satan...

We are now in Beijing, at The Penninsula Palace Hotel, and Alex and I are in room 666. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Not only that, but mom and dad are next door, which I generally hate as I'd prefer the annonymity of being on a different floor, but their room isn't even ready yet. At 4 fucking pm. Thus, we're all crammed in room 666 exhausted, cranky, and dreaming of The St. Regis. I had to get out. So I came to The Business Center. At least I know when to separate myself.
Everyone is driving me nuts. My mother referred to John Mak-lo-vitch and I was ready to stab her with my complimentary pen. My father, assuming all things are foriegn and different in China, couldn't figure out how to twist the top off a bottle of Evian. Literally. I'm ready to kill these idiots that created me. Yes, yes, I know they're wonderful parents who, as my grandmother puts it, whisk me all over the world. But this is the part of family vacations I dread. I'm 26. Having dinner at my parent's house requires that I bite my tounge every 15 minutes. We're on Day 6 of being stuck with each other, it's hot as a mother-fucker, and the sound of my family's voices is making my ears bleed. I keep listening to my CD player spinning "Shut up" by The Black Eyed Peas, just watching their lips move.
We took off from Shanghai in a typhoon, and of course, it's pouring rain in Beijing. It was so hot and humid on the fucking 1970's East China Airlines plane that you coulda steamed rice. Annie, our scantilly clad guide here, informed us to have a big breakfast as we're walking everywhere tomorrow, about 7 miles, and we won't get back to the hotel till, like 6. Thus far, our schedule has been doing our own thing in the moring (my thing being shopping) and then returning to the hotel in the early afternoon for spa treatments or similar. 8:30-6 hiking all over town with the broken english bombshell is not what I had in mind.

This is what it's like travelling with me. I'm in such a shitty mood, I'm ready to kill the Mid-western idiot at the compter next to me. My god, who are these people? I get that this is an incredible experience, that I'm seeing things most people never have the opportunity to see. But think of all the places you want to go, then imagine going there with both of your parents. It gets hard. Really hard. And suddenly, your mother says Maklovitch and you're ready to fly home. Fucking Maklovitch. Are you kidding me?

My CD player has become my therapy. I block everyone out with my constant replaying of the same songs. Every trip, I bring a million CD's, but only end up listening to 3 of them, obsessed with hearing the same thing over and over. I can't explain it. This trip, it's the entire Scissor Sisters CD, minus the last song, The Last Emperor Soundtrack, and Gavin DeGraw singing a cover of "Against All Odds" which breaks my heart everytime I hear it. The only thing that has the ability to put me in an instant good mood is "Filthy/Gorgeous" by The Scissor Sisters, as I've envisioned an entire video starring me, which I performed for Alex last night. It involves me crushing martini glasses with my fabulous Manolo's on the bar at The Redwood Room.
I just called Alex up in the room, who informed me that it's safe to come up. The folks have now moved next door, to room 668. As he's saying this, however, I hear in the background, "Hey Alex, how do you work the lights?"

Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

tragedy strikes...

Mom lost the digital camera. The one with all the pictures of me dancing with the old man. The one with basically all of Shanghai on it. The one she wouldn't let anyone else carry. Well, it's an excuse to buy a super fancy new one here, and at least it didn't happen at the end of the trip, but it fucking sucks ass. She left it in a cab, of course, and the amazing staff here have made every effort to track down her driver, even reviewing the security footage from the front door, which they found. No one could read the liscence plate, though, and thus, the camera is gone. We'll get over it, and mom's taking it the hardest. Ah well.
Yesterday, we hit the insect and fish market. It was bizarre, made up of a serious of intensly smelly alleys. Crickets and bugs and millions of turtles, all within this little residential ghetto. I took a million National Geographic-esque pictures if Chinese children in doorways, and old men asleep on rickshaws, but I'll have to describe them to you. (Okay. Still a little pissed about the camera.) Afterwards, I needed some alone time, so I went off to the fancy mall section of town. An expert shopper in the States, the malls here are pretty similar, and I felt suddenly at home. Many of the stores are the same, and many, many are different. There was a store called 45 Surftime USA, which was the Chinese attempt at Pacific Sunwear. I poked around, and when I told the staff I was from California, they went nuts.
"Oh, Hollywood! Surf and Turf! Hang ten, posse!"
Um, yeah. That's exactly what it's like. The one thing that IS exactly the same here as it is at home is Starbucks, right to the chalk board behind the counter. I got a Frappuchino and secretly and silently thanked mass globalization.
When traveling in such a different country, you do get this global perspective you'd never get reading and book or watching some documentary. But you also get culture shocked. At some point, and I hit that point yesterday, the communication barriers, the heat, the wierd food, the lack of tact, the pushy packed sidewalks...it all gets to you. But, I guess that's the point.
I came back to the hotel and watched Sparticus on HBO.
Before dinner, we ALL needed a drink, and went to the bar on the top floor. They have a lovely little appetizer spread and free booze and we got quite comfortable. For dinner, we hit 1221, a trendy Chinese restaurant favored by ex-patriots. This seemed good, because the food here really is different. And, not in a good way. 1221 has Chinese food like you and I think of Chinese food. It rocked, we went through 2 bottles of wine, and I think I agreed to produce dad's election night show. After dinner, mom and Alex hit the sack, but dad and I hit the Mezz Lounge and had some Santori. I passed out (literally) at midnight, and awoke hungover and hideous at 6am. I gotta say, when dad decides to toe one on, it's hard to keep up. But overhwlmingly entertaining. As we got on the elevator, he says, "Well Bethy. Those are all my secrets."
Wait. I've already forgotten all the good gossip he just told me. Fuck!
We're off to Beijing this morning. I'm a little sketchy about this flying domestically in China, for two reasons. One, the bag weight limitations are fierce, and I've, of course, purchased half of Shanghai, and Two, This is a 3rd World country. I'm not so familliar with their pilot training. Well, if I die, I die. But at least I'll be wearing Cartier. (Which is still ticking....mom predicts it'll be dead by Honk Kong. Whatever. This from the woman that bought fake Louis Vuitton sunglasses...)
Beijing...Interesting. Here's to hoping there's an uprising. Maybe, I'll start one!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

attacked by a beggar....

Oh my god. Where to begin? First of all, normally, I write in the afternoon, but last night was so nuts and I was wide awake at 5:30, that I had to get it all down now. Alex and I decide to come down to the hotel bar early and have a drink. We've been doing this every night and we love the staff at Mezz, the mellow jazz bar on the 2nd floor. We've become kinda palsy with the staff and no longer have to order. They simply bring us our wine and beer. John, the waiter there, keeps telling Alex, "You sister so beautiful. I no pay attention to you."
"Perhaps you two would like to be alone?" jokes Alex. I think John took it a little too seriously. Soon dad showed up and we were off. Dressed to the nines, we took a cab to dinner at M on the Bund, kind of a cross between Postrio and a W Hotel restaurant. It was super trendy and right up my alley. Mom wanted to see some more pictures on the walls and huge floral arrangements, but it's the kind of place I'd hang out in if I lived here. Dinner was extraordinary, literally. The food was flawless Mediterranian fusion and we were all in heaven.
Immediately after dinner, we had to run over to the Peace Hotel, as we had reservations to hear some jazz. Now, if you'll recall, this was MY idea. I love Jazz clubs and envisioned some sort of 1930's dimly lit Chinese version of the Cotton Club. As if walking the 5 jam-packed blocks in gold stilettos weren't traumatic enough, a block away I ran into an old, depressing beggar. As I tried to walk around him, he reached for my handbag, which I held in the air. Being about a foot taller than him, the clutch was perfectly safe. I, however, was not, as he then grabbed me around the waist and basically tried to rip me apart. I screamed bloody murder, mom kicked his cane, and we ran across the street clutching each other and desperate to find dad and Alex, who seemed to be lost in the crowd. They, of course, missed all of this and when told, didn't really care. Nice.
Shaking, I drag everyone into the Peace Hotel, which looks significantly tackier and cheaper than described, and inquired as to the jazz. Pointed in the right direction, we follow the "music" and enter what appears to be a poorly decorated beer hall filled with tank topped Germans and Koreans who have their picture taken with their waiters. A band made up of 90 year old Chinese men plays "In The Mood", as we check in and our shown to our table, front and center. First of all, I feel like an idiot walking in there dressed so fabulously. But, that was the least of our problems. Just as we sit down, a dreadful, middle aged, Maitre'd appears out of nowhere and screams, "No. You no sit here. Table reserved. You move. Come with me."
"Wait." We say. "What are you talking about? That woman sat us here. We made reservations."
"No, table broken. You sit here." He motions miles away, to the back of the cellar. I think I saw a rat scurry across the floor as I get in his face and say, "Go talk to that woman. We made a reservation. " He runs off to the front desk and returns. "Me so sorry. You go back and sit."
Like assholes, we walk in front of the band again and sit back at the origional table.
All a little wierded out, especially as this huge scene was made about us, we attempt to order drinks. As they have no wine by the glass and I'm pissed, I have an Evian. Dad attempts to order a Santori, because, "for relaxing times, make it Santori time", but is brought a Gin and Tonic instead. The music is dreadful, compounded by the fact that they have a laminated set list on the table. Songs include, "Denny Boy" and "My Heart Left in San Francisco." Typos aside, other songs consisted of favorites like "La Cucaracha" and and "Mambo #5".
"This isn't jazz." whispers Alex. No fucking shit. The trumpet punctures my eardrum, and we agree to down our drinks and get the fuck out of there.
In the cab, we all decide we need a real drink, and Alex and I insist we go to Mezz. John is delighted to see us, and immediately brings Alex's beer and my wine. Dad gets his Santori and mom, needless to say, has Chardonnay. We're having a lovely time, listening to real jazz, when John nervously comes up to the table. "You such nice family. It so good to see you and serve you. I want to give you special gift." He's holding a red velvet box, with gold embroidery on top saying, "St. Regis. Shanghai." "I present to you." he states looking at me, and he hands me the box. On the spot, with Alex stiffling hysterics, I open said box to reveal gorgeous chocolate truffles.
"Oh, John. That's so sweet. You're so nice. How lovely." He kind of smiles, and then sprints away. My family can barely stand it, they find this so funny, but I dive into my chocolates and curse the Peace Hotel. The Mezz Lounge is awesome. When we finish our drinks, John returns again.
"You from America, yes? You know the television, uh, Growing Pains?"
And then, the most fabulous event occurred. He pumps his fist and screams, "Michael Seaver!"
Seriously. That's brilliant. Alex goes, "You know Boner?"
"Oh Boner! I like Boner."
We laugh, get up to leave, and say, we'll be back tomorrow.
"Oh no. I no here tomorrow. So sad. I no see you."
Dad shakes his hand, which sends him into bliss, and I consider hugging him. Rethinking that maybe that's not the best idea, I thank him profusly and leave.
I think it's safe to say, drop my name at the Mezz lounge, and they'll take care of you.

taxi drivers wear white gloves...

Last night, we went to this restaurant recommended by the conceierge, serving traditional Shanghai and Hongzou food which is supposed to be fabulous. Upon arrival, we were greeted by 5 (yep, 5) yellow clad greeters, all of whom said, "Good morning." Each of us selected some menu items, and when the head waiter was sent over, he informed us that we wouldn't like several of them, and thus, insisted we order something else. "You no like. You Westerner. It too different for you." Whatever. When I attempted to order a glass of wine, I was told wine was only available by the bottle. Fine. Am I allowed to have a fucking bottle? Indeed I am. Within 20 minutes, dinner was fabulous and hilarious, and we all stumbled over to see the acrobats. It was actually pretty entertaining, with lots of plate spinning and tiny girls who could do the unspeakable with thier bodies. Mother sat next to some people from Indianapolis, and afterwards, when asked about her chat with them, she replied, "They're the reason George Bush is going to win."
This morning, I can tell you, was one of the most incredible mornings of my life. Alex and I got up early, and were in the gym by 7. By 8:30, we were gloriously fed and in a cab on our way to some park. Mom and Dad's best friends, Dori and Greg, spent 3 weeks in Shanghai last year, and insisted we get to this park before 9. Apparently, all kinds of older Chinese people do tai chi and ballroom dancing and singing in the park every morning. I sounded interesting enough, so off we went. Immediately, we could tell this place was awesome. It's a huge square park, and there were 20 or so groups of people, all doing different things. One group was made up of 15 older women, all dancing in unison with fans, another group danced with swords. 70 people, arranged by height, sang all kinds of folk songs. Everyone seemed to have a little go cart with a tape player attached, knocking out the background music. We couldn't stop taking photos, as everything looked like it was right out of a PBS documentary.
Towards the far end of the park, there were maybe 50 couples, all doing ballroom dancing to a go-cart boom box. A huge crowd of locals surrounded them, and they were clearly the biggest group at the park. All of a sudden, as I stood taking pictures, an old little Chinese man comes up and motions for me to dance with him. "Oh no, I'm no good." Mom pushed me forward, and the next thing I know, I'm ballroom dancing with this guy, and a bunch of other couples. The locals find this hilarious, as does, needless to say, the rest of my family. The song was long, and our dance kicked ass. This guy, while having 3 teeth, was pretty good, and twirled and dipped me for what seemed like an eternity. It was adorable, and the entire time, I kept thinking, "I'm in mother-fucking Shanghai dancing with some old, toothless Fred Astaire in a public park at 9am."
The song ended, the crowd errupted into laughter and applause, my dance partner and I hugged and bowed to each other, and off I went. It was incredible, unexpected, and awesome.
We explored the rest of the park, watched some old people playing cards and spitting, and headed off to see some tea garden in another section of town. Not before, of course, dad bought himself a can of beer. You can all call me an alcoholic as much as you want, but Dick Spotswood downed a Tsing Tao before 10am, and I've got a picture of it. I bought a can of something called "Hey Song Sasparilla" which will travel the world with me and don my mantle when I get home.
The tea garden was interesting, really because our cab got pulled over and we had to deal with the fucking Commie police. The dude was a complete asshole and we took pictures this dreaded fuzz while giving him dirty looks. After lunch, mom, Alex and I went to the antique market and got all kinds of old crap. Because I am the greatest fag hag in the world, I bought Andy a 1930's opium pipe which may or may not get through customs. I didn't score any opium, but I think we can figure out a way to make it work. I also purchased a Chairman Mao poster, army bag, and musical lighter, while Alex got a fake Rolex for his best friend. All in all, a beyond successful day.
Tonight, it's dinner at some fancy place called "M on the Bund", and then 1930's jazz at the Peace Hotel, apparently famous for it's jazz. This is the one place I've picked to go to, so I hope it works out. You never know, though. The things you think will be awesome often suck, and then you show up at some public park at the break of dawn and end up dancing the morning away with a charming, toothless Asian man. Ah, travel...

Monday, August 09, 2004

faux heaven...

Today, in addition to experiencing Chinese culture and shit, I bought 2 Tiffany bracelets, 1 Tiffany necklace, 2 North Face backpacks, Channel and Ray Ban sunglasses, and a Cartier watch, all for about $60, US. Although, it nearly came to fistacuffs several times. These people didn't know who they were dealing with. I'm no yokle tourist. I've haggled all over the world, I can haggle here. "Hey pretty lady. You want Burberry? You like Channel? Vuitton? Yes, you like. You name me good price." They grab arms and pull on bags. It's intense. Then, they pull out a calculator and type in a price. Next, I grab the calculator and cut the price in half. This continues until I pretend to walk away, and suddenly, everything's practically free. They catch on quick, listening to us talk, and then yelling, "Hey Alex. You like North Face? Alex? Alex, you want Tag Hauer? You like Gucci?" Incredible. This exists in every major city here, and apparently, they crack down at the airports. Fools. I'm shipping it all back. This is glorious.
Long Live China!
Tonight, it's acrobats. Maybe, they'll pull Alex onstage. For now, Alex is getting some aromatherapy massage and I'm about to go read my scary books. Maybe, I'll have some tea sent up. Whenever you run into any staff here, it's "Good day, madam." "It is my pleasure, madam." Make eye contact and it's, "What can I get you, madam?" Nothing. I'm in the elevator.
I hope I'm not being racist, as these people are Chinese, not Japanese, but I find myself bowing a lot. Ah well. Me foreign tourist. No know culture in China. Me learn to say words.
Actually, all I ever say is shei shei, which is Thank You. And then, I bow.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

95 and humid as all get out...

With 17 million people, Shanghai is twice the size of New York City. Needless to say, today I got lost. We had dinner last night at The Grand Hyatt, on the 55th floor overlooking some huge, lit, globe representing some Olympics of the future. I was so exhausted, I don't even remember getting back to our hotel. We passed out around 11, and Alex and I awoke easilly at 5:30 this moring. Wide awake and rarin' to go, I decided to work out as soon as the gym opened at 6am, and then swam 25 laps. By 7:30, we went to the huge breakfast buffet here and gorged ourselves until it was time to meet up with mom, dad, Rei the guide, and her nameless driver, in the lobby. I saw all kinds of Chinese people having chow mein and beef stir fry for breakfast. I had a croissant, scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit, and the greastest cup of coffee ever made.
Rei took us first to the older part of town where it looks very imperialistic and British, but with bicycles and rickshaws everywhere. We toured a small museum there, and everyone stared at us. Then, she took us to this school in an old brick building, where we actually sat in on classes filled with 6 year olds. Literally, the 4 of us found ourselves in tiny classrooms, with little kids instructed to perform for us. An entire class sang us two songs, then a room full of tiny little ballerinas did a fabulous interpretive dance for us. We saw calligraphy and art classes as well. It was awesome. We just walked in and interupted their classes, and they acted like this was the most normal thing in the world. As we left each class, they all said in unison, "Nice to make your aquaintance!" Upon departure from the school, the teachers kind of rangle you into an office/giftshop where they encourage you to support the school by buying crap. So we did.
Mother was desperate to go to some Jesuit cathedral, because apparently every catholic cathedral in Europe in't enough for her. Poor Rei took us there, as I asked her to describe Buddhism. Hello, Joanne. If we're going to hit the churches, as you insist on doing in every foreign country, maybe we should check out a temple. I think I've got this Christianity thing down.
Then, Rei drags us to this rug factory, which everyone else claimed to be fascinated by, but I found boring. Plus, they practically force you to buy rugs, which we didn't. Please let it be time for lunch.
It was. Rei informs us that we'll be having Mongolian BBQ, and it was totally bizarre. This place is hugely touristy, as we were 4 of many "roundeyes" in there. The deal is this: you grab a bowl, then fill it with an assortment of raw meat, vegetables, and various sauces. You bring it to a window, and some dude throws it on a flaming metal disk. Once it's cooked, he throws it back in your bowl, and badda bing, stir. They also had a salad bar, where the two salad dressings available were ketchup and "Egg Mayonaise". Thank you, no.
It's at this point that I start to feel violently ill. Mom and I go to the ladies, where we discover that you flush the toilet by pulling an old rope attached to the base. The women next to us spoke in German, the only word of which I understood was SARS.
After lunch, Rei decided we'd hit The Shanghai Museum of Art, which is pretty interesting. I'm very into the furniture and the clothing. They had jade bracelets from 37BC and Tibetian prayer robes that blew my mind. But, as I still felt like ass, I told mom I was cabbing it back to the hotel and split. My big plan to get back here was to take a postcard of the hotel and show it to the driver. In China, you sit in the front seat of the cab, and as no one speaks any English, must find ways to explain where you're going in a city this fucking huge. He seemed to understand the postcard. Turns out, not so much.
Thru tunnels and over bridges, through the ghettos of Shanghai and the highrise, tacky apartment complexes, we drove and drove, nearly killing many along the way. 25 minutes into the ride, I pull out the postcard again. I point to the chinese writing at the bottom. The driver gets a look of horror on his face, as he flips the car around and hightails it in the opposite direction. An hour later, here I am. The cab ride cost me 3 bucks. Not bad. And I've seen more of Shanghai than the cast of the Joy Luck Club.
I've got to say, for as jet lagged and food poisoned as I am, this is one of the most fascinating and different places I've ever seen. It's extraordinary the number of people and the level of culture. I feel that we, as Americans, are nothing but cultureless cowboys. Everything looks different, from the cars (today, I drove in a VW "Santana") to the buildings, which range from old Chinese structures with ducks and wet clothes in the window, to Vegas-like monstrosities with orbes and flashing lights. For a Communist country, there's a huge difference between the rich and the poor, which I don't really get. I'm kinda chicken to ask Rei pointed questions, although mom had no problem pointing out to the rug factory guy that since he had one son and no daughters, he must be delighted. "Don't you people prefer boy babies?" Nice.
We have our own private butler named Ken, and I'm about to go upstairs and ask him to send my clothes to laundry and bring me some tea. I wonder if Ken can handle me sending underwear to be washed? There's only one way to find out. I think it's interesting that we come all the way to China to a hotel that gives you butlers, and his name is Ken. I asked mom and dad if their butler was named Troy. Mom didn't get it.
Tonight, it's the 1930's jazz club at the Peace Hotel, I think. At least, that's my vote. For now, it's to tea and then, to sleep. I hope this blog thing works from here. E-mail me and let me know. Sheshe. (That's thank you.)
PS. Today, at lunch, my dad goes, "You know who'd love this? Bonnie." Um, yeah dad. She would. Bon, hop a flight. Dick feels like buying you a Chinese beer.

...and I've already seen a rickshaw...

Here I am in gorgeous Shanghai. This is fucking awesome. But first things first.
...and now, a minute by minute account of the past 14 hours of my life...
At check in, we were told that the probability of Alex and my being upgraded was high. We were instructed to wait to board, and if spaces were still available in Business Class, we'd get them. Long story short; they weren't. We angrilly flew coach and I decided to entertain myself by detailing the hell I knew I was about to endure.
2:15pm PST, We're scheduled to take off now. Why aren't we? The movies are 50 First Dates, Hidalgo, and Shrek 2. Um, no thanks.
2:45pm, Fuck You United. I'm listening to an electronic device during take off.
3:03pm, Take off
3:15pm, fill out foreign entry cards, befriend gay steward, Jason, whom I now love.
3:25pm, start drinking shitty wine. (Brooks Hollow cabernet. Beware!) I bet they have better wine in Biz. Class.
3:51pm, start to pretend I'm on my own private plane, jetsetting across the globe. Alex wants to know why I'm still wearing sunglasses as I read Elle.
5:30pm, Extreme boredom setting in. Mom stopped by to rub in coach. Mix of Vallium and wine making me begin to cry at Avril Levigne (sp?) song? Worrisome.
6:15pm, I hate all music. I've read my Elle twice and am too antsy to read my book. Sent Dad to get us Biz. Class snacks. Are we there yet? Starting to hate those around me.
6:20pm, Dad brought us cheese and grape plate. Consumed in 2 minutes as we didn't want to get caught with fancy snacks. I wonder what all my friends are doing?
6:31pm, have become fascinated by cheapest pillow in the history of air travel.
6:35pm, I'm starting to hate my outfit.
7:15pm, Dad appears with sandwiches, chips, and Toblerone. Fuckin' Biz Class.
8:00pm, disccovered Chinese man across from Alex reading United's copies of Ebony and Shape En Espanol. Curious.
8:25pm, Jason the steward stopped by with a list of great places in Shanghai and Beijing for pearls, knock offs, and cheap massages. Fabulous.
9:00pm, bizarre snack of Chinese Cuo O' Noodles, mini-apple, and short bread. Gave Alex gross soup. I hope Dad keeps the snack train coming.
9:10pm, forced to tackle stewardess for coffee. I bet they have biscotti in Biz Class.
9:28, Alex is fascinated with woman across from him who keeps staring in his direction. We've decided to actively spy on her and the Ebony guy, who seem to have become friends. Seats 61 H and J.
9:40, addition of coffee to system has me on speed-like high. Convinced I should get a Scissor Sisters logo tattoo somewhere on me. This is the greatest album I've ever heard in my life.
9:43, So Bored and can't see the video screen. 61 H and J are now networking with those around them.
9:50, Fuck Biz Class. Equality, not Economy!
10:00, on a Friday night. I could be at The Redwood Room having not only fun, but sufficient legroom.
10:05, show big map on screen. 4 and a half hours till Shanghai. We're past the international dateline and nearing Japan. Okay. This is cooler than The Redwood Room.
10:59, starting to get noticeably horrible. Craning neck to see Shrek 2. Air conditioning blowing in my face. Been here for 9 hours. Oh god. I actually just drooled on myself.
11:46, nearing Japanese coast. We're going 565 mph. Less than 3 hours left. Dad came by with more provisions from civilization, including cheddar cheese and jelly beans. I feel sick.
12:25amPST, somewhere over Tokyo. Hour 10 of flight. Ready to parachute out of here.
12:26, Why are they showing the safety video again? Getting second wind.
12:32, Second wind gone.
12:40, Alex is asleep with his mouth open and I'm tempted to put things in it. Is physical pain worth a chuckle? Let's see...Yes! It is. I have the hardcore giggles now. Putting pens in Alex's mouth. In hysterics. Alex still asleep. Never been one for such cheesy comedy. Must be delirium. But that doesn't mean I'll stop. Feeling very obnoxious. More so than usual. Must cause trouble.
1:03, did my shower, tooth brush, hair styling, re-make up in the potty. Peeked out window at Japam below. Looks as I remeber it.
1:25, This food is appalling. Some kind of pasta with red sauce, random melon, and shitty cookie.
2:00am PST (5pm Shanghai.) 15 hours ahead. 45 minutes till landing. Oh god. They're about to spray us with bugkiller. Alex is taking pictures.
2:25am, descending! Over East China Sea. I never heard of East China Sea. 15 more minutes! Some one just applied a gallon of cologne. Damn you, Duty Free...
2:40, Alex pipes up, "It looks like rice paddies." All flight attendants congratulating us for surviving coach, especially Jason. Alex wonders aloud how gays always find me immediately. I'm blessed, I guess.
2:45am, (5:45pm Shanghai time) Touchdown. Holy Shit, we're in China.
We were met at the airport by Rei, our fabulous little guide. We made it to this gorgeous hotel within and hour of landing and are getting ready to go to the Grand Hyatt's "Canton" for some swanky dinner. It's 5am to me right now. And I'm not that tired. Although a little dazed. But, hells bells, y'all. I made it.
Gotta run. I think they're changing me a limb per minute.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

leaving on a jet plane...

I'm getting excited. In 27 hours, I'll be on a plane bound for Shanghai. Red China. The People's Republic. Oppressors of Tibet. Makers of knock-off designer bags. China. Similar to Home Alone, mom and pop are flying Business Class and Alex and I are waitlisted. If we can't upgrade, we'll fly 12 and a half hours in steerage, with the goats and the chickens. Do they even have seatbelts back there? Although, my beloved sibling pointed out that at least the booze is free on international flights. (He's his mother's son.) I have been an indentured servant to any miles plus program, and have thus been able to upgrade consistently. I think the last time I flew coach, the inflight movie was Dick Tracy. (Speaking of which, as a nerdy aside, did you know that Benicio Del Torro's "Fenster" in The Usual Suspects was an homage to Dustin Hoffman's "Mumbles" in Dick Tracy?)
A little business to attend to, as this is my form of communication to everyone I know.
1. Bonnie has our contact info. If someone dies, tell her and she'll tell us.
2. We sent out the Evite for our huge Anniversary Extravaganza. If you read this, you're so invited. Email me and I'll add you to the list.
3. The next time you hear from me, I'll be in China, filling you in on the hilarity, tragedy, and constant fighting that makes up Spotswood Family International Travel. I hope mother packed the Vallium.
No one's allowed to have any fun while I'm gone.

Beth Spotswood has left the country...


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

foreign cinema...

Bon and I just got back from dinner at Foreign Cinema. We split the cheapest bottle of red they had and ended up having an in depth discussing on sex. We were laughing so hard, I think we offended the next table, but screw them. They were French. Our waiter (also French) was a total asshole, and I think he was silently judging us. Whatever. You can take my dirty plate away now, you frog.
I returned home to an e-mail from my friend Christine who was worried that there'd be no blog updates while I'm in China. Fear not. It's the land of technology. I'll be filling everyone in on my adventures near daily. I hear they have a wall there. I'll be sure to tell you guys all about it.

Monday, August 02, 2004

intellectual snobbery...

I'm currenly reading 3 books, one of which is an attempt to re-read the origional Les Miserables in French (I'm on page 4). The others are trashy, drugstore novels that cost nickels and I secretly love. Today, upon reading the following passage, I finally decided that I can no longer consider myself an intellectual snob and it turns out, I'm just as stupid as everyone else, if not stupider.

"Fuck English in the ass with a hydrochloric acid dildo. The wave of the future is science."

commenting...

Sign your fucking comments, pals. That way, I'll know who to be nice to and who to exclude from parties. Although, lately, I've taken to posting response comments myself. Check 'em out. I'm all sassy 'n shit.

that's right. I am dangerous...

Last night, I watched Tom Cruise: Inside the Actor’s Studio. Oh. My. God. What a freak.

Have I told you my theory about huge, international celebrities? I maintain, that once you reach a certain level of celebrity, you begin to lose your gauge of what’s normal and what’s not. So many people fawn over every little thing you say, you can basically do no wrong, and people always laugh at your jokes. You have no gauge of when you’re being funny or not, when you sound smart or not, when you’re making an ass of yourself to us regular people, because you are surrounded (whether you want to be or not) by people who do nothing but kiss your ass. I have 3 excellent examples of this.
1. My friend Lauren is currently an actress in LA. Prior to this, she was an actress in New York. While there, she appeared as slut #2 in a Ricky Martin video. She found herself filming a scene in a nightclub, squished into a booth with Ricky and some other skanks, and having to talk to Ricky in between takes. He spoke of Puerto Rico and his love for water. At one point, a production assistant piped up and said, “Oh Ricky. I love water, too.” Ricky high fives this jackass, and the entire nightclub applauds.
2. While watching a “Making of The Gladiator” on HBO, I observed Russell Crowe (that’d be Oscar winning Russell Crowe) wandering around the set pretending his sword was a penis. This is in the background, while the director is being interviewed. When it’s finally Russell’s turn to be interviewed, he cracks some off-color jokes to the dead silence around him. He then spits, gets up, and walks away.
3. Finally, we come to the great Kevin Spacey, who has so many gauge infractions, I don’t know where to begin. At a televised tribute to the Beatles, he performed “Mind Games” onstage (entirely solo), while sweating and dancing around like a drunk uncle at a wedding. I could see him at some meeting months before, coming up with this grand scheme to show off his skills, and no one, not even his closest advisors, had the balls to say, “Uh, Mr. Spacey. Perhaps that’s not the best idea.” Worse, recently, he was cruising some gay park in London at 4am, let some tweaker steal his cell, called the cops and said he was mugged, and then called back and said, nope, actually I gave some tweaker my phone. I lied before. “Oh, no problem, Mr. Spacey. We all understand. (snicker, snicker.)”

The point is, at a certain level, you can no longer tell what is acceptable behavior and what is not, because you have an entourage of 27 people who give you a standing ovation every time you take a shit. Tom Cruise has reached that point. Last night, on Inside the Actor’s Studio, I became so embarrassed for him, I was forced to change the channel. I took notes. Hold on. I’ll get them.
Fist of all, he’s taller than James Lipton, which let’s you know how fucking short Lipton is. Interesting. Tom has trouble answering direct questions. When asked about childhood financial hardships early in the interview, Tom goes off into this diatribe about how those hardships build character and gets all philosophical, to the point of not making sense. Shut up, Tom. We just wanted to hear about how you had to gut fish or clean train station bathrooms. Save the propaganda for the Q&A.
And talk about father issues. When asked why he changed his name, he practically hit James Lipton for suggesting he wanted to disassociate himself from his father. After 10 minutes of ass kissing and coddling, Tom says he changed his name because he wanted to disassociate himself from his father. Hello? Every question sent him off into some intense personal place of incoherent justification of god knows what. He rambles and pontificates and never comes to a point. (Yeah, I know, I know. Shut the fuck up.)
Of course, they touch on the movies that Tom wants to talk about. Sure, there’s no mention of Losin’ It or All the Right Moves. But no Cocktail? Come on! We spend 45 minutes on Vanilla Sky, and no fucking Cocktail? That’s a bunch of malarkey.
The thing is, even though Tom Cruise is practically from another planet, it’s not really his fault. He became a superstar at 21, and as we all know, 21 year old men are very, very stupid. So, people have been telling him he’s a genius since then. Plus, look at him. My god, he’s glowing. They showed all kinds of baby pictures, and Tom was a strikingly good looking toddler. He’s gorgeous, and even though he makes no sense and can barely function, he’s so fucking beautiful, you just smile and nod along with everyone else. Keep talking, pretty boy. We don’t care about what you’re saying, we just want to see those teeth.
I would just like to take this opportunity to say that you fine people have no problem telling me when I’m making an ass of myself. When I’m a huge, international celebrity…you can all kiss my ass like crazy. I’m going to dress like a drag queen and publicly sing and pretend my sword is a penis. Why? Because I can, that’s why.
Isn’t that the whole point of being famous?