Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Delicate Sense of History: [Turning Over in His Grave]

This image is what I thought China would be like; strong, gray and stoic and devoid of any emotion and mysticism. A socio-political commentary manifested in steel and stone. I thought the city would be riddled with these grand industrious and abstracted geometric forms of Mao and the loyal citizens of the Peoples Republic of China depicting social progress and political stability.

Little did I know that only image of Mother China constructed in this manner is of Chairman Mao on the Bund. Ironically the Bund is the part of the city that the British and French built in the early 1900’s and is currently the hub of tourism in China. The architecture of the area is ostensibly French and reeks of English pomp and circumstance. The symbol of industry and egalitarian progress is surrounded by street vendors hocking anything and everything from cheap “Made in China” goods to ferry rides on the Huangpu. I think Chairmen Mao is turning over in his grave…..

The Beautiful Children of Tagaytay

Christina and I hiked to the top of the Taal Volcano in the Philippines. It was an amazing experience. You begin the trip by taking a banca (which is a Filipino outrigger) from the mainland across Taal Lake and anchor at a local village on an island. Then you do the actual hike up the volcano. When we landed on shore we were greeted by some of the happiest and most beautiful children from the local village.

I will elaborate on this little adventure another time is because I would like to share some thoughts about gratitude and happiness that we experienced from these local village kids and share some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. For the meantime, here are some pictures of the kids we fell in love with�

Monday, June 16, 2008

Precious little ghost

Most people (including me, until I moved here…. we can thank the LAUSD for that) think of China as a monolithic homogeneous country and culture. On the contrary China is comprised of several diverse minority groups. The reason for our (my) misconceptions is due to the fact that about 92% of the Chinese population are of the Han Chinese ethnicity. There are however over 56 other minority groups that make up the people of China. Unfortunately these “other” 56 ethnic groups are a “silent minority”. Among the glitz and glam of a new and improved China, they simply live as ghosts in their own country. Many of them know only a life of poverty and begging. When I saw this little girl, my heart broke…..

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Below is an excerpt from my friend Eric’s blog. I met Eric in Shanghai, China when we both signed up as free agents on a local basketball league. Our team sucked but I got the opportunity to meet some pretty cool new friends. Eric was one of the victim’s of “Shanghai’s Revolving Door” but it has capitalized on it and is on a 5 month (I think) “walk about” on this side of the globe.

I envy Eric because he is doing everything that I wished that I had done in my early 20’s. He’s traveled all over the world and has seen some interesting things so it’s always fun read his blogs and find out “where in the world is Eric now”. This is one of my favorites…….

Previously on....Tales of Interest:

(Scene: Korgas, China-Kazakhstan Border Crossing. Translated from the original Chinese)
Me: I want to go to Almaty, Kazakhstan. What time is the bus?
Chinese Taxi Driver: No bus today. Bus Monday.
Me: But today's Friday. There has to be a bus today. There's supposed to be a bus today.
Chinese Taxi Driver: Border crossing closed. Holiday. You go Monday.
Me: Goddamn't. Why didn't anyone tell me the border was going to be closed before I took the night bus all the way here from Urumqi. Well what the hell am I supposed to do here until Monday. There's nothing here.
Chinese Taxi Driver: Get hotel 3 days.
Some Other Taxi Driver: There is train going today at 6pm from another border crossing far from here.
Me: There's no way I'm hanging around here for 3 days. How do I get to this other border crossing.
Some Other Chinese Taxi Driver: Take taxi then bus then taxi.
Me: Are you sure there's a train today there? You're not lying to me just so I'll take your taxi?

(Scene: Train Station, 350 km away at another China-Kazakhstan border crossing)
Me: Is there a train to Almaty today?
Attendant: No train today.
Me: I thought there was a 6pm train today?
Attendant: No.
Me: When's the next train?
Attendant: Sunday.
Me: Goddamn't. I hate you Chinese taxi driver. Is there at least an internet cafe in this shit hole?

(Scene: Uzbekistan Embassy, Almaty, Kazakhstan)
Me: How many days does it take to get a visa for Americans?
Worker: 10 working days without letter of invitation. And we're closed on Fridays.
Me: Goddamn't. What about with a letter of invitation?
Worker: One day.
Me: How long does it take to get a letter of invitation?
Worker: 10 working days.
Me: Goddamn't. I'm not hanging around here for 2 and a half weeks. Screw it, I'll just fly to Nepal.

So I made it as far as Almaty, Kazakhstan (which wasn't easy) and then had my central Asian travel plans foiled by outdated Soviet bureaucratic visa requirements for Uzbekistan. In any case Tibet is still closed to foreigners and traveling by land through Pakistan to India probably was never my best idea. I still blame the Chinese Communist Party and I have long memory. They will pay. Almaty was actually a very pleasant city but no one told me it's as expensive as Western Europe. Stupid Kazakhs with their oil and gas money. That Borat movie was incredibly misleading.

Anyways, Nepal has to be one of my favorite countries in Asia. The Kathmandu valley was fantastic and although I generally dislike large Asian cities due to their being overcrowded, overdirty, overhot and haphazardly built, I really liked it in Kathmandu. The old city had incredible Hindu and Buddhist art everywhere. And I mean everywhere. On every block there was centuries old sculptures, wooden window carvings and temples. Durbar Square could rival anything in Europe.

Basically all the tourists stay in the tourist ghetto of Thamel. There you have narrow maze-like streets comprising of trekking stores selling fake North Face stuff, travel agents offering trekking trips, souvenir stalls, and restaurants, followed by every thing I just mentioned again and then repeated ad naseum, in that exact order. It can be a bit much at times but I stayed at what was an oasis in the craziness, Kathmandu Guesthouse, one of the best places I've ever stayed at. The Beatles stayed there in the 1960s (or if you prefer, only a few weeks ago, Ricky Martin) and the place just has a great atmosphere where I met tons of cool people.

Almost everyone who comes to Nepal does some trekking in the Himalayas. They're almost twice as tall as those hills we call the Rocky Mountains. At first I figured on doing a 5 day trek but after talking to people it seemed like the Annapurna Circuit was the way to go. 12 days through some of the best scenery on Earth with soaring mountains of at least 7,000 meters all around. It wasn't exactly roughing it since you pass through small villages every few hours where you can stay for the night and buy delicious, delicious Coca Cola, Snickers and homemade apple pies. The highlight was the grueling hike up to and over Thurong La Pass at 5,416 meters (17,769 ft). At those dizzying heights altitude sickness is a serious concern, your head hurts and even ipods stop working. The second highlight was when my Sherpa sold his pants for 4 insects he said had great medicinal value. He later confided that they give you "sexy power".

On the next Tales of Interest: how the holy Hindu river the Ganges is actually a septic tank, militant Hindu monastic orders, and why I'm glad cows don't roam freely around the streets of New York (hint: they generate large amounts of shit and generally disregard the traffic laws).


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hardcore Fair-weather Fan: [genus: Los Angelesia -species: Sportazoa Fanalia]

Hardcore Fair-weather Fan. Mmmmm…does such a curios creature exists? Sure they do, they are known by their scientific classification and nomenclature LAsF - Los Angelesia Sportazoa Fanalia (commonly known as the Los Angeles Sports Fan) and can be found in and around the Los Angeles Basin area. There are high concentrations around the Los Angeles Downtown area around the Staples Center in the mid Spring Months of April thru June and around Dodgers Stadium in the latter months of the Summer.

I have however noticed a mutation of the Los Angelesia Sportazoa Fanalia and for some curious reason this mutation only occurs once you cross large bodies of water like the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. This breed of the Los Angeles Sports Fan seems to be more “Hardcore” than your typical common strain. In fact, it seems to be so potent that it even affects those immune to the Sports Culture of the West Coast. Inhabitants of the East Coast , Pacific Northwest, and the Southern section of the US seem to concede to this beast.

This new more powerful creature is immune to slow internet access, warm beer, communist propaganda and even pixilated satellite viewing!!No matter the obstacle, these beasts find themselves wandering malls, bars and restaurants in the early hours of the morning searching for sustenance and satiation by simply catching the 4th quarter of the NBA finals or a glimpse of a two day old game. It’s a hungry creature that is starved for sports entertainment of which it has never craved nor feasted on in the past.

It’s even gone as far as to watch soccer…..Arrgghh…the Horror!!!

Lakers finally win….87-81

To Buy or not to Buy…that is the question.

We have another "China" dilemma. There is a local artist that we like. He has gained a lot of popularity the last year so the price of his work has skyrocketed to the point that Christina and I can no longer afford to purchase his work unless we sell our house in Pasadena (I’m half joking). We do however live in China where “copying” is an art form unto itself. Because of this artist’s popularity, several unknown artists have been copying his work and selling them in smaller galleries. Well, we found a few pieces that we really like and we are torn on whether to purchase or not.

Do we save and attempt to buy something original before we leave China and risk it because the price keeps going up or do we relish the fact that we are in the “Copying Capital” of the world and buy a copy……or not buy…

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kung Fu Master or Chicken Fried Rice

I dig this dude. With my horrible Mandarin and his terrible English, I think we agreed that he is going to be my new Martial Arts Master. Either that or I just ordered 6 weeks of sweet & sour pork and chicken fried rice……

The Pajama Patrol

We finally did it! After 9 months of living in China we are truly submersing ourselves into the modern Shanghainese lifestyle by buying bikes (and risking our necks while we do it)! We finally got the courage and confidence to brave the streets of Shanghai. For about $60 USD we got our Chinese bikes with all the fixins’ at our local grocery store and are now officially in the mix of the populous.

Shanghai is completely flat so everything is accessible via bicycle, the big concern is more about what kind of risk you are willing to take. The two biggest ones being: getting lost and not being able to find your way back home because the city streets were designed to replicate a bowl of spaghetti or getting hit by a taxi, scooter, motorbike, pedestrian or even someone’s spit. It’s chaotic and dangerous out there…but it’s also very liberating to be out on the streets. They even have these cool raincoats for both you and your bike so you can ride in the rain.

Not only did Christina and I buy bikes but so did our neighbors and some of Christina’s co-workers. We’ve replicated our “bike gang” in good ol’ Pasadena! We call ourselves “The Pajama Patrol”. The name is derived from this unusual but funny fashion quirk that the Shanghainese have which is to wear your pajamas out in public like a suit. I mean they wear their pajamas everywhere like grocery shopping, window shopping, university and even going out to dinner. From what I was told, pajamas are a status symbol because not everyone can afford them. We decided that one Sunday we would all wear our PJs hop on our bikes and go to brunch, hence the name “The Pajama Patrol”.

Now the adventure truly begins….

Wo de Zaoshang Pao: My Morning Run

I love my morning runs! I hate my morning runs!... Well, I don’t really hate the run itself, it’s the waking up at 5:30 in the morning to hit the roads of Shanghai that I hate. Why 5:30 am you may wonder. Well, running in Shanghai at any other time of the day is like sucking on an exhaust pipe of a car that’s had it catalytic converter removed. In fact, even at 5:30 am, after my run I feel like I've had my breakfast of toxic minerals and heavy particulate matter.

Regardless, the reason I love Wo de zaoshang paos are simply because of the intimate access it allows me of an honest City before it awakes ( I’ve mentioned this before). It’s raw, it’s beautiful and it’s honest.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Laundry Index: Wedding Dresses

I love these pictures! I’m bummed that the only camera I had was my camera phone.

The Chinese have recently adopted the concept of a “Western Style Wedding” (I’m going to write more about this on my on going Delicate Sense of History Series) so the idea of buying a wedding dress is new. Currently Brides rent them only for the Big Day and for the Wedding Pictures.

These pictures were taken outside my friend Jeff’s apartment which is next to a Bridal Rental Shop. I guess they have a big weekend planned and had to wash all the dresses. Good times….

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Shanghai Revolving Door

One of the biggest ironies of living in Shanghai is how easy it is to make friends and how easy it is to loose friends. Unlike LA, Shanghai is a place where it is very easy to meet people and make friends. I’ve met some really cool folk waiting for a cab, in line at the grocery store, Starbucks, walking on the street…wherever. I think Westerners are drawn to each other here because we are all in the same situation.

On the flip side, this week I had 3 of my closest “buddies” leave. One back to Colorado, one back to San Francisco and another back to Norway. This has been a depressing 2 months because the exodus started in April. Since then I’ve had to say goodbye to about 7 people that I’ve totally bonded with here in China. The bright side is that now I have friends all over the world I can visit.

To mitigate this depressed state I went to play basketball at the local playground with my last remaining friend Cole. Anyway, before Cole got there I was shooting around and this Chinese dude in perfect “Californian English” invites me to play with his friends. Turns out they are all from Newport Beach!

Anyway, I’ve made some new friends but this time I made sure to ask them before I begin “dating”… errr…I mean… hanging out with them how long they will be in town.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Chang Cheng Ma La Song [ The Great Wall Marathon]

I have a couple of friends in LA that are some of the more successful entrepreneurs that I personally know. The thing that they both have in common is that both of them barely made it through high school and never went to college. On separate occasions both have mentioned that they believe that they are successful because they were just too dumb and stubborn to fail. The reason I bring that up is because I just ran the Chang Cheng Ma La Song (The Great Wall Marathon) and was just way too dumb to know what I was signing up for.

I figured, “I’m in OK shape…I’ve done a couple of 10ks in my life. What’s a couple of more 10ks strung along together”. So I took this IIB “Ignorance Is Bliss” training regiment to Beijing. The night before the race we have this big “Carbo-load” Pasta Dinner with other runners and I met this really nice Australian guy Sam. Well Sam and his girlfriend just got back from the race pre-inspection (what!!! there’s a race pre-inspection! – this was consistent with my IIB training) and was telling me that maybe that was a good thing that I did not see the section of the Wall that we were going to run. Evidently it was hellish and would have scared the bejeezus out of a novice like me. Sam then proceeded to ask how many Marathons that I’ve run before. I smile and sheepishly say that this will be my first. He looks at me…was about to say “WTF”…he stops himself and gingerly smiles and says ...”ummm…you’ll be fine”. Did I mention that Sam is an animal? He just finished both the Boston and New York Marathons and to fast forward to tomorrow’s race, Sam came in 8th in the Great Wall Marathon. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was about to do.

Race day…the bus pulls up and I see this section of the wall that literally goes vertical about 500 feet (That’s a 50 story high rise building) and I joking say to Jerome one of the guys that ran it last year, “hey I guess this is where we start”. Jerome looks at me laughs and says “no, this is where we start and finish”!!!

Well…I ran the race… I finished the race (somewhat within the time frame that I set for myself)….it was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve had to date….it was one of the more difficult experiences that I’ve had to date. The Wall was rough. 4000 steps climb and to do that after your legs are cramping and feel like jelly at the 20 mile mark was tough. Running through the local villages, farmland and country side of rural China was beautiful. Crossing that finish line with the wife waiting with a beer and a subway sandwich was absolute Heaven.

I think everyone should use the IIB training method in life…..

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Delicate Sense of History: The Silent Voice of Fashion

I liken the aesthetic in China to that of a person with no money that just won the lottery. The first thing they do is buy everything that is silky and shiny. In this case, good taste becomes very subjective. Those on the receiving end become subject to really bad, over the top, ostentatious crap. There is no place where this is more evident than in Shanghai and more clearly manifested than in Shanghainese fashion.

Shanghai is like Hong Kong in the early eighties. There is so much “flash” because it’s now the financial center of China. With all this “flow” people are embracing consumerism with arms wide open and eyes shut tight. To exponentially exacerbate the issue, if you can’t afford the exorbitant prices of Western goods, no worries, there are multiple stores on every corner that sell knock offs and fakes.

There is a fashion designer that once said the way you dress is to put your whole ensemble together, do a quick turn in front of a full length mirror and whatever catches your eye first, remove. In Shanghai I think it’s the opposite. I think they get dressed in the dark.

I took the bus this morning to work and as I looked around, everyone was wearing multiple items of name brand fakes and nothing matched. It was a smorgasbord of fake Prada shoes, Gucci handbags, Versace sunglasses….its revolting! Then there’s how everything is put together. The guys go for this 80’s punk rock look with the ripped jeans and tattered shirts yet have a little cutesy puppy dog doll hanging from their cell phone. Not only that, they have a cool Celine Dion ringtone too! Then there are the girls. They dress with a ton of accessories, really short shorts and high heals and everything is tight fitting. They have no idea of the slutty connotation (maybe they do…who knows). I think women have been silenced so long that they are using their cloths to scream their sexuality. To bad they are screaming silently with no real message.

Clothing has always been an expression of who we are. I was once told by my art history professor that if you ever want to figure out who you are or where you are in life, open up your closet and ask your cloths. China and the Chinese are still trying to figure out who they are, where they are and where they are going……

…to be continued…..