Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Big Noses

Here's part two of my trip to the Far East.  Part one was yesterday

Took the “Shanghai by Rumor” tour once we had arrived. Rain, fog, and steamed-up windows in our bus. Shanghai is now very modern (I understand). There are over 3,000 skyscrapers (I was told).

Apparently, the Chinese call all Westerners “Big Noses.” (It’s not just “us” for once.) This we learned from our delightful Chinese tour guide. I’m sure it’s a sign of affection, as is harassing us in immigration and blocking the internet. I constantly felt I was the center of attraction. First of all, I do have a schnoz, plus I’m 6’ 2”, which made me a giant. People were constantly staring – the way you would if you saw Kim Kardashian in a library.

We went up to the Jin Mao Observatory on the 88th floor and saw… nothing. The town was completely sopped in. Save your money. For the same experience visit Visalia during Tulie Fog.

Day two was better. Granite grey but no rain. Debby, Lauren, Bonnie, and I set out to explore Shanghai. We strolled the Bund along the riverside, visited a Jade Buddhist temple (the incense was so thick I thought I was back in my dorm room), scarfed down delicious dumplings at Din Tai Fung (very authentic and even better than their branch in Arcadia, California), and shopped at a local marketplace. “No, I don’t want to buy a fucking watch! Or matching Hello Kitty luggage!”

Miscellaneous observed oddities of Shanghai: There’s a wedding chapel in one of the subway stations. People hang their laundry and pork products on the same clothesline. The symbol for “don’t honk your horn” is a bugle with a line through it. So it looks like “no trumpet playing in Shanghai!” There’s an NBA store. Next to the Buddhist temple is a sign for “Zen Coffee.” Latest fashion craze for young women is glasses frames with no glass in them. (What’s next? Contact lenses with no lenses?)

There should be an app for clean bathrooms in China.

Every night in every lounge aboard the ship the same musical act seemed to appear. A lithe singer was a foreign accent and a keyboard player who looked like Stan Freberg. I called them Captain and Tunesia.

Next up was Xiamen (pronounced: I have no idea and was there for two days.) Happily, Chinese immigration did not subject us to cavity searches. Xiamen was one of the highlights of the trip. First of all, it was 70 degrees and sunny. We scrambled off the ship like Chilean miners. Xiamen is known as the Miami of China. Judging by the number of people wearing long pants on the beach I’d say Miami is the perfect comparison. This was a lovely resort town – pearl white beaches framed by palm trees and giant skyscrapers that are probably 80% vacant.

There are high-rise apartments with spectacular oceanfront views, and Porsche dealerships. How is it that Communists are making more money than me?

Went to a teahouse for an authentic sales pitch (I mean “ceremony”). One tea boasted that it “relieves your freckles.”

According to the Xiamen travel guide: “West Hexiang business street is named as a petty bourgeois street with kinds of brand shops.” What Big Nose can resist knock-off Old Navy outlets?

Loved Hong Kong! Skyscrapers and temples are wedged between mountains and waterways, and they have a restaurant with robot waiters. Boarded a cable car up to Victoria Peak and saw – ready for it – nothing. Fogged in again. At least I hope it was fog. Some days the pollution is so bad they put masks on the statues.

Took a sampan boat ride around the Aberdeen harbor. These are the small wooden fishing vessels that you’ve seen in APOCALYPSE NOW. Many have dogs that ride along with the fishermen. It’s certainly not a great environment for pooches but I’m sure they’re grateful every time they pass those jumbo floating restaurants.

A MUST-see is Hong Kong’s “Symphony of Lights.” For twelve minutes every night at 8:00 the skyline comes alive with multi-colored lights, laser beams, and searchlights all synchronized to music. (For some reason “Stars & Stripes Forever” was left off the program.) Even in the mist of carbon emissions it was phenomenal.

Excellent urban planning. There’s a 118-story building on a landfill. I guess the one word not in the Cantonese vocabulary is “permit.

If I’m ever on death row, for my last meal I want the roast duck at Yung Kee. And then I’ll probably send them back for more of that dipping sauce. Warning: They don’t take the Diner’s Club Card.

There’s a scene in the movie WHERE’S POPPA? where an African-American is trying to hail a cab in New York and is bypassed for a guy in a gorilla suit. That’s how I felt in Hong Kong. A Chinese person could be two blocks away and still get my cab. One word that IS in the English vocabulary: “Uber.”

Lauren and Bonnie left us in Hong Kong, but we were joined by another fun PBS crew – Steve Johnson, Mark Bailey, and Rory Kennedy. Her documentary THE LAST DAYS OF VIETNAM had just lost an Oscar, so we had a lot to commiserate about since I lost a Writers Guild Award in 1981 for our “Terry Runs Away” episode of OPEN ALL NIGHT. The pain never goes away, Rory.

If Xiamen is the Miami of China then Kaohsiung is the Havana of Taiwan. It’s where the squalor meets the sea. Rundown shoddy housing, old industrial plants, seedy marketplaces – and this was the SCENIC tour. They get 20,000 earthquakes a year, but only 40 are of any significance. The other threat to structures is sneezing.
Some great business enterprises though. One joint sold “Stupid Ice Tea.” We passed by the “Seizure Warehouse” and “Wine and Champagne Monopoly Store.” Also “Shark Bites Toast” and “Judy Wu’s Regal Beagle.” All of them – coming to a petty bourgeois street near you.

Our voyage headed north to Taipei. And the Foul Weather Frolics continued. Rain, fog, cold. By then I was templed-out. Waved to the tour buses then went to the taco bar. So for Taipei I got nothing.

The final chapter follows tomorrow.  My book of travelogues, WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED is still available on Amazon.  Get yours today!  


Oat Willie said...

In your FACE, Rick Steves!

Anonymous said...

Try to visit the Philippines. I visited it once and it was nice. My experience there were better than your stories.

Cap'n Bob said...

Taipei, Top Hat Bar, Miss Corinna. If you missed it you have no one to blame but yourself. There's also the Chaing Kai Sheck Gardens, which was nice when I went there.

VP81955 said...

I'm impressed, Ken -- several entries on East Asia, and you have yet to use the word "inscrutable."

kent said...

From the title I thought this post was going to be about Roz's in-laws.

Al in Portland said...

How much do you tip a robot waiter?

Pat Reeder said...

I always enjoy the English signs from foreign lands. We were in Dubai recently, and if I could post photos, I'd put up my snapshots of the menu at a diner that had a camel variation on every item. I could understand the camel burger, which was made with actual ground camel, but I'm hoping the camel shake was just made with camel milk.