Monday, March 16, 2015

Slow boat to China

Okay, it's travelogue week.   Here's the account of my recent sojourn to the Far East.  The highlights: No one caught SARS, or Ebola.   Enjoy.

My wife, Debby and I staggered into Beijing after 28 hours of traveling. We arrived on the Chinese New Year. To celebrate, everybody sets off fireworks (I’m surprised Chinese people don’t all have seven fingers), and their primary TV network aired a five-hour variety show (no, not the Oscars) that was seen by literally one billion people. When NBC learns this there will be dancing bears on HANNIBAL next season.

China blocks out much of the internet – like gmail, Google, my blog, and really subversive sites like THE WEATHER CHANNEL. Okay, I could see the government not wanting its citizens to know if they should dress warm, but really, censoring my LAST FIVE YEARS review?

Met up with our traveling party that included Kevin Corcoran and Josh Murray from Artful Travelers (who arranged this great cruise), Lauren Prestileo (from PBS’ AMERICAN EXPERIENCE), her Claire Danes-look-alike cool friend Bonnie, and my longtime colleague and chum, David Lee, the co-creator of FRASIER.

In the summer, the pollution in Beijing is so bad you have to wear a mask. The sky is the color of Matthew Perry's spray tan. No such air quality problem for us. Instead, it snowed.

That made sightseeing a bit of an adventure. Our little group strolled around Tienanmen Square (riot free I’m happy to report – they didn’t want to get the tanks rusty) and the Forbidden City (the emperor’s summer home). Pagodas galore along with unlimited gardens and courtyards. Just when you think you’ve come to the end you’ve got a dozen more. Think: Derek Jeter’s Florida home but less opulent.

There are 9,999 1/2 rooms. I have to assume the ½ is a half bath. Back in the day many of the rooms were filled with the emperor’s concubines. Again, think: Derek Jeter. After awhile I could just hear the emperor saying, “Jesus. Any chance I could get a blonde? Just once?”

We decided on Chinese food for lunch. You can’t swing a dead cat in Beijing without hitting a Chinese restaurant and then having it served to you. Among the menu items we did not select was “levened bad fish.” No one spoke English, which made it very difficult to use our Open Table coupon to pay for part of the bill.

I’ve been accused of being blasé and I suppose that’s true. Take for example the Great Wall of China. It was certainly a “good” wall, very impressive. But “great?” The jury’s still out. Of course it was completely fogged in the day we saw it and the snow had turned to ice so every step was treacherous. This apparently is not unusual. At the ticket window they actually sell insurance.

Beijing is not right on the ocean. I wondered how a cruise liner could dock there – unless it was the world’s largest Duck Tour. Turns out the ocean is a two-hour drive. Unless there’s fog. The soup was so thick they shut down the highway. We turned back and an hour later pulled into a rest stop. The driver said there may ultimately be traffic so we should use the bathroom. How much traffic? Two to five hours. Yikes! I don’t know where this Godforsaken rest stop was but I can say with complete assurance I was the first Jew to EVER use their facility. Israeli Mossad agents aren’t put through anything that rigorous. Ugh!  Eventual time of trip: four hours. I’m really starting to re-think buying that vacation condo in Beijing.

Was thrilled to finally board the Seven Seas Regent Voyager. Generally, there are two kinds of cruises – first class and floating trailer park. If you are going to cruise, Regent is the line you want.

Once we set sail and headed up the Yalu Sea I wanted to call our Chinese restaurant in Beijing and ask if they delivered.

First stop was Dalian -- 36 balmy degrees and sunny, but “sunny” there meant nuclear winter. An eerie haze hung over the city. Everyone on the ship had to be transported to immigration for a face-to-face security check.  We had to show passports and a few people were detained while their walkers were scanned.    

“Hey, it’s China, Jake.”

There is a large city square surrounded by modern high-rise hotels, beautiful architecture – and no one in the street. Completely deserted. Picture a Bill Cosby concert on the senior quad of Wellesley.

Next stop was Korea, which was very meaningful to me because of my years on MASH. We tried to get a tour of the DMZ but were told it’s closed to tourists on Monday. Huh? The gift shop workers have the day off?

North Korea was only twenty minutes away, but they’re closed to tourists too.

Checked out Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. Very no frills. It’s how I imagine the Forbidden City if it was built by New Jersey contractors. They also featured a folk art museum, which had one room devoted entirely to Levi jeans in Korea. The king was a relaxed-fit man.

Shopping in downtown Seoul was very vibrant and fun.  The country has really grown and is thriving. Agriculturally, their chief export is Hyundais.

Meanwhile, two pedestrians were swallowed by a sinkhole. They vanished down a crater that was reportedly 10-feet deep. (They were rescued and are okay.) Maybe New Jersey contractors DID rebuild the city.

Tuesday was a sea day and I gave my first presentation. The following morning a passenger paid me the ultimate compliment: “We really enjoyed it,” she said. “We were soooo surprised.”

All conversations on the ship included the words Boca, Obama, and meniscus.

Part two is tomorrow.  And more travelogues can be found in my book, WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED.   Don't leave home without it.


Gregg B said...

I noticed English on many of the pictures. Is that common?

Unknown said...

Maybe that was an unintended choice of words, but it's odd that you made a joke about Tiananmen Square being "riot free I'm happy to report." Outside of the Chinese government itself, I can't think of many people who refer to the 1989 pro-democracy protest as a riot, or are happy that such protests have been so successfully clamped down. I'm assuming that's just a joke that came out the wrong way?

Oat Willie said...

I've endured a heaping pile of "Boca seniors" and if you didn't pitch them overboard at night you've really done China's ecosystem a favor.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

More pictures! Fun!

VP81955 said...

So Seoul essentially is the Wilshire/Vermont Metrorail stop amplified a thousand times?

Cap'n Bob said...

Moochie? You traveled with Moochie?

Anonymous said...

V. Anton Spraul said...

"I can't think of many people who refer to the 1989 pro-democracy protest as a riot, or are happy that such protests have been so successfully clamped down. I'm assuming that's just a joke that came out the wrong way?"

Mr. Spraul, what has happened here is Ken was riffing out random jokes as he described his vacation, and you are a douche.

Hope this helps clarify what happened here.

PS Every democracy in the history of the world has failed miserably, in a cauldron of pain and suffering.

Every. Single. One.

The world doesn't conform to your skewed inner shorthand. Get some humility.

CharlotteSometimesNot said...

FYI, am on the road and have discovered that Comfort Inns block your blog, as does The Mirage in Vegas. Strange to think that ANYTHING would be blocked in Vegas, but you've apparently crossed even their line of decency, Ken! Congratulations! :D

Henrietta said...

You can't swing a dead cat on the internet (or in sitcom land) without hitting someone telling the "(asian ethnicity) eats cats or dogs" joke. Maybe time for you pros to retire this chestunt?

(Not to be confused with my beloved cat named Chestnut who disappeared when that new Chinese restaurant opened. Ha ha get it?)

Wallis Lane said...

"We decided on Chinese food for lunch."

Or as they call it: "food."

Ken, was this really your first time in Non-Simulated Korea? And if so, does it look anything like Malibu Creek?

BTW, don't be surprised if Boca Obama Meniscus gets picked in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft this year.

Anonymous said...

Wow. It appears there's been a major sense of humour failure among a few people today. Ken used the word riot and made a joke about the fact that domestic animals are eaten in Asia and a couple of commenters decide to get offended.

And Wallis:

"We decided on Chinese food for lunch."

Or as they call it: "food."

That was the whole joke, Wallis.

Hamid said...

D'oh! I have no idea why that came up as Anonymous but it was me who posted the above.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to make fun of Ken, at least do it right.

His essay should be retitled:

Around the World in 14 Days: Exotic Travels of an L.A. Jew–Weather Permitting

Barbara C. said...

You should have totally touched base with the adoption community before your trip. They could totally give you the rundown on all of the best restaurants there (Chinese and American) with the smallest chances of getting food poisoning. They also know all of the travel there's some internet gizmo and the wonders of melatonin.

mdv1959 said...

Nice read. You take the tough trips so that we don't have to.

What were your "surprisingly" interesting presentations about?

James said...

Bo Yee Poon will tell you all the weather this is to know. If you can figure out when she's on.

DrBOP said...

Where's the Chinese pitching scouting report?
I thought that's why the Dodgers were paying you the big bucks to make the trip.

You DID attend SOME kind of sporting event?

Henrietta said...

I never said I was offended by the cat eating joke. I said it was a tired/played out joke. I of course expect better of Ken!

Cracksdown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ankit said...

Very good! The view here is very nice, I loved reading this blog or got inspired by the author, aware me of the Chinese culture. I decided to have try Chinese food.