craziest flight of my life

I’ve experienced long delays and heavy turbulence and air sickness before – those are fairly typical annoyances that make me miserable. But my flight from Hong Kong back to Shanghai a few weeks back was downright nuts.

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Everything started off ideally. I got to the airport early (as usual) and had no problem checking in. We even boarded on time! The experience went downhill from there. First of all, before takeoff two girls got into a crazy catfight regarding overhead bin space. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening! I get that tensions run high when traveling, but how does a minor disagreement regarding bin space escalate that fast into a full-on hair-pulling, Mandarin-shouting melee? A couple of flight attendants had to pull them apart and in less than a minute solved the problem by *gasp* moving luggage to a nearby empty bin! Crazy. But hey, we took off on time. And promptly encountered lots of turbulence.

Then came the major this-is-just-whack event, maybe half an hour or so into the flight. I woke up to an announcement asking for a doctor. Huh? You only hear that in the movies! Apparently one of the passengers was unconscious in the back of the plane (later got a text message from the airline saying he had symptoms of pneumonia) and we had to turn back to Hong Kong. The announcements were in Mandarin with very terse English translations, so it was a bit confusing for me (I find it hard to process foreign languages when sleep-deprived). Back in Hong Kong paramedics boarded and took the man off the flight, then police boarded and questioned people near the passenger. We eventually landed in Shanghai without incident around 4 AM.

I’ve heard of these kinds of things happening before, but I’ve flown a fair amount and never had such a ridiculous flight. Still never had a flight canceled or a bad landing or worse, so I’ll count my blessings. I never did hear more about that passenger. I hope he made it okay.

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merry christmas! poinsettias

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What is it about poinsettias that just screams “IT’S CHRISTMAS!”? It’s one of those weird flowers that you never ever see. And then in the lead-up to Christmas, they’re suddenly everywhere. They appear for the season, and then promptly disappear for the rest of the year until the next Christmas rolls around. So you can imagine my surprise at seeing a whole lotta poinsettias in Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road Park, gathered in a giant cluster, waiting to be spread around. Seeing those poinsettiaas – more than all the gaudy lights along Nanjing Road – that made it truly feel like Christmas.

Merry Christmas! I wish you and your families all the happiness and joy your hearts can handle.

the beginning of the visa run

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I’m off to Hong Kong! And … my trip begins with a delay. Darn you smog!

I’m flying out of Pudong International Airport (PVG), which is quite a ways away from where I live. I was afraid I was going to be late (I always think I’m going to be late yet always end up arriving far too early) so I shilled out for a taxi instead of taking the subway. Stupid move. I could’ve saved about 30 bucks and still had plenty of time. Sheesh.

cafeteria food done right

It feels blasphemous labeling such deliciousness ‘cafeteria food’, but alas, that is what it is. 24 kuai! Udon noodles and chicken katsu (Japanese-style fried chicken cutlet) for the equivalent of 4 USD. The only aspect that makes this ‘cafeteria food’ is that I had to carry the food on a tray to a table and shared a long table with a bunch of other single people. What a sacrifice! I love cafeterias!

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The Jing’an subway stop is connected to the basements of two malls, Jiu Guang (久光) and Réel Mall, to the west of Changde Road and on the north and south sides of Nanjing Road, respectively. Jiu Guang’s basement has FreshMart, a Japanese supermarket that carries a lot of foreign/imported/ridiculously expensive foods, some small stores like the Yamazaki bakery, and some sit-down restaurants. Réel’s basement is a giant cafeteria. Starbucks and Wagas are down there too, but the highlight is all the cheap, clean, non-sketchy food places and the large open seating area. I don’t eat there too often, but it’s extremely convenient, not very expensive (more than other cafeterias, but for good reason), and much better food than I could ever hope to muster making myself. There’s a healthy mix of places, with a lot of noodle or rice options (great for single people) and a fair amount of Korean, Japanese, or Sichuan/Hunan food (my friend says those cuisines are ‘popular’ among young people).

The only thing I find weird is more of a cultural thing than a critique against Réel itself. When I was done with my meal (which I devoured), I stood up, put on my coat, picked up my tray, started walking, and looked like a complete idiot. The thing is, there is no place to put away your tray. I asked one of the workers where to put my tray, she looked confused, then laughed and took it from me. Apparently you’re supposed to just leave it and a busser (more like a bus-auntie than busboy) will come around and clean it up. To me, if you walk the food over yourself, it’s your responsibility to clean it up or put it away, but if you’re served by a waiter, you can leave it. That thought process makes me an outsider. It doesn’t even occur to people here that you would put away your own tray. When I was at McDonald’s with a local friend and picked up the tray to throw the trash in the trash, she actually asked me what I was doing. I mean really? Cleaning up after yourself is just common decency. But whaddaya know, I guess I’m just abnormally well-mannered.

hey little man, can you wait a tad bit longer?

So … I’m in China. Sounds exciting, right? Well, eh. When I went to Beijing at the end of June I stopped by Shanghai and left a daruma doll in the apartment – one eye filled in. The daruma doll is a good luck talisman of sorts. You’re supposed to fill in one eye when you make a goal, and when you’ve reached the goal you get to fill the other eye in. So by having a one-eyed creepy little doll staring at you, it encourages you to keep working at your goal. It’s supposedly a traditional Japanese thing (all my information is coming from Wikipedia), and even though I’m not Japanese (and have no knowledge of this thing outside what Wikipedia is telling me), I like the premise of having a visual, physical signifier of a wish. Post-it notes and to-do lists I have. But those are about tasks; this is about a goal.

I’ll fill in the other eye once I have stable employment that I’m happy with. At the moment, no bites. A short little gig teaching English? Yep. But that ain’t gonna pay the rent. Needless to say, it ain’t gonna make much of a dent in the student loans either. Wish me luck! (I’ll need it.)

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takoyaki = yummy octopus balls

I am by no means a glutton. I like food, but I actually don’t eat a whole lot of it. I do, however, like what I like. And takoyaki I like. And I want more of. It’s a Japanese dish that I bought on the street in Beijing, and it was pretty magical. They had just finished off a batch when I got to the little stall so I decided to wait and watch them cook it. It’s pretty cool. They have this special dimpled pan that they pour batter into, and then stick octopus pieces and some other small things. As they cooked the lady was constantly picking at them, turning them so they became little spheres of goodness.

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The presentation was quite nice too, especially in comparison to most Chinese stalls where everything gets squished into a plastic bag. Four little octopus balls to a boat, covered with some sauce, green onions, and dried fish shavings, with a pair of chopsticks tucked in and napkins underneath. It was amazing. It was 10 kuai (about $1.50) which might be considered a bit pricier than the stuff on sticks that most Chinese stalls sell … but wow, so much better (even though I do have a fondness for that stuff as well).

Thankfully I live in the wonderful city that is New York, where every cuisine under the sun can be found. So it shouldn’t be too long before I get some takoyaki again!

summer rolls

I’ve eaten summer rolls before, but I’d never made them before. Now I’m just like … why the hell have I been spending so much on something so easy to make?!? All you need are rice paper wraps, lettuce, beef, red lettuce, cilantro, carrots, (Chinese) vermicelli, and hoisin sauce. Dip rice paper wrap in a bowl of water, pile on ingredients, squirt some sauce on there, wrap it like a burrito (the rice paper even sticks to itself!), and shove summer roll into mouth. Repeat. The end.

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animals

Animals. They’re everywhere. I’ve never been much of an animal person.

  • BEAR: Sculpture by Eladio (dEmo) de Mora. DUMBO area of Brooklyn, New York. September 2012.
  • TURTLE: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. November 2012.
  • COW: Elephanta Island, Mumbai, India. January 2013.
  • CHICKEN: “The Chicken” by Chaïm Soutine, 1926. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. April 2007.
  • LION: Ulysses S. Grant Memorial (with United States Capitol in background), Washington, D.C. November 2012.
  • SHEEP: Near tomb of Xu Guangqi (Paul Siu), Guangqi Park, Shanghai, China. January 2011.

limca, how i miss thee

I don’t drink much soda. Well, that’s sort of a lie. I drink my fair share of Mountain Dew (but only when it’s necessary! … and it’s been necessary a lot lately). But I don’t drink dark-colored sodas like Coke or Pepsi at all and rarely drink clearish sodas like Sprite or 7-up. However, I really miss Limca. It’s only sold in India and it’s crisp and refreshing, kind of like Sprite or 7-up … but better. Maybe because it’s in India? I first had it in Delhi when I was there in 2011 (everyone in my tour group fell in love with Limca), and then I had it again this January when I was in Mumbai … and it’s just good stuff.

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