rachelmanija: (Default)
( Jan. 8th, 2010 04:06 pm)
I loved Hong Kong. I could have spent a week or more just exploring within a ten block radius of my hotel.

Also, the Cosmopolitan Hotel was great (except for the rock-hard bed, which was still hard even after they helpfully added a mattress pad and then I added a quilt.) It had some of the best service ever, exemplified when we asked for an umbrella and the guy who gave it to us made sure it opened before he handed it over.

When I think of some other hotels I've stayed at, like the one in India which began renovating the room next door with jack-hammers at 3:00 AM, or the YMCA in New York which had a tilted bed frame, so when you lay down you slowly slid sideways until you fell off, it looks even better. (When I complained about the former, the manager stopped work, then resumed it an hour later (apparently hoping we wouldn't notice), and when I complained about the latter, the desk clerk retorted, "It's a YMCA! What do you expect?!")

Near the hotel was a maze of small shops, including a street devoted solely, on both sides of the road, to lamps and other lighting equipment, including a bubbling pillar of lit water with circulating plastic fish, several chandelier stores, and a store with giant sperm-shaped frosted glass lamps, one of which was wrapped around an egg. Other shops sold cheap and delectable Cantonese pastries and sweets, which I love: dan tat (bright yellow custard tarts), sweet-sour triangles of spongy white rice cake, flaky pastries encasing barbecued pork or sweet bean paste, and coconut-coated mochi balls with various fillings.

I ordered one of the latter, and the woman at the shop said doubtfully, "That has bean in it."

"Yes, I know. One, please." Then, realizing that she spoke English, I added, "What's in that one?"

"It's a sweet custard of eggs and milk... cooked slowly... very smooth... very rich."

"Okay, one of those too."

She pointed out the third. "This one has peanuts inside."

"I've got enough, thanks." I'd already bought and devoured a dan tat at a different store, where the proprietor had removed it from its metal dish by turning it upside-down on to a slice of bread.

She looked at me mournfully. "You don't like peanuts?"

I gave the peanut-filled one to Oyce. The custard was just as delicious as it sounded.

As I mentioned earlier, I went berserk in a VCD store and bought eight VCDs, mostly starring Andy Lau. But a test of one revealed that it didn't play on my laptop, so I decided to try to return the rest, as the others were still sealed in plastic. The hotel desk clerk helpfully wrote out an explanation in Cantonese, which I took with me to the store (buying a can of hot coffee and a dan tat on the way.)

I brought them to the owners, a man and woman, and handed over my explanation. They read it. The woman shook her head vigorously, glared at me, and said something in Cantonese, which I am almost certain was "They're cheap VCDs! What do you expect?"

Me (in English, but mostly via the international language of gestures and intonation): "Look, I certainly bought them here! Here is the bag! Here are the same bags hanging on your wall! And see, they are still sealed and labeled! You can easily return them to the shelves!"

VCD Lady (in Cantonese, but mostly via the international language of gestures and intonation): "No way! No how! Not a chance! Are you nuts? No takebacks!"

Me (in English, but mostly via the international language of gestures and intonation): "Look, I certainly bought them here! Here is the bag! Here are the same bags hanging on your wall! And see, they are still sealed and labeled! You can easily return them to the shelves!"

I hoped that if I stood there and was sufficiently annoying, they might return my money just to get rid of me.

VCD Man (in Cantonese, but etc): "Bring on the kid!" (beckoning to young man) "What do you think?"

Young Man (in Cantonese, but etc): "Hmm. Well, they're still sealed and labeled. I could pop them right back on the shelf. I vote yes."

VCD Lady (in Cantonese, but etc): "What?! No way! You're all crazy! Not on my watch! I obje-"

VCD Man snatches up the wrapped VCDs, thrusts them at the young man to reshelve, and crams cash into my hand.

Me (in English, carefully articulated): "Thank you very much!"

VCD Lady (in the international language of wordless noises, to my face and also making a face, in tones reminiscent of the Booing Woman in The Princess Bride): "BLAAAAAAARGH!"

I took my cash and fled. If anyone here wants an unwrapped VCD of a movie called The Adventurers, which I mostly got because I wanted to see Andy Lau in a military uniform, it's all yours. Maybe it will play for you.

If you see enough cities and you're me, you're always thinking of how some aspects of cities remind you of other cities, and how other aspects seem completely unique. Hong Kong is unique in my experience in its fusion of city with jungle: I saw a little of that in Taipei, but Hong Kong is ten times more so, with nearly vertical slopes in unbroken lushness of ferns and banyans and vines right next to glittering hundred-story skyscrapers. But my visit to the VCD shop struck me as very New York City.
I'm back!

There will be a few more catch-up trip posts, as there's tons of stuff I never got a chance to write up. Such as the obsession of many people we met with Cameron's movie Avatar. I swear, every other conversation, someone would mention it. I was beginning to think it would be impossible to escape back to the US without getting dragged to a screening. We probably would have been, except that we fled to Hong Kong... where Oyce called her Dad to tell him we'd arrived safely, and caught him in a movie theatre, watching Avatar.

The next day, we were having dinner with her aunt and uncle, and asked them if there were any good Chinese movies playing.

"Nothing's good!" said her uncle.

"That's not right," said her aunt. "What about that movie with the blue people?"

In an unrelated incident, I also want to mention something which happened in China. We went to a temple complex dedicated to the journey of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (aka Tripitaka) to India. This was immortalized in the novel Journey to the West, which was remixed in one of my favorite manga, Saiyuki, where he was called Sanzo.

In an infamously poorly subtitled bootleg of the anime of Saiyuki, Sanzo, who might reasonably be called a monk or priest, is called a rabbi. The place he comes from, usually translated as Shangri-La, is called Asgard. Add to that some oddly-translated epithets, and the bootleg is known, at least to me, as "Rabbi Sanzo and the Fuck-Monkey of Asgard."

I cannot begin to convey my glee when I discovered that every one of the scholarly and otherwise well-translated plaques at that complex referred to "Rabbi Xuanzang."

I am guessing that both the anime and the temple used the same (strange) dictionary. There were also references on the plaques to amrita, the immortality-giving drink of the Gods, which is usually translated as nectar, or sometimes ambrosia or elixir. Here it was called a "wonder drug." Not very elevated!
I saw some rather strange productions in Xian as a result of having a tour guide, and thus being unable to say no. There was the incomprehensible pre-Peking Opera I mentioned before. There was Tang Dynasty Las Vegas, which consisted of several dances of dubious historicity, despite the program's claims (I am certain that hoop skirts did not exist in Tang Dynasty China, let alone headdresses with enough tiny light bulbs to make a small Times Square sign) but were nevertheless entertaining. A recording of some British guy announced in English, "And now, the Tang emperor!" in the middle of a dance. Mood-breaking as that sounds, it was even more so given that he mispronounced "Tang."

There was also a "water show" which we got hustled out of dinner early to experience, in bitter, bitter cold outside, after a long and tiring day. I thought this was something I had read about in a guidebook, which was dancing fountains like you see at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. It turned out to be giant holograms projected over a lake, interspersed with strobe lights, with loud recorded dialogue. Like the Spanish Inquisition, one never expects giant holograms. At least I don't.

If I followed the story correctly (it was in Chinese), it was the adventures of a cartoon dragon-elk in pajamas and two live-action martial artists who shot lasers from their eyeballs, plus the villain, a cackling vampire witch. Everyone randomly battled for a while. Then Scooby Doo appeared. The vampire woman kidnapped him and sent an army of orcs in red jockstraps (the same shot of charging orcs on an endless loop) to fight the heroes. Then most of the vampire woman's clothes vanished, leaving her in a lace bikini. Then she became a skeleton and exploded. Then the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin descended and met Scooby Doo.

I have seen a lot of excellent East-West artistic fusions, but that was not one of them.

The next day we saw a performance on ancient Chinese musical instruments. Since I had been relentlessly pursued by Christmas carols everywhere I went, especially my least favorite, "Jingle Bells," I thought this would at least be a break from the non-stop caroling.

The concert was by an ensemble which I later nicknamed "The Xian Amateur Historical Musical Theatricals Society." As we waited endlessly in front of an empty stage with assorted instruments, including a set which were balanced on the heads of replica terracotta warriors, we could see women and girls in costumes rushing about vigorously in the wings. I thought they were doing dance steps. Then one lunged out zombie-like and blindfolded, arms clutching at giggling fleeing costumed girls, and we realized that they were playing blind man's bluff.

Then they all came out and did a demo of the instruments, including some completely random and un-melodic plinking. A girl in a red costume trimmed with white fluff did a dance with a handkerchief, in which she shook her butt a lot and finally put the handkerchief over her butt and wiggled it. I thought, this is surely not historical. I thought, is her costume meant to evoke Santa Claus? I thought, perhaps I am inappropriately projecting Western attitudes on a Chinese performance. I thought, but it is Christmas Eve.

The ensemble played some songs, several times going so off-key that even I noticed. They then launched into... "Jingle Bells."

One verse in, they all visibly decided that they were more than ready to go home. About half of them sped up. The other half perseverated on the same tempo they had started with, but with increasingly bored and desperate expressions. The rest sped up more. Other members of the ensemble, not participating in the song, walked across the stage rather than behind the curtain provided for that purpose.

When "Jingle Bells" ended in a discordant frenzy, there was a concluding solo. The soloist looked even more bored, if possible, and rushed through her performance. Finishing with visible relief, she grabbed the stool she'd been sitting on and fled for the wings. Half-way there, she realized that she was supposed to leave the stool onstage, and slammed it down with a loud thud.

While all of this was going on, those of us in the front row were trying hard to keep a straight face. We later rated the performance an F for quality but an A for entertainment value. It was like watching a catastrophic high school production... on semi-authentic ancient Chinese instruments. As the guidebooks say, it was truly a unique and memorable experience.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Jan. 3rd, 2010 12:05 am)
Note: I am posting on Hong Kong time. Page down if you think you're missing stuff (and don't want to.)

Oyce and I are in Hong Kong now, in a hotel with such good service and amenities that we checked twice to make sure it was really as inexpensive as we thought. (They were having a special.) The hotel is sandwiched between a Muslim cemetery (unfortunately we don't have a cemetary-adjacent view, or any view at all: our windows are frosted and locked - hey - maybe that's why it's so cheap), a Sikh gurdwara (temple), and, in a break from the religious theme, a racetrack. You can easily walk to Times Square and cool little neighborhoods.

Hong Kong is great, full of all the little shops and restaurants and cafes that I love. Enormous glass skyscrapers are jammed in beside dingy apartment buildings with laundry drying outside windows thirty stories above street level. Like parts of Manhattan, in parts of Hong Kong the buildings tower so high and close that the sky is cut up into little geometric pieces. The forest is even more present than it is in Taipei, with trees crammed in everywhere that buildings and roads and sidewalks aren't. I wish LA was like that. Most people seem to speak a little English, so it's easy to get around even if you don't speak any Cantonese. Today we wandered around, ate in a sort of cafe/diner, and I bought a bunch of VCDs (video DVDs) on sale, mostly starring Andy Lau, which hopefully will play in my laptop.

Last night Oyce and I had dinner with an aunt and uncle of hers, who were extremely nice. We had roast goose with a ponzu-like dipping sauce, some of the best char sui (barbecued pork) I've ever had, jellyfish (I like the slightly rubbery/crunchy texture), very long and thin spring rolls served upright in a vase with carrot sticks and leeks, sauteed greens with garlic, shrimp and broccoli, crab and bamboo soup, and sweet and sour pork. The last was less sweet and better than you usually get in the US; to my amusement, Oyce's aunt thought it was inferior and too sweet.

As if that feeding frenzy wasn't enough, J and I hit a 7-11 and bought mango coolers, okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) flavored potato chips, black truffle flavored potato chips, assorted candy, and individual servings of Haagen-Dasz, to eat and drink while we watched Jet Li's kung fu comedy The New Legend of Shaolin on my laptop. I was a little confused as the movie began, as it was historical but I had recalled it as contemporary. Then the villain, who had transformed himself into a hideous "poison man" in a lizard skin suit to make himself invincible, as villains are wont to do, drove up in a totally out of period - any period - car shaped like a giant armored trilobite. I then recalled that in another historical movie Jet Li fights a giant robot chicken, so maybe I should have been more prepared. I recommend the movie if you like kung fu, kung fu fighting kids being adorable, a pair of mother and daughter thieves being hilarious, and Jet Li being badass and stoic.

On the subject of 7-11s, they are much better in Asia. You can actually get good food, not to mention potato chips flavored like lobster, California rolls, and salmon sushi. Maybe we'll try those tonight.
rachelmanija: (I have cleavage)
( Jan. 1st, 2010 05:03 am)
I don't think I've described Taiwan much yet. The busy main roads and short, narrow side streets lined with cafes and small shops and street food carts remind me a bit of New York City and also Tokyo, as does the mix of glittering skyscrapers and older buildings. Once you're out of the main part of the city, the tropical forest presses up against the buildings, with ferns and huge-leafed plants drooping over walls and reach out toward the roads. There are banyan trees here, with tendrils dangling toward the ground and taking root where they touch. A lot of the houses have their tiny porches packed with more plants, these in pots. One plant I saw had leaves such a bright pink I thought at first it was artificial.

The food in Taiwan is just ridiculously good. Especially the street food. I have become addicted to soft scallion-specked pancakes rolled up with a salty, savory omelette, both cooked on the spot on a flat top with a basket of eggs and another of plastic-wrapped chunks of white dough beneath it. "Egg cakes" - fluffy oval cakes with a crisp exterior and cakey interior - are also delicious. The other night we visited the night market, a giant sprawling bazaar of food stalls, game stall, pet shops (with hedgehogs and sugar gliders!) and little carts and shops selling clothing and trinkets, and ate a giant flattened chicken cutlet with crispy breading, stinky tofu (not very stinky), a skewer of excellent sausage bites, and mochi in a sweet-savory black sesame miso sauce. The latter was not a success - everyone tried it and pronounced, "Interesting."

Oyce helpfully pointed out to me a stall of Gothic Lolita/punk clothes, manned by a young guy with Goth makeup, elaborate anime hair, and vampire-red colored contacts. I think he may have also been wearing vampire fangs, or perhaps I hallucinated that. I tried on two skirts (one red and black satin, which didn't fit, and one confection of white gauze and satin and black straps that wasn't very wearable), a black corset with buckles on the front, a black lace jacket, and a shirt with detachable sleeves, lace-up ribbons, black lace, and gnomic writing. The vampire shopkeeper informed me via Oyce that the skirt was Goth and the shirt was punk, so I really shouldn't wear them together. I was properly chastened.

I bought the shirt. I would have bought the jacket too, but it was $ 50, which at the time seemed expensive for something I would rarely have a chance to wear. Though now I'm thinking, "That wasn't really THAT expensive for what it was..." I will not, alas, have a chance to go back, as we are departing for Hong Kong tomorrow. Maybe I'll find more outrageous clothes there.

I asked the shopkeeper if I could take his photo. Rather horrified, he replied that he wasn't dressed up, and showed me a photo on his cell phone of himself when he was properly dressed (unsurprisingly spectacularly Goth). I coaxed him anyway. In retrospect, I should have gotten back into one of his outfits for the photo, for however much he was dressed down, he did not compare to my dowdy jeans and gray Americorps sweatshirt.
It will give you a sense of the jam-packed nature of the Xian tour when I say that in a single day, we visited a Han Dynasty mausoleum, a Buddhist temple, a museum, the tomb of China’s only official female Emperor (Wu Zetian; as opposed to dowager empresses or powers behind the throne), and dinner theatre.

At the extremely historic Han mausoleum, Oyce and N and I were most excited by the extraordinary-to-us sight of a completely iced-over pond, which we spent some time throwing pebbles at to see if we could crack the rippled ice, and watching pigeons waddle about on it.

The mausoleum featured several ancient sculptures that were national treasures, several of which were boulders with a few simple lines added to enhance the natural shape and make them into giant toads and frogs. One was of a man and a bear biting each others’ lips. The guide said it represented the triumph of a general over an invading tribe, but I think it represented bears eating people. A museum on the grounds featured a water clock, early plumbing, and a crossbow. It never fails to impress me how sophisticated and technologically adept many civilizations were thousands of years ago.

My other big insight into ancient cultures concerned toilets. Many of the toilets were the squat kind, which I am used to from India but don’t like. But they take on a whole new level of unpleasantness when they are located in an unheated building at below-zero temperatures, and you have to extract yourself from six layers of clothing to use them. So however did people function in the many times when they were wearing long layered robes, kimono, etc? Our guess is that servants held up the robes. Ew.

Next was a historic Tang Dynasty Buddhist temple, whose architectural style had clearly been swiped by Japan since it looked very similar to many Japanese temples I’ve seen. What was not familiar to me from Japan were the many and highly incongruous Disneyesque small, concrete, painted and spotted mushrooms placed randomly throughout the grounds.

There was also a modern temple and museum within a gigantic diamond-shaped looming frame thing. Apparently the diamond is supposed to represent folding hands. Especially in comparison with the old temple, it’s remarkably hideous. So were the plastic lotuses floating in the iced-over pools. This edifice was at the end of a huge concrete path flanked by giant gilded Buddhas. It’s striking how enormous so many things are in Xian, especially as the architecture is similar enough to similar buildings and complexes in Japan that I subconsciously expect them to be the same size, but they turn out to be three to ten times bigger. I assume it has to do with the relative sizes of the two countries and that, like Texas, everything is bigger in China.

The museum had some great displays, and also repeated references to its central treasure, the finger bone of Sakyamuni (the Buddha.) By the fifteenth time I read a mention of “the immortal fingerbones” or “and then they worshipped the fingerbones,” the very word began to crack me up. Possibly my time at the ashram made this seem even funnier.

Wu Zetian clearly got a bad rep due to being a woman. I'm certain many male emperors were just as ruthless. Supposedly, her son had to erect a plaque in her honor, but couldn't say anything bad about her due to filial piety, but also had nothing nice to say. So he left it blank.

The story about her also goes that she took up the challenge to tame a vicious wild stallion, saying that first she would use a whip, then spurs, and then, if those failed, an axe to cut off his head! Oyce and I have been saying to each other at appropriate moments, "The whip, the spurs, the axe!"

About the dinner theatre, I will describe it in more detail later as I have to run, but for now will only say: Tang Dynasty Las Vegas.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Dec. 26th, 2009 09:14 am)
I have had extremely limited internet access on this trip, so while I’m now back in Taiwan, I’m going to start catching you all up with my adventures in Xian.

I have visited Taiwan before, for lunar New Year (Year of the Pig). That was great fun – pig decorations everywhere. Now it is Year of the Cow (my year) though unfortunately not lunar New Year. A lot of the museums and shrines we have visited have images and sculptures of the zodiac animals, and my friend Oyce, her sister N, and I have had a lot of fun locating ours. In Chinese the names are apparently less masculinized than they are often translated into English – cow, pig, and chicken rather than bull, boar, and rooster.

Once you get outside of the cities of Taiwan, trees are everywhere, many of them draped in creepers, moss, and ivy, so the impression is one of solid green. It’s a dullish wintery green now, but Oyce says in the spring the color is electric. Taipei is a bustling, livable city, full of clothing stores and subway construction zones, noodle restaurants and shaved ice stands, and convenience stores selling custard tarts, manga, socks cleverly rolled up to resemble boxes of candy, cold remedies, tea-boiled eggs, and California roll-flavored Doritos. We bought a bag of the latter (and also some Meltykiss strawberry-filled chocolate). They don’t taste at all like California rolls, more like cheese Ruffles, but are strangely addictive.

Touching down in Xian was like entering another world. There was so much angry-sounding shouting at the airport that I thought some kind of altercation was going on, but no, people are just a lot louder than they are in Taiwan. Compared to the sleek Taiwan airport, the one in Xian was a bit grubby and dingy and old. Scrolling electronic proclamations in red banned the importation of materials detrimental to China’s morals, government, and culture, and also deadly poisons, embryos, and semen.

I whispered to Oyce, “Approximately half the passengers are smuggling in their own semen.”

Outside of the airport, it was bitter cold. I spent the entire time in Xian bundled up in layers and layers and layers, and was still freezing. It never snowed, but it was below zero and ponds were frozen over, and the wind was so cold it hurt.

The air pollution in Xian is beyond belief, apparently some of the worst in China. Yellow-gray smog hangs so thickly in the air that details half a block away were often hazy, and it sometimes obscured the sun. If you’ve ever been close enough to a massive forest fire when ash falls from the sky, it was like that but much worse. The air feels gritty in your throat, and a metallic taste settled in my mouth. I went around much of the time holding my scarf over my mouth like Dracula’s cape, and at night I dreamed that I had been shot and my lungs were filling up with blood. I hate to think of the amount of respiratory illness and preventable deaths this must be causing to the people who have to live in it. This must be what the notorious pea soup fogs of old London were like.

To my surprise, as we were traveling with others as well for the Xian leg of a trip, the others booked the whole group with a tour guide. I had no idea this was going to happen, and while I did get to see a lot of stuff that I would undoubtedly never have seen otherwise and it was extremely kind of them to have me along, overall it confirmed my preference for traveling on my own schedule, taking as much time at any given place as I want to spend and being able to go back to the hotel and relax if I feel like relaxing. Our days began at about 9 AM and did not conclude till 9 PM, with every minute tightly scheduled.

The very first night, we were taken to a touristy dumpling restaurant featuring a giant gold dumpling in the lobby beside a dumpling diorama, with wee dumpling-making wooden people and a display of dumplings cunningly shaped into goldfish, frogs, crabs, ducks, etc, complete with little bulgy eyes. The dumplings we ate, while varied in fillings (the best was a sweet-sour tomato-cabbage which tasted more Eastern European than Chinese to me) tough-skinned and lukewarm. When a hotpot was lit at the table, reminding me of the episode of Top Chef Masters where one of the chefs smears Sterno on a coconut and sets it on fire, one of the aunties suggested that we drop the dumplings in the boiling soup to heat them up!

We were then whisked off to an over-amplified performance in a very cold theatre of a local precursor to the Peking Opera, which did not feature any tumbling or wu shu. I’m afraid I do better with cultural activities when I’m expecting them, not exhausted from a plane trip, and have had time to look them up in advance. And have some vague idea of what’s going on. It was subtitled, but in simplified Chinese, which Oyce can read only with difficulty, as she learned traditional Chinese. I know a few of the characters which overlap with Japanese, which I read at about a first grade level. The performance went something like this:

Maiden minces about the stage, declaiming in archaic Chinese. Twelve characters flash across the scene, of which I can read “heart” and “flower.” Oyce whispers to me, “Something about a heart and a flower.”

Overall my favorite part of the performance was when a man came onstage to do a comic monologue and manipulated strings to make his moustache bounce up and down. I think the entire group felt the same way, because we fled at intermission.

Note: Please, no comments about China being evil. Obviously I have criticisms, but these are merely my impressions as a tourist, and are not meant as a condemnation of an entire vast country and all its inhabitants.
rachelmanija: (Heroes: shaken not stirred)
( Dec. 20th, 2009 06:43 am)
Last night at a Chinese banquet featuring smoked goose, prawns wrapped in bacon, sticky rice, and ten other courses I'm too lazy to describe, the room began to vibrate. Due to jet lag, the late hour, and three glasses of wine it was some time before I finally said, "Er... does anyone else feel that?"

The shaking continued and intensified. Since nobody seemed very concerned and the table was a folding one, I did not duck under it. Turns out it was a 6.8 quake, which is big, but there were only a few injuries and no deaths. Hopefully there will be no more natural disasters on this trip...

During the banquet, a guy asked Oyce's Dad, "When are you leaving for Xian?"

Not hearing the question correctly, he replied, "The Han Dynasty."

It's freezing cold, by the way, and the thermal underwear I bought before leaving turned out to be a top, not a bottom - they are all rolled up and I guess a top fell into the bottom bin. I have bought additional thermal underwear, but as I am still freezing and am not even in Xian yet... well, I expect to be cold. Very cold. Like New England is, apparently.

By the way, China blocks LJ. You all will hear from me in about five days. In the meantime and if you celebrate, have a merry Christmas and a happy Yuletide! I braved nearly frozen fingers today to write one more Treat.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Dec. 18th, 2009 07:46 pm)
I have very little to report as I arrived late - very late - two hours late last night, my flight having been delayed in Tokyo. If I'd known the flight would be delayed, I would not have eaten the disgusting pizza served by American Airlines and instead gotten some ramen at the airport in Tokyo.

As those of you who have gotten my trip reports before will be completely unsurprised to hear, within hours of takeoff from Los Angeles, we hit some serious turbulence and the gentleman sitting next to me spilled his coffee in my lap. He turned out to be a surgeon on his way to a conference in Hong Kong and spent much of the flight viewing color high definition videos of a laparoscopic operation on a pancreas. Luckily I am not squeamish. He was an Indian or Indian-American from South Africa who has traveled to every continent but the Poles and Australia, and we spent several entertaining hours discussing travel, culture, politics, and religion. He recommended Yogananda, and I recommended "The Year of Living Biblically."

It was only after I realized the highly cultured nature of my next-seat-neighbor, not to mention his highly educated choice of in-flight entertainment, that I realized that my own choice of reading material might have been selected for its embarrassing covers. Of my three book covers, one had a woman riding a dinosaur, one consisted entirely of the bare chest of a male model, and the third featured an improbably wasp-waisted woman in a billowing scarlet dress fleeing from a Quasimodo-like figure on a moor. (For the curious, they were respectively C. J. Cherryh's "Forty Thousand in Gehenna," Eloisa James' "The Taming of the Duke," and Joan Aiken's "Watch the Wall, My Darling.")

I was greeted upon my arrival in Taiwan by a guy holding a sign reading "Manija Broca." Since I'd only had about three hours of sleep in the last twenty-four, I momentarily wondered if there was, in fact, a Manija Broca on the flight. Then I came to my senses. Luckily there were very few non-Asians on the flight, so the guy waved at me. (We don't know each other - he was just the delegated pick-up.) If I recall correctly, Broca's Area is a part of the brain regulating language, so I guess our confusion was appropriate.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Oct. 30th, 2009 02:12 pm)
Has anyone applied for a visa to go to China before? The PRC website, from which I get the application, is very unhelpful.

1. I've been to Taiwan before, but not mainland China. Do I answer yes or no to the question "Have you visited China before?"

2. It requires contact information for friends or relatives in China. I have no friends or relatives in China. (That sounds so sad.) Do I...

- provide contact information for the hotel in China?

- provide contact information for my friends in Taiwan?

ETA: I'm aware that the political situation, down to the terminology, is very complex. That's why I'm asking - I'm not sure, for the purposes of getting a visa, what I'm supposed to put down.

ETA II: Thanks guys! I think I was being overly paranoid about "OMG is this some sort of politically loaded trick question??"
.

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