Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Depends on what you think heaven is like

From Rick Warren's invocation at the inauguration: "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven."

From C-SPAN's closed captioning: "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shopping in heaven."

Those gloves

I love Michelle Obama. And I love her gloves. I'm late to getting online and reading about them ... to find out that they're from J. Crew. I could have those gloves.

I can't even get to that part of their website now.

I wonder how much they are going for on eBay.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I ate a lot of duck in China. Two kinds:

1. The kind that looks like a duck. Beijing Duck -- so good, but they make sure to provide the duck's head in order to prove it's duck. I made sure the lazy susan was spun the other way as often as possible.

2. The kind that is called pig. While I didn't actually see any heads or discernable features, the Theodore H. White story stuck with me:

After a year of growing friendship, Chou Enlai invited me to a banquet in my honor. We went to the finest restaurant in Chungking, the Kuan Sun Yuan, to dine—Chou, the Communist headquarters staff and myself, the only Westerner.

The reader must remember now how far I had come from my Jewish home. I knew I had been for months eating nonkosher food, but always tried to delude myself that the meats I ate were lamb, beef, or chicken. I was still so pinned to Jewish tradition that to eat pig outright seemed a profanation. At Chou Enlai's banquet, however, the main course was unmistakably pig, a golden-brown, crackle-skinned roast suckling pig.

"Ch 'ing, ch 'ing," said Chou Enlai, the host. "Please, please," gesturing with his chopsticks at the pig, inviting the guest to break the crackle first. For a moment I held on to my past. I put my chopsticks down and explained as best I could in Chinese that I was Jewish and that Jews were not allowed to eat any kind of pig meat. The group, all friends of mine by then, sat downcast and silent, for I was their guest, and they had done wrong.

Then Chou himself took over. He lifted his chopsticks once more, repeated, "ch 'ing, ch 'ing," pointed the chopsticks at the suckling pig and, grinning, explained—"Teddy," he said, "this is China. Look again. See. Look. It looks to you like pig. But in China, this is not a pig —this is a duck." I burst out laughing, for I could not help it; he laughed, the table laughed, I plunged my chopsticks in, broke the, crackle, ate my first mouthful of certified pig, and have eaten of pig ever since, for which I hope my ancestors will forgive me.

Culture shock

Things I miss about China:

  • Elevator "door close" buttons that actually close the doors right away.
  • The pork chop noodle soup from the massage place.
  • Toothpicks provided with every meal.
  • More substantial packets of sugar. Packets here seem to have less and less sugar every year.
  • Prices. The 90 minute massage plus the above pork chop noodle soup plus any other food and drink I wanted at the spa, including on-the-spot squeezed apple-cucumber juice ... cost $15. 
Things that are really different here:
  • Carbs: Aside from rice noodles, we ate very few carbs. "Chinese food" is not served with rice there. Walking through the grocery store today, I was amazed at how many flour products we have.  

  • Litigation. A number of us noted as we walked through the Forbidden City that there were many ways to trip and hurt yourself on the irregularly-paved surface. That in the US the surface would have been fixed or the intentional variation (such as grooves in the surface) would have been cordoned off so that no one would get hurt. Instead, we had to watch our steps. Kind of liberating. 

  • News. The Kelloggs salmonella recall has been an eye opener. My first thought was actually, "So American. In China there is so much central control that there were no things like food recalls." My second thought was, "Ah, right, control of the news."

  • Inauguration burnout. While I was there, sick in bed, I watched hours of the BBC and CNN. Loving every bit of American political news. But once I returned it took me less than 24 hours to feel that the inauguration preparation is overhyped.

  • Traffic. I feel like I have PTSD from the Chinese traffic. It was remarkably bad. Like nothing I've experienced here, even as a rush-hour commuter. In Shanghai, a three-lane freeway has four lanes because people are trying to take advantage of every spare inch to get ahead. And it's not four lanes of forward motion: it's four lanes of weaving (at one mile an hour), taking advantage of that every inch. A friend rightly pointed out that the traffic would move just fine if people stopped changing lanes. Here, I was driving down San Pablo and was behind about four cars that weren't moving. Perhaps there was a stoplight. My anxiety level went through the roof as I suddenly believed I would be stuck there for hours.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Maybe it's because I'm sick-sick, but I feel homesick. My only outing for the day was to the American embassy for a meeting with various economic and security staff. Recognizing from a distance the seal ("The Great Seal of the United States") on the side of the building, the glimmer of familiarity of that bald eagle felt good. When I walked up to the equivalent of the ticket window, the guy behind it said, "Hey, how's it going?" in an informal way and with such a good American accent that provided a rush of comfort. (I'm sure that's a staged thing, but it felt good anyway.) Not that it was any different from Chinese soil, but it felt good to be back on American soil, in a place where rules are unambigious. (At least, to me. At the corner near the American embassy, two busy streets intersect -- and there are no traffic controls. And yet you wouldn't know unless you tried to cross the street and started looking for a stoplight: the traffic looks like that in every other intersection here.)

I don't even bother carrying a camera or a notepad any more. Beijing is a beautiful city, but I'm done and hope to come back to truly experience it as a tourist.

No need for a pig humidifier (which was really an ox, for year of the ox, but it was round and had a nose like a pig): apparently the hotel provides humidifiers, and I could have had one all this time. Perhaps it would have saved my lungs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Escaping the cameras

I'm free! I feel like Truman in "The The Truman Show" when he escapes the cameras. Like in the spy movies when they manage to sneak through the cracks in observation.

The Shanghai/Beijing part of this trip has felt like I'm traveling in a Communist country. Oh, wait. But I mean that it has felt very orchestrated. Not because we are a threat but because the organizers were very ambitious and crammed the schedule, allowing no room for spontaneity or independence. We actually surprised them when we visited a river/canal town near Shanghai, Zhujiajiao. They thought we wanted to see something historic, and we did, but then we MBAs went mad over the shopping and negotiating process. After the extraordinary massiveness of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao has a scale that is small and cozy and the familiarity and freedom of instant-gratification shopping (until then, our shopping had been at the LVMH flagship store in the huge mall). We bought a lot of crap. I don't think they expected us to go so nuts over the tourist souvenirs, but the shopping bug took over for all of us. We all needed that freedom.

I thought Beijing would provide more free time, but no. The problem with these cities, versus my beloved Hong Kong, is that they are so big and we take a bus everywhere, so every trip takes 30 to 90 minutes. In Hong Kong, everything was under 15 minutes away, and travel was not passive: you had to consciously get on the right train or walk down the right street.

But now I have a really bad cold. Yesterday the organizer, who was also getting sick, and I went to a Chinese medical facility and got Chinese meds. I had no voice, laryngitis, at the time. The pills they gave me immediately restored it. Cool.

I felt so crummy as we began tonight's 40-person pizza dinner that I bagged out entirely. And I think even the freedom is causing me to feel better. I walked into the hotel and immediately asked the concierge where I could find a pharmacy, because no matter what eastern meds I'm taking, I need Robitussin. He pointed across the street to the big sign that said, "Supermarket."

Crossing a dajie, a big Beijing street, at night in the cold, all by myself! No American voices next to me. Going into the supermarket, it had the familiar smell of fresh vegetables. I found the pharmacy, which looked just like the place I'd visited yesterday. That particular pharmacy did have a western section with several flavors or Robitussin. I mimed coughing (actually, I coughed), and they pointed me to the right counter. I thought, how do I see where the Robitussin is? Then I noticed the large advertisement for it on the counter and pointed to it. Whoo-hoo!

I ended up talking to a very nice pharmacist via his medical complaint translation book. He gave me another med as well. I have bought meds on my own at a Chinese pharmacy where they don't speak English!

Then, after super-strongly considering buying a green pig-shaped humidifier (I still might have to do that -- my hesitation is that the instructions are not in English and look complicated ... but, after all, it's just a humidifier so I could probably figure it out) for $15, I bought some apple juice and re-crossed the street. No caucasians around! I joined a small group, including a woman holding a very ugly shih-tsu in a sweater, that was doing the pedestrian-inch-across-the-street-in-traffic-before-the-light-changes thing. Such a free feeling.

And now my chicken soup has arrived from room service. Who knew that having a cold could be so liberating?

Clockwise with Robitussin at the center: asthma chewables (red box), syrup to treat runny nose and sore throat, sore throat lozenges, immune strengthener tea, voice restorer pills, something else for throat tea.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Greetings from Beijing

Shanghai was as jam-packed as I anticipated, and since I was being driven around on a bus from meeting to meeting I saw very little of it. Beijing is awesome. I'm off to a Beijing duck lunch.

Taken in below-freezing weather as we embarked on more than two hours at the Forbidden City:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Photo of the night

That "sa" is the same character as in "Li-sa."

I like Goldman's view better

Views from more skyscrapers:


Monday, January 5, 2009

Photo of the day

The henchwoman wasn't blonde

Before our Goldman Sachs meeting, I strolled over to the window with my iPhone to try to calmly and discreetly take a photo of their totally spectacular view.

I heard a voice with a mysterious accent at my shoulder: "It's quite a view, isn't it." I was caught in the act.

It was the blonde henchwoman from "The Incredibles." I swear it was. Except she had dark hair. Her accent was a combination of Australian and Chinese. She was the head of recruiting at Goldman Sachs.

"UBS has an even better view," she murmured.

... and more


  • A double decker bus to Stanley Market (top level)
  • A minibus from Stanley Market (why don't more people take these?)
  • The Mid-Level Escalator (all the way to the top this time, then walking down)
  • A few taxis.
All I have left is a red minibus (not sure if I can figure those out) and an electronic trolley (tomorrow morning?).

I am a transportation geek.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hong Kong, high and low

I took four forms of transportation today:
1. The subway
2. The ferry (Star Ferry)
3. The funicular (Peak Tram)
4. The Mid-Levels Escalator

Bidet giggles

Four forms of communication (Chinese, English, braille, and pictures), plus rows of lights, and yet how to turn it off once you've started pushing buttons is still unclear.

(If they hadn't written "ladies" on this, would people have washed their faces with it?)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Liveblog from flight to Hong Kong

[It took me a while to figure out how to post this -- my first encounter with Google China -- all the links were in Chinese.]

My biggest fear: the weight of my suitcase. It weighed 48.4 pounds. Whew!

On a packed plane to Hong Kong, the seat next to my window seat (which is at some sort of structural point, so there is no actual window) is empty. The guy in the aisle seat, Gary (my made up name for him, although I would think his name is Ryan), and I look at each other and decide we’re the luckiest people on the plane.

If there had been someone sitting next to me, and me with no window, just a blank wall, I would have gone insane with claustrophobia.

As we’re served our food, United shows an hourlong Discovery Planet special. It’s on lions. And, over and over, it shows lions killing and eating a variety of animals. Oh, and then they show some sort of ceremonial bleeding of a cow. Really appetizing. Plus I feel for the mother of the four-year-old girl in the first row, right under the movie screen.

I am so grateful to M&M for sharing their Bose noise-canceling headphones with me. I took them off at one point – how deafeningly loud planes are. Cordless, I can even wear them walking around the plane. Why don’t people just wear these all the time? We can converse with them on, so why not cancel out everything else? Why don’t airplanes just use the technology to fly more quietly?

Further playing with my airplane toys, I just dropped an Airborne into my latest cup of water. Wow, that stuff looks nuclear.

10:30 AM HKT
After I looked out of my half-window and saw the spectacular mountains of an Aleutian island, the second movie, “Ghost Town,” with Ricky Gervais (loved it, cried) played. Then I check my watch and am shocked at how much longer this plane ride is. The in-flight map comes on, and I see that we are over the Bering Strait, barely past the “Great State of Alaska,” still flying over the Aleutians, and WE ARE NOT EVEN HALFWAY THERE?? I have eaten pretty much all of my snacks – all I have left is a Special K bar and half of a really destroyed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I can’t find my the two packs of gum I packed. These fabulous headphones are weighing heavily on me. Normally I pack too heavily for the plane and end up with too many snacks when I land. This time, I did not bring enough variety of food and entertainment.

If there had been someone in the middle seat, I would have had to jump out of the plane.

I’ve been Freecell-sober for almost 10 years, but now being able to play solitaire for 10 hours straight seems like it would be a functional skill. However, I seem to have deleted all games of all sorts from this damn laptop!

OK, in my widgets I have a tile game. This will last me about 30 seconds. Where is my Tetris????

12:10 PM HKT
Cried through another movie, “Nights in Rodanthe.” Good thing I had Kleenex within reach: just as I thought I had my eyes under control, my nose started dripping. With Bill’s death this week, I can’t handle all this dying in movies. Next up is “The Duchess.” Hopefully it’s just about manipulative people and there is no poignant dying. Meanwhile, there are more than six hours left to the flight. What are they going to do about entertainment? We only have one more movie on tap. Then four hours of TV? Hopefully no more lion shows.

I’m so bored!

I want another cup of water so I can make another Airborne radioactive drink.