Thursday, June 21, 2018

Dating Underwater
6. Three Views of Japan

Miyajima is a tiny island, about 2 miles wide and 6 miles long. Most of the island is wooded mountains surrounded by small beaches. The village at the pier probably looks just like it did during the Edo period – only with electricity and paved roads.

Rather than the scenery, most people go to the island for the temples. They are everywhere, from a large Shinto shrine that sits directly on the water at high tide to tiny boxes perched up in the middle of the forest. When my ride from the hotel dropped me off downtown, I walked through the village for a few minutes before I wandered along the shore and met a few deer. They wanted some food, but so did I. They were as friendly as cartoon deer that never have to worry about hunters, but they were hungry, so they moved on to other people as soon as they realized I was not going to feed them.

Walking along the shore, I noticed the Itsukushima Shrine torii jetting out of the water. It was hard to miss. It was painted red and stood out with the blue water and sky behind it. There were also dozens of people taking pictures. Around the corner from the torii was Itsukushima Shrine itself, an impressive building and unlike any Shinto shrine I had ever seen. Instead of a tall, dark building, it was spread out flat and painted the same vermilion red as the torii. Red is the common color for torii, but every Shinto shrine I had ever seen was brown/black.

The Itsukushima Shrine is so important to Miyajima that the island's name is actually Itsukushima. Everyone just calls it Miyajima. Even the signs from the Hiroshima pier said that the ferry went to Miyajima. As far as I could tell, the only time anyone ever used the word Itsukushima was in reference to the shrine and/or torii. The locals call the island Miyajima, so that's what I call it.

I wanted to go inside the shrine, but it was large and I was hungry. At the other end of the village, there was a row of restaurants. Not surprisingly, they all served Japanese food. Miyajima has a lot going for it, but one of the things I liked best was that there was not a single McDonald's, Starbucks or anything even remotely resembling a corporate chain store. The tourist shops in the village were owned by the people inside and the restaurants were all local. Maybe the Shinto and Buddhist buildings were part of a larger organization, but this was an independent town. Even the hotels were independent. There is no Hilton on Miyajima. The only trace of the corporate world I saw were the drinks in the public vending machines. Miyajima is Japan, so there are vending machines all over the place.

After lunch, I spent entirely too much time in the shrine. I knew when Hisoka was coming back to Miyajima, but I did not know what his plans were. If he wanted to show me the holy sites, he was too late. From Itsukushima, I went to Senjokaku and the Five Story Pagoda, Daiganji, Kiyomori and several smaller Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

I was back at the hotel by the time Hisoka arrived. I probably could have met him at the pier, but he was not expecting me there and I would have had a hard time spotting him in a sea of unfamiliar Japanese faces. It never made any difference, since his plans were as far away from the village as you can get and still be on the island.

Hisoka thought I would appreciate the views from Mt Misen, the highest point on the island, and he was right. The ropeway to the top is actually two separate cable car lines, but unless you have all day and a case or two of water, you might not want to hike it. The view from the top of the ropeway is spectacular, and it's not even the top of the mountain. There is still another half mile hike and 300 feet up.

From the station, you can easily see dozens of islands in the Seto Inland Sea and large chunks of Shikoku and Honshu, with obstructed views of Hiroshima. You can also really appreciate how long and high the cable cars ride. It's not ideal for people with acrophobia.

There are several temples along the hike to the top, which provide welcome spots to rest and plenty of places to buy water. Mt Misen is a sacred mountain overlooking a sacred island, so anyone interested in Buddhism will have plenty to experience. It's also the best spot outside of the main village to have a few dozen deer nudge your hands for food.

The last temple on the way up is pretty small. Beyond that, you walk under, through and over some big rocks. The views from the peak are unbelievable. According to Japan, Itsukushima's torii is one of the “Three Views of Japan”. The torii is nice, and looks good with the water backdrop, but from the top of Mt Misen, you have a 360 degree view of everything you would expect from an island surrounded by other islands. The Seto Inland Sea is stretched out in almost every direction and Hiroshima is plain as day. Had I known anything about the city, I probably would have recognized several buildings. You can also look down on most of Miyajima.

Mt Misen is the kind of natural environment where I could easily spend the entire day, if the last cable car did not head down at dusk. Quite reasonably, they do not want too many people up there after dark. Hiking back down at night is an equal combination of dangerous and stupid. I'm sure the deer also want some private time. There are a lot of them. They have to come from somewhere.

I took pictures, of course, but my crappy cellphone camera does not do this place justice. These are pictures from other people, whom I can't credit because I don't have any names/agencies. Their equipment was much better than mine, but these images are still a pale imitation of how it looks in person.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Dating Underwater
5. Onsen Onna

Hisoka checked me into the hotel, which was convenient since no one spoke English and I know less than a dozen phrases in Japanese. He would not be staying. In fact, he had to turn around and take the ferry back to Hiroshima for a big meeting. He only went on the roller coaster van ride to escort me to the hot springs. He would come back a few hours later and we could have a proper first date. In the meantime, I could enjoy the hot springs, go back into town or just wander around the island.

Hisoka was taking the same tiny van back to the pier, so I could have easily gone with him and explored downtown Miyajima, but that sounded like going in circles to me. I was at a nice looking hotel that was supposed to have some great hot springs. I felt like I should probably give them a chance.

This particular hotel was built around the water. That was its biggest selling point. It was also small enough that it could stay booked without catering to foreign tourists. There were no English signs anywhere, and even though I saw the name of the hotel written in Japanese several times, I have no idea what it is.

My room was a combination of traditional ryokan and modern convenience. Everything was wooden, or at least wood colored, but there was also a modern bed and flat screen TV. While most hotel rooms have a white robe, this one had a floral yukata. This place was not trying to look authentically Japanese. It was authentically Japanese.

After Hisoka left, I figured I might as well check out the hot springs. At the back of the hotel were several rooms, one of which was the shower/locker room for women. Men had their own room a respectable distance away. The women's room had a red sign and the men's room was blue. Apparently, everyone in Japan knows that red is for women and blue is for men. I never knew that, but the signs also had the Japanese words for male and female, which are identical to the Chinese words. At least in writing. The pronunciation is completely different. Some of the first Chinese I ever learned was male (男) – a stick figure trying to balance a giant head, and female (女) – a stick figure dancing. Most Chinese words do not work out that well.

What I know about the myriad of Japanese rules and customs can fit on a leaflet. Fortunately, there was an old woman in the 女 locker room. She did not speak English, but we communicated through the international language of gestures and hand signals. Some facial expressions are universal.

I knew that public showers were not rare in Japan, so I was not entirely shocked when the old woman took off her clothes and placed them, gently folded, into a cubbyhole. She motioned toward the showers before she sat down on a tiny stool and hosed herself off. I followed, being careful not to stare at her while making sure that I did whatever she did.

The stools were short, as were the shower heads. I thought it would be difficult for older people to squat and shower, but she did it all effortlessly. She used the bucket without splashing any water, even though we were the only two people there. When finished, she cleaned the bucket, stool and shower wall. Other than everything being wet, there was no evidence that anyone was ever there. I suddenly realized why this system would never work in China.

Clean enough to go in the mineral water, the old woman wrapped a towel around her body and I did the same before following her outdoors. There were a few different hot springs of varying temperatures, both indoors and outdoors. The old woman pointed to each and said something, which I assumed had to do with water temperatures. She might have also tried to warn me not to put my face in the water, but I have been to the Dead Sea. I know that the last place you want those minerals is in your eyes.

The old woman tied her hair up before choosing a pool. Women, and men, are not supposed to let their hair enter the water. Most women, and some men, simply put their hair up. I still have short hair, so it was not going to be a problem for me. The old woman then walked to her choice, took off her towel and sat naked in the water.

I dipped a toe into each pool. The one indoors was more warm than hot. The room looked nice, with wood everywhere and a wall full of paned picture windows that showed the natural scenery outdoors, but the pools outdoors looked better.

The old woman's pool was the smallest and unbearably hot. I have cooked food at lower temperatures. She was obviously used to it. I went with the largest pool, which was hot enough to call itself a hot spring, but not hot enough to sear my flesh. Unlike a swimming pool, the hot spring had large rocks on the floor, as well as rocks along the border into the grass and stone paths. Swimming would have been difficult, but sitting on the rocks was easy. They were all smooth and at just the right height to remain mostly submerged in the water.

It was hard to tell how much of my surroundings were natural and how much was built by the hotel. Beyond the grass and paths were trees that quickly veered uphill. Other than whatever animals lived in the woods, the hot springs were protected from prying eyes. Not even the rooms in the hotel faced the water.

When the term idyllic setting was invented, they were thinking about places like this. I could have stayed there all day. But you can't cook in a hot spring for too long. When the old woman left her pool, she said goodbye to me and disappeared into the locker room. I don't know what the etiquette is for loitering in geothermal pools, so I decided it was time to go. The old woman wore her towel from the pool to the locker room, so I did too. There was no one else there, but when in doubt, do what the old ladies do. One of the few things I know about Japanese onsen is that you are not supposed to shower after the hot spring. You want to keep the minerals on your skin as long as possible.

Rested and simmered, I was ready to eat. The hotel had plenty of food, but I wanted to see what was available in town. Getting a ride was pretty easy. When you are the only foreigner at an inn in the mountains, there are really only so many places you want to go.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Dating Underwater
4. Endless Driving, Endlessly

At Hiroshima Airport, it looked like we parked at the main terminal, but they played with our passports in a smaller room than I would expect from an international airport. Getting into Japan is always easy, but on a private flight full of Japanese businessmen, my passport was stamped without anyone flipping through the pages.

At the airport, Hisoka's friends shook hands, bowed and scattered. Everyone went off to wherever they went and I was happy that they would not be joining us. They were perfectly pleasant people, but I was on a date. Twelve's a crowd.

Hisoka and I took a taxi into town. This was our only taxi ride that was actually a metered taxi. Everything else Hisoka called a taxi was one type of black car or another, driven by some guy who never asked for any money. This taxi driver wanted to be paid when we arrived at our destination, but the car was still black.

During the one hour taxi ride from the airport into Hiroshima, Hisoka apologized that it took so long. There are apparently no trains from the airport, which is kind of strange for Japan. The long drive did not bother me. Even with trains, it takes an hour to get from Tokyo Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo. I can only imagine how long it takes by car. It was not like I was jet lagged. The flight was more comfortable than first class and we only spent minutes at the airports.

I saw almost none of Hiroshima from the freeway. It was obvious when we were in a city versus out in the countryside, but the city was mostly hidden by tunnels and shrubbery. When we finally got off the freeway, we were in a small, suburban town. When we reached the coast, we kept going. Hisoka told me we were in Hiroshima, but on the outskirts of town. It seemed like we had driven long enough, but what I did not know at the time was that we went around to the other side. The outskirts we were on was not between the city and the airport, but on the opposite side of the city.

Wherever we were suddenly got bigger just before the taxi stopped at the pier. I knew we were taking a boat to an island, but we seemed to be leaving from a popular tourist spot of its own. When Hisoka originally suggested going to Hiroshima, he really meant a small island just off the mainland. He was not being deceptive. For the longest time, the island was considered part of Hiroshima. Now, it is part of a different city, but most Japanese still consider it in Hiroshima.

The ferry was quick. It was like taking the ferry from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty. You can easily see the island from the Hiroshima side. The mountains stand out far more than a single statue holding a torch. The boat travels a little over a mile.

At the ferry terminal on the island of Miyajima, someone was waiting to drive us to the hotel. It was another black van, but this one was much smaller. Hisoka's colleagues would have never fit. From the pier, we drove along the coast for a few minutes before we started winding uphill, passing mostly trees and grass with the occasional house here and there. After we went downhill, we turned onto the coast again and passed a tiny beach. I thought we were going to turn at the hotel we saw on the beach. It was the only building that looked anything like a hotel and beyond it were more trees and woodland. But we kept going. After passing a few more hotels, we went back uphill and downhill.

The coast appeared again at another, even tinier beach. We drove along the coast for a while, passing more beaches and a beautiful nature park – what little we could see from the road. I saw my first deer at the nature park, which is strange since they are all over the island. I would see hundreds later on, but for whatever reason, I did not see any at the pier when we arrived.

Beyond the nature park, we started to really go uphill again. I wondered if there was a more direct route, but it turns out Miyajima is mostly mountains and woods with only a few roads going from one end to the other. The road narrowed the higher we ascended, but it was still paved. It was not, however, marked. I would have been completely lost if I was driving.

We kept going higher and higher, and the road got ridiculously narrow. I could see why we were in a tiny, Japanese size van. A normal van, or even a sedan, would have struggled to squeeze in between the trees and greenery. Eventually, I caught glimpses of the coast again. Only this time we were high above whatever beaches lay below. And then we started going downhill, maybe a little too fast, but there was no cross traffic. Maybe a deer could have jumped in front of the van, but there were no cars in sight.

Back at sea level, there was a beautiful and completely empty beach. The view from the beach was several islands and the Seto Inland Sea. I wondered why no one was there. It briefly crossed my mind that if Hisoka wanted to murder me and dump my body somewhere, this might be the perfect place. Few people live on Miyajima and you only have to travel a few minutes away from the pier for it to get completely deserted.

Beyond Murder Beach, we were going back uphill. Even if I had jumped out of the van at this point, I would have absolutely no idea how to get to civilization. Up a long and winding road, there were more ocean views with islands as far as the eye could see. It was spectacular, but for the guy driving us, it was just another day at the office.

We started going back downhill yet again and passed yet another empty beach with similar views of probably the same islands. When the beach ended, we went back uphill into the woods.

I usually pick the hotel whenever I travel. Whether I go with others or alone, I'm mostly the one who does the research. I look at the maps and skim the reviews. Even if I have never been to the country before, I can find the hotel on a map. For this trip, all I did was show up. I had no idea where to go or how to get there. I was completely in Hisoka's hands. It was nice to have someone else lead the way for a change.

Surrounded by trees, brush and more trees, we turned off onto a smaller road. I did not think the roads could get any smaller, but this one meandered toward an obvious structure. Some time between 30 minutes and 30 years after leaving the pier, we were at the hotel.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Dating Underwater
3. Flight 22

I wanted to meet Hisoka at the airport. I have been to Hong Kong International Airport I don't know how many times. Almost every time I leave the city is by plane, even going into Mainland China. I have never taken a car or train across the border. The only exception was the ferry to Macau. Hong Kong Airport is huge, but easy to navigate. It is one of the easiest airports in the world to get to from downtown, but the Airport Express goes to the passenger terminals. We were flying out of the Business Aviation Centre, which is on the south end of the island. Apparently, getting from one section of the airport to another is difficult. In China, if you want to do something different from what a billion other people do, no one knows how. Hisoka said he was taking a taxi to the airport and they should pick me up on the way.

I don't have a lot of rules about dating, but one of them is to avoid letting a first date know where I live, if at all possible. You always take a risk when you go out with a strange man for the first time. That's why dates are usually at restaurants or other crowded places. On the other hand, I was going out of the country with this guy, but that's never come up before.

Hisoka was staying at the Harbour Grand Kowloon on the Hung Hom Promenade, next to that shopping boat – whatever that thing is. I knew his hotel was a quick MTR ride away, so we met there. When I walked into the lobby, he was ready to go. That was a good sign. I like people who are punctual. He was also talking to a few Japanese businessman wearing similar suits as his. He introduced me to his friends, who eagerly shook my hand and bowed politely. Everyone looked Hisoka's age or slightly older, but there was one man who was clearly the boss. Within any group of Japanese businessmen, you can always tell who holds seniority. They worked for a software company, but they were not Silicon Valley casual. I was starting to wonder what kind of date this was going to be.

Hisoka told me that we were waiting for a few more people. When they arrived, they apologized to everyone, especially the boss, met me and apologized to me. I waited less than five minutes, but I have no idea how long everyone else was waiting for these slugabeds. When everyone was ready, a dozen of us piled into two black passenger vans. I was expecting a red and white taxi with Hisoka. This was not how dates usually go. I took comfort in the fact that Hisoka was the most handsome man in this group. They all wore the same uniform and were clearly on the same team, but he stood out.

I realized why going to his hotel was better than meeting at the airport as soon as we drove off the freeway and took a different bridge from Lantau to Chek Lap Kok. While the freeway ends right in front of the terminals, the small road we were on hugged the coast and veered away from all of the passenger buildings. We drove almost the length of the island until we turned into a tiny but fortified parking lot. In a structure infinitely smaller than Terminal 1, we were greeted by a woman in a uniform who knew we were coming.

The Business Aviation Centre is what I imagine airports used to be like back when everyone dressed up to go anywhere and carried small suitcases and hat boxes. Or at least the simplicity of the airport in the “Room for one more, honey” Twilight Zone episode. The Business Centre had a check-in counter and passport control, but it was on a much smaller, faster and simpler scale. Everyone in the building knew what flight we were on and passports were stamped without inspection or interrogation. Except mine. Since I have a Hong Kong ID, they never stamp my passport. I scan it on departure and arrival and the computers keep track of everything.

Hisoka and his friends found that terribly convenient. They asked the woman who stamped their passports if they could use the e-channel without a Hong Kong ID. And of course, they can. Hong Kong has a Frequent Visitor Card for people who come often. I was surprised that Hisoka never knew about it, considering how often he flies to Hong Kong. While I waited in the Business Centre lounge, which was like any airport first class lounge, they all filled out paperwork for next time.

I brought an overnight bag, just in case, but I had not made up my mind about spending the night. I wanted to, mostly because I had never been to Hiroshima, but I was still wrapping my mind around how strange this all was. Everyone had luggage, but they were all going home while I was going somewhere new. The plane had more than enough room for all of us.

So far, there was nothing about this first date that reminded me of a first date.

When everyone was ready, which was hours faster than any commercial flight, we were escorted outdoors where two men in uniforms were standing next to the staircase that led into the plane. There was even a tiny red carpet, for some reason. It was about the size of a beach towel, so it served no real purpose. Between the building and plane, we still had to walk on the pavement like the common folk.

Since I knew we were taking a private flight, I was expecting a small plane that holds 4 to 8 people, like a Gulfstream or Learjet. Our plane was larger, maybe a Boeing 727 or Airbus A318. There were too many of us for a tiny plane, but this plane looked too big. Inside, it was much smaller. Instead of a hundred tiny seats all crammed together, it was decorated to make business executives feel important. The interior looked like some CEO's office. There were still more seats than passengers, but there were also sofas, tables and desks. Beyond the bathroom, which was larger and cleaner than any airplane bathroom I have ever seen, there was a private office. It was nothing like economy class.

It was a short flight to Hiroshima, but for Hisoka, it was a business meeting. Everyone in a suit huddled around a desk and talked shop the entire flight. I sat in a reclining lounge chair and listened to music. It never seemed to bother anyone that I was there. If it did, they were too polite to let me know.

The plane was about this size.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dating Underwater
2. The Best Laid Plans Go Oft Awry

When Hisoka went back to Tokyo, he sent me text messages every day. I liked talking to him, but I wondered when he was going to give up. He does not come to Hong Kong every weekend, and even when he is here, he's always going to meetings and conferences and business dinners. I did not think he had time for anyone and I definitely was not interested in another long distance relationship. The last time I had one of those, I lost the closest thing I have ever come to a soulmate. I'm overjoyed that we never got married. That would have been a disaster. But ending that relationship was painful at the time.

Eventually, Hisoka came up with a plan for our first date. I immediately told him it was crazy. He agreed with me, but he also thought it would work out pretty well. He obviously put a lot of thought into it.

His next trip to China was too busy, but he was going straight from Hong Kong to Hiroshima, where he would have some free time before he had to be back in Tokyo. Since it is only a 3 hour flight to Hiroshima, he reasoned that we could go together, have our date in Hiroshima and then I could either stick around and explore the city or go home when he went back to Tokyo.

I had a list of reasons why that would never work.

1. I can't go to another country just for a date.
2. A 3 hour flight translates to 8 hours of airports and transportation – one way.
3. I don't know anything about Hiroshima, other than we bombed it a few years ago. If I want to spend the night, I have not done any research. If I do not spend the night, that's a crazy trip.

Hisoka had plenty of answers.

1. Why not? Hong Kong is surrounded by other countries. If you never want to cross a border, you can never leave the city.
2. Since he is using his company's plane, there would be very little time spent at the airport. Private flights are much easier than commercial flights.
3. Hiroshima has all the best of Japan. It is an ancient city with all the culture, but the buildings and infrastructure are relatively new. Nothing in the city was built before 1945 – mostly because we bombed it a few years ago.

We went back and forth for a while, but then Hisoka pushed me over the edge with something Hiroshima could offer that I would never find in Hong Kong. Honshu is essentially an island of volcanoes and earthquakes. All those volcanoes make it a great place for hot springs, which the Japanese have been enjoying since the beginning of time. According to Hisoka, Hiroshima has some of the best hot springs in the world. He knew a place where we could soak and eat, and I could even spend some extra time if I wanted.

I love hot tubs, and hot springs are a million times better. But I'm not spending the night with anyone on a first date, whether that hotel is on top of a geothermic river or not. Hisoka pointed out that sleeping there was not required. I could go back home the same day or spend the weekend. He had to go to Tokyo that night no matter what I did. Whether I stayed or went home, I would do it without him.

This was an interesting idea. Still crazy, but different. Usually when a guy wants to take you away for the weekend, he wants hotel sex, and maybe see some of the sights. Hisoka wanted to take me away and then take off. That gave me the independence to do whatever I wanted in a new city without all the hassle of getting there by myself. After I asked him a million questions, I agreed to go and he made all the arrangements. All I had to do was decide how long I wanted to stay.

Lily liked the idea of me going away for the weekend with a guy, but she thought the part about going to another country was crazy. Since she is Canadian, her idea of leaving the county is the same as mine – a long trip to somewhere far away. But we live in Hong Kong, where you can leave the country on a quick plane ride, or even by boat.

I explained to Lily that Hisoka was not at all threatening. He was calm and polite.

“So are serial killers,” she told me.

I explained that we were not going to spend the night together. We were going away together on a first date, which was strange, but I would spend the night alone and come back home alone. She had no problem with the idea of us spending the night together. She actively encouraged me to have more sex with more men. Her concern was the part about leaving the country.

“If we lived in Los Angeles and he wanted to take me to Las Vegas, would that bother you?” I asked her.

From my point of view, that's what it was like. Hong Kong and Hiroshima are in different countries, but close to each other – like California and Nevada – but with a lot of water in between. Of course, a better analogy would have been Los Angeles to Kansas City. Los Angeles to Las Vegas is more like Hong Kong to Xiamen. Lily would not have balked if he wanted to take me to Xiamen.

Lily would have felt better if she could meet Hisoka first and see how unthreatening he was, but if he had time to meet her, we could have a normal first date. I pointed out that she always wanted me to be more reckless with men. She always envisioned scenarios where I would not be sold into human trafficking.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Dating Underwater
1. Who's That Coming Round That Corner

I may not know much about the dating world, and dating in Hong Kong is definitely unlike anything I ever experienced in Minnesota, but I can safely say beyond any shadow of a doubt that I just had the strangest first date of my entire life. I will try to describe it without being unnecessarily verbose. I will probably fail.

I met Hisoka at HMV. We both reached for the last copy of Paul McCartney's Red Rose Speedway at the same time. When he politely backed down so that I could grab it, I assumed he was Japanese. When he spoke, he assumed I knew English. Both safe assumptions.

He asked me if I was old enough to know who Paul McCartney was. Hisoka does not look much older than me, but I ignored that since Paul's music does not have an age requirement. Instead, I mentioned that I saw Paul in concert last year in Tokyo. This excited Hisoka for a few reasons. Not only does he live in Tokyo, but he also went to that concert. It turns out we went on different days, but it was a small world anyway. When he asked me if I wanted to go out for coffee, I politely declined. My manners confused him since he assumed I was American.

In the end, I let Hisoka have the album. Mostly because it was vinyl and I do not have a record player. I just wanted to look at it. Red Rose Speedway has a few different versions. What they had at the record store was not the first edition with the booklet inside, of course. He, in turn, gave me his business card. Just in case I changed my mind.

Maybe half an hour later, I ran into him again downstairs at Jason's Market. If he was following me, he did a good job because he got there first. We did not reach for the same drinks, but we did see each other. Had Lily been there, she would have told me that the universe was giving me a sign. She would not necessarily believe that, but she likes to encourage me to get out and meet new people. He likes Paul McCartney and I like Japan. That would be enough for her.

Hisoka saw an opening and asked me out for coffee again. I do not drink coffee, and was actually at Jason's to get a drink, but I knew a place around the corner where we could sit down and talk. I was not the least surprised when he started telling me about his work. From what I've seen, Japanese people generally tend to have a stronger work ethic than my people.

Hisoka works at a software company that is developing virtual reality programs. I appreciated his enthusiasm for his career. He genuinely loves what he does, and can probably talk about it all day. He might have assumed that since I looked about his age, I would also be interested, but I have never cared about video games. Virtual reality will be as common as cell phones some day and have a million applications, but what he was doing was all about playing games. He must have noticed my eyes glazing over. Instead of droning on and on, he asked me why I was in Hong Kong. When you're a white girl in China, that question comes up from time to time.

I genuinely love what I do. I know I can talk about it all day. But I also know that most people don't know the difference between a grand jeté and arabesque. More often than not, when I tell people I'm a dancer, they think that's nice and want to talk about something else. Something Hisoka and I had to talk about was Hong Kong. I live here, but I'm obviously not from here. He lives in Tokyo and often comes to town on business.

We sat and talked longer than either of us expected. Our resumes might not have anything in common, but we both like the same music and movies. We both think Japan is a great place and we both have long lists of other places we want to go. When it was well past time for him to go where he needed to be, he suggested we arrange a proper date. I did not bother to tell him that I saw no point in going out with someone who lives in a different country. Not that it mattered. According to his phone, his schedule was pretty tight. When we left in opposite directions, he was confident that he would figure something out. I was sure we would never see each other again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

High School Reunion

Sooner or later, we all get old. When you're a child, anyone who can drive a car is old. When you're in high school, people who go to class reunions are old.

My high school reunion is in July. Why am I finding out about it so late? It was announced on Facebook. I'm not on Facebook. Someone who is on Facebook told me about it through old fashioned media. I suppose I should be happy that someone eventually realized my name wasn't on any of the lists.

I don't know if I'm going to go. On the one hand, I had some great friends in high school. On the other hand, those friendships faded over time, as they do. You move on with your life and develop other interests besides school activities and which boys are the cutest. I haven't been to a single football game since high school and can't remember the last time I kissed a boy behind the bleachers. I have other priorities these days, as I'm sure do most of my old friends. Moving to Hong Kong was the final nail in a few of those coffins.

I haven't been to Minnesota since a summer vacation in 2012. There's no particular reason it's been so long. I've simply chosen to go to other places. When you live in Hong Kong, it's easier and cheaper to fly around Asia and even Europe. The United States is expensive and far away. I went to Canada 2 years ago. The two flights to get there took 18 hours, but cost about as much as the first leg of all the flights it would take to get to Minnesota. In about 12 hours, I could fly to Amsterdam or Paris for less. For the price of a ticket from San Francisco to Minneapolis, I could fly to Bali in 5 hours, Tokyo in 4 or Bangkok in 3.

Then there is airport security. That's important in this day and age, but the TSA is out of control. I have no idea why Americans put up with it. The illusion of security will never make up for genuine security. Searching an old lady's colostomy bag and groping autistic children does absolutely nothing to make you safer. If anything, it makes you less safe. That time could have been better spent on the one in a millionth person who might actually be suspicious. When I had a job in Tel Aviv, I used to fly to Israel every month or two. That's a country that has every right to be paranoid about security, but they're not. Tel Aviv's airport security is the exact opposite of the TSA. They are efficient and very successful. I would rather go through an Israeli, Indonesian or Thai airport than an American airport any day.

I also have a few tiny plates in my head. There's no medical reason I can't fly. In fact, I flew home from Beijing long before I was ever medically cleared to jet up into the atmosphere. There's no reason to expect anything in my head will set off the metal detectors. They didn't in Beijing. But if I wear a hat at the airport, I'll have to take it off. If they're observant, they'll see the scar. Since it's the TSA, they might think I had drugs surgically implanted into my skull. That sounds stupid, but so does the TSA.

If I do go, it will be in July. There's nothing I can do about that. I suppose it makes sense to have reunions in the summer. That's when most people have some time off. But my last trip to Minnesota was in the summer. I'd rather go in the winter. That sounds strange to people who think Minnesota is a frozen wasteland all year, but it's actually a beautiful winter wonderland. Especially if you don't have to live through it every year. We don't have winter in Hong Kong, and the last time I went anywhere with snow was that trip to Canada 2 years ago. My last trip into the United States was to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Snow was never an option.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Dating in the Age of Social Media

A while back, I mentioned that I would post any comments from anyone I've dated lately. To my surprise, someone actually took me up on it. Rutherford and I went out on a single date a few months ago.

As a reminder, here are some highlights of what I said about the date:

January 30, 2018 (the full post)

Rutherford and I met up at Curry Leaf, an Indian restaurant in Jordan. Although Rutherford picked the restaurant, he immediately complained that it did not look authentic enough. It looked like a million Hong Kong restaurants to me, but he wanted it to look like we were in India.

“I've been to Chennai,” he announced. “I know how it's supposed to look.”

“Ok,” I replied. “But this is Hong Kong. Have you ever seen an American restaurant here that actually looks American? Why would an Indian restaurant actually look Indian?”

That must not have been what he wanted to hear. He seemed determined to complain.

The food morally offended him. Everything on the menu had Indian names, but nothing was authentically Indian as far as he was concerned. I have never been to India, so I don't know, but I am pretty sure that someone who spent a week in one city is not an expert. Predictably, nothing he ate that night was proper Indian food. I could not taste anything, so I have no idea if it was any good or not, but it looked good. Was it 100% authentic Indian? Probably not. If they want to make money in Hong Kong, it's probably closer to the British version of Indian with a healthy dose of Chinese Indian. No restaurant in China is 100% anything, except Chinese.

It might sound like the complaining was what broke the camel's back on this date, but I'm more than aware that everyone can have an off night. I don't really care if a restaurant in Hong Kong does not remind people of India, so I had no reason to argue or agree with him. He ruined the night when he insisted that I take off my hat.

The first time he saw me, on the promenade, I was wearing a toque. Lily and I were in exercise clothes and we were clearly walking around for exercise. On our date, I was wearing a different toque. With the hat on, you can't tell if I have short hair or if I put my hair up. He was curious, which is understandable, but would not take let it go for an answer. I did not want to get into the whole brain surgery thing on a first date. I think if I did that, it would dominate the evening. It took over my life for a long time and I am trying to take it back. A date should be one of those times when I can get away from it and think about something else. But by not explaining why I did not want to remove my hat, he got caught up in the mystery. Had he asked me a couple of times to take the hat off and then dropped it, we could have moved on. Instead, he quickly obsessed over my hair.

The only thing that got him off the subject was the arrival of our food. I always intended on paying for myself, but I thought it was tacky of him to quote the prices. He never pointed out that the rest of his meal was almost three times the price of mine.

We both had bread that was essentially the same price, but he had a comment about my choice anyway.

“You should never order garlic naan on a date,” he told me. “No one wants to kiss a girl who just ate garlic.”

“Fortunately, that won't be an issue tonight,” I replied.

The next day, I got a text message. “Cant w8 2cu again no hats this time ok”

I was going to just ignore him, but instead, I sent my own message. “I'll make you a deal. We can have a second date if you wear a hat.”

That was a mistake. His next dozen unanswered messages went on and on about why I was completely unreasonable for not taking off my hat. Eventually, Lily sent him a message wondering out loud how many hats he could shove up his ass. He never replied.

I suppose I could have just told him why I was wearing the hat in the first place, but shouldn't that be up to me? Do I really need to explain to someone I do not even know why I'm wearing a hat? If your date will not take off her hat, is it really that important? Call me old fashioned, but I think you should get to know someone before you try to act so controlling.

Here is Rutherford's rebuttal, posted verbatim:

“1st thing I like girls who try and look good. On our date you dressed okay a little to conservative and not enough skin showing by FAR. This is a date not church. You wore a wool cap and ZERO makeup. All the signals were leave me alone I'm reading a book. Girls on dates like to make some effort into there looks short skirts show some leg a little clevege is good too. Not slutty but just enough show your interested. All girls wear makeup the only time they don't is when they want left alone or doing laundry. You told me NOTHING why you wearing the wool cap so there's no way I can know about your accident. I only found out after reading your blog. Maybe don't date any till your fully recovered? I put my shoulder out once didn't date again till it was healed.
“2nd thing the restaurant should of been better. Everyone said how great it was 5 stars on facebook 4 stars on openrice how great the Indian food. I been to India so I know it wasn't real AT ALL. I AM an expert you can say I'm not but I know I AM. I know REAL Indian food this was not REAL. You've never been to India you admit it so you don't know. I know. You never complained about the food because you don't KNOW how its supposed to be like. I “quoted the prices” because girls like to pretend they don't eat than they eat more than everyone else and the guy always has to pay for it ALL. I told you not to eat garlic that's just common sense. You NEVER eat garlic on a date. I don't care what anyone says NO guy wants to kiss a girl who just ate garlic.
“3rd thing like I said you never told me about your accident so there's no way I'd know about it. Your wearing a wool cap which is wired enough in Hong Kong but your also wearing it on a date. Who does that? If you have short hair okay that's one thing long hair is better but I can live with short hair long as your letting it grow but you can't hide your hair all the way. Guys want to see a girls hair. Its not just me you'll find every guy you date wants to see your hair so no more wool caps that's just CRAZY.
“4th thing I wanted to get drinks because it was still early and I hoped getting a few drinks in you would make you losen up maybe take off the cap. There's a bar I take all my dates and they ALWAYS have a good time after a few drinks. Lets be honest no guys getting anywhere with you without getting you drunk first. I knew right away first thing going the bar was my only shot.
“Last thing you or your friend or whoever was really rude sending me texts. You could just give me another shot but no you tell me to stick it up my ASS? That's not cool that's harrassment your lucky I didn't report you.
“Signed Christian aka Ruthorford
“PS its a shame because your cute enough I thought you had potential but you blew it SORRY you missed out on a GREAT GUY that's me.”

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Pros and Cons of Short Hair

I've had long hair my entire life. Maybe not as a baby, but I don't remember that. One of my mother's rules was that girls do not have short hair. I could cut it as short as I wanted, as long as it reached below my collar bone. At the same time, butt length was considered unacceptable. Crystal Gayle was just as extreme in my house as Twiggy.

Eventually, I got old enough to make my own decisions, as most of us do. When I was finally free, I could do whatever I wanted with my hair. I could chop it off, dye it purple, get a heavy metal perm or go full Amidala. My hair was entirely up to me.

So I kept it the way it was. I tried different styles over the years, but nothing radical. There was an unfortunate period with bangs, which is something most of us put ourselves through for whatever masochistic reason, but the length was always shoulder to waist, or somewhere in between. I never went blonde or red. Or purple.

Seven months ago, they shaved it all off. In an instant, I went from the familiar to something completely unlike anything I had ever known. I was balder than Britney. I really didn't think about it for the first couple of weeks. I had better things to worry about. Having your head shaved without your permission might be a first world problem, but it is a drastic change. Eventually, I noticed how alien I looked to myself. Your hairstyle really can alter your appearance. Look at Zooey Deschanel without bangs or Superman without the little curl. When you've seen yourself with hair below your shoulders your entire life, all that skin is a shock.

Practically a different man

The good news is that hair grows back. Male pattern baldness isn't an issue here. The bad news is that it takes a long time. Day to day, you don't notice any change whatsoever. After 3 months, my scalp was completely covered, but too short to do anything. I looked like I just got out of basic training. And my hair color was lighter than usual, almost ash blonde. If I wanted to dye it its natural color, I'd have to go with golden walnut or chestnut blonde. I've always thought I had brown hair. L'Oreal disagrees. The scar was still obvious, but I had already made my peace with that. If you're going to have a large scar, the scalp is not the worst place to put it. Sooner or later, enough hair covers everything.

At five months, I could comb it around in one direction or another and part it slightly, but it was still far too short. I'm not a big fan of gender stereotypes. Women and men can have whatever hair length they want. It takes a lot more than hair to make someone feminine or masculine. But I looked like a boy. And you know what Bart Simpson said about blond boys.

At seven months, I finally look like a girl again, but with Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina returning from Paris hair. It looked a lot better on her. She could make anything look fashionable. I can't. On the bright side, it's finally getting darker. It's practically the color I recognize.

In China, no one really cares about your hair length. Girls in junior high routinely cut their hair short. I don't know why. Everyone I have ever asked gave me a different answer, citing tradition, safety issues, conformity and good old fashioned control over women. Some adults keep their hair short because they think it makes them look young. It doesn't. Put a 50-year-old in a school uniform and she won't look 15. But when you're conditioned that short hair equals school age, it's easy to see the logic.

In the United States, a lot of people would assume I'm a lesbian. Hair length has just as little to do with sexuality as it does with age, but we Americans love our baseless stereotypes. If an American woman has a buzzed head, she's either a lesbian or recovering from chemotherapy. There can't possibly be any other reason. In China, no one ever assumes anyone is gay. It's just the opposite. I've met quite a few people who have insisted that there are no gay people in China.

I don't know if the statistic that 10% of the population is gay is accurate or considered offensive these days, but 10% of China is 150,000,000. That would mean there are more gay people in China than the entire population of Russia. That has absolutely nothing to do with my hair, but if it's even close to true, it would be insane to assume no one around here is gay.

The best part about having very short hair is that I can wash it in a minute and it dries on its own before I know it. It's pretty amazing the first few times. Anyone with waist length hair knows that it takes a long time to wash and will not air dry anytime that day. I have not put a towel on my scalp since September. It's all very liberating, in its own meaningless way.

Similarly, I can get out of bed and my hair is ready to go. It's long enough that I can comb again, but short enough that I don't really need to. For months, there was nothing to comb. When it's that short, it looks the same no matter what you do. When it's long, you look like a crazy person if you leave it as is.

Then there is summer. It does not technically begin until June, but Hong Kong goes straight from winter to summer. I've always thought it was lucky that I was bald in winter because wearing hats in summer would have been torture. But now that it's hot again, I'm thinking it would have been better to have shorter hair in summer. Putting your hair up in oppressive humidity is nothing compared to having genuinely short hair. Whether you have a ball of hair on top of your head or down your back, it gets hot around here. Walking around with extremely short hair is like having your own personal fan everywhere you go. By the time my hair can cover the back of my neck again, the temperature will be as high as it gets.

It took a while, but I've come to accept my short hair. I really didn't have any choice. But when it finally grows back to its normal length, I doubt I'll ever cut it short again.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sighing Like a Furnace

Photo by HSH Management Services Ltd

My second date with Russell was a more traditional dinner at a restaurant. Maybe that sounds like a letdown after the first date, but he had a rehearsal the next day and was pretty focused on his work. I never wanted anything grand and elaborate anyway. If you try to make each date bigger than the last, you will only fail. Starting at Disneyland would not make it easier.

The good thing about not being able to taste anything is that I am now the easiest person in the world to take out for a meal. In the past, I was pretty open to most nationalities of cuisine, but I was always in the mood for one over the others. Now, my roommate loves going out to eat with me because we can always go for whatever she is in the mood.

Russell took me to Felix, a vaguely European restaurant at the top of the Peninsula Hotel. It was Sunday night, not the most crowded time to go to overpriced restaurants, but we still had to wait for a table. That gave him time to talk about his craft and gave me time to look around at what should have been an elegant atmosphere.

The dining room was large and open with sufficiently dark lighting to make it a romantic spot. The most obvious feature were the huge windows with postcard views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. For some insane reason, there were blinds on the windows. I understand the Chinese attitude toward sunlight, but putting blinds on these windows is like wearing earplugs to the opera.

While waiting for our food, I realized that 90% of our conversations were about acting. While working at Disneyland together, we mostly talked about acting and where we would rather be performing. After he left, we mostly talked about acting, the theater and movies. Even during our date at Disneyland, surrounded my enchantment, magic and Mickey, we mostly talked about acting.

Russell was doing rehearsals for a play I had never heard of by a playwright I did not recognize. He said that the play was not up to his usual standards, but he took the part so he could work on an Italian accent. That sounded like a strange reason to accept a part to me, but Russell said that the accent was his idea. Nowhere in the play is his character described as Italian, but he felt it was necessary to play him as one. He also wanted some of the other actors to do accents, but they refused. When Russell told me that they refused because they could not do a convincing accent, I doubted how true that was. It might be just as likely that no one else thought it was a good idea.

When I asked for a preview of Russell's Italian accent, he started performing what I assumed was dialogue from the play. The dialogue was not exactly Shakespeare, but that was not Russell's fault. More painful than the dialogue was his accent. There is not an inch of Italian in my ancestry, but I have been to Italy. I like to tell myself I can spot the difference between someone who genuinely speaks English with an Italian flavor and someone embracing every cartoon stereotype. “Look-a, is-a a spicy-a meat-a ball-a” is not Italian.

Russell had nothing good to say about his fellow performers. No one was as prepared as he was, none of them did their homework, they did not understand the play, the director was doing it all wrong. I have never seen any of them, so I can't agree or disagree, but I am not interested in what is essentially office gossip. He came across as someone who considered himself too good for that production.

I have seen Russell perform. He is not John Gielgud. But no one is. The goal is to work more and more and get better all the time. Russell is young enough to improve. I just found it disappointing that he was so dismissive of his colleagues when he is only starting out himself.

In an effort to change the subject, I asked him about music. I almost asked him about books, but that could easily segue into acting, and movies were obviously dangerous ground. Music seemed safe. Everyone likes something.

“I'm only listening to soundtracks right now,” he told me. “The Godfather II soundtrack really invokes the nuances of each performance. You can hear De Niro's anguish in the Immigrant Theme.”

I asked him about his family. When you're an expat, family comes up a lot. Most of us live nowhere near the people we grew up with. Russell's family was all in Australia.

“They're completely supportive,” he told me. “They know I need to work on my craft and this is where I need to be right now. I was always going to leave Australia. I'll mostly live in London or Los Angeles as I dig deeper into what I can give back to the world.”

I thought he was joking at first, but he was deadly serious. His acting was his gift to humanity.

When the food arrived, there was not much to talk about. I could comment on how it looked, but I had no idea how it tasted. For Russell, eating at an overpriced restaurant would help him play a wealthy character some day. I was surprised that he did not pick an Italian restaurant to immerse himself in the culture.

The food was expensive, and I told Russell I would pay for myself, but he said that was out of the question. He had a plan for the night and he laid it all out on the table. Dinner at a romantic/expensive restaurant followed by a night at his place where he already set out an array of scented candles and covered his bed in rose petals. He said that I could spend the night, but warned me that he had to leave early in the morning.

I asked him if he thought that maybe he was being just a tad on the remarkably presumptuous side.

“It's our third date,” he replied. “You know what that means.”

It was actually our second date.

“Disneyland counts as two,” he decided.

Either way, I did not know what that meant. Is there some international rule no one ever told me about that everyone is required to have sex on the third date, or second if the first is at Disneyland?

“Everyone knows it,” he told me. “If you're mousy or something, I'll settle for a blowjob.”

It was April 1st, but he was not playing a prank on me.

The thing is, Russell was a decent person. When you work at Disneyland, you can participate in their Voluntears program. Disney cast members go out into the community with people who know what they're doing and take children on nature walks, visit hospitals, take poor children to the theater, go swimming with disabled children, that sort of thing. I saw Russell at some of those events. They were never a job requirement. It was all voluntary. Creepy, self-involved, prima donnas don't do that. Unless their PR managers and cameras are nearby. Russell doesn't have a PR team. Yet. And reporters don't care what he's doing.

I knew that somewhere, maybe deep down, Russell had a good heart. But he was also a desperately horny dog. He needed to get some as quickly as possible.

I ruined his plans. Not only did I pay for my meal, but he had those rose petals all to himself. I don't think I was mean, but I let him know that there would be no third/fourth date. I pointed out that prostitution is legal in Hong Kong and bars are everywhere. If he really needed sex right away, there were plenty of options. He claimed that he wanted a relationship, but that was not the impression I got. He never asked me anything about me that did not involve acting. He knew that I was in a serious car accident and had brain surgery, but he only saw it as something I could use if I ever play an injured character someday. Everything turned back to acting, somehow. Even his scented candle plan showed that he was not thinking about me per se. Any warm body would do.

I understand dedication. When you want to do something artistic for a living, you really have to work at it. Artists don't have patrons anymore. You have to climb that mountain by yourself. But if you want other people in your life, you have to have a life. Hopefully, Russell will meet a wanton actress who likes reciting dialogue during sex.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. Take the cannoli!”