Monday, December 29, 2014

Living with Livia

Living with Livia

Christmas may be over, but there's no reason you can't get everyone you've ever met a belated gift. What better than a book that's a little dark and hopefully has some funny bits as well.

Living with Livia is the best thing I've ever written. If you think my writing sucks then that probably won't mean much – and why would anyone read a blog that they hate? If you've found anything I've ever done amusing then you should like this one.

People have called me brave and/or reckless for Hailey's Bali Diary, but Living with Livia is more revealing, as far as I'm concerned.

Paperback at Amazon

e-book at Amazon

Other retailers coming soon.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Christmas Medley
Judy Garland, Mel Tormé, Jack Jones, Liza Minnelli, Tracy Everitt, Lorna Luft, Joey Luft

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Songs

The Christmas Song
Nat King Cole & Frank Sinatra

Sleigh Ride
Ella Fitzgerald

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Andy Williams

Wonderful Christmastime
Paul McCartney

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hong Kong Protest part 5

The big democracy protest is now officially over. Thousands of people camped out in the streets demanding something from their government that they were never going to get. China has historically not had the most open government in the world. Killing people is preferable to them than listening.

In the beginning, the protests were interesting. People were excited to be involved. Local and international media were excited to see some action. Then everyone got bored. With instant everything these days, several months of protests are never going to hold everyone's attention. The international media left soon after they arrived. Even the local news stopped talking about it – except to complain that the protesters were blocking traffic and interfering with sales. Since most local Hong Kong media is owned by people with business connections to Mainland China, they were never going to be in favor of the protests. Most simply chanted the Chinese government mantra.

The world basically ignoring the protests is exactly what the Chinese government wanted. They could always block content in China – apparently, even this blog was blocked after I mentioned it – but there was never anything they could do about the rest of the world. Fortunately for China, the rest of the world had its own problems. The protests in the United States were always going to be more newsworthy – and they turned out to be far more violent. The protests in the Arab world were always going to be more violent. Say what you will about Hong Kong protesters or Hong Kong police, but they're far more polite to each other than you get in most countries. There were a few minor issues with police assaulting their people, but it was nothing compared to American and Arab police killing their people.

When Hong Kong officials started clearing the protest sites, not a lot of people outside Hong Kong even noticed. When they closed down the protests at Admiralty and Causeway Bay, most of the people I know who don't live in Hong Kong thought it had all ended a long time ago.

In the end, the government agreed to nothing. The new election laws that started the protests are still in place. CY Leung is still in charge. Some of the protest leaders are in jail. Some will probably quietly disappear. I was hoping that more would come of it, but at least it ended peacefully. There was no Tiananmen Square in Hong Kong.

Monday, December 8, 2014

John Lennon


Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people

Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

Say you want a revolution
We better get it on right away
Well then get on your feet
And into the street

Singing power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

A million workers working for nothing
You better give them what they really own
We got to put you down
When we come into town

Singing power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

I got to ask you comrades and brothers
How do you treat you own woman back home
She got to be herself
So she can free herself

Singing power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on
Now, now, now, now

Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pearl Harbor

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

“The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

“It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

“The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

“Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine islands. Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island. Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

“As commander in chief of the army and navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

“I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 12/8/1941

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Tooth Fairy part 4

By the time the dentist finally came into my little cubicle, I was ready to go home. Before she even looked in my mouth, she showed me the x-rays. The good news was that the rest of my teeth are still in great shape. The dentist was actually impressed by how good they looked. I still don’t know if that was supposed to be insulting or not. Maybe she just sees so many bad teeth all day that good teeth are a rarity.

The bad news is that she wants to tear out my wisdom teeth. She said that they are going to cause nothing but trouble in the near future. I don’t even notice them now, but she seemed pretty certain that I would when the time came. I decided that we should just concentrate on the crown for now.

She took a mold of my teeth and put on a temporary cap. I have to go back when the crown is ready. It was all pretty much the same as when I did the first crown a million years ago in Minnesota. Either the technology hasn’t changed much or Hong Kong is behind the times. The hospital is as modern as can be and none of the equipment looked especially old. The only disappointments I had with the facility were the cubicles instead of rooms and the long wait time.

Four hours after my appointment time, I went home.

I went back to finish the crown, but I’m definitely going to a different dentist about this whole wisdom teeth issue. In Hong Kong, or anywhere, you should get a second or third opinion before you let anyone cut into you. I know that I should go to the dentist more often, but nothing about this visit gave me any enthusiasm to do so.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Ryan came to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving and we all went out to dinner. By we, I mean Lily, Kevin, Ryan and I.

We went to Agua Roma, a trendy Italian/Japanese restaurant at Tsim Sha Tsui. We mostly went for the mix of Italian and Japanese, but the views were not too bad either. We all like Italian food and we went to Tokyo this summer, so we’ve all been looking at Japanese food more.

The food was good enough, but nothing exceptional. Most people go for the views. The restaurant is close to the harbor and has famous views of the Symphony of Lights. Several movies have been filmed in the bar. I remember seeing something with Morgan Freeman there, but I don’t remember which movie that was.

Overall, I would probably never go back. Like most trendy restaurants, the emphasis is on the restaurant’s design and how hip everything is. I prefer restaurants where the emphasis is on the food. Agua Roma looks nice, but ultimately, you go to any restaurant to eat, not to look at the walls.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Tooth Fairy part 3

I live reasonably close to the hospital where I had my dentist appointment, and I had plenty of time, so I went home rather than sit in the waiting room and stare at the wall for at least an hour – or more.

You don’t have to stare at walls in waiting rooms around here. There are TVs everywhere. Every waiting room, train station, bus station, government office has a TV to placate the masses. Given the choice, I’d rather go home.

Almost exactly one hour after I left the hospital, I was back. I knew that one hour meant more than an hour, but I like to be punctual. Had I thought it would actually be an hour, I would have arrived earlier.

About 15 minutes later, I was sitting in the dentist’s office.

Calling it an office is a bit generous. It was a cubicle with all the usual dental equipment sitting around a dentist chair. The room had at least 20 cubicles. Privacy wasn’t much of a consideration for whoever designed the place. You could hear everything that was going on in the nearby cubicles. While I sat in my chair with a little paper bib on my chest, I listened to the person in the cubicle next door being tortured. I could very clearly hear that distinctive drill sound that is the same in every country, and I could hear how much the patient was not having an enjoyable afternoon. I think this reason, above all others, is why there should be individual rooms.

These are not welcome sounds when you have not been to a dentist in 4 years. Since this was my first visit to a Hong Kong dentist, it was even worse. I was not expecting any drilling, but replacing a crown almost has to involve sharp machinery in your mouth.

I don’t know how long I sat in that chair, but it seemed to take longer than any of the other waiting times. Most likely because I was focused on the pain and suffering of the people around me.

Monday, November 24, 2014

24th Birthday

Some of my friends were going to throw a surprise party for my birthday, but Lily gave away the surprise. That worked out pretty well, I think. Instead of filling the apartment with people – some of whom I probably would not have known – we just had a few people over for a nice dinner. It was like an early Thanksgiving with friends, which is the way I like it.

Saturday night, after both Ryan & I were home from work, I got to see my real present. It was on Skype, so it was more pixelated and smaller than I remember, but it’s the thought that counts.

Ryan will be in town for the actual Thanksgiving, so we’ll go out to dinner with Lily & Kevin. We haven’t picked out a restaurant yet, but it’s not like there’s a mad rush to book all the best pies around here. I gave up on trying to have a real Thanksgiving a long time ago. Now we just find a nice place to eat.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Tooth Fairy 2

I went to my first dentist in Hong Kong. I’ve been here for almost 4 years, so obviously I need to see the dentist more often. I heard too many bad stories about the way Chinese dentists do things. Some of them turned out to be true.

My appointment was for 2:50, so I showed up at 2:35. I filled out the form – in Chinese – and showed them my insurance card. I was a little proud of myself for filling out the form in Chinese. After I turned it in, they told me that there was also an English version. There’s no reason there wouldn’t be. Hospitals in Hong Kong have English all over the place. I’ve never seen a Hong Kong doctor who didn’t speak English.

They checked my temperature and blood pressure, for some reason. I can understand the blood pressure if you’re going in for some kind of dental surgery, but I was only there to let the dentist poke around and figure out what to do. It was essentially a check up when you know there’s something wrong. Blood pressure is irrelevant.

After sitting in the waiting room for a good 3 minutes, I went in and they took a full series of x-rays. The problem is only one tooth, but they went ahead and scanned them all. If nothing else, now there are dental records in Hong Kong if my unidentifiable corpse ever shows up somewhere.

I was about to tell myself that Hong Kong dentist offices are more efficient. I had spent very little time waiting and everything was moving along quickly. Taking the x-rays took less than 5 minutes.

Then I sat in the waiting room for an hour. When I asked how much longer it would be, I was told about an hour. So I went home.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Birthday Surprise

Lily told me that everyone was planning a surprise party for my birthday Saturday. It’s not that Lily’s no good at keeping secrets. It’s that we tend to tell each other everything, so it’s hard for her to keep a secret from me.

I don’t want a big party anyway. Saturdays are a good day for a party – to people who don’t work on Saturdays – but we just had a party on Halloween. I don’t think we should throw a party at every opportunity just because we finally have an apartment that’s big enough. It’s one thing to go to parties at every opportunity, but when they’re in your house, you have to clean up.

The perfect birthday to me would be going out to a nice dinner and not having to go to work. Having that dinner at a nice café in Paris would be even better, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen in the next few days.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Tooth Fairy

When I was a child, I always had good teeth. All except one. Every other tooth behaved and did as it was told. It was one errant troublemaker who was responsible for all my dental pain. The only cavity I have ever had in my entire life was filled and life carried on.

Several years later, that filling fell out and the tooth cracked. I probably should have gone to a dentist right away, but I was busy. Dental appointments have never been at the top of my list of priorities.

Unless there’s no other choice.

I was eating some steamed rice and I bit into something harder than you should ever get with steamed rice. It turned out to be part of my tooth. The rest of the tooth was intact, but there was a segment that decided not to stick around anymore. This was a back molar, and the missing part was facing in, so I was ok cosmetically. I was never in danger of looking like a hillbilly, but I figured I should probably go to a dentist anyway.

The dentist was nice enough to give me a root canal. That’s always a fun day. What was left of the tooth was completely killed and they put on a shiny silver crown. A week later I had a permanent crown that looked surprisingly like my real teeth. This tooth is far enough in the back that very few people will ever get to see it, but the dentist still made an effort to make it look natural. I went from having an obvious filling to looking as if my teeth had always been as good as they should have been.

Several years later, I was eating some fried rice and I bit into something harder than you should ever get with steamed rice. I was just as surprised to find my crown as I had been to find a chunk of tooth all those years ago.

The big difference is that now I’m in Hong Kong. The system is a little different here. I’ve heard stories about dentists who don’t believe in novocaine. I’m not entirely sure what they have to do to replace a crown, but I know that I don’t especially want to feel it.

I’ll be going in next week to get it fixed. I should probably go sooner, but I have other things to do, and it seems like a purely cosmetic situation to me. I don’t know if not having the crown is causing any damage, but I don’t feel anything, and since it’s in the back of my mouth, no one can see anything. It would be hard to do my job if I was missing a front tooth, but no one ever sees my molars.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Coming Soon

My latest book is finished, at least as far as I’m concerned. It still has to be published, printed and posted on all the websites, but my work is done. The rest is out of my hands. It seems to take about 6 weeks before they’re available, so it should be ready in time for Christmas. It’s not a Christmas book at all, but that’s just the way it worked out.

In my opinion, this is the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s more subtle than anything I’ve ever done and I put in a lot of little bits that people should get a kick out of when they notice them. A lot of people have mentioned some of the little bits about the last one to me.

The funny thing about the publishing world is that my opinion doesn’t matter at all. I just wrote the thing. It’s sales that count. According to sales, the book that I think is my worst is actually my best. It’s too soon to say if what I think is my best will be considered my worst. We’ll have to wait and see.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Halloween 2014

Hong Kong Halloween parties have become a bit of a tradition for us. Our first Halloween party was in the tiny apartment of one of Lily’s friends. Ryan & I didn’t know most of the people there. There were so many people in that crowded apartment that even Lily & Kevin didn’t know most of the people there.

Ryan had a lazy zombie costume. Kevin was a pirate – not quite as lazy as Ryan’s costume, but not all that original either. The originality prize went to Lily, who dressed as Lady Gaga. She wore a garbage bag that she decorated and a bad wig. It was the kind of thing the real Lady Gaga might actually wear. I was a devil – not as good as Lily’s, but not nearly as bad as Ryan’s. The most popular costume of the night was Harry Potter. This was a few months after the last movie came out, so Harry & Hermione were more popular than ever.

The highlight of the party for some of us was when Lily took off her garbage bag. It was already pretty hot with all of those people in that small apartment, and the garbage bag was steaming her to the point where she started dripping from the seams. She took it off and spent the rest of the party in that wig and her underwear. She still looked like Lady Gaga though.

Our second Hong Kong Halloween was at a larger apartment with fewer people. That and the fact that I knew more of the people there made it much better. Ryan was in Fuzhou by this point and said that no one did anything for Halloween.

Kevin wore a zombie costume, but it was better than Ryan’s zombie from the year before. The best costume, as usual, was Lily’s. She wore a wedding dress with a pillow down the front. The look on Kevin’s face when he saw her as a pregnant bride was priceless. My costume was pretty lazy. I just wore a traditional Chinese dress, which isn’t anything special around here. At least I wasn’t one of the million pirates.

Our third Hong Kong Halloween party was at the house of one of Lily’s friends. This was a different friend from the first Halloween and a bigger house. It was still too small for the amount of people that showed up.

Lily & I dressed as Minnesota Twins. The last game of the World Series was on October 30th, so it seemed like a good costume idea. The Twins weren’t in the Series, but no one at the party noticed. Kevin had the worst costume of the night. He came straight from work, so he wore his business uniform. As always, there were more than a few pirates and zombies.

This year was the best Hong Kong Halloween ever. Lily, Kevin and I moved into our new apartment in April, so this was the first year that we could actually host a Halloween party. Our apartment is bigger than the places where all the previous parties were held, and we have an enormous balcony – which is ideal for parties on warm October nights.

Ryan came to Hong Kong for a few days, so he was there. It’s always nice when he’s around for Halloween, especially when his costume isn’t lazy. This year, he went as a doctor. He had the scrubs, surgical mask and stethoscope. Since it was Halloween, he also had a large splatter of fake blood on the front of his scrubs. His costume went with mine since I was an Ebola patient with some of his fake blood.

Someone told me that my costume was in poor taste, but that made me wonder when Halloween was supposed to be about good taste. I pointed out to her that there are always pirates at every Halloween party. When she asked how that was in poor taste, I reminded her that pirates were murderers, rapists and thieves. They didn’t sing songs and win over the girls. They butchered people and destroyed lives. They were terrorists without the religious fanaticism.

Kevin dressed as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. That was a pretty funny costume, even though most of the people at the party had no idea who he was supposed to be. He wore a lot of padding in his oversized suit and had a Rob Ford mask with white powder around the nostrils. Since no one knew who he was anyway, he took off the mask early into the party.

Lily was Wonder Woman, which was not such an original costume in and of itself, but she had a protest sign around her neck that read “where’s my movie?” on one side and “4 Thors and no Wonder Woman?” on the other.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gutter Oil

Taiwan’s gutter oil scandal found its way to Hong Kong, for some reason.

Gutter oil is the appropriate description for recycled cooking oil that some cheaper restaurants and even a few high end places like to use to save a few pennies. It is less expensive for the restaurant, but they can still charge whatever they want because no one will ever know what type of oil they use. At least until there is a big scandal and government investigation.

The scandal comes not from the fact that gutter oil is repulsive and will make your stomach feel about as good as if you drank the water in Victoria Harbour. Surprisingly, gutter oil is actually illegal in Hong Kong. Most restaurants will try to use the cheapest oil they can find, but somewhere along the line, the Hong Kong government decided that cooking oil that literally went down the drain and has been shown to cause various types of cancer is probably not ideal. I don’t know if it’s illegal in Taiwan, but they are in the middle of a big scandal, so someone there is obviously upset about having poison in their food.

Restaurants cutting corners to save money is nothing new around here. If Hong Kong had a restaurant health inspection ratings system, millions of places would have a big F posted in their windows. What’s unusual is that the Hong Kong restaurants caught up in this latest investigation bought their gutter oil from Taiwan. I would assume that illegal poison oil would be cheaper to get from China. Most things from China are cheaper, and it’s easier to import Chinese products. The Chinese government would definitely rather have Hong Kong restaurants serve Chinese poison over Taiwanese poison. They don’t like Hong Kong very much right now, but they haven’t liked Taiwan for a long time.

Hong Kong has banned the import of all products made from the company in Taiwan that is getting the most attention, but it doesn’t seem like they are doing anything about any of the other companies that sell gutter oil. In typical Chinese fashion, if they only concentrate on the most infamous troublemaker, they think no one will notice that so many other troublemakers are still making trouble.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hong Kong Protest part 4

The Hong Kong police finally started to clear the barricades in the streets and force some of the protesters to let traffic through. Not so much at Central. The street that the police cleared was Nathan Road in Kowloon. It was actually very close to my old tiny apartment in Mong Kok. If I still lived there, I might see the protests as an inconvenience – or I would have gone out to join them every night. As it is, they are not close to my current apartment.

The main bulk of the protesters are at Central, and that is the area that’s getting all the media attention, but there are also smaller satellite protests going on in other parts of the city. The one on Nathan Road was a surprise to me. Not only because I used to live right there, but also because Nathan Road is easily the busiest street in Kowloon. On any given day, there are about a million tourist buses going up and down that street. I don’t know where they all went when the street was blocked off.

Staging a protest outside the Central Government office is a good idea. That is where the people you are protesting against go to work. That’s also where a lot of other people go to work. Shut that area down and you essentially shut down the government, more or less.

Nathan Road seems like a strange place to block traffic. It hurts tourism, which in turn hurts the economy, but it does nothing against the government. The leaders of this city probably don’t even know that Mong Kok exists. Hurting the economy will only hurt the protesters. Instead of forcing the government to listen to their demands, it will drive the opinion polls away from the protests. Most people in Hong Kong would agree that the protest should have been allowed to happen, but as soon as it affects the economy, most will say that the protesters have made their point and now it’s time to go home. Chinese people have been living under emperors and dictators for 5,000 years. Democracy is not a high priority.

By Friday, there were a few hundred people camped out on Nathan Road. This particular protest site was clearly dying down. In a week, or less, it would have emptied out on its own. Then the police came in and cleared the road with the subtlety of a Chinese driver trying to parallel park. Images of police officers in riot gear beating an unarmed 18-year-old protester were all over TV news stations. By Saturday morning, there were about 9,000 protesters on Nathan Road.

If the Chinese authorities want this to end, they should leave it alone and let it die out as people lose interest. The more they charge in like a dragon in a China shop, the larger the protests will grow. Antagonizing people on the weekend is especially stupid. Many of the protesters are students. They have an inherent need to get rowdy on weekends.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

San Francisco 4

The best part about my very short trip to San Francisco was the food. I like Chinese food as much as the next person, but sometimes you need a little variety. Hong Kong has a lot more than just Chinese food, but there seems to be at least a hint of Chinese in everything. In San Francisco, I could eat any kind of food I wanted, even Chinese food. San Francisco has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, but I stayed away. I can see authentic Chinese anytime.

My 2 Canadian roommates wanted to try a popular vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason. I was expecting the stereotypical California salads and sprouts, but Greens Restaurant had a more upscale menu than I expected. I had the chick pea tagine with potatoes, green olives and pickled fennel. My American roommate had a curry and coconut risotto with eggplant and squash. The Canadians had pasta dishes filled with all kinds of summer vegetables. For an appetizer, we all shared some pupusas with squash and cheddar cheese. They came with a big bowl of avocado, salsa and pickled vegetables. There were nice views of the Marina, but we could see all that from our hotel. The best reason to go to this restaurant was the insanely fresh food. Every vegetable we ate was most likely picked that day.

On the opposite end of the healthy spectrum, our hotel was close to a fast food place called In-N-Out Burgers. Though it looks no better than McDonald’s or Burger King, Californians practically worship the food. In-N-Out is only in a few western states, so we never had any in Minnesota, but I have even heard expats in Hong Kong reminisce about how great it is. I only went in because I was walking by and wanted a light snack. I got some French fries expecting them to be no better than any other fast food fries. I could not have been more wrong. This is a fast food place, but the fries were cut from actual potatoes right there in front of me. I never ate anything else there, but with those French fries alone, I can see why Californians who live abroad miss this place so much.

A few blocks east on the same street is the Boudin Bakery. If sourdough bread is the symbol of San Francisco, this bakery is supposed to be the place to get it. I knew I would be eating lots of bread in San Francisco. When you live in Hong Kong, you take any chance to get good bread that you can find. I absolutely love sourdough, which seems to be impossible to find in Hong Kong, and this bakery did not disappoint me at all.

Across the street from Boudin Bakery is the Rainforest Café, a jungle themed chain restaurant. The food was nothing special, but the atmosphere almost reminded me of Disneyland with all the artificial trees, artificial rocks and artificial ambience.

One tacky theme restaurant I absolutely refused to go to was Ace Wasabi’s Rock-N-Roll Sushi. The name alone told me that this was not the kind of place I wanted to be.

When it came to great American food like pizza, tacos and strudel, I was spoiled for choice. There are two places to get good pizza in Hong Kong, but any kind of Mexican food or pastries have always eluded me. My goal in California was to eat things I can never get in Hong Kong. In that regard, I succeeded marvelously.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

San Francisco 3

My California roommates and I went to Baker Beach in San Francisco because it was just on the other side of the Presidio. There is a larger coastal beach on the far end of the city, but it is much farther away and, something only 2 of my roommates knew about at the time, Baker is a nude beach.

I’m not sure why people are always trying to get me to go to nude beaches, but this time it was more of a case of the 2 Canadians wanting to get naked. It had nothing to do with me. The other American and I were only along for the ride.

What none of us knew at the time is that the north end of Baker Beach is the nude part while the southern end is just like any other beach. The bus to get there stops at the southern end, and when we walked to the beach, the Canadians were disappointed to see that no one was naked. There were plenty of people on the beach. It was a great day to be there. The sun was out and it wasn’t too hot or too cold. Summer was pretty much over, but it lasts longer in San Francisco.

People think that Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco”. He never said that, but people always mention it because San Francisco summers are much cooler than summer in other American cities. People who don’t know anything about Minnesota think it’s an ice box, but Minneapolis summers get 20 degrees hotter than San Francisco. Mark Twain lived in Connecticut and New York. He obviously saw winters that were much colder than any summer in San Francisco.

San Francisco is not exactly a frozen wasteland. Their summers may not be very hot, but their winters are not very cold either. It rarely dips below 40 degrees. So while the rest of the country is complaining that summer is too hot, it’s actually very nice in San Francisco, and when people complain that winter is too cold, it’s very mild in San Francisco. For people who like a relatively steady temperature, San Francisco might be the perfect city. I’d go crazy because I like different seasons, but I’m sure plenty of people love it.

One of the reasons Baker Beach is so popular is the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. You have to climb on some rocks to see the whole bridge, but it’s nothing challenging. You don’t have to be a serious climber to get there. Even if you only stay on the beach, you’re going to see the bridge. You can’t miss it.

To get to the best views of the bridge, you have to go to the north end of the beach. That’s where all the naked people are. The Canadians were happy about that and took off their bathing suits as soon as they saw other naked people. The fact that almost all the other naked people were older men didn’t bother them at all. I think they wanted to be seen more than they wanted to be naked, so older men are actually a good thing. Younger men might be too friendly. Older men will mostly keep their distance and just stare at you. That might be creepy to most of us, but for the Canadians, that was perfect.

My very limited experience with nudists told me that they are not exhibitionists or voyeurs. Most of them simply want the freedom to get naked at places like a beautiful beach on a nice sunny day. The 2 Canadians I was with were not nudists. They wanted to be seen. They were not complete attention whores. They did nothing outrageous to be the center of attention. They simply got naked. They would have been the center of attention on the clothed end of the beach, but on the nude end, very few people even noticed. That was their biggest disappointment of the day.

None of us could understand why these 2 attractive – and very naked – young women were not more popular on this beach. There were a few other naked women, but they were all older and not exactly the kind of women most men lust after. Most of the naked men were older, but that does not mean they were all attracted to older women. Older men are not generally repulsed by naked young women.

We only found out later that the north end of Baker Beach is also the gay end of the beach. Apparently Californians like to segregate themselves on the beach by sexual orientation. I had never heard of such a thing, but the more people I talked to, the more I learned that any nude beach in California will have a gay side and a straight side. This makes no sense to me since the point of a nude beach is supposed to be for people to relax and enjoy the sun and water without clothes getting in the way. It should never matter what gender they sleep with since sex on any beach is illegal. For some reason, it matters in California.

We never saw anyone having sex on Baker Beach. The way the beach is set up, it would be impossible to do without an audience. It is a straight beach without any coves or hiding places. You would have to climb the rocks on the north end, and that has to be a terribly uncomfortable place to have sex. It is also not very private since people go there all the time to take pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It occurred to me while we were there that this was the first time I had ever been to a nude beach with different types of naked people. My first nude beach was just Ryan and me. No one else ever showed up. My second beach was Lily, me and a bunch of lesbians. No men ever showed up. This time there were men, women and children on the clothed side. All genders, ages and races were on this beach. That’s the way it should be. It was nothing like Hong Kong. This was the American way.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hong Kong Protest part 3

Lily & I went back to the protest site at central on Monday, about 10 days after it all started. I could say that the protest was still going strong 10 days later, but it was infinitely weaker. Last weekend, there had to be at least 100,000 people there. I still have not seen any official figures, but there was a massive crowd of people filling the streets. A week later there were still crowds, but they were not nearly as large. There were probably thousands of people, but it was much easier to walk from one end to the other.

The mood seemed to be the same. The impression I got was that everyone was optimistic that their demands would be met. I’m not really sure why. The optimism was understandable the week before. There is safety in numbers. By this point, it should be obvious to everyone – including Beijing – that this protest is not as popular as it used to be. The hardcore protesters might be in it for the long haul, but the longer this drags on, the less support they will have from the general population.

Last Sunday, when the police shot tear gas into the crowd, the protesters had most of Hong Kong on their side. Whether the average Chiang agreed with the protest or not, they were vehemently against the police using tear gas against a peaceful Hong Kong assembly.

Hong Kong is not a Middle Eastern dictatorship where most of the people are living in poverty under the oppressive thumb of a ruthless tyrant. The people protesting in Egypt and Syria were obviously willing to kill and die for the changes they wanted. The Hong Kong protesters are not looking for a civil war and are not about to kill anyone. I never heard anyone talk about dying for their cause. A civil war in Hong Kong would never work anyway. China would surround the city and put an end to that quickly and with a terrifying amount of bloodshed.

The Arab Spring may or may not still be going on. No one talks about Syria’s civil war anymore because they’re all talking about terrorist groups trying to take over. But this protest in Hong Kong will never be a Chinese Autumn. The governments in China and Hong Kong will not topple any time soon. Terrorism here will never be much of an option.

By this Sunday, much of Hong Kong was ready to go back to work. The protesters are starting to wear out their welcome. Instead of becoming the harbingers of true democracy in Hong Kong, they run the risk of becoming a nuisance to people who need this large road to get to work. Freedom to vote is an abstract concept in China. Paychecks are more tangible.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

San Francisco 2

I was talking about my California trip before the protests in Hong Kong derailed my train of thought.

Back in San Francisco, I don’t think I was the best roommate for the other 3 girls on this trip. They wanted to spend most of the day shopping and most of the night clubbing. I have little to no interest in either activity. We had limited time in the city, and I wanted to explore what little of it I could. Shopping malls tell you almost nothing about a place and you can’t see anything in dark and noisy clubs.

When I suggested we all go to the sea lion colony at Pier 39, they thought I was crazy. I thought it would be interesting to see hundreds of sea lions living side by side with humans in peace only a few minutes from our hotel. They thought buying more clothes was a better idea.

When I wanted to go to Alcatraz, they could not understand why anyone would want to see an old dirty prison – especially when you have to get on a boat to get there. The department stores at Union Square were an easy cable car ride away, and our hotel was right next to one of the cable car terminals.

In the end, I never went to Alcatraz because I wanted to explore the city and Alcatraz is more of a museum than anything else. It shows a unique historical perspective, but going there would have told me nothing about what it’s like to live in San Francisco.

Something I knew I would always be doing alone was taking an early morning walk or bike ride along the marina. The weather was great while we were there and it was nice to take a morning walk in the brisk morning air. The morning fog over the bay only made it more beautiful. Since I’m from Minnesota, I think mornings are supposed to be colder than the rest of the day. You don’t get that in Hong Kong. At 6 am it’s already hotter than it needs to be.

My roommates were not exactly morning people. Since they stayed out late at night drinking and doing who knows what, I was the only one who woke up before noon. Being alone in the morning is something I’m very used to since I seem to always surround myself with night owls.

When they wanted to go to the beach, I decided I should probably go along just for the sake of harmony. I thought lying out on the beach was a waste of time, especially since there was so much we were never going to see, but this was only the beginning of the trip and I did not want our differences to make the rest of the trip uncomfortable.

We all brought bathing suits with us, for some reason. My 2 Canadian roommates were determined to get some sun since we were in California. Hong Kong is not exactly the best place in the world for sunbathing. I brought a bathing suit because I assumed – or hoped – that at least one of the hotels would have a nice clean swimming pool. I never get to swim in Hong Kong, so if I’m going somewhere that has a pool without Chinese people using it as a toilet, I’m in.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Systems

Lily & I both had the day off today, so we went to Central to observe more than participate. Neither of us can vote in Hong Kong whether the elections are democratic or not anyway, but we are both sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. Since we are from Canada and the United States, we see voting as a basic right. Other than losing face, I can’t see any reason for the Beijing government to oppose Hong Kongers voting for their own leaders. It’s not like the Chief Executive can make Hong Kong independent from China. The most he could do is disagree with official state policy.

I can’t say if Sunday was more crowded than Tuesday. There was a considerable crowd both times. Sunday was the more eventful day with the tear gas and everyone expecting something very big to happen. It was in the air. You could feel the anticipation. I think a lot of people thought the Chinese government was going to Tiananmen Square this thing. No one seemed to expect anything to happen on Tuesday.

Despite the enormous crowd, it was all very peaceful for a protest. There were some minor scuffles with the police over the weekend with a few minor injuries, but everyone – protesters and police – remained remarkably calm. We could walk across the street and feel safe the entire time we were there. It took a lot longer than usual to move around. This is Hong Kong, so it always takes too long to get anywhere with all the crowds, but this street was wall to wall people. It was even worse than the MTR on Saturday night.

I would be hesitant about walking through a protest of this size in other parts of the world. In the United States, you have to think about getting shot. In Egypt, you have gang rape. Protesters in too much of the world have to worry about pepper spray. The big concern in Hong Kong was whether or not the police would bring out a water cannon. I’m sure that’s not so fun when you’re near the front of the crowd and take the full force of the high pressure stream, but everyone else just gets a little wet. Considering the options, I’d vote for the water cannon. A spray of water in Hong Kong in September is not the worst thing in the world.

By the time we left, it was still going on. No one seems to know when or how it will all end. Unlike most protests in Hong Kong, this one does not want to simply evaporate.

Some of the experts and people who talk too much on TV are worried that China will bring in the military and end it Chinese style. That would be a mistake. Hong Kong might not be as important to China economically as it was 10 years ago, but it is still very important. Hong Kong is important to financial markets all over the world. The communist leaders in China are some of the most capitalist people in the world. They are very aware of money and what it can do for them. It seems unlikely that they will want to throw so much of it away just to save face. Losing face is a big deal in China, but they always seem to find a way to rationalize it when it happens and make up excuses that explain why they did not, in fact, lose face. Saving face is important in China, but saving money is even more important.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

One Country

Earlier this year, the Chinese government decided that from now on, candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive would have to be pre-approved in Beijing. This outraged more than a few people in Hong Kong, even though the Chief Executive has never been elected by the people. He is elected by a committee of people who are appointed and elected by other committees, almost like the American Electoral College.

A lot of people have been trying to get democratic elections in Hong Kong for some time now, and this new policy only makes that pretty much impossible. Previous Chief Executives could have theoretically been in favor of democracy and tried to pull Hong Kong away from China. Now that Beijing has to approve all candidates, that is far less likely to ever happen.

People are supposedly going to be able to vote directly for candidates in 2017, but all of those candidates have to be selected by Beijing. So China is giving Hong Kong the right to vote, but not the right to vote for whoever they want.

The protests started pretty much right away, but they were small in the beginning. Chinese people are used to being told what to do by their government and it takes a while for any indignation to set in. But Hong Kong has freedom unlike any other Chinese city, and the people of Hong Kong are very sensitive when it comes to China trying to take any of that freedom away.

After about a week of student protests, it all came together on Friday. Student groups and other protesters set up camp outside the Central Government office on Connaught Road and vowed to stay there until their demands were met. Barricades and temporary fences were set up to keep the protesters from interfering with business as usual. That did not last long. When more people showed up on Saturday, Hong Kong police came out in full force with riot gear and rubber bullets.

This only enraged the protesters more, and probably made more moderate Hong Kongers sympathetic to the protests. Someone is always protesting something in Hong Kong, but riot police on the streets are a very rare sight.

By Sunday, there were far more people. I don’t know how many people filled the streets, and I’m sure each side will claim a different number. The protesting groups will aim too high while the government aims too low. But there were a lot of people on the streets outside those government offices and the thought of them shutting down the city on Monday led the police to action.

No one expected the tear gas. This is Hong Kong, after all, not Missouri. That only outraged people even more. Hong Kong police generally keep their distance when people protest. This new active role has a lot of people wondering if this is the shape of things to come.

I had to work Saturday night and Sunday during the day, so I could not go and check it all out until Sunday night. I got there after the tear gas incident, so I never saw any of that. What I saw was a very large crowd of people completely covering the street. Connaught Road is pretty big and there are wide open spaces in front of the government buildings. It was all filled with people.

What struck me was how civilized it all was. If this was any city in the United States, there would be a lot of bodies on the ground right about now. Protesters were chanting, but no one seemed to hold any animosity toward the police. The protests were against the government in Beijing, not the police officers from Hong Kong. Likewise, the police were exceptionally restrained considering how many people were out there. The police were seriously outnumbered by the protesters, yet none of them panicked and started shooting, American style. I don’t think anyone even had any guns without rubber bullets. Hong Kong riot police seem to operate on the belief that people will generally obey the law. This is a highly unusual city.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

San Francisco 1

We stayed at the Argonaut Hotel near Fisherman’s Wharf. Despite being very close to the most touristy part of the city, it was a nice hotel and surprisingly quiet at night. The hotel is across the street from the Maritime Park, so there is less traffic than you’d expect.

Even though most of the area’s attractions – Pier 39, the aquarium, Madame Tussauds – were east of the hotel, I often went west. The park was a nice place to walk around and has a pedestrian pier with great views of Alcatraz and the bay without all the tacky souvenir shops. There is also a very small beach that always seemed to be crowded. Just south of the park is Ghirardelli Square, the one place in San Francisco where every chocolate lover has to go. Right after we left, they had their annual Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival. Talk about bad timing.

The Argonaut is a boutique hotel with a nautical theme. The area used to be San Francisco’s main fishing village and the hotel is close to the working part of the wharf, so that makes sense. Some of the rooms have views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but ours faced the ships in the marina. There are a couple of old World War II ships and some even older 19th century ships that you can visit nearby, but we never had enough time.

One of the best things about the hotel was that they had free bicycles for guests. San Francisco probably isn’t the best place in the world for a bike ride, but the Fisherman’s Wharf area is flat and the Golden Gate Bridge is a reasonable – and beautifully scenic – ride away. Between the hotel and the Golden Gate Bridge was the Palace of Fine Arts. It was built for the World’s Fair, but doesn’t seem to have any real purpose today except as a nice place for a picnic.

Even better was the service at the hotel. Living in China, I’ve gotten used to some pretty lousy customer service. This was the first time I went back to the United States since Ryan & I went to Minnesota in 2012. We stayed at his mother’s house that time. So I have not actually stayed in an American hotel in a very long time. I think I was expecting it to be just like a Chinese hotel, for some reason. I was pleasantly surprised. The staff at the Argonaut was genuinely friendly – as opposed to the usual pretending to be friendly – and they not only knew what they were doing, but they actually seemed to want to do their jobs. Chinese hotel managers should take a class or two from this hotel.

My only complaint with the hotel was that we had to leave so soon after we arrived. The main point of the trip was Los Angeles. San Francisco was essentially a long layover. If I ever go back – and I hope I do some day – I’ll definitely try to stay at this hotel.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Los Angeles Audition part 2

Going to Los Angeles was probably the most unusual trip ever. We supposedly went for an audition, but most of the time we looked around and took in the sights. We even went to Disneyland. Before Los Angeles, we stopped in San Francisco for a couple of days. That had absolutely nothing to do with the audition at all. This was more of a vacation with an audition thrown in.

What surprised me was how nice the hotels were. My agent booked us very good rooms in Santa Monica and San Francisco – and San Francisco was not even supposed to be part of the trip. We only added that later, and my agent still paid for it. I have to say, this guy really went above and beyond. When I become a big star and forget all the little people who helped me to the top, I hope someone in my entourage reminds me to send him a fruit basket or something.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Los Angeles Audition part 1

About a month ago, my agent got me an audition at MGM in Los Angeles. Even though I just got back from a big vacation in Tokyo, I’m taking more time off to go to California. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go at first. If I get the part, that presents a serious problem. I live in Hong Kong, not Los Angeles. Taking a week or two off of work here and there is one thing, but to film in the United States, I’d probably have to take even more time off. Unless it’s a really small part. Then I have to wonder what’s the point in flying to the other side of the world for a one day walk-on part.

I decided to go because it seems like a bad idea to turn this down. It’s a pretty good opportunity. It could lead to bigger and better things. Even if it doesn’t, I’m getting a free trip to Los Angeles. That’s not too shabby.

My agent originally booked a flight for me and the 3 other girls I’m going with from Hong Kong to San Francisco to Los Angeles. I figured as long as we’re landing in San Francisco anyway, why not spend some extra time there. I don’t know the other 3 girls, but it didn’t take much to convince them. Two of them are Canadian, but they don’t need visas to go to Los Angeles. I don’t know if going to San Francisco first would have caused any problems, but if they get the part, they’re going to need work visas anyway.

Our agent already booked the hotel in Los Angeles, but then he had to find one in San Francisco after we changed his plans. He did it all a lot fast than I would have. If it were up to me, I’d probably still be looking at hotels. Hopefully, he didn’t just book the first hotel he saw. He says they’re both very nice hotels, so we’ll see.

Tomorrow I’m leaving for California. Today is the Moon Festival, so I didn’t have to miss it at all. That worked out conveniently. The holiday means nothing to me, but I like a good moon cake.

When I come back I’ll be an internationally famous movie star. Or not.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Moon Cake Day

Monday is the Moon Festival. This is a big party day in Hong Kong. It’s a national holiday and feels almost like Fourth of July in the United States. The origins are different, but it’s a day of eating barbecue and lighting fireworks. People can’t set of fireworks here, they let the government do all the heavy lifting, but everyone can light a red lantern. Those never explode, at least not if you do it right, but they look pretty good floating away into the sky.

Two Moon Festivals ago, Lily, Kevin and I were at the big house at Clear Water Bay. That was a great place to have a party. This year, we’re at our new apartment, which is a million times better than the old apartment, but not quite as good for parties as the big house. We have an enormous balcony, which is a great place to watch fireworks and light red lanterns, but we decided not to have a party.

Lily is working a lot right now and I’m leaving the country on Tuesday. I just unpacked from the Tokyo trip when I had to pack again for another trip. I’ll talk more about that later.

We might go to someone else’s party, but that’s still up in the air right now. All I know is I’m getting some moon cakes one way or another.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 9

Just north of Yoyogi Park is Shinjuku, which is a completely different type of neighborhood. It might as well be a different city. We almost chose a hotel in Shinjuku before we found the Shibuya apartment. Ryan & Kevin liked the red light district in Shinjuku, but Lily & I thought it looked like some kind of cartoon neighborhood. It was more like some weird Disney Toon Town than a sexual haven. It was funny because other parts of Shinjuku were more of a serious business area while a lot of Shibuya was like a cartoon town. I thought they should have put the red light district in Shibuya and our apartment street in Shinjuku.

Shinjuku also has one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, which is probably a great place to see views of Tokyo. Unfortunately, we went in between storms, so we never saw Mt Fuji. Supposedly, you can see it very well from that building’s observation deck, but only on a good day. We almost went to the Tokyo Skytree, which is the second largest tower in the world, but it was too cloudy to make it worthwhile. We would have had great views of fog.

We went to other areas of Tokyo, of course, but we spent most of our time in Shibuya and Shinjuku.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 8

The neighborhood we were in couldn’t have been better. We stayed in Shibuya, which is famous for shopping and food, but our apartment was on a quiet street away from all the excitement. We were only a few blocks away from everything, but once you turned onto our street, everything immediately got slower. It was like being in a quiet residential neighborhood right next to all the downtown action.

We were very close to the Shibuya JR station, but we were also pretty close to the Harajuku station. I think our apartment might have been right in the middle of the two, but we mostly used Shibuya because it was bigger and went to more places.

I’m not really sure what’s south of Shibuya, but just north of our apartment was Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine. The first time we went there, we took the JR from Shibuya to Harajuku, but then we quickly found out that we could easily walk to the park. The front entrance to the park was about the same walking distance as the Shibuya station.

The Meiji Shrine was very interesting. Ryan thought it looked like a Chinese temple, but I thought it was completely different. Chinese temples seem louder. Not only in the noise made by all the people, but in the design. This shrine was calm and relaxing. Chinese temples are rough and jagged. The Japanese people at the Meiji Shrine were far more reverential than I have ever seen anyone at a Chinese temple.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 7

Tokyo was amazing. I can see why Americans like it so much. Japanese culture seems a lot more accessible than Chinese culture – from an American perspective, at least. I’m not saying Japan is like the United States. They are very different places in a million different ways. But from what little I’ve seen, I think it would be far easier to be an American adapting to Japan than to be an American adapting to China. I’d love to know how Chinese people feel about adapting to life in Japan, or about Japanese people in China.

Going to another country with Ryan, Lily and Kevin was more than interesting. I’ve gone to a few countries with Ryan, so there were no surprises there, but this was my first trip with Lily & Kevin. We’ve all known each other for a few years, but we never really thought about taking a vacation together until now. We talked about it, but not seriously.

Staying together in a hotel would have been interesting. We’ve all lived together, more or less, but a hotel is very different from an apartment. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything about that experience since we stayed in an apartment on this trip. It wasn’t someone’s actual apartment, but one of those apartments that travelers can rent for short stays. There’s a name for it, but it totally escapes me right now.

The great thing about staying in an apartment is that you have a lot more room. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a small kitchen. We could have had the same amount of space in a large suit at one of the better hotels, but that would have been far more expensive. Tokyo isn’t the cheapest city in the world. The apartment we rented was very reasonable. I think they charge less because most people don’t know about it, unlike a national hotel chain that everyone knows about.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 6

We’re going to Tokyo tomorrow. The plane tickets are confirmed and the hotel/apartment is finally booked. We have some idea of what we want to see and where we want to go, but we’re also leaving plenty of room to improvise. The last thing I ever want to do on a trip is plan every little thing down to the last hour. I want to know how to get around, but where I go is often open to last minute choices. Luckily, I’m traveling with people who pretty much feel the same way. The four of us have never traveled together to a different country, so it should be interesting.

As if that’s not enough traveling, I’m going to Los Angeles next month. That trip is easier for me since I don’t really have to plan anything. My agent already booked the plane tickets. I’m not even sure which airline it is. I should probably look into that. I don’t know if he’s found a hotel yet. I’m going with 3 other girls I don’t know, so hopefully he’ll book at least 2 rooms. I should probably look into that as well. Right now I’m concentrating on Tokyo. I’ll deal with Los Angeles later.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 5

We finally decided on a hotel. That’s good news since we’re leaving on Monday. I was a little worried that we’d still be arguing over hotels when our plane landed in Tokyo.

We went with Shibuya for a few reasons. The Shinjuku hotels are probably more luxurious, but we all decided that we’re probably not going to spend all that much time in the hotel anyway. Since none of us have ever been to Tokyo, we want to see Tokyo, not some hotel. In Shibuya, we found a place that’s more like an apartment than a hotel. It won’t have all the room service and housekeeping that you get in a hotel, but it seems like a very nice apartment. Hopefully it will give us a better experience – more like the way people live there instead of like tourists staying at a hotel.

Shibuya seems to have more for all of us. From what I can tell, Shinjuku is a business and party area, with a lot less in between. Shibuya seems to have a little bit of everything. We also had to consider our luggage. Lily & Kevin don’t know how to travel light. I’m not really sure why that is, but they always bring a lot more than they ever need on trips. The Shibuya apartment is close to the train station. The Shinjuku hotels require some extra walking time.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 4

We’ve narrowed our hotel options down to the Shibuya Excel Hotel in Shibuya and the Hilton or Hyatt in Shinjuku. The two Shinjuku hotels are right next to each other and very expensive. We can get a suite at either one and have a very nice time in Tokyo. The Shibuya hotel is less expensive and doesn’t have suites, but I think it’s in a better location.

The Shinjuku hotels are farther away from the MTR – though they’re probably an easy enough walk. They’re in a very business area and I’m sure it’s a great place to stay if you’re on a business trip. Your meeting would probably be very close by, if not in the hotel itself.

Ryan & Kevin want to be closer to the non-stop nightlife. The neighborhood they want to stay in is northeast of the station, but the better hotels are west of the station. The station itself seems to be massive, so just getting from one end to the other might take a while. I don’t know how long it would take to walk from either hotel to the red light district, but in August, even 30 minutes might be too much.

The Shibuya hotel is right next to the train station. It’s actually across the street and connected by a walkway. You can probably walk from one to the other during a typhoon and never get wet. I think that’s very convenient. Typhoon or not, I’m sure we’ll use the trains a lot, so the closer we are, the better. We could also avoid the famous crosswalk, which probably gets pretty old pretty fast – especially if you have to walk through thousands of people just to cross the street.

There are practical considerations we need to think about. Tokyo, unlike Hong Kong, has Krispy Kreme. Needless to say, I’m sure I’ll go there once a day. The Shinjuku hotels are 11 blocks from the nearest Krispy Kreme. The Shibuya hotel is about a block away from the nearest Krispy Kreme. There’s another one 6 blocks in the opposite direction. Clearly, Shibuya has the advantage.

Ryan likes to get as much authentic American food as he can when we travel. Most people don’t go to Tokyo for American food, but most people who were raised on American food probably don’t live in Fuzhou either. There’s nothing close to real American food where he lives and very little where I live. Tokyo should have more options.

So far, we know about a Sizzler in Shinjuku and Outback in Shibuya. Sizzler is terrible. It’s literally killed people. I don’t know why they want it in Japan. There’s a Hard Rock Café, but that’s farther away from Shinjuku and Shibuya. McDonald’s is everywhere, but I’m not counting that because it’s crap.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 3

We’ve narrowed our Tokyo hotel search to two neighborhoods, Shinjuku and Shibuya. Shinjuku is one of the main entertainment districts with a lot of food & shopping. It also has a famous park and a famous temple. Shibuya is one of the main entertainment districts with a lot of food & shopping. It also has a famous park and a famous temple. If they sound exactly the same, that’s because what little I’ve seen describes both areas in the same ways. The big difference seems to be that Shinjuku has one of the red light districts and Shibuya has a famous crosswalk.

When Ryan finds out about the red light district, he’s going to vote for Shinjuku. He loves going into red light districts, for some reason. He doesn’t do anything he’s not supposed to do. He just likes to look around. He spent way too much time in Amsterdam’s red light district as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want him to miss the rest of Tokyo.

No one’s going to vote for the famous crosswalk. It’s in every movie set in Tokyo, but that’s not enough of a reason to stay there. I think a crosswalk is about as exciting as a street lamp.

The bad news, or maybe it’s good news, is that both neighborhoods have far too many hotels. We’ve narrowed our search, so we can ignore most of the hotels in Tokyo, but we still have about a million to choose from.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

And Yet Another Trip

We’re still trying to find a good hotel in Tokyo and now I have another trip to think about.

I had a meeting with my agent and he seemed more frustrated at my lack of work than I am. He thinks I should be going on more auditions and getting more parts. I don’t disagree with that, but I have a steady job, so I’m not so worried about it. I like my job and it pays the bills, but my agent had nothing to do with it, so he doesn’t make any money off it. As far as he’s concerned, he hasn’t really done enough for me. He’s gotten me a few auditions and I’m satisfied with the job he’s doing overall, but he’s not.

So he went all out and got me an audition for an actual motion picture in development at MGM. That sounds pretty good, but MGM is in Los Angeles, not in Hong Kong. That’s where the other trip comes in. My agent wants me to go to Los Angeles in September to audition for this movie.

Ordinarily, I’d have to think about it. Do I really want to fly to the other side of the world just for an audition? Getting an audition is a good thing, but most of the time they don’t lead to actually getting the part. Even if you get the part, a million things can happen that keep you out of it. Your scene can be cut, your part can be cut, they can recast with someone else, the movie can linger in development for years or never be finished at all. Even major international movie stars lose jobs in this business. A long time ago some celebrity said it’s never guaranteed until it’s in the theaters. Even then, it can get pulled right away if it bombs.

The odds are always against you in the entertainment industry. You have to accept that and just roll with it if you want to survive. Since I have a steady job, I’m luckier than most. A lot of people wait tables and work retail while waiting for something to happen. For most people, nothing will ever happen.

I already know all of this and I try to take it as it comes, but when I moved to Hong Kong, I assumed whatever work I got would be in Hong Kong. Flying out to Los Angeles for every audition would be insanely expensive, but my agent is either so confident or feels so guilty that he’s going to pay for the trip.

I couldn’t believe it when he told me that part. Hong Kong to Los Angeles is not a cheap flight. I had to ask him what he was thinking. That’s when he told me that I’ll be going with 3 other girls. He set up auditions for all of us – though we’re not all up for the same part – and he wants to send us all out there at the same time. That’s certainly a less expensive way to do it, but how often can he afford such a thing? If he keeps sending his people to the United States for auditions, he’ll go broke in no time.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Weekends in China

My latest book, Weekends in China, is ready to go. It’s mostly about adapting to life in Hong Kong with a lot more information and details than this blog. There’s also a lot about going back and forth between Hong Kong and Mainland China and how different they are from each other.

I’ve seen some of my books in the weirdest places and on websites that I’ve never heard of, but the main place to buy it is at Amazon.

Weekends in China on paperback and e-book.

Tokyo Trip part 2

Finding a hotel is a bigger challenge than finding a flight. The flights are all about timing. With hotels, we have to think about price, location and what we want from the hotel.

Tokyo has thousands of hotels, from the most luxurious suites to tiny boxes the size of coffins. They have “capsule hotels” where a bunch of beds are lined up and stacked on top of each other. It’s like you have a bunk bed with a hundred roommates, except there’s a little bit of privacy in your own little coffin. You even get your own little TV. I don’t know where the bathroom is. Each floor probably has one or two that everyone has to share.

Obviously we’re not going to do that. Between the four of us, we can afford something a little better. We just have to decide what kind of hotel we want, and more importantly, where.

Tokyo is an enormous city. I think that rationally, the best thing to do would be to pick a neighborhood and just spend all of our time there. There’s no way we’re ever going to see even a fraction of everything Tokyo has to offer. You probably have to live there for years to see half of the city. It’s never a good idea to try and cram too much into one trip. With a smaller city like Amsterdam, we could probably get to know the place very well in the amount of time we have. For a city like Tokyo, there’s just no time.

Since none of us have ever been there, that’s not going to happen. We all have things that we want to see and do and they’re not all in the same neighborhood. Tokyo is supposed to have a good MTR system – which I’m sure they call something else – and I know we’ll be using that a lot. Ideally, we’d see one part of the city on this trip and other parts on subsequent trips, but if none of us have been there in all these years, how long will it be before any of us ever go back for a second trip?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tokyo Trip

Finding flights from Hong Kong to Tokyo is pretty easy. All the Japanese airlines go to Hong Kong. Most of the Chinese airlines go to Japan. A lot of other airlines go to both on their way back and forth to other places. Even a couple of American airlines go through both on their way to Seattle or San Francisco.

Our only challenge is that Ryan is in Fuzhou, not Hong Kong. We either need a flight that leaves late enough in the day for him to get here in time or he needs to come to Hong Kong the day before and spend the night. If he comes to Hong Kong the day before, that takes a day away from our trip. He can only take so many days off work. It’s a lot better for the rest of us if he comes to Hong Kong in the morning and we take an afternoon flight to Tokyo. That’s not so good for Ryan since it means he has to actually wake up before noon. The later he gets into Hong Kong, the later we get into Tokyo.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Typhoon Matmo

It’s typhoon season once again. Japan got hit by a big one earlier this month. It weakened just before it hit Japan, so it wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it would be.

Right after that, Typhoon Rammasun slammed into the Philippines. They’ll probably see a dozen more large typhoons before the year is over.

Now we have Typhoon Matmo crashing through Taiwan and heading straight to Fuzhou. Since it went through Taiwan, it’s not supposed to be as big when it hits Fuzhou, but they’ll have plenty of rain and wind. Ryan has been hit by more typhoons in Fuzhou than we’ll ever see here in Hong Kong.

A lot of people died in Taiwan, but that was because of a plane crash. I don’t know why anyone would fly a plane in the middle of a typhoon. You’d think the people in charge would never let that happen. Taiwan must have some version of the FAA. They seriously dropped the ball.

A lot of people are criticizing Malaysia Airlines for flying over war zones, but flying in a typhoon has to be a million times worse. Flying 30,000 feet over a conflict is potentially dangerous, but the odds are nothing will ever touch your plane. Flying in a typhoon is like putting a loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Vacation to Somewhere part 9

We finally decided where to go. I’m very glad we did since we’re supposed to leave in 3 weeks. We’ve known about this trip for 4 months but only just figured out where we’re going. So instead of having 4 months to find a great hotel and hopefully get a good deal on plane tickets, we have 3 weeks.

Since we couldn’t find any common ground between all of our choices, Lily suggested we go somewhere else entirely. The idea was that if we picked a completely different place, no one would have to give up their first choice at the expense of someone else’s first choice.

Kevin immediately suggested Tokyo. His company always sends people there on business trips and he’s always wanted to go, but they never send him. A vacation is a lot better than a business trip since you can spend the day seeing and doing things rather than sitting in some meeting.

Ryan & I thought about Tokyo when we went to Bali, but we wanted something more private and relaxing. Since this is a trip with 4 people, it’s not going to be as private as the Bali trip, so we really don’t need a tropical island. A big city will work.

None of us have ever been to Tokyo, but Japan is one of those places that most of us want to see. We live very close, but none of us have ever bothered to go there. When I told Ryan that Lily, Kevin and I all thought Tokyo would be a good idea, he wasn’t very excited about it. When he goes on vacation, he wants to get as far from Chinese culture as he can. I tried to convince him that China and Japan are very different, but since I’ve never been to Japan I’m just assuming it’s nothing like China the way he’s assuming it’s just like China.

It took some convincing – and a promise that Ryan & Kevin would have some time to themselves while Lily & I go off and do things they’re not interested in. Eventually Ryan was on board with Tokyo.

Now we just have to plan everything.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vacation to Somewhere part 8

It doesn’t look like we’re going to find a place that all of us can agree on. We might just have to draw straws or play rock paper scissors, which is called scissors paper stone in Chinese.

At the top of my list is Amsterdam. Ryan & I went there 3 years ago, but the main part of that trip was Rome. Amsterdam was just something extra we added because our flights went through Amsterdam airport. I liked Amsterdam a lot more than I expected and I’d love to see more of it and spend more time there.

At the top of Lily’s list is Bali. She’s looked at a lot of villas online and likes the idea of a private pool as much as I do. Ryan & I have been there also, but we only saw a fraction of the island. August is the dry season in Bali and it would be nice to walk around with a little less humidity than what we experienced in the middle of the wet season.

Ryan & Kevin both want to go to Thailand, but not the same place. Ryan wants to go back to Bangkok, where we spent a couple of days at the end of our big cruise last year. I’d love to see more of Bangkok since we saw so little, but I think I’d rather go to Amsterdam. There are also some political issues in Bangkok right now, but I’m sure that wouldn’t affect us.

Kevin wants to go to Chiang Mai. I like that none of us have ever been there before, but I’m not crazy about the fact that August is the wet season. In fact, it rains more in August than any other month. A little rain here and there is no big deal, but constant downpours can really put a dent in your trip. August is also the wet season in Bangkok, but September is supposed to be the worst month by a mile.

We could always spend half the time in Bangkok and half in Chiang Mai, but that’s really not my favorite way to do things. You have to pack your junk in the middle of the trip, take a plane or train to the other city and then check in and unpack at a new hotel or villa. That eats up a lot of time. I’d rather just spend the entire trip in one place. No matter where we go, we’re going to have to deal with enough waiting around at airports anyway. I don’t really want to waste even more time playing hurry up and wait.

It almost looks like we’re going to Thailand since it has 2 votes, but since we’ve all been living in Hong Kong for a few years, we know what it’s like to be somewhere when it’s raining every single day. One of the benefits of getting out of Hong Kong is getting away from the rain and constant humidity. Going to Thailand in August might not be the best idea. As far as the weather is concerned, we should head north. Like Amsterdam, for example.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Vacation to Somewhere, Anywhere

The big Fourth of July party was very nice. Everyone had a good time. It didn’t rain and it wasn’t especially cloudy, so we could go outside and enjoy that wonderful pool deck. Most importantly, no one got hurt.

We still have a big vacation coming up next month and we have no idea where we’re going. I always thought taking a trip with 4 people would be easier since we could get a bigger hotel suite or villa, but it’s a lot harder since we all have to decide where to go. Going somewhere with just Ryan is pretty easy. He has a few places he doesn’t want to go, but most of the time I can talk him into going where I want to go. Lily & Kevin are a lot harder.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fourth of July 2014

Sometimes nothing works out the way you want it to no matter how hard you try. Sometimes everything just falls into place and all the stars align when you’re not even trying.

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s ok
And everything’s going right
Life has a funny way of helping you out
When you think everything’s gone wrong
And everything blows up in your face.

Every year, usually during the summer, Kevin’s boss goes out of town and Kevin looks after his house at Clear Water Bay. While Kevin lives there, Lily and I tag along. Mainly because it’s a really nice house. This tradition started back when we lived in a tiny little 1 bedroom apartment, so sleeping in a large 4 bedroom house was a nice way to spend the summer. The big house has a lot of things that our old apartment never had, like more than enough bedrooms, a private bathroom for everybody, a real kitchen, a pool and hot tub, a large outdoor pool deck and plenty of space.

Now we have a much larger apartment and we’re not nearly as crowded as we were in the old apartment. We’re still all staying at the big house, though. The new apartment has plenty of bedrooms, bathrooms, a nice kitchen and far more space than the old apartment. But it doesn’t have a private pool or that beautiful pool deck. It also doesn’t have amazing views of the ocean. The new apartment would be a great place to take a vacation from the old apartment, but the big house is still a great place to vacation from everywhere else.

Not only do we have the big house, but we have it during Fourth of July. That means a big party. This is a great house for a party and from that pool deck we can watch fireworks over the bay. Hong Kong doesn’t celebrate Fourth of July, of course, but the last time we were at the big house during this time of year, we saw fireworks for some reason. We’re not facing the harbor, so it’s not the Symphony of Lights fireworks.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Ryan will be in town. So I get to spend Fourth of July with my boyfriend at the big house. You can’t ask for much more. There’s nothing wrong with spending Fourth of July with Lily & Kevin, but they’re Canadian, so it’s not the same. They understand what it’s all about, of course, but national holidays are always better spent with people who grew up celebrating them and have all those memories. My Chinese friends like having me around during Chinese New Year, but it all means a lot more to their Chinese friends.

This looks to be the best Fourth of July in a long time.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend in Xiamen part 5

Zhongshan Park is at the end of Zhongshan Road, so we already knew how to get there. Zhongshan Road is pretty easy to get to since it’s in the main tourist area of the island and it’s probably the most popular shopping street in the whole city.

Neither of us wanted to go back to Zhongshan Road, but I wanted to see the park. Ryan reluctantly agreed.

The park isn’t the most exciting place in the world, but it’s a nice clean place to take a walk and pretty much the opposite of Zhongshan Road. The shopping street is dirty, loud and very crowded. The park is clean, relatively quiet and almost empty – at least when we were there. It wasn’t really empty. There were probably hundreds of people there – but anything in China with less than a million people is empty.

The highlight of the trip for both of us was the grocery store. That might seem strange, but it’s really amazing how many American items this store has. People visiting from the United States wouldn’t care. It’s a very small store compared to American supermarkets. Since we live very far away from the United States and real American food is hard to find, this store was a blessing to us.

I liked one of the two Italian restaurants, but Ryan’s favorite food in Xiamen was pizza. Our hotel, aside from being in a good location, had a Papa John’s in the courtyard. They even delivered to our room.

It’s easy to find better pizza in Hong Kong. Pizza Express isn’t bad and Paisano’s is excellent. Ryan doesn’t have either in Fuzhou. His pizza choices are Pizza Hut and Chinese pizza. Frozen pizzas are better than Pizza Hut and Chinese pizza isn’t anything any Italian would recognize as pizza. The first time I saw a Chinese pizza, I asked someone what it was. They said it was pizza and I laughed. I thought they were joking.

The housekeeping staff at our hotel had to pick up a lot of pizza boxes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Weekend in Xiamen part 4

The big sites in Xiamen are Gulangyu, Nanputuo Temple, Xiamen University, Zhongshan Park and Zhongshan Road.

We went to Gulangyu on our first trip to Xiamen and we absolutely hated it. There’s nothing wrong with the island itself. It’s probably very nice. The problem is that you can’t really see it when it’s full of millions of people – literally. It’s like Disneyland on opening day – only the people are much angrier.

It’s a very short ferry ride from Xiamen Island to Gulangyu, but they cram the ferry as full as they possibly can – even fuller than that, really. If you don’t want to smell cigarettes and what everyone else just ate, don’t take the ferry. Gulangyu is an island, so there’s no other way to get there. It’s technically illegal to smoke on the ferry, but smoking laws are merely suggestions in China. Since pretty much everyone smokes, those suggestions are always ignored.

Once you’re off the ferry, it’s still unbelievably crowded. Chinese people naturally push their way everywhere and this island is wall to wall people pushing to get to whatever they want to see. There’s an observation deck on the highest hill, but getting there was an absolute nightmare. I’ve seen lions on the Discovery Channel that were more polite to the zebras they killed than the way most of the people on Gulangyu acted in their mad lust to be the first at everything.

We also went to Nanputuo Temple on our first trip. That’s another place that’s probably nice without millions of people all pushing each other. We didn’t even try to go to the top of that hill.

Our first trip to Xiamen was in the middle of June and this one was at the end of May, so maybe we didn’t pick the best times to go. It might be less crowded in January. Maybe some of these places are better when there are only hundreds of thousands of people.

We didn’t go to Xiamen University on either trip. We didn’t see the point. There’s supposed to be a nice lake at the university, but out hotel was next to a lake, so we never bothered.

Zhongshan Road is a major tourist shopping street. We went there on our first trip with mixed results. This was where we saw the world’s filthiest Walmart and a woman peeing at the front door. There’s really nothing on Zhongshan Road besides tourist shopping. Since we already knew that, we didn’t go back.

What we never went to on our first trip was Zhongshan Park, so we went there this time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Weekend in Xiamen part 3

Xiamen Island is pretty small, so getting to everywhere we wanted to go was pretty easy. There is more to the city than the island, but we weren’t there long enough to explore the outer reaches – and we really didn’t care anyway. We mostly went for the grocery store. That was on the other end of the lake. We could have walked to it from the hotel, but then going back with all those groceries would have been too much.

We actually went to the grocery store twice. The first time, they were out of a lot of the things we wanted. They said another shipment would come in on our last day in Xiamen, so we went back just before we left the city.

Across the street from the American grocery store are two Italian restaurants. We didn’t try either of them the first time we went to Xiamen because we were on a cruise ship full of free food – or at least food that was already paid for. This time we had to find our own meals, so we went to one of the Italian restaurants on our first night and the other one right next door on our second night.

From the outside, both restaurants looked basically the same. You could tell they were two different restaurants, but there was nothing that distinguished one from the other. From the inside, one definitely looked more like a traditional Italian restaurant that the other. We assumed that one would have the better food. We were completely wrong.

The restaurant with the more generic café interior had much better food. I don’t know who runs either restaurant, but I’d be surprised if the chef in the better one wasn’t Italian – or at least trained in Italy. The pasta was as fresh as could be and the sauces were excellent. The best part – to me at least – was the garlic bread. I love garlic bread. It’s one of the hardest things to find in Hong Kong. Lots of places have Chinese bread. Some places have what they call garlic bread. No one has real fresh bread with real garlic and real olive oil.

Even if you find a place that says it has garlic bread, it’s usually Chinese bread – which is nothing like Italian or French bread. Sometimes they’ll put Chinese butter on it or Chinese vegetable oil. Chinese butter doesn’t taste anything like what I think of as butter. I don’t know how they make it, but something’s just off. Chinese oil is usually corn or peanut oil – which isn’t always a bad thing – but it’s not olive oil. Olive oil is more expensive and not a traditional Chinese ingredient, so few places will use it.

Cheaper places use something called gutter oil. The less said about that the better. Foreigners can usually tell which places use that since you’ll have a dramatic reaction to the food right away. My rule is if any food comes out of me right after I put it in, I don’t go back to that place.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Vacation to Somewhere part 6

Finland is out. The house where we were going to stay in Helsinki is no longer available. That’s what sold me on going to Helsinki. Without that house, I’m not as interested. It was a really nice house.

Kevin was the only one who wanted to go to Finland anyway. No one else was excited about it, so it’s probably best that we’re not going there.

Now we’re pretty much back where we started. We don’t know where we’re going to go. August is coming up, so we better make up our minds fast.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tiananmen Square

It was pretty crowded in Victoria Park yesterday. It’s often crowded in Victoria Park. It’s a popular place to hang out on the weekends and it’s an even more popular place for large gatherings and protests. There aren’t a lot of open spaces in the city, so the park works pretty well – and it’s very easy to get to.

Yesterday, about 100,000 people crammed into Victoria Park to commemorate the Tiananmen Square protest. People gather every June 4th, but this was the 25th anniversary, so turnout was higher than usual.

The amazing thing is that Hong Kong is part of China. There is never any mention of the protest in Mainland China, but in Hong Kong, everyone can say whatever they want about it. Every anniversary is all over Hong Kong news while it’s completely ignored on Mainland news.

People talk about “one country, two systems”, but Hong Kong is very much Chinese. There is definitely more freedom in Hong Kong, but the government, people and culture are very Chinese. Most of the people in Hong Kong or their parents are originally from Mainland China and see China in a positive light. Some people say that Hong Kong police are becoming more and more Chinese every day. Internet service is far less restricted in Hong Kong, but civil rights and labor rights lean more toward Chinese.

What’s really amazing is that people from the Mainland can come to Hong Kong relatively easily. The city is mostly seen as a giant shopping mall, but the people in charge of China’s government have to know that Hong Kong newspapers and TV have enough freedom of the press to criticize China and its leaders. When people visit from China to go shopping, they can easily hear news stories that they would never hear in China.

Chinese visitors in Hong Kong this week might be surprised to learn about what happened in Tiananmen Square. Some of them might go home and tell others about it. That’s definitely not so good for all that control and repression the Chinese government has worked so hard on.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Weekend in Xiamen part 2

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which was a very good choice. Even though we’d been to Xiamen before, we didn’t know anything about the hotels.

In Fuzhou, you have few options. There are a few western hotels, but they are easily the most expensive. Most of the hotels are Chinese, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Chinese customers seem to have different ideas about what is clean and comfortable. Chinese hotels also look like they were decorated 50 years ago. I don’t care about the latest furniture and whatever this week’s trends are, but I think you have to redecorate your hotel once in a while. If nothing else, newer carpets and beds tend to be cleaner.

Xiamen has more choices. They have plenty of Chinese hotels, of course, but they also have a greater variety of western options. It’s not just the most expensive western chains. They have cheap western hotels, too.

The Crowne Plaza isn’t the most expensive hotel, but it isn’t the cheapest either. It’s supposedly a 5 star hotel, but Chinese 5 star isn’t the same as actual 5 star. I’ve seen some Chinese 5 star hotels that Motel 6 wouldn’t want anything to do with. The Crowne Plaza would probably be 3 or 4 stars in Paris. It was clean and comfortable – which are the most important things to us – and it was in a great location.

The hotel had all the basics you expect of an international hotel that are sometimes hard to find in China. Everything in the room worked properly and did what it was supposed to do. The hotel even had a pool, which is not as common in China as it should be, but the pool was being renovated while we were there, so we never used it.

The hotel was very close to the lake. We couldn’t see it from our room because we were facing the opposite direction, but it was a very easy walk. We went to the lake during the cruise, but we spent more time there this time. It’s not the most exciting lake in the world, but it’s a nice place to walk around and a lot cleaner – and a million times safer – than walking on the street.

Since we stayed at a major hotel, it was pretty easy to get a taxi. Even if we couldn’t, we were on one of the major streets, so taxis and buses were easy. Buses in China can be very difficult if you don’t understand the Chinese system. Most foreigners just use taxis. They can also be difficult if you don’t speak any Chinese. The drivers are almost guaranteed to try to rip you off – until you say something to them in Chinese. Once they hear Chinese, they immediately shape up.

If you can’t speak any Chinese, any decent hotel should be able to write down where you want to go. The Crowne Plaza, like most better hotels, has cards with a Chinese map on the back. If you’re going back to the hotel you can just hand the driver the card.