Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Kung Flu part 2

When the hospital got the lab results from my throat swab, they wanted me to come in. That was not what I wanted to hear. Ideally, they would have told me to eat plenty of donuts and take a nap a day and the cough would go away. That almost never happens.

Instead, they wanted me to stop taking the flu pills and cough syrup. I paid $5 for those drugs, and now I'm just supposed to throw them away. What's worse, they wanted me to buy another $5 worth of drugs. The new drugs are more specific.

“You have the avian influenza,” the doctor told me.

Bird flu. I caught bird flu. How that happened is anyone's guess. Apparently, people get it every year. It's not on the news because hundreds of people aren't dying from it, fortunately. My prognosis is very favorable. The new pills are supposed to wipe it out. After the last few pandemics that did kill hundreds of people, the doctors around here came up with better ways of treating it.

Before I came to Hong Kong, several people warned me that I would get some exotic disease. This was several years after SARS and right after the big swine flu outbreak. It's funny because Hong Kong is no more contagious than any other large city. No one covers their mouths when they cough or sneeze, so colds spread faster than rumors online, but this isn't the kind of place where people catch malaria or hepatitis. Hong Kong isn't exactly in the middle of a jungle.

But I'm pretty sure I would have never caught bird flu in Minnesota.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Kung Flu

After about a week of coughing, sneezing, huffing and puffing, I went to the hospital.

Where I come from, we don't go to the hospital just because we have a cold. Around here, people go to the hospital for every little thing. An ER visit in the United States can eat up the whole day and put you in the poorhouse. In Hong Kong, you can be in and out of the ER in about an hour, $5 poorer.

Going to the hospital for a cold seems strange to me, but I could not stop coughing, so I whipped out a few dollars and spent ten minutes on the MTR.

This is cold and flu season, so I had to wait another ten minutes before I could see a nurse who did all the little preliminary things that nurses do before you can see a doctor. The hospital was busy, so it was a whopping five minutes before the doctor came around. After pressing his ice cold stethoscope against my coughing chest, he wanted to look at some x-rays. That was another five minutes down the drain.

After looking at the chest x-ray, the doctor wanted to swab my throat. As a woman, I should be used to men wanting to put tiny tubes inside me, but I have never been a fan of having my throat swabbed. Fortunately, it rarely comes up. The swab would have to go to the lab, wherever that is, but in the meantime, they gave me some pills that supposedly keep my head from catching on fire and some of that opium liquid for the cough.

About three hours after going to the hospital, I was back home. I would have been back in a little over an hour, but I had to do some grocery shopping. I may be coughing enough to fill the Hindenburg, but laundry soap doesn't just magically appear.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015




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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

I'd Like to Thank the Academy

I consider myself a dancer more than anything else. It's what I've spent far more time on training and practicing. But it turns out I'm a pretty good actress.

Cold and flu season jumped out from behind a corner and hit me square in the face this year. One day, I was fit as a fiddle and ready for whatever life brought. The next day, I was coughing up a lung and plugging my nose up with a cork. I never saw it sneaking up on me. It was an ambush.

I don't know anyone who has a job that gets excited when they take sick days off, but my job practically requires it when we're sick. We're always supposed to project an image of happy sunshine and rainbows. Coughing and sneezing all over the place is not part of that image. But this is the worst time of the year to take any days off. This is easily our busiest season. Taking a vacation in December/January is rare, but it can be done with enough advance planning. Calling in sick with no notice is not good for anybody around here. It puts an unnecessary strain on the people you have to work with when you come back.

So I went to work feeling like a dog on the wrong end of a car wash. This is where my great acting skills came into play. We were doing a show that everyone had already rehearsed a million times. That was the easy part. But I put on my happy face and acted like I was not sick. I had no idea how successful I would be, but about halfway through one of my least favorite songs, I had a sudden urge to relieve myself. This is not uncommon in my profession. There are all kinds of tricks of the trade, but all of my energy was focused on acting like I was not the least energetic person in the room.

So I did something that Katharine Hepburn taught me. She did not personally teach me anything. She and I were probably never even in the same city at the same time. In an interview, she described shooting a scene in one of her Spencer Tracy movies. He was agitated and needed a drink and she needed to use the bathroom. They had already shot a million takes and everyone was ready to go home. She said that she used the intensity of a full bladder to deliver her lines twice as fast as before, which prompted Tracy's surprised reaction. Everyone liked it, and they could move on.

My situation was a little different, but by focusing on my bladder, my sneezing and waterfall nose subsided until they knew they could have my full attention. The second I could get off stage safely, I went to the nearest restroom. You know that scene in The Green Mile after Michael Clarke Duncan gives Tom Hanks a prostate exam and Hanks can finally urinate? The look on Tom's face is exactly how I felt.

Then I went back to coughing and sneezing.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Please Stand By



Due to technical difficulties, today's post no longer exists. I typed up something and the internet exploded temporarily. I don't feel like typing it all over again, but rest assured, it was brilliant and hilarious and would have made the world a better place for all of humanity. Oh, well.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Adventures in Publishing

All of the e-book versions of all of my books are on sale at a discount price at Amazon. This does not mean I've been reduced to the discount bin. Yet. This is a holiday sale that I knew about beforehand. It will end sometime after the new year and then everything goes back to the regular high book prices. Personally, I think all e-books should always be 99 cents, but then no one would make any money, except whichever site you pay the 99 cents.

The paperbacks are always on sale. That has nothing to do with holiday specials. Every website that sells them always seems to be trying to match someone else's price. So the price at any one site can change at any time. I also think paperbacks are too expensive, but they have to be printed – unlike e-books – so 99 cents is definitely not an option.

The big holiday sale at Amazon is only at Amazon. Other sites do pretty much whatever they want when it comes to pricing. For example, a site called Booktopia sells Bali Diary for $19.50, which is just insanely high. Tower Records sells Nudist Cruise for $11.95. I didn't even know they were selling my books. I didn't even know they still existed outside of Japan. I didn't see any of my books at the Tower in Shibuya, but then again, I never checked. I only look at the CDs when I go there.

The bottom line is, if you want to buy my books – and that's something you should really want to do – now is the time. Christmas is always a great time to spend money you don't have. Why not spend it on my exciting literary adventures?

Or you can wait until the prices go back up again. It's your choice. As long as you buy them. That's the important thing.

Monday, December 7, 2015

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 colleague 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 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."

-- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

I've spent the last few Thanksgivings in Hong Kong. Two years ago, we went to a Michelin star Italian restaurant for Thanksgiving. I wasn't all that wild about the food. I've been to several hole in the wall Italian restaurants that were much better. A lot of people will disagree with me, but I think Italian food is better when it's made by an old married couple in the kitchen. Celebrity chefs get all the attention, but their revolving door staff can never match what Nonna Leone can do.

Ironically, we went to a Japanese restaurant last year. That was another trendy hot spot with average food. Having been to Japan, I can confidently say that some guy making noodles by the side of the road can match a celebrity chef making Japanese food any day.

This Thanksgiving, Lily and I were in Japan. We could have easily had a better Japanese Thanksgiving dinner than what we had last year, but I wanted something more American. People always tell me it's crazy to seek out American food while traveling in other countries. You're in that country, so you're supposed to eat that food. I mostly agree with that, but I live in China. I don't eat American food every day. I rarely eat any at all. Around here, American food means McDonald's and Haagen-Dazs. We ate plenty of Japanese food during the trip, but for Thanksgiving, I wanted something more familiar.

Tokyo has plenty of Americans and restaurants that cater to our tastes. We heard about several restaurants that had special Thanksgiving menus. We picked a place just south of the Shibuya station called Good Honest Grub because we liked their menu and, this part is important, they had reservations available. Rather than one night of Thanksgiving, they did it all week.

Despite the terrible name, this was a nice restaurant. They're only open for breakfast and lunch, and close when the sun goes down, so they're never going to be famous. But they use a lot of fresh local produce and are a rare non-smoking restaurant in Tokyo.

Something I was a little disappointed in was their pumpkin pie. I've been on a quest to find real pumpkin pie for several years now. Most places in Hong Kong use the cheapest butter they can find in their crust – if they even have a crust – and the pumpkin filling tastes nothing like pumpkin. I think most of them use sweet potatoes or squash instead. Good Honest Grub's pumpkin pie tasted like pumpkin, and the crust was much better, but they seem to have forgotten the nutmeg. Pumpkin pie without nutmeg is like brownies without cocoa.

It was a good Thanksgiving meal overall, and Tokyo has plenty of places to get dessert. Since Thanksgiving is meaningless in Japan, nothing closed early. Ice cream and imagawayaki were available all night.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sleeping in Tokyo

We stayed at the Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu, which is obviously in Shibuya. We stayed in Shibuya the last time we went to Tokyo, so we wanted to branch out a little more. We spent more time in Shinjuku this time, but the last thing we wanted to do was go all over the city. There is more than enough to experience for a week in Shibuya and Shinjuku.

The hotel is just outside the JR station. Since it's on top of a shopping mall, you can walk from the station to the hotel without ever setting foot outside. It's a standard business hotel that looks and feels like what you expect from business hotels in Japan, but our room was larger than we expected. We didn't book the cheapest room, because there were two of us, but we didn't book the most expensive room either.

They were supposed to give us two single or double beds, or whatever they want to call it. In East Asia, bed sizes never seem to match what we call them in the United States. I have slept on queen size beds that would be just right for a child. The hotel put us in a room with one king size bed. I don't think it was really king size, but it was big enough. Fortunately, Lily & I are good friends. It could have been awkward if this was a business trip.

Despite the lack of beds, which they were never able to fix, the service at the hotel was everything we expected from a business hotel in Japan. The housekeeping ninjas kept the room immaculate. We never saw them, but they were obviously there.

In parts of China, housekeeping will knock on your door day or night. Whenever they are cleaning rooms, they will come to your room. It doesn't matter if you have that do not disturb sign on your door or if they know you're in there, if they're doing your floor right now, they're coming. I've dealt with a few people who were confused by the lock on the door who didn't seem to understand why they couldn't get in and I've had them knock on my door at six o'clock in the morning. I'm usually awake, but I can't imagine everyone else is. Even if they don't try to get into your room while you're in it, you will definitely see those housekeeping carts in the hallway. More often than not, they block the hall and you need to move them just to walk to the elevator.

In Tokyo, we never even saw the carts. They were obviously there when we were out, but we didn't keep anything close to a regular schedule. We came and went at random and were prone to going back to the room in the middle of the day. It didn't matter what time it was. No one was ever around. But the room was always cleaned.

Breakfast was included with our room, but we only ate it once. It wasn't bad for a hotel breakfast, but we were surrounded by food. Why eat something average when you have some of the best food in the world just outside your door? Sure, it's free – or at least included in the price – but if you're pinching pennies, Tokyo might not be for you.

The bathroom wasn't as modern as we expected, but it had the standard electronic toilet that gives every trip to Japan that little something extra. I was actually glad they haven't renovated the bathroom recently. Whenever they do, they'll probably put in one of those window walls that every hotel in China seems to have now. I like windows, but I want to use them to see what's outside, not to see what my roommate is doing in the bathroom. Not everyone who stays in a hotel is a couple, and not every couple wants to watch each other on the toilet. I know enough Chinese people who agree with me on that one. I'm hoping the Japanese feel the same way.

One of my favorite things about this hotel was the view. Cleanliness and comfort are far more important, but in Japan, your room is going to be clean. That's a given. This hotel was 20 or so floors above a shopping mall, which itself was several floors, so most rooms have good views of the neighborhood. Since our room faced north, we had a great view of the Shibuya crossing, Yoyogi Park and downtown Shinjuku. The last time we were in Tokyo, we stayed in an apartment, so we had views of the neighboring buildings. This time, we had a postcard view from a large window. There are a million hotels in Tokyo, but I wouldn't mind staying at this one next time.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Home Again

Lily & I are back in Hong Kong. We left Tokyo Friday night, landed in Hong Kong very late Friday night and got home after midnight. We both had to work on Saturday, but I was lucky enough to work Saturday night. So I got to sleep a little. Lily had to wake up Saturday morning, so she only got to take a little nap.

Neither of us like going to work right after we come back from another country. I like to have a full day off between the airport and work. But sometimes you want to stretch out your vacation as much as possible. We could have left Tokyo earlier, but that would have meant leaving earlier. As it is, we were only there for 7 1/2 days. That's not nearly enough time for a city like Tokyo.

The weather was pretty good while we were there. The last time we went to Tokyo was in August, so it was hot and humid, just like Hong Kong. This time, we got a little rain and much cooler temperatures. It was never cold, but it was cloudy enough most of the time. Anything not humid is good.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving in Tokyo

We're going to Tokyo tomorrow. We went back and forth about which neighborhood to stay in, but eventually decided on Shibuya. We stayed there last time, so we talked about going somewhere else, but we want this to be an easy trip. In any other neighborhood, we'd have to look at hotels. In a city like Tokyo, that can take a while. The only hotels we know in Shinjuku are ridiculously expensive. For Shibuya, we already had a hotel in mind. They had rooms available, so we took it.

Had we planned this trip ahead of time, we probably would have picked a different neighborhood. Tokyo is the kind of city where it's best to stay in one area and then see another part of the city another time. You're never going to get to know it all in one trip. Since we stayed in Shibuya last time, it would make sense to stay in Minato or Chiyoda this time. But we did everything at the last minute, so Shibuya is easier. We can still spend as much time as we want somewhere else since our hotel is right next to the JR station, but it seems like we'll mostly be in Shibuya. I'd rather walk around the hotel than spend all day on a subway.

The original plan was to go for a long weekend. Since my birthday is on Sunday, we were always going to be there for my birthday. Then we shuffled some of our days off, got a few extra and decided to go a little later and stay a little longer. Now we will be there for my birthday and Thanksgiving. Japan might not be the ideal Thanksgiving location, but neither is China. Eating a Japanese Thanksgiving dinner will be a nice change of pace from our usual Chinese Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tokyo Birthday

Lily & I are going to take a little trip to Tokyo. We haven't taken a vacation together since we went to Tokyo last year. Our last big trip was Paris, but that wasn't a vacation. We just went to Taipei last month, but that was a weekend in a city an hour away.

We both managed to get a few days off at the same time and wanted to go somewhere close, but definitely outside of China. Tokyo is an inexpensive and easy trip, and Japan is not at all Chinese. It might seem strange to call Tokyo inexpensive since it is such an expensive city, but flights from Hong Kong are cheap and only take about 4 hours. We thought about Thailand and Korea, which are also pretty close, but went with Tokyo for a variety of reasons.

Neither of us has been to Korea. We would both like to go some day, but since we've never been there, we would have to look up too much information for a quick and easy trip. We know what we need to do for Tokyo, and already looked into a few different neighborhoods before we went the last time.

Thailand is pretty easy and cheaper than Tokyo, but we like the weather in Tokyo better. Thailand is always hot & humid. The only change of seasons are from wet to dry. The wet season just ended, so we wouldn't have to worry about too much rain, but we both like actual seasons. If we want hot & humid, we can stay in Hong Kong. It won't snow in Tokyo while we're there, but at least it will be noticeably cooler. We'll probably be in Hong Kong all winter, so this might be our only chance to go somewhere that gets cold.

We're not actually taking the trip for my birthday. That's only a coincidence. We'll both be working a lot more during Christmas/New Year, so now is the time to go somewhere. After the New Year, which I think is in February next year, we'll have more time to take a bigger trip.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#J’en ai ma claque







Everyone stands with Paris. That's great, but maybe it's time to do something about the murderers who stand against us all. Lowering flags, lighting buildings, Twitter octothorpes and blog posts are all fine and dandy, but they do nothing to stop any of the terrorists who have declared war on humanity.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dating in Hong Kong 4

Something I'm learning about the wide world of expat relationships is that there are entire books full of rules. You're supposed to do this, you're not supposed to do that. He should wait this amount of time to call, she should wait that amount of time to answer. Now there are even rules about Facebook and Twitter. The good news is that I don't do Facebook and I haven't logged into my Twitter account in at least a year. Search it all you want. There's nothing embarrassing there. Mostly because there's nothing there.

In addition to not knowing the rules or, more accurately, not wanting to know the rules, I also don't seem to know anything about modern communication systems. My phone was made in 2009. That wasn't really a long time ago, but in the world of cell phones, that was an eternity. My phone is not smart. It's not especially stupid. It can squeak by, but there's no way it's getting into a decent college.

Most people already know the rules, but everything is new to me. Back in high school, we didn't play so many games. That seems backward, but I'm convinced it's true. Everything seemed more genuine then. Now, everyone is trying to play some game or another. I don't like games, unless there's a board and dice involved. People always ask what women want. Here's the answer: honesty. It's the single most important quality as far as I'm concerned.

Pretending to be whoever you think the other person wants you to be, even just a little, is always a bad idea. Sooner or later, whoever you're lying to is going to find out. It might not be the end of the world, but I'll bet it will be worse than if you were simply yourself the entire time.

If your main goal in life is to have sex, there are ways to do that without being a liar. If you're lying to get some then you obviously don't care who you're doing, as long as you're doing it. There's no need to lie if that's the case. Someone somewhere will want to have sex with the real you. If you have to lie to get laid, that only says horrible things about who you are. If sex is just a conquest to you, you're doing it wrong. And I bet that's the reason you feel so empty.

Maybe there are more rules than I thought.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Rainy Days and Birthdays

Last month was Ryan's birthday. I know I'm not supposed to talk about him. Everyone I know has told me not to talk about him. And it's not like I mention him every day. In fact, I rarely mention him at all anymore. But this was the first birthday since high school that we did not at least talk to each other. It was not always possible to spend any time together on our birthdays, but if nothing else, at least we talked on the phone. This year, nothing.

This month is my birthday. I need to find something to do to keep my mind off it. I'm not always a big celebrator on my birthday. Sometimes I'll go out to dinner. We had a surprise party last year, but I knew about it. Sometimes my birthday is on Thanksgiving, but not this year. I think it's a few years away.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dating in Hong Kong 3

The reason I started talking about dating in the first place is because I've decided that it might be time to start thinking about considering whether or not I want to entertain the idea of maybe contemplating the suggestion that I go out on an actual date.

Finding people outside of high school might be harder than in it, but it turns out it's actually pretty easy when you're newly single in a city of 3 million men. Even when you eliminate coworkers, married men, men who are too young or too old and creepy dudes online, there are a lot of men out there. Thinking back, I've been getting offers the entire time I've been in Hong Kong. I simply forgot about them because I had a boyfriend.

A friend of mine is currently trying to set me up with a friend of hers. We've never met each other, but she swears we'd be perfect together. That's a huge red flag to me. Very few people have the same definition of perfection. It's also a horribly bad idea to go on a blind date with such unrealistic expectations. I'd rather hear, “You might work out. Who knows.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween 2015

We had our big Halloween party on Sunday instead of Saturday because too many people had to work Saturday. Saturday night might be a better time for a Halloween party, especially since most people don't go to work on Sunday morning and Halloween was actually on Saturday, but it's because most people don't work on Sunday that we did it on Sunday.

We had a lot of people in costume this year. Sometimes as many as half the people show up in their regular clothes. Dressing up for Halloween is not exactly a Chinese tradition, so a lot of our guests didn't grow up with it the way we did. But you can always count on the foreigners to go nuts.

You can also tell which movies are popular by what people wear for Halloween. When all those Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter movies came out, most of the costumes were pirates and wizards. This year, it was all comic book superheroes and Star Wars. The Star Wars movie hasn't even come out yet, but all the nerds are a flutter. There were also a few zombies. There are always zombies.

Lily, Kevin and I were Colonel Sanders, Ronald McDonald and Wendy. Everyone got Kevin's Ronald costume right away. Put on a yellow and red jumpsuit and most people automatically think of that clown.

Lily's Colonel confused a few people, even though KFC is the single most popular fast food place in China. Someone thought she was 1970s Steve Martin with a beard. I thought that was funny. A few people pointed out that she didn't have a red apron, since that's the new logo. When I think of Colonel Sanders, a red apron never even crosses my mind.

Almost no one got my Wendy. Everyone thought I was Dorothy Gale. They do pretty much look the same. But if I'm standing next to Colonel Sanders and Ronald McDonald – instead of the Scarecrow and Tin Man – it should be obvious.

Maybe next year I'll wear the same thing and they can get a couple of Oz costumes.

Something I miss from real Halloween is all the children knocking on the door begging for candy. No one does that here. We had plenty of candy, but no children at this party. That's probably for the best since one Canadian dressed as Jared Fogle.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dating in Hong Kong 2

Being a foreigner in a strange country only makes the concept of dating all the more interesting. Expat dating has to be one of the strangest forms of courtship invented by man. People move to other parts of the world but bring their old perceptions and stereotypes with them.

Men from my country seem to assume that women in China are going to be docile and obey their every deviant sexual request. Real Chinese women couldn't be further from the American fantasy. Every Chinese woman I know has an opinion and is not the least bit afraid to let it out. If you're paying a prostitute to pretend to be your sex slave, that's one thing, but if you want a real sex slave, you might want to look outside of China.

American women dating Chinese men is just as difficult, mostly for the opposite reasons. American women, in the broadest general terms, want independent men. Chinese men, in my very limited experience, are not the most independent people in the world. There's probably a reason China has always been ruled by dictators. Conforming and fitting in are very popular concepts in China. When people around here buy the latest cell phone, winter coat or suitcase, it's the exact same model that everyone else is buying this week.

Then there's marriage. I'm not anywhere close to even thinking about getting married some day, but I don't like the idea of dating someone who can't marry me eventually if that's the hole we both happen to fall down. It's like eating a great meal when you have the stomach flu and you know it's going to come back up pretty soon.

In Chinese society, if a Chinese woman marries a white man, her parents might be heartbroken, but her friends think she hit the jackpot. If a Chinese man marries a white woman, his family will disown him. I'm not designed to be something someone brags to his friends about but can't take home to his mother.

Fortunately, Hong Kong is an international city. There are people here from pretty much all over the world. We have men in all shapes, sizes, colors, makes and models. This city is a diversity smorgasbord. But I never liked all you can eat buffets.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Adventures in Publishing part 4

Shooting For Paris part II is now available for pre-orders at Amazon. Once again, the e-book is at a low price during the pre-orders, but will go up after the full release. The paperback will always be expensive.

I think the release date is December 2nd, but I could be wrong about that. It's sometime in early December. Just in time for Christmas. Nothing says Christmas like April in Paris.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Taipei Pictures Again

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall


Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall


Xinyi from Taipei 101

This is the shopping neighborhood near the Home Hotel.


Confucius Temple


228 Peace Memorial Park


228 Peace Memorial Park


228 Peace Memorial Park


National Concert Hall


Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai Shek might have been a brutal dictator,
but this is a pretty impressive building.


Memorial Hall Square

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Taipei Again

The first time I went to Taipei, I stayed in the Xinyi District. There was never enough time to go anywhere else, so I stayed put. That's actually a good way to see a new city, especially if you plan on going back a few times. Big cities are hard to see all at once. When people go to Tokyo for the first time, they try to hit the Imperial Palace, Roppongi, Ginza, Meiji Jingu, SkyTree and a million other sights, but they are all in different wards. The SkyTree and Meiji Shrine are nowhere near each other.

By concentrating on Xinyi, I got to know that area relatively well. I learned nothing about the rest of the city, but I would have learned nothing about any of it if I tried to see all of it in a single weekend.

For this trip, we stayed in Zhongzheng, which has more than enough to see and do for the weekend. But we did stray out of the area a little bit. Taipei, like most large East Asian cities, has an efficient mass transportation system. I never got to use it last time. I went in a group and we got a ride to and from the airport. This time, I went with Lily. We were on our own, so we had little choice but to use the MRT.

There are several options to get into Taipei from the airport. Like Tokyo, Bangkok and Fuzhou, the airport is far away from the city. Unlike Hong Kong and Tokyo, there is nothing like the MTR Airport Express. Buses seem to be the most popular option, but we took the $1 shuttle from the airport to the nearest high speed train station since it was close to the main station, which was across the street from our hotel.

We stayed at the Caesar Park Hotel, which is a typical business hotel. I liked the Home Hotel in Xinyi better because it was a smaller boutique hotel. You tend to get better service at those places. There was nothing wrong with the Caesar Park, other than the bathroom. The location could not have been better.

The hotel is three blocks north of the 228 Peace Park and National Taiwan Museum, which is a block west of the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, National Concert Hall and National Theater, which are northeast of the National Museum of History and Botanical Garden. Immediately south of the hotel is a shopping neighborhood with more than enough food. Unlike Xinyi, it is not flooded with western food, but we did see a McDonald's and Starbucks. Just like Xinyi, there is a 7-11 on practically every corner.

Since the main MRT station was across the street from our hotel, we took the train a few stops north to the main Confucius temple, creatively called Taipei Confucius Temple. That was not simply the English name. It's actually called that in Chinese. 臺北孔子廟. We also headed east to Taipei 101. I had already been there, but Lily had not.

Taipei's MRT is pretty much like Hong Kong's MTR. Except we had to pay with cash. They have a card similar to the Octopus, but I didn't buy one since I don't know when I'll ever go back. I've heard that it can be used at 7-11 and other places, just like the Octopus card, so I'll probably get one next time. The MRT has a number of different lines that seem to go everywhere in the city. The trains are not as clean as Hong Kong, but they were a lot less crowded.

On the way back home, we took a taxi from the hotel to the airport. That's probably the most expensive way to go, but we were in a hurry. Taking the high speed train to the shuttle to the airport is a good hour plus however long you have to wait around for the train and shuttle. The taxi ride was also an hour, but there was no waiting time. Overall, we saved almost 10 minutes for three times the price.

Taipei taxis are also pretty much like Hong Kong taxis. They are dirt cheap and dirty compared to Tokyo. Unlike Mainland China, catching a taxi was very easy. It probably helped that we were at a large hotel across the street from the main train station. Unlike Hong Kong, our Taipei driver understood my Chinese perfectly. Nobody was expecting that. He could understand me without the usual “eh” and I caught about half of what he said. That's pretty good when it comes to taxis. He spoke with a heavy accent, but I'm sure my accent sounded crazy to him.

It's nice to know I can communicate with taxi drivers in Taipei, but next time I'm sticking with the trains.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

No Rain

Before I went to Taipei last weekend, there was talk of a typhoon hitting the Philippines. That's nothing unusual. The Philippines gets hit by typhoons more often than politicians take a vacation. If not for the Philippines, most of those typhoons would hit Hong Kong. So those of us who live here should be grateful it's there.

When I landed in Taipei, the typhoon went from a category 1 – which is the smallest – to a category 4 – which is pretty high. It turned out to be bigger than the experts expected, but it kept its course and hit the Philippines. There was no evidence that a typhoon was anywhere nearby when I was in Taipei, other than a little wind.

After I went back home, the typhoon swerved north and headed for Taiwan. It should be rainy for the next few days, but most of the storm has died down.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Taipei 2.0

I'm going back to Taipei this weekend. This time, it has nothing to do with work. Lily & I are just going for fun. I saw so little of the city last time, I want to see what else is out there. It's so easy to get to, why not.

After I booked the hotel and plane tickets, a typhoon started heading toward the Philippines. It's not expected to hit Hong Kong or Taiwan, but you never know. These storms have a way of changing course. Even if it goes where it's supposed to go, they're still expecting heavy rain in Taiwan. Since the storm is south of Taiwan, maybe Taipei will be ok. I doubt it will be strong enough to cancel our flight, but I'm expecting it to rain the entire time we're there.

We could just skip it and stay home, but then all that money is down the drain. It's too late to get a refund.

Last time, I stayed in Xinyi, which is a city government/shopping district. This time, we're staying Zhongzheng, which is a national government/shopping district. None of the government buildings mean anything to me. We picked this hotel because it's near some of the sights we want to see and very close to the main MTR station. I pretty much stayed near the hotel last time. This time, we're planning on going around town. Being close to the metro should be convenient. Hopefully.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dating in Hong Kong

I broke up with my last boyfriend in May. That sounds pretty straightforward. In a way, I suppose it is. We were together in April and apart in May. But it's worth something that we were together for a very long time. It means something to me, at least.

As soon as you're single, people start asking when you're going to get back on the horse. In May, I didn't want to be anywhere near any horses. I didn't even want to walk past the stable. I could picture myself adopting a few cats and trying on wool sweaters. I still don't see anything wrong with that.

But sooner or later, you're bound to jump back in that ocean. The waves might be too high and you have a pretty good idea of just how polluted the water is, but just like after eating a bad batch of Thai food, you're going to go back for more sooner or later. No matter how sick it made you the last time.

My problem is that I don't know how to date. I met my last boyfriend in high school. It's a lot easier in high school. We tell ourselves it's the hardest thing in the world and that life is so difficult, but all of that drama is self-imposed. High school is easy. You see your friends every day. You're surrounded by a relatively small group of people, usually people you've known for years. Finding someone to date is as easy as showing up.

The adult world works a little differently. The only group of people I see on a regular basis are at work, and I'm not about to date a coworker. A lower than average percentage of the men where I work are heterosexual. I wouldn't want to date at work even if they were all interested and available. I like keeping my private life out of the workplace. Everyone already knows everyone else's business in high school, but there's no reason that has to be true at work.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Adventures in Publishing part 3

Time is running out to pre-order Shooting For Paris at Amazon. Once it officially comes out on October 10, the price will increase at least 300%.

At least until sales drop to nothing. Then it will probably go back down again. So if you want a bargain, it's either best to get it right away or wait a while.

And happy birthday, John.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

More Taipei Pictures

An enormous decorative chess set
between City Hall and Taipei 101.


There were signs and directories all over the place.
It was pretty convenient, but getting lost in
this neighborhood would have been difficult.
Wherever you go, you can see Taipei 101.


Taipei 101 mall


One of the empty shopping malls. This guy was playing
“Moon River” on a pan flute to absolutely no one.


Manhattan Sandwiches


Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall


Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall


The theater where we brought art and joy
to the dozen people who showed up.


The entrance to the theater,
a convention center and an expensive hotel.
It might have been a Hilton or Hyatt.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Taipei 102

The view from my hotel room.


The view from my hotel room.


Home Hotel


The base of Taipei 101. There is no
photoshop here. It really was that green.


This was a Saturday afternoon, but this mall was
practically empty. Krispy Kreme is on the bottom
floor on the right. The giant construction crane
in the background was outside my hotel window.


Krispy Kreme


Vieshow, an enormous movie theater complex that
took up several buildings. I don't know how big the entire
thing was, but there were at least 18 different theaters.


The road between one shopping mall and another.
Taken from the pedestrian bridge that connects
at least four different malls.


Some of the construction across the street from the hotel.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mooncake Day

Yesterday was 中秋節, the Mid-Autumn Festival. More commonly referred to as Mooncake Day by me. It is a festival with ancient roots in farming and agriculture. Despite the fact that most people in Mainland China, and almost no one in Hong Kong, is a farmer, it is still a popular holiday.

Since it was on a Sunday this year, Monday was a public holiday. It's an important enough festival for the post office to close.

The main activities on Mooncake Day seem to be eating, partying and lighting red lanterns. I don't pretend to understand the cultural significance of all these red lantern holidays, but they are nice to look at as they float away into the clouds.

My favorite part of Mooncake Day is that everyone and their mother gives everybody else mooncakes. Mooncakes, when made properly, are one of China's great contributions to world cuisine. Unfortunately, they're only available during the festival. Why can't they make them all year? I don't know. Why can't people eat Thanksgiving dinner at other times of the year? Pumpkin pie, cranberries and lefse are just as good in May.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Taipei 101

A group of us went to the top of Taipei 101 on Saturday. We didn't have all day, but we had some time and it was right next to us.

It was a little more expensive than it should have been – about US$25 – but there were surprisingly few people in line and the elevator reached the 89th floor quickly. It's supposed to be the fastest elevator in the world, but I never bothered to time it.

The indoor observation deck on the 89th floor has views of Taipei from every direction. Despite how green the windows look from the outside, everything looked blue from the inside.

You can take stairs to the outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor. The building has 101 floors, but everything above 91 is off limits to the general public. Unfortunately, there was a super typhoon in August that caused some damage. Most of the outdoor deck was closed. Maybe this is why there were so few people there. But no one warned us before we bought our tickets.

I like outdoor observation decks a lot more than indoor. For one thing, you can see real colors rather than window colors. For another, you can take pictures without any reflections or finger smudges. It also feels a lot more natural. Some of Taipei 101's outdoor deck was open, but only facing one direction. I don't know the city well enough to know what I missed, but I know I missed most of it.



Taipei 101

The shopping/government area near the hotel.
The building with the helicopter pad is City Hall.

The view from the indoor observation deck.

The closed off outdoor observation deck.


View from Taipei 101, corrected for window reflection.

In attempting to show the people in the window's reflection, I made everything green. Somehow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Taipei

Now that I've flown from Hong Kong to East China, South China, and Taiwan, I can safely claim that going from China to Taiwan is easier than going from China to China. With an American passport, I can go to Taiwan for 90 days, no questions asked. I need a visa just to cross into Shenzhen.

It gets easier as soon as you get off the plane. In Mainland China, there are emotionless people in uniforms all over the place. I have never had a problem getting through passport control, but I have had more than a few people look at me as if I was coming into the country to kill their dog.

The mood in Taiwan is much lighter. The people who stamp your passport still seem like they hate their jobs, but at least they're looking forward to going out and getting drunk after their shift. I don't know any of these people personally, but I always get the impression that their Mainland counterparts have fewer options.

What I can't report is how different Taiwan is from Mainland China. I know there are political issues and you have to be careful when you use the words Taiwan and China together, but I can't tell anyone anything about life in Taiwan. I stayed in one neighborhood in one city for one weekend.

Coming from Hong Kong, I know that not all of China is the same. I've been to several Mainland cities often enough to see that Hong Kong might as well be a separate country. Taiwan may or may not be a separate country. I'm not qualified to get into that. But from what little I saw, it's nothing like the Mainland or Hong Kong. Or even Macau.

Taipei is a large city, and I agree with Mark Twain or whoever said that you have to get out of the cities and go into the countryside to see what the people are really like. Hong Kong is a great example of not being a great example of typical Chinese behavior. Taipei might not be a representative example of the real Taiwan.

Fully aware of all that, I liked the neighborhood where we stayed. We were at the Home Hotel in the Xinyi District. This was a nice little boutique hotel that had some of the best customer service I've ever seen at any Chinese hotel. Someone in our group said that this hotel caters to foreigners and that was supposed to explain the attentive service, but I've been to hotels in China and Hong Kong that cater to foreigners. Chinese customer service has a different definition from Western customer service.

Xinyi is mostly government offices and shopping. Our hotel was close to the City Hall, Convention Center, several shopping malls and Taipei 101, one of the country's top tourist attractions. There are several high end hotels for visiting dignitaries and rock stars. The entire area seems to have foreigners in mind. I'd be surprised if the rest of the country looks anything like it.

The hotel's selling point is that most of the rooms have great views of Taipei 101. Taipei 101 is in the middle of the Xinyi District and the hotel is one block away. Unfortunately, there is a massive construction project on the block between Taipei 101 and the hotel. It is still in the early stages, but it looks like once it's finished, it will completely block the view of Taipei 101 from the hotel.

Far more important to me, the hotel was 100 steps from a Krispy Kreme. I didn't actually count, but it was very close. There is also a California Pizza Kitchen across the street, but I never went there. I don't care for California pizza. With no less than 5 shopping malls within an easy walk from the hotel, there were plenty of food options. Most of it was Chinese, of course, but whenever I travel, I want to eat something I can't get at home. Obviously, Krispy Kreme was a top priority.

I saw a Burger King, Subway, 2 McDonald's and at least 4 Starbucks, but I never saw a KFC. I thought that was odd. KFC is more popular than McDonald's in China. Then again, they were all probably around corners I never turned.

There was a decent little pizza place near the Krispy Kreme and a small restaurant that served nothing but potatoes and beer. I never tried their beer, but the French fries were average. The shopping mall at Taipei 101 was more upscale, so I spent less time there, but they had a Jason's Market, which is the same as the Market Place at Telford. Shopping was never on my agenda anyway. The city where I live is a giant shopping mall.

I spent most of my time at the theater, which was only a few blocks from the hotel. Aside from a few rehearsals and our actual performances, it was a nice place to walk around. The theater was near yet another shopping mall, only this one always seemed to be empty. Everything was open. There were simply far fewer customers than at all the other malls. This was during the weekend, so it was noticeable.

There were a few tiny green spaces, but this was a business neighborhood. People went there to work and shop. Serenity and reflection did not seem like high priorities. The tiny park next to our hotel was under construction and completely closed.

I learned pretty much nothing about Taipei and even less about Taiwan, but this trip convinced me that I need to go back some day. It's so easy to get to and I have the feeling there's more to see than shopping and office buildings.

Monday, September 14, 2015

All the World's a Stage

Three weeks ago, I had my Macau theater debut. Our tiny production of As You Like It played for a full weekend to a sold out house and nothing but rave reviews. I've decided. I never actually read any reviews of the show. I don't know if anyone anywhere ever reviewed it.

Last weekend, we took it on the road. Technically, Macau was on the road since most of us don't live in Macau. This time, we went where absolutely none of us live.

Long before the theater was booked in Macau, they were talking about going to Taipei. I liked that idea since I had never been to Taipei, as opposed to Macau. For whatever reason, Taipei never happened and we went to Macau instead. Until last weekend.

Since this was my first trip to Taipei, I found it all far more interesting than going to Macau. Macau is a lot easier to get to, but Taipei is still pretty close. Instead of a one hour ferry ride, we all packed into a plane for 90 minutes. With airport bureaucracy, it took even longer, but the flight was so short, I'm surprised I never went there earlier. Then again, I've never been to the Philippines and that's only two hours away.

The theater in Taipei was smaller than the one in Macau. That was probably for the best since most of our friends and family already saw the show in Macau. I don't know how many people went to Taipei because of us. No one I personally know went to any of the Taipei shows. Despite being an actual paying audience, they seemed to like it. I never saw any tomatoes.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Adventures in Publishing part 2

Shooting For Paris is now available for pre-orders at Amazon. It will not actually be available anywhere until October. As far as I know, only e-books can be pre-ordered. For physical books, you have to wait until they come out. At least at Amazon. I know that Barnes & Noble does pre-orders for books, but none of mine are ever available until a month or two after they come out.

If you want to get the e-book version from Amazon, I would suggest doing the pre-order. Not just because it's mine. Pre-order prices are almost always lower. Once it's out, they're almost guaranteed to raise the price. That's just standard procedure.

I've never pre-ordered anything from Amazon, but I assume it's just like buying anything else. Except that you get it later. I'm sure they wouldn't purposely try to make it more difficult.

Shooting For Paris pre-order. More links to come in the near future.

911

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Adventures in Publishing

I wrote another book. It's about the trip to Paris. I don't think that surprised anyone. I wrote a short book about a short week in Bali. I almost had to write about a full month in Paris.

The Bali book is short for a few reasons, not just because I was only there for a week. The Paris book turned out longer than I expected, not just because a month is longer than a week.

People always tell you that size doesn't matter. Sometimes that's true. Bruce Lee was a little guy, but he could wipe the floor with any of today's steroid action stars. But sometimes size is the most important thing in the world.

When you publish a book, the first thing they ask you about is word count. Not the story, character development, setting, whether it's funny, sad, inspirational or full of magical realms. Word count determines everything. The price of a printed book is obviously going to be higher the longer it is. More pages cost more money to print. But that does not mean publishers want the longest books possible. Charging more money means making more money per sale, but it also means fewer sales. Printed books are expensive and e-books are becoming more and more popular. They want whatever sells the most, not what sells at the highest price.

My book about the Paris trip came in at just over 350,000 words. That translates to about 1,100 pages, depending on format. The experts said it was entirely too long. Maybe it was. I don't know. I'm not a marketing expert. Maybe people really do only want to read 300 page books.

So I took my scissors and trimmed a little off the top and evened out the sides. But it was still too long. So I took an axe and went at it like Jack Nicholson trying to get into a bathroom. I got it down to just under 1,000 pages. Excising is definitely not my specialty.

I had two choices. I could keep cutting away until it was a reasonable length. That would probably take a very long time and cause me more than a little pain. Or I could divide it in half and release it as two volumes. That just sounded like a bad idea to me. I actually laughed when it was first suggested.

I suppose there was a third option. I could shop around for a publisher willing to print over 1,000 pages from a completely unknown author who does not write about teenage zombies. Here is my sales pitch:

“It's three times longer than the public wants, which will obviously make it more expensive. There are no action scenes, explosions, mysteries to solve or storming of castles. There are no vampires, zombies or children with magical powers. There is no setup for a sequel or long $eries of books. There is no sex, nothing overtly political and no one gets murdered. It is about 90% dialogue.”

Given my choices, I went with cutting it in half. I don't like that since it's now one story in two books, but at least it will exist. I consider that a major positive. Writing something that only a few people read is one thing. I'm amazed that anyone even wants to read anything I've written. I think it's great if only one complete stranger tells me they read something of mine and liked it. I don't want to be Stephenie Meyer or whoever did all those 50 Gray books. I congratulate them on getting what they want, but I don't want what they have. Even worse is writing something that no one can read because it's only on your computer.

Since it is in two volumes, we can assume that only people who read the first volume will ever read the second. That's a shame because, in many ways, the second half is better than the first. But the first can be read alone and it all makes perfect sense. There is a beginning, middle and end, and that could be the end of it if you never look at the second half. If you only read the second half, you might wonder why people say and do the things they do. It would be like getting into a TV series in the middle of the season. It could still be a great show, but you might wonder why Barney keeps saying “wait for it”.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I Go Swimming




When Lily & I were in France, we spent a few days at a very nice house on Cap d'Antibes. I might have mentioned that once or twice. This house had everything you want in a giant house on the French Riviera. There were plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms, two kitchens, three dining rooms, a library/game room, a home theater/music room, several gardens, a greenhouse, an infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean, a pool house, a few garages and all kinds of utility and service rooms. The funny thing is, only one person lived in it. There were always guests coming and going, and people to keep the house in shape, but the house owner technically lived alone.

I thought it was a great place to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, and Antibes is not a bad neighborhood to hang out, but I would never want to live in a house like that. It was simply too big. Even with a large family, it would be too big. There was enough room for several families.

When we went to Château de Versailles, I could understand why Marie Antoinette had the Queen's Hamlet and Petit Trianon. The main house was just too big to be comfortable. The house on Cap d'Antibes was nowhere near the size of Versailles, but they were both excessive in my opinion. I have a balcony in my apartment on which I rarely spend any time. I can't imagine having enough free time to really enjoy the large gardens at a mansion.

My favorite part of that house on Cap d'Antibes was easily the swimming pool. It was rarely empty, mostly because it was an infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean. But for one brief shining moment, I was alone in the swimming pool. It was an incredibly cathartic experience. In the pool, I could ignore whatever was going on in the house around me. Under the water, I could ignore the rest of the world. I floated in that womb without schedules, bills, obligations or boyfriends.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Leave Your Body At the Door

Yu Lan Jie is not a public holiday in Hong Kong. I don't think it is anywhere in China. But it's a day of eating and drinking, so we had a party at the big house. If you're staying in someone else's house during a holiday, you have to throw a party. Especially if that house has an outdoor terrace that faces the ocean. That's just a basic rule.

Ghost Day was actually Friday, but our party was on Saturday. That has nothing to do with the ghosts. It's simply a more convenient day to throw a party. Unfortunately, I had to work Saturday night. Fortunately, the party was still going when I got home.

Our original plan was to have a Halloween party. Everyone could come in costumes and we could play up the ghost angle. As it turns out, that's considered kind of disrespectful. These ghosts are not to be trifled with or mocked. It's also a lot harder to get people to dress up when there are not costume ideas splashed all over the place like there will be next month. Halloween is pretty popular in Hong Kong, but not so much during other months.

My idea was to have a pool party. After all, we had the use of a pool and any party was always going to be on the outdoor terrace right next to it. But it's surprisingly hard to get people to go swimming at night around here. I don't really know why. It might be because of the ghosts, but I doubt it. It's definitely not the weather. Winter is nowhere close to being here and none of the typhoons hit Hong Kong. Saturday turned out to be a nice night for a swim.

After most of the guests left, I had my own pool party. That actually worked out better anyway. I would have felt self-conscious if I was the only person in the pool with everyone else on the terrace. Being in a swimming suit surrounded by other people in swimming suits is one thing. Being the only one not fully clothed would make it impossible to enjoy all that beautiful water. In China, even if you have a party on the beach, everyone is dressed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Hungry, Hungry Ghosts

Friday was Yu Lan Jie, the Hungry Ghost Festival. Ghost day is in the middle of Ghost Month and it's when you're supposed to go to your local temple and offer food to the ghosts to keep them happy.

It's a lot less ridiculous than I'm making it sound. It's actually kind of sweet. If you're a believer, you're supposed to believe that the ghosts are suffering. Giving them food and burning things relieves their ghost pain. It's an ancient festival that shows respect for the departed. It's not nearly as commercial and contrived as Qixi or White Day.

As with most Chinese festivals, there is a lot of eating, setting things on fire and lighting paper lanterns. Some places set off firecrackers to keep the ghosts at bay, but Hong Kong has a few laws about fireworks. I'm all for the eating and lanterns, but I can never get into all the things on fire. Burning paper is often a bad idea in such a crowded place. If you want to see fireworks, go to Victoria Harbour any night at 8pm.

There is a long list of things you're not supposed to do during Ghost Month. Most of them are about keeping the ghosts happy. Some of them are basic superstitions – like not wearing red or doing unlucky things. Some of them are kind of absurd. You're not supposed to swim because ghosts who were drowned might try to drown you. But doesn't that mean you should not drive because ghosts who died in car accidents will try to make you crash?

I always break a few rules during Ghost Month. You're not supposed to sing at night because that might attract unwanted ghosts. I work more at night than I do in the daytime. Singing is pretty much required at my job. Since we've been staying at the big house, I've been in that swimming pool every day. I don't care what the ghosts say, if I have a clean swimming pool at my disposal, I'm going swimming.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Clear Water Bay

Kevin's boss is on his annual vacation out of town. That means we have the Clear Water Bay house for the duration.

When I first came to Hong Kong, staying at the big house was like taking a vacation at a 5-star resort. I lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment with no amenities and a view of the apartment across the alley. When Lily & Kevin moved into my tiny one bedroom apartment, that four bedroom, four bathroom house on the bay was a giant oasis away from our daily lives. It has a real kitchen with an oven – something very rare in Hong Kong – great views of the ocean and islands, and a relaxing swimming pool and hot tub.

A little over a year ago, we moved to a nice three bedroom apartment with a swimming pool, gym and decent views of the west harbor. But we still go to the big house when Kevin's boss is away. Our apartment swimming pool can be used by any of the 1,000 people who live in the complex. The swimming pool at the big house is private and on a very nice terrace overlooking the South China Sea. Plus, it has a hot tub.

Back when I was in my tiny one bedroom apartment, my favorite thing about the big house was the kitchen. Now that I have a kitchen of my own, I spend more time in the pool. When you can cook at home, it's no big deal to be able to cook somewhere else. A private swimming pool is always a big deal.

Lily & I were in France a few months ago. There was no swimming pool at that apartment, but we spent a few days at some old Scottish guy's house in Antibes. There was a great pool there and I went swimming a few times, but it was not entirely private. It wasn't a public pool with hundreds of people, but we were never alone in that house, and the house owner was a randy old goat. Getting some swimming time without him hanging around was difficult.

At the big house, it's just Lily, Kevin and me. That's about as private as it's going to get. I think I'll be doing a lot of swimming in the next few days.

This is our first summer at the big house without Ryan. Technically, he was in Fuzhou when we all stayed at the big house last year, but he came to Hong Kong for a few days, so this will be the first year without him. I don't want to keep pointing out that everything I'm doing is the first time without him, but that's probably going to happen for a while. We were a couple for a third of my life. Everything is going to be new now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Qixi Festival

Thursday was the Qixi Festival in China. That's the Chinese Valentine's Day. I don't usually pay any attention to that one. As far as I'm concerned, February 14th is Valentine's Day. I realize that I live in a part of the world that disagrees with me, but I think I'll always see it my way.

Nothing special happened on this Qixi. Mostly because it's a day I've never celebrated and partly because I don't have anyone to share it with anymore. It's kind of nice to have a practice day before the real Valentine's Day comes around in a few months. I don't care about Qixi and hopefully I'll be less inclined to break things by the time February rolls around.

Japan also has White Day. That's a month after the real Valentine's Day. I'm not sure why they need a sequel right after the first one, but fortunately, it hasn't caught on here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

My Macau theater debut was a rousing success. At least in the sense that no one made any serious mistakes, everyone seemed to have a good time and no one got hurt.

We did three shows on the weekend – Friday to Sunday. I was originally expecting a matinee on Sunday, but apparently that's not the way they do things on the Portuguese side. Even though each show sold out, there are no current plans to extend the run. We had the theater for those nights only. Someone else will be in that space the rest of the week.

Maybe that's the best way to guarantee that you always sell out. If you're only there for a few nights, most of the audience is bound to be friends and family of the performers and crew. The longer the run, the more you have to rely on the general public showing up. That's always harder.

From my point of view, I like the way we did things. There were few rehearsals, but everyone had other things to do. The actual performance itself took very little time out of our lives. The theater was big enough that it didn't feel like we were staging in someone's living room, but small enough that no one was crippled with stage freight. Working with an actor who freezes on stage is never fun. It was all casual enough to make Shakespeare less stressful, but serious enough to do his words justice.

My one complaint was that it was all in Macau. I have nothing against Macau, but I live in Hong Kong. Most of the people involved, and probably most of the audience, live in Hong Kong. Right now, we have about 4 typhoons or soon to be typhoons swimming around the Pacific Ocean. None of them are ever going to hit Hong Kong, but they do affect the waters between Hong Kong and Macau. It's a quick ferry ride, but it feels longer when the waters are raging. Maybe next time we can do it on calm weather days.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

After very little rehearsal time, I'm making my Macau debut tomorrow. Everyone seems to know what they're doing. The sets have been built and the costumes are all fitted. All of the blocking is complete and the cast know their parts. I don't have the biggest part in the play, but I would have liked a little more rehearsal time.

Most of the rehearsals were in Hong Kong, which was convenient not only for me, but also for almost everyone else. At least 90% of the people involved live in Hong Kong. Dress rehearsals and the actual production are in Macau.

Getting from Hong Kong to Macau is pretty easy. The only problem is what you do once you get there. Hong Kong has one of the best mass transportation systems in the world. Even if I did not live close enough to the ferry terminal to walk, I would be able to get there easily from anywhere in the city. Once in Macau, most of us rely on taxis. The buses go all over the place, but I have never been on a Macau bus that was not overcrowded, dirty and pungent. None of that gets any better in summer.

I'm not entirely nervous about tomorrow. I suppose I should be. I'm not really an actor. Most of my theater experience involves dancing and singing. If you wow them with your fancy footwork, most audiences will forgive a stiff line reading. With Shakespeare, there's nothing to lean on. Hardcore fans have the lines memorized before they even buy their ticket. If I'm dancing, I'm relatively certain that I know the choreography better than anyone in the audience. With Shakespeare, it's very possible to have people watching you who know your part better than you do.

At the same time, this is not London or New York. This is a small production in Macau that will never be mentioned in the New York Times. No one involved is diving in half assed, but this is essentially a hobby for most of us. We all have other jobs that pay the bills.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In a Crowd On My Own

When I started this blog, I told myself that I would always be honest. Maybe I wouldn't talk about every little detail of every little thing, but whatever I did mention, I would do it without holding back. If I'm going to talk about something, I might as well expose the good, the bad and the ugly. But sometimes I simply don't want to talk about it.

When I went to Paris in April, I had Ryan's full support. He recognized that it was a unique opportunity and he wanted me to go. As soon as I was in Paris, he wanted me to leave. We talked on the phone and Skype every day, but he didn't like where I was and what I was doing. I reminded him that he had wanted me to go, but you can't really bring up things like facts during an argument. They only upset people. While Lily and her boyfriend talked and did things on the computer that are definitely not safe for work, Ryan and I argued.

One of Ryan's many complaints was that there was no way we were going to see each other in person while I was there. In Hong Kong, I can hop on a flight and see him in a few hours. We used to see each other about once a month when he moved to Fuzhou, but we were making an effort to see each other more just before April. While I was in Paris, it was going to be at least a full month before I would get on any plane to China.

About a week after I came back to Hong Kong, he came over for a brief visit. More often than not, I went to him. He usually only came here on holidays. But after taking a full month off of work, I really wasn't in the best position to get any more time off.

While he was here, we argued and broke up. Then we got back together again. That might have been just for the make-up sex. When you have not seen each other in about 8 weeks, a little physical activity is always a good thing, whether you're in fighting mode or not.

As soon as we got that out of our systems, we broke up again. He went back to Fuzhou and I went to work. We both knew there would be no make-up sex this time. It was the first time he ever went to Fuzhou and I was not on the phone with him that night. That was unusual. I didn't know when or if I would ever talk to him again.

A few weeks later, his mother told me that he moved back to Minnesota. I was almost shocked, but expected it at the same time. He always said that he was staying in China for me. About a year after we moved to Hong Kong, he wanted to go back and I wanted to stay. He never liked living in Hong Kong and only barely tolerated Fuzhou. In a way, it was flattering to know that he really was only in China for me. At the same time, that only caused more problems.

We had a few things working against us. As soon as he moved to Fuzhou, we were in a long distance relationship. Hong Kong and Fuzhou are not that far apart, but they are practically in different countries and require all of the hassles of airports and immigration control to get from one to the other.

I always made more money than Ryan. Too many men feel threatened by that sort of thing. In Hong Kong, we lived on my salary. In Fuzhou, he made enough to survive, but I paid for more of our trips than he ever could. The cost of living is low enough in Fuzhou that he could have saved money if he tried, but he never put in the effort.

Then there is sex. When he lived in Fuzhou, he was not getting any. Despite everything, I do not believe that he ever cheated on me. He was terrified of catching some horrible disease, so prostitutes and bar girls were out, and most of the healthy girls in the area were the type who would never give an underemployed foreigner the time of day. Had we been older, it might not have mattered. But we moved to Hong Kong when he was 20 years old. That's not an age where guys like to be celibate.

Everyone said that we were too young to live together when we got our first apartment, but it was living apart that finally ended our relationship.

Ryan and I met in high school. We were together long before Hong Kong, before I started traveling to so many great places, before I met Lily. We were together before my career started to go somewhere. We were together before I even had a career. We were together before we were old enough to drink alcohol or vote. In a lot of ways, we grew up together.

If I look at it philosophically, it was inevitable. Our personalities were maturing in different ways. I have career goals and a list of places I want to visit where I can explore the culture, meet new people and eat great food. His goals are to become a rock star and get drunk every night. When he lived in Fuzhou, he worked at a bar. That was never going to be great for anyone.

As Lily says, “Shit happens.” I try to see the silver lining and deal with whatever is happening in the most positive way I can figure out. She has an innate ability to cut through all the bullshit. This might be why we are such great friends. I am the yang to her yin.

The last time I broke up with a boyfriend, I was in high school. In retrospect, I don't think I took it very well. But I didn't really know how to take it. I was a teenager. By definition, I didn't know what was going on.

This time, I like to think I had more tools at my disposal. For example, in high school, I was a mediocre cook. Now, I can whip up mint brownies, double chocolate chip cookies, banana muffins, lemon cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, cinnamon rolls with the same cream cheese frosting – if it works, use it – and all kinds of unhealthy things that require an extra jog or two around the island. Maybe that's not the best way to handle things, but when I found fresh mint for the first time in years, I was as happy as I could be. I don't know why it's so hard to get some of the most basic herbs here.

Aside from eating too much junk food, I work at Disneyland. More than a few people have had more than a few bad things to say about that company as an employer, but they have been good to me. Walking into the happiest place on Earth everyday – or at least the happiest place south of Japan – is a great way to boost your spirits. Say what you will about Mickey, but no one is depressed around that giant rodent.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Trippingly on the Tongue

I've been studying my script. It's not verbatim Shakespeare, but it stays pretty faithful to the original. The language is updated, which is probably a good idea since the audience is mostly Chinese. I have to assume that most people will have at least a working knowledge of common English, but I doubt everyone will be familiar with 16th century English.

The good news is that it's not completely modern. There is no, “Yo, what up, dawg?” It is simply easier to understand.

An example from Act I, Scene 2:

What you say is true. Since the little
wit that fools have was silenced, the foolishness
that wise men have makes a great show.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wherein I'll Catch the Conscience of the King

I'm doing something a little different this summer. I'll be playing Celia in a limited run of As You Like It. The rehearsals will be in Hong Kong, but the theater itself is in Macau. That's not much of an issue since it's so easy to get from one to the other.

The biggest issue for me is that I haven't read this play in about a hundred years. I don't really remember much about it, except that it's a comedy – which means it has a happy ending – and it's one of those plays where everyone takes on a thin disguise or alter ego. It also has Rosalind, one of Shakespeare's better female characters. But I'm not playing her.

I didn't bother to read the play when I got the part because I need to concentrate on the adaptation we're doing. When it comes to Shakespeare, different productions can be practically different plays. Reading the original might only confuse things when I read what we're doing. After I have my part down, I'll probably look at the standard version and compare the differences.

For now, I need to memorize a few lines – which is pretty easy to do with Bill. He wrote some memorable stuff. Also, Celia's only in a handful of scenes.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Paris Recommendations

Obviously I'm not the world's foremost authority on Paris. I was only there for a month. I barely saw anything.

But I saw something, and this is what I would recommend to anyone who goes there. Others might disagree.

Museums
(in no particular order)

Musée du Louvre, 1st arrondissement – featuring Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, da Vinci, Rubens, Titian, Goya, Tintoretto and ancient artifacts out the wazoo.

Musée d'Orsay, 7th arrondissement – Monet, Manet, van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Pissarro, Seurat, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec. Across the river from the Louvre.

Holocaust Memorial, 4th arrondissement – This is a terribly depressing place, but worth remembering what happens when hatred and intolerance become politically correct. A block from Église Saint-Gervais.

Musée Rodin, 7th arrondissement – Rodin, van Gogh, Renoir, Monet. Next to Les Invalides.

Musée National d'Art Moderne, 4th arrondissement – Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Chagall, de Kooning, Magritte, Klee, Balthus, Pollock, Miró. In the Pompidou Center.

Musée Picasso, 3rd arrondissement – Picasso, Matisse, Degas, Cézanne, Seurat, Rousseau. Next to the National Archives.

Musée Carnavalet, 3rd arrondissement – A history museum dedicated to Paris. It has a great model of Île de la Cité, plus a lot of personal knick knacks from historic French figures. Between Musée Picasso and Place des Vosges.

Musée de la Musique, 19th arrondissement – This place had the largest collection of mostly antique and obscure instruments I've ever seen. At Parc de la Villette.

Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, 19th arrondissement – The largest science museum in all of Europe. Also at Parc de la Villette.

Arènes de Lutèce, 5th arrondissement – An ancient Roman ruin in the middle of the Latin Quarter. Small by Roman standards, but interesting in that it's surrounded by 19th and 21st century Paris. Between Jardin des Plantes and the Panthéon.

Château de Versailles – Not actually in Paris, but very easy to get to.


Churches

Notre Dame de Paris, Île de la Cité – The best looking church I've ever seen. The tower is a bit of a climb, but the view is fantastic. The rest of the church isn't too shabby either.

Église Saint-Eustache, Les Halles – A beautiful church in the heart of Paris. It's almost impossible not to walk around or past this place. As long as you're there, you might as well go inside. The architecture is amazing and there are some wonderful paintings and stained glass windows.

Basilique du Sacré Coeur, Montmartre – Another long climb to get to the great views, especially after climbing uphill just to get to the church, but a nice little church nonetheless. Photography is not allowed inside, and unlike a lot of places, they enforce this rule politely but firmly.

Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, le Marais – A beautiful Jesuit church built in the early 1600s.

Église Saint-Augustin, Malesherbes – Not the most famous church in Paris, but very impressive. You can't help but see the dome from most of the towers and hills around the city.


Restaurants

Sixieme Sens, Rue de la Roquette, Bastille – Hole in the wall restaurant on the street that connects the Voltaire metro stop and the Bastille. It's hard to find until you know it's across the street from a Monoprix. The owner/chef is incredibly friendly and knows how to cook.

L'Orangerie, Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, Île Saint-Louis – A nice little cinema themed bistro on the middle of the island.

L'As du Fallafel, Rue des Rosiers, le Marais – Israeli restaurant with the best hummus in Paris. Between Place des Vosges and Hôtel de Ville.

Nick's Pizza, Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Opéra-Haussmann – A slice and a pop. What more do you need? People can debate all day whether it's authentic New York without the water, but the owner/chef is from New York – for what it's worth. Between the Folies Bergère and Hard Rock Cafe.

Pur' at the Park Hyatt, Rue de la Paix, Opéra – Fancy Michelin star restaurant with good food despite the hype. Near Place Vendôme and Madeleine.

Harmony Café, corner of Boulevard de Port-Royal and Rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques, Montparnasse – Another friendly owner/chef and some of the best frites in Paris. Near the Montparnasse Cemetery.

Pizza Julia, Rue de Charenton, Bastille – Nothing fancy on the outside, but great pizza inside. Some of the toppings are questionable, though fresh, but the dough is pretty close to perfect. Around the corner from Opéra Bastille.

Chez nos ancêtres les gaulois, Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, Île Saint-Louis – The strangest little restaurant in Paris. It's supposed to look like a tavern in medieval Gaul. This isn't the best food in Paris, but the atmosphere is unique, with people singing and a resident troubadour wandering around. Less than a block away from L'Orangerie.

Mancini, Rue Bachelet, Montmartre – Italian restaurant owned by actual Italians, this tiny place is dangerously close to the tourist food that litters Montmartre, but it's on one of the tourist-free streets where you never see anyone selling t-shirts. It's easy to find, with large Italian flags hanging out front. Two or three blocks from Sacré Coeur.

American Corner, Rue Saint Jacques, Latin Quarter – “New York” style bagel shop with hot dogs and American desserts. Nothing about this place reminded me of New York, but they had great cookies and better bagels than anything in Hong Kong. Between the Panthéon and Jardin du Luxembourg.

La Maison du Chou, Rue de Furstenberg, Saint Germain – Chouquettes and other pastries at a small shop on the tiny street where the final scene of Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence was filmed, across the street from Countess Olenska's apartment. Very close to Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Le Jamoncito, Rue Quincampoix, Les Halles – Spanish restaurant on a dead little street wedged between the Pompidou Center, Les Halles and Tour Saint-Jacques.

Berthillon, Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, Île Saint-Louis – Considered by more than a few people to be the best ice cream in Paris, I went there mostly because it was on our island. Food snobs will explode when I say that I prefer Ben & Jerry's, but this place was pretty good, too.

Twinkie Breakfasts, Rue Saint-Denis, Les Halles – Most people dreaming about sitting at a sidewalk café will never go to this place, but if you're an American living in Asia, it's a nice change of pace. They have a large selection of American and English foods that are not common in Paris – including a full breakfast menu and all kinds of American condiments that some of us don't see all that often.

Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger, Rue du Bac, Pont Royal – This is a chain, so they have a few locations and you're not going to get the personal touch of a family business, but they opened a shop in Hong Kong in one of the old Starbucks locations, so I wanted to compare the Paris version with the Hong Kong version. They both look remarkably similar, which is not standard practice when companies bring their food to China, but what they make in Paris is much better.


Landmarks

Eiffel Tower, 7th arrondissement – You have to go here when you go to Paris. It's the law.

Palais Garnier, 9th arrondissement – Even if you never go to the ballet or opera, it's worth going into this building for the grandeur.

Arc de Triomphe, 8th arrondissement – You don't have to climb the stairs or take the tiny elevator to fully appreciate the history, but the view from the top is nice.

Panthéon, 5th arrondissement – Burial site to a lot of famous French people. It hasn't been a church in a long time, but the interior still looks like a grand cathedral.

Tour Montparnasse, 15th arrondissement – People complain that it's ugly, but from the top, you can see all over Paris. And you can go on the roof. A lot of tall buildings only let you go to an indoor observation deck. Here, you can get a 360 degree view and feel all that wind in your face.


Parks

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, 19th arrondissement – My personal favorite park in Paris. It has a nice little lake with a nice little island connected by two bridges, one of which was designed by Gustave Eiffel. There is a waterfall near the lake and sloping green lawns with patches of bright flowers. At the Buttes Chaumont and Botzaris metro stops.

Bois de Vincennes, 12th arrondissement – The largest park in Paris, with a few lakes, a zoo, a concert stadium, sports stadium, French gardens, lots of flowers and Château de Vincennes – an old fortress. Mata Hari was executed here. Château de Vincennes, Liberté, Porte Dorée and Saint Mandé metro, Vincennes RER.

Bois de Boulogne, 16th arrondissement – The second largest park in Paris, with a few lakes, a zoo, a concert stadium, sports stadium, English gardens, and Château de Bagatelle – an old hunting lodge. The first manned balloon flight was here. Porte Maillot, Porte Dauphine and Porte d'Auteuil metro, Neuilly-Porte Maillot, Avenue Foch, Avenue Henri Martin RER.

Parc de la Villette, 19th arrondissement – A large park on the canals that were built to bring drinking water to Paris. This is a cultural park rather than a garden park, though there are gardens, with the Musée de la Musique, Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, a concert stadium, symphony hall, live theaters, movie theaters and a large array of modern architecture. Porte de la Villette, Corentin Cariou and Porte de Pantin metro.

Jardin du Luxembourg, 6th arrondissement – A pleasant, if crowded, public space that borders the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse. Lots of statues and fountains. Luxembourg metro.

Parc de Belleville, 20th arrondissement – A small park on top of a hill, it has great views of Tour Jussieu, the Panthéon, Notre Dame, Tour Montparnasse, Église Saint-Sulpice, the Pompidou Center, les Invalides and of course, the Eiffel Tower. Running through the park is a series of fountains that flow downhill. Couronnes metro.

Jardin des Plantes, 5th arrondissement – The botanical garden, with thousands of plants and hundreds of different roses. Gare d'Austerlitz.

Jardin des Tuileries, 1st arrondissement – This used to be several grand French gardens that inspired painters and poets, but those days are over. It's still an excellent walkway between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde with a few sculptures by Rodin. Tuileries, Concorde and Palais Royal metro.


Neighborhoods

Le Marais – A great little historic neighborhood for a walk. Home of the Musée Picasso, Place des Vosges, Musée Carnavalet, Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, Hôtel de Ville and National Archives. Just north of the river at the islands.

Bassin de la Villette – An interesting residential neighborhood with walking, jogging and biking paths along the canal. Between Parc de la Villette, Canal Saint-Martin and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.

Montmartre – Home of Sacré Coeur, Théâtre Trianon, Moulin Rouge, and former home of some great artists. It's mostly a tourist trap today with the red light district and that little train for children, but there are some nice winding little streets with authentic food. You just have to avoid any place with postcards and t-shirts nearby. Between Gare du Nord and Gare Saint-Lazare.

Île de la Cité – The most famous island in Paris, mostly because of a big church and a couple of popular bridges. Next to the Louvre.

Île Saint-Louis – My favorite island in Paris. Mostly because our apartment was here. For most people, there's not much to see. But it's still a good place to walk around. Next to Île de la Cité.

Latin Quarter – Mostly touristy, but there is good food if you're willing to look around and go to places without English menus. Home of the Panthéon and Sorbonne. Just south of Île de la Cité.

Île aux Cygnes – A thin island between Pont de Grenelle and Pont de Bir-Hakeim that is little more than a nice place for a walk. It also has a tiny Statue de la Liberté.

Disneyland Paris – Not actually in Paris, and probably not everyone's first stop on a visit to France, but it's a Disneyland. Home of Phantom Manor, Pirates of the Caribbean and Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant. In Marne-la-Vallée, about 20 minutes from Île de la Cité.