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.