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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

John Lennon


Everybody's talking and no one says a word
Everybody's making love and no one really cares
There's nazis in the bathroom just below the stairs

Always something happening and nothing going on
There's always something cooking and nothing in the pot
They're starving back in China so finish what you got

Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Strange days indeed
Strange days indeed

Everybody's running and no one makes a move
Everybody's a winner and nothing left to lose
There's a little yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu

Everybody's flying and no one leaves the ground
Everybody's crying and no one makes a sound
There's a place for us in the movies you just gotta lay around

Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Strange days indeed
Most peculiar, mama

Everybody's smoking and no one's getting high
Everybody's flying and never touch the sky
There's UFOs over New York and I ain't too surprised

Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Strange days indeed
Most peculiar, mama

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 colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.