You Are…Such a Boy in My Mind. I Like.

6 01 2013

It’s been over a year since I’ve written in my now derelict, abandoned blogbaby. I guess you could make the argument that my neglect has correlated with my time spent in Shanghai, and I guess that’s a pretty reasonable assessment. Let’s blame it on busyness, the Chinese firewall, and the death of long-form blogging. This has never been a place of introspect, however, so moving on.

This holiday season is the first time I’ve been back home stateside in over a year and a half, and its been a great time seeing and catching up with family, friends, and Taco Bell. This also happens to be the first time I’ve been home to face family and friends and explain the debacle that was 4/20/2012 (a fairly easy date to remember).

So yeah, I was on a Chinese dating show. Most people who’ve read this far have probably seen it already, along with a recorded 500,000 views on the official show’s website. But just in case you haven’t, that’s it right there, and (no) thanks to Ben Roth for making the video widely available with captions to the English speaking world. So this is my opportunity to explain myself, and maybe salvage some respect from that circus of awkward dancing, hand holding, and overall buffoonery.

So I managed to get invited onto the show by these two girls who approached me on my subway ride to work one day who simply asked, “Would you like to be on Chinese tv?” I figured it couldn’t possibly be worse than my last appearance on CCTV (the sperm fracas), and agreed without really asking too many questions. Within a week, I was scheduled to appear on the show 百里挑一, which translates roughly into “Choosing One Out of One Hundred”. Depending on who you ask, it’s China’s second or third most popular dating show, but still nowhere as popular as the behemoth that is 非诚勿扰. I guess with the subtitles, the video speaks for itself, although Mr.Roth certainly took some liberties with translations. A few things worth nothing:

  • 80% of the show is fixed, with contestants told ahead of time which girls fancy you, what their general likes and dislikes are, and the types of questions they’re likely to ask.
  • The 20% that isn’t pre-determined is the clusterfuck of the last five minutes or so. No one told me there was to be dancing. Or 30 seconds of no smiling, eye to eye hand holding. Or that she would start crying on the spot.
  • The aforementioned “she” is 牛蕾, or Joanna if you’ve gotta do the English thing. She turned out to be a very sweet girl, and we went out to dinner twice after all was said and done, but alas, things were not meant to be. Where is 牛蕾 these days? She got a bunch of plastic surgery and is now a Cos-play model.

ImageI now have great peripheral vision!

All in all, it was a really fun experience that I don’t particularly regret. Most of the friends seemed to have enjoyed it enough, and even the mother wasn’t irreparably ashamed. Moving forward, I’ll try to keep the updates coming on a more regular basis. Check in next time for rare earth mines, Chinese gangsters, and my first appearance on NPR.


[Insert Stock Apocalypse Now Quote]

19 10 2011

Two months between posts is a little bit much, I’ll admit. But you know, settling into your third city in three years is always taxing. And China has recently decided to block wordpresses, making this all the more difficult. After a short week in America, I found myself returning back to Shanghai for what’ll be at least another year here in China. My parents started a running joke that if they’d know that I’d end up here 23 years ago, they might as well have not left for the states in the first place. I’ve got a weird relationship with this city, and while I’m excited for the new job and the prospect of new friends, it’ll take some time to get my feelings about this place into context. I guess more on that at a later time. I managed to be in Shanghai for a whole two weeks before one of the two big national holidays rolled around (conveniently celebrating the inception of the modern day communist China), giving me a week’s worth of vacation to take advantage of. So without hesitation, I jumped on the first available flight to Vietnam for a week with the ever missed Beijing crew.

Vietnam was my first real experience in southeast Asia (Malaysia doesn’t really count with it being a weird amalgam of peoples and a predominantly Muslim country) and it really is a very overwhelming region of the world to take in all at once. Living in China is often times a sensory overload, but the tastes and sounds and sights of Vietnam are completely in a field of its own. While never a huge fan of colonialism, I’ve gotta tip my hat off to the French in some respects. The Vietnamese have done a fabulous job of holding onto all the awesome parts of French culture while losing most of the lamer ones. The old quarters of Hanoi are filled with charming winding streets that mix in the hectic bustle of mopeds and street vendors with the weirdly romantic ambling of an old 19th century European city. The coffee in Vietnam is out of this world, unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. Banh Mi is an amazing little sandwich that’s sold on almost every street corner, incoprorating the baguette, pate, soft cheese, and delicious local vegetables.

After a few days walking around Hanoi, I met up with the always trusty Beijing contingency near Hoi An, where Roth’s parents graciously allowed us to stay in their gorgeous beachside villa timeshare. The word luxury should be embarassed that its not what the Nam Hai was. Hoi An is a cute little town that’s considered the tailoring capital of the world, and provided ample eateries and coffee shops for us to wander around. We took a daytrip out to the temples of My Son, structures that have weathered a few centuries and a good old American shellacking not but a few decades back.  We just so happened to be there just as a typhoon was coming through the central coast, but seriously, with your own infinity pool, its hard to let that get you down.

I always feel bad about waxing on generalized observations made about a country that I’ve only spent a short amount of time in, so I won’t. What I will say is that if you get the chance to go to Vietnam, please do. And do so before the Australian backpackers turn it into Thailand. I’m back in Shanghai now, and am finally starting to officially settle in. A more generalized, non-traveling post soon, I promise.

Ends and Beginnings

21 08 2011

My life has been moving at a breakneck pace over the past two weeks. I feel a bit scattered as to how the best way to go about explaining the series of events, but I guess the best way to start would be chronological. It’s worth the read through, I promise, as it all comes together for the big reveal…

So our journey begins in Shenzhen about a week and a half ago as I had another visa run to take care of. Shenzhen is literally a footbridge walk away from Hong Kong, and crossing the border meant not getting deported, fined, and hassled. I’d only planned on staying for a day, and the plane ride back was exorbitantly expensive. Instead, I opted to take the 23 hr. train ride back to Beijing, which would’ve proved taxing as is. But…I had to get a last minute ticket, which meant no seat. Yes, no assigned seating for a 23 hr. journey. I boarded the train, and quickly claimed myself a tiny, 3 ft. by 3 ft. nook behind a swinging door, and nested myself down amongst traveling farmers and migrant laborers.

Crowded is an understatement. Huddled masses sprawled across every available square inch. I went 23 hrs. without eating or using the bathroom, as leaving your seating area would guarantee you a miserable, standing remainder of the trip. The cabin was poorly ventilated, and like everywhere in China, there was always a contingency of squatting Chinese guys chain smoking in the corner. In my tiny nook, I had two fellow travelers at different points in the evening: Mr. Ma and Wang Peng.

Mr. Ma was traveling back to his hometown in Changsha when he asked if he could squeeze into my seating area. It’s funny how quickly you’re willing to share life stories when cramped into such a small area with a shirtless migrant worker…Mr. Ma used to be a pig farmer until the 2004 Swine Flu Epidemic saw 3,000 of his pigs slaughtered by order of the local provincial government. Two years later, the government (forcibly) bought the 6 hectares of land his family had owned for over 200 years for a measly 300,000 RMB (less than 50k US). He now travels from province to province finding odd jobs to pay for his wife, 2 kids in college, and 4 parentals living with him. When asked if he thought the government had treated him fairly, he just kinda shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s life in the Middle Kingdom.”

After Mr. Ma got off at Changsha, a big 6’3″ Wang Peng came stumbling in and asked if he could share my sitting area, to which I reluctantly said yes. The already tiny compartment became almost suffocatingly small, but luckily, he turned out to be wildly entertaining company. At this point, we were ten hours into our trip, and I was slowly becoming delirious from dehydration, exhaustion, and stress. But the cheery Wang Peng was a character…Guy was obsessed with Harry Potter, and would recite lines in a terrible English accent from the movies. His love in life was Peking Opera, and had a real dainty showmanship characteristic about him. He was extremely opinionated, and had a general deep running distrust of anything government related. He was so distressed by the recent train fiasco that he got one of his engineering friends to make him a universal train key that could unlock all doors on any train (it worked…)

Anyway, I made it to Beijing in one piece eventually. It’s hard for me to say that there was any positive aspect from that train ride, as it was easily the most uncomfortable experience of my entire life. But my god it makes for a great story. And it was an opportunity to see and experience the China narrative first hand. An hour before this epic train ride, however, I got word that I had gotten a new job in Shanghai.

I’ll be working for a London based carbon credit trading firm called Climate Bridge in Shanghai for at least the next year (possibly two). I’ll primarily be occupied with researching and identifying potential clean and renewable energy projects here in China for European based firms to buy and invest carbon credits from. I’m super excited to be getting back to the pearl of the orient, as its been 2 years since I’ve spent any real significant time there. But I’m super sad to be leaving Beijing behind, and all the friends and memorable experiences that I’ve made as well. It’s been one hell of a year, and I can’t imagine having a better first post collegiate experience than the one I’ve been given. I’ll be back every now and again, so its not a forever kind of goodbye. Until next time…

Oh, and I’m not changing the name of the blog. I like the ring of it.

Octopus Have Balls?

22 07 2011

First and foremost, I’m home safe and sound after my stint in deportation limbo. The details of what happened and why are really not that interesting or important; just know that the Chinese really don’t care for visa related shenanigans, and will do everything in their worldly power to make life miserable for you if need be. In the same vein, my first visit to Hong Kong, albeit under ridiculous circumstances, was enjoyable enough. The city might honestly be the least hip place I’ve ever been, however, as my short stint there was filled with boring finance dicks, overweight middle aged English guys ogling at the walk by hussies, and self-righteous 19 year old Russian models. And as unfair as it seems to typecast an entire city into cultural lameness after not but three nights out and about, my observations were confirmed and by many long time residents so…

Tokyo, on the other hand, is maybe the most awesomely overwhelming place I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s chaotic, quirky, and weirdly charming all at the same time. I was lucky to have best of friends Mari-e there to show me around the city, and doing her best to shed some light on the eccentric nature of Tokyo living.

After spending the first day or two seeing and eating my way through Tokyo (apparently they’re balls made of octopus, silly to think mollusks would have testicles) proper, we took a quick day trip out to a little place called Kamakura, an hour outside of the city by train. The place is noted for a series of Buddhist and Shinto temples hidden amongst a series of rolling hills; most notable of which, houses this giant sitting Buddha. There’s also a beach where you’ll find weird Japanese surf bums in dreds and rasta-gear. Are you there Ja? It’s me, Ras-Hisashi.

Tokyo, a place where walking in the street wearing a gimp suit is an everyday occurrence. A place where everything from ice cubes recycling is fetishized and executed flawlessly. No joke, 80% of the public restrooms I used were electronic bidets. They’re sticklers about jaywalking and spitting, but if you pass out in your three piece suit on a curbside in a puddle of your own vomit after a heavy night of drinking, totes mcgoats ok. Our time together was short Tokyo, but I look forward to the next time we meet.

Phillip Yang and the Interrogation Room of Despair

12 07 2011

I want more than anything to write about the awesome things that have been happening over the past three weeks. We had a rave on a decommissioned Soviet aircraft carrier. I had a beautiful visit from the Menchaca family from Shanghai. And I recently spent an amazing 72 hours in Tokyo. But that’s all going to have to wait and take a back seat now, because we’ve got more pressing issues. I’m interspersing the storytelling with unrelated, happy pictures, so as to alleviate the ridiculousness of the situation being presented.

So let’s not go into too many details or too much finger pointing, and just call it like it is. A few weeks back, I found out that I had overstayed my Chinese visa by a whole 12 days (again, no finger pointing, but I promise it wasn’t my fault). After being reprimanded many many times, and having to deal with weeks of interrogations and trips to the visa bureau, I was finally allowed to leave for my scheduled trip. When I say interrogations, I’m talking basic background screenings, windowless rooms, and plenty of “without law, China is nothing” rhetoric. My excursion to Japan was beautiful, fantastic, weird, and a much needed vacation. I promise that an extensive account of the trip will follow extremely soon.

But upon my return to China, I realized that my visa nightmare was just taking a little vacation, and came back to kick me really hard in the ass. Essentially, without informing me or properly giving me the appropriate notices (again, not pointing fingers…), the visa bureau decided to void my running visa while I was in Japan. Meaning…I essentially arrived in China without a functioning visa. And of course the Middle Kingdom’s response?

Get out. Now.

Yeah, I got deported. Straight up, shameless, get the hell out within the next 12 hrs. They wanted to send me back to Japan, but I somehow got them to let up a little and send me to Hong Kong instead (cheaper ticket, cheaper standard of living, faster visa response). So having left Tokyo at 7 in the morning, I arrived in the muggy, humid Hong Kong evening more than 14 hrs. later. It’s good to have friends across the world, and luckily Saint SpencerSherwin was able to house this poor soul and be kind enough to even show him around. This will get sorted out, and China will have the laugh for now. But without sounding like a vengeful hooligan or an amateur terrorist, mark my words. These slights against me will not be forgotten, and they certainly won’t be forgiven. I am alive and well, however. Don’t be too angry mom, love you.

Almost Officially One Year Removed

25 05 2011

Well not since the start of this blog, no. But yeah, I guess I’ve been out of school for a year now. Won’t dwell on it for long, as in its not that kind of blog. But seriously, a year?

Anyway, I’d like to thank everyone for their good humor and support for my faux budding CCTV talk show host career. That video got ridiculous amount of hits via this site, and random people from the neighborhood (who usually are distrustful of me and my white roommate) have come up and commented on my tv notoriety. Even my own mother, who usually packs in a veiled jab or two, had nice things to say (as well as a jab or two).

“After viewing your appearance on CCTV, I really think you might have a future in talk show business, that is if you could BS through a topic like this on national television…you sat a little too straight and you drank too much water, otherwise, you looked good!”

Thanks mom. Anyway, I’ve been asked to tape a few more shows in the next two weeks, with topics that I hope are a lot more savory and a lot less secretion-y.

So things here in Beijing are running extremely smoothly. You can really feel summer coming into swing, which means a lot of outdoor eating and dress shirt sweat through’s. Luckily, unlike Shanghai, the city is bone dry and lacks the suffocating humidity that resembles a bus seat that’s been sat on for too long. Unfortunately, I’ve been running this little experiment of mine to grow my hair out for a whole six months. I figure I’m not getting any younger, and it’s best to give it a go before things have to get “professional”. This, however, has been a labor of love, as I have picked the absolute worst time to round up my last two months. My head feels a whole 5 pounds heavier, I kid you not.

We had a wave of visiting friends come through in the past few weeks, let’s check out some adventures!

Shanghai inhaling soup dumplings

Hangzhou, conquering some tea fields

We’ve got a big few months coming up. Fatboy Slim is rolling into town and doing a huge show at the Great Wall soon. I’m going to Cambodia for a visa run within the month. Oh, and comrade Ben is stateside right now, prepping himself for a transatlantic sailing journey. Wish him the best of luck and the safest of trips.

Until next time.

Who Said the Revolution Will Not be Televised?

12 05 2011

No, I’m kidding. It’s not so much the revolution per se, but me talking about sperm on Chinese national television. How did I find myself in such a ridiculous situation? Well like most good stories, I met a girl at a bar. I guess we talked about a lot of random things in that time there, and after exchanging some contact information, she got in touch with me a few days afterwards telling me she was a producer for this talk show on CCTV. Crossover is a nationally televised talk show on CCTV English, and I had somehow talked my way into being invited as one of two guests for a taping.

Elena, dearest of personal assistants.

However, the topic of the episode wasn’t one in which I was particularly…well versed in. Recently, there has been a large spike in sperm donation here in china, sparking a pretty sizable debate here. To go on record, I’ve never donated myself…nor do I know of anyone who has. And I’m certainly no expert in anything health related (in fact, recent jokes about my hypochondriac tendencies and over reliance on Web MD would suggest just the opposite). I guess I really just wanted to be on TV. So I did some serious wikipedia-ing, so as not to look like a complete jackass, and supplemented that with old notes I took in that one Bioethics and Law class I had back in junior year. Anyway, the link to the taping is below.

Don’t laugh too hard

A few observations from the experience: I have a habit of running my hands through my hair when nervous, so considering, I’m quite proud of myself for not doing so once. I understood the lady across from me even less than you did. Saying ‘woOomb donation’ multiple times doesn’t make it any more right, or catchy. Anyway, its more silly than anything, but I’ve been asked back for a few more episodes in the near future.

Tune in next time for a detailed account of visits from Elena, adventures in Hangzhou, and a collection of my short stories entitled “Life Under the Banyan Tree”.

Mouths on Fire, I Reach Out to You Tonight

8 04 2011

I’m afraid I’ve been holding this blog to really high standards. I guess I’m afraid to bore you all with the bump and grind of everyday life, hesitant to reveal the degree of normalcy things have taken here. It’s been a solid 7 months since I first moved out here, and to date, has been one of the more eventful half years of my life. But things are settling, and the idea of staying here for a significant amount has started to feel right.

That’s not to say that this month hasn’t been full of (mis)adventures along the way. Since coming back from Malaysia, we’ve had snakes, tons of broken glass, altercations with rappers, and I fell down a mountain.

The venerable Lee West came to visit, and stayed a week longer than originally planned because of the firestorm in northern Japan.Below is a video of eating me et al. eating the spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Chicken wings so spicy that my entire body began to convulse. Below that you can see Ben and Christian partake.

Anyway, spring is arriving, and I’m fully looking forward to enjoying the season in full swing. I think we’ve avoided the month where giant swirling dust storms envelop the city in a giant yellow plume. Which means its just bright blue skies, evening beer gardens, and generally temperate weather. Dear friend Elena will be visiting all the way from Switzerland, and comrade Aaron shortly thereafter. Hope all is well in your respective parts of the world, and I promise more regular updates as they come. Until then.

Malaysia, Single-handedly Renewing my Hatred for all Insect-kind

1 03 2011

My short 80 some hours in Malaysia was nothing short of a whirlwind. It was my first time traveling in Southeast Asia and my first time traveling abroad alone. Luckily enough, English is an administrative language in Malaysia, so communication wasn’t too big of an issue. The country is extremely diverse, with the ethnic makeup mostly comprised of local Malays, Indians, and Chinese. Malaysia itself identifies itself as a Muslim country, with mosques dotting the landscape and hauntingly beautiful calls to prayer projected throughout the day. My trip started with a midnight arrival into Kuala Lumpur.

After months of dreary, cold Beijing, the humidity and exoticness of Kuala Lumpur was more than welcome. When I arrived to my hostel at one in the morning, I decided to go out and get myself a sample of the storied Malaysian street food I’d heard so much about. I guess at that hour, however, most things just kind of shut down as the streets were almost completely empty. I’ve grown used to the nitty grittyness of Asian streets, but seriously, there were rats everywhere. The little audacious disease balls were just scurrying around everywhere, across roads and into sewage canals. But I guess that was the least of my worries that evening. The first person I ran into on the otherwise empty roads was a guy a bit younger than me, who from across the street, I thought was asking for a cigarette. It turns out though, judging by the manner in which he was bobbing his head back forth, that he was offering a different service altogether. After kindly refusing, I scurried off only to run into something significantly scarier. I don’t know if I was just tired, or the street lighting was just a little off, but I almost actually physically ran into a woman standing on a corner without noticing her. She was maybe 40, obviously a lady of the night according to her get up, and had a crazy Amy Winehouse-esque beehive haircut. But the scariest thing was her pale, ashy face that just kinda dully stared at me. I collected myself and walked a few paces by, looking behind my shoulder…to see that she had completely disappeared. Ghost prostitute, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Early in the morning, I hopped on a bus to Pangkor Island. Four hours outside of Kuala Lumpur, I had heard that it offered some of the country’s best beaches. Because of the prior night, I completely passed out on the ride there, only to be quickly rushed off the bus still halfway asleep. Turns out that I didn’t get dropped off at my destination, but some random shanty town bus station in a town called Ipoh. And the next transfer bus wouldn’t be here for another 3 hrs. Luckily enough, there were two Dutch guys who also were heading to the island, and were in the same predicament, so we split a cab the rest of the way. We finally got to the island around midday after riding a ferry to the island jetty. For the evening, I rented a little chalet right on the beach, that was extremely cheap and offered a great view…but was Spartan living to say the least. As promised, the beaches were gorgeous, even if the area was a bit resorty.

The next 24 hrs. proved to be full of highs and lows. That evening, I paid for my thriftiness, as I was rudely awoken at 4:18 in the morning by insects in my bed EATING ME ALIVE. I freaked out, and ended up sleeping in a plastic deck chair the rest of the evening. Early the next morning, I left my nice, but otherwise boring Dutch traveling friends, and headed out to Teluk Segedas, a secluded beach area on the south side of the island. Its secluded because you’ve actually got to trek through 2 km of uncut wild jungle to get to the beach, which was full of hornbills, bearded monkeys, and spiders the size of my fist. The entire time, I was afraid I would:

– Get lost in the jungle and never be found again.
– Sprain an ankle, not be able to exit the jungle, and never be found again
-Be bitten by one of the aforementioned spiders, and never be found again.

But as soon as you could hear the ocean, and the dark tree line cleared, the precarious journey made it all the sweeter.


Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. As promised it was almost completely empty (save for three pudgy locals having a fish bake), and supremely relaxing. The water was crystal clear, with schools of fish darting about between your legs as you stand. The creeping jungle behind provided ample shade for an afternoon layabout. After spending an entire day there, I made the slow return back to Kuala Lumpur, and headed back to Beijing the morning after.

A few observations…Malaysian people might honestly be the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The country is full of beautiful, mixed race peoples. While the food is good, it certainly has a bit of an identity crisis in not being able to figure out what it is. The majority of young tourists/backpackers that Southeast Asia attract suck, as they seem to think that tribal tattoos, traditional Indian clothing, and man capris are acceptable. Also, when Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston die, all of Asia will fall into a deep period of unparalleled mourning. And sunshine really can make the difference in maintaining a healthy outlook on life.


7 02 2011

So I got roped into taking a little family overnight excursion to a small town called Wu Zheng in the Zhejiang Province. We drove about two hours outside of Shanghai, which apparently isn’t far enough to avoid a million tourists during Chinese New Year. Wu Zheng is known for its Venice like canals, silk worm farming, embroidering, and soy sauce making. These days, its more of a historical reenactment kind of place, but manages to stay on the less cheesy side of things to its benefit. I guess the trip was more for my parents, as we went with a bunch of their old friends from college. So while they stayed up till 2 in the morn shooting the shit and playing cards, I was upstairs watching Dunstan Checks In on HBO Asia. Knowing what I know now about the general strength of orangutans, that movie recklessly endangered the lives of many a child actor.




Back to Beijing tomorrow. Shanghai is a great place, but it feels like two completely different worlds at this point. I’ve found that the glossy aspects that used to draw me to the city have actually pushed me away. Plus, if you want to find the world’s creepiest ex-pat community, I would say Shanghai is bound to be high on your list. Oh, and I missed the Super Bowl, but caught a replay later on in the day. The Eminem Chrysler Detroit commercial was pretty badass, a much needed dose of heavy Americana.