Bureaucratic kerfuffle in Israel: My Trip

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There I am

As you may know from brief biographies published on occasion, I am American but I happened to be born in Israel. But what does that exactly mean? I moved when I was a baby and I don’t speak Hebrew, I don’t even particularly care about Israel other than a general appreciation for the Western mythological tradition, and in fact if you speak to me in private I would express that I am quite critical of the intense political situation there. If you wanna get into religion then let me say I’m basically atheist at this point.

I identify myself as completely American and somewhat proud of that—not that America is perfect but there is an argument to be made that America’s contributions to the world do outnumber the negatives. And, America is just plain more interesting.

The short and long of it is that I left Israel at two-years old. I have no memory as “sabra”. My dad is from Chicago and my mom is from the former Soviet Union; they met there and me and my sister were born abroad but raised in the United States of America: the midwestern states of Indiana and Ohio to be specific. I consider my hometown to be Cincinnati. For the past decade I’ve had a California driver’s license. Even though I’ve lived in another interesting country for quite a while, China, I will always consider myself an American abroad.

I did visit Israel a few times in my adult life. When I was a teenager on one of those trips, a couple times to see family. What can I say? The food is good. It’s English-friendly and easy to get around. That’s about the main takeaway for me.

So, over the last several years my sister has chosen to live in Jerusalem and do the whole religious thing. Not for me, but to each their own. She has a family, a precocious hyper son whom I met at a wedding in Florida two years ago. Since then, her family has grown with the addition of two super-cute nieces I had yet to meet. Hence, the time came for one of those international trips to meet the family!

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Ridiculously super-cute

I had arranged to fly from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv for a brief, one-week trip. My mom was flying in as well. Right off the bat, unwelcoming Israeli security became an issue as I was personally escorted through the HK airport. It was better than the strip search last time. The real bureaucratic issue was when, after the grueling 11-hour flight, I was told off at the Ben-Gurion customs…

See, I have never even had an Israeli passport. I left as a baby under my parents’. I could claim dual citizenship, but I’ve never had any desire whatsoever. In 2011 I came for my sister’s wedding, and there wasn’t a problem with my U.S. passport until I left and a border guard yelled at me for not having an Israeli passport. I was told I would not be allowed in next time without it. In the years since I tried my best to forget about that. It was kind of offensive, being told what my identity is.

They must have remembered, because when I came in the guard knew I was warned already and gave me a very hard time for not getting the passport. Gotta give their record-keeping system credit. Apparently I had to go to the Ministry of the Interior to sort it out, or I would not be allowed to leave the country!

Bit scary to be told that. What, should I contact the American embassy and say Israel is trying to kidnap me? I do get it; Israel is very aggressive about getting more migration for their own reasons. However, I am not into it. Least I know I’m too old to get drafted.

I suppose it could come in handy if there was a world disaster and I needed a second country’s passport. Still, I try not to plan my life around paranoia.

So, they eventually let me through. I was nervous but ready to embrace the trip. My Dad—who happened to be in the area—picked me up along with my British brother-in-law. It was late, and already I preferred the cool, dry desert air to the humid jungle weather I had come from. We went to my dad’s accommodations to pass out, and the next day I saw my sister’s family!

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Me and Mom and Sis and boy

I had met her son/my nephew in 2014 but I never met my nieces until that day. They are ridiculously cute. And not only that, but we then returned to the airport to pick up my mom! A real family reunion of a trip. I doled out gifts of Chinese trinkets and we all caught up on life. It’s always nice to see one’s immediate family after years away.

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The dreaded Ministry of the Interior

Finally, on Day 3, I went to the dreaded Ministry of the Interior. My dad helped me out a lot. I brought my (American) passport and my printout of flight details, and that’s all I had. No Israeli documentation whatsoever. We took a number, waited, then were told to go somewhere else to take a number. It was early in the day and I can’t complain as it was rather fast for a government ministry. At last, a lady took us in her office. I had two choices revealed: I could pay to receive an Israeli passport and it would take a few days, or I could get an exit permission letter right then and there at no charge. I chose the latter. She highly recommended that I get the passport and I must eventually if I ever come to Israel again, seriously I really better not forget, but this would be allowed for the current trip.

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Model of ancient Jerusalem at Israel Museum

Now over with, I was free to enjoy the rest of my time! There were so many dinners with family. Playing with the kids. Taking photos. Eating delicious Middle Eastern food. Oh the hummus, the hummus!!! Lots of walking around the central district of Jerusalem, which is mostly an overly religious city, but touristy Jaffa Center at Ben-Yahuda street was tolerable. We went to malls, restaurants, and argued. It’s a family tradition. Arguing with my dad was the worst (we have a complex relationship), and there was a rather heavy disagreement with my sister as well over the settlements and alternative medicine. But don’t get me started, as this is supposed to be a mostly apolitical blog. The theological discussions were remarkably civil.

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Comics!

When asked about my favorite place on the trip, I have to admit it was going to the comic book store in the metropolitan city of Tel Aviv. I love checking out comic shops when going to a new place. The beach was also nice. The Israel Museum comes highly recommended; at the time they had an exhibition on ancient Egypt. They even have the Dead Sea Scrolls, an amazing sight to see (though they don’t let you take pictures there). I did enjoy the old city of Jerusalem, with the Western Wall and the Christian District, all those old churches and ancient structures.

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Beach

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Taking the Western Wall very seriously

One project I was working on while there was an interview series with my mother. She’s had a crazy life immigrating from one country to the next three times over, and I wanted to learn more about it. I treated the interview like journalism, recorded several hours of footage, and that’s all I’ll say about that until I create something to share next year.

The days went by too fast and before I knew it was over. After a funny episode of almost being late because I needed a new belt, I was driven back to the airport. I said my goodbyes, and the exit paper was no problem. All that was left was memories and souvenirs. I was headed back to that other controversial country of China, back to what had since become familiar to me, my life in Shenzhen. Not that life is stable here, the scenery is ever-changing no matter where…

Whether one likes it or not, family is where ya come from and they are important. I hope I’m on good terms with them. I’m not happy about everything when it comes to where I am from and my past, but then again perhaps I should get over those issues and appreciate all that’s been done for me. My mom and dad did their best, they are good people, and I thank my sister so much for helping me organize this trip. I wish her the best of luck with her new family, and I am sure she will do great.

That said, perhaps next time we should all visit in another country. Somewhere chill, I wouldn’t want to get in trouble over passport customs issues or anything.

 

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A rare photo of almost the entire family in one place. Note the food

 

Chengdu Chinglish

Always on the lookout when I’m traveling, you should know already that I recently visited Beijing and Chengdu on a very fruitful trip.

It’s always interesting to discover Chinglish in a new city. Last week I shared Beijing, this week you can see some interesting pics I uncovered in the lovely city of Chengdu, including flowery poetry and randomness at the airport:

Enjoy!

 

South Africa Part II: Kruger Park and Cape Town

In the last installment, I arrive in South Africa which is the home nation of my lovely girlfriend. I explore Joburg, meet her dad, and experience the chill South African lifestyle of braais.

Now, the real part of the trip was to begin.

All the while, I should mention, Trevor Noah loomed in the background. Yes, by coincidence it was the same week that Trevor started at the Daily Show! I’ve always been a big fan of Jon Stewart and I was really looking forward to it. It was a big deal, his face was everywhere. South Africa seems to be pretty proud of their native son taking over my countries best political comedy show. His face was on every newspaper. Especially after the now legendary Trump-as-African-dictator bit.

(Although the place we mostly stayed at had cable, soon I would be without it, without even Wi-Fi on my laptop to catch up with TV. I’d eventually catch up, I always do, but to tell the truth being off the grid was hard on me. More on that in a moment. )

Also, people paid attention to the Rugby World Cup. Not only am I an American, I am an American who doesn’t follow sports. I didn’t really care. People seem to care a lot still. Something or other happened, Japan, Samoa, Wales, New Zealand. I don’t know.

Okay, on with the story.

 

Days Five to Nine

Day Five was a busy day. In the morning we went to downtown Pretoria and saw the capital Union Buildings. Then, transferred to another parent and in the evening we were to spend time with the mother. Again, I was anxious. Again, it was no big deal and everyone was totally welcoming.

I suppose being in one’s thirties, parents would have to accept whomever their daughter chooses to be with. Even me.

An uneventful evening, and then the next day the trip to the Kruger Park began!

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Oh no, I knew it would partake of some driving, I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t know it would be that much driving.

My girlfriend’s mother’s husband drove, and we sat in the back. For days on end, we were driven around sitting in the back. Felt as if I was twelve-years old again.

Luckily I had my iPod. Got a lot of audiobook listening done: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. I recommend it, a good listen.

First day out, a slow drive north with many stops at sleepy little towns where there’s nothing to do but buy postcards and trinkets from locals. Finally we arrived at Grasskop to stay at log cabin guesthouses on the night before the Kruger Park camping started. A nice town, an interesting art hotel nearby, and we ate decent Portuguese food.

Another thing about these old people I was hanging out with, they are serious morning people. Nice people, absolutely generous people who are kind enough to support and show me around their country on this tour. But seriously morning people. And I happen to be not. Had to get used to that.

At dawn left for the Kruger Park. Finally made it!

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The way the Kruger Park conservation park works, is that it’s not some zoo with animals on display for you. It’s an enormous area the size of a city or province. The animals simply go about their life. There is a fence around the edges, and I’m sure the rangers control the animal populations to some degree. Yet for the most part the animals are living exactly as they would in the wild, and any visitor can certainly get the sense that this is no zoo. No zoo pretensions here, it’s totally authentic nature, the way South Africans like it.

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One just drives around, on dirt roads, following a map if one likes or only wandering, and see what animals turn up. If there’s a lion, roll up the window. If an elephant is standing on the road, no choice but to wait until he decides to walk on (please don’t antagonize the elephants).

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Right off the bat I saw a lot. Giraffes chewing on the leaves of trees. Zebras hanging around. Families of elephants enjoying the day and spraying themselves with water to cool down. Endless herds of impala. With my binoculars, I sat in the backseat and we parked around various locations and took it all in. I got some good pictures.

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The campsites don’t open until the afternoon, so we really took it easy. Like, hours and hours of taking it easy. After a certain point, I was listening to my iPod and reading my thick George R.R. Martin (Storm of Swords, best book of the song).

The campsite parts of the day were more chill. You aren’t even allowed to go for a drive when it gets dark, unless it’s a guided tour, so we stayed in. Read in the cabin, relaxed. Swam if there’s a pool. Listened to the noisy frogs at the nighttime pool. Read some comic files on my computer, unitizing my laptop best I could though there wasn’t even any Wi-Fi! Used up the airtime on my phone fast.

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Every day we went to a different campsite, each with its own stylized bungalows. “Round hovel” or something it’s called in Dutch/Afrikaans. The first had these silly-looking blue-headed guineafowl birds that walked about.

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The second included a rhinoceros exhibit with a fenced trail, and we happened to even see a rhino walk right up (sadly no camera on me so no rhino selfie). Poor endangered creatures, least they have their horns here.

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The final was near Crocodile Bridge and filled with baboons and vervet monkeys walking around the site chill as can be – do not ever feed the monkeys.

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Every night, of course this being South Africa, we drank wine and had a braai. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but it’s not my scene to be so into nature. I could have used a little bit more technology to pass the time. I mean, the stars were beautiful. The animals were indeed beautiful. Like that scary late part of the night when the leaves were rustling and the flashlight revealed a baby elephant came right up to edge of the camp to munch on greens. I was so nervous upon approaching. That was some moment. Even the hyena was beautiful.

Yet, I sometimes feel worried that there is something wrong with me. I cannot appreciate it the way other people can appreciate. I need something to read. I need some interactive media to comfortably remind me that the rest of the world exists, some distractions. I like that. Unlike locals that are ever content listening to the winds on a slight buzz. All the while, I partly felt like there was this underlying conflict because I wasn’t having some spiritual epiphany out there in the African wilderness.

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South Africa Part I

Being an expat living in a major Chinese city of millions – with thousands of Westerners within the English-speaking foreigner scene – you never know who you will meet and what part of the world they may introduce you to… particularly when it comes to romance!

As I’ve written about extensively, it just never seemed to work out with me and Chinese girls. I haven’t followed up on those old blogs in a while, but know this of my present situation: I have not been lonely over the past year.

In the summer of ’14, I happened to fall for an artsy South African girl. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say there were some interesting stories along the way. I’m not going to share all those personal stories at this time. Suffice to say it’s been serious, intense, and loving.

I am however happy to share the fact that last holiday (Moon Festival coinciding with National Day) she took me on a tour of her home country. An entire new continent I’ve never been to, a whole other land. I am still in awe of all I had seen.

I must admit, it was a challenge at times. Sad though it may be, at this late stage in my life this was actually the first time I had ever met a girlfriend’s parents! Wow. Really? Well, that’s me.

I was rather nervous. There was, in actuality, the issue of class. White South Africans tend to live in the suburbs, in gated communities, walled off by electric fences. I grew up a step below, and over the past half-decade gotten comfortable living in the lesser developed end of a developed city in developing country.

South Africa in actuality may be one of the most unequal countries in the world, but I’m not saying that my girlfriend’s family are that rich. Just normal middle class. Yet even that is tricky for me to be comfortable with. I liken myself to a starving artist-writer in China mind you, not some trader-businessman.

Really, it wasn’t that bad.

All that said, the country is full of beauty like no other… I can see what people love so much about Africa.

My lovely did an incredible job of planning this trip. (How could I plan? I followed her. And it worked out very well that I did.) Everyday, off to a new place. New sights to see. New wonders to behold.

Off we went.

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Day One

We flew in from Hong Kong. Transferred at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to the view from the aircraft of exquisite waterfalls and Mt. Kilimanjaro. My first time entering the Southern Hemisphere. Wish I could have explored Ethiopia more. Next time.

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Though we were tired, I was determined to start exploring right after landing. Being picked up from the Johannesberg airport was almost a disappointment; I’d wanted to learn about trains right off the bat. But it was tiring after the second flight being over ten hours.

The driver took us to the guest house in Melville, the hip part of town. On the drive over I stared out the window and took pictures. The highway only showed what looked like middle-American suburbs. In fact, much of what I would see of the middle-class homes and shopping malls pretty much reminded me of American suburbs.

Melville was awesome. Full of vegetarian restaurants (we ate Mexican food the first night, yum!), used bookstores (I spent way too much money), and most importantly of all a comic book shop. Outer Limits: I got an old Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud I’d been wanting to reread and share for ages.

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They didn’t have the latest One Piece manga volume, but later I did find it at a shop in Pretoria.

And Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture still hadn’t come out yet, always late.

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Day Two

By the second day my ears no longer popped and jetlag not too bad, we hung out some more in Melville and bought vintage clothes at this cool place made out of trucker containers called 27 Blocks. After some errands at the bank, I got a Sim card for my phone. Another highlight was simply going to a grocery store. Again, due to the western context, it was nice to simply be in a supermarket.

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We checked out and took a tuk-tuk driver to downtown Pretoria, at the City Bowl area near the Gautrain station. There, although heavy with all the luggage, we went to yet another bookstore (found a used Warren Ellis graphic novel) to meet up with Eleni –  blogger of Greek Meets Taiwan – who lives in the area. It was tricky to find the time, but small world that it is one might as well take advantage, and had coffee with her boyfriend and talked about education.

A lot of interesting talks showing me how it really is in South Africa…

Running a bit late, we took the Gautrain to Pretoria. This was the moment. My girlfriend’s dad, first time ever in my life to meet him. Although I did talk to him on Skype the week before. It was cool, no big deal at all. Nice man.

The dad and his wife – I would meet the mother later (now that I think about, perhaps divorced parents is one of the things that brings us together) – drove us out for dinner. We stopped by at a hoity-toity golf club where I did not feel comfortable at all. But it was interesting to see their scene. I was treated to an endless array of delicious meals, put on weight, and I’m very grateful he invited me into his home and was so kind.

The house in the suburbs was as suburban as ever. Except as said in South Africa they have electric fences. Stayed in our own guest bedrooms, watched cable TV, and caught up with my online life.

 

Day Three

Already my third day in this land, and then sadly it started to get boring.

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Monkey Vid

Hi all. I’ve been back from South Africa for several days, and busy with getting my China life back on track.

There are also some great new developments with the book and I will happily share soon enough…

Please be patient on my South Africa blog post updates. I have a lot to write about. (Coming up in two parts.) Currently drafting!

 

For now, enjoy this very short video I made about seeing monkeys at the Kruger Park campsite:

About to go to South Africa

Apologies for no good blog post so far this week.

Actually, I have a whole lot to write about. I have many Chinglish pictures lined up for your amusement, some new interviews with brilliant young writers waiting to be posted for posterity, and of course the latest news on the promotion of my forthcoming novel South China Morning Blues.

(Please do check out the official new web page: http://www.blacksmithbooks.com/books/south-china-morning-blues)

 

But I am a bit busy lately, because I’m preparing to fly out for a big trip tomorrow: I’m going to South Africa

Shall be there for two weeks. Never been to that continent before. Should prove interesting.

More on that soon.

 

— And let me say that as a couple of white people going to Africa, this song has been stuck in my head! 🙂

 

My first Chinese wedding

No, not my first Chinese wedding. I mean my first Chinese wedding — of other people — I’ve ever been to.

Recently, my good friend got engaged and invited me to Hainan, the tropical island paradise of a province, and I was to attend his wedding. Always wanted to go that island, and always wanted to to one of those big festive Chinese weddings I’ve heard so much about. Made plans and I dusted off my old dress jacket and off we went.

Flew into Haikou city, the capital. To be honest, not my favorite city. People usually go to Sanya, the more touristy locale apparently overrun by Russians. I did enjoy the beaches in Haikou because they’re relatively deserted, and there were some decent natural hot springs, but overall it was a bit of a dead city. Really tricky to just find restaurants.

Then came the big day. The train at the airport conveniently goes right to the nearby small town of Wenchang, the bride’s hometown, which is actually better than Haikou. Plenty of places to eat. We were even nicely gifted with a hotel room.

The ceremony was at the adjoining big hotel. Look, he’s a celebrity.

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The big day. That’s me, and my lovely date.

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300 people in attendance. All the bride’s family. My American friend only had a relative few friends from the Shenzhen scene. We did get to sit in the front, VIP.

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It surprised me how matter-of-fact the proceedings were. The groom did admit he found some of the rituals awkward. All the guests came in, paid a hongbao (red envelope, typically filled with *cash*), as if it was basically a show.

A show indeed. Here is the happy couple wearing undergoing the shaking-hands-with-guests-at-entrance move, with her in a red dress initially.

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All in all it was a very structured affair. She changed into a white dress inside, but it wasn’t a Christian affair by any means. No priest, not quite walking down the aisle. The MC host of some wedding company was in charge, and it seemed like he did this sort of thing onstage all the time.

One thing checklisted after another. Pour the champagne, cut the cake, take pictures with the family. All with appropriate accompanying soundtrack.

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Interview: Darcy Shillingford

Interview with the amazingly well-traveled Darcy Shillingford, Canadian novelist and blogger for the travel site travelingspaceopera.com

 

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Pic info: “just as I was about to hop on a bus, leaving Cabanaconde to head to Arequipa, then eventually Cuzco. Caesar, who I’m pictured with, was our host in Cabanaconde.”

 

What is your writing process like?

It varies depending on the kind of writing I’m doing. With my travel blog posts, I try to put myself in a relaxed, informal state of mind. I give myself freedom to let my stream of consciousness flow, while trying to maintain some kind of structure and thematic consistency. Imagery is important to me, and despite the fact that I can throw in as many pictures as I want, my goal is for my writing to be able to evoke colourful detail with or without them. I want the reader to feel like they’re walking alongside with me.

As far as fiction goes, I can’t force creativity. I can sit there looking at a blank page or computer screen for a long time and nothing comes to mind. Other times, I’ve been lying in bed at two in the morning and suddenly think of an idea concept that I have to write down and develop a little bit before I can go to sleep. When I’m on a role, though, I try to let it snowball and see how far I can take it. The only fiction I’ve put a lot of effort into is in the sci-fi genre, and I try to write what I would want to read if I were to pick it up myself.

 

How do you compare travel writing with fiction writing?

For me, fiction writing has been far more time consuming. In addition to creating a plot, out-of-this-world (literally) settings, characters, and so forth, there is a great deal of research involved due to the genre choice. I’m no scientist, but I do take advantage of the relatively unlimited academic resources at my disposal and have put in countless hours researching elements of astrophysics, the gathering and employment of military intelligence, planetary and solar physics, religious and political history at a global level, various elements of the social sciences, philosophy, and so forth.

 

What gives you inspiration for fiction?

It depends on what aspect. I get inspiration for characters from my daily interactions with all kinds of people. I work at a restaurant and meet dozens of people a day. Also, the people I’ve met traveling are so varied and interesting that I can’t help but be inspired by them. When it comes to plot, I’m inspired by my education, particularly in the realm of history and politics. I like grand, I like big, I like epic, but I also like obscure. Random bits of military or colonial history that were glossed over in school, or missed altogether, fascinate me.

 

What are your favorite books?

Use of Weapons and Feersum Enjinn, both by the late Scottish author Iain M. Banks are certainly in my top five. I also appreciate classic or golden-era sci-fi, but I also think some of the classics haven’t aged well, particularly in regards to their social commentary. I also grew up loving the Harry Potter series. Stephen King is awesome as well; very psychologically immersive and vivid.

 

Why did you choose to spend your time in 2013 traveling in Southeast Asia?

I simply had to. I was at a point in my life where I’d recently graduated from university and didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life. My girlfriend and I had done some all-inclusives, but had also discussed doing some “real” travel. What began as an idea for a month or two in South America turned into half a year in Southeast Asia. When I look at a picture of the two of us at a wedding a couple days before we left for this trip, I get jealous of that guy. He has the best adventure of life just on the horizon.

 

Is it difficult to write about your experiences going back two years? Did you keep journals at the time or anything like that to help you to write about it now?

I did keep journals, but I rarely need to refer to them. I usually only look at them to remember the name of a person I met along the way. Having taken a couple thousand pictures makes it fairly easy to track everything we did, but every so often, a detail or nuance will creep into my memory that I hadn’t thought of since it happened.

 

You most recently traveled in South America, correct? What cultural differences have you come across that contrast with the Southeast Asian experience?

I actually wrapped up the Peru trip in mid-April. We were there for 18 days. The first thing I took into account were the similarities with Asia: the scorching heat, the abundance of cheap stall food, the hokey tourist areas where local merchants spout silly lines to travelers in order to charm them into overpaying for whatever product or service. All great stuff, in my opinion. The thing with Southeast Asia is that I visited seven countries so there are dozens of differences even between those countries. I found, though, that the food in Peru is a lot heavier and starchier. Also, the weather was far more erratic, perhaps because we spent much of the journey either in the Andes or the Amazon Jungle.

 

Which country or countries (Southeast Asian and/or South American) gives you the most inspiration?

Vietnam may have been the most inspiring, but as I’ve written in the past, I have a heavy bias. My girlfriend, Teresa, was born in Canada but her parents are from Vietnam and she speaks, reads, and writes it fluently. This had a vast impact on our experience there when it came to interacting with the locals and we really got to know people there more than anywhere else we’ve ever traveled. Also, Vietnam has a great deal of variety (accents, landscapes, cuisine) and its geographical makeup made it really easy to travel in a fairly straight line without missing too much along the way.

 

Do you prefer the bustle of developing cities or the splendor of natural, untouched-by-man places? Continue reading

Smashwords Edition

Here is the latest…

 

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A new edition up on the Smashwords eBook website:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/532806

 

One advantage of Smashwords is that you can download in multiple formats, and don’t need a Kindle account. There’s the direct PDF, as well as .ebub.

I can also do a coupon code to give free copies, if anyone is interested. Just ask!

Of course, reviews as always are appreciated (especially – sorry SW – on the Amazon link: Amazon.com/dp/B00RQQIA26)

*Not* Dating – America (Canada), Hong Kong

I like to think that my life is just a collection of in-between stuff that doesn’t count, while the times that I travel are when I am truly alive.

Or is that my real life is simply peppered with the travel episodes, which are more like fill-ins that don’t count towards the greater narrative arc?

In any case, after some unimpressive hookups, I was ready. So ready. Travel.

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Ok it’s not the best picture of me in a suit, but just imagine…

America (plus Canada)

My biannual trip back home. Every other year, that’s plenty for me. And, my best friend was getting married!

I was the best man. It was a big deal.

I seem to always travel for weddings these days. That’s cool; it’ beats funerals.

So, I flew to Seattle. My first time in the Pacific Northwest. Over the next few weeks, I would travel to Portland and Vancouver as well (being my first time in Canada). As well as stopping by my hometown Cincinnati, of course. It was right at the cusp of 2012 and 2013, and it was damn cold. I saw winter snow again after years on end in the tropics, and I’m not quite used to it. For the most part, like the last time I went back to the real world West, it wasn’t that big a deal reacclimating.

Seattle seemed surprisingly average. I expected it to be more liberal and crazy. I don’t mean grungey stoners everywhere, but a few more rock show flyers and headshops would have been nice. Mostly it was average white people and average suburban settings, the kind the world imagines from American television.

My best friend picked me up and I proceeded to stay at his place in Tacoma. We went out to bars there, bars in Seattle, as I met his lovely fiancé and social group as we traveled around Pike Place Market, home of the world’s first Starbucks, and further lame tourism.

WP_000154Starbucks, bleh

We celebrated New Year’s watching fireworks explode atop the Space Needle among the office workers. 2012 had come and went and the world did not explode as much as I’d hope. Sure the world is always evolving, however slowly, yet cosmic paradigm-shifting Singularities may be asking for too much.

Going to my hometown to see my family was uneventful. I took a week out to fly to Cincinnati, Ohio to see my mom and dad and sister and brother and several old friends. Ate food. Saw live music. Went to more bars. Some of which in Northern Kentucky which is still greater Cincinnati. The old friends who stayed in Cincinnati tended be the kind of people who just never leave home…

Remember Gwen? It was nice to see her again. She drove me around and invited me to her house and we caught up. Hung out with her growing son… And then met her new boyfriend. I sure didn’t have the confident swagger I had back in 2010. But good for her. Since then she isn’t the most active Facebook user to keep in touch with, but I have heard that she moved to the West Coast and I support her for that.

When traveling back home, it’s all about the people you meet. Still, when traveling back home, for me, a lot of it involves bookstores. To be more specific, a lot of it involves reading comics at booksstores. One of my favorite things to do in America is to simply go to Barnes & Nobles and sit down and catch up on graphic novels.

Naruto, One Piece, 20th Century Boys, and more manga. Transformers, the classic sort. I started to get into Judge Dredd. Fables, for Vertigo fix. Justice League & Aquaman by Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder’s Batman, Wolverine & the X-Men as authored by Jason Aaron. The indie masterpiece Habibi by Craig Thompson was a favored read.

Then I flew back. The wedding was underway. My friend immediately took me to Canon Beach, Oregon. Famed for that scene in the Goonies. A beautifully scenic beach town, though too bad it wasn’t the summer. We took residence in the hotel and rehearsed and set everything up, met some familiar faces and many more new ones. It was weird to see his family in Oregon, his mom and sister who were mere background when I was a teenager and we played video games in his house. It’s weird to meet your friend’s parents when you are an adult. I never know whether to call them by their first name or not.

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Goonies forever, remember?

It was good as weddings go. I can totally rock a suit, it’s a shame I wear a tie so seldom. There was the big party. Dancing. Photos along the shore. High-pressure afterparty. Staring at the stars at night. I made a brief speech, as my duties pertained. Now, according to movies, weddings were supposed to be a good place to meet girls. Let us just say it didn’t work out that way at all for me. I was not at all at the time of my so-called game. I’m not complaining, simply taking note.

And that was about it for Canon Beach. There was another old friend in town for the wedding, a great ol’ companion who followed me to Southern California and the place ended up suiting him more than it did me. He’s still there, living the good life.

While in Oregon, me and old friend decided more travel is always a good idea and went out to explore Portland. There was the proper super-liberal town I was waiting to see. Vegan donuts and graffiti and homeless people. I really loved Powell’s Books! Funny thing about Portland, it has the highest per capita of strip clubs of any city in America. Strip clubs where couples go and girls enjoy having a drink and it’s like a normalized bar-restaurant. With naked lady dancers. Contrast that with the gay bars there; while everywhere else I’ve lived has gay bars full of hip straight people, in Portland the gay bars are for real gays only. That’s the core of what I made of the city: strip clubs full of women patrons and gay bars with men only, and I found that odd.

Moreover, don’t you love the show Portlandia?

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Literally Portlandia

An interesting anecdote crossed my path. At a certain strip club, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a face that I swore I recognized from the news. It was MCAFFEY, the antivirus entrepreneur who was accused of drug-crazed murder in Belize and had recently escaped back to the United States. I was so starstruck, and I freaked out. It’s one thing to see a random B-list celebrity on the street in Los Angeles, it’s another thing to see someone fromthe news in real life. My friend made fun of me for shrieking and making such a big deal about it. I didn’t go up and ask for a selfie together, and that may have been a bad idea considering he had probably recently killed a man. Or he would’ve hacked my phone or something.

McAfee really was in Portland in January of 2013. Look it up.

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Dating – visitors and friends, others

Dating in China, this blog series, is basically a personal memoir. My writing inspiration of late consists of sifting through my memories, see if there was anything I was supposed to learn, and share it all for your infotainment.

Today I would like to do something different. On today’s post I would like to write about other people’s drama. A certain episode comes to mind. No action for me at this juncture, yet I was in the middle of it and have all the gossipy details.

My good friend from the States had decided to visit me, back I was living in Guangzhou in the second half of 2011. Having recently traveled myself, I welcomed him with open arms. But it’s not like we were going to go to the Great Wall or anything, I was too traveled out. We just keep it down South, Guangdong Province. He was cool with that.

I picked him up at the Hong Kong airport, and we went to see some sights in HK together. It was glorious. Then we crossed the border to my town of Shenzhen. It was a hectic night; full of old friends and drinking. I had planned to just come upon a hotel room like I usually do backpacking in China, but everything was filled up for some reason. Partying with luggage isn’t ideal. We ended up crashing at a DJ friend’s place after his gig. It always works out.

So. Before my buddy came down, I had to get him excited to visit with the obligatory “you can totally get laid in China” bro sell. In keeping with this, I had introduced him to some girls online. He particularly got along with Hailey.

If you will remember, there was another episode with Hailey. She was my open-minded platonic female friend in Shenzhen who climbed into my bed one night and thoroughly confused me, and we never ever did do anything of that sort.

My friend and her seemed to get along well. It usually doesn’t succeed when I play the matchmaker, but when it does I find it so fun to scheme. Have you ever tried?

For the next week-and-a-half I had to spend almost all my free time tour guiding all over the place. Clubs in Shenzhen, clubs in Guangzhou. It was mostly clubs. However, for one day he went to Shenzhen by himself to spend a night at a hotel on his own. With her. Sexy fun times were had, I assume. Good for them.

It was a crazy time, a very fun trip for him. I do believe he was left with a positive impression of modern China indeed. At last, the the final day was approaching… We needed to plan around a morning flight out of Hong Kong, which meant spending previous night in Shenzhen. Guangzhou wouldn’t have worked, too far.

“Look,” I sad. “I want to see you off, man. But if it’s all the same…”

“Fine,” he agreed.

I called Hailey, since they were obviously going to spend the night together anyway, and simply asked if she could take him to the nearby Huang’gang border and direct him to one of those direct shuttles to the airport.

“No way!” she yelled. “I’m not his babysitter.”

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Dating – China to Thailand to Cambodia

tuk tukOn a tuk-tuk

 

Dating in China etc. sometimes expands to surrounding countries, and a common country to visit is Thailand. It’s nearby, it’s cheap flying, and it’s beautiful. Even easy for Chinese friends to get a visa. One day back in the mid of 2011. I decided to take a girl to Thailand. And what a mistake that was…

I don’t like to live a life of regrets. I try to interpret all positively, believe it or not. I do my thing, I have experiences, I learn. It’s not like I’ve burned that many bridges, it’s not like I do that bad. Yet there are certain things that have happened to me, certain people that were a complete waste of time, and I’ll feel regret. This is one of those.

I met Cynthia at a club in Shenzhen. One of the few times I successfully picked up a club girl. Although I had recently moved to Guangzhou, I was going to Shenzhen often, and we had fun together when I was in town. Not like I was tied down to anyone else. The relative distance prevented us from growing too close, and fun was all it was. Even that didn’t last long.

After crazed inebriated night in Shenzhen, I slept at her place and discussed my plans to vacation soon. Free time was approaching and I decided on a quick trip to somewhere Southeast Asia. With so many countries to choose from we narrowed it down; she had never been to Thailand before, and we searched prices together on Air Asia and suddenly tickets were booked.

I’ve written before about the challenges in traveling with a girl, but this thing was dead before it even began. When we later met at the Guangzhou airport, she didn’t even want to talk to me. She hadn’t kept in touch much in the intervening time, and I couldn’t believe how cold she was. It was hard to read. Was she mad at me? Did I do something wrong? She probably just had other guys by then. We weren’t serious or anything. No real relationship whatsoever. Perhaps she regretted committing to this trip with me. In all fairness, it was extremely stupid to make travel plans with a fuckbuddy I barely knew. I just get way ahead of myself at times, what can I say.

Or, I don’t know, like maybe she expected me to be a rich foreigner and take her to five-star hotels and pay for everything, have that sort of glamorous travel. I specifically told her that I want to have a backpacking-style travel experience at youth hostels and I don’t have infinite money. We discussed it at length, really. I mean, we were never boyfriend and girlfriend. I paid for a lot, taxi rides and a few meals, but I didn’t pay for everything. What exactly was expected of me?

I didn’t handle it well. The first night we went to Bangkok, I booked a guestroom and went to sleep and we didn’t touch each other. The next day there was a bad energy in the air; we went sight-seeing and forcibly took pictures (never together) and traveled by boat, temples and malls and so on. Eventually, she preferred to hang out with frat boy types from the youth hostel. They went to see the infamous sex shows and all that.

“Let’s go our separate ways,” I said. “No hard feelings.”

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Dating in China – Mona

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Me circa ’09, Beijing–>Great Wall

The dating in China officially begins.

After being situated in SZ, I was introduced to Mona through a coworker who was transparently playing the matchmaker. Mona was a 20-something independent office lady, an intelligent Hunanese (a common enough home-province for those in SZ) who studied in Beijing and came to Shenzhen to work and live near Hong Kong. She was good-looking, with long, permed hair and a nice figure and she liked to wear purple and green contact lenses. She liked Japanese pop culture and Marilyn Manson. Her English was good – which is kind of a requirement for me. I won’t date someone for language lessons with whom I can’t have a meaningful conversation. Which is one reason my Mandarin isn’t that good.

One day said coworker invited us both to a restaurant and then suddenly cancelled. We were left alone to get to know each other better. Obviously being set up, right? We ate and went to my apartment complex to talk about movies and anime and then we sat on a bench outside and made out among the soft evening winds. It escalated and we became a couple for four or five months and I started introducing her to others as my girlfriend.

Mona had a small apartment nearby; I’d often prefer going to her place to enjoy our time together and stay the night. She had a cute small dog, the poor thing cramped in a tiny apartment. We’d go on long walks with the dog, in parks and gardens and “mountain climbing” as the Chinese call hiking. I’d be the dog-sitter when she would go out of town. 2009 rang in and we celebrated the New Year at the stroke of midnight with a kiss.

There were some flaws in all this, some cultural and personality differences. Not all rainbows. But no big deals to get over. Most important of all, we had similar interests and she was nice and hot and she liked me. Though I did feel corny when she first held my hand at Dongmen, and I’ve since gotten used to how in China public displays of affection are a bit less public except for the ubiquitous hand-holding. It’s like primary school dating or something. Aw who am I to try to be so mature?

Occasionally I invited her to go to pubs with my friends, and she never seemed comfortable in that scene. Was it a mistake? Was I the one moving things fast, too much pressure? Is that something I do? When it was just the two of us we were fine. Usually we’d go out for dinner and stay in at her place on the weekends and watch bootleg DVDs. Celebrated my birthday like that. Other times she showed me around Shenzhen. I recall a great outing to Hong Kong, shopping and bookstores at malls and taking pictures at the Peak. Then, dangerously, we planned a trip to Beijing.

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