But just to make everything clearer, you might want to check out this PDF calendar (Warning: traditional characters!). Some key vocab:
– 大年三十: Chinese New Year’s Eve
– 春节: Chinese New Year
– 初一: the first of the lunar month (never used more than around CNY)
– 初二: the second of the lunar month
– 初三: the third of the lunar month (see a pattern here?)
OK, now for the sexy part. 2011 is the year of the rabbit. (Really, I’m going somewhere with this; be patient!) I did a little searching for images on the Chinese internet and found this creative graphic:
Also, somewhat to my surprise, my innocent 兔年 (“year of the rabbit”) search turned up some rather sexy pics. The year of the rabbit only comes around once every 12 years, so I’m pretty sure it’s the first time this particular sexied-up CNY theme has appeared in mainland China (it’s referred to as 兔年美女):
And while not all of the Playboy bunny-esque photos floating around online now are actually specifically meant for Chinese New Year, the one above is, as evidenced by the golden thing in the model’s hands, which is a 金元宝 (a gold ingot, an ancient form of money which usually makes appearances in CNY decorations).
If you’ve ever seen a “men’s magazine” like FHM or Maxim, you know that one of the main staples is “interviews” with buxom young females. In these multi-page features photographs figure prominently, words are squeezed in at the sides, and key quotations are carefully selected and displayed in big type next to the photographs. These quotations are usually sex-related, designed to get the reader’s pulse racing. (If you really need examples of this, you might try taking a look at NSFW-1 or NSFW-2.)
I haven’t really taken a look at the Chinese equivalents of these magazines, but I recently chanced upon the following picture of Chinese model 陈馨婷 (Chén Xīntíng):
The quote says:
> 我很期待穿婚纱的感觉。 (Wǒ hěn qīdài chuān hūnshā de gǎnjué.)
which might be (a bit awkwardly) translated as:
> I’m really looking forward to the feeling of wearing a wedding dress.
That funny feeling you’re left with is a special brand of men’s magazine culture shock. Maybe.
Liangfen (凉粉) is a kind of Chinese food which Wenlin translates as “bean jelly.” This is a pretty good translation; liangfen is made from beans and is about the consistency of jelly (although often a bit stiffer). In restaurants, liangfen can be served up like noodles and often looks something like this:
Doing a search for these liangfen images, I was reminded of a very different liangfen which became extremely popular last year:
(That would be 张靓颖 of “Super Voice Girls” fame. Her nickname is 凉粉. She also has a Chinese blog. [Correction: the fans of 张靓颖 are called liangfen, not 张靓颖 herself.])
Tonight I paid a visit to my advisor to discuss the coming semester’s classes and my master’s thesis. His wife brought out a big platter of watermelon slices. He insisted on making me a cup of iced coffee (which was quite good). His son gave me a Glico green tea-flavored snack to munch on. And then the special surprise came: 广东凉粉 (Guangdong liangfen). According to them it’s a traditional Guangdong summer snack, served chilled. You can’t find it in Shanghai, they said. It looked like this:
My only question before digging in was, “does it have animal blood in it?” (I would have eaten some anyway, but I just wanted to know.) They said no.
How did it taste? Well… it was basically “Chinese medicine flavored Jello-o.” Yum yum. Fortunately the flavor wasn’t too strong.
And now for something completely vapid: Chinese girl pop stars!
I was bored, surfing around on Baidu, as I sometimes do, and I stumbled across this Baidu ranking of female pop stars. The ranking is assigned by searches, and each star is linked to photos, discussions, and “星闻” (a pun on 星 and 新闻, meaning “star news”). It even keeps track of changes in the rankings.
I immediately noted two things about the list. First, I knew a whole lot fewer of the stars than I expected to. I mean, I don’t exactly immerse myself in Chinese pop culture, but I thought I would know most of the top ten. I found that I only knew four of them by name. Second, the list is quite different from the recent list of China’s 50 Most Beautiful People. This is to be expected; the lists had different standards, after all. Or, one actually had standards, I should say. But it’s interesting to compare anyway.
First, though, for purely educational purposes, I present you with Baidu’s top ten:
刘亦菲. I had seen this girl everywhere in advertising around Shanghai, and had no idea who she was. Apparently this 20-year-old is pretty popular these days (#1 on Baidu, anyway). She has a movie called 五月之恋 (“Love of May”) which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube (Chinese only).
蔡依林 is a Taiwanese pop star I’ve written about before. She’s managed to stay popular for quite a while. There are karaoke-style videos of hers on YouTube as well, such as the video for Love, Love, Love. (I hope you have a strong stomach if you’re thinking of clicking on that link.) She was so much cooler when she was dating Jay Chou (周杰伦).
李宇春. Anyone living in China should know this face. She won the “Supergirl” singing contest last year. I’m not going to say anything bad about her ever again because her fans are crazy. They will crush me. You can find her on YouTube as well.
汤加丽. I don’t know anything about this woman and I’m too lazy to search. She’s only #4, after all. Judging by her photos on Baidu, though, I’m guessing she’s popular because she does nudes. (Sorry, guys, she’s not on YouTube.)
S.H.E. #5 is a trick, because it’s actually three girls. (No one ever said Baidu was smart.) This is a girl band you’re likely to know if you’ve lived in China any length of time. They’re well known for that Superstar song, and currently annoying everyone on the Shanghai subway as their cutesy girl antics are played on the video screens ad nauseum. Surprise, surprise… there are tons of their videos on YouTube.
张娜拉. I have no idea who this girl is, but I did just enough research to discover that she’s Korean, her “real name” is Jang Nara, and she’s on YouTube.
林志玲, who goes by the crazy moniker of Lin Chih Ling in Taiwan, seems to be unable to wear a bikini and stand up, causing her to just roll around on the ground in a giddy delirium. Those so inclined can do more research on this intriguing woman on YouTube.
张含韵. I once posted a video of hers on ChinesePod without even knowing her name for sure. Now I know her name, but still find myself distinctly apathetic about the details of this young woman’s life. She is #8. Run along to YouTube, lads. If her video for “ai ya ya” is any indication, she wants to cute you to death.
林心如. This Taiwanese actress has been popular for a while, it seems. I know she’s been trying to steal my roommate’s heart back away from Zhang Ziyi for some time, anyway. You can find her on TubeYou, or whatever that site was called.
张韶涵 is our #10. Knowing absolutely nothing about this girl, I can still tell you two things: (1) she is annoying, and (2) she is on YouTube.
OK, that’s Baidu’s top 10. The full list has 50. Some major differences between it and the women of the “50 most beautiful people list”:
1. Zhang Ziyi, #4 on “Most Beautiful” is #36 on Baidu’s list. OK, so Chinese guys like her a lot less than American guys, but they don’t hate her (unless maybe their girlfriends are around).
2. Zhang Manyu (Maggie Cheung), #1 on the “Most Beautiful” list, is #46 on Baidu’s list. (I’m guessing that’s because she’s old.)
3. Neither Li Bingbing nor Zhou Xun, placing #17 and #23 on “Most Beautiful,” respectively, place on Baidu. I found that kind of strange, because I thought they’re both somewhat popular still. (Too last year?)
4. Liu Yifei, #1 on Baidu’s list, placed 13 on the “Most Beautiful” list.
5. Lin Zhiling, Baidu’s #7, is #26 on the “Most Beautiful” list.
6. Shu Qi is #15 on the “Most Beautiful” list and #21 on Baidu’s list.
7. Wang Fei (Faye Wong) is #18 on both lists.
8. Zhang Baizhi (Cecilia Cheung), always popular, placed #13 on Baidu and #25 on the other.
I could go on and find some more overlap, but there’s not much point. A handful of stars aside, the lists are significantly different. It’s almost as if the young male crowd thronging to China’s internet cafes and using Baidu prefers young, pretty girls, regardless of talent!
I have just returned from yet another visit home. I no longer have many reverse culture shock experiences (e.g. the cliché “Americans are so fat” one), but I notice lots of little things. This is how I measure the growing disconnect between modern American culture and me. Here are some of my observations from my last visit:
– Having lived in China for so long, I no longer like sweets as much as I used to. I find myself somewhat repulsed by the ubiquitous sugary goodies, and I have to carefully space the ones I want to enjoy if I want to stomach them.
– I no longer want pizza when I go home. Between Papa John’s, Hello Pizza, and New York Pizza (Jing An Temple), I’ve got all my pizza needs covered in Shanghai, with a satisfactory array of styles and prices. The same goes for pretty much all fast food.
– I have zero interest in American TV anymore. Anything that’s good will come to China on DVD. (Same goes for movies, unless there’s something really new that I want to see.)
– My parents’ ADSL connection was often slower than my connection in Shanghai. I know it’s partly because my parents’ connection isn’t very good, but still… how sad.
– White girls get hotter every time I go home. (Also Hispanic girls, black girls, etc.)
– Life is hard without an ayi. (Oh, China, you have spoiled me rotten.)
– Americans complain about the cost of real estate, but many homes in Florida are actually cheaper than homes in Shanghai.
– The last couple days of my visits are always characterized by frantic shopping trips for friends in China. I’m getting better at remembering all the people I should shop for, and even getting better at figuring out good presents to buy. (More on this soon.)
While I was home, I pretty much only heard mainstream music. Two songs stood out: Ridin’ by Chamillionaire (what a stupid name, but I can’t help loving this song) and SOS by Rihanna (good use of the Tainted Love beat). And what do you know… both can be found through Baidu (here’s how).
Well, I’m not really sure if “plagiarism” is the right word exactly. The other day I stumbled upon a Chinese article concerning the 校花 of various colleges and universities in China. I find the whole concept of 校花–a “campus babe” representing the best in feminine beauty that a school has to offer–pretty sexist, but China holds no monopoly on sexism, and that’s another matter altogether.
The point of the article is that pictures of these pretty girls–supposedly students at certain schools–are often posted online (presumably by members of those schools), but the girls in the pictures are sometimes not students of the named schools at all. In fact, in some cases, the girls in the pictures are even fairly well-known stars.
The girl at the left is not a student of Peking University as someone online claimed, but a Taiwanese star. The girl in the middle is not a student of Northeast Agricultural University as claimed, but a Taiwanese cartoonist. The girl at the right is not a student of Nanjing University of Science and Technology as claimed, but a Hong Kong star. The original article gives many more examples, including pictures of Japanese and Korean stars.
I’m not sure how to classify this kind of false representation, but its existence here in China doesn’t surprise me. It does, however, somewhat amuse me.
It’s pretty well-known that Chinese college boys love computer games. When I taught in Hangzhou, I saw firsthand how those guys would spend every free minute in internet cafes playing CounterStrike or whatever the latest network game was. The reason for the obsession was hard for me to grasp.
Then I saw two eye-catching entries on Bingfeng’s Teahouse which offered a possible explanation:
Bingfeng’s large collection of “Chinese Internet Girl” photos (click on both photos above for more) — evidence of the proliferation of digital cameras, webcams, and internet usage in China — offers a compelling possible explanation for Chinese boys’ infatuation with the internet.
The thing is, I still think the vast majority of them just really like those damn games.
Last Friday night my friend DJ Carl was spinning so I went to check his set out at La Fabrique with my girlfriend. While there a kind soul gave us tickets to see Scott Bond at DKD so we did that too. I learned a few things:
1. A girl can look pretty hot with her hair up and chopsticks in her hair.
2. The chopsticks in her hair are not actually to be called “chopsticks.” That would be silly. They are actually “hair accessories.”
3. Girls with chopsticks in their hair do not belong on the dance floor. Someone could lose an eye.
4. I’m getting old. Even despite Carl’s numinous performance the club thing holds little appeal for me anymore. (I’m not sure it ever did, but I used to be able to fake it, at least.)
– How does the salary for a waitress at Hooters [Shanghai] compare to waitresses at other [Shanghai] restaurants?
– Do you know what the word “hooters” means? [Note: the Chinese translation of the restaurant chain’s name is 猫头鹰, which simply means “owl” and has no sexual connotations.]
– In America, there used to be some controversy about Hooters. Feminists didn’t like it because they thought it treated women poorly, treated them just as sex objects. I guess you don’t think that’s the way it is in China?
Ever since the May holiday, Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park has been housing a big The Mummy Returns promotional activity. It’s like a mini Egypt-themed fair. The main entrance of the park is all Egypted out, and a huge-screen (but low-res) TV has been installed which shows nonstop The Mummy Returns clips, interspersed with advertisements for the mummy fair going on inside the park. Each ticket costs a ridiculous 80 rmb per person.
After you pay, you head into the park and find the mummy section. If you’re unlucky there’s a line. (There were really long lines all throughout the first week of May, but there rarely are now.) You’re herded into the mummy’s temple, a sort of Egypt-themed haunted house. The haunted house was actually quite well done. The best part was all the workers inside dressed up like statues (they really did look like statues). They would remain motionless for a while, and then suddenly come to life, totally freaking people out. Good stuff.
When you come out you’re in the familiar carnival setting. You are surrounded by booths selling everything from National Geographic videos to The Coffee Bean Tea Leaf refreshments. There are lots of impossible games you can play, paying with expensive tokens for a chance at impossible odds to win a virtually worthless “prize.” The familiar favorites were there: shooting (ridiculously small) hoops, fishing, ring around the bottle, etc. The one game with decent chances was a dart game. You just had to pop balloons with darts to win your crappy prize.
If you’re there at the right time, you may also get to see a live show. Yes, it’s Shanghai’s version of the Egyptian craptacular! When I was there the performances alternated between dances which tried to stay on theme, using Middle Eastern music and costumes, and dances which seemed to appeal to teenagers, using flashy clown colors and pop music. Guess which are which!
All this is somewhat odd, of course, but the big question in my mind is: WHY?The Mummy Returns was released in 2001! Why go to all this work to promote a movie that’s already four years old? (I think the event has increased sales of pirated copies, though.) Is it a coincidence that Shanghai started whoring out Zhongshan Park to carnivals the same year that it stopped charging park admission for a lot of its parks?
P.S. Did anyone think it strange that there were Egyptian designs behind the video Coke machine I wrote about? Didn’t think so. Well, it was at this Mummy Returns carnival.
I’m still getting over jetlag and don’t feel like writing much. Instead, I’ll share this little qipao gallery of some of China’s famous female stars. (Note that there are 4 pages in all; the links to the other pages are at the bottom of the pages.) Notably absent is Gong Li. Also, page one is not the best of the lot.
I don’t explore these Chinese portals very much, but I was kinda surprised by some of the content put online when the media are “controlled” and the government tries to always keep a wholesome image. Some of the ones I’m talking about are the “leisure” section’s Christy Chungfeature (quite bizarre, and revealing), the creative bust cover-up feature, and the Maxim gallery (gee, I wonder if Maxim’s getting those royalties…).
What’s the strategy here? Give people just enough of what they’re looking for on Chinese sites so they don’t go elsewhere and discover the immense wealth of information (AKA “porn”) out there on non-Chinese sites?
Seems to be.
Update: Micah in the comments has pointed out a similar gallery which has better, higher res images. Very nice.
I had been resisting naming my rabbits. I guess it was because I never really expected them to live long. But as the end of week one rolled around, I decided I should name them. The vendor said they were a male/female pair, so I figured I should name them as a pair. They’re Chinese rabbits and I’m in China, so Chinese names seemed appropriate. I named the girl Tai Tai (台台) and the boy Bo Bo (伯伯). (These names may seem a little strange, but they have their roots in Chinese culture — anyone get them?)
Here are some pictures I took to emphasize their smallness:
Yesterday my rabbits presented me with my first “birthday surprise.” I came out of my bedroom and took a look at their cage. The first thing that came into my head was, “that’s a funny way to sleep.” Suddenly realizing that the rabbit could be dead, I examined her more closely. She was alive, but seemed completely unable to move. And I had to rush out the door because a had an activity with a client kindergarten to get to. I had no choice but to leave my little rabbit to die.
When I got home, she was, indeed, dead. The other one was just fine. The worst part was that there was no good way to dispose of her little body. I could only wrap it up and chuck it in the trash. I felt bad about that.
To be honest, I couldn’t be sure that it was Tai Tai that died and not Bo Bo. Rabbits are not easy to sex when they’re that young. But I liked the name Bo Bo better, so I decided Bo Bo was the survivor. If I was wrong about which one it was, I could confront my mistake down the road and just hope that my little rabbit wasn’t left with too much of a gender identitity crisis.
(Incidentally, Bo Bo was also the name of a girl I went on one date with in Hangzhou years ago. We met on the internet. I remember that date very clearly because (1) she took a good picture of me that I used on this site’s main page for two years, and (2) we ended up talking about her mother’s death a year previous. Very heavy for a first date. I never saw her again. She was a nice enough girl, but I could never go for a girl with a moustache.)
Last night I had fun playing with Bo Bo. It was good to see that he was healthy at least.
This morning I got to sleep in because it was day one of my week-long May Day vacation. No work for seven days. When I came out of my bedroom, I saw that little Bo Bo was sleeping in too. Only he wasn’t ever waking up.
Part of me is relieved because I no longer have the responsibility of trying to raise rabbits in a city apartment. Now I’m glad I really did my best to keep them healthy, but I’m baffled as to what did them in, when they seemed so healthy but then deteriorated so rapidly without warning or apparent cause.
No more pets for a while.
Expect more (less depressing) site updates this first week of May. I finally updated the About Page recently and the picture in the upper right of this page to reflect my new home. More to come. Also, Adopt a Blog is not dead, just stalled.
I rarely watch Chinese TV (because it’s dumb and boring), but I watched it last night. I was rewarded for my bravery.
Last night I happened to catch part of CCTV 2’s Televised Model Competition (模特电视大赛). Like I said, I rarely watch Chinese TV, but if I do happen to go for a flip through the channels, if there’s anything that’s going to catch my attention, it’s a whole bunch of hot women. So this competition did the trick. I’m not sure, because I tuned in late, but apparently it has all kinds of different rounds, including formal fashion catwalks, swimsuit modeling (damn, I missed that one!), and answering various “deep” questions. Most of the model hopefuls were 18-21 years old, and close to 180cm tall (around 5’10”).
Several elements of the competition caught my attention. First, I’ll talk about the models’ hotness, since it is of primary importance. Some of them really weren’t very special. Quite a few had the “anorexic model look” that seems to fly in the New York and Paris fashion industries. Many of them had very pretty faces but stick-like bodies. I don’t really go for that type. Perhaps a few models had already been eliminated in previous rounds before I tuned in, but the one that caught my attention was #46: Jiang E (姜娥). (If you look at the picture of her on the page linked to, you might not think she’s very pretty. I don’t think it’s a very good picture, but that girl has got a body, trust me! The other girls couldn’t compare.) The show said she was from Harbin, but her online info says she’s from Dalian. [Now Derrick, don’t get too smug. I never said Dalian girls weren’t pretty.] I did notice that girls from the Shanghai/Zhejiang area were seriously underrepresented, and many of the girls I’ve seen in Shanghai could easily compete with the contestants I saw on TV.
One thing that was cool was just that day in Chinese class we had been talking about the “triumph of the superior over the inferior” (优胜劣败), “Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution” (达尔文的自然淘汰理论，进化理论), “the law of the jungle” (丛林法则 or 弱肉强食). So when taotai (淘汰), a word meaning “selection” in the “elimination” sense — which I might not ordinarily get right away — came up in the competition, I was all over that baby.
It was interesting hearing the girls answer various questions. One of the contestants was allowed to ask one of the judges, a famous model, any question she liked. She asked what she should do to improve her chances of succeeding as a professional model. The professional model’s answer was that she should improve her Mandarin and her English! I was shocked. I don’t know if it was just B.S. or if the model really believed it, but she said that language was extremely important in the industry for communicating with designers, photographers, etc.
Another contestant was asked how she would relax if she worked hard for an entire year and then finally got any vacation of her choice. She said the first thing she would do was go to the hospital for a checkup. When the host asked for clarification, she said she’d get her eyes checked, because vision is very important. Ah, the wisdom of models.
Another thing that startled me once it hit me was that the Chinese model judge pictured below, Jiang Peilin (姜培琳), from certain angles really looked like that girl Katie Holmes that got famous on Dawson’s Creek. It was weird. I noticed in Jiang Peilin’s pictures online she doesn’t look like Katie as much; she tries to hide her dimples and her smile.
After the competition finished, I flipped through the channels a bit. A scene of a cute little black girl speaking fluent Mandarin flashed out at me. I flipped back. To my disappointment, she was dubbed. To my utter horror, it turned out to be the Teletubbies dubbed in Chinese. Disgusting.
Then I stopped on a drama. I was tuning in late, so I had to guess at what I missed, but the plot seemed to center around a woman who had contracted AIDS. She got it from her boyfriend, who apparently committed suicide (because he cheated on his girlfriend and unwittingly gave her AIDS, maybe?). The characters who knew the girl had AIDS were treating her with nothing but compassion. (The Chinese propaganda machine is going strong on this AIDS thing now that it has finally gotten its act together on the issue.) I had to stop watching after about 10 minutes, though, because another female character who was supposed to be cute was unbearably annoying.
Made a little DVD run today. We buy pirated DVDs for 7rmb each (less than US$1). I bought pretty much only Chinese and Japanese stuff. The Chinese movies are mostly fluff. The Japanese movies were several of Miyazaki Hayao‘s classic animated films. Two of the Chinese movies I got mostly because the covers made me laugh. Keep in mind that since these movies are pirated — and in many cases released before the real DVD has even been released — the pirating companies have to design their own covers. Usually they just steal images from advertisements, but occasionally you see something original or weird, and you see a lot of bad English. I picked up two DVDs that I’d like to mention, although I haven’t watched them yet.
Flowers of Shanghai (海上花).
This one is apparently critically acclaimed. What caught my eye was a line at the top of the cover: PROSTITUTE MOVIE COLLECTION (Chinese: 青楼名妓电影系列). I know there are some movies about prostitution, but there’s a prostitute movie collection?! Kinda funny. The movie is about the late 19th century Shanghai brothel business.
Looking for Mister Perfect (奇逢敌手).
I don’t have high expectations for this movie. I’m thinking it’ll be popular because it’s one of Shu Qi’s new ones. The graphic the pirates used for the cover design is such an obvious ripoff of the The Fast and the Furious design that it’s embarrassing. What was funny was the English description on the back. Here it is, verbatim:
> The bright and red-blooded woman fucks the small of earnes t to work, however lack the confidence to love.Although have to warmly pursue, however dream of to launch the love with white dress man of in a dream.A time an d outside swim consumedly horse insid e,small The white dress man, of the to p in a dream however is the evil-foreb oding dream’s beginning.Advertise co mpany Chen to living, and superficia lly is aMissile that wet businessma n, carry on the back the to howev er make with big Poon to navigat e the electronics spare parts to def end the system bargain.Check the b lack dragon spy of this case the Alex, and mistake small for the party, at a the round pursueThe empress, small c ooper ates with hims, and the Poon fina ly catch.Two people with each other living the cordiality… the…
OK, I know it ends in an ellipsis, but that’s really the whole thing. Amazing, is it not? It left me speechless.
Shu Qi, as I mentioned above, was probably a big draw for the viewers of Looking for Mister Perfect. She is really popular in China right now. She’s in ads everywhere (red bean soup in a can, shampoo, long underwear… you name it!), and stars in movie after movie. One of her most recent big hits was So Close.
She’s obviously popular for her good looks, but what’s interesting is that she got her start in the soft porn industry. Predictably, a lot of Chinese girls hate her. Meanwhile, guys everywhere go gaga.
I got some comments on Looking for Mister Perfect from a Chinese discussion board. Interestingly, they’re bilingual. Excuse my hasty translation.
> adult (2003-4-10 5:58:01): shu qi is very sexy, I saw her early nude movie, she is good.
> 输棋 (2003-4-4 8:49:07): 真不明白，怎么这么多人喜欢她？不过既然有人会如此捧林青霞，答案也就很明显了，输棋不好看，但还比林青霞好 [I really don’t get it — how can so many people like her? But there are also people that are similarly crazy over Lin Qingxia — the answer is obvious. Shu Qi isn’t good looking, but better than Lin Qingxia.]
> agree (2003-4-3 10:44:03): yes, I share the same view with su qi, and I would love to slap those who thinks 舒淇 [Shu Qi] has the looks, 舒淇 [Shu Qi] is as attractive as a toaster.
> su qi (2003-4-3 9:16:33): I do not understand the popularity of shu qi. She plays the exact same role in every one of her movies.
If I had to choose an actress that’s been in some of the more erotic-type movies, I’d go with Christy Chung (钟丽缇). I’ve seen I’ve heard about some some pretty racy flicks of hers, like Jan Dara (晚娘), a twisted tale of a Thai family’s ruin, and Samsara, a story of Tibetan monk’s bout with temptation.
Sunday, December 22nd. I get to the airport at about 8:30am. Check-in goes smoothly. Before long I’m on a plane. The only snag is that what I was told was a nonstop flight from Shanghai to Detroit was actually a flight with a stopover in Tokyo. Maybe I wouldn’t have to get off the plane, at least, and I could just sleep. I was ready for that.
On the plane I notice there are a lot of young people. Turns out there are two singing groups from universities in the U.S. which had been invited to Shanghai to perform. That includes religious Christmas songs. Kind of interesting; not interesting enough to keep me awake, however. My last thought as I drift off is, “I hope they wake me when they serve the meal….”
I awake as we’re arriving in Tokyo. I ask the girl next to me if there was a meal. “Yes, she tried to wake you. It was like you were dead to the world.” D’oh! Oh well. I was dead to the world. It’s the best way to sleep.
They make me get off the plane and wait around in the Tokyo airport for two hours. It’s strange hearing so much Japanese again so soon, when I wasn’t planning on it at all. Mostly, though, I’m just tired and hungry. I fall asleep in my chair and awake to the boarding call.
The flight starts off pleasantly enough. To my left is a silent Asian man. To my right is a large Marine, headed home from Okinawa with his family for Christmas. His family is behind us. He seems nice enough.
It isn’t long, however, before the trans-Pacific ennui sets in. I succeed in sleeping for a while. I devour a decent in-flight meal and sleep a little more. Soon, though, my Marine friend’s little 4-5 year old son “E.J.” becomes possessed. He is noisy. Then he starts this thing where he lies on his back in the seat and pummels my seat from behind with his feet. Not exactly conducive to restfulness. I can’t really complain because his parents tell him to stop. Thing is, he keeps just waiting a little while and then starting up again.
There is a mother and two nice young boys in front of me. They all love to recline their seats. I suppose that’s their right. My long cramped legs are forced into straddling the seat in front of me, my knee caps jammed up against the back of the arm rests of the seat. Then they come up with this fun game of repeatedly putting the arm rests up and down for no discernible reason. Are they doing it solely to keep painfully whacking my knee caps? Thanks.
My agony is interrupted by a new form of torture called Santa Who? — a “heart-warming” story of an amnesia-inflicted Santa who meets a selfish news reporter who needed a holiday change of heart. I watch the whole thing. I want to die.
Wait — now E.J. is pummeling me again and my friends in front of me are crushing my kneecaps with renewed vigor. Now I want to die.
There are only two good points to the flight. First, there seem to be an unusually large number of attractive women onboard. Not seated next to me, of course, but they are on the premises to give me something else to focus my attention on and help me pull through it. Thanks, ladies. Second, the airline serves ice cream after Santa Who? ends. Ice Cream! All right.
Silent Asian man is Chinese, as it turns out, and can’t figure out his immigration forms. I help him. He seems pleasantly surprised that I can help him with that in Chinese. His English doesn’t seem too hot. I found myself wondering if he always asks for Coke because he likes it, or because that’s all he can say.
Scooby Doo the Movie comes on. Vowing not to make the same mistake again, I refuse to put my earphones on. Still, my eyes stay glued to the screen, however, and I’m soon angry over the stupidity of the film. I manage to sleep a little more.
Hope comes in the form of the second in-flight meal. Not only does it satisfy my hunger, but with it comes peace to the whole plane, for a short time.
For the remaining stretch E.J. tests my patience. But I hold out. I don’t crack. We land.
Things start getting better after that, because I am actually in the U.S.A. I have just eaten, but I decide to spend some of my 3-hour layover in Detroit eating. I get chicken tacos with chips, salsa, and guacamole dip. You can not get that stuff in China! As I’m eating I notice someone else eating chilli cheese fries and I almost regret my choice of food. The discomforts of the past 13 hours quickly fade into the background as my stomach takes the spotlight. Plus there are more hot women in the Detroit airport. Hot American women. All right.
Before long I’m on my final flight, bound for Tampa. Is it just my imagination, or is the leg room shrinking with every flight?! My legs are really uncomfortable, but at least this flight is relatively short. As the plane lifts off the ground, I gaze out over the landscape. No snow. It looks like a sepia world, all in browns, tans, grays, drabs….
Despite the short travel time, my level of discomfort seems to rise proportionately. It is all I can do to keep from flipping out. I can’t sleep. I try to pass the time with the new issue of The Economist. Biotechnology in China. Hmmmm… (Ouch, my knees!)
In the end, after 24 hours of travel, I make it. As I arrive at the baggage claim, the familiar face of Paco greets me.