Thursday, February 26, 2009

and we are NOT in a hurry...

I was just Shanghai'd by the infamous International Photo crimper Jesse Long. I wake up on a 24-hour American Airline flight to Shanghai, where I will spend the week working in child labor... aka taking pictures of school kids.

One week is not a lot of time to spend 12 time zones away from home, and I'm legitimately worried that I will only get over the jet-lag just in time to find myself on the plane back to New York--dead awake with nothing to do but watch the on-board movies a second time through.

Although I do end up awake and watching the same movies on my return flight (this time in Spanish to mix it up), I pretty much avoid that 'my head feels like it has been turned inside out' type of jetlagged feeling. The flight from Chicago to Shanghai is fairly empty and although I only sleep four or five hours, I think there is something about being horizontal which helps resets the bodies circadian rhythms.

It's a good thing too that I arrive with my wits about me, because there is no driver to pick me up at the airport, which leaves me all alone with a blurry internet printout of my hotel's location and a limited vocabulary for getting there.

We are actually sort of proud of ourselves linguistically speaking, as we manage to pick up a few key new Chinese phrases this year. In the first few trips, I learn how to say a few numbers and "that's too expensive" to vendors in the knock-off markets, then "right", "left" and "straight on" (the fun to say, eedrizzaow) to taxi drivers. This year I have fun with the kids inventing mandarin tongue twisters like, "Does your mother scold the horse with hemp?" which is basically the same phoneme, ma, repeated over and over with different intonations--very difficult to reproduce.

We also learn how to say restroom this trip. Yes, it's kind of pathetic that we have made it this long without learning it, and we learn the word when we realize that in some restaurants it is just not appropriate to put your hands to your crotch and mime micturating all over the jade goldfish pool.

The most important Chinese phrase that we have not learned, however, and that may be even more life saving than ce suo (restroom or toilet, click for pronunciation), would be something like "slow down, this is suicide" or "and we are NOT in a hurry". In fact, I would recommend that anyone traveling to China and planning on taking taxis learn both and practice saying them on a roller coaster.

But back to the travelogue. This is my third visit to Shanghai, and once again, Jesse and I will be working at a big international school called SAS (see this previous post for our famous SAS cover story). The school is split into two campuses, each of which could pass for an Ivy League campus. It's re
ally something to see flat screen TVs in every hallway announcing girl's volleyball tryouts and a stage that could house Miss Saigon (with the fly-away sets, act III helicopter entrance and all) with eighth graders jamming out a version of "Born To Be Wild".

Perhaps this isn't surprising to those of you who have been to the ultra-urban Shanghai, but what you have to realize is that both campuses are out in what my friend Olive-tree Faliez calls pétaouschnock. Imagine your best friend inviting you to come work with him in New York City, all expenses paid, then finding out that you will be splitting time between Jersey City and Flushing. Now add in more pollution and about 100 more people per square paddy and you've got the idea.

I leave on Friday the 13th and arrive on Valentine's day. Jesse rolls in a few hours later and since we are both feeling like we have dodged the jetlag bullet we decide to go out and get some beers. We stop at a little noodle shack run by a Uighur guy that
we have been to before. In a prestidigitation defying act, he twists, rolls, stretches and spins out fresh homemade batches of noodles from a few lumps of dough. These ramen (pronounced 'lamen') are served in a big bowl of hot soup with meat or vegetables for about one dollar. In a nod to the local expat community that has sprung up in this area, there are even disposable wood chopsticks. The first time I went to China, a sino-veteran recommended I bring my own chopsticks to avoid the plastic ones that sit in little cups in most restaurants and which have been rinsed in the tap water you are trying to avoid ingesting. The reality is that the bowl the soup is served in probably has been rinsed in it too, but you hope the hot soup and chili sauce will take care of that.

It certainly takes care of us. In no time we are next door at a semi-local bar drinking down copious amounts of pijo, or just Tsingtao if you prefer to ask for it by name and avoid the other beer brands that have noxious amounts of sodium or even formaldehyde in them--no kidding. We are playing this game of liar's dice with the barman and a random Chinese woman. The woman's job is to play this game with patrons to keep them and her (and the barman in this case) drinking. They drink us under the table and we leave, or rather, weave, happy with our first night in China.

We are staying at a new place this year, the Citadines, which is a F
rench line of hotel-cum-apartments. It's nice, but in classic export style, our cozy chez-nous has been perfectly replicated right down to a couple of missing details. For example, it has an all-in-one-washer-dryer, but the dryer doesn't work.

As you can see from the photo, I found this out the hard way one night and spent the rest of it blow-drying my clothes. This thing about replicating things but with that je ne sais quoi local touch reminds me of something Madame Irma says in "The Balcony" about creating theater, "They all want everything to be as true as possible... Minus something indefinable, so that it won't be true." She is actually talking about the customers to her brothel and the revolutionaries outside its doors, but aren't they, like theater audiences basically entering a "house of illusions"?

During the week, when I am not helping Jesse solve the world's problems one 'B' package at a time I meet with some local theater teachers and producers to feel out the idea of bringing Floating Brothel to Shanghai.

I come prepared with DVDs of the show and several letters of introduction. I am lucky that one contact, a great gal named Alison who went to China on a Fulbright several years ago and has been choreographing shows and working for Tan Dun (the guy who did the music for Crouching Tiger) ever since, knows the general manager for the main theater in town. There is a concert with José Gonzales nearby, so we decide to go see the show together and organize a meeting with the theater manager beforehand.

The manager is very kind and agrees to meet with us, even though he has three shows running and has to come straight from a wedding. His English is pretty good and he has come prepared. After we introduce ourselves and sit down, he smiles and asks me, "So what can you tell me about your show? Do you have a DVD?"

"Yes, I do," I reply, handing him the DVD. "I wrote our website on the disc so you can check that out too when you get a chance."

"I've seen your website," he says.

"Oh great," I continue. "Then you've seen we got some really great photos of the show. We were lucky, actually, because the photograher/"

At this point he interrupts, smiling again and asks, "Yes, I've seen your website too, but I have to ask: what is this supershit?"

Jesse and I laugh, nervously, and I say something about how my mom has been asking me the same question, but I think folks that this is the beginning of the end of what could have been the Floating Brothel 2010 Making Shanghai Viewer Happy Tour...

Well, I'm back in New York now and have been getting down to the serious business of preparing for nurse practitioner school--starting with picking out my stethoscope and reflex hammer color. What do you think about garnet? So long, and thanks for all the fried shrimps.

And finally, for those who want a Shanghai surprise, click here.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eat, Love, Pray!

I've just updated my facebook status to read, "Kevin is eating, loving and praying!" because that is that exactly what I have been doing recently along with reading the Elizabeth Gilbert book by almost the same name.

The joy I am feeling to be eating, loving and praying with this new awareness is well captured by the exclamation point that I generously append to my new electronic face--it's nothing less than my typographical being, the 'i' in me, doing a handstand!

Gilbert writes that "when you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt--this is not selfishness, but obligation."

As much as I malign facebook, it does serve its purpose. It's the face you decide to share with your not-so-virtual friends. So today I've decided to put on a happy, dirt caked face. It's not selfishness or an obligation to share this light of joy, and we are not diminished by the giving of it. On the contrary, the light bulb does not decide where or on whom to shine, it just shines in every direction. So here is my ray of the day:

Today I open wide the doors
rejoicing the sun in flight
singing A bas les abat-jours !
bowing as day to night
praying hey-hey, ho-ho,
these bulbs of joy have got to grow.

Yes this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it...


Monday, February 9, 2009

Now, That's Funny - Bye-Bye Bush

I want to emphasize the comma in the title. Like Lynne Truss' zero tolerance approach to punctuation in "Eats, Shoots & Leaves", I used to have a zero tolerance for Bush humor. I would find myself watching, for example, Stephen Colbert skewering Bush and the neo-connneries (connerie: nf. French meaning silly, stupid, rubbish, bullshit, and from the root word con meaning idiots, lousy, dumb, foolish and designating the female sex organ) at the 2006 White House Correspondant's Dinner and I would find it hilarious, but involuntary angry constrictions of my chest would always choke back the laughter. In legal terms, I guess you would call this my Executive Gag Order Humor Reflex.

But that was before Obama took office and Bush got on what many of us hoped was a helicopter to nowhere... Now, I find his buffoonery (bouffon, nm. French the clown, the imbecile, the fool) really funny. So as I sit here today, February 9, 2009, watching the aweful (as in 'inspiring awe' and disgusting) and incredible compilation of Bush gaffes from the Letterman show, and the tears stream down my cheeks, I am saying to myself Now, (comma) that's funny! with the emphasis, thanks to the comma, on the Now.

Now, I understand why clowns can be so scary and funny...


Friday, February 6, 2009

Expand This...

If you like my new expandable posts...
What expandable posts you say?

Capiche?C'est la bombe de balle, c'est chanmé!, as my friend Olivier might say in his dark and mysteriously French way.

Anyway, if you like the effect and want it for your very own, then check it out here at


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Good Year in Wine

A glass of wine a day keeps the doctor and blues away...

This corkboard represents the result of my year in Province... and Italy, the Rioja region of Spain, several right-banks of Bordeaux and even a few reasonably priced places in Chile. It actually would have taken me several years to save-up enough corks to make this corkboard, but my girlfriend grew up in Rome and really accelerates the collection process--as well as making it a lot more fun!

The corkboard, which I made as a gift, will soon be adorning the wall's of Debbie's office at Legal Aid. I told her that she didn't have to tell her clients how much time it took her to collect the corks.

This reminds me of a joke that I used to know in France which went something like, What do you call 365 Michelin condoms? A Goodyear! I told it one time to my Spanish friend Roberto , a guy who liked to party so much and had so much energy that he used to fidget even in his sleep. Really, one of his feet would be tapping away as if he was dreaming about drinking wine and dancing at the discothèque--which he liked to do.

A month or two after I told Roberto the joke, I overheard him telling it to someone else, except that he couldn't quite remember the number in it. So he ended up saying something like, What do you call 675 Michelin condoms...? And then it struck me that it was a culturally biased jokes, because why not, once a day might seem like just an average year or even a slow year to some people.

Well for me, 2008 was a GoodYear--at least for drinking wine.

Cheers and chin-chin!