With an appetite for adventure, cultural immersion, and above all, local cuisine, Erik sets off on his second trip to the People’s Republic of China to explore the “leftover” highlights that he’d missed the first time: the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai and the mystical mountains of Huang Shan.  Added to his two-and-a-half-week itinerary are jaunts to cities in the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea for brief introductory “appetizers” of their respective routines and cuisines—just enough to be hungry for more.  Like Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern, Erik continues to push his limits of what he will put in his mouth, this time with silkworms and a squirming live octopus—creatures that get a sort of retribution when little fish nibble on Erik’s feet.  In all, it is a chronicle of Asian life in the big city, mountain trekking amongst monkeys, scooter riding, a cute little puppy, and plenty of enticing “food porn” pictures to beguile the inner foodie in all of us.

TRAVEL DISPATCHES (in chronological order)

Here I Go Again On My Own

Posted: April 17, 2010

“Uhhh… eeyaaahh… form?”

A middle-aged Chinese woman struggled to ask me something with frantic hand gestures, as we stood in a queue of what was at least thirty people, and increasing by the second.  After a friendly exchange of spoken syllables and more hand motions, I deduced that she wanted me to hold her place in line so that she could go over to the table on the other side of the room and pick up a blank visa application.  She came back in less than a minute, and spent the rest of her time waiting, productively filling out her information.  I on the other hand, had my form all filled out, attached to a passport-sized photo and a copy of my previous Chinese visa.  I waited patiently.

I was surrounded by many people, most with east Asian faces — although not exclusively.  I was after all, technically on Chinese soil in the heart of New York City, at the Chinese embassy, dropping off my passport and application for a multi-entry visa into the People’s Republic of China for the trip I was going to embark on in a few weeks — the next blogged adventure of The Global Trip: Chinese Leftovers and Other Asian Appetizers.

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Not Quite Up In The Air

Posted: April 21, 2010

DAY 1:“Hi, I’m a cardmember and I’m trying to get into one of the airport lounges,” I said to the American Express representative on my cell phone in Terminal 1 of New York’s JFK International Airport.  The customer service rep was attentive until she had to transfer me to another department, which transferred me back to the first department (but with another representative), who transferred me again — and suddenly I was on the phone in a long, long cycle of periodic hold music (like that time I called the monks in Bethlehem).  But I had time to kill, so whatever.

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Five Filipino Years Later

Posted: April 22, 2010

DAY 2:  It has been five years since I was in Manila, which I quoted back then on this blog as a cosmopolitan fusion of “Malay, Madrid, and Madison Avenue.”  Five Filipino years later, the bustling southeast Asian metropolis is different in a lot of ways, but at the same time, the same.  For example, the Filipino fast food chain Jollibee is ubiquitous as ever (serving food before it can be fancified by yours truly), and locals are still smiling with the carefree philosophy of bahala na.  As soon as I exited the airport, there was one obvious thing that was the same:

Holy fuck, it’s hot outside, I thought to myself.  (Actually I said that out loud, so no need for inner-monologue italics there.)

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Business Before Bourdain

Posted: April 23, 2010

DAY 3:  “[Where’s that market that Anthony Bourdain went to where they buy the food from the market and have a cook prepare it?]” I asked my Tito Pepito in that paraphrase.  “They made prawn adobo.”  A fellow No Reservations fan, he knew what I was talking about, but there was more than one of such a market in the Metro Manila area.  He pulled out his netbook to find out.  “Look it up on Youtube,” I told him.  But when he got online, the connection from the house wi-fi was spotty — the day before we deduced it was a problem with the DSL provider — and we couldn’t get an immediate answer.  We made it our goal to find out and go before day’s end, but first, there was some business to take care of.

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Pretty Fly For A White Girl

Posted: April 25, 2010

DAY 4:  “Hello!” said the familiar voice on my local-SIM-card-enabled phone.  “Welcome to Taipei!”

“I just told the information booth lady, xiexie [thank you],” I answered.

“Oh, you’re official!”

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Chicken Soup For The Eye

Posted: April 26, 2010

DAY 5:  Even though the Taiwanese switched from a six-day-work-week to a Western five-day one, that didn’t mean much to Elizabeth since her job at an English learning center had her come in on Saturdays anyway — which only meant that Sundays (and some Monday mornings) were her only day to go out excursioning.  Usually she goes daytripping with her friend Amanda, but Amanda was away with her father, leaving me to be Elizabeth’s daytripping partner for the day.  (Little did I know at the beginning of the day that it almost cost me an eye.)

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Life In Taipei 101

Posted: April 27, 2010

DAY 6: “I spoke to my mom earlier,” Elizabeth told me.  “I told her, ‘Erik’s here but I can’t really challenge him with anything because he’s done everything already.’”  True, living in food-obsessed New York City and having been to China already, I’d encountered many far eastern customs and culinary creations that a Minnesotan family like hers might only see via Andrew Zimmern.  However, there were a few things that Taiwan could prove to be unique, and more than the fact that they have creepy moving mannequin flagmen, or the fact that people hang their sausages out to dry with their laundry.

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A Shanghai Welcome

Posted: April 28, 2010

DAY 7: “Can I take your picture?” I asked the soon-to-be familiar face waiting for me outside the arrivals gate at Pudong International Airport.  “I never had anyone hold out a sign with my name at the airport before.”  (Later I learned that she had hand-painted the “Erik Trinidad” with a calligraphy brush, along with the Chinese characters for “Welcome to Shanghai” underneath.)

Okay,” she obliged awkwardly.

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Dog Day Afternoon

Posted: April 29, 2010

DAY 8:  “I think the dog peed over there,” I told Juju in the morning, pointing out a spot between my guest room and the bathroom. “Because I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and I think I stepped in it.”  My sock got a little wet in a pee puddle, so I put it in the pile for the cleaning lady to wash with my laundry.  Qiu-qiu the three month old pup shaked her tail and pleaded innocent, although we knew she was the likely offender.  But you could never really get mad at her; I mean, look at that little punim!

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Strawberry Fields Forever, For The Day

Posted: April 30, 2010

DAY 9:  Music from the street level was loud enough that it became within earshot, along with a Chinese voice on a megaphone seemingly shouting orders, like some sort of Orwellian sci-fi movie.  “What’s that music?” I asked Juju.

“Oh, that’s just the school,” she answered.  “They exercise.” 

I looked across the way and saw from afar Chinese children in matching jumpsuits marching in single file

And so began the morning of what would be a beautiful sunny day.

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That Jerk Jackie Chan

Posted: May 02, 2010

DAY 10: “Jackie Chan,” Juju said during our morning coffee and news session at the Starbucks across the street.  “We don’t like him.”  She continued, saying how while he may be a comedic karate guy in the USA, he was known in China to be a jerk and a womanizer, with kids from different women that he sometimes didn’t claim to be his.  Plus, “His movies are all the same; cha cha cha [action sounds] and a little funny… but his kung fu is only so-so.  Jet Li… he does real kung fu.”

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Race To Yellow Mountain

Posted: May 03, 2010

DAY 11:  Huang Shan, which translates to “yellow mountain,” is amongst the Lonely Planet guidebook’s “Best Of China” list — one of the reasons for my second trip to the PRC for “Chinese leftovers.”  A glorious mountain landscape that has been the subject matter of countless classic Chinese paintings, Huang Shan’s heavenly peaks — which are even more ethereal when they jut out of a sea of clouds — have inspired many, from ancient Chinese 8th-century poet Li Bai to American 21st-century director James Cameron, who has cited Huang Shan as one of the inspirations for the art direction of Pandora in the mega blockbuster Avatar.

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Crouching Tiger, Hundred Tourists

Posted: May 03, 2010

DAY 12: “I want to go to here,” I whispered under my breath, tweaking Tina Fey’s now immortal line of bewildered amazement (immortal for any 30 Rock fan anyway), as I gazed upon the Huang Shan sunrise in the magnificent mountain landscape that has inspired many a Chinese painting.  (When you’ve already gone to there, you are “here.”)  Huang Shan’s beauty is so surreal, especially on a misty day, that it served as the setting of the final scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long to the Chinese), where Ziyi Zhang gracefully jumps from the great peak and into the clouds.  However, my magic moment was only a split-second of nirvana — even at the stupid o’clock hour of 5:30am — for I was not alone.

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Chinese Things On May Day Monday

Posted: May 05, 2010

DAY 13: “Any idea what you want to do today?” Scott asked me the Monday morning of the long weekend for International Workers Day (a.k.a. “May Day,” like Labor Day in the USA).  He really had no plans but to run errands on his day off.  I suggested seeing the popular pedestrian strip Nanting Road, and maybe check out some of the markets I’d been recommended.  Also,

“We should all get massages,” I added.  (Why not, at under ten bucks for an hour-long massage from a professional blind masseur?)  He agreed.

Shopping and errand running was a good way to see life in Shanghai as it is, and all of its different people.  We left Qiu-qiu (pronounced “tcho tcho”) at home, grabbed a Starbucks coffee and Starbucks Dragon Roll (a sweet gelatinous dumpling), and took to the streets of Shanghai on what was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

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Seoul Man

Posted: May 05, 2010

DAY 14:  8:49 p.m. South Korean Time: A BMW 5-Series rolled up to pick me up at the Inter-Continental Hotel in the heart of downtown Seoul.  However it was not as chichi as it seems, for I was not staying at the 5-star luxury hotel (it was only a meeting point), nor did the Beamer belong to the person driving it.  (It was his mom’s.)

Behind the wheel was Hong, a friend from back during my days working at a particular interactive agency in New York a couple of years ago, who was now living in the capital city of his home country, South Korea.  Hong was the same as I remember him, with his American voice, kind demeanor, and hip sense of style.  “Welcome to Seoul,” he welcomed me.  “How was your flight?”  He put the Beamer in drive and we head out onto the streets, filled with the twinkling red brake lights of night time traffic.

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Korean Things On The Other Cinco De Mayo

Posted: May 07, 2010

DAY 15:  In the United States, Cinco De Mayo, which translates to “fifth of May” (or alternatively, “five of mayonnaise”), is a day in which happy hour-going yuppies and college kids imbibe buckets of Coronas during a long drinking binge, while Mexican busboys wonder what the big deal is; it’s not even a real national Mexican holiday.  In South Korea, the fifth of May has nothing to do with Mexico (or mayonnaise for that matter) for it is the national holiday of Children’s Day — the opposite day of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day — where Korean parents take time off to spend with their kids.

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Not Forgotten

Posted: May 09, 2010

DAY 16:  American Korean War veterans often cite their war as “The Forgotten War,” for other wars have taken the spotlight in the the long history of American warfare.  Perhaps more media attention goes to World War II since America and the Allied Nations “won” that war.  Perhaps more attention goes to Vietnam and Iraq to point out America’s “blunders.”  (Both “won” and “blunders” are in quotes depending on your political sensitivity.)  Perhaps the Korean War takes a back page to others because it ended in a stalemate, the result being the fact that there are now two countries: a Socialist North Korea (officially the DPRK or “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”) and a democratic South Korea (officially the ROK or “Republic Of Korea”).

To the mainstream consciousness (or perhaps just mine), the most attention the Korean War has gotten is the fact that it served as the backdrop for the film-inspired 1970-80s TV sitcom series M.A.S.H. — cleverly starting its television run as a commentary for the then current Vietnam War — where, to the memory of my too-young-to-really-remember-anything childhood knowledge, the Korean War was the one where Jamie Farr went around and dressed in drag all the time.  (Cue laugh track.)

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Going Backtracking

Posted: May 09, 2010

DAYS 17-18: “Qiu-qiu!” (pronounced “tcho-tcho!”) I cried out to the cute little puppy face greeting me outside of Juju’s Peugeot back in Shanghai (picture above).  I had greeted Scott and Juju as well when the three of them picked me up from the Maglev station after I’d flown back to Shanghai from Seoul for an overnight layover.

“She’s excited,” Juju told me, which led to one thing:

“I think she peed on me,” I reported.  I checked my pants; she had peed right on my crotchal region.  “It looks like I peed.”

“Welcome to China,” Scott joked.

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