Going Backtracking

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, May 06, 2010 was originally posted on 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.

TRAVEL TIP:  When booking flights to multiple cities, it is often more expensive to buy a long series of one-way tickets than to buy a series of round-trip ones.  This is because airlines want to fill seats for a pair of flights going both ways, and charge more for one-way flights to make up for lost money.  Sometimes buying a round-trip ticket is actually cheaper than a one-way; I’ve done it in the past, and just not used my return flight. 

My trip to Asia was actually a series of round trips: New York to Taipei and back, but within that was Taipei to Manila and back, and Taipei to Shanghai and back.  In between the latter was Shanghai to Seoul and back, which was a round trip within a round trip within a round trip.  Ya follow?

The point is, while eating live octopus in Seoul was the zenith of gastronomic samplings in this Asian eating tour of “Chinese leftovers and Other Asian Appetizers,” I would not go directly home from there, but go backtracking the way I came.  (In case you were wondering, that was supposed to be a pun of “go backpacking.”)  This was fine because there were still new things to see — and eat — on my long two-day journey home, sort of like leftovers within leftovers.

“[IT’S CALLED] THREE TRAVELLERS because we are three travelers,” Scott noted as we went to yet another hot pot place, one that Juju knew about but a first for both me and Scott.  The popular local eatery specialized in food cooked in their signature pork broth, stewed all day with fatty pork bones, which they took out of the center hot pot upon serving us.  However the soup bones were not discarded but put in another serving bowl for us to enjoy — sort of like getting the extra stuff in a metal tumbler when ordering a milkshake, except with pig parts

While vegans or kosher-practicing Jews might walk out at such a sight, the local culinary culture is to eat everything on the pig — from the roota to the toota — which is why the restaurant provided plastic gloves for diners to pick up the hot soup bones and gnaw on anything left, from the meat to the stretchy pork cartilage.  Also provided were straws to — as any Anthony Bourdain fan would know — suck the marrow out of life.  (The pig’s life, that is.)  A Caprisun juice pouch it was not; it was saltier and much fattier. 

The rest of the soup was delicious, especially after adding some fancy green vegetables to the mix of bamboo, tofu, chicken, and (even more) pork.  This last supper in Shanghai contributed to my final weight gain of the past two and a half weeks: a solid five pounds.

“I think we’ve all gained weight since Erik came,” Scott told his girlfriend.

“GIRL? SEXY MASSAGE?” asked several pimpin’ touts to Western-looking Scott as we returned back to the 1930s-preserved Bund neighborhood of Shanghai.  The touts followed any white guy going to a club — Bar Rouge in this case, one of Scott’s favorite spots to showcase Shanghai nightlife, built on the seventh floor of the old Chartered Bank built in 1922 — just across the river from the Pudong skyline (which goes dark before midnight).  Primarily a draw for Western ex-pats, Bar Rouge was a definite throwback to the partying hey-day of 1930s Shanghai, with foreign wheelers and dealers drinking and smoking amongst Chinese “Lao Che” gangster-looking types and their hot mistresses.  Setting the tone musically was a DJ who played one fitting track perfect for such an occasion: Gramophonedzie’s dance remix of Peggy Lee’s sassy “Why Don’t You” (something I heard frequently on Shanghai radio).  After that it was back to popular standards like Pitbull’s “Calle Ocho” (“One, two, three, four, uno, dos, tres, quattro…”) for a night of dancing and drinking cocktail after cocktail.

“Cheers,” I toasted my gracious Shanghai hosts, almost inaudibly with the loud music playing.  “This is my last night in Asia.  Thank you for everything.”

We clicked our martini glasses as I hoped to one day return the favor.

BACKTRACKING CONTINUED THE NEXT DAY when I flew back to Taiwan for an eight-hour layover in Taipei, just enough time to bond a little more with Elizabeth, the pretty fly white girl I knew there.  Continuing with the ex-pat establishment theme (to acclimatize myself slowly back to life in America), we went out to “the Diner,” the place to go for old country comfort food, like organic hamburgers, salmon hash, and Oreo milkshakes (made with real ice cream and pronounced “o-ley-o” by the staff).  It was a rainy day, but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits when we rode around town on the motorbike (weeee!) to a few new sights to cross off both of our lists: the Taipei Confucius Temple, with ornately painted roofs, a wishing wall, a sleepy staff, and kids playing in the rain; an impromptu Taiwanese opera put on by a student group at the Bao-An Temple, part of a series to establish better relations between Taiwan and China; and “Snake Alley” at the Huashi Street Tourist Market, once a big draw for oddseekers wanting to drink blood from a snake killed in front of you — until it became considered passé and cruel by many.  (It’s not even a Taiwanese custom these days.)

“Bye! See you soon!”  We hugged and parted ways after my short, but worthwhile stay.  I hopped on the airport bus while Elizabeth went to the late shift at work to teach English.

And then I was off to the airport.  From there it was an overnight/day flight over the International Date Line to LAX for a quick drink with friend and LA resident Robin (which we had to bribe our way in since all the bars outside security gates were closed), followed by an emergency medical landing in the middle of the night in Kansas City, followed by the final landing back in New York — a place where I could get most of the delicious and curious foods I had in Asia if I just looked hard enough.  (The main difference between New York and the Asian cities I’d visited in the two-and-half-week trip was that seeing an African American, Jew or Hispanic was no longer a surprising rarity that would turn my head.)

On my first subway ride back in the Big Apple, a speechless street performing magician pulled a rabbit out of a box, right on the train.  Ah, New York…

OVER 21,000 MILES, dozens of food porn pictures, and five extra pounds later, the trip was over.  “Chinese Leftovers and Other Asian Appetizers” was not only a culinary tasting tour of Asia, but a trip that explored life in other countries, which this blog has continually strived to share with you the reading audience for years now.  (You’re welcome.)  In the Philippines, I appreciated that my family there still had an appetite and a good sense of humor.  (They were gearing up for Will Ferrell’s new movie, The Other Guys.)  In Taiwan, I was happy an old friend could live and love life in Mandarin despite the fact she didn’t think her Chinese accent was any good.  (I couldn’t tell the difference.)  In South Korea, I was glad to see a city, once torn by war, that now had a sense of style and a pace faster than the movement of an octopus tentacle in my mouth.  And of course, there was China, where I spent most of my time, that Asian giant of 1.3 billion people slated to be the next great world superpower.  Aside from all the delicious food, it was a blast with great company (and an unexpected cute puppy) despite the slight annoyances of being behind The Great Firewall (which I managed to get around with a program that faked my IP’s origin, the kind bad guys use when they try and fake out cops that are trying to keep him on the line during a phone trace). 

Speaking of which, China often comes up in the American news for its censorship laws and alternative ways to run a country, which is a conversation that often comes up when you’re on the other side talking to non-Chinese ex-pats. 

“It’s a blend of Communism and free enterprise,” I had noted to Scott.

“And it works.”

We often spoke about life in China vs. life in America (he missed talking politics if you recall), and although the way things were run in China may not work in the USA, it was what was needed.  I recalled my modern Chinese history class in college, where I learned that a Communist government structure was absolutely necessary for China to modernize in the 20th century — it might have remained undeveloped otherwise — and perhaps that same Communism would accelerate China into the 21st century.  Sure, there are debates on if and when China’s great big economic bubble will pop; in fact it is a mathematical certainty if you ask any analyst.

“[The goverment is making it happen slowly,]” Scott told me.

Chinese control.  But when you’re dealing with over a billion people, it’s probably what’s needed.  And despite all the criticism that China is a totalitarian regime, “They also have a crime rate that you can barely count,” Scott said.  Furthermore, perhaps a little governmental control helps get things done; just think, most of Shanghai’s Pudong skyline was built in a decade, and it’s almost been ten years since Nine Eleven, and there’s still a gaping hole in New York’s Ground Zero due to bickering and fighting between government officials, builders, architects, and families.

As for censorship, it’s probably all a part of the necessary control China needs so there’s no panic.  Everything is under control, situation normal.  As an American, it’s hypocritical to attack such a system of controlled media; it’s not like that doesn’t also happen in the USA everyday.  Americans are only fed mainstream news that is important to them, with slants of putting America in a righteous albeit flawed light.  Is news pointing out the Google pullout of China because of their media censorship not American propaganda to make the US superpower seem better than its rival Asian superpower? 

That’s something Arsenio Hall would make you say, Hmmmm…

“[The Chinese people don’t understand why Americans are always in other country’s business,]” Juju commented.  There were the obvious involvements with Iraq and Afghanistan, but she wondered what’s their obsession with Tibet?  “[It’s an internal issue that has nothing to do with America.]” 

I told her it was because hippies in America need some sort of cause, even if many of them don’t even know where Tibet is.  “Who was that girl on TV once?” I asked Scott.  “She said, ‘I don’t know where Tibet is; I just know we have to free it.’”  He didn’t know the answer, but we got a laugh out of it.

But I digress.  Think about China what you will; I’ll just conclude my final thoughts by saying that you can’t know a country unless you’ve been there yourself — and when you do, chances are you’ll have an amazing time.  The only warning I’ll give you is make sure you have an appetite, because you’re definitely going to be doing some eating — and I mean a lot of eating.


“I hope your car at home gets a flat tire when you go to China, because you’re going to have a spare tire when you get back.”

Next entry: A New Trip for an American, Expressed

Previous entry: Not Forgotten

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Going Backtracking”

  • Tada!

    Seriously, that magician on my first subway train back in NYC was amazing; I actually gave him a dollar (everyone did).

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/09  at  09:35 PM

  • cannot live without pork broth and pork bones

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/09  at  11:26 PM

  • I really like the video of the kids playing in the rain. Fun.

    Welcome home! What’s up with a medical emergency landing? Whoa.

    Enjoyed your blog, as usual. Peas.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/10  at  07:21 AM

  • UPDATE:  I added to a paragraph above:

    “...Furthermore, perhaps a little governmental control helps get things done; just think, most of Shanghai’s Pudong skyline was built in a decade, and it’s almost been ten years since Nine Eleven, and there’s still a gaping hole in New York’s Ground Zero due to bickering and fighting between government officials, builders, architects, and families.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/10  at  01:38 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chinese Leftovers And Other Asian Appetizers," which chronicled a trip to Shanghai and Huang Shan in China, as well as brief excursions to Manila, Taipei, and Seoul.

Next entry:
A New Trip for an American, Expressed

Previous entry:
Not Forgotten


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