China! Vol. 1

March 18, 2015 at 7:46 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s currently 9am. I am sitting in on the couch in Kyle and John’s rather pleasant little apartment. John, I assume is work. Kyle is snoring. “This,” I think to myself, “is probably a good time to do your first blog post.”

Day One: It Takes a While to Get to the Other Side of the World

First, a bit of backstory…

The week prior to leaving for China was mostly spent in Ashland, OR, visiting my wonderful friend Kristin. She and I got to celebrate her birthday, see some excellent shows, take in all the little joys that Ashalnd and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have to offer, and generally do that thing where you enjoy the company of a best friend you don’t get to see all the time. I could write a whole entry about that, but what is more critical for you, dear reader, is that I started to feel a bit unwell with a couple of days left in my trip. I thought maybe allergies, or a (only somewhat) poisonous spider, but after driving home on Thursday and starting to feel like shit I realized that it was probably something more serious. It was strep!

Strep Throat is not an ideal illness to have a little more than 48 hours from your departure date halfway across the world, but at the same time it’s quite curable with antibiotics, so that’s a plus. Strep isn’t going to feature heavily in this story, but on the morning of March 14th I was still in recovery mode as I excitedly made my way through security and promptly took a selfie of my feet with the PDX carpet. That’s just what you do, especially since they’re apparently switching it out, though from what I’ve seen at the pace they’re going the new carpet won’t be installed until about 2050.

In any case, my flight itinerary was PDX>SEA>Seoul>Shanghai. I got to PDX with way too much extra time, mostly because while there is pretty much never a huge security line in Portland I learned how to travel from my mother, who often deals with longer lines in other airports. I also was excited and neurotic and not wanting to miss anything, so “out the door as soon as possible!” was the general vibe. I grabbed some coffee and hunkered down with my cell phone, wanting to save my book for the plane – something I later discovered was foolish because the international flight was quite dark and I did exactly zero reading. The flight to Seattle was uneventful and as short as you’d expect; I did have a conversation with a nice guy who was flying to Vegas to drive to Reno to pick up some sort of arcade system that he would then drive back to Portland for some big event. It sounded like an interesting job. We never asked each other’s names. I landed in Seattle with about 15 minutes until my flight to Seoul boarded, though the difference between boarding and takeoff was nearly an hour, so I wasn’t particularly worried. Made it to the gate with a couple minutes to spare, and then boarded!

I’ve flown internationally before, though not since 2007, and never across the Pacific. Things have changed a bit since then – there are interactive screens in the seat back in front of you, giving you access to movies, tv shows, and the like. There’s also a USB port for a cell phone charger, which I thought was just the coolest thing ever. In short: there’s no way not to get bored at points sitting in one seat for 12 hours, but they really try to minimize that for you. We went up the air, I spent a while listening to a podcast and watching the plan creep northward along the North American coastline on my little screen (and sometimes out the window), they fed us some food. One Valium and two glasses of wine later, I decided to lay my head against the wall (I am all about that window seat life) and all of sudden 3.5 hours of my life disappeared and we were over the tiny bits of the Aleutians. I had never taken Valium before, but that is by far the best sleep I’d ever had on a plane. I passed the rest of the time watching every episode of Brooklyn 99 they had (it’s really funny!), watching a movie, and listening to a couple more podcasts while I stared at the image of the plane creeping it’s way towards Korea. I occasionally opened the window up and peeked out, but it was VERY bright outside and pretty dark in the cabin, so mostly I kept it closed. I did open it up in time to see Japan as we flew over it, which was pretty exciting. Ditto for Korea, which once we were over I did open my window up to look at the scenery. I could stare out the window of a plane for a very long time. Not much else to report about the long flight, except that the couple in front of me were newlyweds and would not stop making out.

In Korea I was relieved to find that most of the signs were also in English, and after getting just a bit lost I found the international terminal and my gate. Unfortunately I still had about 3.5 hours left at the gate, which I knew would be a struggle for me. It was the middle of the night by my body clock, but outside the sun was shining for late afternoon. I finally got on the plane and I got my first taste of being the only white person in all of economy class. First class was like 60% white, but no other white people in the back of the plane besides myself. There are probably some interesting takeaways here but I’m already 1000 words in, so I’m going to keep pressing on. I tried to sleep on the flight, which I did a bit (fitfully), but then the flight attendant yelled at me to wake me up for the food service. It wasn’t worth being woken up for. I landed in Shanghai, made it through security, and found that there was literally NO check at customs, which surprised me. I guess they believe you when you say you have nothing to declare. At the end of the line who was waiting for me? Kyle! The man I had come to see.

We got in line for a taxi – it was dark and rainy in Shanghai and honestly felt pretty similar to Portland. Once in the taxi I got to experience Chinese traffic for the first time, and let me tell you, it’s a trip. There are probably traffic laws, I guess, but as far as I can tell everything is more or less just a guideline. We weaved through traffic and arrived at Kyle’s apartment, which is a cozy 2 bedroom affair. There’s not much in the way of a view, but it’s pleasant. You can hear a lot of ambient noise from other places in the building and outside, but in a city of 24 million people you’re not ever quite alone. I was ready to crash, but Kyle took me out to a (mostly expat, as far as I can tell) bar called Limbo where on Sunday nights (did I mention I lost an entire day through this process? International date line!) they do Hip-hop/rap improv stuff. I met like 40 people, so my head was swimming with names and jet lag, but ones that are important to remember: Hazel & Gilbert, also in Studio 188 (Kyle’s band). I also met a guy named Weezy who talked at me for a solid 15 minutes about his sexual exploits. I don’t think Weezy is his given name. Kyle and I stayed out until about 4am having a few beers and me kicking his ass at foosball. We then went home and I crashed.

Day 2: Day 1 of the Rest of This Trip

As my body clock was thoroughly in WTF mode at this point, I awoke bright and early. I checked my email and found that I had been accepted to Oregon State University, and that they wanted to give me a pretty solid financial aid package. This was too exciting to see by myself, so I naturally jumped on Kyle and woke him up to share the news. Kyle went back to bed, I tried to as well for a bit. We spent a good chunk of the morning walking around the city, got some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and I got to find out firsthand that China smells. It’s not always an unpleasant smell. In fact, some of the smells are amazing and sweet or delicious or savory. Some of the smells, though, are disgusting – rot and garbage and all the things that come out a body. If I were to be asked what my strongest impression of China is so far, it’s the smells. Later we took the metro to this tiny room on the third floor of a nondescript building; Kyle has a gig sometimes doing voice acting work for these people that make video games. It was very amusing to watch him in the recording studio there trying to make the voices for all these monsters and things. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask what the game was called, and Kyle apparently doesn’t ask either. But somewhere out there Kyle’s voice is yelling catchphrases.

We then went and did some shopping at Carrefour, which is this big multi-level mall/shopping center. It’s pretty much like any other big box store you’ve ever seen, except for in the deli they straight up just have live animals. Purchases made we came home, did some planning for the other pieces of our trip, and then ate dinner at another expat bar called The Shed. I only made it to about 11:40 that night before zonking out.

Day 3: Kyle’s Birthday! …also St. Patrick’s

On the morning of Kyle’s birthday we awoke and each had a beer – had to start the celebration! Kyle had an imported American beer he had been saving for the occasion. He chatted with his family for a while, opened up some of the presents I had brought over, and around lunch time he and I headed out for grilled cheese. Near Kyle’s apartment there is this little hole in the wall place that serves all kinds of different types of grilled cheese – it’s really good. We also finally make it to the bank so that I can get some cash. Up to this point I had been relying on Kyle to basically be my sugar daddy. I am extremely reliant on Kyle. Enough things are in English that I could probably get around OK if I absolutely had to, but taking a taxi would be more or less out of the question at this point. I have picked up a couple words, but I’m functionally a mime, more or less, at this point. Kyle had a gig that evening at Limbo, so we took a taxi that evening to the bar for sound check. Our taxi driver was doing his best 2 fast 2 furious impression – I mean weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds, cutting people off, just flying around. Did I mention that seat belts aren’t really a thing here? Yeah.

Sound check happens. We have some time to kill before the gig, so we go to the mini mart down the corner, grab some beers, and walk around checking out the city with Hazel. China is like Vegas – you can just walk around drinking in public. There’s not much regulation in China, just a hell of a lot of paperwork. We eat some dumplings that are the greasiest things I’ve ever had, though they are tasty. Literal fountains of grease spray out after you take a bite. I accidentally got my hand covered in the grease, and even some napkins do not erase the immense stickiness of my hand until I can wash it back at Limbo.

The gig commences and I alternate between having a total party and struggling to fight off jet lag. I talk to a few people in the crowd that I have been introduced to in between sets, and when they move on I just enjoy the show on my own. I am getting pretty good at all this – it comes from having friends who are performers. They go off and do their thing, and you can either see it alone or try to make some new friends. Which one I try generally depends on the mood that I’m in that day. The gig goes really well, we pop some champagne for Kyle, and make it home around 4am. Time has ceased to have meaning for me, as my body is confused and Kyle lives a performer’s schedule, which is strange and unstructured already.

Day 4: Settling In

We woke up late, got lunch with Hazel at this fried chicken place that had cornbread with bacon in it (great because it was so delicious and because it soaked up some of the lingering hangover from the previous night). We then went and explored Jing’An temple, a Buddhist temple right in the middle of everything here in Shanghai. It isn’t entirely authentic as it was a plastic factory for quite a while under communism, but I still enjoyed seeing it. We were going to visit a second temple but sadly it was closed. That gave us a little extra time to relax before heading out to the Koreatown part of the city for Korean wings, beer, and soju with John, Tyler, and Courtney (So many Vandals!). Those wings were incredibly tasty. We then went and played 3 rounds of laser tag, which was a blast. In the states you might get yelled at for running in the laser tag course. In China? Not so much. We were joined by Kyle’s friend Dumpling (not his real name, but for the life of me I can’t recall it). Fun night.

It’s now day 5 – I woke up to the sound of vocal exercises coming from somewhere in the building, which then turned into a choir singing. On the whole this has been quite an adventure, and really this has all just been the exposition of the story of this trip. China is weird, but I can’t help but be charmed so far.

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1 Comment

  1. Amy said,

    Sounds like quite an adventure so far! I’m looking forward to the future blog post about being the only white guy in coach though with all of the happenings….I think that one will have to be postponed until you’re state side! Love you cuz!!

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