The Places You’ll Go , Mr.Book.

Cruising down the idyllic palm tree lined hallway with various motorbikes and heavy pick-up trucks screeching their horns at maximum decibel levels , playing deadly games of chicken , in between Halong Bay and Hanoi, I was somehow reading my book amidst the chaos. I guess after long enough in Asia , I’ve learned how to cope the the death races on the road. As long as it’s not driving , I’m alright with it. Anyways , as I was reading , I came across a receipt in the book.

Books-A-Million
2105 Levis Commons Blvd.
Perrysburg, OH

$3.00 Sub Total
+ .20 Tax
$3.20 Total

That’s funny enough seeing as how I bought it at

Movie Feast
288 Taikang Rd.
Shanghai , China

30CN¥

but upon further inspection of the book it is revealed that this book started out at

The Free Library of Philadelphia
Lovett Memorial No 43
6945 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia , PA

Tucked on the final page is a hastily scrawled illegible signature , dated 5-30-2008. Who is this mystery person?

Who transported you book? Was it someone I know from my native state of Ohio?

(Oddly enough Google Maps told me how to get from the USA to Tianzifang , Shanghai , China with the vaguely nebulous “traverse the pacific ocean , but didn’t know how to get from Shanghai to Hanoi.)

This book is well-traveled and appropriately enough as it has a Vietnamese author and features short stories taking place in locations such as : Columbia , Vietnam , Tehran , New York City , and Australia.

And where will you go ?

I had a chance to trade it in at the amazing

Hanoi Bookworm
44 Chau Long St
Hanoi , Vietnam

but something kept me from doing it. I wanted to save it and read it again.
One day though , she’ll get set free , and she’ll be free to roam once more.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

Whoa. Foreign. Where to start? The last 2 years and 7 months have been exclusively “foreign” photos for me. Horses in the Inner Mongolian grasslands? Yea , not my life before. Towering neon-lit skyscrapers? Couldn’t be further from Mentor , Ohio.

After leaving Tianjin with it’s miniscule foreign population , I would stare at the fellow 老外 (laowai = foreigner) upon arrival in Shanghai.

The most foreign thing become a White Man. Or a Black Man. Whoa ,a White and a Black Man walking together! (I’m totally not saying this in a racist way , in case anyone wants to read that out of context.) I would have a huge shit-eating grin on my face , jaw hanging down to almost the ground , while trying to talk to anybody and everybody about those crazy foreigners! And if they were eating hamburgers , forget about it! I’m floating in the sky!

I’m seriously going to have one huge case of reverse culture shock when I go back.

I’ve tried to pick out a few “foreign” photos from my stack of 10,000 or so.

Here goes.

Upon arrival , ignoring the game changers of language culture , there were some things in China that looked kinda familiar but something was off….

I couldn’t put my finger on it while eating my blueberry chips washed down with a WW2 American army edition Pabst.

Stepping outside though , it hit me.

Is that frickin’ worm?!?

Even my beloved graffiti wasn’t the same.

Slowly though these things became normal. I even started to look back at the States differently.

My thanksgiving feast morphed into this.

Yup , I’ve absorbed China. I live , breathe, and speak China. (Though as a non-Asian you can never truly assimiliate into China.)

Now it takes things like this to me to see foreign.

Hey that barstool in Vang Vieng , Laos kind of looks like Ohio.

*Looks closely* OMG IT IS OHIO! I should probably visit home sometime. Right? Mom and Dad , right?

Instant Jealousy – Foods of Vietnam

Ahh Vietnamese cuisine. So good and so much I didn’t get to try. Cold region foods can seem so bland , lacking in spices , and rich , colorful tastes. Vietnamese cuisine is loaded with the tropical tastes : curries , lime , lemongrass , mint , basil , and that extra zing from fermented fish sauce.

Hanoi is a world-class destination for dining. It’s got it all. From fancy pants former colonial mansions turned gourmet restaurants to the Asian classic plastic blue chairs and coals on the street.

And home of the best Pho I’ve ever had in my life. A steal at a $1.50 a bowl in a hole-in-the-wall place with three things on the menu: Chicken Pho , Beef Pho , and Veggie Pho.

Yummy , let’s dive in!

Highly recommended places in Hanoi

Quan An Ngon

18 Phan Boi Chau Street.

A super bustling restaurant with outdoor seating under tarpaulin roofing. A guidebook hotspot but also popular with the locals , which is a good thing. The jumbo shrimp with lemon , and the fried frog legs are absolutely amazing.

Madame Hien

15 Chan Cam

Gorgeous setting in a former French colonial mansion. Pineapple duck alakazam! I spent $20 for two people with two beers but was going on the cheap side with veggie dishes. Still , compared to the $20 Bob Evans meal you’d get back in the States , it was amazing.

Now enjoy the photos!

Looper – Go East Young Man.

Ignoring all the paradoxes and plot holes that come with time travel, Looper is a cool flick. Don’t think too hard about things and you’ll be just fine.

Right now Shanghai is bombarded with ads for Looper “环形使者” (In Chinese.) This makes sense , cuz well , Shanghai gets a futuristic 2072 makeover via CGI in the movie , and it looks pretty damn impressive. Going past the movie biz’s tendency to over exaggerate things ( I’m waiting for Blade Runner’s 2019 Los Angeles) the way Shanghai looks in the future is totally believable. I’d say more believable than Shanghai’s real life 1990 to 2010 transformation.

Yea , this is real.

I can’t find any pictures of the Looper version of that skyline online right now. (I’ll have to wait for the pirate DVDs to hit the stores any day now.) but here is a Looper view on another part of the HuangPu River .

Without giving the story away , in the future the U.S doesn’t seem to be doing the best with social breakdowns and rampant crime in the cities. Our main characters travels to a glistening and glimmering Shanghai. (For about 10 minutes and then all hell breaks loose and it’s back to Kansas in the past) Oh yea, and RMB is used as a black market currency in the US.

Apparently us viewers in China got treated to extended Shanghai scenes , and scenes with the main character’s wife that were originally cut from the U.S.A version . I’ve heard that we in China missed out on drug use scenes and some toplessness. (Damn!).

I guess everything can’t get through the censors . Although perhaps the only reason the entire movie did was because it showed off a sweet Shanghai considering the government banned time travel shows/ movies

It probably helps that the film was also co-produced by the Chinese.

It would also appear in China we also got customized ads with Shanghai’s skyline inserted into the movie posters even though only 10 minutes or so of Shanghai actually shows up in the film. Cornfields would perhaps be more appropriate.

Chinglish Change Bags For A BOSS

Found in Nanjing’s Presidential Palace but go to any touristy place in Shanghai and you will find things like this.

No words needed. JUST BUY!

Hong Kong – Layover #1

Hong Kong , easy and pricy. An enclave of Chinese culture without the authoritarian grasp of the CCP. An interesting mix of West and East , formed from thousands of years of mainland Chinese history and founded/ruled as a colony of the British empire. To me , Hong Kong is the very definition of urban. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated places with 7,103,700 people packed into 425 square miles. These numbers are a little tricky though as only about 25% of that land is developed with the rest being hilly green areas and country parks. This means all those people are actually crammed in a much smaller space! The result? Towering apartment blocks stretching into the sky with only very tiny alleyways separating the massive concrete structures, residential spaces above with , convenient stores , restaurants , shopping, below. A true concrete jungle.

We started out how most people start their trips to Hong Kong , the super easy , convenient , and comparatively (to Shanghai) expensive airport train. 24 minutes from the airport to the city in a comfy train. Nice compared to Hanoi where the methods of transport are all almost solely cut-throat taxi drivers looking to rip you off.

We didn’t have much money to spend on our trip so we opted for Hong Kong’s cheapest guesthouses in the infamous Chungking Mansions. The Mansions are a 17 story world microcosm. They are infamous for illegal immigrants , sex workers, and drugs. It’s also a backpacker hotspot for those looking to save money with 90 guesthouses and more than 1,000 beds. It’s also a place I wouldn’t want to be if a fire broke out. Not enough elevators and a confusing layout of stairwells with dead-ends make it a deathtrap. In addition it’s a place where low-scale globalization trade occurs with many hard-working honest traders from all over Asia, the Middle-East, and Africa carrying goods over in suitcases looking to make a sale. Estimates claim that nearly 20% of cell phones in Sub-Saharan Africa pass through the ChungKing Mansions.

Standing in line for the elevator (it took like half a hour) , I certainly didn’t feel like I was in Hong Kong. I waited in line hearing African French , seeing dudes with long black beards and turbans stroll by , and smelling Indian curries. I was accosted by guys with Bollywood accents trying to get me to stay in their guesthouses. I was comforted by fellow backpackers also sweating , looking lost , and trying to find their way in this maze.

I couldn’t complain about the guesthouse. The manager was really friendly and I guess $50 for a closet with an adjoining toilet/shower closet is a good deal for space strapped Hong Kong. ( $25 would get me a really nice spacious hotel with free breakfast in Hanoi and $3 dollars got me a bigger room in rural Sagada, Philippines). If you want to save some cash in Hk don’t be scared of the Chungking Mansions and go stay at the Apple Hostel!

Chungking Mansions

Waiting in Line in Chungking Mansions

We got checked in, and dropped all our stuff off pretty late ,but we went on a night stroll down to the Star Ferry terminal. It was too late to see the famous skyline all lit up but it was still cool. We got to watch some fisherman hook a huge fish and see the fish drop on a lady’s back who was trying to pose with it. Stopping in at the convenient store on the way back, we were shocked at how much more expensive everything was.

Late night skyline view.

Water = 2x to 3x the price of Shanghai.
Instant Noodles = 3x the price
Beer = 50% more.
The sticker shock would only continue the next day.

With a limited time-frame we were checked out by 6:00 am and on the road. First things first, we took the ferry over to Hong Kong island , totally oblivious to the fact that the day before had seen a ferry sinking with 30 some deaths. Fortunately our trip was smoother, we had wondered why there were so few people on board. Arriving in Central we hopped one of the double-decker buses and went up to Victoria Peak , the classic view of Hong Kong from up high. I was a bit taken aback at the price (9.50 HKD is about 2-3 times the price I would pay in Shanghai for a similar distance on a bus). It was worth the $1.22 USD though for the windy trip up through the mountainous HK terrain. Upon reaching the top we took in the cool air and the great views. It was a bit foggy/smoggy but still insanely impressive. We hopped on one of the famous cable cars to go down and we were glad we choose the bus to go up. The lines for the ride up the mountain via tram were very , very long.

Bus ride up to the peak.

View from the peak.

Cable Car line to the peak.

After the tram ride we were down in the heart of things and took a long walk down Queen’s Road. We were in awe all how tall and how closely packed Hong Kong is . Apartment buildings soared overheard with only tiny alleys separating them. It felt like the most city like environment I had ever been in. While I loved it , it made me realize how nice Shanghai’s tree-lined former French Concession really is.

City

City.

We had fun walking through Central and saw some great examples of the whole East meets West thing. Shops selling deer antlers (with skull!) and deer fetuses peacefully existed with pizza places and fine Dutch cheeses. Constipated cats guarded dry seafood, old men in roast duck restaurants spoke great English , ladies in chadors shopped for the newest fashions while business suited men drank beer on plastic seats at plastic tables on the street. From somewhere incense wafted out into the air. What a place!

Deer Fetuses. You thought I was kidding.

After all those deer fetuses , it certainly does call for a Carlsberg.

Soooo tall!

After wandering around and getting tired we decided to take the subway over to Causeway Bay. This area is known for its massive shopping malls , and well more shopping malls. We just wanted to relax (and I needed to find a good place to poop , me being somewhat wary from Shanghai’s bathrooms.)

After taking a breather and dropping off some of my burdens , it was time to head back over to Kowloon side to grab our things and head off to the airport.

We had enough time to get off at Jordan Station and walk down HK’s “Golden Mile” Nathan Street. We stopped in at Tsim Tsa Tsui park and all of a sudden I was hearing Tagalog and seeing dark skin everywhere. Wha? Manila? Where I am? I had strolled into the park and right into the midst of a Filipina domestic maid party. Everyone was Filipino. Brought back some good memories of my month in the Philippines.

Filipinos in the Park.

Awesome new and the old shot.

We hurried back to the hostel , grabbed our things , and hit the airport express. Next stop Hanoi!

Hong Kong – Food N’ Drink

I’m working on the write-ups! I swear! Things are just busy right getting back into the swing of the work schedule and the home-living chores needed to keep the cockroaches away. I’ll distract you with some pics of eating and drankin in HK. We didn’t have much time and ,dang, Hong Kong restaurants are expensive compared to Shanghai. Just wait for the Vietnam eating pics!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Big

China has a propensity for building BIG things. From ancient pagodas towering above the countryside to new shiny neon-lit skycrapers looming above the city.

Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’An

The Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square in Beijing

Forbidden City in Beijing

Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Jinma Plaza Arches in Kunming

World Financial Center aka “The Bottle Opener” all lit-up at night in Shanghai.