Tea scam, then there was milk
Day Two and Three in Beijing were filled with adventures. Some slightly illegal.
The hostel where we were staying housed mainly regional Chinese families visiting the capital of the country. The courtyard setting with tables in the center allowed for uncomfortably silent and close contact with these families during breakfast. As Eric and I feasted on our four toasts (maximum quantity allowed per person) and tea, I lamented their lack of coffee provision, which almost seemed cruel in my Western mind. They did provide a large amount of warm soy milk which sounds delightful, except that I’m allergic to soy milk (but just soy milk and not soy as far as I know, so yes, I can have your soy ice cream-based vegan shake, Blossom Cafe in Chelsea!) An older Chinese lady, most likely the matriarch of the vacationing family, had fixed her gaze on me and Eric during breakfast. This was nothing new, as I learned the locals were never afraid to intensely stare at Westerners. The lady, however, then sprung out of her wooden bench and hopped over to our table with a sort of machine in her hand. The screen read: “THERE WAS MILK.” She passionately pointed at the kitchen, motioned a cup, made some gulping sounds, and her children giggled. She wanted us to know there’s milk available. “Yes, yes, thank you, but I’m allergic!” But my response was in vain.
Eric and I filled the days with touristy activities. After a visit to the Forbidden City, as we headed back to the subway, two pretty Chinese girls enthusiastically approached us. They exclaimed that they were visiting Beijing for the week, and since they study English in school, would love to hang out with some Americans. As vegetarians, going to restaurants was one of my major concerns in Beijing, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to have locals guide us. We told them we were hungry and they enthusiastically led us to an empty establishment nearby. We were quickly ushered into a private room and offered a menu with no prices. We ordered one dish to share, but soon the table was filled with items we didn’t order. The girls were very friendly and chatty, and I was not concerned since the cost of living was so inexpensive in Beijing in comparison to New York, and I figured that they were ordering their usual items and taking care of us. The girls then suggested karaoke, which Eric had mentioned earlier that day, and lo and behold a private room happened to exist and be available in the back. We drank and sang for about 45 minutes. One of the girls suggested we get going and asked for the check.
The check was a painful 2400 RMB, about $400 USD. Though the girls offered to pay half, I still had to pay $220 USD, which is a significant amount of money in China (and for me), for a bowl of tofu and rice, some tea, and an awful, minimal selection of karaoke songs available.
After returning to the hostel, suspicious, I Googled “tea” “girls” “Beijing” “karaoke” and to my surprise (sort of) countless similar stories emerged. Some were charged much more or their bill amount was altered after they signed. It seemed that these pretty English-speaking locals would lure rich Americans into eateries and receive commission by having them spend a great deal of money that non-tourists would never dare to spend on tea and tofu (and an awful, minimal selection of karaoke songs. How is “Crazy” the only Britney song they have? ).
Retelling the scam story for the seventh time has exhausted me so I’ll stop here, but not before thanking new, local friends who didn’t scam us, Xiaoli and Mark, for showing us around and taking us to super cool HouHai and Sanlitun!
Oh, and we saw Mao Zedong’s body at his mausoleum. COOL, RIGHT!?
Ai Wei Wei’s Bird Nest at the Olympic Park. We love Ai Wei Wei.
Courtyard of our hostel.
Sanlitun is home to many Western-style clubs and bars.
You can buy pickled bird feet at the corner convenience store. Cool.
Oh GROW UP! Of course many of the subway stops have funny names that sound like fucking men.
Strange fascination with famous dead Americans.
Typical dessert at a Western restaurant. Cream-filled anything.
I love BJ too. Beijing, that is.
Typical traffic issues in Beijing. Too many people, cars, and tight corners. Solution: just do it.
Street food in Sanlitun.
THIS IS ONE OF THE BI*TCHES THAT SCAMMED US. Tee hee.
Boobies are universal.
Saturday evening at approximately 9:15PM, Eric and I boarded American Airlines 187 at Chicago O’Hare to Beijing. Almost every seat in the massive aircraft was filled with a Chinese person, including a large school group probably returning to the People’s Republic of China after a field trip in the U.S. Even before take-off, I felt slight relief when I caught a glimpse of another white man on board. I was clearly psychologically unprepared.
The 13-hour + flight was not as painful as I had remembered it in my memories from when I flew between Japan and the U.S. more frequently many years ago. The on-board entertainment system was entertaining, if you find ironic humor in frozen video screens that won’t even turn off. Eric and I shared the one screen that actually functioned and watched Think Like a Man, which follows a group of young women who follow the advices in Steve Harvey’s relationship advice book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (which was recently seriously published in real life: http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061728976).
When we landed in Beijing, we followed the crowds and the many surprisingly English-friendly signs (though you cannot judge a city by its airport) and hopped onto a taxi. I had printed out extensive directions in Mandarin that the hotel had emailed me beforehand. The driver spoke no word of English but understood the directions and signaled us to get in.
All seemed to be going smoothly until the driver shouted:
…Thank you Universe for allowing Japanese to be heavily based on Chinese. I did not realize how similar Mandarin and Japanese were (though more so written than spoken due to the very similar alphabet we use), and I immediately understood he wanted to phone the hotel. (FYI: it’s “denwa” in Japanese.) Because the hotel is located in a very traditional ‘hutong’ (alleyway) the cabbie circled the neighborhood several times until finally found the correct street. He pointed at the street, I paid 110RMB (about $17 USD), and we set off into the dark, quiet street. It was almost 1:30AM.
Nothing seemed to indicate a sort of lodging, and the sense of the unknown and desolate darkness was becoming unbearable. Eric was unfazed, which was helpful. We saw a few locals dining at a restaurant of some sort, so I mustered up my courage, knowing I could not have looked more like an American tourist with my suitcase and my airplane pillow (those things are not even comfortable), and went up to one of them.
Me: “Ni hao? (Hello?) *Points at address*”
Man: “Yi, er, san. (One, two, three.) *Points at down the street*”
Me: “Shie shie! (Thank you! I downloaded 23 episodes of “Survival Mandarin with Serge” on iTunes, but I don’t even know why I thought that shit would be helpful!)”
When we finally reached the door of the hotel at the end of a long, cold, dark hutong, Yang, a young, comical Chinese manboy opened the door and exclaimed: “PHEW! I was so worried, come inside, come inside!” Yang, it turns out, learned all his English from American music and films. I was upset my Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or House of Flying Daggers for that matter) did not come in as handy that night.
It’s been about 24 hours since we landed now. I’ve noticed locals can’t seem to stop staring at Eric, a strange-curly-blonde-haired-V-neck-loving-Caucasian-teddy-bear. To this phenomenon Eric responded, “Well I get stared at in America too.” True.
Our hotel room and Eric’s right thigh! They sell Tsingtao, awesome local beer, in a fridge next to our room for 5RMB, 24 hours a day. That’s a little less than $1, folks.
Tsingtao photo shoot traditional style!
That door to the far end of this ‘hutong’ is the entrance of our hotel. How did we find it at 1:30AM? I don’t know.
After driving cars (which there are 1.4 million of in Beijing), biking is the preferred method of transportation.
Appreciating the Great Wall like a local (Jackie Chan).
Hilarious (and super fun!) tobbogan ride down to cap off visiting such a historic site.
At this restaurant you can catch your own fish to cook and eat from this artificial pond! WEIRD!
Tons of modern architecture.
P.S. Internet censorship begins!
Anna dreams of translations (and other identity crisis issues)
I don’t actually dream of translation work but I do enjoy it a lot.
Ever since I decided to seriously pursue acting and comedy, I have supplemented my income by being a freelance Japanese translator. It’s a pretty competitive field. I may read, write, and speak Japanese fluently, but so do the 1.2 million other Japanese people living in U.S. (At least according to the third and random result that came up after I Googled “How many Japanese people live in the United States?”) So you have to make your work stand out. Sort of like acting or comedy. Sort of.
Over the years I’ve worked on a lot of high-profile projects like major airlines, a technical patent, a major financial publication (who still hires me every year, ARIGATO!), etc.
Naturally, one becomes critical of their enemies. (So what they have more experience and connections? WAH!)
Eric and I saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi at the IFC Center last night. If you love Japan, sushi, and/or documentaries, this is up your alley. I think I first heard about it when my very close friend (and closet-Japanophine) Tristan raved about it. The 90-minute film follows the lives of 85-year-old Jiro, sushi master extraordinaire, and his son, who lives in his shadows. I totally forgot his name.
I mainly wanted to see this film to:
A) Criticize the translation
B) Get Eric to be even more grateful that I am taking him to Japan
Am I a really supportive moviegoer or what?
Disclaimer: Brace yourself for uncomfortably personal identity crisis issues of mine.
I really enjoyed the film actually, but movies on Japan are tough for me to watch (SEE I TOLD YOU!) because I don’t know if I should watch as a Japanese or an American. Only few people I know can relate to this, understandably. When you’re so part of both cultures and can relate to both people, who are you really? Okay, this shit is a little too intense for me to be blogging about. But LOST IN TRANSLATION IS UNCOMFORTABLE FOR ME!!!!!!!!!!!! (The conflict is not that I love Bill Murray and hate ScarJo.)
The translation was good but it was so stiff that I felt the characters lost personalities. I felt I could do a better job (that’s my American side talking).
Eric also passed out halfway due to the multiple margaritas and beers consumed before the film, but the first half he thought was “boring but interesting.”
How could a white guy in his early 30’s NOT love a documentary about Japan!? Aren’t they all obsessed with Japan. Is Eric NOT going to shit his pants in joy when he arrives in Tokyo in three weeks?! EVERYONE LOVES TOKYO!?
No Facebook for you!
When you start typing “media cens…” on Google, your first suggestion is:
Can you guess the second? It’s:
“media censorship in China”
When I became obsessed with the BBC mini docu-series “Wild China” and decided to tack on 5 days in Beijing before my return home to Japan this summer, this detail of media censorship did not dawn on me. As a simple tourist in a foreign country for less than two weeks the most hardship I’d ever endured was being questioned by El Al Airlines when flying to Ben Gurion in Israel with my Birthright group. “Your last name is Silverstein but you were born in Japan? How could you possibly be Jewish? I don’t understand.” The Israeli officer’s bluntness added slight rudeness to the understandable question. (I explained and was allowed into the state of Israel.)
So making possible 5-day visit to Beijing was not a breeze. One must fill out a 4-page visa application in which she must attach a passport-sized colored photo, describe herself and her family’s identity, whether or not she has any family in China, her accommodations while in China, and so on. Then, one brings this paperwork to the Chinese Embassy on 42nd Street and 12th Avenue along with your passport.
I quickly filled out the paperwork for myself and Eric. I scribbled in our tentative hotel address, even though in my heart, I am torn between that and another, humbler (cheaper) one. (Anyone familiar with either the Orchid Hotel or Inner City Hotel?) I figured they wouldn’t actually read it thoroughly.
Turns out, they do.
The Chinese Embassy is an interesting place. You realize that the atmosphere is not much different from Chinatown, with its faux-marble floors and walls, and large, low-quality posters of well-known Chinese attractions.
I went to the window of Ms. Yan (or Ms. 顔, as each window had the clerk’s name in both English and Chinese letters. This character means “face” in Japanese, but I guess it doesn’t have the same meaning in Chinese).
She carefully examined my paperwork, one page at a time. She then stapled them together and threw it into a basket next to her. Next, she began examining Eric’s. She reached the second page and curiously looked up at me.
“Is this your friend?” (or, phonetically, “Is this yo fwend?” but I understood.)
“Ah, yes, yes, it’s my friend.”
“What’s his job?”
“Ah… he works in film.”
“Yes, he, ah, edits movies together.”
“Movies. So he makes movies.”
“Ah, well, yes, but he doesn’t shoot. He edits. He doesn’t own a camera. So he definitely can’t bring a camera on the trip!”
SHIT. My face was sweating. That’s what happens when I’m nervous, drunk, and/or hot. I don’t think I was drunk but it might have been a pretty hot day. Or no, I was nervous. I intently stared at Ms. Yan to determine her following move. She scribbled a few things onto Eric’s paperwork, and said:
“Well, I need something additional. I need a letter from his company stating his job title and that the purpose of the trip is personal.”
(“Wew, I nee sumthin ad… etc.)
I wanted to shout, “IT’S GAY PORN, SILLY YAN! IT’S POSSIBLY THE FARTHEST THING FROM A SECRET DOCUMENTARY ABOUT YOUR COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT! HA… HA…”
But I didn’t. And good thing I didn’t, as I recently discovered pornography is one of the subjects explicitly censored by the Community Party of China. (On the other hand, it’s okay, if you’re gay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_China)
In the end, Eric successfully received a letter from his boss, and (even though I had to go back for a third time, because the second time Eric’s boss forgot to sign the letter, and Ms. Yan firmly said, “This is fine, but it’s not signed,”) Ms. Yan finally approved the paperwork. Third time’s a charm, and Chinese censorship’s a bitch.
Ms. Yan’s secret scribbles (below):
Though I can’t speak Chinese, I can read certain characters since the Japanese borrowed them. This resembles the Japanese characters, “撮影” “制作” which means “shooting” “production”. Sneaky Ms. Yan!
which is more important, morality of wisdom?
Are cream puffs (below), also known as shu-cream not a thing here? In Japan I used to eat them aaaall the time. When I need a cream puff fix I go to Beard Papa: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=beard+papa+nyc
The other day, Eric sent me this email titled, “Is this right?”:
Here’s the thing: the sentiment is conveyed in the first sentence, but it’s grammatically incorrect and awkward. Japanese must be an extremely difficult language to study and acquire. When you put the first sentence through Google translate, it becomes:
“Which is more important is, what moral and wisdom?”
Yeah, I don’t know. What moral? What wisdom? Whatever.
Google translate is very crappy unless you need it for immediate, casual use.
That night I had dinner with my brother in Williamsburg (here’s my brother).
He just returned from a 3-week solo trip in East Asia where he stayed in Tokyo for a week visiting family and friends, followed by Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong. I’ve never travelled alone like that so it was fun to hear his stories. He told me that in Hong Kong he couldn’t find the shower, until he looked up while he was taking a sh*t. Or that at a Shanghai restaurant, people were eager to mock him for being “white” (well, half-white, but I assume they couldn’t tell he was half-Asian) than to take his order. And Thai people are very friendly.
After observing the Pride Parade on 5th Avenue, we walked home and set off on individual projects. One of our roommates, Tristan, recently moved out to explore the Middle East (his most recent Facebook update informed us that in Cairo they sell Mein Kampf with a swastika on the cover, oy vey.) so Eric is now using his room as a study. After cleaning our bedroom for a few hours, I came across a stack of neon flash cards. Should I just toss them? Or, better yet, I could teach Eric some essential Japanese phrases!
I snuck up on Eric working in his room. He was surprisingly ungrateful. Apparently he wanted simple words and not useful phrases. His behavior was very dishonorable and I felt it deserving of seppuku.
…And he promptly returned to Facebook where he has been addicted to the awful “I hate dogs” Page. Looks like it’s going to be a long ride to acquiring the fine nuances of the Japanese culture. As my father’s people would say, oy vey.
taking my (white) boyfriend to japan
Hi. My name is Anna Suzuki. My mother is Japanese and my father is Jewish (which makes me a JAP JAP, but more on that another time). I was born and raised in Japan and moved to NYC in 2000. I didn’t speak English until 2002. I’m now a stand-up comic and actor, but when I don’t make thousands of dollars performing (which is 100% of the time; you can do the math) I have a full-time job and I’m also a freelance Japanese translator. I recently translated a 17-page pharmaceutical patent; that was really “fun.”
This is my boyfriend, Eric. He is very fun. Also, he’s American. We met because I had a crush on his little brother, Michael, who turned out to be gay (my gaydar is permanently broken) and he introduced me to Eric instead. Eric is a painter and performer. When he needs to make money, he is a porno editor.
We’ve been very fun together for two years.
My grandma and grandpa in Japan passed away in 2011, just a few months apart. I had planned on writing to my grandpa for a long time but never got to it, and he passed away. My mother flew back to Japan immediately for both funerals, but I could not afford to. I was very sad. In August 2012, I will be returning to Japan for the first time in years. Probably at least five years. I haven’t seen my family or friends in a very long time, so this is very exciting. My family doesn’t speak any English and they’re also not used to seeing American people. We’ll see what happens!
I’ll be blogging about our daily progress on my boyfriend’s journey to Japan (and bonus journey to China)!