Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oh Mao Baby

Post by Ira...Looking at the photo of Mao down below, it's hard to believe that Mao was actually quite the lady's man in his day. He had a reputation of being a very prolific womanizer. I mean, what's with the hairstyle? You'd think that after successfully leading his people through a major revolution and wielding absolute power he'd be able to come up with something better than that.

I think Stalin had both Mao and Hitler beat in the hair department. Good style, full complement, impressive mustache.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

We love travel disaster Part III (let's end this)

I'd like to say a little bit about the Chinese language.
Totally incomprehensible.
That's all.

My Brother Kevin has been studying Chinese for some time (1-2 years?)
When he bikes through China in the Spring, apparently it will help him.
Well.... I'd like to take a moment to thank my brother, Kevin, for giving Ira and I some of the biggest laughs we have ever had, and right when we really needed them.

We pictured Kev, studying those wacky and impossible pronunciations with his tutor, over and over, then eventually paying him, whatever it was, $10-20 per hour, hour after hour, week after week.
Oh my Kev. Are you in for some fun. Good luck my dear brother. And thanks for providing the best laughs. We had a great time imagining you getting out your grammar notes, just before peddling across the border, happy about all those lessons that you invested in.

another giggle attack.

So let's finish up China.
How about just jumping right to Ira and how he lost his 'Bloom coolness'.
---The Day of the Great Wall hike. We went up to the Mu-tian-yu section of the wall, whisked up to the top by gondola/cable car. (By the way, I don't give all those fancy facts about where I am like my brother does on his trip around the world. I am on a really long stone wall. That's about all I know. Oh, and it's quite old too.) We decided we would all hike together the several kilometers on the Wall, and then the older kids and I would toboggan back down--(like an alpine slide/go-cart ride). Ira would walk down the trail with the baby in the backpack, and we'd meet at the bottom, to buy souveniers on the tiny street to the entrance..
Crammed with vendors, they were coming at you from every direction. "Hello lady, you need t-shirt? what size? here, try red one", and right as she is going on, another person calls you "Miss!, I have table cloth Miss!"-- "Excuse me, I have best price lady, you need hat? look I have pretty carving--best price."
You get the picture.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We love travel disaster part II

I wonder if I should call it 'disaster', it kind of makes it sound like we suffered through an earthquake or a tsunami or something.

And for those inquiring, yes, Ira did blow his top, and I'll get to that in a bit.

I wanted to talk a little about our celebrity status in Beijing.
The Chinese were nuts over us. They were like paparazzi and we were like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt with the kids. (Yes I am darn cute as her and Ira might be able to pass for Brad.) We would walk down the street and people would literally stop walking in their tracks to stare. Some would stop and ask us to take pictures with them. A group would form. Then the group grew larger.
Before I knew it, 15 minutes of smiling like a dork for pictures goes by and there is a large crowd of grinning Chinese people herding us together for photos, and you finally just have to say "sorry everybody, no more photos, we have to go, so sorry."

This happened everywhere. Day one, I must admit, it was kind of nice. It made me feel pretty special, and I did a few times in my own head pretend I was a movie star, I mean why not, like this will ever happen again in my lifetime? Where the heck will I have this almost celebrity status again?
No where. But it wore off quickly and became very annoying. And this isn't even with obnoxious photographers right up in your face trying to get that $10,000 People magazine cover shot. Finally we had to just start waving people away, nodding and apologizing. I did see a few snapping shots from afar, which didn't bother me.A small group forms, enchanted with baby: the guy smiling in front is counting how many kids we have
it growsIra discussing money for photos

The kids loved it all, never tired of it. Can you make out Joe's expression?
Again, from Michigan, 4 kids isn't that many. I sort of felt as if I was walking around with 10 kids the way they made such a deal of it.

Ok, off to the Beijing Night Market.
A few blocks of a busy sidewalk street crammed with various food vendors, lots of action, and interesting things to eat.

how about a scorpion
Ira was ready to gnaw on one of these fellas but chickened at the last sec

looks like something from a nightmarenow this was great. sauteed chicken with fresh beansprouts in a realllly tasty sauce. Boring but deelish

Ira and I went out for dinner one night and unfortunately I didn't have my camera to take a photo of the menu. It was hilarious. Some of the funniest entrees listed:

Braised Bullfrog in tube-shaped container
Spicy duckblood & intestines in chili oil
Steamed object with crisp splendid elbow
Fried waist pieces with fresh bunge prickly ash
Boiled peacock
Fried cowboy bone France style
Boiled fish's lip in sauce
Boiled turtle water chestnut paste with clam
Spicy beeflung
Shredded pork maw
Chicken stomach in pot
Braised goosefeet & wisdom mushrooms with abalone sauce
Braised pig's intestines with preserved mustard cabbage

We had nothing that extreme.
Off to bed. Will get the 3rd and final disaster chapter with the blowout asap. night.

Ira here...our celebrity status was the result of a few factors. First, the Chinese still don't see that many foreigners with kids. Especially those Chinese from the provinces. I suspect many of those fascinated by us were from outside Beijing. They were at the same tourist spots we were and probably were there for the first time. So in a sense we were a tourist attraction for them. Second, the Chinese are limited to having just one kid per family, so seeing a troop like ours is unusual. Lastly, we've got some blonde hair going with our kids - we get similar reactions here in Japan and on our summer holiday in SE Asia - they just don't have many pink-skinned, blue-eyed, blonde children around here.

Last time I was here on business was 1998 and I was with a colleague who drew a lot of attention - he was black and 6 foot 5. Everyone asked him if he was a professional basketball player. Lots of locals asked us to pose for photos with them. I tried to get him to be like me - blend in and not look so much like a tourist - but he couldn't quite get the hang of it...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

SHANGHAI'ed: We love travel disaster Part 1

I think I am finally starting to recover from China. So I can write about it.
We hesitated going because 6 airline tickets for only 3 full days + the fancy hotel to boot was very pricey. But Ira says "once in a life time". Ok.

The travel agent accidentally books us to Shanghai, and when we get the tickets, we don't notice, because we are too obsessed with the price.

So we get to the airport, check in, and the person-behind-the counter says "enjoy your flight to Shanghai". ...
Ira: "No, Beijing. We have a hotel, reserved a driver, Great Wall, bla bla..."
Counter person: "no, look, your tickets all say Shanghai. Have a nice flight."

The tickets were non-refundable, non-transferable, non-everything.

Ok. Well I will make this quick, but there really was quite a bit of sweating and swearing and making phone calls in different languages that made everything very stressful, so after about an hour or so, it was evident that we either fly to Shanghai or go home.
So, we were set on Beijing, and decided to book 6 more tickets from Shanghai to Beijing, flying to Beijing the next morning, out of Shanghai. (Technically this was not the agents fault, because Ira "ok'd" the tickets, not noticing the destination.)

Ok, I don't want to go into any more of these details. It gets uglier. But lets just say, that our pricey flight to China just went up. So instead of 6 tickets for 3 full days in China, we ended up buying 12 tickets for 1 full day in China. (we had to fly in and out of Shanghai, so we lost time in Beijing).

I will now skip to the 2 hours of happiness in China. We had a blast on the Great Wall. Even had a picnic. A beautiful day, not a lot of tourists, maybe a bit foggy for viewing purposes, but overall really pleasant.The Great Wall: Joseph chucking his rotting banana at the Mongols.

There are enormous differences between the Japanese and Chinese cultures. But I can sum it up pretty easy. Japanese: quiet. Chinese: loud
And very aggressive. Since we spent more time than I will talk about in the airports in China, I was able to observe the Chinese people for a time.

Advice for those going to China: If you want service at an airport counter, you basically have to get in the some sort of line that you think has formed, and as you begin to somehow approach the person-behind-the counter, you then have to quickly turn and slug the person in line next to you as hard as you can and knock them to the ground. You may then have a chance. It's the Chinese way. People are yelling mad everywhere. And literally pushing each other out of the way to get service.

After long lines, miscommunications, over-the-top frustration, and the kids, making gym equipment out of the escalators, I began wondering when Ira was going to start yelling too. I could feel it coming on. After a year of living ultra polite and quiet in Japan, the true Bronx Jew-boy was slowly emerging in all of this madness. I was beginning to see it in his walk, being sent from wrong counter to wrong counter, seeing it in the beads of sweat flowing freely off his forehead, his eyes, getting that crazed helter skelter glare.