[This is the final entry in the twelve part series Saving Face]
Still half asleep, I was half listening to CNN drone half-truths on the TV at the Manila Hotel.
Russia was not invading Ukraine, the US was not sending ground troops back into Iraq, ISIS was taking over the world, okay since ebola was going to kill us all anyway, and Typhoon Luis was bearing down on the Philippines.
Suddenly I was very much awake. I sat up, groping for my glasses. By the time I could see the TV, Dr. Sanjay Gupta was reporting from Los Angeles that medical uses for MDMA (ecstasy) and LSD were “generating new interest among a growing number of doctors”. I bet. Continue reading 12. Getting In and Getting Out→
Some months ago I participated in an online survey, sponsored by a headhunter of questionable repute (which really doesn’t limit the list in any meaningful way). The survey claimed to be attempting to correlate attitudes regarding the health and safety of workers with certain distinguishing characteristics, one of which, I imagine, would be the propensity to participate in online surveys. I was quite forthright with my answers, hoping to skew the results towards reality with unspoken truths, insofar as such things can be expressed by adding the word “strongly” to “agree” or “disagree”. I even admitted to my employment with government. Surprisingly, that did not jeopardise my eligibility on account of the “worker” requirement.
Imagine my surprise when advised I had won a $500 gift certificate from a leading travel agent of questionable repute (which really doesn’t limit the list in any meaningful way). No problem using that! Or so I thought. Continue reading 11. Something for Nothing→
Overnight I had dreamt of the paradise we were heading for, but awoke dreading the voyage. To leave Manila, we’d need a taxi. We’d been warned by one and all about Manila taxis. We’d have to endure another traffic jam to catch an eleven o’clock charter flight.
For the first time in a week, Frank Lee’s colour was normal, that is, less ghastly than that of Prince Phillip. He and I had finally recovered. Celebrating this with some goodies retrieved from a nearby Starbucks, we began our packing frenzy. Continue reading 10. Paradise Last→
Life is too short to spend it complaining about airlines and airports. Instead I will observe that the flight from Seoul to Manila on Philippines Airlines is best suited for short-legged business people struggling to survive in highly competitive markets, not tourists.
When planning the trip, many friends and colleagues expressed concern over our decision to include the Philippines. Comments included:
• “It’s a bit off the beaten tourist track, isn’t it?”
• “There’s a certain element of lawlessness there, you know.”
• Most succinctly, “Manila’s a pit.”
None of those comments came from people who had actually been there, though. Those who had merely sang in unison regarding unscrupulous taxi drivers. I figured if that was our biggest worry, we’d be fine, although I must admit I find few things more distressing than watching a taxi meter tick when I have no idea where I’m going.
After a long sleep Frank mustered enough energy to recognise hunger. Vincent, Liza, Frank and I made for dinner at a neighbourhood restaurant serving Korean barbecue. Generally, I’m not a big fan of restaurants where one must prepare one’s own food, as I attend restaurants to avoid that very thing. Aside from being a chore, it is doubly troublesome when the food, sauces, and processes are unfamiliar. Liza, who at one point managed a café of her own, took charge of things, cooking up a storm. In past, managing my own Korean barbecue left me uncomfortable that I was doing something wrong, so it was great to have a local running the grill. By the way, there is no “wrong”. Dinner was both excellent and a lot of fun, too.
The dinner reintroduced me to the Korean fondness for stainless steel drinking glasses and stainless steel chopsticks. These are extracted from a hermetically sealed autoclave by wait staff clad in surgeon’s gloves who whisk them to the dining table with some fanfare. Presumably this is to provide a level of assurance regarding cleanliness. Personally, I find it as assuring as those “Sanitised for your convenience!” sashes one finds around the toilet seat in a bad motel. (Yes, the Hotel Luxury and Sexy had one.) Continue reading 08. My Korean Family→
The night just wouldn’t end. The siren song of the toilet was irresistible and constant, the small step inexplicably architected in the middle of the room causing numerous stumbles and stubbed toes. In my fever-induced mania I grew claustrophobic, desperately trying to the find the window I’d seen Liza magically make appear from behind the faux wood panelling. Frustrated, I took a sleeping pill, which worked, thankfully.
Was it morning yet? Our windowless cell of swirling neon colours compelled me to have another crack at finding the window. This time I succeeded, sunshine and air flooding into our discothèque of slumber. I accidentally knocked over the bag of promotional goodies the hotel had left on the window sill, the spilled contents creating a ticker-tape parade of condoms, spermicide, lubricant, cheap cologne, and mysterious feminine products on the unsuspecting pedestrians below. Continue reading 07. Hurt & Seoul→
It was a morning of despites. Despite a forecast for rain and fog, we awoke to stunning sunshine and, most remarkably, clear air. Despite fighting off a head cold and having consumed a surfeit of Spanish tempranillo in the Executive Lounge the night before, I felt great and was eager to go for a jog. Despite having had hernia surgery only three weeks earlier, Frank Lee wanted to join me. Despite having no familiarity with the city, no map, and a directional orientation that would later prove to be off by 90 degrees, we headed out.
This part of Qingdao’s foreshore on the Yellow Sea presented a series of working piers between which there are dramatic cliffs of public parkland footed here and there by swimming beaches with a ten foot tide. It was easy to see why the city was chosen to host the sailing competition during the 2008 Olympics, as it showed us a dedicated sailing culture with all the world class facilities and accommodation one could expect.
The courtyard was deserted before breakfast, so I was doing my morning stretches there as there was insufficient floor space in our room. Flat on my back, legs locked and twisted in bizarre fashion, my quiet time was interrupted when I became aware of feet straddling my ears.
“Can I get some coffee?” an American accent demanded, her bellow echoing off the glass walls.
“Breakfast is served at eight.” I responded in low voice.
“Can I get some coffee?” she repeated, her face now leaning over into my roof-ward view. Did she think I worked here?
“Breakfast is served at eight.” I repeated, slightly louder.
She came to her knees her face now inches above mine. “What? What’s on the plate?”
Deaf as a doornail, I thought. “Breakfast is served at eight.” I repeated, now loud enough to wake our slumbering fellow guests.
“Oh.” she acknowledged, her face contorted in disappointment, lip curled. She stomped off into a room, slamming the door behind her. I heard her snarl “He won’t serve us until eight.” at some unfortunate companion. Sheesh. And I thought I was bad before morning coffee. Continue reading 05. A Breath of Fresh Air→
As we finished breakfast, host Mark approached our table. We had booked to have a car and driver take us to The Great Wall at Mu Tian Yu, which was supposed to be far less crowded and more spectacular than the nearer sight Badaling because, well, it takes a car and driver to get to Mu Tian Yu.
“You like to share car today?” he asked, sheepishly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Two American ladies want to go but don’t want to pay so much. You share with them, you pay half.”
“Yeah, sure, happy to…” we agreed, nodding enthusiastically. Certainly I was happy to save the dough, but also I get a bit uncomfortable with private tours, so was delighted to have some company. I promise to talk that through with my counsellor next month and report back as appropriate, but there it is. Continue reading 04. Great Walls of Ire→
It would be difficult to survive five days in Beijing without eating duck, which is both omnipresent and excellent, so it is a mystery to me why anyone would want to. Saturday evening our host suggested a local restaurant named Hui Feng which specialised in roast duckling. We ordered up a storm, about six dishes, one being an entire duck’s worth of Peking Duck. Marvellous! The ducks are big, here, too, so we had enough food for a family of ten.
In preparation for dining in Beijing, I had learned two important Chinese phrases phonetically: “May I have some hot chili sauce?” and “Where’s the toilet?” The staff was puzzled, and perhaps a bit offended, when, confusing the two phrases, I pointed to a plate of dumplings while demanding to know the locale of the toilet. Some of the other diners were entertained by our enormous appetites and creative chopstick techniques. We were entertained by the bug zapper over the door from the kitchen which intermittently sent insects to a cracking, fiery demise; very American. The whole banquet came in under $50.
Early to bed and early to rise, Sunday morning we headed out before breakfast, dangerously coffeeless, to see Chairman Mao arisen from his wintry tomb. It had rained overnight, which oddly enough did not clear the smog, but added mist and fog to the haze. Continue reading 03. Great Men and Spoilt Brats→