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Eric Hu

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Party Pooper [Dec. 12th, 2004|11:40 pm]
Eric Hu
An interesting thing happened to me on the way to the forum…for the first time in my life, I could have used some Ex-Lax.

(If you couldn’t tell from that sentence that the ensuing entry might be a tad bit disgusting in a grade-schoolish way, you might want to skip this and go straight to amazon.com, or whatever else you were doing. But if you’re a sucker for reading about how I once again embarrassed the crap out of myself (literally), feel free to go on…)

Anyway, the whole Ex-Lax thing is more of a build-up to one fateful night this past month, the day of my first ever participation in a Chinese wedding. One of my favorite coworkers, Shirley, was getting married to her boyfriend of 3+ years. I was very excited for her, but also excited for myself. Not as much as I was a few weeks prior after I had learned that Chinese weddings don’t consist of drums and firecrackers and lots of red veils and stuff anymore. I was half expecting it to be an arranged marriage, whereby Shirley’s three year engagement would be to some dude that she had never met before. Alas, I learned that the whole ceremony was going to be much like it would have been in the States, with the bride in a flowing white gown and the groom in a dashing black tuxedo. Dude, there was even going to be a minister supervising the vow-exchange…and it was to be a white guy! One Chinese tradition that was going to remain intact, however, was the “Nao Dong Fang,” which literally translates to “Raucous Room.” After some inquiry, I learned that the “Nao Dong Fang” tradition is one where the bride and groom invite guests to their room on their wedding night, where the guests are supposed to give them a hard time by making them do silly things to each other. The newlyweds cannot reject any request, so it’s kind of like the Godfather, but without all the Italians and the shooting. With that seemingly being the only real Chinese element of the wedding, I was a tad disapointed. Still, weddings always hit me r-i-g-h-t h-e-r-e, and with my lubricated tear-ducts and uncooperative personal eject system in tow, I gleefully snapped pictures and chatted it up with the guests before the actual aisle-walk down.

Poor Shirley is blind as a bat, and with her decision to not wear glasses during the ceremony combined with the inevitable emotion of marrying someone she loves, I was half afraid that she would kiss the white minister by accident. We sang Chinese hymns (or Ashlee-Simpsoned them, in my case) and tried to hold back our own tears as Shirley was given away by her father, then led around blindly by her doting new husband. The follow-up banquet was nice, as I bonded with co-workers and practiced my one full sentence of Shanghai-nese (“Why does it smell so funny in here? Who farted?”). One of my co-workers (Derek), who always drives his car to these functions, had the foresight to park his vehicle at his girlfriend Audrey’s (another co-worker) nearby so that he could drink to his heart’s content. Big mistake…for me. This guy apparently drinks red wine like Gatorade, and before I knew it he was challenging me mano a mano. Predictably, I lost, and found myself wandering in the rain in the general direction of the “Nao Dong Fang” after the banquet with 3 boxes of Dove mini-chocolates under my arms. Thankfully, a team of co-workers drove by and picked my sorry ass up to take me to the magical room where mischief lay ahead.

Once I arrived in the “Nao Dong Fang,” I tried my best to keep my eyelids open for as long as possible, watching them play the first game “Groom does 20 push-ups on top of the Bridge” and the second game “Groom find 36 different spots on the Bride’s body to kiss.” Around this time, I found a fantastic balloon next to my head, and used it as a pillow. What genius! What comfort! The next thing I knew, my co-worker Sylvia was kicking me in the shoes, telling me to wake up, everyone was leaving. I stood up and rubbed my eyes, and was a bit aghast at two things: 1) the Bride and Groom were apparently naked under the covers (what did I miss?!) and more importantly, 2) I really had to go #2. Now!

Obviously, the last thing I would want on my wedding night is some cretin to overstay his welcome by unloading a horrendous souvenir in the adjoining porcelain receptacle in the bathroom of my newlywed suite. Thankfully, this was not MY wedding night, and after four days of ingesting horrible cafeteria spinach in an attempt to fiber up, I was not going to let this moment pass. I walked into the bathroom and, by the power of Greyskull was able to lighten my own mass by a not insignificant amount. WHEW! Time flies when you’re in your own personal bowel utopia, and as I closed my eyes and laughably attempted to sober up, I dismissed the screams outside of “ERIC! ERIC!” and the incessant vibrating of my cell phone. Nothing, not even the wondrous union between a man and a woman, was going to mess up THIS union of man and toilet.

After about ten minutes, I tidied myself up and opened the door with a gleeful smile on my face. The screaming stopped as everyone watched me as I marched out the door. They were already in the hallway, holding my jacket. I paused as I headed out the door. After taking so much attention away from the bride and groom on this oh so very special night, it wasn’t right of me to leave a souvenir like that without a classic signature to go with it. I whipped around, saluted, and yelled out “Congratulations Shirley!” in Chinese, then turned back around and left down the stairs. Mission accomplished! I had pooped many a party in the past, but never had I done it with a naked woman screaming my Chinese name and yelling at me to get out through the walls. What other “firsts” and surprises lie ahead!
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Version of Versus [Nov. 14th, 2004|11:40 pm]
Eric Hu
So even in Shanghai, Election Day was just as painful for me as it probably was for all my compadres back in San Francisco. I carried my laptop to all my meetings and paid attention to nary a word. Every few minutes, npr.org would color up one state red or blue, and each new state that turned red was like a new massive paper-cut on my left thumb. By then end of the evening, I was so mentally exhausted from staring at a purple Ohio that for the first time at Intel Shanghai, I fell asleep on the way to my bus (where I usually do the sleeping).

Now that most people have come to grips with reality and have either accepted the election results or have fled to Canada, I’ve been immersing myself in all the Monday morning quarterbacking that goes on both on TV and the Web, where I gather most of my news and gab. There seem to be a dozen different explanations for why Kerry lost, most of them not having to do with Kerry at all, but at the state of our country and the electorate. I think that people on my side of the fence were a little blown away at how NOT CLOSE the election was when all was said and done, and this surprise led them to look at all the different nooks and crannies of the election sphere that they might have previously neglected. Since so much scrutiny was given to Kerry during most of the past year, I guess it was time for all of us to look ourselves and to really decipher what all the red and blue talk really meant.

I guess my personal opinion is that no matter which way you look at, the most effective platform to read into the polarization of America is pretty basic high school history stuff: Rousseau and the noble savage vs. Hobbes and the Leviathan that is man’s passions. If you’re with Rousseau and believe that we are all inherently good, then isn’t it likely that you think Bush has squandered all the goodness out there in the world for the specific aim of narrow-minded interests and at the expense of realizing our global potential as a beacon for peace and hope? And if you’re with Hobbes, isn’t it likely that you think that the country is plunging into a greater well of valueless depravity and that the Church (everyone is born a sinner) and the Family need to regain their roles as the guideposts to our lives, and that without a strong hand overseas the civil strife proceeding from human passions would continue to spread to untainted parts of the world?

Nothing is ever that simple, and I don’t want to get into a nature vs. nurture argument here, but the red state vs. blue state is just another “version of versus” that essentially describes my personal (and let me highlight the world “personal”) belief that liberals are the optimists and conservatives are, well…conservatives. I think humankind has the potential to build great societies that are founded on peace and respect and trust…which is exactly what we didn’t get by invading Iraq. At the same time, to many others, it’s just as likely that I’m wrong, and that humankind, if left unchecked, is apt to run amuck amongst a buffet of crazy ideologies, barbaric religions, sexual degeneracy, and whatever else can act as a black hole for our basest desires. I don’t know much, but I know that I have faith in what I believe, which is why I slammed my head to the ground when purple Ohio turned red.

It’s not that I’m bitter so much as just sad that I'm even more in the minority than I thought. If the next four years are going to be like the first, then I’ll be glad that I’m so far away. But if Bush does what he says he’s going to do and reaches out to people on THIS side of the fence…well, then, perhaps humankind may not be that bad after all. Either way, I have a feeling that we’ll be looking at a system of “versus” for quite a long time to come.
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O Captain, My Captain [Oct. 15th, 2004|03:23 am]
Eric Hu
I first met Keith when he was a baby to the world of Shanghai. When he left in September, he was a gigolo with a patch of stubble on his face. Keith was snatched away from us in his Shanghai prime, and while I will do all that I can to bring him back to where he belongs, I can’t help but feel that the end of an era has closed. Ribald Keith has left Shanghai.

Damn visa expiration! Oh well, at least we got off one humungous week of partying before he left. Knowing that the end was near, Mike, Chace, and myself steeled ourselves for the inevitable damage to our livers. For one week in September, ever single night was devoted to immersing in the fruits of Shanghai as if it were our last opportunity. It was as if we all had a second job to go to after work. I would get drunk at work just thinking about how much I had the night before and how much I was going to have that very night.

I’ve made many entries about exploits at various bars and clubs, and since my drunken stories are most likely entertaining to no one but myself and the participants of those very events, I won’t get into specifics of how stupid and moronic we consistently tend to act. However, perhaps we can use Keith’s farewell week as an education for those of you who don’t really know what partying in Shanghai is like, since every night out tends to follow a very discernable pattern:

1) Enter club
2) Greet friends with manly handshake;, sometimes followed by a similarly manly hug (entails pounding on the back with fists). Women friends are greeted with the double-cheek kiss; unfamiliar partners are also roundly introduced, but this act mostly serves to enhance the image of the one bringing the newcomer, since in a half hour all names will be forgotten amidst a furious drunkenness anyway.
3) Smokers light up to establish cool factor while the bottle of whisky, or in our case, the bottles of beer are retrieved
4) Usher or Outkast gets played; we all look at each other and scream “OH SHIT!” since all of the ring-tones on our cell phones are either “Hey Ya!” or “Yeah!.” We are dual syllabic at best. Dancing commences
5) After the fourth or fifth drink, we start taking pictures of each other. Interesting, since the next digital photo of two or three guys putting their arms around each other is most likely going to be the ten thousandth.
6) Mike starts drinking with every girl there, regardless of look or age. Oddly enough, he has a sixth sense about which female has neglected to shave her underarms, and proceeds to point them out to the rest of us.
7) One by one, we start retiring to the couch, the world spinning about us. The first one to sit usually has to bear the weight of the rest of us who, predictably, think it’s funny to start sitting on each other and/or giving each other lap dances.
8) We see Tina, and then we start to dance with her. She wrinkles her nose and gives us “The Hand.” We look at each other and laugh, not believing that once again we’re asked to talk to her hand. We keep drinking
9) We start hugging all the new people we just met that night without knowing any of their names.
10) Leave club
11) Go to Bi Feng Tang and stuff our bellies in wholesome dim sum goodness

Anyway, Keith’s second to last night in Shanghai followed this protocol to perfection. We bounced from Pegasus to Guandi with our eyes closed. Wilkie was also celebrating his first night in town, and before we knew it we were drenched in beer and bittersweet tears as we said goodbye to Keith and he to Shanghai. No more 10 RMB beers at Bi Feng Tang before clubbing. No more drinking at Lawson’s convenience store before clubbing. No more 50 RMB beers at Malone’s when we couldn’t get to a Bi Feng Tang or a Lawson’s in time. No more cruising down Yan’an in a cab with 3 RMB cans of Suntory in our pockets. Notice a trend?

Au revoir, bon voyage mon amie. Wir wollen dir nie vergessen. Shang Hai Ai Ni. Come back soon and we’ll knock back a few and listen to Usher. The world will be as we know and love it.
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Summer Daze [Sep. 27th, 2004|07:43 am]
Eric Hu
In light of the retroactive blogging that I am forced to do to cover the amount of temporal surface area I originally neglected the first time around, I will try present a montage of my first full summer in Shanghai, hopefully by juicing it up enough that you’ll want to keep reading while keeping the salaciousness down to a minimum for those of you on low-carb diets.

Highlight #1: Many friends from California came out and brought a little bit of home to Shanghai. The big one was Monica doing a summer law program in Hong Kong for two months. I went to Hong Kong twice, met with her in Beijing for a weekend, and then was blessed with her visit to Shanghai at the end of July. I basically tried to get as much of my Monica fix taken care of as possible. Let’s just say that it sucks when the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” comes up on my iPod.

Cheryl also came out on a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong, China, and Mongolia. Being the experienced globetrotter that she is, she meticulously mapped out her entire convoluted itinerary so that everywhere she went, she’d be able to do the touristy thing with good friends who also had yet to do those touristy things. One of my HK trips was made because both Cheryl and Monica were in town, and though I had been to Hong Kong many times before, I found myself at places I didn’t even know existed (wait, you mean there’s a BEACH in this two-bit hick town?!). Beijing was nice, what with the sprightly duo of Ting Ni and Cheryl Scott bounding up the steps at the Great Wall, while Monica (bless her heart) and I sat towards the bottom, consoling the maturing beer belly that is mine. I have to credit Cheryl for being one of the only people on this planet that can pull me away from a crappy martial arts movie on HBO to take three different subway trains + a cab to get to a place where I have to pay money to enter. That’s exactly what she did on my first day in Beijing, where we met up at the Summer Palace. I forgot to add in the part about having to actually find her once I got to the Summer Palace, being that Cheryl looks exactly like every other Chinese person in the proximity.

With both Monica and Cheryl in China, I couldn’t ask for much more, but I got it with multiple visits from Jack Cheng and my brother Andrew. This called for some serious celebrating, and what better outlet than buying bootleg DVDs? All in all, quality time spent with quality friends and family, and that itself makes it on the top of the Eric Shanghai Summer Highlight List.

Hightlight #2: I’m a summer birthday boy, and given so much activity with friends and family and all, I had one of those elongated birthday weeks that people who have inflated egos try to build on each additional year. Since I was pretty new at my company, I thought a great ice breaker would be to invite all my new co-workers to go singing, which apparently is what the Chinese youth species enjoy doing when they’re not eating and working. This was when the awful truth came out: they don’t drink! I was forced to gulp down as many brews as I could with my boss, Jeff, who thankfully is from California and partied at Chico State. Little did I realize at the time that when I lost to him in a chugging contest, that it would be a foreshadowing of me losing much more later that night.

After ditching the Gang of Dry, the few of us that did enjoy imbibing got soused at all-you-can-eat sushi, which has made plenty an appearance on this blog in months past. Cheryl arrived that afternoon, and along with Chace, Keith, Tina, Kim, Mike, and Sanjay, we made a sport out of making myself look stupid. Of course, it was more like the SF Giants, with me being Barry Bonds and everyone else being Neifi Perez (for you non-baseball people, basically it was a one man wrecking crew with me doing the wrecking to myself). Our next stop was Cotton, one of my favorite pubs in Shanghai because it has an outdoor patio which is perfect for warm evenings. Problem is, everyone else feels the same way, so on the warm evening of my birthday, we forced our way through the crowd and got ourselves a table, where Jeff promptly insisted that I drink one shot of tequila after we had already had a few rounds.

“No thanks, Jeff, I’m really drunk right now and I’m probably going to end up puking all over this nice patio if I have anything else to drink.”
“Eric, it’s your birthday, you have to have this one last shot of tequila.”
“Jeff, I appreciate that you are celebrating my birthday with me, but I have alcohol up to here (gesturing to throat) and I don’t think I can take anymore.”
“Eric, do you know what a CLM is?”
“Um…Charming Little Mouse?”
“It stands for Career Limiting Move, and if you don’t have this shot of tequila in front of you, this might be considered a CLM down the road”

Gulp.

First of all, when two drunk people are having a dialogue, it's never grammatically correct. Second, when your boss is shoving big words like CLM down your throat, regardless of how drunk he and you both are, you oblige. I took the shot and immediately tried to supress that inevitable tequila burp. Unfortunately, neither my hand nor the force of gravity could stop the hurl, and before I knew it the beautiful patio at Cotton’s in addition to someone’s cute blue sandal were awash in panda chowder. And that, my friends, is how Highlight #2 transformed into Lowlight #1.

Hey, at least I kept my word.
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Intel Inside - Shanghai [Sep. 12th, 2004|07:41 am]
Eric Hu
Shortly after I returned from my trip to Tibet, I accepted an offer to return to Intel Finance based out of Shanghai. Thanks to Margene, I was quickly able to contact the right people who would hire me, and luckily they were looking for people to hire, so the initial process was fairly relaxed and smooth. After nine months of studying, traveling, and a huge amount of loafing, it was somewhat gratifying to be starting work again, and as I walked through the lobby of the office on my first official day on the job, I was excited thinking about how my career in Asia was starting at the only company that was ever willing to pay for my services, excluding my exquisite work as a shoplifter testing out the security at Vons back in Claremont (since it was on a volunteer basis and I never got around to telling management).

My first reaction walking down the hallway toward my cubicle was how eerily similar the environment was to Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, where I was originally based. The colors were identical, down to the cheerless gray of the carpet fibers to the feather tone of the cubicle walls. The same Intel motivational posters adorned the walls. People walked past me in on their way to their busy meetings, strictly avoiding eye contact. I walked by cubicles where people on headsets were chatting on the phone with counterparts and peers that they had never before met face to face. The officescape was dotted with pillars, each marked with a letter followed by a number – landmarks for the novice navigator. Just as it was back home in Santa Clara, Chandler (AZ), and Hillsboro (OR). I was beginning to forget that I was thousands of miles away in a completely different country.

I walked into my new cube and plopped my bag down on the chair. I stared to my left, then to my right; the view from inside the cubicle was exactly the same. I breathed in the scent of the office; even that was similar. I was awash in nostalgia, and I leaned against the my desk and felt as if nothing had changed, as if I had never left the comfortable womb of Big Blue. Any minute, I would hear Alejandro knock my partition and utter his famous tagline “Playa Playa.” Any minute, Cindy was going to stick her head over and say “Eric Hu, where have you been?” I was home again.

“WAKATOOOOOOOOOOOOOPY!”

The sound of a fantastic loogey being hawked a few cubes down ripped me from the familiar images in my head. What the hell was that? That sound wasn’t from my collection of golden Intel oldies!

I opened my eyes. “WAKATOOOOOOOOOOOOPY!” Another one. Different vicinity.

No matter how “the same” things can feel, here in China, it will ALWAYS be a little bit different
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Skyburial [Aug. 6th, 2004|03:25 pm]
Eric Hu
Creepiness permeated the air as the four of us climbed up the ravine. Perhaps it was the clutters of symmetrically stacked stones that pimpled up from the gravel. Or maybe it was the massive strings of Tibetan prayer flags that hung from the skeletal posts next to the ghostlike structure at the top of the hill, flaps of colors that looked once vibrant and now worn down by wind and other forces. Or maybe it was because we were following our friends up to the sacred sky-burial site near Lhasa, where residents brought the dead bodies of their loved ones for decapitation, dismemberment, and where the meat was eventually fed to the birds circling overhead.

Yap, it was probably that last one.

A few days earlier, one of the more studious members of our tour group had enlightened the rest of us on the fascinating but gruesome details of the ancient Tibetan ritual that we came to call "Skyburial". In Buddhism, emphasis is placed on the soul/spirit rather than the physical body (the idea of reincarnation is the best example). The body, then, is merely a vessel of Nature, and when the spirit leaves it the Tibetans don't wish to waste it. So naturally they feed it to the birds, essentially completing the Circle of Life (cue Elton John...now!).

Of course, after about the 13th monastery, the idea of spending another morning surrounded by vats of yak lard sounded less and less exciting to most of us, while a trip up to the sacred plateau where the sky-burial ritual was performed ghoulishly appealed to the darker side of all of us (with the exception of Rainer, who on this trip seemed to be consumed with nothing but darkness). Realizing our tour guide was susceptible to mob persuasion, we cleverly utilized the Turks to prevaricate about the sky-burial being a part of our itinerary, and soon enough we left monastery #13 early and headed towards the hills to the west.

Initially, I thought we were only going to glimpse the site from afar. The act of chopping up dead bodies and leaving them for the birds did have the smell of sacredness to it, and I hardly thought that the Tibetan Minister of Ghastly and Stomach-Turning Rituals was open to the idea of a group of grubby tourists marking up the immaculate location. That, of course, was conservative me; the crazy Germans were the first to get out of the car and start running across the barren terrain to the small little stucture on top of the rock. The tour guide, in a shining moment of competence, chased after them, perhaps realizing that a band of free-range Germans at least posed a small threat to the sanctity of her ancient religion. The Turks, after finishing their cigarettes, were more than happy to follow, which left me with the option of going along, or staying behind and dealing with the recumbent Rainer's less than savory flatulence. So I jogged after them.

After scaling the slope and reaching the top of the huge rock, the Turks and I found the remaining portion of our group inside the little chapel, talking to a weathered old monk. We soon discovered through our tour guide's serviceable translation that the monk was the caretaker of the sky-burial site, and was the only one allowed to live in the chapel and manage it. He had been living there for years, with the only visitors the families of the dead bird-feed and volunteers who brought up water and supplies. He had never been visited by outsiders before, and, with a huge smile, informed our tour guide that she should never ever have allowed us to come.

It's hard to put down on paper the effect of hearing that chilling translation. You had to have been there, a group of nervous tourists, listening to a monk who lived a life of complete solitude, standing next to a fearsome-looking collection of tools that we assumed were used for sawing off limbs, tell us that we should never have walked through his chapel door. I wanted to pull Raphael's ears off; it was this derpy German who dragged us here!

The monk’s smile, however, threw us off. He continued through translation: Yes, you should not have come, but I am in a good mood and think you white people are funny looking, so please crowd around me and take some pictures!

Tibet is chock full of surprises. What followed was definitely the highlight of our time in Lhasa. With a huge sigh or relief, we marveled at the blood-stained tools, listened to the monk talk about his decision to become a monk (he wanted to impress one of the high school cheerleaders), and circled him to take photographs with our digital cameras, which he seemed to particularly enjoy. I looked over at the pile of empty beer bottles in the corner, and imagined that if I were forced to live by myself on a rock in the middle of nowhere, I'd take every opportunity to get as sloshed as possible.

The monk showed us the little indentations in the rock where he placed the heads of the corpses he had to chop up. Some of them still had bits and pieces of dried flesh, which was particularly gruesome. Around the same time, a band of young Tibetans came climbing up the hill. They were unshaven and quiet, and strangely enough kept multiplying through the course of our Sky-Burial 101 lesson. One of the Turks shifted uneasily and whispered to me, “I don’t like this.” I didn’t either, particularly because my Lonely Planet had warned me that in May, hordes of young Tibetan monks make a hobby of surrounding tourists and giving them vicious wedgies. “Let'ss get out of here,” I whispered back.

As we slowly walked away from the men and down the rock, we said the appropriate farewells and thanks to this fascinating monk who was kind enough to take us under his wing and showed us the secret ritual of Chopping Dead Bodies Up. Most of us were in awe and were generally grateful that we experienced such a rare opportunity. I lingered on the bedrock a bit longer, soaking the eerie mysticism of it all in one last time. Then I felt an arm grab mine from behind and I screamed.

It was the monk. He leaned closed to me, and I could see that hidden behind his kind, grandfatherly eyes was the soul of a man who had lived too many years in weathered solitude, who had seen too many things that we could not comprehend. Here was a man who was capable of sending people to Heaven, but destroying them from this Earth. At that moment, he was no kind monk but a messenger of all that was frightening and dead in this world. I recoiled, but he pulled me forward. He opened my palm and crammed a crinkled up piece of paper into my fingers. A hex, I was sure!

He leaned in and whispered, “Here’s fifty bucks. Put this on the Packers to win it all this year.”

And with that, he turned around, reached into his thick robe, and pulled out some beers and tossed them to the cheering young men surrounding him. I thought, “No one’s going to believe this.” And I’m pretty sure none of you will. I’m comfortable with that remaining a moment between me, Monk, and all the other Cheeseheads out there.
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Tina's Yak Attacks [May. 31st, 2004|11:44 pm]
Eric Hu
One fateful day in Lhasa, Tina decided to skip out on breakfast and had some instant noodles in her room instead.

Uh oh, bad idea.

Not sure if it really was the noodles, but I had a feeling that if she came downstairs to eat with the rest of this, she wouldn't have had to deal with the yak attacks that were to come. And I'm talking some serious yakking!

A few hours into the drive, she was already complaining about nauseau, irritable bowels, and cramps. Man, what a truly crappy triumverate to have! Especially when bouncing up and down on rocky all-wheel-drive roads. Finally, on one of our infrequent stops to the rare town that randomly appeared before us, Tina's stomach let it all out right in front of the Turks.

Bilge ran to his car to give her some pills that, according to him, "simply make you not throw up."

Tina popped those in. Minutes later, she promptly threw those pills back up. Somehow, the of throwing up pills that were supposed to make you not throw up was lost on most of the now growing circle of team members surrounding Tina.

Bilge tossed her another pair of his pills. "Take these with hot water this time."

Of course, the yakking continued. We stopped in front of a glacier and well got out to take pictures, except Tina, who got out to continue her puke fest. Poor girl. At that point, I had already given her Immodium for her potential diarrhea, Dramamine for her motion sickness. She had also mentioned that she had taken Advil to counter her headaches, as well as two pills of altitude sickness medicine.

When we arrived at the hotel, Tina crawled upstairs and refused to come down for dinner. While eating with Bilge, I mentioned that Tina would probably be tired because everything I gave her, except for the two Charcoal tablets I made her down before going to bed, was sleep inducing. Bilge paused.

"So are the pills that I gave her."

Christine then piped in. "I also gave her some cold medicine that was supposed to relax her."

"Let me get this straight," said Bilge. "We all gave her pills that make her go to sleep, and she took them all? And now's she in her bedroom completely passed out? Perhaps we should go check on her."

We all looked at each other.

"These potatoes are excellent," said Ertan.

And they really were! So we ordered more.

----------------------------

By the time we reached Base Camp Everest, everyone except Rainer was in top form, save for the occasional altitude-induced headache. We excitedly unpacked our stuff in the tent, meticulously assigning cots based on who would most often get up, who would get up the earliest, and who had a tendency to snore. We even arranged it so that no one was sleeping by anyone else' feet. It was a beautiful group effort (except for Rainer, who had already taken the first cot and was snoring in a grumpy fashion). While, Tina went outside to use the "water closet," which was nothing more than a hole in the ground, I stuck my head out the tent to breathe the fresh air. I couldn't believe I was here, at the doorstep of the tallest mountain in the world!

I heard a yelp, and I turned. Tina had finished up and was apparently trying to walk back to the tent, but one of the yaks lounging nearby had gotten up and was attacking her. This was a surprise on many levels, particularly because most of the yaks Simon and I had tried to approach earlier ran away in fright.

Tina yelped again as the the yak tried to knock her over with his horns. Raphael and I started running toward the creature, who indeed saw us and turned around and bolted. We turned to Tina, who was in shock at nearly being mounted by the mountain animal.

"I can't believe I got attacked by a yak!" she cried.

"I can't believe it either!" I yelled, and gave Raphael a Hi-Five. To see someone brave the perils of not one but TWO yak attacks in the span of days...well, let's just something you don't see every day, is it now?!
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Battery Drain [May. 31st, 2004|10:30 pm]
Eric Hu
"I may be old, ja, but I have a big battery!" the middle-aged German man said while rubbing his enlarged stomach. His accent was thick (he had only learned English since arriving in Shanghai two years prior) but it was jolly, and the twinkle in his eye confessed a belief that being young was purely in the head.

The man was called Rainer, and he was the first person from our tour group to introduce himself to Tina and me. At 40, he was by far the most senior of everyone on the roster, but as he rubbed his gut and cracked jokes about his fellow Germans in Shanghai, I was happy to have his enthusiasm (and crazy funny accent!) along for the ride.

Little did I know that that day in Shanghai, hours before boarding the plane, would be the last time I would see the man smile.

We arrived in Lhasa in the afternoon, and we spent our first few hours as a group taking pictures in front of the Potola palace. After that, we were free to wander around or follow the tour guide to do some additional shopping. Rainer mentioned that he intended to walk back toward the hotel, and I offered to follow him, thinking we'd have a fantastic conversation about sauerkraut. Strangely enough, he kept quiet despite my attempts at provoking conversation:

"Don't skinny people suck?"
"I love beer. But German beer is terrible."
"Can I call you Rain-ey?"

No dice. He would stay stiff and wooden for most of the trip, eating a single egg for breakfast, skipping lunch, and staying on the bus while the rest of us scoped out monasteries and bought souvenirs. On a good day, Rainer would warn us before heading off to the hotel room right before we were to hit the bus for some more siteseeing. On a bad day, he liked to scream at the little kids trying to sell him crafts.

"RAUS! RAUS!" he screamed at the two little Tibetans who had wandered onto our bus and were playing Taiwan pop songs for spare change. "RAUS!" He even curled the "R's" as to make it all the more surreal.

It wasn't until the third day that Simon told me that prior to the trip, Rainer had visited a trio of Eastern medicine "specialists": a masseuse, an herbalist, and an acupuncturist. Wanting to prepare himself for the high altitude, he tbought he'd try the buffet of remedies for ailments he had yet to experience. The acupuncturist told Rainer that he was too fat, and gave him a needle that was supposed to decrease his appetite.

Who knew it would make him eat nothing but an egg a day?

After a while, we stayed away from him, though we all felt sorry for the big guy. But something about a 280 lb. 6 foot German man who only glared and slept that made us keep away.

Inevitably, it was this fear that made NONE of us willing to be the one to break the news to Rainer that our flight out of Kathmandu was going to be canceled...indefinitely. After all, he was routing directly at the Shanghai airport to head back to Germany, and this was certainly going to make him want to wrestle someone! Why not the Nepalese airport dudes who were a quarter of his size?

And that's what happened.
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Buddha Breathes a Sigh of Relief [May. 31st, 2004|06:00 pm]
Eric Hu
[mood |Semi-Enlightened]

It’s been far too long between today and my last official blog entry, and I attribute that completely to the fact that I’ve not had a good thirty minutes to sit in front of the computer and ruminate since I came back from Tibet. My friends Spencer and Henry made a pit stop here in China on their grand tour through the sights and tastes of Asia immediately after I returned from Nepal. However, to the chagrin of many of you, I am back and as garrulous as ever, and ready to unleash upon you the details of my spiritual journey through Tibet and Kathmandu, with details of the less mystical but no less fruitful “Chronicles of Spencer in Asia” sprinkled into the mix.

Instead of continuing along the much trodden path of chronologically listing destinations and events from my trip, I’ve decided to summarize the basic itinerary in this short initial passage/entry, and then proceed to single out the best anecdotal nuggets of the journey for more in-depth narration. This way, you can worm your way into my head and have a good feel for what I remember best about the trip before heading over to the picture gallery and looking at postcard-like photographs that have absolutely no personal meaning to any of you.

Map of Tibet

Our starting point in Tibet was Lhasa. After spending three days there in the capital we hopped into some really old Land Cruisers and headed west toward the Himalayas and Base Camp Everest. To say the area we drove through was grossly underdeveloped is a gross understatement. The land is arid and dry, with very little vegetation; you truly feel like you’re at the end of the world. After Lhasa we overnighted at Gyantse, then Shigatse, then Tingri, which is the smallest town that I have EVER seen in my entire life (there’s a hotel there, a bridge, and four shacks). Next was our night at Everest, before we drove to Zhangmu, an adorable border town between Nepal and China. Then, it was off to Kathmandu, where we were afraid that the political riots and strikes that serendipitously hit the city when we arrived would keep us trapped in Nepal for four or five extra days (turned out to be 1).

There were a good three days there where all we did was drive, with stops for pictures and yak-meat lunches. Some of the sights of Tibet were spectacular while others, especially the poverty of many of the peasants in the rural areas, were sobering. The air everywhere was fantastic, and the sky had to have ranked as one of the bluest I have ever seen (along with New Mexico). I did get a little “monasteried out,” as there is little in Tibet other than monasteries and yaks. Even the nunneries are kept geographically inaccessible, perhaps for fear that the monks would partake in a little co-ed mischief. Mount Everest was disappointing at first, but at sunset and sunrise her majesty becomes startlingly evident.

I won’t soon forget my experiences in Tibet and Nepal, not so much because of the enlightenment factor, but more because the simple purpose of visiting these places is to not forget these strange and wonderful sights. I encourage you all to make the trek one day, and if on this journey through the Tibet hinterlands you stop your car and take a stroll near a sparkling creek in the shadow of a canyon wall that looks like a stovepipe hat, look down and search for a pile of smooth, sandy-colored rocks. If a wildflower with violet petals is blossoming between the cracks of the stones, I hope you think of me…because I seriously fertilized the hell out of it.
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Mo Monestary Mo Blues [May. 6th, 2004|09:38 pm]
Eric Hu
I'm sitting in another Internet cafe right now in Shigetsu, Tibet, but don't have much time to update this blog as my two German companions Rafael and Simon are waiting to get in and out of here as quickly as possible, probably because the combination of the high altitude (4500 meters above sea level) and the cloud of Tibetan cigarette smoke here are rendering the three of us akin to that old woman in the anti-smoking commercials who takes a drag from her cigarette through her throat.

The overwhelming sentiment from the bulk of our tour group of 10 is this: NO MORE MONESTARIES! Yes, what else should we have expected from visiting Tibet, you ask. Still, there are only so many yak-butter cauldrons that I can stand. The last time I left you we were embarking on our first day in Lhasa at the Drepung Monestary, where Richard the Brit was trying to convince us of the hilarity in throwing Tina into a large vat of yak-butter. After Drepung we headed down to Potala Palace, the Tibetan monestary of all monestaries that looms over Lhasa on its throne of stone. It was clear that at this point, our travel guide was working the incompetence angle, as she had somehow managed to purchase 6 tickets for 10 people. Before long, it would become painfully evident that she knew little about her people or her religion, as she began to answer questions as if she were talking to a group for the deaf. For example:

"Kun Kei, is this statue of a buddha or of a dalai lama?"

"It is a statue of a buddha."

"Which one?"

"It is either the buddha of mercy, the buddha of the future, the buddha of protection, or it's a statue of the 14th dalai lama."

We eventually found a German-speaking Chinese tour guide, and I discovered that understanding 30% of what he was saying was much better than listening to 100% of our own tour guide spewing bullshit at us in our general direction.

(I may be kicked out of here at any minute, so don't be surprised if I end with a sentence fragm
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