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Captain's Log: Beijing

Zach, the man who plays Captain Jeff in our videos, kept a log of our time in Beijing on his Facebook page here are some highlights.

The arrival:

Jewel and Jason, having taken a later flight than John and I, got held up in a long line at the immigration checkpoint and had to dash to our gate. The worried flight attendants eyed John and I nervously asking us “Tell your friends ‘no snacks!’ ‘no stop for shopping!'” in halted English.

Suprising fact #1 about China: The whole process of entering the country was way more relaxed and easy going than I expected. In fact it was probably the fastest, least stressful entry I have done in any country. Despite wearing my full ship’s captain regalia we checked through immigration and customs like a breeze. They didn’t even ask any questions.

First video shoot:

We came back to the hostel and donned our costumes to shoot a segment called the “Hutong bike race“. The shooting took place to the entertainment of a number of locals living about the hutong who gazed in curiosity at our strange outfits, our cameras and John and Jason weaving around the narrow, winding streets. Jason attempted a couple of stunts, bounding out of small doorways and off a concrete ramp, but the heavy rental bikes were not well suited to his antics.

Translation troubles:

At lunch we were entertained by probably the funniest menu I have ever seen. There was such a variety of exotic food such as:

#110 The Flagrance Fries the Element Box
#109 Lives Flies the Meat Package
#115 Peru System Red Pork Bean Bun
#101 Nutritious Mutton Surface

There was the off-putting…

#118 Harsh Powder

…the dangerous…

#131 Three explodes the spring roll

…and the observant

#129 North Korea is Grim

Again, the lunch we had was delicious, but perhaps observing us giggling at the menu, the staff came over at the end of our meal with a rough draft of the new menu and asked us to correct it, kind of an international low tech spell check. It was a poignant site to see four creators of a web site dedicated to teaching English huddling around and doing rewrites of a chinese menu.

We’re big in China:

An amusing dynamic ocurred whenever we started an interview. People around us would see the camera, the microphone and John and I taking pictures and assume something important was going on. Soon a crowd would form and people started taking pictures with their cell phones.

Ebaby! member party:

When we arrived, the host ushered us up to the roof top deck and we were surprised to see between 25-30 English, baby! members already assembled there waiting for us. We heard a few calls of “English, baby!” and I made a visual impact in my Top Gun getup. After some introductions we split off into 3 tables with John, Jason and I manning a group of 8 or so while Jewel took as much video and pictures as she could in the dim light. We talked, made introductions and I fired up some simple drinking games. It felt very special to be on the other side of the world sharing mugs of beer and cups of tea with total strangers who only knew us from their participation in a web site. This scene felt like the kind of break through moment we were looking for and we took full advantage of it. I think we are going to find more significance and authentic interaction with the people on the street than with anything officially Olympic.

We took a group of about 9 to an entertainment complex called Party World. A more appropriate name might be the Ritz Karaoke. It was the most opulent karaoke box I have been to with chandeliers, tuxedoed attendants and marble floors.

There is a major atmospheric difference between karaoke in Asia (China, Korea and Japan) than that in the U.S. that I have a hard time getting across to my American friends. In Asia karaoke is a private affair. You go to a Karaoke Box and rent a private studio where they bring you drinks and snacks ordered by intercom. The studios can be small private ones for a couple or large rooms able to accomadate 20 or more. This creates a different dynamic than your average karaoke bar in the U.S. In Asia, for me at least, karaoke is a great stress reliever and I feel a sense of bonding with the people I am going out with. Since you are amongst friends there is a tendency for everyone to have a go at it and people’s inhibitions are lessened. The U.S. version of karaoke, while still fun, feels more like exhibitionism to me. In the U.S. I may sing one or two songs only if I am really feeling it. But in Asia it is rare for even the most shy person to not belt at least one number out in the karaoke box.

I truly believe that if we could just get our world leaders hammered, shove them into a karaoke box and have them belt out some Journey we could reduce the need for trillion dollar national defense budgets and work out many of our social ills. But, failing that, in our little microcosm in Beijing this little karaoke cultural exchange was, to me, what the real Olympics are all about.

The heat! The heat!:

I tried to look at it as though I was in an all day steam spa. So relaxing! Even if you are constantly damp from head to toe.

The buzz:

It was mid afternoon and our stomachs were rumbling so we headed down an even narrower alley way toward a street vendor. Here a woman had dozens of varieties of skewered fish cakes, sausages, tofu and other treats simmering in a chili laden broth. She handed us bowls so we could pick out what we wanted and combined that with noodles and vegetables, reboiled them and topped them with sesame sauce, garlic sauce and chili and added some broth. Based on my experience in Japan this was like a combination of oden and ramen. It was probably the most delicious street food I have had.

Sitting in that little alley way, with families and kids strolling by eating delicous food and watching this humble woman cooking some of the best food I have ever had with no pretense gave us all a traveler’s buzz. This is a feeling when you are in some place far from home experiencing something very satisfying and unique and everything just seems in harmony.

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One Response to “Captain's Log: Beijing”

  1. help me save my marriage Says:

    Added, thanks for this post – it was a good read.

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