June 5th, 2002


When The Shrimp Is Drunker Than You Are

About two days of China and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself so far. Just two things to bitch about up to this point:

1. That Asian city funk. If you've traveled to Asia, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, it basically smells like air pollution. This is what happens when the bastards don't all pay for overpriced, fancy gasoline like us Californians. And like Sam I Am in "Green Eggs And Ham", you can't escape it whether you hide in a box or under a fox, because the funk seeps into your clothes, hair, skin and under your eyelids.

2. Humidity. Fucking humidity. At least Hell has dry heat.

Yesterday, my first full day in China, I got my ass up at 7:45 and hopped on a tourbus to the Great Wall.

I ended up sitting next to a speech therapy professor from the University of Illinois, who was over here on a "mission." The dude travels with a team of surgeons who go all over the world, fixing hare lips and cleft palates.

The good professor then works with the patients on teaching them to talk like someone who doesn't get beat up all the time for talking funny. Because of these missions, the guy has been to pretty much every country on the face of the earth. The cynic in me wonders if he does all these missions for charity, or for the free trips. I wonder if there are countries out there that need Advertising missions ...

FRANCE: Monsieur, we desperately need your help! Our ads are severely ineffective and bland! The jaded consumers are getting restless and beating each other over the heads with baguettes. We're in over our berets!

ME: It's a good thing you called me. Book me a first class ticket to Paris immediately. In the mean time, give me unlimited access to your best swimsuit models. I may need them all in a crisis such as this. With enough time, and a large enough expense account, I may be able to save your cheese-obsessed nation.

FRANCE: Sacre bleu!

When you first catch a glimpse of the Great Wall snaking across the mountaintops, you make a spaz out of yourself. "Oh My God! It's the Great Wall of fricking China!"

The astonishment is then quickly followed by "Hmmm, thought they'd be bigger."

But then, when you're actually there, walking on this seemingly infinite thing, it just leaves you breathless. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it's steeper than a muthafugga. It brought to mind my hike through China's Yellow Mountains two years ago. That was less a pleasant hike, and more a screamingly painful reminder of how out-of-shape I was.

So there I was, climbing the Great Wall, from tower to tower. As soon as I got to the first major tower, I stopped in my tracks and my Surreal-o-Meter went off the charts.

There in front of me standing calmly on the ancient brick floor, was a camel.

I'd love to know the story of how that camel ended up there. When most people look at the Great Wall, they think "awesome," "magnificent," or "somebody was overcompensating for his penis." But one business mastermind gazed at this Eighth Wonder of the World and thought camel. One of these days, I've got to show you my "At The Great Wall, Sitting On A Camel" photo.

When I got back to Beijing, I met up with T and our friend Lynn, who used to be the Queen Bee roommate of Chuck and T back in Brentwood. She's currently living in Beijing for Wharton's International Business program. We were also joined by a coworker of T's from Warner Bros, a very cosmpolitan chick named Cindy.

Cindy's been in Beijing for a while, so she took us to one of her favorite restaurants. The joint was hidden behind a small bamboo forest within the maze of narrow, dusty corridors that is old, historic Beijing. The food was okay, but the highlight of the meal was the Drunken Shrimp.

The meal literally lived up to its name. It was a bowl of live shrimp filled with some brandy sauce. They had a lid over the bowl. Against Cindy's objections, I lifted the lid. Next thing you know, the shrimp were leaping out of the bowl, spraying sauce all over the table. I quickly grabbed one of the drunk bastards with my chopsticks and without even hesitating, ate him. Not bad. The brandy was a bit sweet, but that was offset by the twitching shrimp flesh.

I ended up eating about ten of the intoxicated shellfish. Lynn refused to eat any, objecting to the way they died. But hey, I know a lot worse ways for an animal to meet its demise than getting loaded.

The evening concluded with us meeting up with Cindy's friends at ... a salsa club. Cindy's friends were very cool - and not just because they paid for our drinks. One of them was an i-banker-turned-golf tournament organizer. Another had her own TV show but was trying to become a singer. And none of them could dance salsa. But, watching the other dancers on the floor, I realized that nobody - including T and I - in Beijing knows how to salsa. Not even close. Which made me wonder who came up with the idea of putting a salsa dancing club in China.

Probably the camel guy.