June 23rd, 2002


Getting Sick Of Hot Women And Alcohol, And Other Mystifying Symptoms Of Homesickness

After 13 straight days of partying (14 if you count the wedding on the night before I left for China), my ass was worn out. Like I said before: People with hectic, crazy jobs go on nice, relaxing vacations; and people like me with nice, relaxing jobs go on hectic, crazy vacations. Either way, at the end of the trip, you find yourself looking forward to going back home.

Shanghai is truly unlike any other city on earth. Everything about this town has a finger firmly pressed on the fast-forward button. Never mind the Manhattanesque skyline that popped up in five years. When I was here two years ago, I often had coffee in one of the two Starbucks in the entire city; which itself was amazing considering they’d only discovered the joys of coffee a couple of years earlier. Now, just like in the States, you see a Starbucks everywhere.

Two years ago, you didn’t see chichi, ultramodern restaurants like the one I went to Saturday night for a birthday dinner. Now, there are dozens of them, with dozens more in the works. But what separated this restaurant from the rest was that it was impossible to get into. Not in terms of getting a reservation, but literally getting into the fucking place.

T and I came upon a smooth gray door, but it had no knob or handle. I tried pushing and even sliding it. Wouldn’t budge. We knocked. Nope. We walked around the building to the back and got kicked out by a security guard. When we asked him where the entrance was, he pointed us back to the same place. I realized maybe this was one of those damn gimmick entrances, so I tried to pry open a wooden panel, thinking it was a secret door. I practically tore the wall off. At that point, some of the guests from the birthday dinner arrived who’d already been to this joint. After snickering at my clueless ass, they walked over to an abstract metal sculpture next to the gray door. One of them stuck her hand into a crevice inside the sculpture et voila! the door magically slid open like Star Trek.

The birthday dinner was for a guy named Kelvin, whom we knew from LA. Two years ago, Kelvin had tried to hire T to work for his telecom startup. But T got greedy about the equity package and it didn’t happen. Luckily they stayed on good terms. Anyway, like everybody else in 2000, Kelvin never did make it to the IPO. But while filing for the IPO, he and his CFO, Shirley, spent a lot of time at the office together. Next thing you know, the company tanked, and Kelvin and Shirley got married. Now Kelvin was in Shanghai, trying to start another company.

After dinner, we all went to Guan Di, where Shirley had gotten us a table. Guan Di was nowhere near as crowded as its opening night the previous week, but I was told it takes months for a new club to get a following in Shanghai. As soon as we sat down, all the guests were doing birthday shots of, surprise surprise, Johnny Walker Black.

In China, the only thing they drink more than J Black is tea. Which is not a good thing, since Johnny Walker and I are not on agreeable terms. The last time I’d ever “called Ralph on the porcelain phone” was two years ago, in Shanghai, after I’d somehow ended up finishing a bottle of Black Label. Not smart, I know, and my belly punished me severely by making me boot so hard that some of the puke actually shot out my nose. Ever had that happen to you? It’s beyond adding insult to injury, because insult doesn’t burn your nasal passages with digestive juices. I was blowing my schnoz for fifteen minutes afterward.

Mark showed up with one of his latest “girlfriends,” a hostess girl who’d taken a liking to him. I’d heard about her from some of his buddies when I was in Beijing. Apparently Mark’s been boasting about her insatiable appetite for 4am booty calls, and unusual positions. I guess if hostessing doesn’t work out for her, there’s always a career with Cirque du Soleil. After finally meeting the infamous girl, T and I walk next door to Park 97 to see what’s what.

Park 97 was packed. With the same people from last night. As big as Shanghai is, everybody seems to go to the same handful of joints. We met up with Benny, who’d just spent the afternoon with a model from Dalian we met yesterday. T was a little miffed since she’d also given him her phone number - only the one he got turned out to be fake. But he shrugged. In terms of the whole “plenty of fish in the sea” analogy, Shanghai’s one of those places where the fish jump into your net, cook themselves, then walk over to your dinner table and hop on the plate.

Inside Park 97, we ran into the six party chicks from Friday. They invited us for drinks over at their table, where they were sitting with these older, somewhat sketchy looking dudes. I sat down for a second, then immediately got up and left. These guys might’ve been their boyfriends, sugar daddies, or possibly even customers. Either way, I didn’t want to be sitting in the middle of that.

For the rest of the evening, I grew increasingly bored. Bored with partying in Shanghai. Maybe it would’ve been different if I was horny and single like T and Benny. But I think it was mostly me craving a quiet evening. An evening without Johnny Walker, hot Chinese chicks, and skull-piercing house music.

We finally got back to our hotel around 4:30, which meant I had less than three hours to sleep before I headed to the airport.

Even at 7am on a Sunday, Shanghai was still buzzing with activity as the cab zipped past exercising old folks, sad people heading off to their God-forsaken jobs, and groggy partyers coming home to sleep.

When I woke up, I was at LAX. According to the pilot, it was a perfect 78 degrees. As soon as I stepped outside the airport, the city greeted me with an embrace of humidity-free warmth. God that felt unbelievably awesome.

As the cab took me up the 405, I noticed a blue Porsche Carrera to the left. I almost got a blue car last year before settling for silver like the rest of humanity. But ever since then, the second-guessing part of me always finds itself looking at blue cars. This one had a couple wearing caps and sunglasses. I think they were trying to disguise themselves, because upon closer inspection, they turned out to be Tom Cruise and Penelope.

I was officially back in LA.