Friday, February 20, 2004

I am in China.

I am sitting in my gigantic room, just one part of my gigantic apartment on campus at the Dalian Institute of Light Industry. I just got back from dinner with Benny, a Chinese English teacher and his roommate Andy. (A perk of being Chinese is that you get to pick a Western name for yourself.) The food here is awesome, even on my very limited vegetarian, soft foods diet (the soft foods part they understood after I explained the oral surgery, but the vegetarian part got "...really?! Completely vegertarian? No fish or poultry?! Really?! Why?!) We had candied taro, tofu in all shapes and sizes, some mushroom dish that would put Baron's Hamakua fungal jungle to shame and I had almond milk (nectar of the gods).

{I'm tired now and structure is a challenge, so excuse the lack of style in this post. Let's cut straight to the part where I go through how I got here.}

Two days ago, Karen and Baron found me in a heap on the floor in the middle of my room, unpacked and undressed. "What were you doing last night?!" queried Karen in a tone reserved for disappointed mothers. "Uh..." I replied.

I stuffed my shit into the luggage and we made it to the airport in time for me to be the last in line for check-in. I had a suitcase, a box and an overstuffed duffle bag that was far too heavy to be considered carry on, but the fine folks at JAL said nothing. Being the last in line to check-in, I was also the last in line at security and as usual, I was searched to the nth degree, my laptop was scruntinized and despite my name being announced over the PA system, security insisted that I take off my boots for inspection. I made it to the plane and 600 eyes glared me down as I made it to my seat.

Honolulu was uneventful.

The flight to Tokyo was awesome. I don't know what happened with my seating--my mother may have had something to do with it (she has a gift for these things)--but I got to ride business class in the upper bubble of the 747. The seats recline almost all the way and each person has their own television screen that pulls out from the armrest. The food is quite good and the stewardesses (it seems that there aren't stewards on JAL) greet every beck and call with the utmost patience and good manner.

JAL doesn't fly into Dalian in the evenings, and I flew into Tokyo at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Because JAL is so awesome, I got to spend a night in Narita (as a part of the service) at the Nikko Hotel. Having nothing to do before my flight in the morning, I took a bus into downtown Narita and discovered that there isn't much to downtown and even less after 8 p.m.

The trip down was not without merit, however. I had a tofu steak omlette and a Kirin on draft for dinner at a teppanyaki place that was open until midnight. The guy behind the grill spoke excellent English, due largely to the fact that he went to high school in Missouri ("about two hours from Kansas City.") He told me that teppanyaki is typical of Osaka, where he was originally from. The omlette consisted of a block of grilled tofu placed onto a thin layer of egg, then wrapped. Some kind of dark plum barbecue sauce was smeared over the top, then the chef streaked the mess with flavored mayonnaise ("What kind of mayonnaise is this?" I asked. "Normal mayonnaise," he said. "No it isn't," I said. "Yes, it is," he insisted. "Well, it's not like mayonnaise in the States," I said. "No, it's just regular mayonnaise," he said. "This mayonnaise has flavor," I said. "Oh," replied. It really did have flavor, and it was good.) The chef slid the omlette along the grill to a space in front of me. So good...

After dinner I had 45 minutes to kill before the next and last bus back to the hotel. Most places were closed so I wandered around the train station, the convenience stores and a book store.

At one point nature called and I went back to the train station to look for a place to respond.

I have been to Asia before and the concept of squatty potties terrify me. The toilets in the Narita train station did offer one Western toilet (ironically, it was reserved for the handicapped) in a row of porcelain holes in the ground, but I knew that such luxuries would not be available in China, so I convinced myself that I should go for the squat, just for practice, in a place that I knew would be clean at the very least.

The secret is in the knees.

I hung up my coat and bag on the hooks so conveniently provided and undid my trousers. I inspected the situation and worked out the process in my head (I couldn't soil myself after all, I was miles away from my hotel and a new set of clothes) before squatting over the bowl. I carefully tucked the waist of my jeans and my knickers firmly under my knees, then went to town. VICTORY! For the first time in my life I mastered the squatty potty, and what's more, I did so without bringing damage or shame to myself or my clothing! I got up from the squat and WOOSH! A sensor, placed squat high, detected my movement and triggered the bowl to flush once I got up. "What the fuck is this," I thought, "they've got motion sensitive flushes and yet they haven't figure out how to get the fucker up out of the ground?"

Feeling accomplished, I went back to the bus stop only to discover that I missed the last bus back. A group of English speaking people were waiting at another stop, so I went and talked with them. They were a conference group from Star Alliance, an airline organization. I got to chatting with one guy and as it turned out, they were waiting for a shuttle to a hotel not far from mine. He didn't think anyone would notice if I hopped on with them, so I did just that.

I sat and talked with the guy for a bit and when I told him I had come from Hawaii, he said "oh, you should talk to her, she's from Hawaii, too," referring to a woman in the group. She came over and told me that when she saw me she knew I was from Hawaii (or California), 'cause I "didn't look quite Japanese." She told me she lives in LA now, but was originally from Kaimuki.

Kaimuki...I thought about it for a moment. "You know the Sekiyas?" I asked. "Oh yeah, I know the Sekiyas," she said. "You know Baron Sekiya?" I queried. "I totally know Baron! We were friends in school!" Talk about a small fucking world. So here I was on a bus in Narita, headed to a hotel where I didn't stay and talking to some woman who I met that night about whether or not Baron Sekiya got married and had kids. I told her that I'd be e-mailing Baron soon and she said, "well, tell Baron that Laurie Fukunaga from Kaimuki said 'Hi.""

I caught a 660 yen cab back to my hotel and crashed. I took advantage of the complimentary breakfast the next day, sat next to a couple of wicked hot Aussies on their way to LA and made it to the airport in time to buy a new camera (Canon A80--it's awesome).

The flight into Dalian went without incident and I got to see snow covered moutains in Japan and groovy (literally) hills in Korea on the way. The view into Dalian itself was rather gloomy. It's very industrial, rows of houses, buildings, but appparently, that's just the area closest to the airport. Looking out the window I had a moment of "what the fuck am I doing here," but reminded myself that I'm a big gilr and whatever mess I get myself into, if it is a mess, I'm obligated to see through to the end.

I passed customs without incident; really much notice at all (I should have packed more Miller). All of my luggage arrived and I was greeted by Benny and Mr. Yang, the Foreign Affairs officer. Both were very pleasant and I even detected a sense of humor between them.

And here I am.

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