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September 23, 2005

A Bitch of a Sister

Malbug_13

I hope to God that Rita, already a tragedy, doesn't turn into a replay of Katrina.

But I am prone to start thinking that major disasters strike every time I fly home from overseas.  (Rita is scheduled to make landfall about the time I get on my plane tomorrow; Katrina hit as I was on my way back from Beijing.)

September 01, 2005

I'll See Your Sniffle and Raise You a Blubber

Malbug_13

Princesscries Toby was going on the other day about what a crybaby he is.  Now, here is where I would do a Church Lady superiority dance on his ass, but I just can't.

Maybe it's coming off the drugs, but it doesn't take much at all for me to start the waterworks lately.

Take my flight home yesterday: I was missing my honey, but I wasn't too down because I knew it was just a matter of hours before I'd be back with him again.

Then that song "I'm Already There" by Lonestar came on my headset. [iTunes link]  It's about a guy who is traveling far away from his family, and he calls them on the phone.  Even though the song is breeder-centric, I started bawling when it got to the part where his kid asks him when he's coming home again:

I’m already there
Take a look around
I’m the sunshine in your hair
I’m the shadow on the ground
I’m the whisper in the wind
I’m your imaginary friend
And I know I’m in your prayers
Oh I’m already there

Jesus, I'm crying again just looking at the lyrics!

Anyway, I was seated across the aisle from my boss and had to turn my head toward the window as I wiped my tears, which didn't seem to want to stop.

So does that make me a bigger wuss than Toby?

August 30, 2005

Home, Where My Thoughts Escape

Chinatony

Time for another random assemblage of flotsam and jetsam from China:

Malbug_13I fly back home to NYC tomorrow.  This is, in all likelihood, the last chance I will have to blog before then.  It's surreal to think that I will leave Wednesday afternoon, fly roughly 7,000 miles, and arrive at my destination ... on Wednesday afternoon.

Malbug_13A curiosity on the streets of Beijing: same-sex couples holding hands, and nobody giving it a second glance.  Actually, I observed on several occasions mostly pairs of young women, walking hand-in-hand.  (On one occasion, though, I did see a woman who was holding the hand of a man who was holding the hand of another man.)  Now, I concede that these PDAs were probably nonsexual and can probably be chalked up to simple cultural differences.

But why is it that such displays elicit a much more overt and hostile response in supposedly liberal democracies?

Malbug_13Speaking of the gay press, the New York Blade did an interview with me about gay NYC bloggers.  It will supposedly run in this week's issue, which begins appearing Thursday.  I hope I don't come off like as much of a jackass as I usually do.

Malbug_13Anyone who has information to cast doubt on the heterosexuality of Guy Pearce (aside from that one movie) is encouraged to send it my way.  (This has nothing to do with China, but I thought I would sneak it in.)

Malbug_13

This will probably be the first time that I literally kiss American soil on my arrival back home.  China has been a mixed bag for me.  On one hand, it has obliterated many of my deep-seated stereotypes.  On the other hand, it has taken a strong will not to fall to the siren song of a country that still has a few political issues to work out, to say the least.

To be honest, I'd gladly suffer the sneers of those who don't cotton to my desire to hold my husband's hand in public (like any other married person), while also knowing that I can also call my president an asshole for his efforts to legally invalidate our union, without fear of reprisal.

Malbug_13Several of you have sent me wonderful emails about this travel blog, and I appreciate it so much.  It has been challenging to keep in touch in a country that erects so many barriers to my Internet experience, while also trying to draw profound conclusions about my short time here and simultaneously doing my day job.

Every time I leave the USA, I become just a little more tuned in to why so many people tout the benefits of international travel.  The sum total of my experience with China before now has been a week in Taiwan, which is not exactly the same thing.  I am glad that my one-dimensional view of the PRC has been rounded out, to an extent.

It also more than a little frustrating that it would amplify my desire for freedom and democracy around the world.  I say this with the full knowledge that greater liberty for the Chinese will mean an even more able and fearsome competitor for the United States.  (And it is coming, mark my words.)

But all people, everywhere, deserve nothing less.

Jonesing

Malbug_13

The monkey on my back I am fortunate never to have gone through the pain and misery of withdrawal from an illegal drug such as heroin.  Indeed, I have tried illegal drugs only a handful of times in my life (Ecstasy twice and marijuana thrice.)  I have not tried them more than that, in part, because I had essentially zero response to them.

But I have to say that withdrawal from Lexapro, which I am currently undergoing, is no real picnic either.  (I alluded to it only briefly in a previous post, but I am blogging about it now because it has gotten worse, not better.)

I started taking it a couple of years ago mainly as the result of a very bad relationship: He was crazy, so I went on medication.

Somewhat ironically, the drugs helped me see what a rotten boyfriend he was, so I decided I couldn't be around him anymore.

Lexapro did good things for me.  It made me much happier and social, and helped me better deal with adverse situations.  But on the downside, it makes you much more sensitive to weight gain, especially if you fall off the workout wagon for any length of time.  It can also decrease your sex drive, although that is admittedly a blessing for me under normal circumstances, and the effect moderated with time anyway.

When the doc was originally experimenting with the proper drugs and dosages for me nearly two years ago, I went off Lexapro entirely for a short time before going back on it.  The withdrawal was unpleasant.  Primarily, I felt dizzy and sometimes even on the verge of blackout, especially when moving my head around.  Worst of all was at least one full-fledged panic attack I endured, the first ever in my life.  It was triggered by a work setting that I am no longer in.

But even without the panic attacks, this period of withdrawal seems longer and more severe. Maybe it is because I'm battling jetlag on top of it all.  I feel so woozy and disconnected from my body and brain, and I have been on the edge of falling asleep at the most inopportune times.  I am just glad I have a long flight ahead of me to try to readjust.

I decided to go off the drug for the reasons described above, but also because when I moved to New York, the five prescription refills I had in DC would not transfer across state lines.  I had never intended to live the rest of my life needing psychotropic drugs flowing through my veins, so now seemed like the ideal time to see if I could cope without chemical assistance.

I also have the benefit of having traded up from a fucked-up, alcoholic boyfriend to the ideal mate.  I know he will help me get through this, or anything else.

I'm sure he won't mind what happens to my sex drive when I come off SSRIs, either.

August 29, 2005

"Censors and Senselessness," or "Scared By My Own Shadow"

Malbug_13

Hotmonkeys As GOP Vixen pointed out, I have discovered that many Websites I have attempted to access while in China simply aren't there.  They are blocked by the government, and all you get when you click on them is a 404 error.  This did not come as a great surprise to me, as China's control of political discourse, especially on the Internet, is long-standing.

What was more puzzling, however, was the logic -- or lack thereof -- behind what gets banned and what does not.  One of my early theories held that American sites with overtly partisan references -- i.e., "GOP Vixen" -- get the ax.  But that theory began to unravel soon after I propounded it.

Among the sites banned in China (aside from GOP Vixen), along with some conjecture:

  • GayPatriot: An American patriot?  And a fag too?  Oh, that's right out!
  • AMERICABlog: They are probably banned because the Chinese assume that "The AMERICABlog" must clearly be a bunch of pro-American, jingoist cowboys.  If they only knew that "AMERICABlog" was actually doing the PRC's work for them -- a veritable fifth column of leftist/socialist fanaticism -- I'm sure they would reconsider.
  • The RNC: Horton hatches a theory.
  • Democrats.org: More evidence.
  • Strangely, the party congressional committee sites are not banned.  The Chinese seem to understand that Congress wouldn't have any real power if you put 4 million volts through it.
  • www.anonymizer.com
  • Pink is the New Blog, Wannabeleader, Atrios, Iraq the Model ... in fact, anything hosted by Blogger or Blogspot is banned, except for blogger.com itself.  Note to Blogger customers: switch ISPs, now! When about one-fifth of the world's potential Internet users have no hope of ever seeing your site, that doesn't bode well.
  • So why would China ban an entire blogging site?  Is its CEO Taiwanese?
  • Speaking of which, the Republic of China's (Taiwan's) official government site is banned.  Duh.
  • Oddly, http://www.roc-taiwan.org is not.
  • Human Rights in China is banned.
  • Google.com was banned (temporarily, at least, after I Googled "human rights in China")
  • So is the news-search function of Google.
  • But not Yahoo's news search.  China knows who the top dog is.
  • GeorgeWBush.com: Hey, no fair!  He loves the Internets!

Not banned:

My question is, with all of the innocuous stuff that is being blocked, and the comparable sites that are not, why even bother?  Is this just the result of some extremely lazy algorithm somewhere?

So let's play a game of Stump the Censors.  If there's a site you'd like me to test while I'm here, email me the URL (or post in comments).  Your deadline is Wednesday morning when I leave.  (Remember, I'm 12 hours ahead of NYC time.)

Malbug_13

I got a good scare during my early blogging in China, incidentally.  After about a day of blogging and surfing the Web, I checked in on my StatCounter page.  I noticed that there was someone in the same obscure western province that I was who was taking far too much interest in my site.

Over the span of a single day, he/she had made 33 separate entries, the last of which lasted for about 5 hours.  They were nosing around my China posts, as well as the comments section.

I noticed that the IP address belonged to the state-run Internet network.  That's when I panicked.  Visions of my hotel room door being broken down in the middle of the night danced in my head.  I quickly logged on an deleted anything from my posts that could be remotely offensive or critical of the government -- even my description of food as tasting like "warm vomit."  (I apologize for not divulging this sooner, but I was truly concerned for my own safety.)

I felt physically ill.  I had to take a Xanax just to get to sleep.

Then the next morning, I realized that the function that blocks my own IP address as a visitor to my own site only works when I log in from home or from work.  Non-geek translation: The person who had been watching me so intently ... was me.  You might say that I was scared by my own shadow.

I felt so fucking stupid.  But I do wonder if the paranoia wears off after living here longer, or if it just gets worse.

August 28, 2005

Wandering, Thinking and Beijing

Malbug_13

OK, first things first: a little bit of Engrish and/or a simulacrum thereof, and then an update on my voyages in this wonderful, paradoxical country.

After the jump, that is ...

Continue reading "Wandering, Thinking and Beijing" »

"No Rules, Just Right": Commie Edition

Malbug_13

There is an Outback Steakhouse attached to my hotel, so I'm going to go eat some beef.  I've had enough mutton in the past few days to appease several dozen sexually frustrated Montana ranchers.

I will blog more about my day, including the best attempt at Engrish that I can muster.  I am currently in the middle of Lexapro withdrawal and beginning to get drunk on Absolut, so it could get ugly.  (Shout out to everyone who has tried to get the SSRI monkey off their back!)

More after I chow on some cow.

A White Paper on Red China

Malbug_13

Back in the days when Saturday Night Live was really unfunny (I know, I'm being redundant), there was this little interlude where an announcer's voice says: "And now we present a white paper on Red China."  Then this hand reaches out and places a sheet of paper on a red plate.  Hi-larious.

HazyMalbug_13It's a triple-H day in Beijing: hazy, hot and humid.  I had the pleasure of teaching the first of those three words to a group of Chinese students who stopped me to chat in a mall.  (That single gesture was more friendly than almost any other country I've visited, by the way.)

One girl in particular wanted to brush up on her English and was engrossed in hearing about what I do, why I am here, and other minutiae.  (I suppose my fabulousness stands out even more here.  If you saw my shirt, you'd understand why.  I look like a paint-spattered gay cowboy.)

Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only gay guy in Beijing.  I saw at least two who were completely fabbed to the hilt, one of whose hair was spiked right up to Jesus.  (Yes, I was being ironic when I said there was only one gay guy in Beijing.)

McdonaldsMalbug_13I got the McDonald's food that I was craving, with a TCBY chaser.  I have to say, it was the cleanest and most fabulous (there's that word again) Mickey D's that I have ever seen  There were intimate little booths in one corer, and a central bar-style eating area that even had a cheaper, mass-produced version of the Lem stool.

My double cheeseburger, fries and Diet Coke came to the equivalent of about $2.  Kind of shocking, especially when you consider they are asking $6 for about 16 ounces of Evian in my hotel room.

After lunch, I took in a little entertainment outside.  [Watch video -- 9.6mb, MOV format]

It's a girl singing, basically.  I just found it amusing.  But I'll understand if you don't want to download 9.6 megs for that.  I have no way of compressing/converting files or anything over here.

Malbug_13Air Conditioning in Chinese hotels, even five-star ones, is a hypothetical construct, at best.

Malbug_13And I have only been at three hotels here so far, but the three mattresses rank No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in terms of the hardest I have ever slept on in my life.

Malbug_13FcukBeijing residents are fortunate that they also have the opportunity to enjoy the ever-so-subtle humor of French Connection.

Malbug_13I had a great conversation yesterday with a woman who works with Xinhua, the state news agency (basically, the Chinese AP).  We talked a lot about Sino-U.S. relations.  As a former reporter myself, I spent a lot of time quizzing her about the media and press freedom in China.

I asked her where the line is drawn in terms of criticism of the government.  She said that there is actually a lot of such criticism, but mainly it will be at the ministerial or provincial level.  It is a definite no-no to be critical of President Hu or Prime Minister Wen, though.

I asked what would happen if any of those boundaries were breached.  She said the "senior editor" (what I assume is similar to U.S. editors-in-chief or managing editors) could be fired.  I didn't press her on what else might happen.

Malbug_13I'm sorry I haven't been able to post more Engrish.  Apparently, there is much less of it these days in China because authorities have made a conscious effort to have most of their English actually make sense, and be less entertaining -- sort of a face-saving thing.

I hear they were growing weary of tourists stopping on the highways to snap photos of funny signs.  However, I did see a sign admonishing motorists not to drive "tiredly," but I wasn't able to get a picture.

Maybe I'll have a chance to rack up some Engrish when I'm out and about.  I decided to forgo the Great Wall today.  The drive from my hotel is much too long, while the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square (clears throat) are within walking distance.

OK, time to head out.  I can just hear the husband's stinging epithet ringing in my ear now: "Blogger!"

August 27, 2005

Many Gays in Shanghai; One in Beijing

Malbug_13

Andy links to a story about the thriving, albeit underground, gay scene in Shanghai.  How far is that from Beijing, again?

Malbug_13

On my agenda today: breakfast at McDonald's (it's Sunday morning here), because the same bizarre meal repeated twice daily gets old.  It's true, I never thought I would be wistful for America's version of "Chinese" food!

Then I'm going to learn how to tell a cabbie to take me to the Great Wall and back.  Anything else today will be gravy.  Except the American kind with big brown lumps, not the transparent viscous kind that tastes like puke.

If I'm really lucky, maybe I'll meet another jet-lagged American who will accompany me on a breathless foreign adventure involving hotel bars and karaoke, a la Lost in Translation.  But more likely, I'll just wind up back here watching a random Affectional Film.

From Beijing, With Affectional

Malbug_13

I was thinking about settling in for the evening with a nice movie, but unfortuantely, "Affectional Films" weren't what I was hoping they might be.

Beijingtv

Neither was "Bangbang."

August 26, 2005

Scenes From the Road

Malbug_13I am supposed to do what, where?

Crapper

Malbug_13It's a very Freeca car ... the kind you don't bring home to agrarian-industrial collective.

It's a super Freeca! A super Freeca! (Ow!)

Freeca_1

Malbug_13I had the "Western breakfast" on my flight. It was OK, but where else on Earth can you find sausage whiter than the cream they gave me for my coffee?

I don't want to be the Ugly American, but I like my sausage the natural color of the lips and assholes that went into it -- although maybe the pigs are just following the latest senseless American fashion trend.

Snausages

FatbastardMalbug_13Speaking of coffee, it was good and strong, but I have noticed a severe lack of sugar substitutes on my international travels.

In America, we have approximately 650,000 different artificial sweeteners to choose from. So why are the Chinese so skinny, while we're all a bunch of fat bastards?

Maybe it's because of what was put in front of me tonight: several courses, most of which were just frightening.  I was literally scared by my food.

Take, for example, the bowl of brown glop that had a few random things floating in it.  One seemed like some sort of small, doughy ball.  Another appeared to be a slice of mushroom.  While still another piece looked like -- I am not making this up -- a horny toad.

Toad Actually, it looked as if his back had been excised from his body and deposited in a bowl in front of me.  I flipped it over a few times with my chopsticks, fascinated by the stubby spikes.  In the end, I concluded it was another sort of mushroom, but I did not eat it.

There was also what from the other side of the room I swear to God looked like a monkey's head with the top of the skull made into a little lid.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a hollowed-out papaya with a warm, gloppy, soup-like substance inside.  Unfortunately, despite what looked like little bits of fruit floating in it, the viscous mixture was almost entirely without any taste to it.  Even more unfortunately, the more I ate, the more it started to taste like lukewarm vomit.

And there was not one plate of General Tso's chicken to be found.

August 25, 2005

A Few Thoughts, 12 Hours Before You Have Them

Malbug_13

My hotel in China has broadband Internet access -- free?!  No way!

Malbug_13My hotel has Absolut Citron and soda for about four bucks?  No way!

Malbug_13Beijingskyline Here is the view from my room.  I was supposed to be in the western provinces tonight, but the flight delay means an early flight from Beijing tomorrow.

I will be back in the Capital on Saturday with free time that night and Sunday.  Does anyone know where the gay bars are??  Or does that kind of thing get you arrested here?

Then again, if sitting alone in a hotel room drinking vodka is OK here, this country can't be all bad.

Malbug_13What else is awesome about China?  When New York is on Daylight Saving Time, the entire country (only a little smaller in land mass than the USA) is exactly 12 hours ahead.  Translation: I don't have to reset my watch.  (While I'm being so lazy, I might call the front desk and ask them to send someone up to feed me another peanut.)

Malbug_13Speaking of eating, why do I suddenly turn into Mr. Mouth on long plane flights?  Maybe there is something about being enclosed in a long, aluminum tube with hundreds of strangers that compels me to eat everything in sight.

Honey-roasted peanuts?  Of course!

More chardonnay?  You need to ask?

Two meals, plates practically licked clean?  Gotcha covered.

This thing has eyes?  Down the hatch!

Maybe I've been watching too many Lost reruns, but for some reason my body thinks that every meal on board an aircraft will be my last.  Or perhaps I just want to be strong enough to fend off the other survivors if they go all Donner Party on me.

Malbug_13"Professor" Juan Cole is on CNN International right now talking about how we're all doomed because of Iraq.  That guy could find the downside of puppy dogs and salt water taffy.  (BTW, check out his smear of Steven Vincent, if you haven't already.)

ChinabicyclesMalbug_13You know all of those stereotypical images most of us have of China and Beijing -- the seas and seas of people on bicycles?  Well, no more.

On the half-hour ride from the airport, I saw a grand total of one bicycle.  One.  This city of 15 million (twice the size of my own city, which I thought was pretty damn huge to begin with) is positively awash with automobiles -- VWs, GM, Peugeots, Volvos, Citroens, Hyundais, millions of them.

China has some oil reserves, but its annual 9 percent GDP growth will probably change that.  It is facing a virtual crisis in natural resources: minerals for manufacturing and construction, energy, even cement shortages for all of the buildings that are springing up like crocuses.

No wonder, then, that the price of gasoline is so high.  (Well, that and the environmental lunatics who don't want a couple of caribou displaced in the Alaskan wasteland.)

Malbug_13On the ride from the airport, I also saw a giant building with "Microsoft" emblazoned across the top, plus ads for Budweiser, HP, and many others including the ubiquitous silhouette-on-neon iPod ads.  It was almost like I had never left home.

Malbug_13OK, time for an Ambien, and a reset of the body clock.

August 24, 2005

Not an Auspicious Start

Malbug_13I am delayed 90 minutes getting out of JFK.  Thank God for the Business Lounge.

Not Exactly a Slow Boat, But ...

Malbug_13

NytochinaToday I head off to China on business, a roughly 13-hour flight from New York to Beijing.

Blogging today will be light, but I hope to blog as much as possible from the road, 12 hours ahead of home.

I will be gone for a week, so there won't be any fun things like videos or Photoshopped morons until I get back, but I am taking my camera and hope to post anything of interest that I find along the way.  (Engrish, perhaps?)

So keep the Shoutbox busy (lefthand column), and much love until later ...



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