Thursday, April 26, 2012

My pal Patience

In America we have a ridiculous amount of giant stores that stock everything you could possibly need. Places like Target or Costco where you can do your grocery shopping for the week (including meat, dairy, bread, fresh fruit and veg as well as canned goods), fill your prescription, get a new outfit, buy a bicycle, get motor oil, and have enlargements made of your favorite vacation photo. You might end up paying a little more if you buy everything in one stop instead of shopping around, but at least you have that option. In Macau there is nothing remotely like that.

I buy my meat at the frozen meat shop, where I can get chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and sausage which is all imported from other parts if the world, frozen raw and waiting for me to thaw and cook it (though admittedly I tend not to cook meat very often). I buy my bread at a bakery, where it comes in loaves of six slices for about $1.25 USD. It is fresh each day, with no preservatives and in this humid environment it grows mold in 48 hours if it isn't consumed. I buy fruit and veg from an outdoor market, where each stall sells a different type of produce. I buy all the canned goods and spices from a grocery store, one of four or five that all stock different items. I get dairy from two of the grocery stores, when it is in stock. When I say that it takes seven hours to get the ingredients for one meal, it's not an exaggeration.

It's the same for non-food products. If I need to buy shoes for the boys, I go to the shoe store. If I need keys made, I go to a tiny stall where a man sits all day doing nothing but making keys. When I needed to replace an obscure lightbulb that had blown out, I went to a narrow shop that sells little else than obscure lightbulbs.

I miss The Home Depot back in the States. A store devoted to anything related to the home, including lightbulbs, key duplicating, paint, plumbing, curtains, plants, and lumber. I especially missed it recently when we had to replace the little screen inside our faucet that aerates the water as it comes out. Ours was so corroded that hardly a trickle came through. We carried the piece around in a baggie, trying to find a place that might stock that kind of thing. We tried at the key stall, the lightbulb shop, a place that sells chains and rubber work boots, all to no avail. Finally we stopped at a place that looked like it could be featured on an episode of Hoarders... Stuffed from floor to ceiling with all manner of tiny fittings and random odds and ends, barely an aisle to admit just one person (in the photo below). A group of men were smoking and chatting at the entrance. We handed our piece to the man who looked most likely to be the shopkeeper, and off he went to the back and up a ladder, opening drawers and sliding things around. He returned with the tiny screen, and charged us about a quarter.

I can't imagine how all of these tiny shops stay in business, especially when it appears people are more interested in stopping in to chat than in plunking down cash for goods. But I guess this is why small towns in the United States complain when the big stores come and try to build. All those little shops become a redundant waste of time.

If I had to pick the biggest change I've seen in myself since moving to Macau last year, it would be the abundant amount of patience I've had to develop. Things take exponentially more time here than they do in always open, guaranteed in stock Los Angeles. And I have all these little shops and stalls to thank for the growth of my patience. But I won't go so far to say this is a better life... I do miss picking up sandals and bread and a good book, all while my kids eat a hot dog as my tires are being rotated. I also hope that if and when the day comes when we get to shop at Costco again, I won't take that for granted!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Location, Location, Location

My father worked in the film and television industry while I was growing up. I dabbled in it as well, banking enough money from the occasional extra gig throughout middle school to pay for my first year of college (my big claim to fame is appearing over the shoulder of John Cusack in the cult classic Say Anything). My dad only worked in and around the Los Angeles area, which doubled for just about any location throughout the world. He took particular delight in pointing out the alley in "New York" which is actually right off Grand, or street in "Japan" which is right in Downtown L.A.

Living in the Los Angeles area can be like living on a movie set. Little House on the Prairie filmed in the hills of the town I grew up in, and the spooky house from Poltergeist was a mile away from my non-famous house. The TV show Dexter regularly filmed in the last city we lived in, and our old local Home Depot shopping center was used for filming of some sort every other month. One of the best "gifts" my dad ever gave me was a drive by of the famous steps where Laurel and Hardy pushed a piano up and watched it fall back down ad nauseam (seen here in color). I was about 10 and being in a bad neighborhood, I wasn't allowed to get out of the car. But it was magical to my star-struck eyes.

This is not Hong Kong!
When I watch any movie, half my mind is occupied with trying to figure out where it was filmed. A few months after we moved here, the movie Bridesmaids finally came to Macau. I went to see it by myself and found I could barely pay attention to the film because I was so thrilled to see what was in the background... the town where I ran track and cross-country as a young girl. Later Michael and I went to see Johnny English Reborn with Rowan Atkinson here in Macau. The opening scenes give you the location as Hong Kong... but the real location was literally one block away from the movie theater we were sitting in! The audience went a little wild at the discrepancy.

The movie Contagion came out in the States while we lived here, and I was anxiously awaiting its release in Macau. Of course, once my friends in the U.S. told me the film depicts a lethal virus spreading all over the world which starts in Macau, I realized it would never show here in the theater. Too negative. So we rented it on iTunes and laughed at every scene they showed depicting "Macau"... all quite obviously filmed in Hong Kong.

My favorite building in Hong Kong is the Bank of China Tower, which I'm certain you'll recognize from any movie that ever featured Hong Kong. And we just saw a movie tonight where it is sliced in half by an alien ship, coming to rest in Victoria Harbour just feet away from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, site of the 1997 handover ceremony when Great Britain gave Hong Kong back to China.

The movie was Battleship, which I've been mocking for awhile... a movie based on a board game that looks like it's trying to be Transformers? Puh-leeze! But a local friend here saw it a couple days ago and based on his recommendation we went to see it. Pleasant surprises throughout, and the Hong Kong footage was a bonus. Just checked IMDb and see that it doesn't even come out in the States until May 18th. So that's pretty sweet and almost-sorta-kinda makes up for seeing most other films weeks and months after they come out in the States. But you know what I'm really looking forward to? The Avengers, which comes out next week on April 26th here in Macau, and features scenes filmed in Los Angeles among other places. We've already got our tickets. And once again a quick check to IMDb shows it doesn't open in the States until May 4th! Sorry to my friend Lori, who will have to wait an extra week to see her Captain Hottie. Unless she can catch an early screening of it... always a possibility in film capital L.A.!

P.S. I blame my husband for forcing me to like all these recent films based on comic books. He dragged me to them until I was the one dragging him. I suppose being mom to only boys contributes!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ah ha!

This explains the footprints on the toilet seats around town. And why almost all the public toilet seats are broken. People are using them all wrong.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

She arrived!

35 hours of travel plus an unexpected overnight stay in Beijing, but she made it! Welcome to Hong Kong, Lori!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Crazy Travel: The Best Kind

Eight years ago, our family of four flew to Florida to join up with Michael's youngest sister, her husband, and their daughter, who drove down from Virginia to share a rented house for a week so we could all go to Walt Disney World.

It was late August, hurricane season, and there were plenty of warnings of storms headed our way. We figured as long as the parks were kept open, it was safe to visit them. It turned out to be a good call in the short run, as the theme parks were all empty. The smart locals stayed home boarding up their windows and buying batteries while we played. For Michael's birthday, we went to Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park, home to Dr. Seuss Land, the new Harry Potter Land, and much to the adults' delight, lots of big coasters! As the day wore on, the storm warnings grew more urgent, and though we still had a few days left on the trip, we went back to the house to see if we needed to leave on an earlier flight. After spending hours on the phone with Delta, we discovered all flights in Florida we're grounded in preparation for Hurricane Ivan's eminent arrival. Our best bet was to drive from Orlando to Georgia and catch a flight from there. So we got in our rental cars and joined half the population of the state of Florida who were doing the same thing.

Driving up the highway, going no faster than 10-15 miles per hour, the radio was calling all the people fleeing Florida "refugees" while the hurricane was gathering strength. Gas stations were out of gas, rest stations were clogged with people, diners were out of food, and our children snoozed the night away while each couple took turns driving their car and trying to stay awake. The hours and hours of barely moving got to me, and I became car sick for the first time in my life. In the end, we barely made it on time to catch the last flight out before Georgia's airport was grounded too. I felt like a refugee when we climbed aboard our plane!

Michael and I were exhausted after a full day at the theme park and then a full night and day of driving. We curled up in our airline seats ready to snooze, only to find our children, who'd had a great night's sleep nestled in their car seats, were wide awake and ready to play. At 15 months and nearly four, our kids could have taken down that plane with their youthful exuberance alternating with dread of spending another six hour confined to yet another chair. But we managed to stay awake and in control of them until we landed back in Los Angeles and collapsed. I'm exhausted just thinking about it! But you know what? That trip actually ranks up toward the top of my favorite travel experiences. No lie. Everything was out of our control and we just had to hang on and go with the flow. It was crazy but memorable, and gave us all a great story to tell.

I posted yesterday how I was off to Hong Kong to collect my friend Lori who was flying in from Los Angeles. Turns out her flight in LA was delayed, which caused her to miss the last connecting flight out of Beijing. Not knowing she'd missed the flight, I was on my way to the Taipa Ferry Terminal. In eight months of catching at least two dozen ferries, we have never had to book our tickets in advance. Sometimes we've had to wait up to an hour for a ferry with four available seats, but generally you can walk on right away.

Easter weekend from Friday to Monday is a four day public holiday. Evidently everyone in the region used this holiday as an opportunity to come or go from Macau! Which means every last ferry from Taipa to Hong Kong was sold out for the day. I grabbed a taxi and booked it over to the Macau Ferry Terminal while frantically calling Michael to see if he could find any tickets online for the other ferry company. He found one ticket, just as I pulled up to the Macau Terminal, so I just ran in to book it myself in person. Running to the cashiers, I noticed them putting up Sold Out signs there as well. I pushed my way through to the only open person, who told me she had one Super Class ticket at about three times the normal price, cash only. I dumped out my wallet on the counter, and came up with EXACTLY the right amount to ensure I'd get that last ticket. She turned her Sold Out sign over and handed me my ticket for the 7:10 pm ferry.

Super Class was nice, I got to board first, exit first, and they gave me a sandwich, yogurt, cake, and a chocolate Easter egg which I couldn't eat owing to the fact that chocolate gives me miserable migraines. But it was a nice touch!

I got off the ferry in Hong Kong and checked my email to find Lori had missed the flight, was granted a temporary visitor visa to China which would allow her to leave the airport, and was being put up at a hotel at the airline's expense... With another traveller! So instead of heading to the airport, I took the trains and then bus to get to the Disneyland Hollywood Hotel, our planned sight for the epic girlie slumber party we had planned. Lori was still having a girlie slumber party, but with a total stranger who didn't speak a word of English! I had a long bubble bath and enjoyed the absolute silence that happens only when I'm not traveling with my boys!

The last time I heard from Lori it was to tell me her morning flight number. But when I checked that flight number, it wasn't flying into Hong Kong at all! Through a little detective work, I figured out the most likely flight she could be on, and now I'm hanging out at Hong Kong International Airport, hoping to see her radiant but tired face really soon!

Michael and the boys are on a ferry right now, heading to Hong Kong to join us at the hotel. They'll swim in the awesome pool while Lori and I race around Hong Kong trying to make up for lost sightseeing time. Or, napping. Whichever! We head to Hong Kong Disneyland tomorrow, which will be awesome to experience with my Disney fanatic friend!

So excited to be a part of the story Lori will tell about her crazy trip to Asia!

Here's the view from our room. No doubt more beautiful than the view from her room at the Beijing Airport hotel!


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

We went to church, a huge buffet brunch at one of the local casinos, then a forced photo op at the Easter Wonderland at the same casino, and now I'm getting ready to hop over to Hong Kong to collect my friend Lori who is at this very moment zooming through the air on her way from Los Angeles. In a plane, of course. She's not Superman! It's going to be a crazy fun week of sightseeing in Hong Kong and Macau.

Though we've had guests from Hong Kong, Canada, England, the Philippines, Australia, and Mainland China stay with us here in our flat, Lori is our first person coming to us straight from America. Woot! I hope you have a wonderful Easter, where ever you celebrate!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Titanic. And the Newlywed Game. And songs that go on.

Titanic originally came out in theaters back in 1997, eighteen months after Michael and I were married. Friends of ours had seen it, and demanded that we go see it too. They went and saw it a second time with us. At some point we acquired the DVD, but I never watched it a second time. I remember the merchandise craziness surrounding the film, everyone had a blue, heart-shaped piece of plastic around their necks, and suddenly empire waists were back in style again. "I'm the king of the world," entered everyday lexicon, while Celine Dion's song My Heart Will Go On  became a top hit on the radio and at karaoke bars. Celine's song always makes Michael and I giggle a little bit. Settle in and I'll tell you why...

Little known fact: Michael and I appeared on The Newlywed Game television show with Bob Eubanks in 1997. I love to travel (duh!) and knowing the grand prize on the show was a trip on a fabulous second honeymoon inspired me to force ask Michael sweetly if we could pretty-please audition. We killed during the audition and before we even got home there was a message on the answering machine saying we'd been cast on the show.

The taping a few weeks later was a blast. There was another couple that fought the entire day, including during the taping, which brought a load of laughs to the studio audience. I'd prepped us well by videotaping dozens of episodes so we'd be familiar with the format and have some clue as to what our answers would be. I was disappointed to find that in 1997 most of the second honeymoons the show awarded were to either Hawaii or the Bahamas. We'd gone to the Bahamas on our first honeymoon the year before. And Hawaii is a place that neither Michael or I have ever wanted to visit. But a free trip is a free trip, right? We were in it to win it.

When it came down to the final question (what is your husband's favorite cut of chicken), we were tied with two of the other couples. Not the fighting couple, I don't think a single one of their answers matched! Before asking the final question, they announced where the winners would be sent on their fabulous second honeymoon. We'd been told that our reaction needed to look like it was the only place in the world we ever wanted to go, no matter the destination. And the destination, Bob? The Costa del Sol, in Marbella, Spain. Michael and I did not have to act like we wanted to go there, our reaction was the real deal. After the final question, we were still tied with another couple. I was so nervous. I wanted that trip! The tie-breaker was a number we had chosen prior to the show, predicting the total number of points we might earn. We picked 33 after Club 33 at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, where we both worked at the time. We had earned 35 points, and were declared the winners!

In the many years since our episode aired, it has been replayed over and over, in large part because of the hilarious fighting couple. I remember two different occasions where I walked into a breakroom at one job or another, and there I was on TV with my long blonde hair and purple blouse talking about what part of my body would look the funniest while doing the Hokey-Pokey when I shook it all about (our agreed upon answer prior to the show for any body part question was my hips, but Michael's answer was another set of body parts a little north of there). Five years after it aired we were in Utah at Michael's sister's house, television softly playing in the background,  slurping down late-night root beer floats, when I heard my husband's voice onscreen. We all watched it while I cringed at my high-pitched voice, and reacted the same way I always do when I catch it airing... I scream with excitement over the fact that we actually won!

Our trip to Spain was amazing. We flew first class on Air Europa, and stayed at the five star luxury beachside resort Gran Melia Don Pepe in Marbella, Spain. We collected enormous seashells on the beach. We saw a bull fight. We visited art galleries, swam in the gorgeous pool, ate at little cafes, went up into the mountains.
The pool overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at the Gran Melia Don Pepe
Our fabulous package included two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Dinner was served in a luxe restaurant with only five tables, with a private waiter for each table. Center in the restaurant was a grand piano with a pianist who entertained during dinner. Throughout the day he could be found playing the piano in the lobby as well. Our first night at dinner, he asked in broken English what country we were from. We told him and his eyes lit up as he proclaimed, "America! Yes!" and began to play the theme song from the Titanic film. Over the remaining six nights and seven days, every time he saw us he would greet us with a hearty, "America!" and begin playing our "special" song. He played it for us no less than three times a day. By the end of the week, we never, ever wanted to hear the song again! However, in the 15 years since then, we've turned it into our own private song, making up our own lyrics as we go along (generally about mundane things like grocery shopping or cleaning the bathroom), with appropriate dramatic inflection. It never fails to make us giggle.
Huge sign at our local theater. The film was in English with Chinese subtitles.
The 3D version of Titanic just hit theaters in Macau, and Michael asked if we were going to go see it. Uh, yeah, of course we were! We underestimated how popular it was going to be here, and had to wait four days to find a showing that wasn't sold out. Films here tend to come only for a very brief time, so if you want to go, you cannot wait!

I was ambivalent about the 3D part. After all, Star Wars Episode I was recently released and the addition of 3D was underwhelming. But I was looking forward to seeing this epic film on the big screen once again. This time around, the 3D addition actually added a lot to the experience. I read that James Cameron invested 60 weeks and $18 million USD into doing it right, and it showed. And far from being a joke, those solemn notes from the theme song throughout the film were exactly the right punctuation to add to the longing and fear displayed onscreen.

Leaving the theater we remarked how far we'd come in the years since the first release. Spain was the first of many countries we've travelled to together. And in a few weeks we'll be off to two or three new countries, much to my wandering heart's delight. And though the Titanic is often used as a metaphor for something doomed, it cannot be used to describe us! Unlike the couple who originally dragged us to see Titanic in the first place, or the fighting couple on the Newlywed Game who went home in separate cars, we're still going strong, never letting go. June marks sixteen years of marriage for us. I credit our longevity to making up silly lyrics to popular songs, and singing them to each other on a regular basis. Which is to say that laughter makes everything better.

And now I simply must bring you the video of the song that started a million other verses in our household! Enjoy my friends. And go catch Titanic 3D while you can. But avoid getting the large drink. It's a long movie, people.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Envy

Earlier this week Michael and I went to Hong Kong overnight for business. We left our boys in Macau (with someone, not alone!), which resulted in a parenting first for us: the first time we were both in a different country (or Special Administrative Region if you please), from our offspring. I suppose knowing we were just a one hour ferry ride (or $400 USD, 14 minute helicopter ride) away kept us from feeling any little worry that we could have.

While riding the MTR train with all the morning commuters, I saw this group of children on their way to Hong Kong Disneyland. The girls were passing the time away playing games on a tablet while the little boy, part of a different group, kept creeping closer and closer. Have you ever seen such longing?

Working

Here's another little stand/shop in Macau. All day long the workers here make dough, shape it, fill it, and steam it in those big round baskets, then sell it for such incredibly low prices I wonder how they make any money at all. Maybe they have a handful of big clients in the hospitality or casino industries? Let's hope so. I'm reminded of how satisfying it can be to spend a day working with my hands. I wonder if this crew falls asleep at night content after a hard day's work.