Friday, December 14, 2012

A disturbing evening...

    I must apologize to my blog readers!  I have not been a consistent blogger.  Many amazing things have been happening to me, I have just not had the time to be in my room writing away on my  laptop.  I am going to try to be more consistent though, starting now.

   First thing I want to do is introduce everyone to one of my closest friends out here, Tim.
Tim has grown up in China, and he works at the club that I play at.  He has expressed a serious interest in learning English, and I have seen his dedication to study.  We have what is called a language exchange going on, where he helps me with Chinese, and I help him with English.  What this actually equates to is both of us wandering around Beijing together not understanding each other for hours on end.  He is a great guy and has helped me on many occasions.  He is totally funny, and we spend more time teaching each other things that are "impolite" than useful language lessons.

    For the first six weeks I was living in China, I would ask people if I can borrow a pen and they would give me the weirdest look before handing over the writing utensil.  Tim is the guy that told me that I was mispronouncing the word for 'Pen' and instead was saying a slang word for "Female Genitalia".  Whoops.  "Excuse me Miss, do you have a P*&&$?"  For this little bit of advice, I owe a life debt to Tim.  For it would not have been long until I received a serious ass whooping if I did not start pronouncing 'bi' with the down up tone instead of the straight and high tone.

   I shot this video of an interaction Tim and I  had so that you guys can all see what our friendship is like.  He claims to be so wise because he is from the same home town as Confucius.

    Then these are my two other friends, Katrina and Sven.  We hang out often here, wandering around the Hutongs or going out to eat or whatever.

Katrina on the Left, Sven on the Right.  There Chinese
names are difficult to pronounce.
    I was late to meet with them the other day so they took me for some local Beijinger snacks as my 'reward'.

    Traditional breakfast food, this was a meal of cow stomach, what seemed to be onion rings with out the onion, and the most foul tasting soup I have ever had in my life.  It is made with fermented tofu, so basically you take the stinky tofu and blend it into this paste.  But anyone who knows me knows that I am not one to back down on any food challenges...

   They thought that I couldn't do it but I drank the entire bowl of soup no problem.  (It was awful, reminded me of a high school locker room after weights class), ate the whole plate of cow stomach and actually enjoyed the onion-less onion rings.   And what do you know?  I grew three inches afterwards!  I am 6'6 now!

Traditional Beijing breakfast comes with a Coca-Cola.  For real.  Can you imagine that? 

Now I will write about last nights adventure.

Deybis, Katrina and I were walking in the snow to a place called the LAN club, where we were going to meet one of our mega fans Sladi, who works as a manager for BMW here.  She is returning to Germany so she was having a going away party and we were all going to watch the "Jackson Twins", two twin brothers we know that sing R&B and dance classic hits here in town and around the whole world.

We were about ten minutes into our walk when I spy this:

Oh my god.

So we go over to check this person out, and they are convulsing on the ground in the snow, and it looked like they had been there for a while.

Hello?  Ni hao?  Nothing.  As I got close I could see it was a man, and I was basically yelling at him two feet away and I was not getting any response.

Should I shake him?  Me and Deybis discussed, but who knows if he was hurt and shaking him would cause more of a problem, plus I am in China and outside of introducing myself, telling people I am American, asking where ________ is and ordering beer, I cannot talk to anyone.

What do we do?  We would not feel okay leaving this person here, they would probably die.  It was really really cold out.  We asked Katrina what your supposed to do in this type of situation.  In the US, no problem, you call the cops or the ambulance and people would come help.  We were on a pretty popular road though, and there are quite a few people wandering past but everyone just kind of looked the other way.  She never had called the Chinese police before, the number is 110.  We asked her if she would do it and at least tell them to come grab this person.  She called and talked to them for ten minutes and told them where we were.  They asked us to stay with the person but not to touch them and wait for the police.

One hour later after standing in the freezing snow a police car with its lights flashing slowly drove past.  I ran out to the road to wave them down and they just looked, waved back, and drove off down the block.
WHAT?! Is that the kind of emergency help you get here?  When you hail a cop car for help they just look at you and drive away?

Katrina ran down the street after the car, they turned right on the next block.  Turns out that the police station was within 200 m. of the exact spot we were standing!  She went to them and asked them to come help and they would  not, instead they gave her a phone number to call for assistance.  The unconscious person was still shaking and twitching on the ground.

Fuming, Katrina called the new phone number.  A taxi driver drove up to us and noticed our situation and let us sit in the cab as we waited some more.  Thirty minutes later two cops finally arrived.  "Whats the problem?"  they asked Katrina.  She explained the circumstance.  "It is -10 C snowing, and there is a guy who looks like he is dying over there in the snow".  They tried to wake him up but couldn't, then said to her "This is a normal thing, you do not have to call the police for this".  Insert shocked, awkward silence.  She explained to them that it is not normal for me as an American or for Deybis as a Columbian, and the police officer shook our hands and they hauled this person up and tossed him in the back of the car...  I hope that they did not toss him in a drunk tank and rough him up at all.

No matter what this persons circumstance was last night, I hope that today they are okay.  We have a great emergency system in the USA, and to anybody who is traveling abroad just remember to be really careful because not every place is operating on the same or even a remotely similar system.  All the fun, uniqueness of living here in China disappeared a little bit after that eye opening experience.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Great Wall

After finally falling asleep around 4:00 a.m. I was pissed when my alarm started going off at 6:30.  Time to get up, the driver is here.

For about $80.00 USD Tiffany, Kate and myself booked a car and driver for the day on Monday for the purpose of going to see the Great Wall at Mutianyu.  I roused myself and threw on a pair of boots and my biggest baddest jacket and stepped outside to grab a coffee.  I met the girls who immediately teased me for being from Seattle and drinking a Starbucks coffee in Beijing.  Yea, maybe it is "funny" but there is a lot of shit coffee here, and there is a lot of expensive coffee here.  A classic Pike Roast drip from Starbucks is neither of those things, so when I am not feeling adventurous I opt for the good ol' Seattle brew.

Our driver pulled up in a old school VW, we piled in and we were off.

Thirty minutes into our drive we were in a China that I have not experienced yet.  The urban environment that makes up my world gave way to a much more rural setting.  Small towns, kids at school, older folks sitting on the front stoop, people working, beautiful scenes.  Every person I saw was bundled up head to toe, the temperature was in the mid 20's as I recall.  There were so many abandoned buildings, I thought it was very strange.  We were all chatting and having a nice drive despite being absolutely exhausted.  Tiffany screamed as our driver did some dare devil passing on a small village road alongside a river and both Tiffany and I were rightfully entertained at Kate's stories of her experiences working as a singer in Dubai.

Once we arrived at our destination, we paid some sort of ticket fee and made our way towards a ski lift that would take us up to the wall.  The shabby looking lift only fit two people, so being the gentleman I am I went up front alone and the girls rode together behind me.

I was wearing the biggest baddest North Face down, subzero, fur hood coat you can purchase in Seattle, some pants with long underwear underneath and wool socks with boots.  It was not enough.  I have never been so cold in my entire life as I was riding that stupid ski lift to the top of the Great Wall.  The wind was blowing in from Mongolia, it was 7:00 am and clear sunny skies.  The outdoor temperature was about -6 Celsius, which is about 20 degrees Fahrenheit  but the wind blowing in from the north was just awful.  I was a watermelon being decimated by the hammer of the celestial arctic ice Gallagher.

Once we got to the top of the wall we spent some time wandering back and forth between the guard towers.  The Great Wall in itself is really an amazing thing to see, and the view from the wall was equally incredible.  Mongolia was to the north of the wall, and China to the south.  I was under the impression that the wall was going to be a straight line, but in truth the wall winds all over the place.  In total the structure covers over 13,000 miles of terrain including natural barriers such as rocks and rivers.  It is a true testament to the power of ancient China.  Interestingly enough the wall consists of many different sections, and unfortunately the entire wall was never connected fully.  Thus, invading armies would just swarm in and invade China through the gaps in the wall.  <insert Homer Simpson "DOH!>

After wandering around for a while and checking out the view we were ready to go.  The section of the wall we visited was limited in how far you could walk in either direction before there were large sections in disrepair.  As the sun came up the temperature started to rise and the ice on the wall started to melt so walking back to the ski lift was not as difficult as walking away from it.

This part of the day was crazy.  You only take the ski lift one direction, to get down from the wall you use what is basically a luge (toboggan) set on a metal chute.  You release the break and you fly down from the mountain on this crazy course - oh and make sure you lean into your turns so that you do not crash.
Since we got there so early, we had to wait about thirty minutes for the ice to melt off of the course so we would not crash (comforting thought).  While we were waiting we chatted with a few locals - one guy found out that Tiffany and Kate were singers and he started singing songs for us.

"Oh that is a beautiful song" Tiffany would say after three or four minutes, and the singer would just hold up his hand in a gesture to Tiffany that said ' Hold on, I am not done with my song yet...'   So we sat and listened, and waited, and listened, and then he started singing Celine Dion, then Michael Jackson, then back to some Chinese power ballads.

Finally the chute was free of ice so we could go down.  I jumped on the luge and released the break and was off - it was really fun, I could go really fast.  I was banking my turns like a pro.  I do not know how far I went, but it took about ten minutes to get all the way down.

Once at the bottom I waited for the girls, they were like ten minutes behind me somehow.  I thought they were riding the break the whole time.  Turns out that after I jumped on the luge, the singer guy helped them onto their individual luge's and was not too sneaky about groping each of them in turn before pushing them off down the slide.  That was really obnoxious to me - wait til the big American guy was out of the picture before molesting my friends, what a pervert.  I liked that guy kind of when he was just an annoying singer, now however I want to go back up there and knock his last tooth out.

We jumped back in the car and joked with our driver as we took off home.  My favorite and most successful joke that I can tell in Chinese goes like this.  "I am not American and I do not speak English".  It works the best, every Chinese person just about dies laughing.  My continual successful results are giving me a false sense that I am funny.  Maybe I will consider a stand up comic career here in China...

We stopped off two times, once to grab some food at a local restaurant and the second time to run some errand for the driver unbeknownst to us.  I have learned that you just have to relax when traveling so it was not a big deal that the driver had secret detour plans - whatever man!  Got back home and crashed for a good three or four hours before heading out to Wangfujing street - translates to the "Snack Street".

before eating the tofu...
At Wangfujing we had some delicious street stall food.  Scorpions, centipedes, deep fried whole robins,  and spiders to name a few, but also dumplings, fried banana doughnuts (the best), candied fruits, meat skewers (chicken supposedly, but there were not any cats around...), and last but not least the infamous stinky tofu.  Actually contrary to what I just said, it was last and least.  That shit is raunchy.  I could eat it if I needed food desperately  but it is one of the few foods that I would say I did not enjoy in any manner.  I ate a bunch of it too, not just one taste, but maybe four large pieces of the tofu covered in mystery sauces.  The overwhelming smell of disgusting, moldy, rotten gym socks is almost overpowering just being near the stuff, and as you eat it that smell permeates your entire body for the duration of the consumption.  Not to mention rancid breath afterwards!  YUK!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Maybe I'm Crazzzaaayyy, Maybe I'm Craaazzaaayyy. Thank you Gnarles Barkley

The China World Art Museum has a exhibit on Contemporary American Realism, on display are supposedly fifty or so American artists works, although no specific names are mentioned.  The exhibit is sponsored by the US-China Oil Painters Union, and also backed by the Shanghai Art Museum, as well as the China World Art Museum (not the Beijing Museum, or the Chinese National Art Museum).  When I found out about the exhibit, I decided I would go check it out the following day.

When I got off the subway after about a twenty/twenty-five minute ride I was standing outside of the Chinese Military Museum.  It looked very interesting, but it was a huge building and was only open for another hour.  I will make a trip there soon, to see some of the American spy planes that were shot down by the Chinese in the fifties.  These trophy's are readily on display outside the entryway to the museum - and I read that an entire floor of the museum is not translated into English to avoid being offensive to tourists.  I do not know what is more offensive...

My destination was behind the Military Museum.  A weird sun dial shaped building holds the China World Art Museum, a stark contrast to the uber communist, stalinist Military Museum.  I walk up to the front door - locked.  An old man comes over and speaks Chinese to me.  "往往破坏o趣味我?" He asks.

"I want to see the art museum" I reply.


"I want to see the art museum" I reply again.

This goes on for a good six minutes, neither of us budging, neither of us understanding each other.  Eventually he walks over and gets a younger woman that works at the building.  She comes over and speaks Chinese to me.


"I want to see the art museum" I say.

"Closed" she replies.

Well damn.  It was two o'clock in the afternoon on a Monday - the only thing I can think of is that the museum is maybe closed on Mondays, but it did not say that on any of the posters or ads or on the website... or at least not in English.

This is a typical every day interaction that I have so I am really putting a lot of time and effort into trying to learn some Chinese.  If you could speak Chinese and English, you would be able to talk to most people on the planet.

Wow, it just look cold!
Anyways, slightly frustrated I decided to walk around a bit.  For the first time since I have been here I was in West Beijing.  Directly behind the art museum I found a huge park, with a large lake in it.  You can rent boats and go paddle out into the lake for a nominal fee, but it is so damn cold and windy here that a boat trip seemed a little treacherous.  I walked around the edges of the lake, it is about 4k to walk around the whole thing.  It was a beautiful park, there are some pictures I took that I will post to this blog.

One of the CCTV towers, not as good
as the space needle!
As I was leaving the park (I cannot find the name in English, but it is the western ancient park - Beijing has a historic park from hundreds of years ago in each cardinal direction from the city center) a portly old man saw me and yelled "HHEEEELLLLLLLLOOOO" as he tore off his pants and shirt and ran and jumped into the fridgid lake.  Oh my god it was probably 40 degrees F, with a windchill that could freeze the sweat on your mustache!  I do not know what was going on but I said "NNIIIII HHHAAAAUUU" back to him, and noticed that there were several senior citizens going for a dip.  This is not like your typical Polar Bear, where everyone jumps in for a second then gets out, these folks were literally going for a swim in the freezing water.  It will always be a happy memory for me thinking about the kind of old, kind of fat Chinese guy running while tearing his shirt off and screaming "Hello" at me and then jumping in a nearly frozen lake...


Saturday, November 3, 2012


I had the fortunate experience to be invited to a staff party this last week.  It worked out well since it was on Halloween evening, and I was worried that I was going to be the only twenty-something American that was not waking up November first with a gnarly hangover.  It was a staff party, so the company was picking up the tab - they booked a VIP room at KTV from 8pm til 8am.  I have been to Asian karaoke clubs before, but nothing yet that compares to this.

We have to play until midnight every day, so I naturally asked if the party was still going to be going on by the time we arrived.  It was explained to me that since people are all working different shifts at the club, throughout the entire night waves of people will be joining the party at KTV.  Ok cool, lets go.

A short taxi ride later we pulled up to a building.  There were all sorts of people out front, most of them dressed to impress.  As I descended the huge escalators to the karaoke club, it felt more like I was entering one of the monstrous casinos in Vegas, Caesars Palace, or the Venetian or something like that.  We got to the reception counter, and I was confused because it really looked like we were entering a five star hotel.  I explained through gestures that we were trying to meet our friends (can you imagine that?) as the workers at reception did not speak any English.  Ten minutes later and a few phone calls, we figured out that our room was 555 (Wu, Wu, Wu).  "Atmosphere party...!"  says the receptionist.  "Isn't that what I have been telling you the whole time?" I respond slightly frustrated.  That is just how things go here, so I am getting used to it.  My secret trick is this:  Smile and nod, smile and nod again, give a high five, shake hands, smile and nod, then repeat from the beginning.  It makes friends every time!  Oh, and my mandarin is good enough to say you are my new friend, "你是我碰育" that works wonders.

Now a little background information:

As a 'very white person' I am only told peoples English names, which often times the owner of the name is so unfamiliar with they do not know I am trying to talk to them.  Anyways, there is this guy Ken that I see every night.  He has been requesting me to play on the piano "Gangnam Style" for weeks, and I keep telling him, there is not much to it.  If I play Gangnam Style on the piano, you will not even recognize it because it is an electronic song, and played on a acoustic piano it sounds so empty, and simple, and utterly stupid, not to mention I cannot sing or rap in Korean.  It is the number one song in the world right now, and I recommend that everyone stop reading this blog for three minutes to go watch the video on Youtube.

We find room 555 and open the door.

Smoke billows out into the hallway and music is blasting, and what do you know, it is Gangnam Style.  Ken is dancing around the room, and thirty other people I know are all doing the dance and going nuts.  Food, beer bottles, liquor bottles, cake and cards are all over this room.  All of our friends cheer when we enter :) and I am quickly rushed to the front of the room to do the 'dance' from the video.  Wow, I need a drink for this! (or two, or maybe four!)

Gangnam style is played three times in a row, then finally onto some Chinese love songs. I can finally breathe the smokey air.  We are in a medium sized room, two 70 inch super nice TV's are on one wall projecting all the karaoke videos, many nice cushy couches line the opposite wall, and there are tables and chairs, and a fridge.  It is a nice room.  The sound system was the most overkill I have ever seen in my whole life as a musician.  This room maybe holds fifty people, and we are talking 8 speakers, bigggg speakers, lots of reverb, lots of delay, really loud, lots of feedback, oh man a sound mans nightmare.  The karaoke machine itself is something out of Star Trek, two touch screens in opposite corners, with wall controls also if you want to turn on the original vocals (is that illegal?) or skip the song, or volume up and down, or effects.  "Beam me straight to the BeeGee's Scotty".  Bottles of Grey Goose are being consumed like water, and some of the people from the morning shift who have already been at the party for hours are passing out.  Everyone wants us to sing, but the English selection of songs was maybe a total of one hundred tunes.  Anyone who goes to Karaoke in the states knows that a typical selection may consist of thousands and thousands of songs, so it was difficult to find a good one out of just a mere one hundred tunes. They did have my go to, which is 'Stayin' Alive'.  They also had Pink, Avril Lavigne, Jewel, Taylor Swift, Linkin Park, and Bon Jovi.  Ouch.  Everyone is waiting for us to sing so we put our songs in the que, the BeeGee's tune and Michael Jackson.  Everyone knows Billy Jean right?  Not true.  Nobody in the room knew it at all as me and Deybis were belting it out - but they did give us some pity cheers and  clapped on beat one and three for the whole tune (hah!).  Stayin' Alive went just as well.

Then our friends decided to just pick random English songs and give us the mics.  "Wo Men Bu Jer Dao" supposedly meaning "We do not know" magically stopped working, and nobody could understand all of a sudden...

Brittany Spears, Taylor Swift, Cheetah Girls, some random dance tunes that everybody knows and recognize but not a soul know the names or bands performing them pass by.  Then it is straight onto Incubus, Bon Jovi, and thank god, Maroon 5 (Damn you Adam for having such a high voice).

Check out this giant television ceiling!
I eventually moved to the other side of the room, and the singing went back to being all in Chinese.  At the table some of the girls were playing a complicated drinking game with wagering... some kind of three card Chinese poker, but utilizing lucky and unlucky numbers.   Too much for me to grasp so when the deck came to me, I taught them a very basic, and easy American drinking game.  F*** the Dealer.  It involves predicting the next card.  You get two tries, and between them the dealer gives you a hint, higher or lower.  If you get either of the guesses right, the dealer has to drink.  If you get them both wrong, you have to drink the difference between your last guess and the correct value of the card.  The dealer has to stump three people in a row to pass the deck.  As the game progresses, it becomes easier and easier to guess the correct card because you can see what has been layed out on the table.  Thus, the last dealer gets totally f***ed.  They loved this game, and it was played for litterally three hours.

At about three in the morning, re-inforcements showed up.  They consisted of all of our friends that work while we perform, the night shift.  Throw another twenty people into the mix!  Chaos!

There is a special word used here while people are partying or drinking.  "Gambay" is the word, and it is the ultimate challenge.  When someone says that to you, you have to finish your entire drink.  This is taken very seriously here, its not like in the USA where you can say, "Oh no thanks..." or, "I have had enough".  From a Chinese to a Chinese, there is no backing out of this without a big loss of face.  The seriousness of it has to do with the way people hide embarrassment in this culture.  This also explains to me why there are so many 'pukers' at our club (see above blog post).  Lucky for me, as a 'ignorant' American, I could just pretend I did not know what Gambay meant.  This saved my ass, because it was getting thrown at me like crazy.

The whole face/status/embarrassment culture here also helps to explain the popularity of these private karaoke rooms.  I never fully understood them because in the USA part of the fun is you have to shame yourself in front of a room full of strangers.  Here, the private karaoke room is like a haven where people can let loose and go nuts in a culture that is very in control, and introverted.  It was really cool to be invited and to be a part of.  Eventually everybody started to get tired and at about 6:30 in the morning we all walked home.

The next day, a lot of the girls were to embarrassed to talk to me like normal (I received a lot of drunken "I like yooooouuuuss") and everyone at the club was back to normal, serious, efficient and all business.  I will never forget that experience for the rest of my life, although I had a few similar experiences in Vietnam and Thailand, this one was the most extreme.  I am also having more and more fun, now that I am getting used to living in China.  I am building quite a network of friends here, which is nice.  I am the type of person that has a lot of friends, but those friends might not be friends with each other.  In China, for the first time in my life I am kind of experiencing what it is like to have 'co-workers' (outside of band mates).  While we are playing these first few months at Atmosphere I see the same people every day, and it is nice to get to know them.  Being a freelance musician can be a lonely profession strangely, especially as a pianist where the majority of work and performances are played solo.


P.S.  Sorry that my writing lacks structure, I just kind of sit down and blast through these blog posts.  What you are reading is a direct line of thought from my brain... I think I have some focusing issues!!!  : )

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What a mess!

This is a short note about how coffee, and my quest to find proper coffee in China is expanding my cultural horizons.

At least one time every day, some times two, I will have a meal in the staff mess at the building we work in.  I have comped meals at restaurants nearby, but eating at a restaurant over and over again gets a little boring, not to mention that during the hours that we are taking our meals the restaurants are barren wastelands of empty tables and bored staff.  Because of this, you are continually being 'helped' and it gets a little obnoxious, so we opt to eat at the jam packed staff mess.  The food maybe a little more questionable, maybe mysterious is a better word for it, but it is loud and packed and has a good energy about the place, not to mention it is easy for a 'Handsome American' to make friends there.

Since the mess is cafeteria style, and busy, and nobody that works down there speaks a lick of English, we usually just follow suit.  We get in line, grab our red trays, and take little dishes of food from different 'lunch ladies' as we walk down the assembly line of mystery meats and strange 'green vegetables'.  Portions are pre-set for some items, like grilled chicken and cartilage skewers, but for other items such as tofu and mystery meat sausage, or cauliflower/broccoli stir fry you can take as much as you want.

Every time I walk into the mess, the cooks all chat among themselves, then serve me up on my own white tray, separate from everyone else.  They would heap a huge amount of rice on to the tray, and then load it up with so much food it would be impossible to eat half of it.  Then my buddy Deybis would follow behind me, and get a portion half the size that they gave me.  He would have to argue with the lunch ladies to get extra.  The staff reasoning was that I am huge, and American, and need lots of food.  (Deybis is Colombian  After a week of this debacle  and me throwing away and wasting a lot of food I convinced them that i can eat a normal amount, and that if I am hungry, I can come back and get more.  This was hard for the cooks to understand.

To get to the point, there is a crazy looking Chinese coffee machine down there that does not look like anything I have ever seen before.  I have been waiting to watch somebody use it first before I try my hand at it in front of two hundred watching people.  Trust me, I would be watched very closely, and as a expert coffee drinker I can not afford to screw up!

It was one of these days while I was eyeing the machine that I saw what appeared to be a giant glass container of drip coffee off to the right of the machine, somehow I had never seen it before.  Nobody was taking anything from it.  Strange.  I lie in wait like a Nile Crocodile...

Two days later, I have not seen anybody make espresso or take any of the drip coffee.  At this point, I can no longer control myself, and I grab a big cup and go to the drip coffee container, pull the tap filling up an entire cup.  There, that was easy!  And it was not a big deal, no problem.  I take the cup back to my table, where I take a big whiff.  Smells sweet, a lot of the coffee here is.  Dang, thought it would maybe be a nice dark roast...  I raise the cup to my lips, and take a gulp, it is scalding hot.

It was hot Coca-Cola with Ginger.

My disappointment was unbelievable!  I was sitting with Tiffany and Deybis as my world came crashing down around me.  They cheered me up, saying I could always go grab coffee at Starbucks.  "I don't wanna be the guy in China drinking Starbucks though..." I replied.  As a rule for myself, I always commit to two tries of food or drink.  This might be something I picked up off of a cooking television show, but it makes sense.  Sometimes the first taste is such a shock that you can not really get a good feel for what you are really experiencing.  I take another swig of the hot soda.  Actually, not bad.  Bubbly, hot like coffee... and spicy as hell because there was so much ginger in it.  As a matter of fact, I kind of like it.  It could never stand up to my expectations of the thick, dark, bean juice that I love and am naturally addicted to being from Seattle, but on its own this warm soda was okay.

Intrigued, I asked around.  "Henry", one of the guys from the gym informed me that it is a Chinese cold remedy to take hot Coca-Cola with lots of ginger.  Hmm, interesting - maybe that is why not that many people were drinking it, nobody was sick.  I would encourage anybody who is feeling under the weather to try this back home - it is actually pretty good.  Every day now when I enter the staff mess, the first thing I do is pour myself a large glass of this Coke - Tea.  Supposedly you can also buy it in a yellow Coke can around town...


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scam Scam Scam Scam

A few days after my first failed attempt at walking through Tiananmen Square, I returned in the daylight hours to finish the job.  Meh.  It is kind of expected that here in China they would build the worlds biggest public space, then fill it up with a bunch of buildings, surround it by fences and armed guards, and then still call it the worlds biggest public space.  Those huge buildings built in the middle of the square to me kind of negate the whole 'public square' thing...  It was incredible to watch all the thousands of tourists though, waving flags and taking photo's with the huge portrait of Chairman Mao hanging in the background!

I might have also had a sour taste in my mouth because after my first time to the square I went and read about all the horrible violence that took place there, specifically in 1989 when hundreds if not thousands of students and protestors were murdered by the government.  It was quite the contradiction to see people holding their only child, laughing and taking photo's waving the Chinese flag, while all I could think of were the dead.

Then I checked out the forbidden city.  Also, thousands and thousands of Chinese tourists being funneled around.  Quite interesting though, the buildings were beautiful.  I took this funny photo of a basketball hoop inside the forbidden city, with a bunch of army personnel marching behind it.

Outside of what Hollywood has taught me, I did not know much about the Forbidden City before I went there, so after about an hour and a half to two hours of walking around I had enough.  The place is huge, and it was REALLY crowded, and my Chinese history is not that good.  One thing that will always stand out in my mind was seeing the morbid room where concubines and queens might off themselves after the death of an emperor.  Ouch, none of that for me please.

As I left the Forbidden City countless girls came up to me, "Where are you from?"  "Want to get coffee?"  "Ah, you are a man and wear earings, so beautiful".  I tried to be nice to all of them but man they got annoying - there is a famous scam where a girl meets a tourist (white male) and shows him around town a little bit, then gets him to go take her to tea, where she orders a three hundred US dollar ancient tea and then mysteriously disappears when the bill comes.  Obviously working for the teahouses, its a dirty little scam because all it does is prevent people from chatting with people who might be genuine...

After escaping all of the harpy's, I was walking from the north side of the forbidden city to the south side when a old man asked if I wanted a ride in his pedicab.  He said, 30 RMB, $5?  Ok sure man, no problem.  He was like 60 years old, and looked honest enough.  So I jumped in seat, and he immediately drove me into the middle of a busy intersection, where he immediately jumped off the bike and a young guy jumped on the bike and started peddaling.  Oh god, here we go.  Should have just jumped out.

This dude drove me out into the middle of a Hutong, in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go.  He drove me for about 5 minutes, and chatted, and he was kind of nice.  Then pulled over in the middle of an alley and said "okay now pay me."  He pulled a pamphlet out of his pocket that said "Pedicab Tour - $300 RMB".  That is $50!  HECK NO, so I fought with him for a long time and eventually he told me that for 100 RMB he would take me the rest of the way to the subway.  I gave him 20RMB and said "Thanks for cheating me" and then I stomped off.

Around the corner, take a left, go straight, another turn, oh crap where am I.

Eventually I found a main road, and could ask where the "D" is, the subway.  Then it was just a matter of transferring some subways and I got back to where I wanted to be.

In every travel book I read they focus on the nostalgia of this old transportation method,   talk about how it is such a shame that the pedicabs do not get used much any more, and that it is an outdated form of transport.  Let me give you some truth though.  If those chumps were not ripping off every person that is not Chinese, then maybe they would have some work still.  I tell you, I will not ever take one ever again, and I will look at every pedicab driver as a cheat from now on, even though I know that is a immature outlook.

Combine this with the fact that it is nearly impossible to get a taxi in Beijing, and you start to see why the subway, although claustrophobic is such an effective method of transport.  Taxi's... well, I will give you a few facts about them and you can imagine for yourself why they are so difficult to use.

  1. Not a single one speaks English at all (in my experience thus far).
  2. Government sets cab rate, super low, so they are ridiculously cheap.  They actually lose money on gas if you have to go across town in traffic.
  3. Dinner break from 5-6
  4. Lunch break at some random time
  5. Beijing is massive, population of above 22 million people.

I finally caught a taxi the other day back from a band rehearsal with my friend Heather and then we got rear ended.  I could not believe it - so the cab driver and the people driving the Mercedes behind us got into a big screaming match.  Chinese people screaming at each other?  Mucho scary - so I reached forward while they were fighting, popped the trunk, thank god my gear was okay, then walked from the middle of the freeway to the side of the road, and walked the rest of the way home.
This is why I love the subway!


Monday, October 15, 2012

First day off!

I am sitting outside of a small pizza joint/bar in downtown Beijing, it is kind of cold out.  I have a large YanJing beer that I am happily consuming, and I am watching as travelers, tourists and bargain shoppers exit the 'Silk Market' ecstatic about their trophy bargains on fake designer brand items.  I have been told that the third floor of this 7 story tall 'market' has real silk - undoubtedly it is the least occupied floor.  I am cracking up watching the scene - it makes me think about image, and marketing, and how powerful a brand name can become, and how easily it can be duplicated.  I am wearing a fake D&G belt that I bought in Bangkok right now as I write this, so I am by all means fitting in with the crowd!  

Two women approached me.  One asked if I would purchase some fake Louis Vuitton purses.  Me? A solo male typing away on his computer?  Get out of here!  She was persistent though and sat down at my table for a minute or so and pouted.  Once she left, a younger girl came up and asked if I want to go on a Great Wall tour tomorrow.  I gave her the dagger eyes and she left.  Six days after arriving, it finally feels like I am back in Asia. 

Monday is the bands day off, so I had a chance today to escape from the super ritzy little area that I have been in the past week.  I had a late start because my hours are so reversed, but I decided to go and check out every first timer to Beijing's first destination, Tiananmen Square.  I could have taken a taxi for a minimal fare, but instead I opted to figure out the subway situation.  The Red Line, or #1 literally stops 12 floors below my room, so it should be very simple to get around on, and the fact that it only costs 2RMB or about $.30 makes it a great bargain.  

As I descended into Raccoon City (I have aptly named the mall after the underground city in Resident Evil) I was immediately set upon by two art students and their professor.  I could not get away - and I might have been the perfect pray for them having been an art student myself.  Obviously after showing me their art exhibition they laid it on thick "Oh which one do you like?  You should buy, all money goes to donation for the art school..." blah blah blah, I could not escape and they would not leave me alone!  I felt like I needed to pay the Mariachi band to leave - so I did.  I bought a small painting on a scroll, and let them show me how to calligraphy my name.  I am sure I was totally ripped off, but in the off chance that I was really buying from some art students I would feel okay.  The paintings were definitely cool, but I am on a budget for the first few weeks so I was annoyed as well.  I also got their contact information, after talking my face off and 'bamboozling' me into buying their stuff they are going to show me some cool local spots to hang, where I will NOT be 'bamboozled' again.  They were in fact very nice to me.   

I finally got down to the subway, where I watched as people slammed themselves into a subway car about twice as full as any ever was in New York or Boston, seriously.  I then took a running start and shoulder checked myself right into a position in the middle of the train.  I could not hold on to any of the rails, but because I was literally being spooned on all sides by standing Chinese men and women, I was not going to fall over.  Then as I approached my stop I had to start squeezing towards the door to make sure I could get out in time.
The Peoples Monument on right, Mausoleum on left.
I heard that Tiananmen Square was nice at night, so I made sure I arrived at 18:00 - but for some reason right when I got there the police were funneling everybody out of the square (this is a LOT of people).  I still do not understand why, I thought you could walk through the square at night but maybe not.  

Most of the tourists were Chinese from other parts of the country, coming to take a 'obligatory' picture of themselves with a huge Mao portrait in the background.  Similar maybe to how everyone has a picture with the Hollywood sign, the space needle, or the Lincoln Memorial, although different too because of how things are here... I digress, I am not talking about government in this blog.  

Tiananmen Square is very important in China, it is the center of the capital city.  It is branded as the heart of the country, and the heart of the Chinese people, but I think it seemed more like the brain.  Very important protests, fights and political gatherings occurred here as it can hold more than one million people so it is just coated in history.  To the north of the Square is the Forbidden City, and to the south are some museums and Mao's Mausoleum.  (He wanted to be cremated, similar to Ho Chi Minh, but the people decided that what he wanted was not so important.)
Slightly disappointed I could not go IN the square, I wandered around it in the dark.  I do only live 5 km away, I can come back any day I want.  It really reminded me of Washington D.C., which I guess is only natural since they are both the ruling brains of the two biggest countries in the world.  Eventually I wandered into some Hutongs (alley streets) south of the square, where I immediately got lost.  Alone I wandered in the Hutongs, they are not always laid out in such a nice grid as the streets.  The smells of Asia assaulted my nose, fragrances of fish, pastries, chestnuts, garbage, urine, sewage and incense.  I argue that although a person can see many beautiful things while in Asia, the sense of smell gets the most action.

Performance hall on Right, Gov't building on left
After about three hours of walking probably six miles, I found China's National Performing Arts Center.  It is a beautiful dome shaped building that appears out of a tranquil pond.  People access it by walking through tunnels that take you under the surface of the water.  Very cool.  This theater where some of the best classical music in the world is performed is surrounded by a concrete park, and thousands of Beijingers were outside working out in group classes, rollerblading, skate boarding, dancing with ribbons, or just smoking and joking.  From here I could locate myself on the map, so I sought out a nearby jazz bar called the Saw Wai Bookshop.  When I got there it had closed down, the inevitable fate of many a jazz club.  I wandered a bit more, now in an area with gigantic super malls, then decided to catch the subway back towards my place, 5 km away.  

When I got near, I jumped off the subway and went in search of a place to chill and rest my feet.  ( I brought a bad selection of shoes for walking, but a good selection for looking cool and playing gigs!! ) It is different traveling alone - especially in China, I do not think I said more than fifteen words the entire five or six hours I was out and about.  It was kind of nice, and kind of exciting, but also kind of quiet.  With someone else here it would have been easier to ask to try a bit of that strange looking food that grandpa was selling on the side of the street!  I am getting used to being a solo traveler though, and I am also making friends here so either way things are looking up!

Southern Gate

Friday, October 12, 2012

First few days... and Chinese Physical Exam

View from outside my window, smog/dust!
    After the nightmare that was trying to get out of America, I was pleasantly surprised to find Beijing to be super easy to get around in once I arrived.  The airport, re-built for the Olympics is a massive beautiful building, obviously built to impress first timers to China!

  The first two days were super jet lagged.  Worse than I recall when I traveled from Seattle to Bangkok, but also when I was in Southeast Asia I had no agenda to attend to so I could nap whenever I wanted.

   It is dusty here, the city is in the desert.  Mix that dust with the smog and it creates a impenetrable fog, even on a clear day with blue skies, you can only see so far on the ground!  WEIRD!

    I am playing right now nightly at the top of the tallest building in Beijing, at the Atmosphere bar/club.  It is a super hip, really happening place - awesome, but before I get on a tangent and start talking about random stuff that I did not really intend to write about,  (like music stuff, which I will eventually write about, however right now we are just trying to get things rolling...[See, tangents already]) I am going to list three interesting and funny things that have happened to me in the last two days.  (OH MAN YOU SHOULD SEE THE GYM I HAVE ACCESS TO, AND LESLIE THE BUFFEST CHINESE DUDE EVER IS GONNA HELP ME GET RIPPED![sorry again])

Kind of funny things:

   The Pukers

   Our Chinese Sound Man

   The Physical Examination

The Pukers:  So right when we arrived and set up for the first rehearsal we were warned by a Swedish man who helps manage the club about 'Pukers'.  Pukers are people who drink too much at the club, and then get sick.  Not unusual for anybody who has been to Havana or Shorty's, but the Atmosphere bar is super swanky and extremely expensive and ritzy.  The difference between what 'Pukers' do and your average 20somethings in Seattle (aside from the choice of establishment..) is that in China, the 'Pukers' will NOT LEAVE TO THE BATHROOM TO THROW UP.  I CANNOT BELIEVE IT, IT IS DISGUSTING.  So, there are people lounging on these plush pillow beds, then they roll over and throw up in a small bucket that is nearby.  It is absolutely so bizarre to me and so different than what we would do in the states, which would be run to the bathroom and throw up in shame while tears stream down your cheeks and your forehead rests on the porcelain queen.

I have been trying to figure out why the 'Pukers' do what they do, and with the help of some very smart people who have lived here for a long time already 'I' have determined it is a whole status/face thing.  Imagine how vulnerable and shitty and embarrassed you are when you are vomiting.  Now imagine you are with someone important to your life... say, your boss.  In America, if I were to puke in front of my boss in a restaurant or club, I would be mortified, and would probably consider microwaving myself to death.   Here, when you throw up in front of somebody you are giving yourself to them.  You are saying, look at me, I need your help, you are so above me, please help and take care of me because I need you and you are so great and generous.  The 'help' then is obligated to take care of their underling because they are so weak and cannot take care of themselves.  "What a poor poor person, let me help you, because I am so nice and kind, and I take care of people who need to be taken care of."  When my friends throw up in front of me, or are passing out, I roll them on their stomach, call them some sort of profanity, might give 'em a kick or two for being such a pain in the ass, then leave them until morning.  HA!

The next thing I need to find out about the pukers is exactly how strategic this action is.  Does the boss buy super stiff drinks to make this happen to be 'above' the consumer?  Does the underling drink too much on purpose so that they make themselves appear inferior?  Or to please their superiors?  Do these people throw up on command?  Is it unpleasant for them?  Do they get the sweats before they do it?  I really need to figure this out, there are 'pukers' at our club every night and it is freaking me out.

Our Chinese Sound Man:  I do not think he has ever ran sound or even played with a mixing board before in his life.  After angrily slapping hands when I tried to touch nobs, run cables, or get behind the board, we allowed him to do his thing.  His thing did not work.  At all.  3 sm58's on the drum set? Don't think so buddy --- and they are all in the wrong spots.  So, I snuck in there the other day and I unplugged the large Yamaha 32 channel board and re wired it a little, still not good, but at least now we know how it works a little.  I think there is a discrepancy between voltages with the electronic equipment that causes some strange 'freak outs' in the PA system.  Its kind of fun, and improvisational.  Sometimes the sound will cut out randomly, huge explosions of booms can be heard mid tune, and feedback like an endless knot toy.  I do not know how this place has been getting by...

This tiny sign brought relief, I was not being kidnapped!
Physical Examination:  To live here, I have to be approved by Chinese immigration.  This requires a plethora of things, but today the portion that I completed was the physical examination.  Here is the short version, because I am tired of writing this blog right now. (In hindsight, apparently I was not too tired...)

Step 1.  Drive two hours to a far away place, where they make all foreigners get to in order to have the exam.  There is only one place to do this in Beijing.  Why did they make it so far away from where foreigners actually would be?  I think it is like a test of sorts, as if the government is saying "If you can make it here without dying in some sort of horrible car accident, you can live in China."

Step 2.  Register, pay fee, fill out paperwork.

Step 3.  Wait in a concrete building, not homey in the least.  Tile floors, cold, plain blue, unfriendly.

Step 4.  Get a list of 'class-rooms' you must run around this building to and have examinations in.

a. Room 101 - Vision test
b. Room 103 - Blood pressure test
c.  Room 104 - X-rays
d. Room 106 - ENT examination
e. Room 105 - Surgery (WHAT THE HELL IS THAT>>!)
f. Room 210 - Blood draw
g. Room 111 - Electric heart examination thingy..? Clamps, pads, wires, suction cups
h. Room 203 - Ultra sound.

Step 5 - Run from classroom to classroom completing random acts of health care (wow, I like that... I think I am on to something!!! RAHC!) like a chicken with its head cut off.  The best thing, is you never know when it is going to hurt....

Step 6 - Get home.

It was kind of fun, weird little tests.  Surgery was the best one - they had me take off my shoes and stand on a scale with what looked to be a shower head above me.  Three large beeps sounded.  The end.
Blood draw - easy, cute nurse yelled at me because I was not holding two fingers over my puncture wound when I got done.  SORRY!
Ultra sound - older Chinese woman slathered some sort of Vaseline all over my torso.
Me getting poked.
Weird electronic heart test - Two girls gasped when I took my shirt off, then attached suction cups all over me.  Then chatted and looked concerned as they looked at my paperwork.... not telling me anything.  AHHAHAHA
Vision test - failed big time.  Doctor says, 'Contacts'?  Then me, a total idiot says "No, glasses" and made the circles around the eyes with my fingers thing.  That totally confused him.  Then I had to explain waayyyy to much about how I wear glasses, but was not wearing them.  God, should have kept my mouth shut.
X-Rays - got to take a bunch of X-rays on a dirty machine.  Probably would have cost thousands in the USA.
Blood pressure test - I always get nervous for these and give bad readings...
ENT - Open up and say AH, look left, look right.  Stick out your tongue.  Gladly.

I think I passed.  I mean, jazz musician health inspection?  Come on man...

As we were leaving we asked our driver if we could go get coffee somewhere before the two hour drive home (because we were not allowed to eat for 12 hours before this whole thing...).  He promptly said 'No, hotel.'  Alright, to the hotel then!

There it is.  Three kind of funny things that happened to me - I promise next blog will have some real substance to it : )

***DISCLOSURE:  I am passing on information here that may or may not be true - I have not deeply researched into basically any information that you are reading here today. In essence, it can all be complete crap... except for, you know, the things that happened to me!  (When I start writing really interesting things that I have learned, I will give everyone a 'un'disclosure.

Peace out.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Supreme Standby, Service, Security, Seattle, Sucky, Delta

I am delighted to be writing this first blog post.

I am not delighted that twenty hours after my flight from Seattle to Narita airport, I am still learning about new delays that are pushing my flight forward, then each time I have to re-book my connection to Beijing which is inevitably missed.

Originally my plane was supposed to leave on Sunday at 1:40 pm.  My mother was dropping me off at the airport so at about 10:15 we left.  On the way to the airport I decided I would call and switch my phone line off.  The service agent also recommended that I remove the SIM card from my iPhone so that it does not 'accidentally' try to roam while I am abroad.  Sounded weird and creepy to me, so I decided to take their advice.

I have seen two people take my SIM card out of my iPhone before, so I figured it was a piece of cake.  I just needed something super small, that could fit into a tiny little hole on the side of the phone.  No paper clip available.  "Mom can I borrow your earring?"  She hands it over, I jam it into the hole, and immediately destroy the earring.  Damn.  Then I remember that I have an earring that I always forget about.  Take that out, jam it into the hole, have some success at getting the SIM card to pop out, but my bad motor skills mixed with the bumps in the road kept making me accidentally knock the compartment back into the phone!  What a pain in the butt.  Then on a final try, I jam my silver stud into the hole, mom swerves, I drop and lose the earring under the seat of the car.  At this point I gave up for now, apparently I need the phone gods blessings, and they were not helping me what so ever.

Together after nearly killing three pedestrians and hitting two cars, we found a parking spot in the parking garage at the airport.  I am traveling with quite a bit of luggage on this trip, as I will be making home in a city as opposed to backpacking around, not to mention I wanted to bring some keyboards from home.  It took both of us to schlep all of my bags and gear to a counter, where they told us to go to another counter, where they told us to go to another counter, where they charged my credit card a MASSIVE three digit number for luggage, then sent me to oversize baggage where two TSA agents asked me if my clearly TSA locks were indeed TSA locks --- I thought for sure they would have recognized the little TSA logo on the locks right away as it was plastered all over their uniforms.

Then through security, no problem.

Then to the gate, no problem.

Then to the plane, no problem.

Then right before take off the captain says. "Something is wrong, we are expecting a fifteen minute delay"

Weird, okay whatever.

"Sorry for the inconvenience passengers, but we are going to have to tow the plane back to the gate, open up the enginge, and manually start it.  This should be completed within forty-five minutes."

What the hell, manually start a plane engine?  How the heck do you do that?  I imagine a man grabbing the propeller of an old plane and pulling it down wards with all of his strength.

An hour and a half goes by.  I am harassed by a flight attendant, an older Jewish woman from the east coast who keeps calling me "red pants".  I think they are more of a burgundy...  "Red pants, put your bag above in overhead storage..."  "Red pants, put your seat back up in case we take off..."  I did not understand because we were clearly not taking off but I kept my mouth shut.

"This is the captain speaking, the unfortunate news is that the neumatic starter in engine number two is shot.  The only replacement part in the country is in Minneapolis, and is going to be flown to us now.  It will get here at 7pm, and the plane should be good to go by 9 pm, but DELTA is telling us we have to reschedule the flight for 7am tomorrow morning."

At this point everyone is pissed, and a man in a red vest tells us to pick up all of our bags at baggage claim four, then proceed to the ticket desk for vouchers.

Baggage claim four - 45 minute wait.  Conveyor belt breaks, has to be repaired.  Move all luggage to baggage claim three.  As I am walking to baggage claim three I notice that there is a closed window that says ' over sized luggage '.  On the floor in the middle of the airport with nobody around are my two keyboards, six thousand dollars of prized possessions, unguarded, just chilling.  Go grab them, pay five dollars for a 'smart cart' load all my shit onto it, and head upstairs to a hour and a half long line.

When I talk to the DELTA man at the desk I feel like I am chatting to a celebrity.  He gives me a hotel voucher, a fifty dollar credit card that says DELTA on it, a $6 food voucher for dinner (big spender) a $6 food voucher for breakfast (big spender again) and a $100 coupon for my next DELTA flight (useless, as I will never fly on DELTA again).

Since I shut off my phone I boot up the laptop and send my mother a Facebook message.  She cannot believe it and comes out to hangout with me for the evening.  We went to get food, then hang out at the hotel.  AH!  The concierge has a paper clip!  Perfect for that SIM card!  Take out the SIM card, mission complete.  Then since we already ate dinner, I decided to go get a beer with that $6 voucher.  I ask for the Elysian IPA, one of my favorite beers, and the bartender continues to tell me about how it is a local beer from Tacoma.  Shut up, its from Seattle.  THEN - the beer was $8... DELTA did not even buy me a beer with that dinner voucher!!!

4 a.m.  Wake up, go to airport, repeat above steps.  Flight pushed back to 9:00 a.m. from 7.  WHAT IS GOING ON. I decide to take my $50 credit card (which I find out only works in the airport for 24 hours after it is issued...) and buy massive amounts of liquor in the duty free shop.  I ponder for thirty minutes.  What should I bring to China?  My favorite, or something soo American that I can share with my friends out there?  I decide to forgo my favorites and buy something classic.  I decided on Jack Daniels, and 1800 Tequila.  (Supposedly they do not drink tequila in China, and since we do all the time in Seattle I figured it was a good choice)  Total was $40.  As I am checking it out the person helping me asks where I am going, "Beijing" I reply, "Oh perfect" she says, then she asks "Do you have any lay-overs?"  Yes, Tokyo.  "Oh Mr. Grout, I am sorry you cannot bring more than 100ml of alcohol into Tokyo airport.  WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON!  100 ml is the tiny tiny little airplane shot...  I decided to forget about the liquor, although I did consider buying 40 airplane shots to bring....

Smokes?  I don't smoke so no thanks.  I have this fifty dollars though, and I want to spend it.  My only choice left.... fancy cologne.  I buy some Armani cologne, really nice, but I did not want it.  As I am writing this blog post a woman just came on the loud speaker and announced that we have all received another $50 voucher for the hell we are going through... how am I going to spend that?  More fancy smells, or how about fifty king size snickers bars?  The only place I can spend it is Hudson News or Duty Free --- if I could have used them together I could have bought a pair of Dr. Dre Beatz.

So now I have a flight to Tokyo, no flight to Beijing.  Another fifty dollar voucher and time to kill.

So that is the bad stuff - there are two good things that happened to me.

When I came back this morning to check all my gear and bags again, a woman from DELTA helped me cut to the front of the line because I had so much heavy stuff.  Cool.  Then, at Seattles Best Coffee their card machine was down and a flight attendant did not have any cash on her but wanted to buy a drip coffee.  I gladly bought it for her, no problem.  I don't have much money but I can spare two bucks for a coffee drinker in need. Then, three hours later, she found me and thanked me and gave me THREE FREE COCKTAIL vouchers for the plane!  Woohoo!  THEN!!!  She turns out to be a flight attendant on my flight!  Weird!

Alright I am going to spend more of DELTA's money on useless stuff.  WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON!!!