Archive for October, 2011

Mrs. Latte

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

When I was younger, I looked forward on the weekends to the Times food columns by Amanda Hesser. My boyfriend and I would get up early to retrieve the paper before it was stolen from in front of our door. The thief, we were convinced, was a spry retiree down the hall who’d get up at dawn to snatch other residents’ copies of the Times, the Post, the Journal. I’m a very specific Sunday paper reader, I deconstruct the sections and organise them again: the Very Important (A, business, Week in Review), the Meh Fluff (sports, travel, arts), the Wholly Guilty Pleasures (Styles, the magazine). And we’d loll in bed or sprawl on the couch — they were approximately four feet apart, so no matter — and read aloud the clever bits of Ms. Hesser’s food column, the girl on the town who slowly, surely, falls in love with the city and food and this culinary neophyte New Yorker writer she dubs Mr. Latte.

Fast forward ahead 10 years. The boyfriend and I are no longer together. The last time I saw the retiree he was shuffling along with a cane and a nurse. But Ms. Hesser is Mrs. Latte now. And she’s still writing engaging, relevant food journalism that makes me want to stuff my face.

The law of expectations

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

I’m a big believer that what you think you’re going to get colours your opinion of what you actually do. It’s the The Kids Are All Right effect – everyone tells you how incredible something is and thus it must be so.

That was the case with Tim Ho Wan, in Mong Kong. To die for, I was told. After all, it’s the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. So, for my one day off, I went over and queued up in what appears to be Hong Kong’s military-armaments district (seriously, every other store sold automatic weapons!). Two hours, I was told, so I went off and strolled in the touristy environs of the Jade Market.

And? It was just all right. Not great. The dumplings chiu chow stuck to the basket liner, and the vermicelli roll was pasty. The shrimp and chive dumplings were deep-fried stomach bombs. Honestly, my abodomen still aches. The service was abysmal. I had better, more inventive dim sum a week earlier in Guangzhou, in a more gracious space with more hospitable service.

But here’s the thing: If I’d stumbled upon the place, drawn by the feverish line, I might have been convinced. I might’ve said, gosh, this is good. But when you’re told something is Incredible, browbeaten even, it always turns out a disappointment.

On the Pearl River, Guangzhou

Friday, October 28th, 2011

When I was a girl I’d read books about Canton. Gateway to China, Pearl of the Pearl River, Pearl Buck, all that. I guess they forgot to mention all the neon. Which is not say that Guangzhou doesn’t seem like a lovely place to live. Just bright:

Secure (and sexy)

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

If all these airport-security measures didn’t seem invasive enough, there’s the story of a New York blogger-cum-lawyer who found a, um, personal note in her luggage. The screener who left the pro-sex-toy note has been, in bureaucrat-ese, been “reassigned;” what seems clear is that it’s probably an overreaction.

If anything, the junior-high-nature of the incident gets at the whole farcical nature of the screening process. If we, as a country, believe that we need to make people take off their shoes and belts and discard all liquids to ensure our safety, then we have to hire and treat screeners like real law enforcement agents, not like mall cops.

They’re too sexy for this body spray

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

You’ve probably seen the commercials for Axe body spray: Some gawky nerd drenches himself in the deodorant and instantly becomes McDreamy, the swoon-worthy object of girls everywhere. Apparently, impressionable adolescent boys bought it. And that’s a problem, says The Atlantic.

Geeks and dorks everywhere were now buying Axe by the caseload, and it was hurting the brand’s image. Eventually (in the United States, at least), to most high-school and college-age males, Axe had essentially become the brand for pathetic losers and, not surprisingly, sales took a huge hit.

Then Axe faced another big problem. Insecure high-school students had been so convincingly persuaded that Axe would make them sexually appealing that they began completely dousing themselves in it.

Forbidden touring

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Scenes from my incredibly aerobic tour through the Forbidden City, which my friend Juday and I saw at a sprint:

Buzzed (about)

Monday, October 24th, 2011

So, I don’t disagree with Eater’s picks for D.C.’s most-buzzed-about bars. (Although some people do.) But it’s so much the usual suspects that I wonder, why bother? I think the value of list-making is in the unexpected.

That said, I suppose I might turn to Eater’s other cocktail compendiums when I’m visiting other cities. Only I kind of know a bunch of those bars, too…

Science of swearing

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

I suppose I applaud this effort at rationalising, standardising, and organising profanity. I mean, I’m practically Hugo Black when it comes to blue words; I support them unequivocally. (Unless they suck.)

Periodic Table of Swearing from Clay Interactive Ltd on Vimeo.

Still, though, this project reminds me about the utter idiosyncrasy of British swearing, or British English at all, for that matter. (Looking like a right arsehole?) Also, it reminds me: What precisely was the point of the periodic table?

Exporting Americana

Friday, October 21st, 2011

The maxim is that one goes abroad to better understand one’s own culture.

What I understand is that everyone else likes American culture better than most Americans, and certainly I, do.

I was thinking that after I walked past the third McDonalds in a dozen blocks, each one packed. In Guangzhou, car stereos blast Rihanna and the sides of buses advertise the NBA (maybe they’ll play their season here in China). Americans, I think, are often ambivalent about their American-ness, at least when it comes to culture. Our embrace is tempered by class and (perceived) coolness — not to mention guilt and shame. Here, my “boy Friday” unreservedly loves KFC and the Back Street Boys; he once won an English-speech competition by memorising a monolgue from Independence Day.

Beijing haze

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I arrived in Beijing in smog and left to more, the air pollution hugging the ground, cotton-batting thick and noxious, blotting out the skyline.

In a way, it’s an apt metaphor for the Chinese capital, an inscrutable place. Shanghai’s easy charms are straightforward to access. But not Beijing, with its stern public spaces, modernist office towers, and shopping malls, endless shopping malls. (Seriously, I’ve been in more malls in a week than in years.) Where’s the there? In the official central city? The business district? One of the many neighbourhoods of high-rises?

I say this not to judge but to wonder aloud. After all, I, too, hail from a city of monumental architecture and government dominance, where hideaways are largely left to locals and visitors walk away with only a superficial glance. I wish I could claim depth of understanding. But I fall short.