Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hello From Lhasa

Apparently, blogspot is not blogged from China at all, unlike 3 years ago when I last came here.

Anyways, here are some updates. I spent a day in Beijing on 8/28 to rest a little before hopping on a plane to Lhasa on the 29th. Althought I thought 8/28 would be just a day for resting, I actually ended up doing a few interesting things. First I had lunch with my friend Yang Yang and some of her friends at a restaurant that specialized in Yunnan cuisine. This restaurant was so posh and trendy it wouldn't seem out of place in New York. I had some rice wine out of a bamboo! I didn't really like the food very much at this place though.

One thing I've discovered since arriving this time is that there are some really really rich people here. Yang Yang, for example, is an interior designer working on redesigning parts of the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia. The cost of her design, including all artworks and furniture, is 1.9 million Yuan (which at the current exchange rate of 8 yuan to a dollar comes out to be about $238K). She owns and drives a Fiat and lives in a posh 2BR condo with her husband that costs as much as a lot of houses in the US. One of her friends, a really cool photographer whom I had met recently when he came to New York to exhibit his work at a SoHo gallery, just bought a Hummer as well as a new digital camera that costs 300,000 yuan, or $37,500! At lunch we met up with this photographer chick who's currently married to some Chinese rock star whose first wife was Wong Faye, a really really well-known Hong Kong pop star that I was like in love with after seeing her in "Chungking Express" and "2046," two of Wong Kar Wai's masterpieces. Unfortunately, the second wife is nowhere nearly as hot as the first. Sigh. Anyways, she told everyone she has a friend that just bought a nice place and is looking for new furniture. The dude is thinking about spending 200,000 yuan, which comes out to be $25,000, which is more than my parents spent on their furniture after they bought their house. For the sake of comparison, the security guards working at Yang Yang's condo building make 400 yuan a month.

I can still remember the time when I was in elementary, when it took me several months to save up 5 yuan to buy a really cool pair of sunglasses. At that time, my parents each made about 100 yuan a month. Well, our lunch at this restaurant came out to be 160 yuan for 3 people. It's insane, I tell you. Maybe I should move to China and see if there are any opportunities for me to make a shitload of money too.

Later that night, I met up with Jingfeng, who's my brother-in-law's brother, and his girlfriend. The last time I came to Beijing, he took me to the coolest neighborhood and showed me around a bunch of interesting bars, including one called Nashville, which had some Australian dude singing Sting classics such as "Message in a Bottle." Anyways, this time he took me to the new hip area called Hou Hai (Back of the Sea). On the way to the restaurant, we bumped into this guy on the street who was making what seemed like cool animal-shaped candy by blowing on this ultra malleable chocolate-colored mix. He asked for my zodiac animal, which is monkey, and then proceeded to blow a horse (ok, I know that doesn't sound quite right, but oh well). I asked him why he had blown a horse when I told him I was a monkey (ok, even I'm laughing at the previous sentence now, which I hope will never be taken out of the current context). He said he will blow a monkey next so it could ride the horse. At this point, I was pretty disappointed in the horse, because it didn't quite look like a horse with the disproportional front hoofs and the oddly shaped body. But I told him to go on anyways. The monkey resembled the real thing even less. In fact, it was bigger than the horse. Jingfeng totally bashed the artistic merit of the animals, but I felt like the guy, who looked pretty shabby, deserved 5 yuan at least for his 10 minutes of effort. After this fiasco, we had awesome food at this great rustic looking restaurant by the lake (the sea in the name is just to impress) and 4 beers. Although each chinese beer is only 3% alcohol, the bottles are about 3 times the size of the American bottles. Jingfeng told me all about this crazy drinking is mandatory to do business with the government in China. I don't know how much he was exaggerating, but it sounded pretty scary. He was once told by a government official to drink a whole bottle of 80 proof liquor before he could sign the contract with them. Apparently, the willingness to get shit-faced in front of your client is proof of your sincerity. Jingfeng couldn't explain the logic of this rationale either. According to him, Salespeople working for pri