Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Balalaika"

I'm far too exhausted from my evening at the opening of the Metropolian Opera in New York City to write anything more than a very concise blurb about this photo from my stay in Hong Kong.

Imagine this. Russia, 1901 or so. It's winter; isn't it always winter? It's also dark, and because it's wintry cold and dark, you and your four friends (perhaps one of them is even Tolstoy) reach for the vodka bottle. You all don full-length fur coats and sip Stoli.

This is the concept behind "Balalaika", a Russian caviar and vodka bar in Hong Kong. Well, I'm not sure the proprietors had in mind Tolstoy, but they certainly successfully conceptualized around-the-clock winter. Immediately upon entering Balalaika, you are offered a full-length fur coat, which you'll need. Because your next move is into a large icebox, where you sip vodka amidst swirls of manufactured snow and ice. It's really the right way to start off a night with a fantastic artist, even if it's not the count of Russian literature. In this photograph, the four ladies are joined by reknowned French artist Jean-Fran├žois Larrieu. There was no doubt this artist's company was preferable to that of Tolstoy's. After all, we were able to enjoy the evils of Stoli.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Hay Hay Chinese Restaurant"

Well, I have splendid news. I found the pork fat restaurant, but all those details will come later, in my upcoming book (slight chuckle, ever so slightly serious). After four months, I'm on my way back home. Right now I have celebratory drinks to attend, so look out for the book. Oh, the name of that pork restaurant? "Hay Hay Chinese Pork Restaurant". After all, what else could it have been?

See you all in New York. Thanks to everyone who read and commented. Further comments to trishsexton@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Yacuum Ear-Cupping"

For the first time in ten years, I booked myself into a hostel. One lone tear slid down my cheek as I realized there would be no tuxedoed chaffeur to greet me at the airport. Instead, I hoisted my heavy and growing-heavier hiker's backpack on my back, dragged my leaden suitcase and two carry-on pieces up the four flights of escalators to the subway station. I pondered taking a taxi to my hostel, but only briefly; somehow that would have been cheating.

I checked in to the Hong Kong hostel with more fanfare than I ever would have expected at a hotel when the hostel owner coyly remarked, "Patricia if you need anything, anything at all, please call me." And I nearly did call him when I was led to a room in the center of a corridor. In the center of a corridor that had no windows. My tiny 8x8 windowless room was fitted with a box spring, two petrified pillows, and a make-up stand. Honestly, what more could I have wanted? Despite the meagre surroundings, I jubilantly unpacked and headed out for a long walk into town.

I estimated my journey into town to be a 45-minute walk. 90 minutes later, I was dripping in sweat, and only just crossing into the outskirts of where I wanted to be. I'd been too amused to notice. On my way, I'd passed the usual roast meat stalls, shops overflowing with trinkets and bath products (side-by-side of course), and advertisements for beauty care. My favorite was a sign offering "Yacuum Ear-Cupping" for the princely sum of HK$80, or USD10. I don't know what "yacuum ear-cupping" is, and there was something really, really nice in not finding out.

Although I was exhausted, I did not sleep so much like a rock, but on a rock, so hard was my boxspring mattress. I rose early and decided to do something I'd always wanted to do: walk, yes on foot, to The Peak. The Peak is Hong Kong's most-visited tourist attraction. A tram slowly trundles visitors 373 meters from the Botanic Gardens to the top. It is said that the Peak Tram has been built on an incline so steep that buildings appear to be leaning at a 45-degree angle. On my way up, I asked directions from a stranger. He eyed me with sympathy. "Well," he solemnly said with what appeared to be mist in his eyes, "good luck to you."

At the entrance to the steepest part of the walk, I noticed some graffiti on a side wall. "I loved her and she lied, cheated, and stole." Then, "I really loved her." Finally, the conclusion to this madman's prose: "Love, now contempt." Well, at least this was an ideal place for a suicide, I thought. Another sign posted suggested I allow 30 minutes for the remainder of the ascent. I scoffed; it would take a geriatric 30 minutes to walk this last short distance. 30 minutes later, I arrived, red and sweaty.

I spent a few hours at the top, taking notes and photos. The sky in Hong Kong was a rare brilliant blue, and I could see 270 degrees around me. I drank in the sights, two soy milkshakes, and descended. As usual, the descent was far worse than the ascent. My too-small Mongolian shoes were pinching my toes so badly that I timed my steps to Rachmaninoff 3, just to keep my mind on a quick pace, and my mind off my feet. Needing some respite, I stopped at the Botanic Gardens. I lazily observed rare spotted orchids (nice, but the air-conditioning in the greenhouse was nicer), and a smiling orangutan, who pulled his lips apart to make a face at me when I waved at him.

My first stop on my way back to my hostel was a Nike shop. In about a nano-second, I purchased a new pair of shoes that actually fit, and unceremoniously dumped my Mongolian shoes in the nearest trash can. My second stop would prove to be the most amusing of any experience I've had yet in my many trips to this island.

In a desperate search for food, I walked several miles looking for a meat stall that serves, among other things, roasted pork and greens. Earlier, I thought I had seen one of these small stalls on a corner near my hostel, racks of succulent meat hanging from window hooks, a smiling local beckoning me inside. I frantically traced and retraced my steps looking for that same smiling man carving pork in his shop window, but to no avail. Hungry and somewhat despondent, I gave up. Poked my head into a tiny crowded local restaurant. A Chinese man held up two fingers. "No," I mouthed, "just one." He motioned me inside, led me through a crowd of lcoals, and seated me at a table with a Chinese family. Err, slightly uncomfortable, I thought.

The Chinese family did not acknowledge me. "Hello..." I said a bit bashfully. No response. I called the waiter over and ordered the first thing on the menu. A few moments later, their food came: roasted pork! My dish arrived, looking grey and sickly. I begged the waiter to change my food to what they were having. He obliged and I tucked into the delicious roasted pork dish I'd been dreaming of all day. I drained my tea glass and helped myself to what I thought was a communal tea pitcher. As I poured it into my glass, I noticed that the communal tea seemed sort of lumpy and viscous. Too thirsty to take serious notice, I took a huge gulp. The communal tea was actually communal sweet & sour sauce. I giggled and apologized to my eating companions. No response. I called the waiter over and asked for water. "Coke?" he said. Err, no, I wanted water. "Hot water?" No I didn't want hot water, but I got it anyway. A glass of boiling water with one lone (and quickly disappearing) ice cube. The mother and daughter of the Chinese family abruptly departed, leaving me alone with Dad, which made an uncomfortable situation nearly unbearable. I gave him a wan smile; he patently ignored me, again. I breathed a sigh of relief as he hurried himself out the door.

I bagged my leftovers for breakfast and waddled back to my hotel, passing on my way a Falun Gong rally protesting the Chinese government's plans for the "Final Solution" of Falun Gong members. The protest included a demonstration of what Falun Gong believes to be the Chinese government's solution: removal of internal organs for sale on the black market. True or not, the demonstration was quite involved: a surgeon, scalpel in hand, slowly mimed his intention to remove a patient's organs. The actors were dressed in full costume: scrubs, scalpels, caps. Creepy. Exhausted, I returned to my hostel and fell into a deep sleep. A few hours later, I was dining with friends at Hong Kong's number one restaurant. Although my crab souffle and Sauvignon Blanc were delicious, I kind of missed the hectic experience I'd had at the pork restaurant earlier in the day. If I return to any one establishment while I'm here, it will be to my unfriendly pork shop. Maybe I'll even make friends with the same unfriendly family...


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Ten Thousand Minutes of Hell, A New Dante Level"

I think successful weight loss is defined by the ability to put on previously tight jeans while (and this is key) standing in a very hot and humid place, like a steam room in a steamy country. So on the day my fast ended, I rose at the crack of dawn in Christmas-like anticipation for the spa restaurant to open. I pulled my pajama pants out very far in front of me, a la Subway Sandwiches commercials, and examined the now-sinewy neck gracefully extending from a decolletage I imagined myself in. At 7am sharp, I was barking orders to Helen Keller and her adroit staff; I'd been imagining this moment for 168 hours. Although I was supposed to "take it easy on the first meal," I ate Trish-style. I had two poached eggs, a plate of steamed vegetables (sadly, this was a requirement, or I'd have been replacing the veggies with streaky, chewy fried pig pieces), two bowls of goat yogurt sprinkled with bee pollen, and half a papaya. I nearly washed it all down with a glass of Barolo, but they didn't have any on offer.

At the end of this (entirely miserable, totally unlightening, and never to be repeated) experience, I've taken 217 herbal supplement pills, gagged on 21 bowls of salt-free (incidentally, taste-free, too) vegetable broth, sipped 14 coconut waters, and drunk 14 liver flush juices (that's the juice that's made from Greek salad dressing and orange pulp) and 7 carrot juices. I've spent a total of 140 minutes in the hottest steam room I've ever experienced in my life, and completed 540 minutes of yoga, with a finale of "Pah-tree-sha, your yoga poses today are just beautiful."

Now that it's all said and done, save my attempt to put on my previously tight-fitting jeans whilst in the world's hottest steam room, would I do it again? Really, truly, absolutely not. Normally after this fast, patrons of the spa are in ecstasy. They are on a mental high that some compare to that of a illicit drug use. One faster suggested coming off the fast was like mixing the "energetic high of cocaine with the happy high of heroine." Err, whatever. I hated every one of the ten thousand minutes I went without food; even during sleep I dreamed of buffets filled with chocolate chip cookies.

Well, I'm off to the steam room to try on my old jeans. What have you all been doing for the last ten thousand minutes? (Oh, P.S., in the interest of making certain I'd accurately referred to Dante, I took an internet-based quiz to find out which ring of hell I'd be spending eternity in. Apparently I'll be spending my time, and then some, in the fourth level of hell, where I'll be in the good company of all of those sinners who've "...wasted and lived greedily and insatiably..." Oh well, at least they'll have food down there.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"Pedicure Skin Take-Out"

Koala, uninvited, sat down across from me. "You do know," he said as he ordered a creamy pineapple smoothie, "that this process upon which we've embarked is all about the emotional journey, not just the physical one." Uh-huh, I thought, easy for him to say since he'd finished the fast days earlier and was indulging himself in all sorts of things, like the decadent creamy pineapple smoothie that he began to loudly slurp in front of me. I'd ordered a wheat grass juice what seemed like an hour ago, and the waitstaff were doing their best to ignore my pleas to just BRING the juice to ME. "Ex-cuse me, Helen Keller," I said to the world's most inattentive staff, "can I please have my one ounce of lawn product before I go to my yoga session?" Not quite sated, not at all, I again made the Herculean effort of 90 minutes of yoga. And meditation.

In a sullen mood, I went for a long walk on the beach. I passed rotting washed-up seaweed that I considered wolfing, dogs that I imagined grilled, and finally a wrinkled old Thai local. I was delicately negotiating a creaky, soft, and dangerously supple wooden bridge when he decided to strike up a conversation. "Look!!" he said in as much English as he evidently knew. "Look!" he said again, and then a third time. Avoiding the pothole in the middle of (loose definition of) the footbridge, I looked in the direction he was pointing. Sure enough, the gestures he was making of giant jaws opening and clamping shut made sense: there were crocodiles in this fetid little pond extending from the sea. "Dear God, " I repeated over and over, quite sincerely mind you, "dear God." The little wrinkled man continued to chat, incessantly I might add, and in Thai (which I clearly don't understand) while I very gingerly stepped on boards that bent with every new step I took. The family of crocs looked on, with interest, it seemed; they appeared to be as hungry as I was. A wave of relief washed over me as I successfully crossed the bridge back to the beach and the ocean.

As it was time for my scheduled psyllium-bentonite-clay drink, I headed back to the restaurant of the resort. A sign along the way was advertising "Pedicure Skin Take-Out"; I shuddered at the thought. Skin take-out just did not sound appealing, regardless the intention of the advertisement and regardless my appetite. Back at the ranch, and still in a foul mood, I received my mug of gruel while the other fasters ooh-ed and ahh-ed over a resident cat. If you're familiar with how I feel about cats and if you combine my hunger-induced irritation, you'll perhaps understand my next comment. To stir things up at this predominantly Buddhist resort, I shooed the kitty away, knowing it would bring alarm to everyone around me. "What, you don't like cats?" said an English woman. "Of course I do," I said as if on cue, and I paused for effect, "but I like them better with ketchup." Angry and presumably deeply hurt, she walked off.

I sat alone on the beach (this was an act of servitude, believe me) and continued to read "1984", which really didn't help my mood. In the early chapters, the main character goes on and on and on about "runny pinkish meat stew" that he is forced to eat. Oh yeah? Forced? To me, that runny proletariat-served pinkish stew had two things going for it: one, it was not a psyllium-clay-bentonite drink, and two, it was served in a timely manner.

I am now half-finished with my seven-day fast. Although I am promised that "day four is a breakthrough in your energy levels and your consciousness," I am thinking of literally nothing other than the cross-section of a medium-rare cheeseburger, topped with cheddar and a thick slab of bacon. The bun would be grilled with garlic butter, the waitstaff would bring me extra bacon. Would anyone like to join me at Chumley's the very INSTANT that I return?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I am "Slowing"

Something to consider: why is "fasting" referred to as "fast-ing" when it is perhaps the slowest process in the world? Slower, even, than the service at Ulaanbaatar's famous Grand Khan Irish pub, where you can wait up to an hour for a warm beer in an empty bar. So, while you grab your lunch of a medium-rare cheddar cheeseburger with a toasted garlic bun (if you're at Credit Suisse, perhaps this would come from Shake Shack) and skinny fries that are burning hot and salty on the outside, mealy on the inside and wash it all down with a frosty fresh half-lemonade half-iced tea and creamy Danny Meyers' chocolate custard, allow me to tell you about my "slowing".

With much trepidation, I arrived Monday night at the (in)famous colonic cleansing spa resort in Koh Samui, Thailand. I had heard absolutely legendary tales of success: cleared vison, perfect skin, weight loss, even cleared-up stomach ailments. My goals were only modest: to look ten years younger and to remove any trace of months of mutton from my body (and perhaps Bolor, if you've been reading since June). My flight from Singapore landed with a vicious thud on the tarmac, and I proceeded to pass through immigration in the hut that is the Koh Samui international airport.

A small brown brat kicked me very hard in the shins, while his father tried not very hard to stop him. "You want a taxi, eh? Good price!" So I negotiated with the driver, and with his son, who continued to kick me. Driver and now-peacefully-sleeping-small-brown-brat dropped me off on a hillside in the middle of nowhere. I was given two pills and a heady list of instructions. I decided to sleep on it, and read up the next morning. At 4am, a gigantic flying roach used my head as a landing strip. In the Buddhist spirit of the resort, I politely considered his life for just a moment, and then beat him to death. I awoke the next morning to his legs strewn all over the bedsheet.

My first task on day one was to get out of this nowhere, and find the actual spa grounds. I'd booked what was supposed to be a more luxurious part of the spa, which was on a hillside about ten minutes' walk from the main spa. Without a map, without a telephone in my room, and without any food or drink, I went in search of the main spa grounds. Luckily, a western woman passed me who was able to point me in the correct direction. And, luckily once more, I was able to downgrade to a cozy beach hut in the main part of the spa.

I breakfasted on a cold mixture of whipped olive oil, orange juice, cayenne pepper, and garlic. My first day of "cleansing" required drinking this (surprisingly delicious, given how hungry I was) concoction twice, and eating fruit and steamed vegetables throughout the day. I spent the remainder of the day readng "1984" and the most recent edition of Foreign Affairs, which might as well be telling the same story: world domination. Somewhat depressed, I managed to drag myself to the steam room. A large Australian man (who oddly looked like he descended from koalas) bolted out, he was red as a roasted koala. I tiptoed inside. The thermometer inside said 130 degrees, but a Canadian man intimated, through clouds of herbal steam, that it was closer to 150 degrees. Apparently the thermometer had broken during its ascent. After watching a fire-breathing ceremony, I retired early.

A wake-up call at 6:45am, and I was ready for my first day of fasting. As in, NO FOOD FOR SEVEN DAYS. Nothing. Only liquids. With little more than determination (and a bentonite clay and psyllium-pineapple drink), I proceeded to a meditation class, then yoga. Try meditating on no food, then try performing yoga (try even just walking) without the benefit of nutrition. It ain't easy.

And here I sit. It is now just past noon, I am twelve hours into my first day. And I've looked at my watch 342 times today. The week of fasting is moving very slowly indeed.

Monday, September 04, 2006


(See story below, "Flosstival")

The legendary fridge at Chez Marzo.


Reading the nighttime version of War & Peace.















Frida
and Trish
sporting
chocolate moustaches.
We later waxed.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


"Flosstival"

Well, I never. I never thought I'd be booked into a spa resort in the paradise that is called Thailand, and postpone my trip to Thailand in order to extend a stay in Singapore. Against all odds, this is exactly what has happened.

Fort the tenth time in as many years, I arrived at Changi airport in Singapore. My hosts (pictured at left, Derek and Cath Kwok) had sent a chaffeured Mercedes to pick me up from the airport. From Mongolian taxi drivers threatening me physically in attempts to extort extra tugrug fare from me to a polite and friendly Singaporean driver who offered me chilled (!) water and classical music, the effort did not go unnoticed.

Cath (or Tina Turner, if you knew Cath in Tokyo) and I spent our mornings trying absolutely no more than five minutes of yoga, subsequently rewarding ourselves with muffins and cappuccinos, and ambling around Orchard Road. After all, we both had already lived here a combined eight years. What more was there to see? As it turned out, a new spin on an old theme would keep me here in Singapore a few more days.

I chuckled to myself as a I passed a sign on Orchard Road for a "Flosstival". You really have to marvel at some of the interesting gimmicks that Singaporean businesses come up with. In the case of the "Flosstival", a local bakery was advertising an event featuring a type of savory bun that is topped with "pork floss", or, well, just what it sounds like - very, very thinly shredded pork. Imagine the texture of horsehair, the flavor of pork, atop a hamburger bun; you have now grasped a pork floss bun. And with just a tad more imagination, come on you can do it, imagine a festival based around pork floss buns. You have, by now, surely come to the realization that there is no other title for this even than the same gimmicky title that this bakery owner concocted, the "Flosstival". Without further adieu, I moved on. And quickly.

That evening I met with the Kwok's and Eddie and Melanie Listorti (pictured at right in above photo). We dined at Il Lido, a beautiful breezy modern Italian restaurant on Sentosa, a small island off the coast of Singapore. Champagne, whites, reds, truffles, antipasti, seafood, even cigars (subscription members may ask for a copy of Cath and I trying Cubans): I was in heaven.
Best of all, I hadn't seen any of them in several years. And here we were, having dinner in someone else's country, as if we had not missed a beat.

At 5am, we finished not missing a beat. At a club. Yes, I am ashamed of myself. But proud to say that at lunch the next morning, after many years of avoiding them, I finally ate chicken feet. I think I'd have preferred the pork floss. I spent the remainder of the morning arranging for a later flight to Thailand. I'll spend a few more days with these old friends, be it with truffles and champagne or floss and feet.