Monday, May 3, 2010

Struggle Gets Oriented

I recently spent ten minutes explaining to a café waitress in the Shanghai Pudong airport the concept of an iced coffee. Really? REALLY? Has NO one ever made that request before in this entire NATION? Is that possible that in a country that includes all four seasons, no one, craving both a  refreshing cooling experience and life’s best and most legal drug, has asked politely to combine coffee and ice in order to create a more perfect union? Or is it, as I suspect, that people have asked, oh, how they’ve asked, begged, cried even, in all the languages of ever spoken from Babel and beyond, and the People’s Republic just doesn’t care. I bet you a dollar (that’s 6.8 RNB, by the way) that Mateo Ricci  and Marco Polo were both like, Por Favore, café con ghiaccio, por el amore de dio! The British probably pleaded, the Dutch demanded, the French sneered, the Spaniards gesticulated, but China has stood firm. Coffee with ice in it? That’s just crazy talk. White devil juice. None of that for desendents of Khan.

So if you ever find yourself in the Shanghai Pudong Airport I would advise you to get some coffee beforehand. Not only will doing so aid you in avoiding an awkward interpretive dance enacting the term "ice", but you will have something to console you as you wait in the inumberable lines that seperate you, the traveler, from your gate. Or, like me, you will find yourself with a 10 dollar paper cup filled with hot coffee and rapidly melting ice while laughing Chinese people eagerly watch you to make sure you are (finally) happy. In such a case, it's best to just fake it, reguardless of how disgusting the drink is. Trust me on that one.

And so, horrible cup of coffee like substance in my hand, I departed from Shanghai and, 14 hours later, arrived in a much stranger and more strugglesome place (is such a thing possible? Oh, wait for it, folks!). That's right, people. I went to Los Angeles.

Now, I firmly believe there are people out there who love and delight in Los Angeles. I believe there are people who enjoy equestrian paintings and crocs and t-shirt's that say "Your Boyfriend Bought Me This Shirt" and the music of Justin Bieber. I believe these things are real and out there and that there are people who treasure them, and are grateful for their existence. I even believe that there are people who when told: Death is not an option and are placed in front of the Twilight Saga DON'T immediately scream "Death is ALWAYS an option!" and jump out the nearest window. I am just not among them.

I think I've made my feelings about Los Angeles pretty clear in the past, but just for all those who have joined us late in the game, I point you to the nearest Woody Allen film. Well, that's not quite fair. After all, Los Angeles has truely excellent food, and the weather is really nice. And if there is any other good quality... I personally have yet to find it. But Strugglemano lives there, and as I wasn't wild about extending my trip across the Pacific ocean to include a cross-country flight, I dragged my bags, still dusty from the sand blowing off the Gobi desert, into my brother's car and, scowling in the sunshine like the East Coaster I am, observed the most common Los Angeles view there is, that is, the one framed by a car window.

The thing about flying from China to the West Coast is that you gain 15 hours of time, so in many cases you find yourself arriving about an hour before you left the day before. For some people this might have seemed like a perfect opportunty to hit the sights and check out the museums. but having spent the last 5 months of my life doing exactly that, I was honestly eager for some downtime, and if you can't count on the United States to find places to stuff your face, where the hell can you? So, in deferance to my wishes, Strugglemano set out to find me the best of the best of the worst possible foods for you. And here is something I noticed on our gastronomic journy, and I have to say, maybe it's our arrogance, or our ignorance, but when it comes to dining we in the US sometimes act like we are inventing the wheel. We are always "discovering" things like cupcakes or couscous or chicken and then carrying on like no one has ever heard of this item before. This year seems to be the year of bacon and whiskey, despite the fact that the Chinese consider it to be the year of the tiger. Sorry, China, tiger meat is just too expensive these days, though apparently whale is just fine...

So in keeping with these exciting new food discoveries, Strugglemano and I made it our mission in my first 24 hours back on US soil to consume them both in large quantities. Starting with the bacon-maple donut from the Nickel Diner in downtown LA ( I know it sounds disgusting, but I have to tell you, it was glorious, every articlogging bite of it) and moving on to murkey but delicious burbon Derbies at the speak-easy style Edison (has to be one of the coolest bars I've seen in a while, it's not every day you get to sip bootleg gin surrounded by silent movies and turn-of-the-century machinery). We ended the day stuffing our faces at Animal, a resturant specializing in little plates of delectably prepared meats. I guess America has found meat this year as well. Thank goodness, too, it coincides with our recent discovery of fire.

I will say this much for Los Angeles, when I walked into a coffee shop, be it the painfully hip Intellegetnsia or the bubble tea house in a mall complex in the San Gabriel valley, they knew what I wanted when I asked for iced coffee. It's almost a shame, really, I was getting really good at miming.


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  3. It seems you have a few Chinese fans who have a few characters for you on the benefits of hot coffee and how L.A. is that hot beating center out from which all slowly radiates (actually what they're saying is pretty racy and should be spammed asap).

    I myself am old fashioned, in that I feel coffee should be hot, though I have had iced coffee before, I would never say it was anything near the way I want to feel when drinking coffee: too much sugar, strange syrups and, well, ice getting in the way of my coffee going down my throat, hotly.

    #2 (Did I say #1?), Coffee in Asia? Are you mad? I wouldn't bet all the tea in China you could get a satisfying cup of iced dog at the Shanghai airport, and you want the one thing grown in hot, lusty, semi-tropical climes nowhere near the Cock-shaped country, and you want it with ice?

    I've just come from Japan, where if you order coffee they ask you, "hot or cold?" At first i tried to explain to them that the by definition, the drink's default is hot and if I wanted it cold I would ask (with lots of gesturing).

    Imagine what Mao would think of the state of Shanghai and the rest of the country: Google, Gucci and Iced Coffee?

    Well, I can see that you won't be convinced.

    As for L.A., don't be a curmudgeon, you love it. Seeing the sights is overrated and actually, impossible, as there really aren't any. Consumption of mass quantities of amazing food made by actual immigrants from all of the countries we've ever bombed is the only true L.A. experience. Revel in it, with whisky, bacon and from your passenger's side window in traffic on the 10 west.