Fly the smoggy skies

This is your Captain speaking. It’s 4:30 p.m. local time, March 6, 2024, and we’re beginning our descent into Beijing, although you could never tell by looking out the window. Visibility is at 5 feet and shrinking. The weather forecast calls for cancer-causing smog, followed overnight by acid rain.

Masks will be dropping from the ceiling in the next couple of minutes, but don’t be alarmed. If your final destination is Beijing, you must put on a World Health Organization-approved pollution mask before leaving the airport. If you’re traveling with a small child, please make sure their mask is properly secured before putting yours on.

Smog.

Beijing, from 20,000 feet.

Our cabin crew will be going around in a few minutes to hand out anti-acid tablets. Unlike the masks, these aren’t required, but I highly advise taking a few just in case that lamb meat you order for lunch turns out to be diseased rat. That actually happened to me once, and I got so bloated that I looked like a woman pregnant with twins in her third trimester.

Pollution masks fall from the ceiling. A few people who were asleep during the announcement scream, but quickly calm down after they realize the plane hasn’t lost cabin pressure; they’re just landing in Beijing.

A few more things to tell you while we prepare for landing. Recently, there have been scandals involving baby formula, bottled water, fruit and vegetables containing high levels of pesticide, recycled cooking oil … (turns to co-pilot, voice barely audible: Bob, I know I’m forgetting something) … oh, and fresh air in a can. If, like me, you have a pulse, then you’re probably concerned about at least one of these things. However, all of these items are for sale in our duty-free catalog and can be purchased using Mastercard or Visa.

One more reminder: if you’re outside and your mask gets undone, don’t run. Just lie on the ground and dial 120. Medical personnel with oxygen tanks will respond within minutes to assist you.

It’s been a pleasure having you on board, and we hope you enjoy your stay in Beijing.

The grandson from China

I recently returned to the U.S. to attend my grandfather’s funeral in northwestern Michigan. My grandfather Ed was well liked, and friends and family came from all over — Nevada, California, Ohio and even Canada — to pay their respects.

Perhaps it’s because I live so far away, but I was repeatedly introduced as “the grandson from China,” which led to a lot of questions. Isn’t China becoming more capitalist? (Absolutely.) Do the Chinese celebrate Christmas? (Only in a commercial sense.) Have you eaten dog? (No.) But would you try it if you were served dog? (No, really I wouldn’t.) Continue reading

The Queen of Beers

If Budweiser is the King of Beers, then Hello Kitty is definitely the Queen of Beers.

Available in six tropical flavors — including passion fruit, lemon lime and banana – Hello Kitty Beer is sure to sap whatever manliness you possess with just one sip. The beer was introduced in Taiwan and is now available on the Chinese mainland.

According to ABC News, the beverage is marketed toward adult fans of the cartoon cat (wink, wink; take a look at the can and judge for yourself). Continue reading

Thou shalt build more stairs

I think that in the course of building nearly every major temple and palace in ancient China, a conversation like this took place.

Architect: “It looks great, but there’s something missing.”

Lead foreman: “What is it boss?”

Architect: “I just can’t put my finger on it … .”

Lead foreman: “Bigger Lions? Higher walls to keep the bad guys out?”

Architect: “No, that’s not it … I know! More stairs! We need more stairs. Immediately assemble 100 of your fastest working men and add an additional 1,000 stairs to every entrance of this temple.”

Lead foreman: (Sigh). Yes sir. Continue reading

Kunming confessions

I’ve been traveling alone in Yunnan province in southwestern China for the past couple of days, which has forced me to speak Chinese pretty much wherever I go.

I’ve made big strides after two years of Chinese lessons, and I’m slowly trying to come out of my shell and be more chatty. This morning, the cab driver who picked me up from the airport in the city of Dali was quite a character. Continue reading

My heart will go on

After a lengthy attempt to lower the quality of my life, hypertension died last week. It was 1 and a half.

Hypertension was declared dead in an email I received from my doctor. “Great news. You don’t need medications now. This was a good ‘scare’, so you will have a healthy lifestyle now!” she wrote.

It is survived by the half empty boxes of blood pressure medication scattered around my apartment: 30 mg of Adalat, 12.5 mg of Carvedilol and 5 mg of a generic beta blocker.

I met with a doctor in Beijing for a follow-up checkup earlier this year.

I met with a doctor in Beijing for a follow-up checkup earlier this year.

Hypertension was born in my body in January 2012, after a doctor in the Philippines discovered my blood pressure was dangerously high following a severe bout of lightheadedness. Its interests included wrecking havoc on my body, including heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. Continue reading

White male seeking red roses

Finding a flower shop had never been so hard. Then again, this was the first time I’d tried to do it on an island in China.

It was Valentine’s Day, which unfortunately also happens to be my girlfriend’s birthday. I say unfortunate because the stakes are twice as high. Choose a lame gift or a less-than-spectacular restaurant and the consequences are exponentially bad.

We were visiting Gulangyu, a small island off the coast of Xiamen in the southeastern province of Fujian. Gulangyu became a treaty port after the First Opium War (1839-42), and 13 countries — including the US, Spain and Japan — established consulates, churches and businesses. Continue reading

Now I’m a non-Belieber

Dear Justin,

I really tried to be a “Belieber.” Not that I was ever into your music or dance moves (OK, I downloaded “Baby” – albeit, illegally – but only because it’s upbeat, and I’m running out of songs to jog to).

The reason I wanted to believe in you was that my 11-year-old niece is a big fan of yours. And in this day and age, kids need good role models, some more than others. Continue reading

Oblivious to oblivion

I recently bought an iPhone5, and wow, my life has gotten so much better. Not only can I surf the Web and take high-definition video on the go, but it’s also great for tuning out my girlfriend.

Need to talk about our weekend plans? Sorry, babe, my thumbs are busy. These Angry Birds aren’t going to launch themselves. Continue reading

Smile and say “CT”

Before moving to China in 2010, I had always been a model of good health. Not overweight. Perfect blood pressure. I drank beer and rarely met a pizza I didn’t fall for, but almost always balanced it out with exercise and more than enough sleep.

Something changed in Beijing. Exactly what, I still can’t put my finger on. Dishes here tend to be on the oily and salty side. The air, water and streets are dirty. That can’t help. And I work nights – 5 to 12 most evenings – whereas most of my jobs in the U.S. were day shifts.

Whatever the cause, my body’s changed. My blood pressure runs high, and because of that I feel anxious. I find it harder to relax, and I spend more time worrying about what could be wrong with me instead of thinking about what to cook for dinner or what to buy my girlfriend for her birthday. Continue reading