Through Taipei streets I cycle erratically, in between guidebook gigs and en route to an interview for a writing gig for which I am vastly overqualified. The trip gives me time for some high speed meditation, my mind awash with delusions of petulant grandiosity basted lightly with thoughts of goat milk.
I got hooked on goat milk last year while researching a travel guide to Singapore, which is not a city normally associated with farm animals. Intestinal difficulties drew me to the milk. The culprits, in no particular order:
Fish head curry,
Roti stuffed with hot pepper, and
Various and sundry street foods from around the region.
Singapore is a food city, and if you’ve ever visited those sweltering hawker courts with their endless aisles of jelly-fire curries you understand why deferred pain might be considered a work-related expense for the intrepid guidebook writer.
One Saturday I found myself researching the city’s rustic side, a few patches of bucolic jungle park and well-tended organic farms on the island’s outer edge. It was here that I came upon a farm that raised goats and distributed their milk citywide. On a whim, I bought and consumed a bottle, and my gastronomic troubles evaporated immediately. For the remainder of my stay I had three bottles delivered weekly.
I assumed that getting goat milk in Taiwan was possible, organic foods being all the rage in those days on my adopted island. I asked around for months, but couldn’t locate a source. I settled instead for wishful thinking.
Which brings us to the present moment.
Were you watching me from some office window on Ren Ai Road, you’d see a man of indeterminate adulthood looking around for a secure pole on which to lock his bike, his actions offering no outward indication of the convoluted flight of pique currently unfolding inside his mind.
A vision of myself, seated atop a throne made of travel guides, all written by me.
From my imaginary throne I am holding court on matters not to be taken lightly. Beneath me, standing with heads bowed are two Asian heads of state, both waiting for me to answer a question of monumental importance.
“Which place, Mr. Samuel, of the many upon which your candied words have graced, heads your top ten list?”
The question is delivered with equal parts gravitas and obsequiousness by Lee Kuan-yew, former prime minister of Singapore, who, though technically a private citizen only, is still referred to with the honorific title Minister Mentor.
Wise indeed is MM Lee to curry my favor with flattery, for my declaration, when issued, will make restaurants, hotels, and even theme parks seem more (or less) attractive to business travelers and backpackers alike.
The second head of state standing before me with bowed head on the long red carpet leading up to my throne (which doubles as my writing desk, if I didn’t mention this before) is Ma Ying-jeou, President of Taiwan.
“Taiwan is your favorite place in the world, is it not, Mr. Samuel?” says Ma, with great elocution. (He is, after all, a Harvard Man.) “You have called our country your adopted homeland more than once in your writings. This has made us all very, very proud.”
This last statement is emphasized with a unique mixture of pomp and humility, causing me to arrange my hands in the pretentious pyramid favored by academics and executives alike, a stance conveying two messages:
I hold the cards
Further flattery may benefit your cause
To drive these points home, I produce a noncommittal hmmm sound.
“You have lived in Taiwan for nearly a decade,” continues the famously coiffed president of the state-that-dare-not-mention-its-statehood. “Why, we should have offered you honorary citizenship long ago!”
I quickly arch my left eyebrow and allow the corners of my mouth to turn slightly downward, conveying to all assembled that President Ma has touched a raw nerve. Sensing an opening, the Minister Mentor, renowned for his political savvy, lunges in for the rhetorical kill.
“Ah,” says the wily Lee Kuan-yew, inching closer to my throne, eyes shining knowingly.
“But in all those years, Mr. Samuel, did Taiwan ever offer you a road to citizenship? No. Why, in Singapore you lived only seven weeks, yet by the third we were already delivering fresh goat milk to your door!”
My smile returns; I radiate confidence, grace and power.
“The Minister Mentor is correct,” I say.
Ma Ying-jeou’s starchy lacquered hair droops.
I raise my right palm, and the assembled subjects of my fantasy world tremble in anticipation of my words. In my mind’s eye I envision the cheering millions, the beating of breasts, the ticker-tape parades, the bitter tears of recrimination.
“You want goat milk?”
My fantasy of power and grandiosity is rudely shattered. Before me stands a woman (or perhaps a specter dredged from my subconscious) holding a woven basket. In her right hand, a small plastic cup.
“Goat milk. You want to try?”
So simpatico is the core subject of my outlandish fantasy and what appears to be actual reality that I am gobsmacked into silence.
The woman reaches a hand into her basket and pulls out a kindergarten-sized milk carton bearing on its label a drawing of a goat.
“Goat milk is better than cow milk, containing more vitamins and less cholesterol than cow milk…”
She pours a shot of milk into the white plastic cup.
Surely some cosmic joke is in progress. The woman continues her pitch concerning the health benefits of goat milk, unaware of the amazing lattice of coincidence our chance encounter represents.
I drain the plastic cup in one long sip.
“Our goat milk is both healthy and tasty, available in five flavors: Chocolate, vanilla, peach, strawberry and original…”
The word honey is displayed ostentatiously across the buttocks of her purple sweatpants, but other than this she has the demeanor of a simple farm girl.
Could she possibly understand the fact that the person to whom she is currently making a cold call sidewalk sales pitch had been, at the exact moment of contact, sunk brainpan deep into a manic fantasy of delusional grandeur, one in which the exact product that she is offering to have delivered to my doorstep daily is a major component?
Or would she just interpret my tale — if I could even manage to translate the phrase “lattice of coincidence” into Mandarin — as proof that I am of that class known in sales-speak as a motivated customer. From the point of view of a wandering goat milk salesperson, this could be considered the only reasonable assumption.
Perhaps our meeting is more than mere chance. What if the woman had been weaving magic of her own?
As she continues her pitch, it all becomes crystal clear to me.
Business has been slow these last few months, a result of the economic slowdown, combined with the overall indifference among the citizenry of Taipei to goat-related products. These factors have come close to crushing this goat milk salesgirl’s spirit.
It was this morning’s pep talk — delivered by an overbearing hatchet man sent to increase productivity among the goat milk sales force-that had finally driven the salesgirl to mysticism.
“We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest,” the well-dressed executive had roared arrogantly at the assembled roaming sales team. “First prize is a three day trip to Macau, all expenses paid. Second prize is a set of steak knives. And third prize…” (and at this he looked directly at my unlucky salesgirl with particular malice)
“…Third prize is you’re fired!”
The humiliating scene drove my poor, farm born salesgirl to flee the goat milk headquarters the very second the meeting had ended. With tears rolling down her apple cheeks she ran to the shrine of Shen Nong-shi, Chinese god of agriculture, where she’d spent her last few dollars on incense, lucky totems and various sacred items, all of which she’d burned, along with perhaps small locks of her own hair, before the statue of the deity, chanting feverishly all the while:
“Please, Shen Nong-shi, please…this humble goat milk salesgirl begs you…oh Shen Nong-shi, hear my prayers…send a customer to me this day, so that I can return to the farm with steak knives instead of shame.”
While she chanted she visualized the perfect customer-the one that would break her losing streak, allowing her to hold her head high among her peers in the goat milk sales industry at last.
The woman has long finished her pitch and is now fiddling with her clipboard. She looks at me expectantly, and a wave of compassion so profound that I nearly burst into tears washes over me. It hits me all at once in perfect, blinding epiphany — I am the one.
“Yes! Yes!” I cry, resisting the urge to kiss the woman full on the mouth after consuming the contents of her sample basket. “I want your goat milk!”
“You’ll need to fill out this form. How many cartons do you want a week?”
“Two a day, every day! Random flavors!”
“We only deliver on weekdays.”
She fills out the sales sheet and hands me my carbon copy.
“Thank you. Delivery will begin next Monday.”
As quickly as she’d arrived in my world the salesgirl is off, leaving me ensconced snugly in a warm blanket of delusion, dreaming of the goat milk filled days to come.
The Milky Teat of Serendipity is one of 19 tales of new journalism and exotic hallucination from the book How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness
How Not to Avoid Jet Lag Nineteen stories from the increasingly deranged mind of travel Writer Joshua Samuel Brown, with illustrations by David Lee Ingersoll.
Hot off the press from Camphor Press!
A reluctant cult leader, a fake viral video, a media-driven propaganda war between America and China that spins out of control – Spinning Karma is the East-Collides-With-West satire the world needs – and deserves – now.
“I heartily recommend this cynical and funny book! If you don’t read it the winds of change shall destroy your serenity (or something of that nature).”
Well, now this is happening and it looks like we’ll all be spending a lot more time indoors in the coming weeks and (yikes) months, meaning we’ve got tons of time to catch up on our favorite Youtube channels. Here then, in no particular order or number (meaning I’ll stop when I’m bored and ready to do something else), my own favorite Youtube channels & content producers, with enough detail / amusing backstory to let the reader / viewer know what to expect.
Austin Goh is my internet Shifu, and he should be yours too. The Malaysian martial artist teaches a enough exercise techniques his through short, easy to follow videos to keep you in good shape while quarantining indoors. Just type “Austin Goh + (body part) or (symptom)” into the Youtube search bar and follow along. In two weeks you should start to feel better. Heart, lungs, lower back, kidneys, anxiety, eye-strain, insomnia. You name it. Austin Goh is a godsend.
I found MovieBob several years back after Google searching “Boston Accents” to get my girlfriend acquainted with the distinctive patois of my sister’s family in Western Massachusetts prior to a planned visit at the end of 2016. Then trump got elected and we cancelled the trip, but we became fast fans of Bob Chipman aka MovieBob, whose take on cinema, comics and society is always worthwhile. He’s got a number of channels these days, including The Big Picture, Escape to the Movies, and probably a few others. We were going to meet for Chinese food when I was back in Boston last autumn, but it didn’t happen. Are restaurants even open in Boston now? Anyway, yes, big shout out to MovieBob (and his brother Chris, aka The Chippa). Wicked smart stuff!
Exurb1a‘s output cannot be summarized, thumb-nailed or categorized. I have theories about who Exurb1a might be. British, certainly, but an expatriate, living in Norway or perhaps Bulgaria. It doesn’t matter. Exurb1a is a poet, philosopher and visionary. His videos are sometimes bizarre, generally erudite, at times confusing but nearly always uplifting. Just visit his page and click away. Clear your schedule.
OK, so Crash Course Astronomy with Phil Plait, AKA The Bad Astronomer is part of the larger Crash Course series. Very high production value, and Phil Plait is exactly the kind of science nerd who makes learning fun. I may revisit the whole series again before diving into another subject. Why not? We’ve got nothing but time (until we don’t).
The Ryan George is best known as one of several identical twins/triplets behind Screen Rant’s Failed Pitch Meetings, whose catch-phrase “Super Easy Barely and Inconvenience” is now forever a part of the global lexicon. But the talented identical octuplets from Canada have way more up their collective sleeves, releasing video after video exploring important issues like “the first guy to ever steal something” and “why wishing your cat could talk is a bad idea.” Check it out!
Extra Credits is another learning hole well worth diving into, offering simple animated videos on subjects ranging pretty much all over the map of stuff worth knowing. History, science, philosophy, literature, mythology…you name it. I’m hoping to learn animation skills like this for an upcoming project.
Reports are trickling in on the Coronavirus that’s shutting down China and threatening to be either the next black plague (death toll 50 million), the next Spanish Flu of 1918 (death toll also 50 million, only we had cameras and radios) or the next SARS (death toll a paragraph or two down).
I’m no epidemiologist, but I have read plenty of books in which plagues have been central plot points (sci-fi and otherwise), and I was living in China through a good chunk of the SARS epidemic of 2003. This makes me in a strange way hopeful that the story currently unfolding from Wuhan and reported to be going predictably international turns out to be more like SARS, a quick google check of which reveals took somewhere in the vicinity of 9000 lives, at least according to the World Health Organization.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS during the 2003 outbreak. Of these, 774 died.
So as these things go, perhaps best to hope for the odds of that pandemic versus either of the previously mentioned two.
I was living in Yangshuo, being put up for free as resident Westerner at a reasonably nice hotel called The Yang Guang (“Sunshine”) when word started going around about a new disease called SARS. Though nobody I or any of my various local acquaintances knew had come down with it, there was a great deal of fear in Yangshuo about the disease, which was killing tourism in one of China’s premier tourism hot spots, particularly among long-term China dwellers like myself. There was even talk that the government might soon block the roads into and out of town. Since I needed to make my then twice-annually pilgrimages to Hong Kong to renew my visa, I decided the path of Wu Wei, the Daoist concept of going with the flow, would be to leave town. It was just before the Lunar New Year, and paying customers would need my room.
Among the publications I was contributing to at the time were The Albion Monitor, a political online site based in Northern California and The Rocky Mountain Bullhorn, an alt-weekly print publication out of Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Bullhorn met an ignoble demise just a couple of years later, its publisher, Joe Rouse, taking the newspaper’s server down with it in a strange final Kamakazi act, and all of my physical copies of the Bullhorn have long been used to stuff cracks in the walls of my sister’s old barn. But I’ve found an early draft of the article I filed on my return to the USA during the height of SARS, which to hit the WHO up for figures again, query “how many people in the US died of SARS”
The SARS outbreak of 2003
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS during the 2003 outbreak. Of these, 774 died. In the United States, only eight people had laboratory evidence of SARS-CoV infection.
Not going to query same for Spanish Influenza , putting my journalistic reputation on the line by guessing without fact-check that it was larger by a couple of magnitude. And on that cheery note – and hoping however counter-intuitively that this one turns out to be more SARS-like than anything else:
Greetings From Hong Kong: City of Fear and Masks
(Published in the Rocky Mountain Bullhorn, Mid-spring, 2003)
It’s ten PM on a Friday night, and Asia’s busiest airport is nearly deserted. Upstairs at the restaurant overlooking the long rows of check in counters, the Filipino house band is doing a jazz light version of Santana’s ‘Oyo Como Va’ for the mask-clad wait staff and a handful of customers who have (to put a positive spin on the situation) their choice of seats. I’m eating a bowl of soup to cushion the antihistamines I ate on the bus to quell my springtime allergies; sneezing as surgical garb security guards take my temperature might complicate my travel plans.
Greetings from Hong Kong, the city of fear and masks.
Not long hours ago I was crossing the border from Shenzhen; I could sense a palpable dread hanging over Hong Kong before I even hit what passes for customs – an X-ray machine manned by bored-looking guards. Hawkers selling cheaply made surgical masks of dubious use at five for ten yuan lined the bridge from Shenzhen station. Masked people hustled hurriedly towards the border while unmasked women stood in front of the empty dim sum places encouraged travelers to stop in for a last meal in the mainland before heading into Hong Kong, where the price of dumplings doubles. And me, one traveling freelance writer, fresh from a sleepless 13 hour trip on a sleeper bus from so-far nearly SARS-less Guangxi province, wondering “what the hell am I doing going into HK now?”
But the trip was mandatory – my six-month visa was up. This was hardly an unusual situation – I’d been doing HK visa runs for years. So why, rather than doubling back after a quick trip to the visa authorities, was I heading to the airport to beat an unplanned retreat from Asia? Was I just taking advantage of SARS induced cut-rate ticket prices (USD$500 for a r/t from HK to JFK)? Or was my sudden decision to leave based on a healthy desire to get out before the SARS hammer really dropped? Was it conceivable that the Chinese government might declare the HK/Shenzhen border closed in some ham fisted attempt to make up for five months of mind-numbingly stupid handling of the epidemic? Any China writer who hasn’t had the word “inconceivable” beaten out of their vocabulary just doesn’t understand the Chinese government.
Entering HK, I found myself in a city in the grips of two concurrent epidemics. The first, SARS, is a virulent and deadly form of pneumonia about which little is known, and for which there is no known cure. SARS victims in Hong Kong number, as of this writing, XXX souls.
(Please fill in for XXX ~ Josambro 2020 to JSB 2003.
Get stuffed old man ~JSB 2003 —> Josambro 2020)
This includes the hundred or so who have died, the nearly 600 who have been declared “recovered”, and those still in quarantine camps. The second epidemic is by far the more widespread one, and while not fatal, is clearly serious; this epidemic is fear, and few in this city of 6+ million are untouched by it.
Scanning the headlines of the local papers, I had to ask myself if the media was somehow to blame for the virulence of this second epidemic, if the line between responsible information provider and purveyor of abject terror had not been crossed. Picking up a copy of Friday, April 25th’s Daily Standard, I came across a two page spread featuring three maps representing Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories. Over each map circles were drawn to represent neighborhoods where SARS patients have been identified. The circles varied in size according to the number of patients in the area, and were reminiscent of blast radius maps. The largest circle on HK Island covered an area from Quarry Bay to Chai Wan. The actual death toll for the whole area; five, in a circle encompassing a few square kilometers. Were the illustrations meant to suggest that the presence of five Sars victims in the neighborhood represented mortal threat to a quarter of a million people?
Later on, over tea at Wanchai central, I posed this question to my friend Nury Vittachi, a columnist for the Asian Wall Street Journal, and probably the most widely read humorist in Hong Kong. Some say if you haven’t been mocked by Vittachi, you aren’t a HK player.
“Hong Kong is coming to the end of what I like to call ‘the science fiction phase’ of this epidemic, that is, the point where fear overcomes rational discourse about the problem.”
Nury tells me, his blue surgical mask (mandatory equipment for anyone working in an office) hanging around his trademark Nehru collar shirt. I suggested that perhaps the blast radius illustration met the public demand for science fiction, and then went back to discussing some ideas for a comedy review based on life during SARS time. Nury is, after all, a humorist, and the silent majority of Hong Kong must learn to appreciate that even the worst curse spits up an occasional gift, such as “SARS benefit #13 – masks level the playing field for ugly people in single’s bars.”
Still, the glibness of our conversation was as much a whistling-in-the-graveyard reaction as anything else. I’d only been in HK a day, and still flinched at the sound of a slight cough or clearing throat. I could only imagine what Nury, with three children and a life steeped in Hong Kong society, must be going through.
Nury donned his mask and went back to the office to spin out more much-needed humor, and I checked my email at a public terminal (noting Sars blessing number #14 – no waiting at public internet terminals). If Hong Kong was coming out of the science fiction phase, the email I got from my friend Phelim Kyne, a Dow Jones correspondent in Beijing, confirmed that Beijing’s was just entering the eerie grips of some post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick:
“Last night around 7pm I wandered out of my office building in the center of Beijing’s business district and made it three steps toward the pedestrian escalator before I registered that something was definitely wrong. I looked around and realized that it could have been midnight Sunday rather than high rush hour Wednesday – few people, little traffic and very, very quiet. It could have been a cheap local version of that 1970s made-for-TV post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick “Where Have All the People Gone?”
Channel surfing back at the Ibis North Point hotel (strangely unharmed in the center of the HK Standard’s blast radius) confirmed both the quiet of Beijing’s streets, and the panic buying sweeping Beijing’s supermarkets. CCTV9, China’s English language station was the optimistic exception, bringing reporters through a local greenhouse filled with produce in an attempt to allay any fears that food shortages were immanent. This, of course, came as no surprise. The official Chinese media’s Pollyanna-like handling of crises are legendary. If anyone wanted to cause a nationwide panic in China, the fastest way to do this would be to print up a million bogus copies the People’s Daily with the words “Don’t Panic” in large, friendly looking Chinese characters on the cover. The nation might never recover.
With the specter of SARS cover up hanging over the central government, The popular buzz among columnists is that SARS will be China’s Chernobyl as the ugly story of leaders more concerned with saving face than saving lives comes out and creates a backlash felt throughout the world.
Some question weather the current dearth of Sars cases being reported in Shanghai might be more then just a case of the fickle winds of contagion. Politics may well be involved. Since last year’s dubious changing of the guard, Beijing has been, at least on the surface, Hu Jintao’s turf. But Shanghai is Jiang Zemin’s town, and some are speculating that the reason that SARS figures for Beijing are being allowed to be made so public is part of some grim power struggle between the former president and his protégé; hazing rituals have always been par for the course for new leaders in communist China.
With a few hours to kill before heading up to the airport, I head out for some dinner. I pass by two nearly empty side-by-side Western-style eateries in the Quarry Bay district with opposing styles of reassuring their customers. One has a sign that reads “To promote a healthier environment, we encourage our wait staff to wear masks.” The other has one that says “to promote a less scary environment, we encourage our staff not to wear masks.” I skip them both and have some dumpling soup at some hole in the wall with no signs at all, then head for the bus stop. The streets are nearly deserted as the double-decker bus cruises through the heart of town. I pop two antihistamines, lest an ill-timed sneeze derail my travel plans. HK airport, in normal times among the busiest on the planet, is empty save for a scattered handful of passengers, and a small battalion of doctors, nurses and guards, all in full surgical garb. I feign nonchalance behind a sweaty mask while a nurse sticks a thermometer in my ear, hands me a yellow card with “the bearer of this card has passed through an infected area” written in ten languages, and waves me through to my check-in counter. The plane from HK is about half full, and nearly everyone is wearing a mask.
At Inchon, Korea, I switch planes and have my temperature taken again. I pop another antihistamine over the great lakes, contemplating whether deplaning wearing a mask will make me look like a responsible citizen or potential bio-hazard. In the end, I stuff the thing in my pocket. But the guard at JFK barely glances at me before swiping my passport, leaving my yellow SARS card not looked at before waving me through. White people with Christian names don’t fit the threat profile at customs, microorganisms be damned. At the taxi stand, I pause to discard the sweaty, crumpled face mask and with it, my sense of impending doom, in the trash.
People often ask me how I landed my first Lonely Planet gig. I haven’t done a guidebook for the company in a few years, but I still contribute pretty regularly to what are known in the industry as T&R, or Trade and Reference books, stuff like Best in Travel and Best in Food, that sort of thing.
So while I more-or-less consider myself a former guidebook writer, writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet was a pretty big part of my professional output for a good chunk of years, and the story of how I got my first Lonely Planet gig seems like it’d make a good blog post – especially in light of a file I just discovered while going through a long-forgotten hard drive.
In 2005, I was living on Lamma Island, Hong Kong, working as a freelance contributor for a bunch of magazines and newspapers in HK and China, including the South China Morning Post, the HK Weekly Standard and a few others. (Long story short, Taiwan was considered a pretty niche destination back then, so I couldn’t sell enough stories about Taiwan to make a living as a freelance writer.)
But my heart was still in Taiwan, and so I pitched what would become my first book, Vignettes of Taiwan to a publisher I’d been writing for pretty regularly since 2001. The publisher – ThingsAsian Press – took me up on the offer, and the next year, VOT was published.
About a month after the book came out, my publisher at Things Asian Press told me about a book fair that was happening in town, so I grabbed a dozen copies of Vignettes of Taiwan and headed in. One of the speakers was Tony Wheeler, who had started Lonely Planet with his wife Maureen.
Being a brash young man, I approached Mr. Wheeler and handed him a copy of Vignettes of Taiwan along with a business card and comment along the lines of “Imagine what I could do with your next Lonely Planet Taiwan Guide.”
Mr. Wheeler was nicer about it than he needed to be, thanked me for the book and told me that if he liked it somebody from the office would contact me.
A few weeks later, I got an email from a woman named Marina at the LP office in Melbourne informing me that Tony Wheeler had liked my book, and that if I was interested in submitting a sample guidebook chapter the company would consider me for the upcoming Taiwan guide.
Did I respond to this kind offer with an enthusiastic All Right! What’s my next step?
No, I did not.
Instead, I hit reply and wrote something like “How do I know that Lonely Planet isn’t going to just use my sample chapter for some upcoming book?”
Because in addition to being a brash young man, I was also a suspicious young man. And I had the idea that Lonely Planet’s business model might somehow include getting a bunch of sample chapters for free from perspective authors and cobbling these into actual functioning guidebooks.
Marina, who really would have been well within her rights to just delete my email unanswered, instead responded with something like “Do it and the world will be your Lonely Planet oyster!” She attached a template for the project and wished me well.
I don’t have the actual email anymore, but I definitely remember the line “The world will by your Lonely Planet oyster!”
So I did.
I grabbed a then-recent Lonely Planet guide and headed up to Shekou, a neighborhood in Shenzhen, China, and pretty much used it as a guideline to do my own sample chapter to Shekou. I turned it in, and a few weeks later, Marina wrote me back to tell me I’d made the cut (though my mapping skills could use some improvement), and to offer me my first gig with the company, updating the upcoming Lonely Planet Taiwan book.
That was in 2006, and for the next seven years, yeah…the world was pretty much my Lonely Planet oyster. Belize, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, back to China, back to Belize, back to Singapore, and so forth.
Anyway, back to the long-lost hard drive. I was going through said item yesterday, and came across a file called “Lonely Planet Shekou.” And while I’ve told the story about pressing a copy of Vignettes of Taiwan into Tony Wheeler’s hands many times, I’d apparently completely forgotten about doing the sample chapter, because my first thought on finding the file was I never did anything in that part of China for Lonely Planet. So I opened up the file and checked it out.
Definitely a freshman attempt at guidebook writing, to be sure. But since I had fun reading it, maybe you will too, so I’ll paste it below in all its virgin guidebook-writer glory.
I wouldn’t advise trying to get anything useful from it, though – China changes super fast, and I doubt anything I wrote about in Shekou in 2006 is even relevant. Still, I think it offers a decent insight into what goes into being a guidebook writer, or at least what went into hiring one in 2006. (Things have no doubt changed since then.)
(I’m particularly proud of having described Shekou as “A peninsular nipple on Shenzhen’s ever-expanding underbelly” )
Somewhere in a box in my father’s garage is the map I drew with colored pencil and crayon. If I ever find it, I’ll post it here.
General description of the town (or area within a city) and its attractions, plus any other info of interest. Should be punchy enough to make people want to visit (without sounding like a tourist brochure).
Shining with a playfullyseductive and only slightly jaded light, Penisualr Shekou (translation: “Snake Mouth”) dangles off Shenzhen’s southern coast. For those entering China via ferry from Hong Kong – a wise move as the port border is a line-free love fest compared to mad crush of the Lo Wu / HK crossing – Shekou is gateway to the get rich or die trying metropolis that itself is the jewel of the hyper-capatalist Pearl River Delta
If Shenzen is a yang monolithic glass and concrete statement to the righness of Chairman Deng’s maxim “to get rich is glorious,” then Shekou – the petri dish in which modern chinese capatalism was created – is a more Yin seaside district offering the following sly adendum to Deng’s words:
“…But have a good time along the way.”
Brief but informative and lively history of the town/neighbourhood.
Though Shekou’s history as an inhabited area dates into the Neolithic era (according to archeological evidence anyway), most of this was spent as a sleepy backwater harbor community overshadowed by more important neighbors. Exciting moments over the centuries have been few and far between. Legend has it that during the Late Song dynasty a powerful celestial goddess descended on the site of the present-day Tian Hou temple, and during the opium wars the area again saw some action as Chinese generals used the peninsula as a base from which to harass enemy ships. But for the most part, history passed quietly around Shekou. All this changed in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping chose this small nub of real estate as a petri dish in which to germinate the earliest seeds of post-revolutionary capitalism in China, allowing for the first time since 1949 foreign owned companies to set up shop on Chinese soul.
Once barren hills overlooking the harbor were transformed into the Shekou Industrial Zone, from which “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” quickly sprung forth, quickly growing to encompass greater Shenzhen in the early 1980’s. Today, with the entire Pearl River Delta region arguably the main economic engine fueling a capitalist China whose market economy Chairman Mao couldn’t even begin to imagine, Shekou has settled into a somewhat more relaxed stretch of harbor front property.
Information to give travellers their bearings in the town/neighbourhood.
Shekou is an easy place in which to get around. The heart of the neighborhood is Seaworld Plaza, a brick-paved pedestrian mall stretching south from Xinghua road to an extremely difficult to miss five story high cruise ship moored in concrete approximately a quarter-mile from where the harbor itself begins. North of Seaworld plaza are some lovely hills for light hiking, and east of the plaza lies a somewhat rundown residential and commercial district where most habitues of the more upscale businesses of Seaworld Plaza seldom venture. Three blocks east of Seaworld Plaza is the Shekou Ferry terminal, from which boats to Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai leave many times daily, and in front of this terminal is the bus station..
Give details of useful sources for travellers ie the tourist info centre, post office, availability of banks, Internet cafes, emergency medical facilities. This should be provided in list format in alphabetical order and comments added if needed. Note that details given after the practical info in brackets should start with a new sentence (not run on from the heading). Include phone numbers and addresses in brackets.
Located in front of the Shekou Passanger Terminal, the Shekou Bus Station has local busses leading to destainations throughout Shenzhen
Ferry Terminal [2558 8588]
The Shekou Passenger Terminal is an customs crossing point for daily ferries leading to Hong Kong, Kowloon, HK Airport, and Macau. Landing visas are available here with restrictions based on nationality. The terminal also services passenger ferries to Zhuhai.
While the neighborhood lacks an interet café, the Haitao Hotel [No.8 Gong Ye 1st road, one block east of the ferry terminal] has a lobby café with a free internet-ready terminal. Meal or beverage purchase is required for use.
Describe at least three main sights or attractions and give the following practical info (if applicable) in brackets: phone number, address, entry fee, opening hours.
The undisputed heart of Shekou, this brick pedestrian mall is lined with restaurants of varying ethnicities, coffee shops ranging from kitsch to corportate, and more bars than you can shake a stick at, all overlooked by the Minghua, a perpetually docked ocean liner-cum-tourist magnet from which Seaworld gets much of its nautical bragging rights. The wide, car free mall is a prime spot for people watching, peopled by expatriates of all stripes, tourists from around China, and – increasingly – locals flexing their newfound buying power. On weekends and holidays Seaworld Plaza takes on a carnival like vibe as it fills with artists painting portraits, merchants selling kites (for flying in the nearby park) and a wide variety of other trinkets and gimcracks. And in the evenings, the plaza is the center of one one of Shekou’s most happeing bar scenes.
In the center of the Seaworld Plaza sits the Minghua, a former French ocean liner that’s been moored in concrete and transformed into the area’s biggest tourist draw. While the lion’s share of the interior has been transformed into the Cruise Inn, a campy botique hotel, the exterior decks (accessable by gangplanks, manned naturally by sailor-suit clad staff) are open to the public and offer a number of bars and eateries. Naturally the decks have views of the harbor – its that blue bit about a quarrter mile to the south, just over the mini-mall and golf-driving range (themselves built on land reclaimed from the sea). The Minghua is cool in that quirky sort of way that only a completely incogrious juxtaposition (like an ocean liner surrounded on all sides by land) can be. If you like ships but hate the ocean (or just like microbrew – see our bar listings below), the Minghua is a must-visit.
[Seaworld Plaza, public decks open 4:30 PM – Midnight]
Tian Hou Temple
Shekou’s Tian Hou Temple is a cultural oasis in a town not overly reknowned for its culture, and a spiritual outpost in a city where dollar (or Yuan) worship is the overriding relegion. This 200 year old temple complex honors Matsu, godess of the sea, whose sphere of infulence is chiefly the protection of sailors and fisherman (and presumably the off-shore oil drillers who make their livings nearby). The temple was built on a hilly spot where the celestial godess herself was said to have visited during the Song Dynasty. Since the early eighties an industrial zone has grown around the temple, and on some days the shipping containers across the road are higher than the temple’s tiled roof. But save for the greying of the blue roof times in the ambiant pollution ubiqious to the area, little inside the complex has changed. Lay worshippers – particularly those who make their living on the sea – place incense in gigantic copper braziers outside the main temple before stepping inside for prayer, and tourists (refreshingly low in numbers) come to visit the temple and the small attached museum documenting the nautical history of the area. One wing of the museum is filled with statues and other works of art dedicated to the sea goddess, as well as antiques and other objects of art belonging to a bygone age. The temple offers one peculiar service – for a nominal fee of Y20, worshippers can scribe a wish or prayer onto the interior of a curved clay tile. The tile is then placed on the roof of the temple, where presumably Matsu will be better able to judge the merits of the beseechments.
Common prayers include bessechments for the godess to halt typhoons, or to direct the tides in a way that carry seaborne trash away from high value beachside property.
[#6 Chiwan road][Ph: 26853219][Y15 admission]
If applicable to the place you’re covering, review activities of interest to travellers and include the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address, cost.
Note that Sleeping/Eating/Drinking/Entertainment/Shopping sections feature stand-alone reviews with the first full sentence beginning after the practical information in brackets (see a recent Lonely Planet guide for examples).
Probably the singlemost commonly engaged in activity in Shekou is hanging out at Seaworld Plaza, followed closely by either eating or drinking (or some combination therof). However, the hills to the north of the plaza offer decent hiking activites, as do the hills surrounding the Evergreen Resort. And if practicing your golf swing in the shadow of an ocean liner appeals to you (and really, how many places offer the opportunity), there is a fine golfing range behind the Minghua.
Review at least three accommodation places that travellers might use, and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, Web site (if applicable), address, cost per night for singles/doubles (use abbreviations ‘s’ and ‘d’ instead of singles and doubles).
The Evergreen Resort
[2664 6988 / 2640 3988] [1 Quingqing St, Moonbay] [SY680 DY780 / Y880] [comment – this place has a variety of different rooms / prices – it doesn’t quite fit in with the “singles / doubles” format. I don’t know how you deal with this. I mention the smurf houses, which are the cheapest of the accomadations.]
Fans of Taiwanese mountain resorts will feel right at home at the Evergreen resort, a sprawling resort complex opened in 1995 by Lin Mei Kuang, a Taiwanese architect whose prior projects included a similar spa resort at Taiwan’s beloved Yaming Mountain. Though the rocky hills surrounding Shekou are a far cry from the lush green mountains of Isle Formosa, the Evergreen’s heavy use of naturalistic structural design and organic building give it a serious mountain resort vibe. Evergreen guests have their choice of standard rooms with ocean views in a traditionally-shaped hote, rustic redwood cabins with gorgeous hardwood floors, futons, and bathrooms with neck deep Japanese style tubs, or of smaller “tree house” structures that vaguely resemble smurf homes. Prices are incredibly reasonable, and a night at the Evergreen can cost as little as RMB 280, which includes the use of the facilities, which include swimming pools, exercise rooms, teahouses, an enclosed butterfly pavilion, and even a small tropical rainforest, complete with trees and flora transplanted from around SE Asia.
[0755/2682-5555][ Minghua Ship, Sea World Plaza] [SY680 DY780 / Y880]
Take two parts nautical whimsy, add one part Alice in Wonderland. Top with stained glass ceilings and serve on pearlescent tiled floorsand you’ve got the Cruise Inn, Shekou’s newest (and among China’s strangest) hotel. The Cruise Inn takes up much of the interior of the permanantly landlocked and docked Minghua, the ship that is Seaworld Plaza’s central feature. Accomadations are as interesting as the lobby décor. The “Romantic Seaview” does have a waterbed and harborview, though the presence of a driving range between ship and sea dispels the illustion somewhat. The captains suite looks out over bar street, and has two plasma screen televisions and a Jacuzzi. Standard rooms are clean, comfortable and, naturally, nautically themed.
[1 Gongye Yilu, next to ferry terminal] [2669–2888][1,560 – Hillview Room, 1,800 Seaview]
[comment – this is how rooms are listed here rather than as singles or doubles; also, discounts are available. I’m not sure how you list this.]
The oldest luxury hotel in the area, the Nanhai’s space-age exterior – rounded balconies that look as if they might detach from the mother ship at any moment face out into the harbor. The Nanhai has undergone extensive renovation in the last year, as reflected by the increased room rates (among the highest in the area). Still, if you want to stay in a luxury hotel of moderate class (the brochure calls it a five star, but we think this might be a bit of an exageration) with a lobby piano bar and attractive seaview rooms, this might be the place for you.
Review at least three good eateries, and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address, average cost of main course, meals open for ie breakfast, lunch, dinner and days closed if any.
 [First Floor of Seaworld Hotel, Taizhi Road, across from Seaworld Plaza] [Y40] [lunch & dinner only]
Foodfeast is the only restaurant in Shekuo offering genuine Hakka (ke jia) Cuisine, and is thus appropriately named as members of the Hakka clan are reknowned for their love of feasting. Specialties include (get some names). Foodfeast is also the only restaurant in town serving freshly made durian pancakes (delectable to aficionados, but potentially nausiating to those not endeared to the smelly “king of fruits.” ). If you’re in Shekou and sick of foreign fare, you can’t get better down home cuisine than what you’ll find at a ke jia ren, or “Guest Home People” restaurant – after all, “home” is a Hakka’s middle name.
The Paris French Kiss
[2688 0317][57/58 Seaworld Plaza][lunch and dinner][Y90]
High ceilings and curvacious columns give this restaurant (located in front of the good ship Minghua) a Napoleanic feel. Fare is european, and lunch specials are an especially good bargain, as for Y68 you’ll get a large main course, soup or salad, fresh brewed coffee, and a choice of crème brule or choclate mousse to top it off.
Drinking, Entertainment (with a nautical theme).
Review at least one drinking venue that travellers might visit, and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address. If there is only one drinking venue it can just be listed under Entertainment.
Having long ago fullfilled its original purpose as post-revolutionary petri dish of Chinese capatalism, Shekou has settled into a more mellow groove as Shenzhen’s entertainment pavillion. The hub of this is the nautically flavored Seaworld Plaza, a brick-paved pedestrian mall lined on either side with restaurants ranging from fast-food (the uniquious Mcdonalds and Starbucks) to cheesy theme restaurants (like XXX, a Brazillian Barbeque where meat is carved right of the spits by waitstaff dressed in full gaucho regalia). Seaworld plaza is the place to see and be seen, both for local expats working cushy jobs in the offices of nearby foreign owned companies and for local Chinese basking in the glory of their newfound middle class status.
Exepting perhaps the view from the roofs of any of these establishments, from nowhere in Seaworld plaza can the sea actually be seen. Seaworld’s moniker comes not from any ocean (or harbor) view, but from the Minghua, a (get size) ship planted smack dab on the Plaza’s (X) end.
Though it presumably once led a life more common to seagoing vessels (i.e., going somewhere on the sea), today the good ship Minghua is thorougly landlocked, floating in a stretch of open water that surrounds the ship’s hull in all directions for about 20 feet before ending in reclaimed landfill.
The Minghua’s multi-leveleled decks have been transformed into a series of outdoor bars and dance clubs, all of which are open and thumping from dusk into the late-late. The interior of the Minghua has been turned into a the Cruise Inn, a strange and whimsical budget Inn that
Mixes two parts nautical theme with one part Alice in Wonderland to create perhspas Shenzhen’s most tripped-out hotel
With the good ship Minghua as the hub, the entertainment complex of Seaworld Plaza extends in all directions; between ship and sea is a driving range built on reclaimed harbor landfill, making the Minghua perhaps the only ship on the planet from which one can watch revelers on a pedestrian mall from a (term)side porthole and golfers from a (term)side one. GET GOLF INFORMATION.
To the (x) the mall extends further, offering more clubs, bars and restaurants. To the X, it becomes X park, several acres of harborfront greenery with open fields, quiet paths, and a considerably more sedate revelers. Offering the best ground-level view of Shekou harbor, this area becomes extremely crowded with revelers and pickpockets during any festival in which firework displays are involved.
Though wealth may have smoothed her rougher edges, Shekou is still a harbor town, Further south between Seaworld Plaza and the passenger terminal stretches Taizi road, where the gentrified nautical kitch of the plaza melts away to reveal Shekou’s seedier side. Though most of the bars on this street are clearly designed with providing a place for sex workers (many of whom, thanks to the tremendous local economic boom, are actually from the Philipines) to meet and negotiate with customers. There is, however, one noteowrthy exception.
“X-TA-SEA,” according to the bar’s western owner “is not a cheap clip joint for picking up tarts.” Indeed, with its 100 inch flat screen TV with satellite sports channells on demand, regulation style American pool and foosball tables, X-TA-SEA fills a red-light district’s ecological niche, namely a place to drink and gamble without having to be tempted by more sordid sins of the flesh. X-TA-SEA
No. 2A Taizi Road, Behind Yin Bing Building,
136 9192 2585 2866-7649
If applicable, review at least two interesting shops that travellers might visit and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address, opening hours.
Though more of shipping than shopping hub, visitors looking to come away from their visit with more than pictures of Matsu or a hangover will have ample opportunity to obtain trinkets at the newly opened mini-mall
Getting There & Away
A penisular nipple on Shenzhen’s ever-expanding underbelly, Shekou is easily reached by boat, bus or taxi. Alas, the new and much touted Shenzehn Metro does not extend to Shekou, ending halfway from the Lo Wu border crossing at the Windows of the World Metro station. All the more reason to take the ferry if you’re coming from Hong Kong, as the boat comes directly to Shekou 13 times a day. Coming from the Shenzen Train Station, the fastest way it to hop a cab for about Y60. Or you could take the metro halfway and grab any number of busses which will let you off in front of the Shekou Passenger terminal. There are also eight boats a day to and from the HK Airport.
Give details on the main transport modes around town, location, frequency and cost etc.
Fairly compact, Shekou is an easy neighborhood in which to get around. It’s a quick walk from the ferry terminal to Seaworld Plaza. The only places in Shekou that really require taxis are the Matsu temple and the Evergreen Resort.
Seeing as it’s mother’s day I thought I’d relate a tale from the early eighties concerning two influential mothers from my childhood. This story is a reprint, having run in Funny Times a few years back. Of course, it’s old news to my mom.
Onto the influential Mothers.
The Mothers of Invention: Freak Out
(Not these Mothers, who would only be influential a few years later)
The first mother was my own.
My Mother was quite a looker in her day
She’d been divorced from my father for a few years at that point, and had been
dating a guy for a couple of months.
My mother’s paramour – Bill? Chuck? Who can remember these things? – decided to take her to see at movie at one of those second run movie theaters that once upon a time could afford to exist in Brooklyn.
My mother couldn’t find a babysitter, so, being a good and liberated 1970’s parent, she decided to take me, her 11 year old son, along on the date.
Enter the second Mother:
The Other Mother
My mother’s date (Bert? Ernie?) picked the movie. He decided to take us to see Alien. A movie about a very different sort of mother, with very different mating habits.
It was an evening show on a school night, and I think the ticket seller looked askance at my mother and her date as they brought me into what was considered among the most frightening movies made to date. But the eighties were a more permissive time, and would get more permissive still.
It’s worth noting here that the Alien’s children would have needed no babysitter, pouncing as they did into the world fully equipped to take care of themselves.
Myself, lacking claws, fangs or acid blood, was less equipped for self-protection from whatever sort of dangers might have awaited a young boy, so Rob or Charlie or whoever convinced my mother that bringing me along would be a reasonable show of good parenting.
My mother and her date settled in the back of the theater. Bob or Eddie or whoever gave me a few dollars for popcorn and soda, encouraging me to sit as far away from the grownups as possible. Perhaps there was a wink involved. This is not the part of the evening that sticks out in my memory.
Neither, ironically, do the next 98 minutes. It was just a surreal nightmare of blood and terror as the crew of the Nostromo were stalked and killed by the titular Alien, described by the Nostromo’s android shipmate as “the perfect organism”.
Actually, this line was said by the android’s severed head, through a pool of its own semen-like goo after being reanimated by jumper cables.
Also, there was a computer called “Mother” in there somewhere. “Mother” the computer was about as much use to the crew of the Nostromo as my own mother was to me at that point in the film, being fondled by Archie or Jughead or whatever his name was twenty rows back.
They were younger then than I am now. Who can blame them?
When the movie ended, I had to be pried from my seat. I think the imprints made by my fingers clutching the armrests tightly for 117 minutes were there until the theater itself was gentrified along with the rest of Brooklyn.
I remember the drive home, not to my own home (which would have been a small comfort), but to the Brooklyn home of Jones or Brett or whoever. He’d managed to convince my mother to spend the night, and thought that my sleeping on the lower bunk in his daughter’s bedroom was a reasonable idea.
I spent the entire night with my eyes open, staring at the underside of the upper bunk, listening to a stranger’s breathing mingling with unmentionable sounds from the rest of the house.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
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