By Eric Waldron
I ended up in Asia this summer the same way my Jewish American Princess mother ended up in the hills of north Georgia: I met a foreign guy, became intoxicated by his exoticness and, before I knew it, I was sleeping under a mosquito net and eating things more appropriate for an episode of “Fear Factor” than Chili’s.
Before embarking on my “Fried Rice Tour” I was confident this experience was going to Dali Lama me into a better person — worldlier and extremely spiritual. I was wrong — what this little celebration of all things Asian actually taught me is that no matter where I go in the world, I get myself into exceptionally sticky situations.
My eight-week adventure began in the Philippines where my friend, Aaron “Thrilla from Manila” Fidel, spent the better part of his childhood. Because the Philippines isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot — there isn’t a ClubMed and they haven’t had an episode on “Taradise” — people always greeted me with incredibly confused enthusiasm.
“Aren’t you a little far from home?” they would ask as if I had intended to walk to Schmagel’s, got a little turned around on Hypolita and ended up in a foreign land.
Being a young and admittedly good looking white kid in an Asian country is a lot like being a fat girl at last call in a gay bar — you can feel all alone and judged.
Fortunately, the Filipino national past time is making foreigners feeling extremely welcomed: inviting you to their home, offering you the fish eye during dinner and sending you home with a new bride. I gathered that the certain swish in my step isn’t international sign language for “I’m not exactly Woody Allen” because I was propositioned by no less than eight women to marry their young daughters.
Aaron and I ran around Hong Kong like fat kids in a candy store — if that candy store, of course, served wriggly eel and sugar coated dried fish — snapping photos of each of the golden 10,000 Buddhas on Lantau Island, enraged rickshaw drivers and street merchants hawking live prawns and Rolex knockoffs. We agreed that Hong Kong is a lot like New York’s Chinatown just a lot bigger and really, really Chinese.
The hostel in Hong Kong was a bit too Brokedown Palace for my taste. These were not the roomy Feng Shui-ed rooms described in the ad — my chi was certainly not being centralized. The hostel is located in Tsim Sha Sui inside the Chunking Mansion, which is little more than a labyrinth of corridors and flights of stairs that are like walking through Epcot on a bad day — the shadiest member of every ethnic group imaginable is represented in their national costume. I’m pretty confident the Jihad was being planned outside our door. The shower/toilet/sink combination allowed you to shower, shave and use the restroom all at the same time. I was not impressed.
I deposited Manila’s personal “Thrilla” back in the Philippines and continued trekking across Asia to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia (completely on accident though — I fell asleep on the wrong bus in Singapore) and jetted down to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
When I talk about how I spent my summer vacation, people expect me to France May it into some sort of profound, “After so much soul searching, I finally found myself,” or “The experience made me more spiritual and worldly and overwhelmingly better than you,” but I can’t say that it has made me into a better person.
I just have a lot of stamps in my passport.